The U.K. is to cut the size of its army and reorganize its defenses to combat new threats with investment in space technology and cyber warfare.
In a statement to Parliament, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the army will reduce to 72,500 by 2025, from the current target strength of 82,000.
The reduction will leave the British army at its smallest size since the 1700s, but Wallace and Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted the country needs to adapt its defenses to cope with future threats.
“It is always tempting to use the shield of sentimentality to protect previously battle-winning but now outdated capabilities,” Wallace wrote in the foreword to his plan. “Such sentimentality, when coupled with over-ambition and under-resourcing, leads to even harder consequences down the line. It risks the lives of our people.”
The defense reform details follow Johnson’s announcement last week of an overhaul in foreign and security policy. Under the plans:
- Ministers are committed to spending 188 billion pounds ($260.6 billion) on defense over next four years, an increase of 14%
- Spending will include 85 billion pounds on equipment by 2025
- 3 billion pounds will be spent on new army vehicles, long-range rocket systems, air defenses, drones, electronic and cyber capabilities
- 2 billion pounds will be allocated to a “future air combat system” including Tempest fighter jets and drones. The Typhoon aircraft fleet will be upgraded with new weapons and radar
- The government said investment in shipbuilding will double between 2019 and 2024 to more than 1.7 billion pounds a year
- Over the next decade the U.K. is spending 5 billion on the Skynet 6 military satellite communication system, along with 1.4 billion pounds on other programs, including setting up a new “space command” to coordinate commercial and military control of space.
The government said its decision to boost the navy is needed in the context of the continued growth in China’s maritime strength, which is already the mightiest in the world. Russia, the plan said, is developing “significant underwater capabilities” which can “threaten undersea cables,” as well as a torpedo “capable of delivering a nuclear payload to coastal targets.”
Speaking to broadcasters, Johnson said the investment represented “the biggest spend on the armed forces since the end of the Cold War.” He insisted the army would not be making redundancies and would stand at a strength of about 100,000 when reservists are included in the total.
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