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British defense secretary says ‘tough choices’ are coming due on spending


Further evidence that Britain’s conventional defense capabilities are in line for a major shakeup has come in a speech given by Defense Secretary Ben Wallace on Dec 11.

Britain’s forces face some difficult decisions over whether to junk capabilities and make cuts in legacy programs as part of a transformation effort made possible by a recent announcement of a major, multi-year budget hike for the Ministry of Defence, Wallace said at a Royal United Services Institute virtual event.

“Some tough choices will still have to be made. But those choices will allow us to invest in new domains, new equipment and new ways of working. … Sometimes it will mean quality over quantity or the good rather than the perfect. Or simply letting go of some capabilities. Too often we cling to sentimentality when we need to explore alternatives,” he said.

Britain’s permanent secretary for the Ministry of Defence, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, used similar language earlier this week.


Giving evidence to the parliamentary Defence committee he signaled the MoD would have to cut legacy programs if it wanted to pivot to more relevant capability in cyber, space, underwater and unmanned and other high tech sectors.Further details of what goes and what stays on the capability front are expected to emerge over the next few weeks ahead of the publication of a government review integrating defense, foreign, security and development policy expected late January.

Howard Wheeldon, of Wheeldon Strategic Advisory, said that when the cuts do arrive they will be substantial.

“We could well see some fairly big and very questionable changes being announced that may or may not include medium and heavy-lift air transport capability and one of the two not already contracted armored vehicle programs,” said the consultant.The British Army already has a major upgrade of its armor forces underway. The ARTEC Boxer 8x8 personnel carrier and the General Dynamics Ajax reconnaissance vehicle are already under contract for production.

As things stand, a program upgrading the Challenger 2 main battle tank goes before MoD’s investment approval officials in the next few days, while a Lockheed Martin upgrade of the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle is planned for production approval in 2021.

“I welcome the planned increase in spending on Royal Navy and maritime equipment plus the various new digital, cyber and space technology programs planned. All this is very positive, but that doesn’t mean we can do away with conventional defense equipment in the manner that I fear is being planned,” said Wheeldon.The budget increase revealed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month adds over £16 billion to MoD coffers. That’s an 18 percent rise over the over the next four years, a scale of increase not seen for decades. The budget today stands at some £41.5 billion, or $55 billion.

Wallace pointed out, though, that the budget settlement, which takes effect in the financial year 2021/22, has done nothing to lift the pressures around the current years spending.

“Tomorrow’s settlement doesn’t relieve our more immediate financial pressures. You don’t get out of a decade of deferrals and underfunding overnight,” he remarked.

Earlier this week reports emerged that the MoD was cutting back on training, temporarily standing down Royal Navy reserves and taking other cost cutting measure to balance the books in the current financial year.