RAF Tornados to the Boneyard? Royal Marines on the Chopping Block?

The RAF’s 120 strong Tornado GR4 fleet may be the next victim in the major defense cost cutting exercise underway in Britain, according to leaked reports to the BBC. From the sounds of it, the British military is about to be gutted by forced government austerity measures as Britian suffers through a sluggish economy.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense is undertaking a “mother of horrors” cost cutting review aimed at realizing somewhere between 10 to 20 percent savings, says defense secretary Liam Fox.

“According to the whisperings from the Ministry of Defence the army may have to give up whole brigades, armoured formations and artillery units; the air force is considering abandoning maritime surveillance aircraft and retiring its fleet of Tornado strike aircraft and Harrier jump-jets; the navy may be made to give up the Royal Marines and amphibious landing ships; and the submarines carrying the nuclear deterrent may be cut from four to three.”
Chop the Royal Marines? I don’t see how the UK pulls off any overseas deployment besides the barest of presence missions if real muscle is cut as the Economist suggests. It’s not like the Brits are capability heavy to begin with; for the past few years, the British Army has struggled to maintain a capable fighting force in southern Afghanistan.

As would be expected, the pending government austerity measures are forcing policymakers to reconsider Britain’s role in the world:

“Ministers first have to decide what kind of power Britain aspires to be: become a more or less insular country minding its own business, or remain some kind of global force able to intervene in far-flung parts of the world?”
There are some in the U.S. defense and foreign policy community who believe we’re due for some version of the above as entitlements and debt servicing so overwhelm the federal budget that defense spending is crowded out. Absent a return to truly robust economic growth (something on the 4-5 percent a year level), and hence higher government revenue, I don’t see how we avoid it.

-- Greg Grant

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