Hackers and Space Command: UK PM pledges £16.5bn military spending spree amid cuts to foreign aid & welfare
PM Boris Johnson is about to announce a surge of £16.5 billion in military spending over the next four years, going in part to aggressive hacking, AI development and a ‘Space Command’ to assert post-Brexit UK power.
Major media outlets reported the budget deal, citing sources at Number 10 Downing Street ahead of the official announcement in the Commons on Thursday. Johnson reportedly said that “the defence of the realm must come first,” even as Britain struggles to deal with the economic and health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This would put the UK among the 10 NATO member states who would meet the pledge to spend 2 percent of the GDP on the military this year – along with Estonia, France, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland and Romania.
The yet-to-be announced defense spending increase has already earned praise from Acting US Defense Secretary Christopher Miller.
“The US Department of Defense applauds the announcement by the United Kingdom to significantly increase defense spending,” Miller said, noting that it was “indicative” of London’s commitment to NATO.
The boost will reportedly be on top of the commitment to increase the existing £41.5 billion budget by half a percentage point above inflation, which would make the increase total £21.5 billion by March 2025 – the largest since Margaret Thatcher’s Cold War days.
Reports say that some of this largesse will go towards establishing a National Cyber Force, a hacker outfit that would conduct cyber attacks abroad, a new agency tasked with developing artificial intelligence, and a Space Command that ought to be able to launch its own rockets into orbit by 2022.
The rest would presumably go into plugging the £13 billion hole in the Ministry of Defence’s equipment budget, reported by the National Audit Office earlier this year. Tanks will not be abolished entirely, though their number will be reduced along with other cuts to the British Army, while the development of drones and upgrades to Trident nuclear missiles will receive a boost.
The announcement is seen as a victory for Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who pushed for long-term contracts for weapons and systems. It also follows last week’s departure of Johnson aide Dominic Cummings, who once called UK military procurement a “farce” that “has continued to squander billions of pounds, enriching some of the worst corporate looters and corrupting public life via the revolving door of officials/lobbyists.”
On Tuesday, Number 10 announced it would be slashing foreign aid budget from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent of the gross national income, drawing criticism from Johnson’s own party. The opposition Labour, meanwhile, has been criticizing the PM for not extending the £20-a-week addition to universal credit payments beyond April, saying this would result in increased child poverty.
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