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. ...
- Full Daily Telegraph story by James Kirkup, Political Correspondent: Defence spending: thousands of troops to be cut