UK lawmakers question military capabilities

AP News
Posted: Feb 08, 2012 9:31 AM
UK lawmakers question military capabilities

Britain would struggle to mount another operation on the scale of its intervention in Libya because of deep defense cuts, a report from lawmakers warned Wednesday.

The Libya campaign, which led to the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi, was successful and justified but had raised "important questions" about the extent of the U.K. military's capabilities, the House of Commons Defense Committee report said.

"The real test is whether the success of this mission was a one-off or whether the lessons it has highlighted mean that future such missions can be successfully undertaken, whilst maintaining the U.K.'s capability to protect its interests elsewhere," committee chair James Arbuthnot said.

Prime Minister David Cameron said lessons learned from Libya about evacuations prompted the decision to buy a new Boeing C-17 military transport plane _ a move he announced hours after the critical report was published.

The committee noted that Britain's participation in the NATO mission over Libya was carried out before a decision to cut 8 percent from the defense ministry's budget was implemented, saying the government now will face "significantly greater challenges" with a similar operation in the future.

"The government will need to make some difficult decisions on prioritization if it embarks on a future mission similar to the Libya operation now," the committee warned.

But Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said Wednesday the operation in Libya had demonstrated Britain's ability to project military power around the world.

The defense committee said it was concerned that future NATO operations may not be possible if the U.S. can't help with providing unmanned aerial vehicles, intelligence and refueling aircraft.

"For the time being, there will continue to be a heavy reliance on U.S. command and control functions for future NATO operations," the committee said. "It should be a priority for NATO to examine this over-reliance on U.S. capabilities and assets."

It also noted that due to defense cuts, participating in new NATO operations could put standing commitments in jeopardy. The committee praised the Royal Navy's evacuation of civilians from the Libyan port of Benghazi and enforcement of an arms embargo off Libya, but noted that those actions meant sacrificing naval escort and counter-drugs operations.

"It is likely that this type of risk-taking will occur more frequently" as defense cuts are implemented, the committee said.

The defense secretary disagreed, saying Libya highlighted Britain's ability to conduct operations while fulfilling its commitments in Afghanistan, the Gulf and elsewhere.

"We retain the capability to project power abroad and meet our NATO obligations, supported by what is the world's fourth largest defense budget," Hammond said.

That budget has been slashed as part of the British government's efforts to cut its deficit. Thousands of military jobs, a fleet of jets and an aging aircraft carrier were all lost after the Ministry of Defense announced an 8 percent cut to its annual 37 billion pound ($58.8 billion) defense budget over four years.

The prime minister told lawmakers Wednesday that thanks to better management of the defense ministry's finances, the government had "found savings" to allow for the purchase of another C-17 _ Britain's eighth.

His office said the price tag for the new cargo plane would be around 200 million pounds ($318 million).

"The Libya evacuation and other potential evacuations in a dangerous and unstable world have brought home to us the importance of having transport aircraft," Cameron said.


Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at