The Government’s strategic defence review to determine future spending could be delayed until July, a month or more later than expected, some defence companies believe.
A major defence electronics firm said this week there was an ‘acceptance’ that the review may not appear until July or after completion of the Government’s annual spending round.
Another large defence company tipped ‘early summer’, observing that ‘it would have to come out before the end of July, otherwise it would be delayed until October, after the parliamentary recess’.
The Ministry of Defence this week said: ‘We expect to publish the White Paper in the first part of this year’. Asked if this meant by 30 June, the MoD would only say the review would be published by ‘the summer’.
The MoD’s panel of expert advisers on the review met on 19 March to be briefed on its ’emerging themes’, while a Government source said the review may be discussed by the Cabinet’s defence and overseas policy committee ‘very shortly’ possibly this week.
While the MoD will not comment on the review’s contents, it is anxious to deny suggestions that big cuts are in prospect. The ministry says it will be ‘a policy-driven review, rather than a cost-cutting review’.
Defence secretary George Robertson went out of his way last month to speak favourably of aircraft carriers’ usefulness. Industry believes the MoD wants to build two larger aircraft carriers to replace the Royal Navy’s three small, 20,000 tonne Invincible class carriers after 2010 12. The new ships, with their aircraft, might cost up to £10bn.
Other ideas being mooted include scrapping plans to order two more Astute class nuclear submarines, and cutting the navy’s frigate, minehunter and survey ship strengths. The British Army may also see major cuts to the number of operational tanks.
The MoD admits that possible plans are being leaked and said: ‘there are a lot of proposals going around, a lot of options being looked at, but the final decisions are not there yet’.