U.K. Sells Land, Cuts Civilian Staff to Buy Defense Hardware

Is Europe Drawing Closer to Defeat IS?
  • Cameron announces efficiency savings in speech to lawmakers
  • Warship purchases cut; some equipment to stay in use longer

The U.K. Ministry of Defence will sell off land, cut civilian staff and extend the lifespan of existing equipment in order to invest in new aircraft and vehicles for the army, navy and air force in response to growing threats including terrorism.

The government plans to make 11 billion pounds ($17 billion) in efficiency savings in the budget for the military and intelligence services, it said in its Strategic Defense and Security Review published on Monday. Prime Minister David Cameron announced the details to lawmakers in London.

Cameron set out an extra 12 billion pounds of spending on equipment for the armed forces. Companies including Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and General Dynamics Corp. are set to benefit, with orders for nine Boeing P8 torpedo-fitted maritime patrol aircraft, a tripling of the pace of deliveries of the Lightning F-35 jet up to 2023, and the inclusion of almost 600 Scout armored vehicles in two new rapid-deployment “Strike Brigades” scheduled for operation by 2025.

“The bottom line of our national security strategy must be the willingness and capability to use force where necessary,” Cameron told lawmakers in the House of Commons. “These investments are an act of clear-eyed self interest to ensure our future prosperity and security.”

Islamic State

The review’s publication came as the U.K. faces a long fight against terrorism following the downing of a Russian passenger jet and deadly attacks in Paris, both claimed by Islamic State. On Sunday, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced a 30 percent increase in the counter-terrorism budget, and Cameron said that on Thursday he’ll spell out plans to extend British bombing raids against Islamic State to Syria from Iraq.

The number of civilian staff at the Defence Ministry will be reduced by 30 percent by 2015, taking the number to 41,000. Surplus military bases will also be sold off to raise money and release land for 55,000 homes to be constructed. The process of deciding which bases to sell is continuing, the ministry said.

The estimated cost of four submarines for the replacement for Britain’s Trident nuclear-weapons system has risen to 31 billion pounds from 25 billion pounds estimated last year, the review said, with the first boat entering service in the 2030s. A further 10 billion pounds has been set aside for contingencies. Defence Minister Philip Dunne was still using the 25 billion-pound estimate in answer to a lawmaker’s question last month.

Army Strength

The regular army will not fall below 82,000 men and women and the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force will be given funding to add an extra 700 personnel between them, the review said. It also committed the U.K. to ensuring “that a career in the armed forces can be balanced better with family life.”

The U.K. cut its commitment to BAE Systems Plc’s Type 26 warship program, opting to purchase eight instead of 13. The reduction will allow work to start on designing a cheaper and more exportable frigate with less capability.

“We will design and build a new class of light, flexible general-purpose frigates,” Cameron told lawmakers. “These will be more affordable than the Type 26, which will allow us to buy more of them for the Royal Navy so that by the 2030s we can further increase the total number of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers.”

The reduction is a blow to BAE, which has been trying to export the Type 26 design to Australia, Canada and Germany. Cameron also announced the construction of another two offshore patrol vessels as part of a new national shipbuilding strategy review due next year, bringing the total to be constructed by BAE up to five. 

That will help bridge the U.K.’s naval industrial capabilities until construction on the first Type 26 begins. The U.K., which currently operates four OPVs, intends to bring that number to 6, possibly retiring three of the existing vessels.

BAE also got a boost from a 10-year life extension for the RAF’s Typhoon warplanes, built by the Eurofighter consortium of which the manufacturer is a part. The manufacturer also leads the construction of the replacement nuclear deterrent program and provides airframes and electronics for Lockheed’s F-35 jets.

“Today’s announcement provides clarity on the U.K. government’s strategic priorities and provides continuity and stability for our business,” BAE Chief Executive Officer Ian King said in a statement. “An increased budget for defense equipment overall includes significant investments in military aerospace, maritime, cyber and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and ongoing support for defense exports.”

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