Britain will become Europe’s greatest naval power again after a £16.5billion boost to defence spending, Boris Johnson vowed yesterday.
The Prime Minister said he would ‘restore Britain’s position’ as the ruler of the waves rather than allow the UK to ‘curl up in our island and leave the task to our friends’.
Billions of pounds of the extra defence cash would go towards the next generation of warships, including advanced new Type 32 frigates which will be armed with lasers.
France has 23 warships, comprising 11 destroyers, 11 frigates and its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle – currently more than the UK.
Billions of pounds of the extra defence cash would go towards the next generation of warships, including advanced new Type 32 frigates which will be armed with lasers
Britain will become Europe’s greatest naval power again after a £16.5billion boost to defence spending, Boris Johnson vowed yesterday
But Royal Navy sources were keen to point out that many of its ships are ‘old’ and small, adding that with the addition of approximately five new Type 32 frigates, the UK will have 26 warships by the 2030s.
A Navy source said: ‘If you look at the list of the French ships, some of those are getting on for 20 years old. This is going to be the most modern fleet in Europe.’
In a speech to the Commons yesterday, Mr Johnson said: ‘We shall use our extra defence spending to restore Britain’s position as the foremost naval power in Europe, taking forward our plans for eight Type 26 and five Type 31 frigates, and support ships to supply our carriers.
‘We are going to develop the next generation of warships, including multi-role research vessels and Type 32 frigates.
‘And this will spur a renaissance of British shipbuilding across the UK – in Glasgow and Rosyth, Belfast, Appledore and Birkenhead – guaranteeing jobs and illuminating the benefits of the Union in the white light of the arc welder’s torch.’
He added: ‘If there was one policy which strengthens the UK in every possible sense, it is building more ships for the Royal Navy.’
Defence spending is to increase by £16.5billion above the Tories’ manifesto commitment over four years.
The Government had already pledged to raise spending by 0.5 per cent above inflation for every year of this parliament. The total amounts to £24.1billion more.
Mr Johnson said both Britain’s new aircraft carriers, which cost £6.2billion in total, will be operational in 2023, with HMS Queen Elizabeth heading to the Indian Ocean and East Asia next year.
£1.5bn cyber force that will hack into terrorists’ mobiles
By Defence and Security Editor Larisa Brown
A new British ‘cyber force’ will take down enemy computer systems and hack into enemy air defences to protect our warplanes.
Made up of both military personnel and spies from MI6 and GCHQ, the National Cyber Force will eventually be 3,000-strong.
It will also have teams hacking into terrorists’ mobile phones to stop their plots and into paedophiles’ online chat rooms to destroy their ‘vile material’.
Experts say the force will ‘help to prevent the internet from being used as a global platform for serious crimes, including sexual abuse of children and fraud’.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said its budget of £1.5billion over the next four years ‘will give us the capability to launch offensive cyber operations against our adversaries’ in ways not seen before.
Instead of using electromagnetic jamming to protect UK warplanes, Britain would hack into enemy air defences to stop them deploying missiles.
Mr Wallace said the force would also combat organised criminals linked to the Russian state. ‘We need sometimes our ability to deal with that problem,’ he added.
GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming said the force ‘brings together intelligence and defence capabilities to transform the UK’s ability to contest adversaries in cyber space, to protect the country, its people and our way of life’.
And Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab predicted it would become a ‘world-leading force for good, capable of conducting targeted, responsible cyber operations to protect our national security’.
However Mr Johnson hinted the move could come with a future cut in Armed Forces manpower, adding that the best military units would not be the largest but the ‘most swiftest and most agile’.
Mr Wallace meanwhile said the focus on recruitment would shift towards the new National Cyber Force in the future.
He added: ‘Do I think the Armed Forces will be as big in five years’s time as it is now? No, I don’t. But what will drive that scale is going to be our equipment requirements and our threat.’
‘We shall forward deploy more of our naval assets in the world’s most important regions, protecting the shipping lanes that supply our nation,’ he told MPs.
Outlining a futuristic vision for the Armed Forces, the PM also said the warships will carry lasers which will make ammunition redundant.
He said: ‘Our warships and combat vehicles will carry ‘directed energy weapons’, destroying targets with inexhaustible lasers and for them the phrase ‘out of ammunition’ will become redundant.’
Billions of pounds will be poured into a space centre amid soaring threats from Russia and China and also a new cyber centre made up of troops and spies.
The new RAF Space Command will launch British satellites and the country’s first rocket from Scotland in 2022.
General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, welcomed the cash injection, saying it would be ‘madness’ if the UK did not spend more on space.
Asked why there had been a renewed focus on the Navy, Sir Nick suggested that the UK, which is set to be free of European Union rules next year, could play an increased part in policing global trade routes.
‘We are a maritime power, we are an island,’ he said.
‘And we also depend to a huge degree on the global economy and the global economy moves by sea, the majority of it, when we are talking of fixed goods.
Mr Johnson said both Britain’s new aircraft carriers, which cost £6.2billion in total, will be operational in 2023, with HMS Queen Elizabeth (pictured) heading to the Indian Ocean and East Asia next year.
‘And of course the global economy has to move through some narrow straits and we have seen over the last 15 to 20 years the challenge of piracy but what we don’t want to see is our ability to move on those ‘global commons’ [oceans] being limited.’
Andy Smith, director of pressure group Defence UK, said that although the extra investment was welcome, it must not be ‘soaked up’ by space and cyber demands.
He warned of ‘serious conventional capability gaps across our Armed Forces, the result of decades of under-resourcing as well as poor procurement decisions’.
Admiral Lord West, former head of the Navy, said: ‘We will all be safer because of [this spending]. A strong navy is good for stability and hence our wealth and security.’
But sources warned that the Ministry of Defence was not in a ‘utopia’ and there will still be cuts to come.
Could the Army still face troop cuts?
A cut to Army numbers has not been ruled out in a shake-up of military operations.
Defence sources said ‘tough decisions have to be made’ despite the £16.5billion defence splurge. Options include slashing Army troop numbers below the current 74,000 or ending a recruitment drive intended to boost the figure to 82,000.
Details will be revealed in the new year. A defence source said: ‘There still needs to be rebalancing, we are not in some sort of defence utopia. The Armed Forces will not look the same at the end.’
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is said to have been observing the recent Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, where drones have been used on tanks to devastating effect. High-tech weaponry is likely to be favoured over heavy armour in future.
The source added: ‘Why invest in loads of tanks when you can have drones that can wipe out tanks?’
Despite the defence cash boost, the MoD must still fill a £13billion black hole in its equipment budget.
The MoD has denied reports that Scotland’s historic Black Watch regiment would be scrapped.