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British Military Force to Undergo Major Overhaul - 2003-12-11

Britain's Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon Thursday, unveiled a plan for a major overhaul of the military to face the new challenges of the 21st century.

Reflecting the new threats that have emerged since the end of the cold war, Britain's defense secretary said the old ways of measuring military capabilities must change. Sheer force and equipment numbers, he said, are no longer the yardsticks by which to measure adequate defense levels.

While acknowledging the choices ahead were tough, Geoff Hoon told his parliamentary colleagues that Britain's military would have to get quicker and leaner in the coming years. That, he said, would mean shifting away from some of the currently deployed heavy assets.

"Counter terrorism and counter proliferation operations in particular will require rapidly deployable forces able to respond swiftly to intelligence and achieve precise effects in a range of environments across the world," he said.

The new policy, whose details are yet to be worked out, is expected to affect all branches of the British armed forces. Some heavy armor and artillery is expected to go along with some aging ships. And fewer new fighter aircraft are now expected to be ordered, due to the success of the latest generation of so-called smart weapons.

Mr. Hoon said that flexibility would be key in meeting the challenges ahead.

"Regional tensions and potential conflicts are likely to create a sustained high demand for enduring peace support commitments such as the extended deployments that we have seen in the Balkans," he said. "But we must also retain the capacity to reconfigure our forces at longer notice to undertake the less frequent but more demanding large-scale operations of the type that we saw in Iraq earlier this year."

The defense secretary added that the mix of Britain's military assets would also be determined by what might likely be required in future joint military operations with the U.S.

"This will involve sharing the military risk and require an ability for our armed forces to play an effective role alongside those of the United States," he said.

While some critics here say the plan merely represents a cost-cutting exercise, Mr. Hoon said he believed that actual personnel levels would not be greatly affected.