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UK slashes armed forces by 10 percent

By the CNN Wire Staff
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UK cuts will be felt by all in uniform
  • The armed forces will lose about 17,000 uniformed personnel in the next five years
  • Ships will be retired, and tanks and artillery will be scaled down
  • The government is trying to cut budgets in the face of deficits

London, England (CNN) -- The United Kingdom will cut its armed forces by 17,000 people -- about 10 percent of its uniformed manpower -- in the next five years, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Tuesday.

The military will also immediately retire its flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, as the government slashes budgets.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox insisted the cuts will not affect combat operations in Afghanistan, where the United Kingdom is the second-largest contributor of foreign troops, after the United States.

Cameron's government, which came to power in May, announced the reductions a day ahead of revealing how it plans to cut spending across the board in the face of deficits.

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"Defense cannot continue on unaffordable footing," the government said in a statement explaining the Strategic Defense and Security Review, as the exercise was called.

"Tough decisions are required to reconfigure our armed forces to confront future threats whilst we also tackle the 38 billion pound (about $60 billion) deficit that has accumulated in the 12 years since the last Defense Review," Fox said.

Cuts include:

-- Decommissioning either HMS Ocean or HMS Illustrious, two ships on which helicopters can land;

-- Cutting about 40 percent of the Army's Challenger 2 tanks and 35 percent of its heavy artillery;

-- Retiring the Hercules C-130 air transport fleet 10 years earlier than planned.

The Army is set to drop from about 102,000 to 95,000 personnel by 2015. The Navy will fall from 35,000 to 30,000, and the Air Force from 38,000 to 33,000.

The Ministry of Defence will also cut its civilian staff by 25,000, it said. The current staff level is about 85,000, ministry official Will Jessett told CNN.

The United Kingdom intends to be able to field a brigade of up to 30,000 troops for overseas deployments, the ministry said.

CNN Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy contributed to this report.