On a flying visit to the Farnborough Airshow yesterday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a major boost to the UK’s defense budget by pledging £1.1 billion to a package that both extends current capabilities and introduces new ones. Cameron specifically mentioned Raytheon/Bombardier Sentinel and the Beechcraft King Air-based Shadow airplanes, which were due to be withdrawn next year following the UK withdrawal from Afghanistan, but which have proved of such use that they are to be retained for at least three more years.
“National security is the very foundation of national prosperity, especially if you’re an open trading nation like the United Kingdom, and especially if you’re living in such a dangerous and uncertain world,” asserted Cameron. “You can’t have a long-term economic plan unless you also got a long-term defense plan.”
Although the next UK Strategic Defence and Security Review is not due to be unveiled until next year, the government has been able to initiate a number of measures in advance. “We didn’t come into government in 2010 and ignore the widening black hole in the defense budget,” said Cameron. “We got a grip, we made a realistic assessment, and I can announce today that we’re now able to put £1.1 billion of investment back into our defense capabilities.”
The bulk of the new money is aimed at improving and extending ISR (intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance) assets, accounting for £800 million. Specifically mentioned is new equipment for the special forces, and the extension of the Sentinel airborne radar platform and the Shadow multi-sensor aircraft. Both were due to be withdrawn next year, but will now fly until at least 2018.
Cameron also broadly outlined what the other £300 million is to be spent on. Cyber warfare will benefit, as will the Eurofighter Typhoon. Part of the budget is to be spent on funding an e-scan radar upgrade for the aircraft.
Also mentioned were future unmanned combat air systems. UK defense minister Philip Hammond and his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, were scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding today at Farnborough to launch a two-year feasibility study for an Anglo-French UCAS, following the reaffirmation of this project at the Brize Norton summit between David Cameron and French president François Hollande in January.
“This is a huge program of investment to give our armed forces the tools they need to do the job,” concluded Cameron. “I believe it shows a remarkable turnaround in our defense budget, and it’s the latest in a series of investments that will keep Britain safe in the years to come.”
The latest announcement comes a few days after the ceremony to name the new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was held in Rosyth, Scotland.