Cuts to Royal Marines are ‘il­lit­er­ate’ and ‘short-sighted’

De­fence com­mit­tee warns that scrap­ping am­phibi­ous ships would sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­mine UK se­cu­rity

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Ben Farmer DE­FENCE COR­RE­SPON­DENT

PRO­POS­ALS to shrink the Royal Marines and axe am­phibi­ous ships in de­fence cost-cut­ting would be “mil­i­tar­ily il­lit­er­ate” and “to­tally at odds with strate­gic re­al­ity” MPs warn to­day.

A re­port from the Com­mons de­fence com­mit­tee says fol­low­ing through with leaked sug­ges­tions to dra­mat­i­cally cut am­phibi­ous forces would “sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­mine” Bri­tain’s se­cu­rity.

The re­port also crit­i­cises the con­duct of a White­hall na­tional se­cu­rity re­view, say­ing it failed to con­sult ex­perts and was car­ried out with­out any Par­lia­men­tary scru­tiny.

The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ca­pa­bil­ity Re­view be­gun last sum­mer led to pro­pos­als to cut up to 2,000 Royal Marines as part of at­tempts to fill a £20bil­lion bud­get black hole over the next decade.

Sug­gested cuts also in­cluded the re­tire­ment of am­phibi­ous ships HMS Al­bion and HMS Bul­wark, as part of wide rang­ing re­duc­tions to all three ser­vices.

But a se­ries of for­mer se­nior of­fi­cers told the MPs that cut­ting the ships would leave Bri­tain un­able to mount a ma­jor am­phibi­ous land­ing.

While Theresa May and Gavin Wil­liamson both re­jected the pro­pos­als just be­fore Christ­mas, MPs say that un­less the De­fence Sec­re­tary can se­cure more fund­ing, the Marines re­main at risk.

Mr Wil­liamson has launched a new de­fence re­view, but has con­tin­ued to stress the need to find sav­ings and ef­fi­cien­cies in the MoD bud­gets.

The re­port con­cludes: “The world is chang­ing and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines need to change with it.

“How­ever, if the price of such change is the sac­ri­fice of this coun­try’s am­phibi­ous ca­pa­bil­ity, we can only con­clude this to be a short-sighted, mil­i­tar­ily il­lit­er­ate ma­noeu­vre to­tally at odds with strate­gic re­al­ity.” The com­mit­tee dis­missed MoD sug­ges­tions that the na­tion’s new air­craft car­ri­ers could take the role of the am­phibi­ous ships.

HMS Queen Eliz­a­beth and HMS Prince of Wales “are in re­al­ity no sub­sti­tute for the pur­pose-built am­phibi­ous war­ships in this role,” the re­port con­cluded.

Ju­lian Lewis, the de­fence com­mit­tee chair­man, said the pro­posal to axe HMS Al­bion and HMS Bul­wark 15 years be­fore they were due to leave ser­vice “demon­strates, yet again, the des­per­ate in­ad­e­quacy of the de­fence bud­get”.

He said: “We must re­in­state a tar­get of around 3 per cent of GDP – the per­cent­age which we spent right up to the mid-1990s, long af­ter the ‘peace div­i­dend’ cuts, at the end of the Cold War, had been made.”

He said that un­less Mr Wil­liamson re­ceived more money “the Royal Marines will be re­duced to a level far be­low the crit­i­cal mass needed to

‘We can­not af­ford to be shrink­ing to the ‘lit­tle Bri­tain’ so many of our foes would like to see’

sus­tain them as Com­mando force”.

The com­mit­tee said global trends such as the spread of cities along the world’s coast­lines meant there was an on­go­ing need for am­phibi­ous op­er­a­tions.

Yet, while ev­ery ma­jor de­fence power was seek­ing to in­crease their am­phibi­ous forces, Bri­tain “may be forced pre­ma­turely to aban­don them”.

Johnny Mercer MP, a for­mer of­fi­cer in 29 Com­mando, said: “This re­port puts into sharp fo­cus the folly of re­mov­ing from this na­tion’s mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties the am­phibi­ous fleet, and re­duc­ing the Royal Marines.

“In an area where ev­ery sin­gle other cred­i­ble tier one mil­i­tary na­tion is ex­pand­ing their am­phibi­ous forces, we can­not af­ford to be head­ing in the other di­rec­tion, shrink­ing to the ‘lit­tle Bri­tain’ so many of our foes would like to see.” a high-readi­ness

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