25 Feb 2011

Cuts ‘will damage UK defence’ warn ex military chiefs

Former military chiefs heavily criticise the Government over planned defence cuts, saying they will seriously effect UK naval capabilities.

Scrapping of the Ark Royal has received major criticism (reuters)

Ten senior retired military officers have put their names to a joint letter calling on the government to re-think the recent decision to scrap the Ark Royal aircraft carrier and the Royal Navy’s Harrier jet fleet.

They say that the scrapping of the Harriers has undermined the country’s ability to mount amphibious operations because the Royal Navy will no longer be able to provide close air support, and go on to warn such operations against “even a lightly-armed aggressor” can no longer be attempted without “considerable risk” to the safety of soldiers.

In an apparent reference to the current violent upheavals across the Arab world, the authors – who include the former head of the armed forces Field Marshal Lord Bramall – warn that last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) was “unduly trusting in an uncertain, fast-moving and dangerous world.”

Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy echoed their point, saying: “Recent dramatic events mean that the defence review must be re-opened and perhaps even rethought.”

But the Defence Secretary Liam Fox has denied that the decision to decommission the Ark Royal has had any bearing on the government’s rescue mission in Libya. “None of our allies have seen fit to position an aircraft carrier off the coast of Libya as this is not the tool required for this task,” he said.

Dr Fox also rejected calls for a “rapid re-evaluation” of the decisions made in the SDSR, saying: “Difficult decisions had to be taken to tackle the £38billion deficit left by Labour at the Ministry of Defence and the SDSR will not be reopened.”

Yesterday the warship HMS Cumberland, which was on its last journey back to port before being decommissioned, made an emergency stop at the Libyan port of Benghazi to pick up stranded Britons.

Other signatories to the letter include Lt Gen Sir Hew Pike, the decorated Parachute Regiment officer, Maj Gen Julian Thompson, the Falklands commander, Admiral Sir Jeremy Black, who commanded the aircraft carrier Invincible in the Falklands, and Prof Nicholas Rodger, an Oxford academic. Their missive – which was sent to senior Government Ministers, including the Prime Minister – was leaked to the Daily Telegraph.