Britain slashes troop numbers by thousands in defence cuts

19th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain is to shrink its armed forces and scrap key assets like its flagship aircraft carrier, Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday in a defence review which comes as part of stinging overall cuts.

Cameron told the House of Commons that by 2015, army numbers would be cut by 7,000 to 95,500; the navy would fall 5,000 to 30,000 and the Royal Air Force would decrease by 5,000 to 33,000.

As part of eight percent cuts to the Ministry of Defence's budget, the flagship HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier is also being scrapped immediately along with Britain's fleet of Harrier jets.

The premier also vowed there would be "no cut whatsoever" to the level of support for forces fighting in Afghanistan.

"Britain has traditionally punched above its weight in the world and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come," Cameron said.

"But we need to be more thoughtful, more strategic, and more coordinated in the way we advance our interests and protect our national security and that is what this review sets out to achieve."

The government has also delayed a decision on renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent until 2016, although Cameron stressed that he wanted to "retain and renew" it.

The announcements came ahead of a sweeping programme of wider reductions of up to 25 percent in most government departments which will be unveiled in a comprehensive spending review Wednesday.

Cameron's coalition government, which took power in May, is battling to reduce public sector borrowing from 149 billion pounds (170 billion euros, 238 billion dollars) to 20 billion pounds by 2015-16.

Other major defence cuts include scrapping a programme to build Nimrod reconnaissance planes and saying that fewer frigates and destroyers will be built.

The decision to axe Ark Royal earlier than the 2014 date originally planned will leave Britain without an aircraft carrier capable of launching jets for around a decade.

It will be 2020 before two new aircraft carriers -- which are going ahead in part because it would be more expensive to scrap pre-agreed contracts than to go ahead with them -- can be used for this purpose.

Britain is the second-biggest contributor of foreign troops in Afghanistan after the United States, with around 10,000 stationed there.

Cameron also announced an extra half a billion pounds to fund the fight against cyber crime.

News of the cuts have caused concern in Washington, prompting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to question their possible impact on NATO.

Cameron called President Barack Obama late Monday to discuss the defence review, reassuring him that Britain would remain a "first-rate military power and a robust ally of the United States."

Britain "remained committed to meeting our responsibilities in NATO and would continue to work closely with the US on the full range of current security priorities," Cameron told Obama, according to a Downing Street statement.

The defence review, the first of its kind for 12 years, comes the day after the government launched a new national security strategy.

This highlighted international terrorism and cyber attacks among the biggest threats to Britain along with natural hazards like flu pandemics and foreign military crises which may involve the country.

© 2010 AFP

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