The UK’s Cameron coalition government has announced plans to cut huge numbers of personnel and inventory under its Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), with defence spending to fall eight per cent over four years.
Capabilities to be cut include the entire Harrier force from 2011 and the carrier HMS Ark Royal immediately, which means the UK won’t be able to operate fixed wing aircraft off its own carrier until 2019, and the yet to enter service BAE Nimrod MRA4 maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Started in 1996, the £3.2bn (A$5.2bn) MRA4 project was originally to have been for 21 remanufactured aircraft to enter service by 2004, but cost increases and schedule delays had seen that number slashed to just nine to enter service in 2012.
Also to be chopped is the plan to acquire up to 138 F-35B STOVL versions of the F-35 JSF, with a smaller but as yet undefined number of the F-35C carrier variant, possibly as few as 36, will be acquired instead. Construction of the two new QEII class aircraft carriers will be slowed, with at least one of the vessels to be equipped with conventional catapults and arrestor gear to cater for the F-35Cs, and the other to be placed in “extended readiness”.
Plans to increase the RAF’s CH-47 Chinook fleet by 36 aircraft have been reduced to just 12 more new aircraft, while a prior commitment to upgrade the Puma helicopter fleet has been retained.
The SDSR also calls for the RAF’s C-130J (C.4) transport and the Raytheon R.1 Sentinel ISR fleets to be retired earlier than planned, for 22 A400M transports to be acquired, and for the 14 A330 based FSTA refuelling tankers on order to be retained. Also safe are the planned Navy and Army Lynx Wildcat helicopters, and the RAF’s Tornado GR.4 strike aircraft, although Tornado numbers are under review.
Some 42,000 jobs will be shed, comprising 25,000 civilian staff and 5000 uniformed personnel each from the RAF and RN, and 7000 from the Army. Tank numbers will be cut by 40 per cent and heavy artillery by 35 per cent, and the Navy’s frigate and destroyer fleet will shrink from 23 to 19.