Page last updated at 09:59 GMT, Friday, 14 May 2010 10:59 UK

Ex-Army chief Dannatt says equipment cuts inevitable

General Sir Richard Dannett
Sir Richard is advising the Conservatives on defence

A former head of the army who now advises the Conservatives on defence has said there is scope for substantial cuts in equipment budgets.

General Sir Richard Dannatt said the UK had "too many" tanks, heavy artillery and fighter jets and denied culling them would hit "boots on the ground".

The new government is committed to maintaining defence spending this year but future big cuts are anticipated.

The Conservatives were critical of Labour's record on defence funding.

The new coalition government is expected to begin a strategic defence review in the next few months which will determine the shape and size of Britain's armed forces in the years to come.

It will be the first such comprehensive review of the UK's military priorities and needs since 1998.

Defence budgets will not be ring-fenced under the new Conservative-Lib Dem administration and some experts have said the Ministry of Defence's annual £35bn budget could fall by 15% by 2016 as ministers seek to accelerate plans to reduce the UK's record peacetime budget deficit.

'Shameful contract'

Sir Richard Dannatt, who has been advising the Conservatives since retiring as chief of the general staff last year, said there was room for substantial savings in military procurement.

"We can make a lot of savings on the equipment programme and still do what we need to do," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

A new government has a chance to look at a number of contractors in the face and say, hang on, things have to change
Sir Richard Dannatt

He said he disagreed with those arguing that budgets cannot be reduced without hurting frontline operations and putting serving personnel at greater risks and outlined areas where savings could be made.

He added: "I think, by anyone's recognition, we have too many tanks, heavy artillery, and too many fast jets."

"Particularly as far as fast jets are concerned, a number of contracts need to be looked at, one of which is the air-to-air refuelling contract which was a shameful one, a very, very expensive one, two years ago.

"A new government has a chance to look at a number of contractors in the face and say, hang on, things have changed. We are going to do things differently."

'Clear ambitions'

He said the strategic defence review must make "quite clear" what the UK's national interests and foreign policy ambitions would be in future and how the armed forces must adapt to changing threats.

Sir Richard said the three branches of the armed forces needed to continue working "superbly together" and calls for the RAF to be merged into the army were "facile".

The new government has stressed its commitment to the UK's mission in Afghanistan, where more than 9,000 troops are engaged in fighting the Taliban and training the Afghan army and police forces.

Foreign Secretary William Hague is travelling to Washington on Friday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan with his US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

In opposition, the Conservatives backed Labour plans to acquire two new aircraft carriers and renew the Trident nuclear deterrent. The Lib Dems now support Trident renewal despite their earlier misgivings.

The strategic defence review will look at all future commitments including plans to acquire 140 joint strike fighters from the US as well as the final batch of Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, areas which experts believe could be pruned.

The current head of the army, General Sir David Richards, said last autumn that the traditional focus on conventional warfare between states needed to change, with more emphasis on counter-terrorism and cyber warfare.

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