Tight military budgets scale down South China Sea wargames

15th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Tight national budgets have forced Australia, Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore to hold a pared-down version of annual South China Sea wargames launched on Friday.

General Sir David Richards, incoming head of the British armed forces, said that in the new environment militaries had to "ruthlessly prioritise", but that Britain could still continue to meet its defence commitments around the world.

"Right now, as we stand here, yes is the answer. But the decisions haven't finally been taken," he told AFP, referring to cutback announcements due in London next week.

"There is no doubt that at least for a while, we will find it more difficult to do all the things we want to do," said Richards, who takes over as chief of defence staff this month, adding that Britain had "not got many assets" at this year's exercises.

Richards said however that Southeast Asia and the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) wargames, which have been held since 1972, were "very high on the priorities -- others may have to give."

"We watch what's going on in the world and clearly this is a place where lots of people live with lots of ambitions and a very successful future, all being well."

The exercises, including ship-to-shore and air defence operations, will be based in the northern Malaysian town of Butterworth, in the South China Sea and on the resort island of Tioman.

Running from October 11 to 29, they will involve 14 ships, 66 aircraft and 3000 personnel from member nations.

The FPDA was forged in 1971 following the British pullout from Malaysia and Singapore and is aimed at defending the two countries in a "multi-threat environment"

"Many countries are facing cuts in their military budgets and this means that there has been a reduction in major naval and air assets last year and this year," said General Azizan Ariffin, Malaysian armed forces chief.

"It is a challenge as it means that we have to do what we have done previously but with less and we hope to meet that challenge," he said.

Australian Air Vice Marshal Warren Ludwig said member nations had to "work with what we have".

"In the last 10 years military budgets have been cut but we must see that overall we are engaged in this region and we have to deal with what funds we are given," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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