DEFENCE experts say the government has missed a chance to reconsider drastic cuts to the armed forces.
Hopes for a rethink on the cuts were dashed when ministers said they would not reopen last year’s defence review – despite air force chiefs warning the military was being overstretched by the war in Libya.
Reports suggested Prime Minister David Cameron was mulling a U-turn on the cuts after ordering the Treasury to give the Ministry of Defence £800m to plug a funding gap in this year’s budget.
But Foreign Secretary William Hague said, while the Treasury was being ‘helpful’ to the MoD, a full review of the cuts was not on the cards.
He said: ‘These major decisions are not being reopened. It would be wrong to think that we are reopening the defence review.’
Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage and former Admirals led calls for a review of the defence cuts in The News after 1,600 naval staff were handed their redundancy notices earlier this week.
Critics say the Strategic Defence and Security Review – which saw the early retirement of HMS Ark Royal, Harrier jump jets, four frigates and 5,000 naval redundancies – must be revisited.
Defence expert Professor Eric Grove, a naval historian, said: ‘This really is a missed opportunity for the government to put things right.
‘Libya demonstrates the loss we have suffered by getting rid of our carrier strike capability with Ark Royal and the Harrier jets. The government must be big enough to acknowledge that they got it wrong on that one.’
Former First Sea Lord Benjamin Bathurst said: ‘I suspect the Ark Royal is too far gone but it’s possible to resurrect the Harrier jets.
‘We’ve got HMS Illustrious coming out of refit as a helicopter carrier but you could make a change to get some Harriers on her and that’ll see us through until we get the new aircraft carriers in 10 or so years’ time.
‘These things are a possibility but the politicians will not do it – there’s too much loss of pride to admit they did not get it right.’
Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, said the ‘basic judgment’ made in the defence review ‘remains the same’. However, he did hint that certain ‘adjustments’ would be needed.
It’s been suggested that these adjustments could include saving two of the four Type 22 frigates and a number of Harrier jump jets axed in the cuts.
But some defence experts warn this is unlikely to happen because further cuts are needed at the MoD in future years – despite Mr Cameron’s £800m bail-out.
Professor Malcolm Chalmers, of the Royal United Services Institute military think tank, said: ‘This settlement will, I think, just about balance the books for this financial year that has just started with some difficulty.
‘But it doesn’t address the medium-term funding gap. We have this funding gap every year from now on for the next four years.’
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