David Cameron retorts to UK armed forces criticism

David Cameron defended the capability of UK armed forces. Picture: PA

David Cameron defended the capability of UK armed forces. Picture: PA

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DAVID Cameron has dismissed concerns raised by the head of the US army about the impact of cuts on the capacity of British forces, insisting it remained a “very strong and capable partner” for the Americans.

US chief of staff General Raymond Odierno said he was “very concerned” about the falling proportion of national wealth devoted to the military and warned it could result in British units being forced to operate within US ranks rather than alongside them.

You have to add up several other countries to get to the scale of what we are doing

David Cameron

But Mr Cameron insisted that president Barack Obama appreciated the contribution made by British troops who were able to fight alongside US forces “anywhere in the world”.

Ministers are under increasing pressure from Tory MPs and senior military figures to commit Britain to meeting the Nato target to spend at least 2 per cent of GDP on defence beyond 2016.

With deep cuts to Whitehall budgets to continue after May’s general election, Chancellor George Osborne is reported to have warned privately that it may fall below that level. But speaking at a campaign event in Colchester yesterday, the Prime Minister said the UK’s defence budget was the fifth largest in the world and second only to the US in the Nato alliance.

He said: “You can see that very specifically today in Iraq, where the second-largest contributor in terms of air strikes and air patrols is Britain by a very large margin. You have to add up several other countries to get to the scale of what we are doing, second after the Americans.

“But alongside that fact, it’s also worth remembering what is coming out in terms of British equipment in defence in the coming years: we are building two aircraft carriers which will be the biggest ships the Royal Navy has ever had in its possession, we have got the Type 45 destroyers, the hunter-killer submarines, we have just signed the next stage in the order for the Type 26 frigates.

“Look at the RAF. We have got the A400Ms coming on stream, the Voyagers are now refuelling aircraft, brand new aircraft, above the skies in Iraq. You have got the Joint Strike Fighter next to come.

“So it’s an incredible programme of equipment that will make sure we have some of the most capable armed forces anywhere in the world.

“In terms of spending, the promise we have made is that the equipment budget, which is £160 billion over the next decade, that will grow by 1 per cent in real terms in each year of the next parliament.

“We have made that very clear and also we have said we don’t want to see further reductions in our regular armed forces. So we have that commitment: second largest in Nato, fifth largest in the world.”

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