Britain 'to axe flagship aircraft carrier' in defence review

19th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain will announce Tuesday the axing of the Royal Navy's flagship aircraft carrier and a delay to the replacement of its nuclear deterrent as London seeks to slash its defence budget, reports said.

The carrier, the HMS Ark Royal, is to be decommissioned almost immediately rather than in 2014 as planned as part of a defence review by Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government, reported the BBC.

The axing of the carrier will leave Britain without an aircraft carrier capable of flying jets for around a decade while two new vessels are built.

Cameron will also announce that a replacement for Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent will be delayed, possibly for up to five years, reported The Guardian newspaper, citing government sources.

The "maingate" decision -- the irreversible, point of no return -- on the nuclear submarines will not be taken until after the 2015 election, said the British daily.

Defence officials reportedly believe the cuts and plans to redesign one of the two new aircraft carriers will provide Britain with greater opportunities to work with its international allies, including the US and France.

Neither the Ministry of Defence nor Downing Street would comment on the reports late Monday.

Cameron will outline details of the defence cuts later Tuesday.

They are expected to amount to some eight percent of the Ministry of Defence's budget and are part of a comprehensive spending review to cut budgets across government departments, due to be unveiled on Wednesday.

The comprehensive spending review could see government-wide savings of up to 25 percent as the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, which took office in May, battles to pay off Britain's huge deficit.

London's proposed defence cuts have caused alarm in Washington, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed concern about their impact on military alliance NATO.

Britain is the second-biggest supplier of foreign troops in Afghanistan after the US.

Cameron sought to reassure the US before giving full details of the cuts, phoning President Barack Obama late Monday and telling him Britain remained a "robust ally of the United States."

He told the US leader that Britain was "committed to meeting our responsibilities in NATO and would continue to work closely with the US on the full range of current security priorities," said Downing Street in a statement.

The defence cuts are being unveiled a day after the government launched a new national security strategy, which said international terrorism and cyber attacks pose the biggest threats to Britain.

© 2010 AFP

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