THE Royal Navy could face a further wave of cuts this year as the Ministry of Defence seeks to make more savings.
A three-month study, reporting in July, will consider how more armed forces personnel and equipment programmes could be axed in the next financial year.
Potential targets reportedly include HMS Illustrious, Britain’s last surviving aircraft carrier, which is due back from a multi-million pound refit in July. It was already announced last December that Illustrious will be decommissioned in 2014 – but this could be brought forward to save cash.
The cuts follow last October’s controversial Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which outlined measures to slash thousands of personnel and axe the HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier, Harrier jump jet fleet and Nimrod spy planes.
The deep cuts unveiled last year set out the future shape and size of Britain’s armed forces to plug a £38bn black hole in the defence budget.
However, the MoD now has to make further savings for the financial year ending in March 2012 to fill a further £11bn funding gap.
The MoD insisted it was not reopening the SDSR but said it was looking at balancing ‘defence priorities and the budget over the long-term’.
A spokesman said: ‘The three-month study is part of that work to ensure we match our assumptions with our spending settlement.
‘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.’
The review comes as defence secretary Liam Fox prepares to unveil the new military covenant which promises extra help for the armed forces and will enshrine their rights in law.
Dr Fox is expected to set out a number of enhanced services for the military, such as doubling the rate of council tax relief to 50 per cent for those serving overseas, a £3 million boost for schools with high numbers of children from forces family and making it easier for seriously injured service personnel and veterans to access cut-price public transport.