LONDON -- Britain will delay a program to upgrade its nuclear defenses, reduce the number of forces it can deploy on combat missions and cut thousands of troops in a sweeping overhaul of the country's military, Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday.
Outlining the first defense review since 1998 -- intended both to sweep away strategies crafted before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. and to help clear the country's crippling national debts -- Cameron said 17,000 troops, a fleet of fighter jets and an aging aircraft carrier would all be sacrificed.
He told lawmakers that there would be an 8 percent cut to the annual 37 billion pound ($59 billion) defense budget over four years -- but insisted Britain's spending on defense would remain above 2 percent of gross domestic product, a level demanded by NATO.
Cameron shared details of the plans with President Barack Obama in a phone call late on Monday, in hopes of assuring the White House that Britain will still be equipped to fight alongside the U.S. on missions overseas.
The British leader insisted there would be no cuts to spending on operations in Afghanistan, pledging better resources for personnel there. But he acknowledged that in the future Britain would be limited to a force of about 30,000 personnel on major operations -- smaller than the 45,000-strong force initially sent into Iraq in 2003.
However, he claimed investment in cyber defenses and intelligence gathering would secure Britain's role as a major power.
"Britain has punched above its weight in the world, and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come," Cameron told the House of Commons.
Cameron said a total of 7,000 army troops would be axed, alongside 5,000 personnel from the air force and an equal number from the navy. About 25,000 civilian military staff will also lose their jobs, he confirmed.
The leader also announced that a planned 20 billion pound ($30 billion) program to replace Britain's four nuclear-armed submarines will be delayed until 2016.
It means decisions on the nuclear submarine program -- and the hefty bill -- will come only after a scheduled 2015 national election.