Military chiefs have drawn up a plan to cut the armed forces by more than 14,000 and combine elite units of paratroopers and Royal Marines to save money, The Times has learnt.
The three sets of proposed cuts presented to Gavin Williamson when he took over as defence secretary from Sir Michael Fallon can be revealed today.
The proposals — described by a Whitehall source as “ugly, ugly or ugly” — include cutting the army by 11,000 soldiers and losing 2,000 Royal Marines and sailors and 1,250 airmen. The total size of the regular armed forces is about 137,000. The army has a target size of 82,000 but at present it numbers fewer than 78,000. Reducing this to 71,000 or fewer would make it the smallest since before the Napoleonic wars more than 200 years ago.
Nine Royal Navy warships are under threat, including seven Type 23 frigates. More than 100 helicopters were identified as vulnerable including an entire fleet of Wildcat aircraft and a reduction in the size of the Apache force, the gunships flown by Prince Harry in Afghanistan. In a particularly controversial cost-saving move, included in two of the three lists of options, 3 Commando Brigade, which uses Royal Marines, and 16 Air Assault Brigade, which uses the Parachute Regiment, would operate as more of a combined force. Such a merger would trigger an outcry within the military, with sources warning that it would erode their fighting capabilities. It would also reduce the capacity to deploy elite forces on a lengthy operation.There is of course a simple answer to the problem. The MOD could save many billions by:
1. flogging off the two aircraft carriers, for which in any case we cannot afford to fit out with aircraft and which are white elephants (sitting ducks, if you prefer) without adequate naval shipping to protect them (which we also cannot afford); and
2. abandoning the replacement/renewal of Trident, which we will never use, whose deterrent effect is minimal and which is vulnerable to cyber attack and underwater drone (as well as being immoral).
And if you are looking for a few extra savings, you might sack a few admirals, as the Navy has more of them than it does ships.