UK army, navy and RAF all to be cut back, defence review confirms | Military From “World news | The Guardian”

Britain’s army, navy and air force will all be cut back over this parliament, despite promises made by Boris Johnson during the election campaign “not to be cutting the armed services in any form”.A five-year defence review, published on Monday afternoon, confirms that the army target size will be cut by 9,500 to 72,500 by 2025, its lowest level since 1714, and the number of navy frigates and destroyers will drop from 19 to 17 in the next 18 months.The plan is to concentrate investment in replacing Trident and other high-tech rearmament – which Johnson said earlier on Monday would give the military the kit to make them “all the more useful, all the more, I’m afraid, lethal, and effective around the world”.A string of ageing RAF planes will be retired in the next couple of years, including 24 first generation Typhoon bombers, as well as nine Chinook helicopters, 14 Hercules transporter aircraft and 20 Puma support helicopters.Defence sources acknowledged that the air force cuts would reduce logistics and supply capacity at a time when ministers want British forces to be more “forward deployed” in both Africa and the Indo-Pacific.A third of the army’s Challenger tanks will be scrapped, while 148 will be upgraded, at a cost of £1.3bn.Although many of the cuts spelled out in the defence command paper are expected, their overall breadth is expected to prompt criticism from both the Conservative backbenches and opposition parties – and raise questions about comments made by the prime minister during the 2019 election.At the Conservative party manifesto launch, Johnson said there was a “sharp distinction” on defence between him and his rival, the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “We will not be cutting our armed forces in any form. We will be maintaining the size of our armed forces because we are increasing funding for them,” he added.Cash for investment has come at the cost of day-to-day spending cuts. Last November, the government announced £16.5bn increase in the defence budget over the next four years, largely earmarked both for future projects and to plug a black hole of up to £17bn in the Ministry of Defence’s budgets.However, day-to-day budgets remain flat at £31.5bn from 2021/2 for the rest of the parliament – which Labour calculated on Sunday amounted to a cut of 2.4% in real terms between 2019/20 and the year ending in March 2025.The current army size is 76,000, well below the formal target of 82,000 set at the 2015 defence review, because of ongoing problems with recruitment and retention. No redundancies will be required to meet the new target of 72,500 with military chiefs confident they can complete the cuts through natural wastage.New programmes to be funded include replacing the UK’s Trident nuclear warheads, the cap on which was increased to 260 last week. No price tag was mentioned in the review for the work, which will take two decades and still needs to be authorised by parliament. Analysts estimate it will cost £10bn.A total of £2bn over the next four years was earmarked for the Tempest future combat aircraft, which will launch towards the end of the next decade, with a mixture of crewed, uncrewed and computer controlled “loyal wingman” drones.Last week Sir Mike Wigston, the head of the RAF, predicted that by 2040, that 80% of “planes flying on operations” in combat zones such as Syria and Iraq will “not have a human in them”. Air chiefs also want to develop “high energy” weapons – a form of laser – to counter “swarming drones” from enemy countries.An emphasis on countering the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific region – described as posing a “complex, systemic challenge” – will be met by basing two small patrol vessels in the region from 2021 and a maritime unit from 2023.Navy warship numbers are not expected to reach 20 until the end of the decade.

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