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MOD: Military spending to favour tech

The Ministry of Defence has unveiled plans to spearhead new technologies, denying claims the plans are designed to hide spending cuts

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has rejected opposition claims that its planned investment in new technology is actually a "smokescreen" for cost-cutting.

In a speech on Thursday to announce the publication of a white paper detailing the MOD plans for the modernisation of the armed forces, the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, claimed new technology would be key to creating a mobile and flexible fighting force capable of staying ahead of potential adversaries.

"We must exploit new and emerging technologies and we must be prepared to make tough decisions to ensure that our armed forces are able to carry out the difficult tasks we ask of them," he told MPs.

Hoon told the BBC that "a significant proportion" of the £3bn-plus allocated to defence would be spent on new technology.

The white paper, Delivering Security in a Changing World, details the importance of "network ready" systems and "bringing together previously unconnected capabilities". "Future military capability is dependent upon the equipment our forces operate, and the technology that underpins this," the report states.

The document also cites the importance of increased R&D spending to the future effectiveness of the armed forces: "Continued investment in science and technology will remain critical if we are to develop and sustain effective capabilities in the face of new and emerging threats."

But some opposition MPs have attacked the announcements, claiming the new emphasis on technology is a cover for widespread cuts in spending.

"We welcome the new battlefield technologies, but fear that this white paper is a smokescreen for cuts. We are concerned that a whole raft of decisions on cuts will start to leach later on," said the shadow defence secretary, Nicholas Soames MP.

He added: "The MOD budget is in deep trouble. The reality is that in order to pay for new capabilities the MOD will have to defer or cancel elements of major equipment or programmes or freeze recruiting. There must be a proper balance made between technology and people."

In a speech earlier this week, responding to the accusations of cost-cutting, the chief of the defence staff, General Sir Michael Walker, said: "The changes we have started and will continue to make to our armed forces are fully supported by senior officers. They have not been forced on us by politicians or accountants."

The MOD announced plans in July to set up industry partnerships to explore "networked warfare". The £50m project, based in Farnborough, will see the MOD working alongside firms including BAE systems and defence and research company QinetiQ to develop system integration and interoperability technologies under the so-called Network Integration Test and Experimentation programme.