A £178bn strategy to increase the UK’s military strength in the face of heightened terrorism threats has been unveiled by Prime Minister David Cameron, including a new generation of “submarine-hunting” patrol aircraft to be based in Scotland.
Two new 5,000-strong “strike brigades” of troops have also been announced, ready to be deployed across the globe at short notice, as part of a beefed-up defence spending package to confront the growing menace of terrorism and cyber attack.
The acquisition of the new F35 Joint Strike Fighter for the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers will be accelerated and increased to 24 from eight, the Prime Minister told MPs. The lifespan of the RAF’s Typhoon jets will be extended as part of an additional £12bn of equipment funding.
Mr Cameron said yesterday: “Isil is not some remote problem thousands of miles away. It is a direct threat... the world is more dangerous and uncertain today than even five years ago.”
But the number of new Type 26 frigates to be build on the Clyde is being cut from 13 to eight, prompting anger from the SNP who say the work had been a key pledge to voters in last year’s independence referendum.
And the cost of replacing the UK’s Clyde-based Trident nuclear deterrent has spiralled to £31bn – with a further £10bn identified for contingency if costs overrun – prompting concerns that it is squeezing out all other military spending.
About 17,000 Ministry of Defence civilian staff will be cut over the next five years as part of a regime of cuts to increase frontline military capability.
Mr Cameron added: “Our armed forces, police and security and intelligence services are the pride of our country. They are the finest in the world, and this Government will ensure they stay that way.
“Using our renewed economic strength, we will help them keep us safe for generations to come.”
Nine Boeing P8 maritime patrol aircraft are to be based in Lossiemouth and will plug a gap in UK defences after the highly-criticised decision in the last review in 2010 to scrap a new generation of Nimrod aircraft. They will be tasked with confronting growing concern over Russian submarine activity off the north coast of Scotland in recent years and protecting the Trident deterrent.
Moray Council leader Stewart Cree last night welcomed the decision to base the fleet in Lossiemouth.
“I’m delighted to hear that the military presence in Moray is to be strengthened,” he said.
“We argued and campaigned vociferously against the closure of RAF Kinloss and were deeply disappointed when the decision to scrap the Nimrod fleet was announced. In the changing global situation, the re-establishment of a maritime patrol facility here on the Moray coastline makes perfect sense.”
Eight Type 26 global combat ships will start to replace their Type 23 predecessors – fewer than the 13 desired by Royal Navy chiefs which was originally planned. But Mr Cameron said the Clyde could benefit from new plans to design and build a new class of lighter, flexible frigates in addition to the Type 26. Trade union GMB Scotland welcomed the news, stating that it would secure employment.
Jim Moohan, the union’s senior organiser and chair of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, said: “Once again this is great news for Clydeside, which has been rewarded for its continuing quality of work produced by the skills and experience heavily invested in by BAE Systems.
“Instead of the peaks and troughs which caused redundancies in the past, we now have continuity.”
Mr Cameron also unveiled plans for a ten-year extension to the operational lifespan of the RAF’s Typhoon jets and upgrade work to give them ground attack capabilities – effectively adding two additional frontline squadrons.
Two new Army 5,000-strong “strike brigades” are to be created capable of deploying rapidly around the world.
However, the MoD’s civilian workforce will be reduced by almost 30 per cent to 41,000 over the next five years.
There will also be a new “pay model” for armed forces personnel – with an offer to new recruits that is intended to better meet their expectations and “targets resources on the people we need the most”.
The SAS and other special forces will get an extra £2bn to improve their equipment, the RAF will double its number of drones, an extra £1.9bn will be spent on cyber security and 1,900 new personnel recruited to the intelligence agencies.
The cost of replacing Trident could now reach up to £183bn over its lifetime after a potential £16bn overrun was revealed yesterday.
Mr Cameron pledged to press ahead with the replacement as he set out his blueprint for the UK’s military defences over the next decade.
The Faslane-based submarine system will now cost £31bn to build – up by £6bn – with a further £10bn earmarked in extra contingency costs being set aside.
MPs will today vote on SNP calls to scrap Trident amid growing calls for it not to be replaced. The spiralling Trident costs came under fire from SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson last night.
“Its replacement is ballooning and will be squeezing out defence alternatives. How expensive does Trident need to be for this Government to realise that it is a super-expensive vanity project that does not deter?
“It has not deterred against terrorism, cyber attack or conventional attacks against its allies and friends. It is a huge mistake to renew Trident.”
Kate Hudson, CND general secretary, branded the increase “outrageous.”
She added: “The government has completely lost control of the budget.
“With the cost of new submarines rising by 60 per cent to £41bn – and in addition to the £142bn in-service costs reported by Crispin Blunt MP last month – Trident replacement could now rise to a staggering £183bn.”
Mr Cameron last night insisted he is still keen to have a vote on Trident.
The SDSR revealed that the Government had decided to ditch the traditional single “main gate” decision – when the final go-ahead is given to a major project – in favour of a “staged investment programme”.
The defence review at a glance
• Up to 10,000 military personnel able to take to British streets to assist police in response to a Paris-style terrorist attack
• Nine new Boeing P8 maritime patrol aircraft to be based at RAF Lossiemouth
• Eight Type 26 frigates, fewer than the 13 desired by Royal Navy chiefs, to replace their Type 23 predecessors
• Extending the life of the Typhoon jets by ten years to to 2040
• The purchase of new F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft for the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers will be accelerated
• The creation by 2025 of two new “strike brigades”, of around 5,000 troops, using the new Scout range armoured vehicles
• An extra £2 billion on new equipment such as weapons and helicopters for the elite special forces including the SAS
• Funding for 1,900 more spies across MI5, MI6 and GCHQ
• An extra £1.9 billion will be spent on cyber security, with the UK also developing an “offensive” capability to hit back at computer-enabled attacks
• Replacing the four submarines carrying the Trident nuclear deterrent at an increased cost of £31bn over 20 years – with a further £10bn for contingencies
• More than 20 new Protector drones, more than doubling the number of Reaper aircraft which they replace