Sensing a “darker threat environment,” America’s ally launches its first strategic review in half a decade.
Great Britain, like its American ally, is reviewing the makeup of its military as it digs in for a long fight against the Islamic State and prepares to counter a resurgent Russia.
The strategic defense and security review – the first since 2010 – is “refreshing our national risk assessment,” U.K. Procurement Minister Philip Dunne said Tuesday. The review will inform the U.K.’s national security strategy, the composition of the British military, and the equipment it purchases.
“We do recognize a darker threat environment,” Dunne said at a luncheon in Washington sponsored by the consulting firm of former U.S. defense secretary William Cohen. “Where we find aggression and our values under threat, we will speak out and we will stand up.”
Britain has already announced earlier this month that it would boost defense spending over the next five years, in part to counter Russia.
Dunne’s visit to Washington Tuesday is the first by a British defense minister since Conservatives held onto power in May’s general election. “I came to express our increasing confidence in our position in the world in defense and I came specifically to invite U.S. participation and view on our strategic defense and security review,” he said.
Dunne met with U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work and acquisition chief Frank Kendall at the Pentagon earlier Tuesday.
The review will also look at U.K.-U.S. military relations, Dunne said.
Britain has been one of the largest contributors to the U.S.-led coalition that is bombing ISIS positions in Iraq. British planes have flown more than 1,100 missions, striking over 250 targets in Iraq, and providing air-to-air refueling to aircraft from five nations involved in the airstrikes, Dunne said.
Other aircraft are conducting reconnaissance flights over Syria, and gathering 30 percent of the intelligence for the overall operation. The Royal Air Force’s second RC-135 Rivet Joint, which the Brits call Airseeker, will soon deploy to Iraq to support Kurdish ground forces, Dunne said. The RAF’s first Rivet Joint, which has been gathering intelligence on ISIS since last year, will return to the U.K.
U.K. troops are also training Iraqi Security Forces and “have committed” to training the moderate Syrian opposition, he said.
The Brits, like their American counterparts, have also had an eye turned toward Russia. Over the past month, senior U.S. military generals have told Congress that Russia is America’s top national security threat.
Russia is “testing our readiness and we are meeting every test that they pose with the appropriate reaction,” Dunne said of the uptick in Russian military flights near Britain and other European countries. NATO and European countries regularly intercept these Russian aircraft with armed fighter jets.
RAF fighter jets sit on alert at two U.K. air bases for these missions. “[W]e have procedures in place for dealing with these kinds of things,” Dunne said.
RAF Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets will return to police the skies over the Baltics next year, the third year in a row, Dunne said.