UK Defence chiefs are discussing plans to slash the size of the British Army and lend one of the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carriers to the UK’s allies amid fears they may be forced into further defence cuts.
The Tory manifesto, published today, will ditch an explicit commitment made just two years ago by Theresa May to “maintain the overall size of the armed forces”.
Instead, it will vow to maintain defence spending at more than 2% of GDP and raise it each year at half a percentage point above inflation. However, defence sources say service chiefs are already in conflict over plans that would refocus Britain’s war-fighting capability and cut the number of personnel. Senior officers are discussing an army of between 60,000 and 65,000, the smallest for centuries.
The 2015 Tory manifesto promised that the army’s strength would not fall below 82,000, but that commitment has already been dropped, with the army now just 73,000 strong.
In a move that will cause uproar in the navy, army chiefs are pressing to mothball one of Britain’s new aircraft carriers — or lease it to the Americans. Navy chiefs, in turn, have joined forces with the army to press for the RAF to see a cut in manpower.
One source said: “The army hates the aircraft carriers, which they have always seen as white elephants, but the Americans love them. They’re cutting-edge because they can operate with far fewer crew than the US carriers.
“The army can’t recruit or retain the people it needs. Both the army and the navy think that the job of the RAF will soon be done by drones.”
The work is at an early stage but follows instructions from the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, that the armed forces must “cut their cloth” to the resources available.
He secured £2.2bn extra from the Treasury and has told it he will not “hollow out” the forces further but would prefer to cut capabilities and do a smaller number of things better.
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