THE government was today urged not to axe any more Royal Navy warships after it was announced further defence cuts will be made this year.
The News understands the Ministry of Defence needs to find a further £1bn worth of savings within the next financial year to balance the books.
The MoD says cuts will be determined in a three-month study due to report in July.
It comes after last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) axed 10 warships – including HMS Ark Royal – to address a £38bn black hole in the MoD’s budget.
Among potential targets for the axe this year is the navy’s last aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious, which will come out of a £40m refit in July – just eight years since a £118m upgrade in 2003.
Former naval chief Lord West said: ‘If we have to take any more cuts, like Illustrious, we have to start thinking about our nation in a very different way.
‘Maybe that is what this government wants – a navy the size of Belgium, Andorra or Liechtenstein.
‘But if that’s the case, why don’t they come out and say it rather than doing it by stealth?’
Lord West, who is a former security minister, added: ‘I would have hoped the prime minister would say to his people that we are not going to take these cuts because we are using the military in Libya so we need the money there for them.
‘We are the sixth richest nation in the world.
‘We’ve got our difficulties at the moment, but I would hope we could set aside 2.5 per cent of our wealth for defence.’
After last year’s review, it was announced Illustrious will retire in 2014.
But there are concerns she could be cut sooner as MoD beancounters draw up the budget for 2012.
Further defence cuts were only avoided in March after the Treasury stepped in with an £800m bail-out.
Andy Smith, director of the Portsmouth-based UK National Defence Association, said: ‘The coalition’s entire approach to defence policy is driven by the Treasury and not by considerations of military capability or national security. To continue cutting our already chronically overstretched armed forces shows a complete disregard for defence at the highest levels of government.’
The MoD refused to say whether Illustrious might be retired this year.
A spokesman said: ‘As with the SDSR, there is going to be speculation about what is going to cut and we can’t comment.
‘We have made it clear that while the SDSR had made substantial inroads into the £38bn funding deficit, there is still more to be done.’