WASHINGTON — A top UK defense official said she believes a major review of its military will be less painful than one faced five years ago, when the budget situation forced tough choices on London's military leaders.

Penny Mordaunt, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, told an audience at the Atlantic Council Thursday that the upcoming strategic defense and security review (SDSR) will reflect how both the economy and world stage has changed since the last review in 2010.

"I have happy news that this SDSR is not going to be like the 2010 review," Mordaunt said in her public comments on Thursday. "We are in a different position now. In the last five years, through really tough reforms, we are now no longer that basket case."

In 2010, the focus was largely on keeping equipment over people. Mordaunt, whose portfolio focuses more on the personnel side of the military, indicated that this review would flip that, with an emphasis on developing people in order to avoid the dreaded "hollow force" that UK officials have been warning of in recent years.

Mordaunt also acknowledged criticisms of the 2010 review as not being strategic enough and indicated taking in the full world view will be a priority for this year's review.

The defense review is going on side-by-side with a broader review of the three years starting 2016-17 that is expected to result in spending cuts for departments other than health, education and overseas aid, which are have been ring-fenced protected.

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Speaking to reporters after the event, Mordaunt again emphasized the focus on personnel versus the last SDSR's focus on equipment.

"Going into the SDSR, it's about the resources I need to really make the step change we need in diversity and inclusion, which is fundamental to us being able to recruit and retain the best people," she explained. "It's about ensuring we have a pipeline of people, in particular trades and skills."

Asked which skill sets she was particularly concerned about, Mordaunt singled out those related to the nuclear enterprise, as well as overall engineering. She also said the military is looking at how best to provide career flexibility to personnel.

"The economy is growing, but that makes our job harder in terms of keeping people in our armed forces," she said. "But we know what we need to do to enable people to work with us. we have to provide that flexibility."

One area not likely to get hit in the SDSR is the UK's pair of Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers.

"The decision to have two carriers was taken prior to the SDSR, and for my money that was absolutely the right decision," she said. "There's no point in having a capability that you can't rely on, and you need at least two carriers to be able to guarantee you can use them when you need them. So that's the right decision."

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Mordaunt also echoed the calls from UK acquisition head Philip Dunne for the US to begin purchasing greater numbers of UK goods.

"We need to have some discussions about how the US can help itself by helping us," she said. "We buy things from the US. We would love the US to buy more things from us and to help us reduce our end costs, things we are generally innovative at and which would benefit [the US]."

That's more wishful thinking than realistic, wrote Byron Callan, an analyst with Capitaol Alpha Partners.

"Mourdaunt made a plea for the U.S. to buy more from U.K. defense industry," he wrote in a note to investors, "but we doubt anything is forthcoming."

Email: amehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @AaronMehta

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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