DEFENCE secretary Philip Hammond today issued a sharp warning that there can be ‘no going back’ on the government’s cuts to the armed forces made in last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).
In his first major speech since taking over following the resignation of Liam Fox, he voiced his determination not to compromise current operations or constrain future defence capability.
But he stressed that only by tackling the £38bn ‘black hole’ in the defence budget can the UK’s military capabilities be sustained over the long term.
‘Unpicking the SDSR piece by piece is simply not an option,’ he said.
Mr Hammond disclosed the final cost of the operations in Libya had come in lower than previously estimated at £212 million - including £67 million for replacing spent munitions - all of which would be met from the Treasury reserve.
In his speech to the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London, he pointed to the Libya campaign as an example of the forces’ ability to take on new commitments despite the cuts in the SDSR, which left the Royal Navy with 5,000 fewer sailors and without proper aircraft carriers or fast jets until at least 2020.
‘This year, our armed forces have shown that - even with the enduring campaign in Afghanistan - they have the capability and the capacity to respond when the national interest requires,’ he said.
Mr Hammond said after the defence budget ‘spiralled out of control’ under the former Labour government, ministers had to take action if the military was not to continue a ‘hand to mouth existence’.
Responding to critics who say the military is becoming too stretched, Mr Hammond said: ‘I am clear that the purpose of the Ministry of Defence isn’t simply to balance the books; it exists to defend the country.
‘But the situation we face now - after the years of political failure to grip the problem - is that eliminating the black hole in the defence budget is the only way to sustain military capability over the long-term.
‘If we don’t reshape now we won’t be in a position to order new equipment in the future. Our challenge is to move from the fantasy budgets of the past to firm foundations for the future.
‘This is a transition that is essential to the future of defence - but no-one should be under any illusion that it will be easy or pain-free.’