Britain says it's still US 'wingman' despite defense budget cuts
Britain's sharp defense budget cuts target 8 percent of the military's $59 billion budget. Prime Minister David Cameron called President Obama to reassure him that the UK would remain a 'first rate' military power.
Bringing the ax down Tuesday on large swaths of its defense budget, Britain moved to reassure the US that it will retain its capability to act as Washington’s most trusted "wingman" on future military operations.
Critics say that the UK’s once mighty armed forces are being hobbled by a drive to slash public spending. But Prime Minister David Cameron called President Obama Monday night to brief him on the plans and reiterate that the UK would remain “a first rate military power and a robust ally of the United States."
Concerns about Britain’s ability to project its forces overseas were fueled by the stark announcement that the 80-strong fleet of Harriers – the iconic fighter jet of the Falklands war – will be immediately decommissioned ahead of plans to buy new Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) being developed in the US.The move will leave Britain without the ability to fly jets from its aircraft carriers for 10 years because the JSFs will not be in service until 2020.
The Royal Navy’s flagship carrier HMS Ark Royal, one of the two aging vessels from which the Harriers are the only jets that can operate, will also go out of service as the Navy bears the brunt of cuts of 8 percent to the military’s £37 billion ($59 billion) budget. The UK is the world's fourth-biggest spender on defense – after the USA, China, and France.
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Cut budget, cooperate more
Defense Secretary Liam Fox sought to make up for the 10-year gap in Britain’s carrier strike capability by stressing that US and French planes would be able to use one of two new carriers being built.
"If you are going to have an effective NATO in the years ahead, then it seems that better working [relationships] between our allies seems to make sense,” he said Monday in an interview with the BBC. “In the particular case of the French, the recent decision under President Sarkozy to engage more with NATO and to become more interoperable with NATO allies seems to me to be a sensible decision.”