Tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen face the axe after ministers concluded that reducing the number of uniformed personnel in the Armed Forces was the best way to save money.
The cuts, which are part of the strategic defence review, will lead to a substantial reduction in the size of the Army, which will also have to give up many of its tanks and armoured vehicles. Soldiers could also be ordered to serve longer on the front line in Afghanistan, and be given less time to recuperate between tours.
Senior ministers are poised to make the first painful decisions on cuts next week as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Daily Telegraph has learnt that deep cuts to military manpower are high on the agenda.
The Armed Forces have about 180,000 uniformed personnel, but can keep a fighting force in the field of barely one twentieth of that. Paying for housing and supporting uniformed personnel is one of the biggest drains on the £36 billion Ministry of Defence budget.
According to the review, employing each uniformed serviceman was 50 per cent more expensive than employing an MoD civil servant, and twice as costly as the average civil servant. Many Armed Forces personnel carrying out administrative roles could be replaced by civilians, ministers were told.
The review also concluded provisionally that:
- Cutting the size of the Army would make it easier to honour a Tory pledge to bring troops out of Germany. But Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, was advised that an early exit could potentially increase costs since the forces there currently would need new British bases.
- The Trident nuclear deterrent should be replaced with another four-submarine deterrent. However, the Trident vessels could be kept in service longer to delay spending on the replacement.
- The Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers were likely to be approved, costing more than £5 billion. However, the type and number of aircraft they would carry remained the subject of debate.
- Dr Fox was said to be winning an argument with the Treasury to have capital spending for defence set out for 10 years instead of four, allowing better long-term planning of equipment procurement.
- There would be “winners” from the review, however. Some of the money saved would be spent on improving Britain’s “cyber-warfare” capabilities and expanding Special Forces units. There would also be extra investment in technology to counter mines and other “passive” weapons such as roadside bombs.
The Coalition’s spending cuts meant that the MoD budget was likely to be cut by almost a fifth. Defence officials calculated that each 20,000 reduction in Forces manpower would save £1 billion in the first year, and larger amounts in subsequent years from reduced pension and wage costs.
As the largest of the three services, the Army was likely to bear the brunt of the cuts. Commanders would be told to “do more with less” and increase “force generation” ratios, which determine the total number of troops required to field a specified front line force.
Currently, an Army of almost 100,000 was required to sustain a force of about 10,000 in Afghanistan, partly due to the time required for training before each six-month tour and recuperation time afterwards.
Military rules known as Harmony Guidelines dictate that units should have 24 months at home after every operational tour. However, those rules treated a six-month posting in locations such as Cyprus in the same way as tour in Afghanistan.
The National Security Committee, chaired by David Cameron, is expected to consider the details of the proposed cuts next week.
“This review is going to be painful, much worse than most people realise,” said one senior source.
By James Kirkup, Political Correspondent
Published: 10:01PM BST 10 Sep 2010
Source: The Telegraph