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Wednesday, July 8, 1998 Published at 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK

UK Politics

Defence: mobility and co-operation the key

Rapid deployment was important in the Gulf crisis

Defence Secretary George Robertson has said that the Strategic Defence Review means a fundamental re-shaping and modernisation of the UK's armed forces.

Formally announcing the results of the review in the Commons, Mr Robertson began by apologising for the leak of the document to newspapers on Tuesday. He said an inquiry had been ordered and anyone found responsible dealt with severely.

He continued by saying that the review was designed to cope with "tomorrow's threats rather than yesterday's enemies". This meant a more flexible military able to respond to threats around the world.

Mobility and co-operation

Mr Robertson said that the keystone of the new strategy was the establishment of Joint Rapid Reaction Forces, building on the small Joint Rapid Deployment Force created by the previous government.

These forces, made up of all branches of the military, would allow Britain to carry out two Bosnia-style operations at the same time.

The navy and the air force will set up a new Joint Force 2000, following their successful co-operation in the Gulf.

The Harrier jump jets from both branches will be able to operate from both aircraft carriers and land bases.

The navy's three aircraft carriers, capable of carrying 20 warplanes each, will be replaced with two larger carriers with about twice the strike power from around the year 2012.

Four roll-on roll-off container ships and four big air transport planes - C17s or their equivalents - will be ordered to improve the speedy deployment of forces worldwide.

The army will be restructured with two deployable divisions, one in Germany, one in the UK. The number of troops in Germany will be cut by 2,500 but total numbers will rise by 3,300.

[ image: Swift transport is essential]
Swift transport is essential
The airborne brigade will be converted into a mechanised brigade and its parachute role transfered to the airmobile brigade.

This in turn will become more powerful when new attack helicopters enter service.

Battlefield helicopters will be organised under a single command.

Education and training

The increased emphasis on flexibility has partly prompted a Learning Forces initiative. The aim is to provide recruits with the skills they need in their new roles as well as the qualifications they will require when returning to civilian life.

In addition, a task force will be set up to address the special problems facing service families because of their mobile lifestyle, Mr Robertson said. A new veterans' unit would provide guidance and advice to ex-service men and women.

The review also identified a weakness in the ability to deal with large numbers of casualties overseas.

A new regular ambulance regiment will therefore be established and a 200-bed primary casualty ship acquired. Medical reservists will be called out compulsorily if necessary.

Old threats decline

The UK's nuclear deterrent will be retained but with fewer warheads - less than 200 compared to a maximum of 300 previously. The last batch of seven Trident missile bodies will not be purchased, leaving the stock at its current 58.

Only one Trident submarine will be on patrol at a time with a reduced load of 48 warheads compared to a previous limit of 96.

[ image: Less emphasis on naval numbers]
Less emphasis on naval numbers
Also at sea, navy frigates and destroyers will decline from 35 to 32, minehunters from 25 to 22, and attack submarines from 12 to 10.

On land, there will be less emphasis on tank warfare. The army's current eight regiments will be merged into six larger ones.

Each will have 58 tanks, but only 30 will be used in peacetime. The rest will remain in storage pending any crisis.

The number of frontline aircraft will be reduced by 36, though Mr Robertson said Britain remained committed to the Eurofighter.

The Territorial Army, which had a big part in defending the UK against Soviet invasion, will be cut from 56,000 to 40,000 but will be trained in new roles and more closely integrated with the regular army.

Reducing costs, raising cash

The Strategic Defence Review estimates that £685m a year can be cut from the defence budget by the financial year 2001-2002. Taking growth into account, this would trim the defence share of the UK's gross domestic product from 2.7% to 2.4%.

The estimated reduction takes into account one-off asset sales, which the review puts at £2.2bn over three years.

[ image: Duke of York's HQ]
Duke of York's HQ
This represents 20% of the Ministry of Defence's holdings of equipment (including weapons and ammunition), land and buildings.

The land sales are expected to raise £700m over four years and include the disposal of the Duke of York barracks in central London.

Drive for procurement efficiency

One important aim of the review is to reduce the costs of procuring equipment, which frequently runs over-budget and over-schedule.

A new Chief of Defence Logistics - Lieutenant General Sir Sam Cowan, currently Quartermaster General - will be appointed to deliver best business practice in the support services in all three branches of the military.

A Smart Procurement initiative will mean a fundamental review of the way procurement is handled and the government hopes to introduce modern management methods.

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