Following the comprehensive spending review by Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, UK defence secretary Geoff Hoon is expected to announce details of a new defence review on Wednesday.
Although Hoon's announcement, titled ‘Delivering Security in a Changing World', has been delayed from 16 July to 21 July (just before the Parliamentary recess begins, and thus leaving little time for scrutiny) few expect the statement to be much more than an overview.
Details of the forthcoming cuts are expected to be trickled out later in the year – in some cases after 2005's expected General Election.
Nevertheless, the extent of the cuts being proposed is such that it has reportedly generated "great disquiet at desk level". Some of the proposals have been widely leaked.The RAF is expected to lose five airfields from a list including Benson, Coltishall, Leeming, Leuchars and Odiham together with a massive reduction in manpower across all three services. Informed sources differ as to whether older aircraft types, including the Sepecat Jaguar fighter bomber and Eurocopter Puma helicopter, will be prematurely withdrawn from service.
Other proposals are believed to include the loss of four Army infantry battalions, two Type 23 frigates and three Type 42 destroyers, together with one aircraft carrier.
Although Chancellor Gordon Brown announced an average 1.4% annual increase in real terms in defence spending, this was a smaller rise than for any other major department, and is believed to be conditional on the MoD generating annual efficiency savings of £2.8 billion by 2007-2008.
Moreover, what MoD insiders describe as "massive overspend and programme slippage on a couple of major projects", notably the Astute nuclear submarines and Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft has "seriously overheated" the MoD's Equipment Plan (EP), and major cuts in existing force size and structure will be required if the MoD is to remain within its modestly increased budget.
The adoption of Resource Account Budgeting (RAB) by the MoD has reportedly led to significant cash flow problems within the Treasury, with serious disruption to long-term financial planning.
The Treasury laid down stringent limits on MoD expenditure, and effectively suspended the 2004 Equipment Programme.
Some 16 teams, known as work strands, were set up to suggest and examine cost-cutting measures in order to reduce the massive overspend across the whole of defence.
Workstrand 1 is believed to be tasked with examining the organisation of the MoD and top level budget holders, while Workstrands 2, 3, and 4 deal with RN, Army and RAF manpower. Strategic deterrence is being handled by Workstrand 5, while Workstrand 6 is responsible for frigate and destroyer numbers.
Workstrand 8 has examined ground-based air defence, Workstrand 9 looks after fast jet numbers and Workstrand 10 is the Eurofighter Typhoon team.
Workstrands 11, 12, and 13 respectively dealt with strategic deployment, medical services and support/attack helicopters, while 14, 15 and 16 were tasked with achieving savings from pay, civilian manpower and operational deployments.
Source: Flight Daily News