Britain will increase the size of its Armed Forces in the first sustained rise in the number of military personnel since the Cold War, the Defence Secretary has revealed.
Ben Wallace told The Telegraph that after decades of “defending against cuts or reconciling cuts with modern fighting”, the military is “actually going to grow” as a result of a spending increase of at least £52 billion ordered by Liz Truss in response to Russian aggression.
In his first interview since Ms Truss entered Downing Street earlier this month, Mr Wallace disclosed that the Prime Minister had made clear that enacting her campaign pledge to increase defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP would be a priority for the Government.
“She said from day one, ‘be under no illusion, I mean it,’” Mr Wallace said. “It’s one of her clear priorities as a Prime Minister that we are going to invest and spend the money.” He said the pledge amounted to an annual defence budget of about £100 billion by 2030 - an increase of £52 billion on the current sum.
In her first speech as Prime Minister, Ms Truss pledged to “stand up for freedom and democracy around the world - recognising that we can’t have security at home without having security abroad.” Last week, she announced a new defence and foreign policy review as part of her plans to implement the uplift in spending.
Mr Wallace said the decision to increase spending from a little over 2 per cent of GDP to 3 per cent by 2030 equated to a “huge” rise in funding for the Armed Forces and a sharp contrast to a sustained “corporate raid by the Treasury” since the Nineties, “even to the point of Rishi’s Treasury trying to stipulate the size of the Army.”
The Defence Secretary would not “speculate” on the parts of the Armed Forces that would grow as a result of the uplift, saying “we need to look at the lessons” of Ukraine.
He added: “It’s highly likely we will grow the Army but it might not be the places that your armchair generals want you to, because what we desperately need is to, for example, invest in our ISR [Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capability.
“People will always talk about the regiments – ‘will you bring back the Rifles’, or whatever it is. We are more likely to be bringing about artillery batteries and more signals intelligence and more electric warfare, and certainly counter-UAV capabilities. If we can’t bring down those little drones, we are very vulnerable, no matter who you are.”
He continued: “My department has been so used to 30 or 40 years of defending against cuts or reconciling cuts with modern fighting, they’re going to have to get used to a completely different culture, which is we are actually going to grow, we’re going to actually change.”
Mr Wallace continued: “Without the change, we were heading to below 2 per cent. But on current forecast, that’s roughly a defence budget of £100 billion in 2029-30. We’re currently on £48 billion. So that’s the difference. In eight years, that’s a huge amount.
“What we have to work through is how we get there. In theory, you can do nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, boof, a massive dollop of cash at the end. Cumulatively it wouldn’t cost you very much at all except the last bit where you jump £52 billion. But you can’t really run a defence budget like that. The reality is we will be working with the Treasury to ensure we have a budget that grows to meet the threat and our ambitions.”
The Defence Secretary, who was reappointed this month after backing Ms Truss in the Tory leadership contest in the summer, said: “The reason I supported Liz Truss was that the risks we were prepared to tolerate in the middle of the decade are not risks I want to tolerate anymore in light of Russian aggression.
“There are certain risks we can’t really take anymore. And that’s why I wrote to the Chancellor last March to say, the stuff that we didn’t get in the IR [2021 Integrated Review of defence and security] that we’d asked for, we do need it.”
On Saturday night, the Ministry of Defence revealed that five RAF aircraft joined an exercise in Australia that will see the UK Armed Forces training with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and other Indo-Pacific nations, until December.
The planned increase comes after Boris Johnson signed off on a cash increase of £24 billion over the next four years, which Mr Wallace said was “the first time we’d had a proper, sustained genuine up-arrow, not phoney efficiency saving up-arrows, since the Cold War.”
In remarks that appeared to simultaneously praise Kwasi Kwarteng and criticise Rishi Sunak, his predecessor, Mr Wallace added that it was clear that “Kwasi is going to be a great, open Chancellor ... He’s not going to shut the door to Number 11 and hide behind it.”