US military cuts will not affect vital UK contracts

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Defence Secretary Philip Hammond says he has been assured by the US that massive cuts to its military spending would not affect vital contracts for UK hardware such as fighter jets.

Mr Hammond held talks in Washington with his American counterpart Leon Panetta last night, hours after the Pentagon set out its blueprint for slimmed-down future operations.

US president Barack Obama vowed that it would remain the world’s foremost military power despite billions of dollars being slashed from budgets.

He also indicated that a greater priority would be given to Asia at the expense of Europe – though Mr Hammond insisted that was not expected to have a major impact on US bases in Britain.

Speaking after his talks with Mr Panetta, he said: “I had a very successful meeting with my US counterpart with lengthy discussions on our shared interests.

“The US is taking the tough decisions to fix its budget deficit as we have already done in the UK and I am confident that in defence, they will come out of this stronger and more flexible, albeit smaller.

“I have been reassured that the US defence cuts will not have a major impact on US forces based in the UK.”

The changes are expected to target army bases and not the US Air Force, which has a large presence in Britain. One area of concern he raised during the talks was over the potential impact on plans to use US jets on the next generation of British aircraft carriers.

“We also discussed programmes we are jointly involved in and I am confident the US defence review will not impact upon our plans for the new Joint Strike Fighter or affect our plans for our future force for the 2020s,” he said.

Earlier Mr Hammond warned European partners not to respond in a “fit of pique” to the US cuts and used a speech to accuse some Nato countries of failing to shoulder their share of the burden.

“We have to look at the relationship with Americans in a slightly different light,” he told Channel 4 News.

“Europeans have to respond to this change in American focus not with a fit of pique but by pragmatic engagement.”