LONDON — The British armed forces future shape and utility of the British armed forces will be decided by the actions a new government takes over the course of 2015, the country's top military officer has said.

The next 12 months will be "hugely important in setting ourselves up for success over a much longer period," the chief of the UK defence staff, Gen. Sir Nick Houghton, warned in a Dec. 17 speech to the Royal United Services Institute in London Dec 17.

Britain's defense sector faces what may be a near-perfect storm in 2015. as a May A general election in May will be is followed by a review of government spending, which is expected to see the military face new demands for budget cuts. and finishing with A strategic defense and security review (SDSR) will complete the year.

"I am not so blunt as to boldly state that defense needs more resources," he said. "I would, though, remind the next government that the force structure, which this government has done so much to preserve, was predicted to need real-terms growth in defense funding, if it was going to be realized."

The Conservative-led coalition Ggovernment here cut defense spending and military capabilities soon after coming into office in 2010 as part of wider austerity measures and a need to control unfunded spending commitments.

The outcome of SDSR 2010's SDSR was a plan known as Future Force 2020 for a restructured and diminished armed services.

Senior military officers here have previously said that Future Force 2020 would only be attainable if defense budgets were at least flat-lined in the next few years.

Defense though could be in line for sizeable cuts regardless of whoever makes it into Ggovernment is elected in May as further austerity measures are taken to restore public finances.

Commentators have put the possible extent of the defense cuts at 7.5 percent or more after the 2015/16 fiscal year.

Britain just hovers above NATO's 2 percent of GDP target for defense spending, but gGovernment ministers refuse to commit to maintaining that level of spending beyond next year.

"A condition of greater national security is entirely feasible if, but only if, we make the right decisions over the next 12 months," said Houghton.

The Cchief of the Defence sStaff said the decisions taken next year on issues like balancing resources, risk and ambition will dictate Britain's ability to "preserve our security and our international status."

Houghton said that given the realities of the nation's fiscal situation, defense wouldn't be able to protect its anticipated funding levels unless its case for doing so was "immaculate.".

The Chief of the Defence Staff He listed half-a-dozen preliminaries the MoD needed to get right before it presented its case to the Treasury and the Cabinet Office. These included:

  • Spending money on the right things and not over specifying equipment needs
  • bBeing efficient as possible with the money the MoD already has
  • bBuy capability from wherever the MoD can obtain the best value
  • bBalancing the budget better between equipment and people, training and infrastructure
  • rRe-looking at how defense is funded for operational activity and better exploiting alliances, including testing the boundaries of sovereign ownership of some capabilities through pooling and sharing.

Houghton said if the Ggovernment wanted to procure equipment to meet wider political or national industrial purposes, rather than best value for money then that need to be taken into account.

"When we are match-fit in all these areas ... then our case for money can then more properly be a judgement based on the government's appetite for risk and its sense of national ambition," said Houghton.

The biggest challenge facing the military though is the "ability to retain the service, the talent , the intellectual edge and remarkable character of the people who serve our nation," he said.

In what is now an annual state of nation speech at RUSI, the Chief of the Defence Staff Houghton last year warned the armed forces faced a potential hollowing out which would leave the military buying exotic equipment but having insufficient personnel to operate it.

A prophesy which started to come true earlier this year when the Royal Navy had to do a deal to borrow engineers from the US Coast Guard to help man it's warships.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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