British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged a whopping £16.5-billion ($22 billion) increase in the military budget, Britain’s largest defense spending in 30 years.
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The UK government said that it has planned to spend the money as an investment in technology for “cyber and space and addressing weaknesses in our defense arsenal that cannot be allowed to continue”.
The Prime Minister would be announcing a new agency dedicated to artificial intelligence (AI), the creation of a National Cyber Force “to protect our people from harm” and a new Space Command, capable of launching our first rocket in 2022, a government statement said.
“I have taken this decision in the teeth of the pandemic because the defense of the realm must come first,” Johnson said on Wednesday.
“The international situation is more perilous and more intensely competitive than at any time since the Cold War and Britain must be true to our history and stand alongside our allies. To achieve this we need to upgrade our capabilities across the board,” he said.
Downing Street indicates the expenditure will contribute to about 10,000 jobs a year, according to The Independent. It will cement the UK’s position as the largest defense spender in Europe and the second-largest in NATO after the US.
It would also place Britain among the 10 NATO member states — Estonia, France, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, and Romania — which would meet the pledge to spend 2 percent of the GDP on the military this year.
Acting US Defense Secretary Christopher Miller has expressed appreciation saying, “The US Department of Defense applauds the announcement by the United Kingdom to significantly increase defense spending”, noting that it was “indicative” of London’s commitment to NATO.
While the country is struggling to deal with the economic and health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the military announcement is certain to please members of Johnson’s Conservative Party. The move is likely to expand Britain’s role globally.
“This announcement demonstrates that the UK remains committed to playing an important role on the global stage,” Karin von Hippel, Director-General of Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) told CNN.
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A defense official told CNN the funds would help armed forces develop a “digital backbone” and “there will be quite a lot of emphasis on new tech, space and cyber but this allows us to do that investment while maintaining strong forces in the air, land, and sea with a specific focus on maritime”.
The UK’s specialist cyber force of several hundred British hackers has been in the works for nearly three years. The aim of a specialist cyber force is to target hostile states and terror groups.
Furthermore, the space command was a promise made in the Conservative election manifesto and comes at a time when major military powers are rapidly showing interest in space, largely because of the need to ensure the safety and security of satellites on which critical communications and location systems depend.
US President Donald Trump also announced the creation of a new space force while terming space as the new warfighting domain.
The Guardian reported that space command staff will come from all three of the armed forces, but one former senior Whitehall insider questioned whether the UK had the capability to make the proposed space command a reality. “Where are the people who will make this real? Are there cybermen waiting to be activated?”
The funds will also contribute to the creation of an AI agency while there is little information available on how this will be used. At present, the UK’s AI efforts are coordinated by the existing Office for Artificial Intelligence created as part of Theresa May’s industrial strategy of 2017.