Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told the Parliament's Defence Committee that additional big budget cuts could force the UK to 'ask some serious structural question about the type of forces we are able to maintain.' (Carl Court / AFP)
LONDON — Britain’s defense secretary has warned of structural cuts to the armed forces if the defense budget suffers further significant cuts.
“We have reached the end of the process where we can salami-slice [capabilities]; we would have to ask some serious structural question about the type of forces we are able to maintain,” Philip Hammond told lawmakers on the Parliament’s defense committe Oct. 9.
“We are close to the point where continuing to shave amounts off budgets without fundamentally restructuring what we do is probably getting into diminishing returns, where for every pound saved you lose more and more effective capability,” the defense secretary said. “If we were confronted at a point in the future by a significant budget reduction, it might be more sensible to stand back and rethink the structure of our forces.”
Hammond, who was being quizzed by the committee on the upcoming 2015 strategic defense and security review, said he had heard nothing to suggest the budget would face a significant hit.
The Royal United Services Institute said in a commentary earlier this year that further defense cuts were inevitable if the Conservative-led coalition government won the general election in 2015 and stuck to its commitment to continue to reduce overall spending.
The current government assumption is for a zero growth in real terms for the defense budget as a whole between 2015 and 2020, but within that figure to increase equipment spending by 1 percent a year for five years.
The British defense budget has taken an 8 percent hit since the coalition came to office in 2010. In addition, a further £38 billion (US $61 billion) black hole in spending commitments left by the previous Labour administration has been fixed.
The result has been deep program, capability and personnel cuts to the armed forces and civilian workers.
The defense budget this year stands at around £33.4 billion.
The view of defense chiefs and officials is if defense is left in peace, the current budget is sufficient to deliver the outcomes required, Hammond said.
But if the budget continues to decline, he said, then critical mass in some capability areas would be under threat and it might make more sense to ax the capability entirely.
“If you keeping reducing the budget you get to a point where, rather than slipping below the critical mass in a number of areas, it might be more sensible to ask the question whether you need to maintain the breadth of spectrum or better focus capability,” he said.
Hammond told the committee that while Britain doesn’t have a full-spectrum capability like the US, “we have a broad-spectrum capability, much broader than most other nations in the world.”
One of the capabilities the British axed in the 2010 strategic defense and security review was the Nimrod MR4 maritime surveillance aircraft.
Hammond said the 2015 review would consider whether and how the capability might be regenerated and suggested UAVs might fill part of the requirement. He said there is “growing evidence” that UAVs could deliver some of the requirement at costs considerably lower than they were even five years ago.