Page last updated at 13:32 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

RAF chief 'pessimistic' over possible budget cuts

By Juliana Liu
Asia Business Report, BBC World, Singapore air show

Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft
The Eurofighter Typhoon allows squadrons to multi-task

The head of the Royal Air Force has admitted to worries about painful budget cuts which could follow a planned strategic defence review.

"The feeling is more pessimistic than optimistic at the moment," Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton said.

Asked by the BBC whether the RAF budget would be cut dramatically, he said "there is certainly concern that that's what is going to happen".

Any cuts would follow a strategic defence review after the next election.

RAF Air Chief Marshal Stephen Dalton
We are able to do so much more with the resources we have today
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton

It will be the first full-scale review of the armed forces since the strategic defence review of 1998.

According to an influential military think tank, British forces could shrink by 20% by 2016, due to budget cuts.

The Royal United Services Institute believes the number of trained military personnel might fall from 175,000 in 2010 to about 142,000 in six years.

Advanced technology

The RAF has already felt the sting of budget cuts. Despite that, Sir Stephen said the air force was not compromising its mission in any way.

"We are able to do so much more with the resources we have today," he said.

"Cutting support costs down has reduced overall costs by billions of pounds."

More advanced technology helps as well.

Sir Stephen said the Eurofighter Typhoon, the main UK fighter jet in service, allowed squadrons to multi-task.

"You can do all three or four roles in the same mission," he said, referring to the fighter's ability to handle air-to-air combat in addition to air-to-ground fighting.

Feverish discussions

Airbus A400M military transport plane

Sir Stephen expressed optimism over the troubled Airbus A400m military transport plane.

The aircraft is being developed by Airbus, the aircraft division of the defence giant EADS.

Delays have pushed the programme some 11.2bn euros ($15.6bn; £9.8bn) over budget.

Airbus has asked seven European governments that ordered the planes to inject a further 4.4bn euros into the project, or it will walk away from a fixed-price deal agreed years ago.

Feverish discussions are between the aircraft maker and top government officials are ongoing, with high-level meetings scheduled for Thursday this week.

"I think there will have to be some adjustment," Sir Stephen said.

"I think an agreement will come out positively. But it will be another three to four years before they will be in service at the RAF."

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