Ex-US defence chief in warning over UK military cuts

Former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Picture: David Cheskin/PA Wire
Former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Picture: David Cheskin/PA Wire

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A smaller armed forces would mean the UK could no longer be a full military partner to the United States, America’s former defence secretary has warned.

Robert Gates told the BBC that cuts in the number of military staff would limit the UK’s global position, and said naval cuts were particularly damaging.

The government is planning major cuts to the armed forces.

The Army is being cut from 102,000 to 82,000 over a number of years, with the 20,000 posts expected to be gone by 2020.

Navy numbers are expected to fall by 6,000, while the RAF will lose 5,000 staff.

Mr Gates, who served under presidents Barack Obama and George Bush, said that naval cuts were particularly damaging, noting that for the first time since the First World War Britain does not have an operational aircraft carrier.

He said: ‘With the fairly substantial reductions in defence spending in Great Britain, what we’re finding is that it won’t have full spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past.’

This referred to the ability to fight on land, sea or in the air.

His concerns echoed those of senior military staff in the UK.

Last month General Sir Nicholas Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, warned that manpower was increasingly seen as an ‘overhead’, and that Britain was in danger of being left with hollowed out armed forces, with ‘exquisite’ equipment but without the soldiers, sailors and airmen needed to man it.

He told the Royal United Services Institute military think-tank that the Royal Navy was ‘perilously close’ to its ‘critical mass’ in terms of manpower.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘Like the United States, the UK has had to take tough decisions on defence spending, but we still have the fourth largest defence budget in the world and the best-trained and best-equipped armed forces outside the US.

‘Over the next decade, we plan to spend £160 billion on equipment, to ensure our armed forces retain their formidable range of cutting-edge capabilities and ability to project power across the globe, including by maintaining our major naval presence in the Gulf region.

‘Construction of the first new aircraft carrier, the largest ship the Royal Navy has ever operated, is almost complete and the Navy will also operate state-of-the-art Type 45 destroyers, new Type 26 frigates, and seven new Astute class submarines.’