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Wednesday, 16th June 2010

UK: A Question of Balance? The Deficit and Defence Priorities

A Question of Balance? The Deficit and Defence Priorities
Source: Royal United Services Institute

Key Findings:

The deeper the immediate cuts that the MoD has to make, the greater the risks will be of capability reductions without commensurate financial gains.

The greatest efficiency saving of all would be to put the defence budget on to a sustainable path, in which plans are realistic and commitments are honoured.

Given plausible budget trends, a ‘balanced’ scenario for capability over the next decade could involve reducing ground force formations from 98 to 80, major vessels from 57 to 45, and aircraft numbers from 760 to 550–600.

A policy of balanced reductions would involve reducing ground force personnel numbers by around 20 per cent. This could require cuts in capabilities for armoured warfare, together with examination of more selective approaches to expeditionary operations.

As long as NATO is committed to Afghanistan, the UK could not easily decide to withdraw all of its own forces. But a review of the nature and size of its commitment, and the timing of any future reduction, could be conducted in parallel with the Review.

Balanced reductions could lead to steep falls in combat aircraft numbers and scrutiny of the Joint Combat Aircraft requirement which, even on a reduced buy of sixty aircraft, could cost £15–20 billion in life-time costs.

Most major powers with a carrier capability make do with only one vessel. A policy of balanced reductions could consider a similar option, and also review numbers of frigates, destroyers and submarines.

Alternative nuclear weapon delivery platforms are unlikely to achieve significant savings. But a re-examination of the timing of expenditure on Vanguard replacement, due to rise sharply after 2014, is still a possibility.

Cuts of 10-15 per cent in the defence budget will not alter the UK’s position as one of Europe’s two leading military powers. But its capability is likely to continue to decline compared with China, India and other rising powers.

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