Budget cuts could reduce UK army by a quarter, says report


London : Britain is facing such a magnitude of budget cuts that the “pain” will have to be shared across the capabilities of all three of the country’s armed forces, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) warned Thursday.

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“The deeper the immediate budget cuts that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has to make, the greater the risk of reduced capability without commensurate financial gains,” RUSI said in its latest working paper on the government’s defence review.

Illustrating the consequences of a ‘balanced reductions’ policy for the medium-term, the paper estimates that the MoD could face “a cut in total service personnel numbers of around 20-25 per cent by 2019.”

This was in addition to reductions in ground force formations from 98 in 2009 to around 80 by 2019, aircraft falling from 760 to 550 and major naval vessels from 57 to 45.

“If the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) focuses primarily on balancing the MoD’s books over the next 3-4 years, it will be a ‘tragically missed opportunity,’ Britain’s oldest military think-tank warned.

Although the extent and timing of reductions in the MoD budget will not be revealed until the autumn spending review, it suggested that a 10-15 per cent real cut over the next six years remains a ‘plausible, if perhaps optimistic’ scenario.

Author of the report, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, argued that the SDSR will need to examine “whether sustaining the ability to repeat the scale of current Afghanistan operations is compatible with preserving capabilities needed for serving other defence needs.”

The professor in British Security Policy also highlighted other capabilities that would need to be assessed further to ensure ‘balanced reductions’ including the size of the fixed-wing combat aircraft fleet, the need for a second aircraft carrier, and the timing of Trident renewal.

When launching a government consultation paper on defence reforms in February, former defence secretary Bob Ainsworth said that Britain must examine its role in the world and the resources it needs to perform it.

“Afghanistan is the top priority today but we must also ensure that our Armed Forces are ready to confront the challenges of tomorrow,” Ainsworth said.

The defence review comes at a time when the government is facing massive spending cuts after Britain suffered its worst economic recession in 70 years.