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'Armed forces face 20% budget squeeze'

Britain must cut by at least a fifth its armed forces’ personnel, aircraft and vessels in order to maintain the current balance of capabilities under the most likely defence budget settlement, according to a leading think-tank.  UPDATE: See RUSI Working Paper 'A Question of balance? The Deficit and Defence PrioritiesA Question of balance? The Deficit and Defence Priorities'.

The Financial Times reports (03 Jun 2010 that an authoritative study of the looming squeeze on defence spending by the Royal United Services Institute warns military chiefs to prepare for a “flat cash” settlement while urging the Treasury to avoid bringing forward deep cuts.

While real-term cuts of 12 per cent over the next six years will still leave Britain as a leading military power in Europe, the UK’s relative strength will wane against France and emerging powers such as India and China, the study warns.

Given these severe fiscal constraints, the ongoing Strategic Defence Review must also seriously consider the financial and strategic trade-offs from reducing force levels in Afghanistan and Germany.

Malcolm Chalmers, a fellow at Rusi and author of the study, sets out a “plausible, if perhaps optimistic” central scenario of 10-15 per cent cuts in real terms over the next six years – roughly equivalent to a “flat cash” settlement.

Under a “balanced scenario” where the pain of cuts is shared evenly across all services, Prof Chalmers estimates that this would require personnel to be cut by 20 per cent, aircraft by up to 27 per cent, and major vessels by 21 per cent.

Regular ground formations would be reduced from 98 to around 80 by 2019; aircraft from 760 to 550; and major vessels from 57 to around 45.

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