British military spending set to soar

A British military officer in front of the Union Jack. Prime Minister David Cameron was to present the full £178 billion (S$383 billion) spending plan for the British military over the next decade in Parliament yesterday.
A British military officer in front of the Union Jack. Prime Minister David Cameron was to present the full £178 billion (S$383 billion) spending plan for the British military over the next decade in Parliament yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PM Cameron to announce major defence boost as Europe remains on high alert

LONDON • British Prime Minister David Cameron was set to announce plans yesterday to boost the country's military equipment budget by £12 billion (S$26 billion), the latest in a range of commitments to fight terrorism and other security threats as Europe remains on a state of high alert.

The Strategic Defence and Security Review would outline plans to increase Britain's military capability through the purchase of new maritime patrol aircraft and fighter jets, and to fund two new 5,000-strong strike brigades, according to a statement. Mr Cameron was to present the full £178 billion spending plan for the British military over the next decade to lawmakers.

Britain is bracing itself for a long fight against terrorism following the downing of a Russian passenger jet and deadly attacks in Paris, both claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.

The review of defence capabilities would come a day after Chancellor George Osborne announced a 30 per cent increase to the counter-terrorism budget, and days before Mr Cameron outlines his strategy for extending British bombing raids against ISIS.

National security and military officials had earlier warned against cutting the defence budget.

"At its heart is an understanding that we cannot choose between conventional defences against state-based threats and the need to counter threats that do not recognise national borders," Mr Cameron would say of the review in his speech to Parliament, according to prepared remarks.

"Today we face both and we must respond to both."

Mr Cameron, visiting French President Francois Hollande in Paris earlier yesterday, said he also plans to go to Parliament this week to set out a "comprehensive strategy" for dealing with ISIS. This may include asking lawmakers to approve extending strikes against the group from Iraq to inside Syria. That depends on whether Mr Cameron thinks he can win over doubters both in the opposition Labour Party and among his own Conservatives.

"It is clear that the world is coming together to tackle this evil terrorist threat," Mr Cameron said. "I firmly support the action President Hollande has taken to strike (ISIS) in Syria and it's my firm conviction that Britain should do so too. Of course that will be a decision for the Parliament to make."

Yesterday's review had been tensely anticipated by Britain's defence industry. While the government has committed to meeting the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's requirement that 2 per cent of GDP be devoted to defence, it has also pledged to balance its books by 2019-2020, resulting in defence spending being slashed in recent budgets. The announcement would include a 10-year life extension for the Royal Air Force's Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes.

The Typhoon's expanded role is a boost to BAE Systems, the British partner of the pan-European consortium, which said on Nov 12 that it would slow output of the plane amid a dearth of orders, even after Italy announced a 28-jet deal with Kuwait. The upgrades, which will add two new squadrons and fit the jets with improved ground attack and radar capabilities, will extend the jets' lifespan to 2040, Mr Cameron was to tell Parliament.

Companies including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics are also set to benefit, with respective confirmations of orders for nine Boeing P8 torpedo-fitted maritime patrol aircraft, a tripling of the pace of deliveries of the Lightning F-35 jet up to 2023, and the inclusion of almost 600 Scout armoured vehicles in two new rapid deployment "Strike Brigades" scheduled for operation by 2025.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2015, with the headline 'British military spending set to soar'. Print Edition | Subscribe