July 19, 2012

British army 'capable' US ally despite cuts: minister

British defense minister Philip Hammond assured the United States on Wednesday that Britain's army would remain a trusted ally, despite severe austerity measures.

"I want to reassure you about our resolve to remain a capable power," the minister said in a speech to a Washington thinktank, the Center for a New American Security, insisting "the bonds between our armed forces are special."

Hammond said London plans to spend around $250 billion on military equipment over the next decade and will "continue to have the fourth largest defense budget in the world, exceeding the NATO standard of two percent of GDP."

Hammond is in the United States to receive the first international delivery of a F-35 stealth fighter, developed with the United States, and took the opportunity to explain the budget cuts to Britain's foremost military ally.

"Our objective is clear: to maintain highly capable, agile armed forces supported by balanced budgets, disciplined processes within an efficient, effective department," he said.

Britain's army bore the brunt of a 2010 austerity plan, providing for an eight percent defense department budget cut over a period of four years. The plan will also eliminate at least 7,000 army posts by 2015.

"The force we'll be able to field in 2020 will be smaller, but better equipped, better supported and better configured to meet the challenges of the new security environment," he said.

"We've taken great care to protect those capabilities that underpin our value as an ally to the US and in NATO," Hammond said, highlighting Britain's "command capability, our special forces, our industrial and technology base, the knowledge and the experience of interoperability."

Hammond said that, although London will seek to work "more closely with our neighbors in Europe, particularly France and Germany the defense relationship with the US will always be paramount."