Ex-commanders in new warning over loss of carriers

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FORMER senior naval commanders have warned the Government that the decision to scrap Portsmouth-based aircraft carriers Ark Royal and Invincible, and the Harrier jump jet fleet has undermined the armed forces’ ability to mount crucial operations.

Together with retired Army generals and academics, they have written a private letter to the Prime Minister calling for an urgent re-think of the plans set out in Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The signatories include Field Marshal Lord Bramall, a former chief of the defence staff; Major General Julian Thompson, the Falklands commander, and Admiral Sir Jeremy Black who commanded Invincible in the Falklands.

They argue that without the Invincible and the close air support provided by its Harriers, the Army and Royal Marines will have difficulty in mounting amphibious operations against even a relatively weak enemy.

The letter, which was leaked to the Daily Telegraph, is the latest in a string of attacks by senior military experts on the Government’s decision to scrap the Portsmouth-based aircraft carriers.

In it, the former commanders said: ‘This undermines support of the Army and of the Royal Marines in their amphibious role. This valuable operation can no longer be attempted even against a lightly armed aggressor without considerable risk.’

They called for a ‘rapid re-evaluation’ of the SDSR, which they described as ‘unduly trusting in an uncertain, fast-moving and dangerous world’.

Their call for the Government to re-open the SDSR was echoed by shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy, who said that rapidly moving developments in the Middle East meant that it was already looking out of date.

‘The Government’s plans were based on strategic and international geo-political assumptions, many of which have been shaken over the past month,’ he said.

‘Recent dramatic events mean that the defence review must be reopened and perhaps even rethought. It would be sensible to stop and reflect again on our nation’s strategic defence needs.’

However Defence Secretary Liam Fox insisted that the Government intended to stick to its plans.

He said that having a carrier would not have made any difference to the current operation to rescue British nationals stranded in Libya and the country could not afford to keep both the Harrier and the Tornado jet fleets.

He added: ‘None of our allies have seen fit to position an aircraft carrier off the coast of Libya as this is not the tool required for this task.

‘There is no requirement for ground attack aircraft, but even if there were we would use our extensive regional basing and over flight rights.

‘Difficult decisions had to be taken to tackle the £38 billion deficit left by Labour at the Ministry of Defence and the SDSR will not be reopened.

‘Sustaining both Tornado and Harrier would be prohibitively expensive in this current economic climate and Tornado continues to provide vital support to the frontline in Afghanistan.’

The letter’s signatories are:-

Dr Duncan Redford, Centre for Maritime Historical Studies, University of Exeter

Professor Eric Grove, Professor of Naval History and director of the Centre for International Security and War Studies, Salford University

Professor Andrew Lambert, Laughton Professor of Naval History in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London

Professor N.A.M Rodger, senior research fellow of All Souls College, Oxford

Field Marshall the Lord Bramall

General Sir John Waters

Lieutenant-General Sir Hew Pike

Major General Julian Thompson

Major General Nick Vaux

Admiral Sir Raymond Lygo

Admiral Sir John Treacher

Admiral Sir John Woodward

Admiral Sir Jeremy Black

Admiral Sir Michael lanyard

Admiral Sir Ian Garnett