U.K. to Boost Navy, Special Ops in Defense Plan for New Threats

The U.K. government plans to bolster its navy and special forces as part of an overhaul of its defense strategy, planning to be “more active” in combating threats globally.

Britain will deploy more ships and submarines, and create a special operations “Ranger Regiment” to be used in high-risk environments, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement Monday, ahead of the publication of a command paper on the U.K.’s defense strategy.

A focus on maritime security and counter-insurgency comes as the U.K. is also set to cut troop numbers by 10,000, a reflection of a shift in priorities due to a perceived reduced risk of a conventional land war involving Britain. Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a 100-page blueprint for the nation’s diplomacy and defense last week, detailing an ambition to tilt toward the Indo-Pacific region, bolster Britain’s nuclear deterrent and fight terrorists.

“Across a vast global footprint, we will be constantly operating to deter our adversaries and reassure our friends,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in the statement. “From striking Daesh terrorists in Iraq, disrupting drug shipments and deterring Russian aggression in the Baltics, our armed forces already reach where others cannot.”

Britain’s shifting defense policy
  • According to a person familiar with the matter, the British army will cut 10,000 personnel, alongside a reduction of 77 tanks and 760 Lockheed Martin Warrior fighting vehicles
  • The Royal Air Force will see a reduction of 24 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, 13 Lockheed Hercules transport planes, while the Navy will lose two specialist submarine-hunting frigates well as 13 mine-hunters, the person said
  • 200 million pounds ($277 million) to be invested over the next decade in a “Future Commando Force”, which will conduct maritime security operations
  • Military bases will be revamped in Kenya, Oman, Singapore, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Germany so forces can respond more quickly -- with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region
  • Plans to develop the next generation of naval vessels, including Type 32 frigates, and to build warships in Scotland will go ahead while at least 48 Lockheed Martin F-35 combat aircraft will be added by 2025.
  • 120 million pounds for a “Ranger Regiment”, which will carry out operations previously performed by special forces

Wallace declined to comment on the potential 10,000 troop reduction on Sunday, saying it was right to update Parliament first.

“What I will be doing is making sure we have an armed forces that is the right size to meet the threat,” Wallace said on Sky News. “And the right size to meet the government’s ambition of having a global Britain that can uphold values and support its allies.”

The Royal Navy will also deploy a ship to prevent Russian submarines sabotaging Britain’s Internet access by damaging undersea cables, the Telegraph newspaper reported on Sunday, citing senior defense officials.

Mark Carleton-Smith, the chief of the general staff, who is the professional head of the British Army, told the same newspaper that U.K. special forces will be tasked with tackling “hostile state actors,” a role that will likely include working alongside intelligence agency MI6 to conduct covert surveillance operations against Russian spies and military units.

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