Britain needs to boost its capacity to conduct cyber attacks on foreign enemies, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said before the publication of a national security review next week.
“Cyber power is revolutionising the way we live our lives and fight our wars, just as air power did 100 years ago,” Johnson said in a statement released by his office on Saturday.
Johnson is due to present a long-term review of national security strategy to parliament on Tuesday which media reports suggest could lead to a reduction in armed forces personnel.
“The review will set out the importance of cyber technology to our way of life – whether it’s defeating our enemies on the battlefield, making the internet a safer place or developing cutting-edge tech to improve people’s lives,” Johnson’s office said.
In 2019, Britain spent $59 billion, or 2.1% of national income, on defence, more than any other large European country but far below the 3.5% of income spent by the United States.
Britain has invested heavily in costly aircraft carriers in recent years and maintains nuclear weapons, but its ground forces have shrunk since the Cold War ended.
Some British media have reported that the review will call for the number of army personnel to be reduced by a further 12 500 to around 70 000.
The defence ministry said on Saturday that talk of cuts “at this stage is speculation”.
Johnson said the National Cyber Force – including spies, defence officials and scientists – would have a permanent base in northern England as the government tries to boost regional development outside London.
The NCF targets threats including foreign air defence systems and the mobile phones of people the government views as serious criminals or terrorists.
It was created last year alongside a dedicated army regiment focused on cyber warfare. In 2016 a National Cyber Security Centre was set up to advise the government and public on how to reduce the risk of cyber-attacks.