UK cuts fire power

The United Kingdom’s armed forces will no longer be able to mount the kind of operations conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan, the British government’s strategic defence review made clear this week.

For at least a decade it will also be impossible to deploy the kind of carrier taskforce that liberated the Falklands 28 years ago.

Though defence chiefs said that they will still have significant expeditionary forces, they will not be able to intervene on the scale or tempo of recent years.

According at the new defence planning assumptions, British forces will be able to carry out one enduring brigade-level operation with up to 6 500 personnel, compared with the 10 000 now in Afghanistan, plus two smaller interventions, at any one time.

Alternatively they will be able to mount a one-off, time-limited major intervention — “with sufficient warning” — of up to three brigades with about 30 000 personnel, two-thirds of the force deployed to Iraq in 2003.

Cherished military projects will be trimmed, delayed, cut or dumped in a bid to recoup a massive overspend in Britain’s defence budget. In the ministry of defence 25 000 civilian jobs will go, with 17 000 from the armed forces. The £8-billion annual defence budget will be cut by 8% over the next four years.

The construction, mainly in Scottish shipyards, of two aircraft carriers — the largest ships built for the British navy — will go ahead even though there will be no planes available to fly from them until 2020 at the earliest.

That is because the existing fleet of Harriers will be scrapped immediately and an unknown number of United States joint strike fighters due to replace them will not be ready for another 10 years. —

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