LONDON — A former British defense minister has claimed the Ministry of Defence is looking at options to reduce the British Army to 60,000 regular troops to meet possible heavy cuts to military spending as part of continuing austerity efforts after the upcoming general election.

Nick Harvey, athe Liberal Democrat member of Parliament who was the armed forces minister in the early days of the Conservative-led coalition government here, told Parliament that "paper exercises are already being done looking at what an Army of just 60,000 would look like because of the financial crunch the Department [the MoD] will face."

The MoD dismissed Harvey's claim.

"There is no change to the Government's existing plans for a [regular] Army of 82,500 while increasing the number of reserves [to 30,000]. And there is no work underway to look at further reduction," said the MoD in a statement.

The MoD is already in the throes of slimming the regular Army from 102,000 to 82,500 as a result of a 2010 strategic defense and security review that was not very strategic but largely dictated by the need to balance the books in the face of substantial budget cuts and previous over-commitments on equipment programs .

Maritime patrol aircraft, the Harrier combat jet fleet and warships were among the capabilities cut along with dozens of programs sidelined as part of a 7.7 percent budget cut and reductions of a £38 billion (US $57.5 billion) black hole in defense spending commitments .

Now, said industry executives, analysts and others, the government could be looking at a similar bloodbath if defense is faced with further big spending reductions, to spending , particularly with the replacement of the Trident missile submarines due to swallow a large portion of the equipment budget over the next few years.

A decision on moving to the demonstration and build phase of the program to build four submarines to replace the current Vanguard-class of boats, at an expected cost of at least £25 billion, is scheduled for next year.

With the Air Force and the Navy already pared to the bone, the Army may be in the firing line again if the MoD needs to lower cut personnel costs as part of a wider move to accommodate budget cuts in a new defense and security review expected to take place after the general election in May.

Analysts said they expect the review to be short and sharp if the Conservatives form what is expected to be a coalition government, and longer if a Labour–led coalition comes to power.

"I would expect a Conservative led government to complete the SDSR by the end of the year but it could take Labour between 12 and 16 months. If there is a minority government in power a formal review might not even immediately get underway at all," they said.

Both the main political parties here are signed up to substantial budget cuts to help restore public finances.

Last year media reports said Treasury officials had already started discussions with the MoD concerning around a potential cut of around 7.5 percent.

Harvey The Liberal Democrat politician said that any cuts on a similar scale to those suffered in 2010 would see Britain unable to meet its NATO commitment of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense.

"If defense were to face another cut comparable to that which it took in 2010, which seems entirely possible, the proportion of our gross domestic product that we spend on defense, which is already destined to go below 2 percent next year, will make rapid headway down towards 1.5 percent," he said.

The government here has committed to meet the 2 percent mark next year but has have refused to make any promises beyond that.

At the moment, only health, education and overseas aid spending are ring-fenced from cuts and there is no sign defense might be added to the list.

The actual size of any defense cuts are impossible to say ahead of the election of a new government followed by the setting of departmental budgets for the financial year 2016/17 and beyond.

The British defense budget for the 2014/15 financial year stands at £34.1 billion and that falls to £33.4 billion next year.

Overall, Britain is currently set to spend £162.9 billion on its 10-year equipment plan out to 2024.

Harvey, in a parliamentary debate on the renewal of the Trident missile nuclear submarine fleet Jan. 20, said there is were a series of big procurement projects that will would come under the microscope in the coming SDSR.

"On the table for discussion in this summer's SDSR is a whole series of big procurement projects. The two new aircraft carriers are due to have joint strike fighter aircraft flying off them — we do not know how much their unit cost will be or how many of them we will be able to afford," he said.

"The Type 26 frigate is due to be built in the next few years, but it is very difficult to know how much that will cost. We need more helicopters and more intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance assets. We need another generation of remotely piloted aircraft. The existing amphibious shipping is due to become redundant in the latter part of this decade and will need replacing if we are going to sustain that capability. The Army's vehicle crisis remains unresolved after the collapse of most of the future rapid effect system program," said Harvey said.

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