This week the British government will finally unveil the outcome of its big review of defense strategy and spending.
Monday will see the government lay out its strategic ambitions developed in the Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR), before the spending cuts will be unveiled the following day in parliament. The results of the far-wider Comprehensive Spending Review will follow on Wednesday.
The current guesswork has defense spending coming down about 8%. That’s far lower than some early predictions put forward, but still a not-insignificant amount. What is more, the real cut is still above 10%, because the existing budget underfunded planned outlays.
Speaking to the BBC on the eve of the big week for the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, treasury secretary George Osborne says settling defense spending was the hardest of the issues to resolve.
Within the defense budget, the debate over the future of the next two Queen Elizabeth-class carriers has been the most difficult issue to resolve, Osborne says, because cancelling the ₤5.2 billion two-carrier program would have cost more than completing the work.
That has raised the issue of how the carriers will be used. The current guesswork has the first being used as a helicopter carrier, at least for near-term, with the second being built with a catapult launch and arresting system.
That means the Royal Navy’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighters would no longer be F-35B Stovl versions, but F-35C carrier versions (that the number of F-35s to be bought will come down also is all-but certain).
There had been speculation in London neither of the carriers would receive aircraft, but Osborne says the vessels will not just be able to project power, but the term “aircraft” in aircraft carrier will not be a misnomer.