British defense cuts could jeopardize military operations, say lawmakers

08:55, September 16, 2010      

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British lawmakers said Wednesday that planned defense cuts scheduled to be announced at the end of October could jeopardize their country's military operations.

The lawmakers, members of parliament on the House of Commons defense committee (HCDC), issued the warning in their latest report, which comes just over a month before the new coalition government's Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) is unveiled.

The government has ordered the MOD to find cuts of between 10 and 20 percent, less than most other departments which face cuts of between 25 and 40 percent.

The SDSR will create the template within which those cuts will be made, but the committee was frightened cuts could cause problems. "The capacity of the country even to sustain current in- use capabilities and therefore current operations could well be put at risk by the proposed cuts of between 10 percent and 20 percent," it said in the report.

The SDSR began with a discussion paper issued by the last Labor government in February. It is the first defense review for 13 years and will radically alter the equipment, capabilities, and strategic objectives of the British military.

The HCDC's chairman James Arbuthnot warned against the speed of the SDSR and that it was being driven by the need to save money rather than recast strategic objectives. He said: "What worries us is the speed at which these decisions are being taken and the fact that they are money-driven rather than threat-driven."

Arbuthnot said that Defense Secretary Liam Fox, had told his committee that he had "two jobs -- one as secretary of state for defence and the other as a member of the cabinet to reduce the deficit."

"I think he is doing the defence secretary job very well indeed. The trouble is, I think he is driven by the demands of the Treasury to an extent and with a speed which is potentially detrimental to the defence of the country."

The HCDC warned in its report that the SDSR could end up with " only short-term priorities, misaligned resources, a barely reformed acquisition process and a structure short of manpower to deliver good performance and improperly configured for its tasks."

"At the same time the failure to engage more widely in public debate on the SDSR risked widening the sense of public ' disconnection' with defence issues in the wake of the unpopular Iraq war and faltering support for the mission in Afghanistan."

The SDSR has caused considerable controversy, and is leading to fighting within government.

Fox is embroiled in a tough argument with the Treasury, the finance ministry, over the 20 billion pound (about 30 billion U.S. dollars) cost of replacing Britain's nuclear weapons system, carried in a fleet of four submarines. The Treasury is firm that the MOD must bear the bill, and Fox has had no success in changing that view.

Arbuthnot said the MOD is also losing control of the SDSR. " This is a review which is being run by the National Security Council, a body which didn't exist four or five months ago. The last defence review took 13 months to come to conclusions and it was a good review.

"In this review, we are coming to conclusions about four months after it began, being run by a body which didn't exist four or five months ago."

Commenting on the HCDC's report Fox said the SDSR "will not undermine our main combat effort in Afghanistan. The SDSR will address the most immediate threats to national security, while maintaining the ability to identify and deal with emerging ones. This flexible approach will ensure our armed forces can deal with challenges now and in the future.

"The MOD has received over 6,000 responses on the SDSR and related issues. This broad range of views is being considered as decisions are made on how we deliver the future strategy for national security as effectively and efficiently as possible. To ensure the SDSR is sustainable and resource-informed, it is proceeding in parallel with the October Spending Review."

No details of the defense cuts have yet been revealed, but a string of high-profile media stories over the past few weeks have claimed that the 5 billion pound (about 7.5 billion U.S. dollars) program to build two 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers for the navy is under threat, despite construction having already begun.

Other areas where cuts could fall include hundreds of jet fighters currently in service with the Royal Air Force, and some of the army's tanks and heavy armored vehicles.

Personnel is also an area where cuts could fall to make big savings, and up to 20,000 servicemen could be cut from a combined total for all three services of about 180,000.

Source: Xinhua


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