Britain to announce military cuts as austerity measures loom


LONDON: Britain is to scrap major defence assets like its flagship aircraft carrier and fleet of Harrier jets in a defence review being announced Tuesday as part of stinging, across-the-board government cuts.
Prime Minister David Cameron will tell the House of Commons from 1430 GMT the HMS Ark Royal is to be decommissioned almost immediately, while a decision on a replacement for the Trident nuclear deterrent is set to be delayed.
In total, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is facing cuts of around eight percent from its 37 billion pound (42 billion euro, 58 billion dollar) budget in the defence review. It comes 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 to 20 billion pounds by 2015-16. The decision to axe Ark Royal earlier than the 2014 date originally planned — confirmed by government sources — 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. But Cameron defended himself against any suggestion that military strength was being sacrificed for economic reasons.
“You’re not a strong and well-defended country unless you have strong and well-defended finances as well as armed forces,” he said on a visit to a military base outside London ahead of the announcement to parliament.
“We will make sure that our troops in Afghanistan get every single piece of equipment and support that they need because the work they are doing is vital for our national security. “We will be making a modest contribution to dealing with the appalling state of our national finances by making sure that what we spend on defence reduces, but reduces by a small amount.” Britain is the second-biggest contributor of foreign troops in Afghanistan after the US.