Liam Fox, defence secretary, on Friday launched a review to restructure and slim down the top tiers across the services as he made clear that changes were needed to address a "ghastly" budget black hole.

According to Financial Times analysis, the ratio of officers to "lower ranks" has fallen from 1/7 during the 1970s and 1980s to 1/5 today, as non-commissioned personnel have borne the brunt of the squeeze on force levels.

The imbalance is such that the military could shed almost a quarter of all officers and still remain at the same ratio as prevailed through the cold war. In salaries alone, this would save about £400m a year. ...