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By Deborah Haynes, Defence Editor

The Times – 18 June 2018

Britain must look to spend another £17 billion a year on defence to ensure that the armed forces can deter and respond to the full range of threats, a parliamentary report recommends today.

The defence select committee said that a review now under way must come with a “firm and sustainable” funding settlement so that it can avoid the same fate as past reviews, which have unravelled because of insufficient cash.

The committee urged Theresa May, who announced yesterday that government spending on the NHS would grow by £20 billion a year, to increase defence funding to a level “approaching the figure of 3 per cent of GDP which the United Kingdom still maintained as late as the mid-Nineties”.

Britain is one of only five Nato member states to meet the alliance’s minimum requirement of defence spending of 2 per cent of national income. Pushing the present figure of 2.14 per cent of GDP to 3 per cent would be the equivalent of more than £17 billion a year, based on official data.

This would “place our defence policy on a sustainable basis to meet new threats and fill existing financial ‘black holes’ ”, Julian Lewis, the Conservative chairman of the committee, said.

“Defence is constantly described as the first duty of government,”

he said.

“The MDP [modernising defence programme] is the government’s opportunity to show that it means what it says.”

The MPs praised Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, for taking the Ministry of Defence out of a cross-Whitehall security review last year.

The national security capability review, headed by Sir Mark Sedwill, the national security adviser, would not have enabled the MoD to request an increase in funding from the Treasury – which it needs to fund plans set out in a 2015 review of defence. Instead, defence chiefs were forced to draw up options for deep cuts to the Royal Navy, army and Royal Air Force to balance the books. Mr Lewis said that the process would “have resulted in further disastrous cuts to the armed forces”.

Defence sources fear that the subsequent modernising defence programme launched by Mr Williamson will be a “fudge” unless he is able to secure funding from Philip Hammond, the chancellor. The two men are due to discuss the issue tomorrow.

In their report, the MPs recommended that the MDP produce a “menu” of military requirements, with an estimated cost of the capabilities listed.

“The government, and the country, will then be able to see the scale of what it is necessary to invest in defence,”

the report said. The MPs said that increased investment was particularly required in enhancing Britain’s ability to track and confront enemy submarines; enabling the navy to fire cruise missiles from frigates or destroyers; and ensuring that the army was able to deploy a war-fighting division. This requires the target size of the regular army not to be cut below 82,000. It is already some 5,000 soldiers below strength.

The report highlighted serious holes in the army’s fighting power, which would leave it vulnerable in a conflict against an adversary such as Russia.

“There are serious deficiencies in the quantities of armour, armoured vehicles and artillery available to the British Army,”

it said.

The report said investment must ensure that the military was able to exploit new technologies as well as use more legacy equipment to remain effective.