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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.