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UK Defense Chief: Be Careful What You Cut

Britain must be careful to not to cut certain 21st Century military capabilities as it attempts to implement "radical" defense reforms over the next decade, said the United Kingdom's top military officer last week in Washington.

While Britain's sweeping defense cuts are meant to transform the British military into a leaner, more modern and cost-effective force capable of full spectrum ops, they will be incredibly difficult to pull off, according to Gen. David Richards, chief of the British defense staff.

"We've got to make sure we don't chuck the baby out with the bathwater in order to achieve" the efficiencies and ensuing military transformation,  said Richards during a Jan. 6 speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

"It will be a close run thing to achieve the levels of efficiencies while ensuring" the British military is prepared to meet nearly any armed challenge in the coming, added Richards.

"For example, we don't have a cyber command, I'm very keen that we have all the equipment for cyber," said Richards. "Where do you get the resources for that within an overall reducing envelop? That means we've got to dig deeper somewhere else."

The reforms, unveiled late last year, will trim roughly 8 percent off $53 billion defense budget over the next four years alone.

"What was absolutely necessary to have in one's Armory even ten years ago, may not be so vital in the future," said.  "Understanding this dynamic is absolutely essential."

He went on to defend the nation's plan to greatly reduce the numbers of fighter jets, tanks, transports, spy planes, ships and bases used by the British along with chopping uniformed military personnel by 17,000.

All of these cuts are needed to finance a modern, flexibly military equipped with everything from advanced ISR gear and cyber weapons to soldiers prepared to fight low-intensity conflicts, F-35C Joint Strike Fighters and modern nuclear missile submarines, according to Richards. He described the British military of the 2020s and beyond as having a "quantum leap" over today's capabilities.

He even warned that the current reforms may not be enough to fully prepare the United Kingdom for 21st Century threats.

"If we stay as we are, we will not be successful in 2020 and beyond," said Richards. "We've turned the corner and I would actually argue that we have further to go in configuring for future warfare."

The general added that the U.K. must be "genuinely radical" as it moves to transform its military.

Richards has already begun discussing how the cuts will impact U.S.-U.K. operations this with his U.S. counterpart, Adm. Mike Mullen and senior NATO defense officials are set to take up the issue of declining defense budgets next month in Belgium, according to the general.

Reduced defense spending and increased efforts toward government austerity budgets could open the door for mission specialization among  the more than 20 NATO members, said Richards.

"I don't see great appetite for that among most of our nations' political leaders but it could be that we, the military, have to be very wise on this one and generous hearted and force the pace" for specialization, said Richards.

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