THE growing weakness of Britain’s defences has been exposed as the government confirmed 11,000 job losses as part of cuts brought into help reduce the a record budget deficit.
Soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting in Afghanistan could be among those facing redundancy amid plans to cut defence personnel by 2015.
The defence ministry faces further embarrassment with the revelation that only one in seven of Britain’s next generation of fighter pilots are fully trained because of a lack of money and a shortage of spare parts to keep the Typhoon fighter airworthy.
The National Audit Office, in a damning report, also said that the aircraft, which would be the spearhead of any British contribution to a no-fly zone over Libya, would not reach its full attack potential until 2018.
Adding to the sense of crisis, insiders gave warning that attempts by the defence minister to save a further pounds 1billion by April might fail as military chiefs baulk at another round of painful reductions to the number of aircraft, ships and personnel.
Defence ministry officials have petitioned the Treasury for extra money with the potential need to send forces to Libya in addition to Afghanistan.
One source said that if the Prime Minister wanted to use his armed forces, he had to fund them properly: “You have got to put your money where your mouth is.”
Mr Cameron ordered defence chiefs on Monday to draw up plans with Britain’s allies for implementing a no-fly zone over Libya to stop Colonel Muammar Gaddafi attacking his own people.
This contrasted with a more restrained tone struck by the White House.
Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, said on Tuesday that that there was no unanimity in NATO for armed force against Libya, and confirmed action could only be taken if there was a UN Security Council mandate.
The US Embassy in London was left so baffled by Mr Cameron’s comments that it telephoned backbench MPs for their assessment on the significance and meaning behind his remarks.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO Secretary-General, who spoke to Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, on Tuesday, said that the alliance would not take any military action without a further UN resolution.
But while uncertainty prevailed about the West’s response, two US amphibious assault ships, the USS Kearsarge and the USS Ponce, were moving into position, passing through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean today.
The defence ministry, driving home the scale of the financial challenge facing Britain’s military, said it would make 2700 redundancies in the RAF, 5000 in the Army and 3300 in the Navy.
The RAF was the first Service to release details of the initial wave of job cuts, with 1020 redundancies by September, including 170 trainee pilots, more than 500 ground maintenance staff and 100 weapon systems operators.
Two squadrons of Tornado fighters will also be disbanded.
Those eligible for redundancy, including many personnel currently serving in Afghanistan, were notified on Tuesday.
The military will make a final decision on who will go in September.
Anyone deployed on operations, preparing to deploy or recently returned will not be considered. Those recovering from injury will also be exempt.
But the vast majority of those in Afghanistan will have completed their current tour of duty by next northern autumn, and will, therefore, be eligible for redundancy.
Dr Fox said that difficult decisions had to be made to erase a pounds 38 billion gap in the defence budget over the next decade.
“We need to restructure our Forces to ensure that they are sufficiently flexible and adaptable to meet the demands of an uncertain future,” he added.
Jim Murphy, the Shadow Defence Secretary, accused the government of backtracking on a pledge that those on the front line would not be affected, saying: “It’s clear that some of our brave Forces taking on the Taliban will be welcomed home as heroes by the public but sacked by their government. It’s a very sad day.”
The move left RAF families facing months of uncertainty. Dawn Mc-Cafferty, the chairman of the RAF Families Federation, urged the Government to tread carefully. “How thin are you going to spread the armed forces and how much more are you going to ask of our people in uniform?” she said. “We cannot be everywhere at once.”
The National Audit Office report revealed that RAF pilots flying the Typhoon were unable to meet their target of flying hours because of cutbacks to training and the slowness to procure spare parts.
The audit office also reiterated concerns about cost overruns and delays to procuring the Typhoon as part of a collaborative project with Germany, Italy and Spain.