Britain’s move to raise the controversial nuclear warhead stockpile limit is due to the need to maintain a “reliable” deterrent to counter Russia’s improved ballistic missile defenses, the British Defense Minister said.
Government ministers were reluctant to explain the decision announced last week as part of a defense, security and foreign policy review. But when questioned about the matter, defense minister Ben Wallace told the BBC on Sunday that maintaining a credible deterrent is “reflecting and examining what the Russians and others have been doing.”
“In the last few years we have seen Russia invest heavily in ballistic missile defense. . . They planned and deployed new features, which means we have to do things to maintain trust.”
The move to increase Downing Street’s stockpiling limit to 260 warheads by more than 40 percent has sparked criticism from nuclear experts, warning that this will undermine Britain’s continuing emphasis on disarmament after the end of the Cold War.
Wallace pointed out that France is close to 300, arguing that despite the increase, Britain will have the “smallest” number of warheads among nuclear powers. Whitehall officials personally said that the decision reflected broader concerns about the nuclear proliferation of China and North Korea.
Ahead of the announcement of British restructuring on Monday, Wallace did not deny that the review would cut Army personnel from 82,000 nominal soldiers. “I will make the decision to have an allied force that meets our ambitions and faces threats,” he said.
Military officials have said the Army will use more reserves to compensate for the cuts for its former soldiers, but if a serious conflict arises, it will take months to deploy. Officials have also made it clear that the military is evolving to prioritize “lethality” over scale, using new technologies such as drone swarms and situational awareness systems.
Cuts to equipment are expected to include the retirement of Hercules transport aircraft, often used by special forces and known as workers of the Royal Air Force. The UK has been operating early variations of American-made aircraft since the mid-1950s, and the remaining 14 aircraft were scheduled to continue flying until the mid-2030s. According to those familiar with the plan, their mission will be picked up by RAF’s fleet of 20 larger A400M Atlas transport aircraft.
According to two people familiar with the situation, the Army’s more than 700 warrior infantry fighting vehicles will also be phased out. Meanwhile, the introduction of the new Boxer, another type of armored vehicle, will be accelerated. The Army’s flagship Challenger 2’s planned life extension program will be announced shortly after the review is published.
Commenting on the expected cuts, John Healey, Labor’s shadow defense secretary, warned that the decline in the number of troops could severely limit the military’s ability to deploy abroad, support allies, and maintain strong defense and resilience.
Healey said, “There is a gap between government ambitions and actions. It will grow with this new review,” Healey said.
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