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U.K. defense budget cuts worry industry

Defense Secretary Liam Fox might have to significantly curtail an order for 150 Eurofighter jets, drop one of two carriers already under construction and cut tens of thousands of troops.
by Staff Writers
London (UPI) Sep 30, 2010
The head of Britain's aerospace, defense and security industry association warned that all-too drastic defense budget cuts could damage the industry's role as a world-leading arms exporter.

"The government needs to bear in mind that as well as the decision-maker on defense it is also the customer," Aerospace Defense and Security Chairman Ian Godden was quoted as saying by "Its decisions have a profound impact on our armed forces and the 300,000 people who work across the U.K. in the defense industry to support our troops."

The British government is to announce a major defense and security strategy update as well a decision on concrete changes to the $57 billion yearly defense budget at the end of next month.

Britain's last defense review was in 1998, years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The new one comes as the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is looking to cut defense spending by 10-20 percent as part of a wider effort to rein in the national budget. London has to pay off debt linked to defense equipment deals and has vowed to cut back on procurement.

Defense Secretary Liam Fox might have to significantly curtail an order for 150 Eurofighter jets, drop one of two carriers already under construction and cut tens of thousands of troops.

That he isn't happy by the looming cuts was revealed this week, when his angry letter intended to reach only British Prime Minister David Cameron was leaked to the press.

"Draconian" budget cuts of up to $6 billion per year are "financially and intellectually virtually impossible," Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper quoted the letter as saying.

"The process is looking less and less defensible as a proper strategic defense and security Review and more like a super comprehensive spending review," Fox wrote, according to the newspaper. "If it continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years. Party, media, military and international reaction will be brutal if we don't recognize the dangers and continue to push for such draconian cuts at a time when we are at war."

Britain's navy would be hardest hit. The cuts will significantly curtail Britain's strategic maritime capabilities and make even smaller amphibious operations such as the hostage rescue mission in Sierra Leone in 2000 impossible, Fox wrote.

Cameron Thursday on the ITV channel answered his defense secretary, assuring Fox that he would guarantee "well-funded, strong armed forces to defend our country." Cameron added Fox need not fear because "we're not going to take bad decisions."

"We have thought very carefully about how to fund our armed forces properly and above all how we structure them for the future," Cameron added. "We need to fit them for the dangerous world we live in, where you need greater flexibility and a different structure of your armed forces. That is what we are going to get right."

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