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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
The armed forces of the future
A Tomahawk missile is launched from a US ship
The US has pioneered the use of modern precision weapons
Modernisation of the armed forces will see a new role for technology and flexibility for warfare "across spectrums".

One of the main aims will be to enhance the UK's ability to mount expeditionary warfare - operations in far-flung areas of the globe.

Defence priorities are continuing to shift with the prospect of fighting in central Europe now fading into memory.

Instead, difficult operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are the blueprint.

Conservatives have concerns about the government's desire to press ahead with incorporating a US-style technological approach to defence, worry the emphasis will shift from skills and personnel to systems.

One of the buzz-words is "network-enabled", with defence chiefs hoping that vehicles and personnel can be fully connected to computers and advanced communication technology, as the Americans are doing.

Ian Kemp, news editor of Jane's Defence Review, said: "We can't afford the same level of technology as the US... but there will be integrated command and control systems, surveillance satellites, unmanned vehicles.

"There will also be a much greater emphasis on precision strikes, Tomahawk missiles, or ground forces who have more precision strike weapons."

British aircraft carrier Ark Royal
The UK is building two new aircraft carriers
Mr Kemp said there would be less emphasis on the numbers of "platforms" and more on the weapons they had.

One example of the new integrated technology is the Future Rapid Effects System, a new medium-weight armoured vehicle, which is both "network-enabled" and designed to be deployed by air.

Mr Kemp described it as the "biggest programme the Army has ever undertaken".

Among the technology emphasised by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon were the 130m Soothsayer programme to monitor enemy radar and communications, the Watchkeeper unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and the Bowman radio system.

Many of the new sensor systems and surveillance and precision strike technology will also be vital for counter-terrorism operations.

The government has also indicated there will be an "enhancement" of special forces, although it is keeping the plans secret.

New planes

Mr Kemp said the British armed forces had already shown their flexibility and ability to fight across spectrums, ranging from the light forces used in the Falklands, to the heavy forces deployed in the first Gulf war.

And the modernisation plans comes as the UK is increasing its ability to deploy forces abroad, with six new roll-on, roll-off ferries, and the leasing of four giant C-17 cargo planes, leased from the Americans, which can carry Apache attack helicopters or Chinooks around the world.

The MoD is also looking forward to the delivery, in 2010, of the A400 aircraft, midway between a smaller Hercules aircraft, and the C-17s.

The new gear is all part of the aim to be deploy equipment quickly to difficult locations, such as Afghanistan, which is landlocked.

While the radical changes go on, there will also be more conventional development of the armed forces, with work beginning on two modern aircraft carriers, which will hold the new Joint Strike Fighter developed by the US.

Mr Kemp said there would continue to be scrutiny of the MoD's "smart procurement" process with pressure to deliver big projects more punctually and without over-running costs.

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