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U.K. puts its defense industry on 'war footing' and gives Ukraine $850 million in new military aid

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addresses a press conference in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday April 23, 2024. (Henry Nicholls, Pool Photo / The Associated Press) Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addresses a press conference in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday April 23, 2024. (Henry Nicholls, Pool Photo / The Associated Press)

The U.K. prime minister said Tuesday the country is putting its defence industry on a “war footing” by increasing defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP by the end of the decade, and pledged to send arms worth 500 million pounds ($850 million) to Ukraine.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the increase as the “biggest strengthening of our national defence for a generation.”

“In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the Cold War, we cannot be complacent," Sunak said at a news briefing alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a visit to Poland. “As our adversaries align, we must do more to defend our country, our interests and our values.

Sunak promised an extra 75 billion pounds ($128 billion) in defence spending over the next six years. The target of 2.5 per cent of GDP spending was a re-commitment of a target set by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022. Sunak previously said the goal would be met when economic conditions allow.

A decade ago, NATO leaders agreed to commit 2 per cent of GDP to defence spending. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has given that effort new urgency. Britain has spent above that over the past decade but never higher than 2.35 per cent in 2020, according to NATO data.

“We will put the U.K.’s own defence industry on a war footing,” Sunak told British troops serving on NATO's eastern front near Ukraine. “One of the central lessons of the war in Ukraine is that we need deeper stockpiles of munitions, and for industry to be able to replenish them more quickly.”

U.K. official figures show that defence spending last year was about 55.5 billion pounds. NATO data shows that amounting to about 2.07 per cent of the U.K.’s GDP, ahead of countries including France and Germany but behind Poland, the U.S., Estonia and others.

“It's time for us to re-arm,” Sunak told a news briefing alongside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, noting that Poland spends a larger percentage of its GDP on defence than any NATO ally.

Sunak said that next year Britain would deploy its Typhoon fighter jets to Poland to help police its skies. Poland, which borders Ukraine, has seen several incursions of its airspace since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.

Sunak also spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to confirm the new assistance to Ukraine and "assure him of the U.K.’s steadfast support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s brutal and expansionist ambitions,” Sunak's office said.

U.K. authorities said the commitment included 400 vehicles, 60 boats, 1,600 munitions and 4 million rounds of ammunition, at a time when Ukraine is struggling to hold off advancing Russian forces on the eastern front line.

The shipment will include British Storm Shadow long-range missiles, which have a range of about 240 kilometres and have proved effective at hitting Russian targets.

Zelenskyy has pleaded for greater international assistance, warning that his country will lose the war without it.

Britain's announcement came three days after the U.S. House of Representatives approved US$61 billion in new aid for Ukraine. The Senate was voting on the package Tuesday.

Ammunition shortages over the past six months have led Ukrainian military commanders to ration shells, a disadvantage that Russia has seized on this year — taking the city of Avdiivka and currently inching towards the town of Chasiv Yar, also in the eastern Donetsk region.


Hui reported from London. Top Stories

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