UK appoints new minister to consider arms needs

LONDON (Reuters) - The government named former ministerial aide Peter Luff as defence equipment minister on Wednesday as a strategic review of the country’s military and security needs gets under way.

Conservative Party legislator Luff, 55, will be responsible for defence procurement as the coalition seeks to cut spending to tackle a record peacetime budget deficit of more than 11 percent of GDP.

Parliament’s watchdog public accounts committee has warned the Ministry of Defence could face a funding gap in its major equipment programme of up to 36 billion pounds over the next 10 years.

That has led to speculation Britain may scale back the number of Joint Strike Fighters it buys and raised doubts over projects such as two new aircraft carriers.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox has begun a review of Britain’s defence requirements that he promised before this month’s election that brought the coalition to power would be “unsentimental” and take “tough decisions.”

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) thinktank has said the most optimistic scenario would mean the defence ministry could face a cut in its 50 billion pound budget of around 11 percent in real terms over the six years to 2016/17.

The coalition has already announced it wants to cut the ministry’s running costs by 25 percent, but says it has ringfenced defence spending in the current financial year as military operations continue in Afghanistan.

Luff, a former public relations executive, was a ministerial aide in the last Conservative administration between 1993 and 1997.

Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Matthew Jones