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Controversy erupts over intended cuts in Royal Navy

Saturday, January 6th 2007 - 20:00 UTC
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Controversy erupted in Britain following reports in the London press that the Royal Navy will experience a drastic cut to its surface fleet and promotion for RN officers is to be frozen for five years as a result of cost cutting measures.

The Daily Telegraph revealed that according to an internal RN memo labeled Galaxy 36/06 all promotions to the rank of Lieutenant Commander or above will be halted until 2012. The temporary halt will be required to "rebalance in favor of the front line". With billions being spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and on costly procurement programs, the Ministry of Defense is desperate to make savings and the RN has become the target for proposals to retire a further six frigates and destroyers "to bring budgets into line". If this goes ahead The Telegraph said the fleet will lose almost half its warships with 19 out of 44 laid up in port and 1,500 sailors will probably lose their jobs in a service that has already been reduced to 36,000 personnel in recent years. The leaked memo, from Vice-Admiral Adrian Johns, the Second Sea Lord, said: "In order to rebalance in favor of the front line we are focusing on officers of Lieutenant Commander and above. I anticipate a temporary reduction in promotion numbers primarily in the officer cadre for the period 2008 to 2010 and recovering to present levels in 2012." There are also fears that the promotion freeze will have a negative effect on recruiting bright young officers to a service suffering substantial manning problems. The details on the promotion freeze and RN Reserve cuts are expected in March. But Lewis Page, a former Navy officer who wrote Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs, an acclaimed book about MoD overspending, said cuts were necessary for the 1,100 Lt Commanders in the Navy because a "staggering" 17 of the rank were based ashore for every one at sea. "It is becoming increasingly difficult to find even vaguely relevant employment for them all," he said. A Navy spokesman said the Service was working hard to be more efficient "so that we can focus more of our resources on the front line". "As a result, we have warned our people that there may be a temporary reduction in a few promotion opportunities, particularly for senior officers in headquarters posts." The Tories accused the Government of "destroying" the Navy over the past decade and refusing to accept its responsibility to defend the nation by slashing the number of ships to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan. Julian Lewis, the Tory defence spokesman, said: "You can't mortgage the future of the Armed Forces by cutting them to pieces in order to pay for a current campaign". However the Ministry of Defence said no decisions had been made on the future of Royal Navy resources. The six warships allegedly to be mothballed include the Type 22 frigates Cumberland, Chatham, Cornwall and Campbeltown and two Type 42 destroyers Southampton and Exeter. Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram last month revealed that 13 of the Royal Navy's 44 main vessels were already in a state of reduced readiness - known as mothballing - to save cash. A decision to mothball another eight ships would mean that almost half the Fleet - 21 of 44 warships - would not be available. Mothballing plans are intended to save an estimated £ 250 million in defence budget cuts. It also reported that the Navy was expected to lose one of its three carriers, Invincible, and that one of three major ports was under threat of closure - with Portsmouth the most vulnerable. However, a spokesman for the MoD insisted: "We currently have no plans to cut ship numbers. We routinely review whether resources are allocated where our frontline forces need them most. No decisions have been taken in this case." He pointed out that the MoD was building new destroyers, attack submarines, and support ships for the Royal Navy and planned to sign the production contract this year for two new aircraft carriers. The spokesman branded reports that Portsmouth will close as "complete speculation" and added: "We are reviewing our bases, and have undertaken to make savings, but no decisions have been taken."

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