Sir Nick Houghton appointed new defence chief

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Media captionGeneral Sir Nick Houghton: "I think there are undoubtedly some challenges, some huge challenges"

General Sir Nicholas Houghton has been appointed as the new chief of the defence staff for the British armed forces, the Ministry of Defence says.

He will take over in July from General Sir David Richards, who has held the post since 2010.

Sir Nicholas became vice-chief of the defence staff in 2009.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he looked forward to working with Sir Nicholas "as we continue radical reforms to the Ministry of Defence".

Mr Hammond added: "I pay tribute to the leadership Sir David has shown as CDS [chief of defence staff] during a period of significant change in the military environment while securing operational successes across the globe, including in Afghanistan and Libya."

Among other roles, Sir Nicholas was previously the senior British military representative in Iraq and deputy commanding general of the multi-national force in Iraq from 2005 to 2006.

Sir Nicholas will be in charge of the armed forces as the government implements its Future Force 2020 plans, which will see the Army lose 17 major units as it cuts 20,000 regular soldiers by 2020.

The number of regular soldiers is set to fall from 102,000 to 82,000, while reservists will double to 30,000.

The cuts will mean that the Army will be about half the size it was during the Cold War era - it had more than 163,000 troops in 1978.

Under the plans, the Royal Navy will also face restructuring and a reduction of some 5,000 personnel by 2015, along with a reduction in numbers of some types of warships.

The Royal Air Force will face a similar personnel reduction and some of its aircraft are being withdrawn early, while its jet fleet will be restructured to comprise of Typhoon and Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

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