Senior officers and defence experts have written a private letter to the government warning them of the grave consequences of their plan to scrap the Royal Navy’s Harrier fleet as part of their defence review budget cuts.
The letter, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, warns the Prime Minister that without the Harrier fleet even “a lightly armed aggressor” will be a considerable risk to soldiers involved in amphibious operations.
The government’s Strategic Defence and Security review (SDSR), which was published in 2010, also calls for the decommission of the Ark Royal, the Navy’s flagship vessel.
The letter is signed by a number of experienced Armed Forces chiefs and defence experts, including Lt Gen Sir Hew Pike, the decorated Parachute Regiment officer, Major Gen Julian Thompson, the Falklands commander, Admiral Sir Jeremy Black, who commanded the aircraft carrier Invincible in the Falklands, and Prof Nicholas Rodger, an Oxford academic.
The author of the letter is Filed Marshall Lord Bramall, the former head of the Armed Forces. He called for the urgent “re-evaluation” of the SDSR, especially at this time of global uncertainty.
The shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy added his support to the call for the government to reconsider its proposals. He said it is “sensible to stop and reflect again on our nation’s strategic defence needs”.
The letter argues that the government’s review led to a “rapid and radical disposal of assets” that demand the loss of “some core strategic capabilities”. The letter states that a saving of £5billion could be made by retaining a smaller fleet of 40 Harriers. The concern for the loss of this fleet arises from the fact that Harriers provide the best close air support for ground troops.
However, the government’s SDSR concluded that they need to slash 7.5% of the £37billion annual defence budget.
The letter says the cuts will have “profound consequences” that will “strike at the heart of our defence structure”.
It adds: “Defence in peace means deterrence by showing capability and determination. Failure to do so leads to war.”