THE £16.5 billion boost to military spending would help restore Britain’s position as the “foremost naval power in Europe,” Boris Johnson declared, as he insisted the additional funds would create a renaissance in UK shipbuilding and highlight the benefits of the Union.

In a Commons statement on the extra spending spread over four years, the Prime Minister also committed to a renewal of the country’s nuclear deterrent and guaranteed the survival of the Black Watch regiment, rumoured to be for the axe in Army cuts.

The plans to modernise the Armed Forces include new hi-tech jets for the RAF, the creation of an agency dedicated to artificial intelligence, and a “space command” capable of launching the UK’s first rocket by 2022.

A National Cyber Force, combining intelligence agencies and service personnel, is already operating against terrorists, organised crime groups and hostile states, Mr Johnson confirmed.

He suggested in future, a soldier in hostile territory would be “alerted to a distant ambush by sensors on satellites or drones” with artificial intelligence helping devise the best response, which could involve an air strike, an assault by a swarm of drones or a cyber-attack.

Warships and combat vehicles could be equipped with “inexhaustible” lasers to take on opposing forces, the PM suggested, with no prospect of them running out of ammunition.

The announcements were billed as the biggest increase in defence spending since the Cold War and form part of a wider review of the UK’s foreign policy and security objectives which will now not be published until next year.

Mr Johnson said that for decades, successive governments have “trimmed and cheese-pared” defence budgets, risking the future viability of the Armed Forces.

Setting out the reason for the multi-year settlement, he told MPs: “The international situation is now more perilous and intensely competitive than at any time since the Cold War.

“Everything we do in this country - every job, every business, even how we shop and what we eat -depends on a basic minimum of global security.”

The PM, who addressed MPs remotely as he continues his period of coronavirus self-isolation, added: “Extending British influence requires a once-in-a-generation modernisation of our Armed Forces and now is the right time to press ahead.”

Sir Keir Starmer welcomed the additional money but claimed it was a “spending announcement without a strategy”.

The Labour leader declared: “This is a time of huge global uncertainty. It is time for Britain to emerge from a decade of decline. I know the Prime Minister is always keen to talk about the bits of government he enjoys – big announcements, space programmes, moonshots - but this statement shows the Government still lacks a clear strategy or a coherent vision for Britain in the world, or any idea how the promises the Prime Minister makes will actually be delivered.”

Mr Johnson replied: “Well, of all the humbug I’ve heard from [Sir Keir], that really takes the cake. This was a man who campaigned until December last year to install in government a prime minister who would have wanted to scrap our armed services and pull out of Nato. And his own record of support of our armed services[is] very, very thin indeed.”

The PM highlighted the boost the extra funding would give to the Navy and shipbuilding, telling MPs: “We’re going to use our extra defence spending to restore Britain’s position as the foremost naval power in Europe.

“This will spur a renaissance of British shipbuilding across the UK; in Glasgow and South Belfast, Appledore and Birkenhead.

“Guaranteed jobs and illuminating the benefits of the Union in the white light of the arc-welders’ torch. If there is one policy which strengthens the UK in every possible sense,” he insisted, “it is building more ships for the Royal Navy.”

Ian Blackford for the SNP said that his party supported a “refocusing on the contemporary threats we face; we need to readjust our defence capabilities for the modern world”.

However, he stressed: “But what we do not accept is that the priorities of this Government and the threat of the disbanding of historic regiments such as the Black Watch.

“Disbanding the Black Watch would show that the promises made to Scotland during the Scottish independence campaign have been broken, buried and forgotten by this government.”

Mr Johnson accused the Nationalist leader of spewing out “confected indignation”, adding: “Of course, we’re going to guarantee the Black Watch.”