November 23, 2015 / 10:48 AM / 3 years ago

UK announces rapid strike forces, more warships in new defence plan

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will boost spending on defence to combat the growing threat from Islamic militants, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday, underlining the need for rapid reaction forces after the Paris attacks.

Prime Minister David Cameron (3rd L) looks at an RAF Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet during his visit to Royal Air Force station RAF Northolt in London, Britain November 23, 2015. REUTERS/Justin Tallis/pool

After visiting Paris where he pledged British support for France after the Nov. 13 attacks which killed 130 people, Cameron unveiled plans to increase spending by 12 billion pounds to 178 billion over the next decade as part of his government’s five-year defence and security plan.

But the review, which detailed plans to buy eight BAE warships and nine Boeing maritime patrol aircraft, also said Britain would need to cut civilian staff at its defence ministry by 30 percent to help keep the government’s budget in check.

“As the murders on the streets of Paris remind us so starkly ISIL (Islamic State) is not some remote problem thousands of miles away, it is a direct threat to our security at home and abroad,” Cameron told parliament.

Detailing a list of new purchases, more financing for intelligence agencies and the targeting of the aid budget to support broken states, he said: “Not one of these capabilities is an optional extra, these investments are an act of clear-eyed self interest to ensure our future prosperity and security.”

Britain needed to be able to rapidly respond to crises as they emerged, and that as such the government would put in place a new contingency plan to deal with terror attacks, making 10,000 military personnel available on standby.

The review highlighted that passenger jets were a primary target for militant groups and that some, including Islamic State and Al Qaeda, would try to acquire chemical, biological and radiological capabilities.

EQUIPMENT ORDERS

Cameron said Britain would buy nine Boeing (BA.N) P-8 Poseidon submarine-hunting aircraft to help protect its nuclear deterrent and fill a gap left by a much-criticised decision to scrap the Nimrod spy-plane programme in 2010.

The move to buy the converted 737 passenger jets follows an intense lobbying campaign by Boeing’s rivals including Airbus Group, Finmeccanica and Lockheed Martin to try to persuade the government to run a competition for maritime patrol aircraft.

The government also said it would buy at least 13 new frigates for the Royal Navy, eight of which will be the “Type 26” warships which BAE Systems (BAES.L) is designing, with the remainder a new class of cheaper, more flexible vessels.

Cameron announced Britain would create two rapidly deployable, 5,000-strong “strike brigades” by 2025 and extend the life of its Typhoon fighter jets by 10 years to create an extra two squadrons.

It will also invest in new surveillance drones and accelerate the purchase of Lockheed Martin’s (LMT.N) F-35 Lightning II jets, with 24 due to be in place on British aircraft carriers by 2023 as part of a total order of 138.

In the review, the government raised the estimated bill for replacing Britain’s nuclear submarines to 31 billion pounds, 6 billion more than an earlier estimate.

It did not detail the maintenance costs for Trident, which the government has suggested will be about 6 percent of the annual budget over the vessels’ lifetime. That could take the total cost for maintenance and renewal to well over 150 billion pounds.

Additional reporting by Tim Hepher, editing by Elizabeth Piper

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