UK must rebuild defence – MPs

Published: Tuesday 24th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Britain urgently needs to rebuild defence capabilities abandoned after the Cold War in the face of the growing threat from Russia, MPs are warning.

The Commons Defence Committee said more aircraft, warships, tanks and missiles were needed to provide a convincing deterrent to further aggression by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

It said a failure by the UK to maintain the Nato target of spending 2% of national income on defence risked undermining the Western alliance.

With defence spending set to drop below 2% of GDP after 2015-16 on current plans, the findings will add to the pressure on David Cameron to declare his commitment to the Nato target.

In its report, the committee said the world was “more dangerous and unstable” than at any time since the end of the Cold War, with an advanced military state challenging the borders of European nations for the first time in 20 years.

“The UK must rebuild its conventional capacities eroded since the Cold War,” it said.

“The requirements are many, including maritime surveillance, nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological warfare training, developing a ballistic missile defence capability, an enhanced Navy and Air Force, a comprehensive carrier strike capability, and full manoeuvre warfare capacity.

“This will involve demonstrating a conventional and nuclear capacity and determination to deter any further threats to the European order.”

After Mr Cameron trumpeted the declaration by Nato members of their commitment to work towards the 2% at the Wales summit in September, the committee said it was essential that the UK did not drop below it.

“The US has made it clear that it perceives the UK’s commitment as the lynchpin of the broader Nato commitment to increase defence spending. And therefore, if the UK were to reduce expenditure, it would undermine the alliance as a whole,” it said.

“We are concerned that, should defence spending in the UK fall below the Nato target of 2% of GDP in 2016-17, the impact on the UK’s credibility as a military ally would be extremely damaging, particularly in the eyes of the US and our European partners.

“It would damage UK leadership in Nato, and Putin’s Russia will be looking very carefully for signs of weakness in Nato.”

The committee pointed out that while Russia could deploy 150,000 troops in 72 hours, it would take Nato six months to match it.

Even the alliance’s new very high readiness joint taskforce, announced at the Wales summit – capable of deploying 5,500 troops in 48 hours – will not be ready until 2016.

At sea, it said the Royal Navy’s fleet of frigates and destroyers had been reduced from 50 in 1990 to just 19, while the RAF had been cut from 33 squadrons to seven, making it increasingly difficult to mobilise “critical mass” in the air.

With Russian submarines being spotted off the coast of Scotland, the committee said the lack of a maritime patrol aircraft, following the decision to scrap Nimrod, had opened up a “crucial gap” in UK defences.

It also questioned the Government’s decision to bring both the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers into service – having previously suggested that one could be mothballed – when it had so far committed to buying just eight of the F35 Joint Strike Fighters which will fly from them.

“It makes little sense to maintain an additional aircraft carrier without aircraft to fly off it and the necessary aircraft, surface ships and submarines to protect it,” it said.

The committee chairman, Conservative MP Rory Stewart, said that even if the 2% target was maintained, the forces would face “tough choices” about what they would be able to do in future.

“This will require immense discipline and imagination,” he said. “But it is vital to rethink the fundamental assumptions of our defence planning, if we are to help arrest the descent into chaos, which threatens to spread from the western Mediterranean to the Black Sea.”

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon dismissed the committee’s finding that the UK’s defence capabilities needed to be rebuilt as “nonsense”.

“Under this Government we have gone from the £38 billion black hole in the defence budget that we inherited to a properly funded £34 billion annual budget,” he said.

“That means we have been able to commit to spending over £160 billion on equipment over the next decade to keep Britain safe – including new joint strike fighters, hunter-killer submarines, two aircraft carriers and the most advanced armoured vehicles.

“The UK has the second largest defence budget in NATO and the largest in the EU. We are the US’s largest partner in the coalition air effort against Isil (Islamic State) – bearing more of the load in terms of strikes in Iraq than we played in either of the Gulf wars.”

Published: Tuesday 24th March 2015 by The News Editor

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