Britain’s military would likely grow rather than shrink if the next prime minister pledges to spend tens of billions more pounds on the military in the face of growing threats, the defense secretary has told Sky News.
The current government policy is to army to lose nearly 10,000 positions, reducing their size from a target of 82,000 to just 72,500 soldiers by 2025 – by far the smallest in hundreds of years.
But Ben Wallace warned that without a guarantee of significant new funding, overall defense spending would fall below a central NATO target of 2% of national income by the second half of the decade.
His intervention, in an interview with Sky News, is significant because he has not yet said publicly whether he supports Liz Truss Where Rishi Sunak in the Conservative leadership race.
Live Politics: Sunak accused of ‘mansplaining’ in TV debate – and did Truss withdraw her job offer?
When asked who he was supporting, the senior cabinet minister replied: “I’ll see what happens in the debates. I know them both very, very well… I’m interested in what they will say on defense.”
Ms Truss, the foreign secretary, said she would increase defense spending to 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of the decade.
Mr Sunak, on the other hand, signaled that he was opposed to “arbitrary targets” and, while he said he saw NATO’s 2% target as a “floor and not a ceiling” , the former Chancellor merely said that British defense spending would increase to 2.5% “over time”.
Mr Wallace has made clear to both Prime Ministerial candidates the need for additional defense funding following a £24billion increase in spending he secured from Boris Johnson for the four years until 2024.
“I think the defense needs more money because the threat has increased and I’m led by the threat,” he said on a trip back to the UK on Monday after a trip. in Slovakia.
Currently, UK defense spending is 2.28% of national income “and is falling,” Mr Wallace said.
“We expect to be below 2% probably in 2026 – it could be (financial year) 2025-26 or 2026-2027. We’re going down. We’ll go from the first (biggest defense spender) in Europe to eighth in Europe and keep falling.”
As to how an increase in defense spending to 3% of GDP by 2030 could impact the size and capabilities of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air ForceMr. Wallace said some equipment programs would likely be purchased more quickly.
He also said the military would conduct a review of lessons that can be learned from Russia’s invasion of Russia. Ukraine in terms of vulnerabilities for UK defense that need to be addressed.
This should include a requirement for longer range artillery systems.
The UK and other Western powers also need better weapons to counter drones, defend their airspace against incoming missiles and ensure their ground forces – such as tanks and infantry – are capable of operating on a modern battlefield, where threats include electronic jamming and cyber attacks as well as more traditional bombs and bullets.
“I think you would see an increase in the army, but not necessarily where people think,” Mr Wallace said, noting that any military mass has to be “relevant”.
‘No one can hear us’ Mothers and wives of missing Russian servicemen fight tirelessly for answers
British fighter pilots ready to deal with Russian threat to UK, RAF chief tells Sky News
“The lessons from Ukraine are…it’s better to have small but perfectly trained armored infantry units…than to have lots and lots of vehicles without any of these protections because they’re just killed on a modern battlefield.”
This is what happened to the much larger Russian army when it tried unsuccessfully to capture Kyiv in the first weeks of the invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Wallace – who may or may not still be in the post in September – stressed that it will be up to army chiefs to set future plans for the forces.