Workers at manufacturing giant BAE Systems were said to be in "shock" tonight after the firm delivered a huge blow by unveiling plans to axe hundreds of jobs.
Unions said almost 1,000 jobs at five military factories and other sites would be lost in the latest cull, warning that the cuts could be the "tip of the iceberg".
Meetings will be held at the affected areas next week but union officials sounded a warning for the future of the defence industry because of the current strategic review coupled with looming spending cuts set to be announced by the government next month.
Workers at BAE's Military Air Solutions and Insyte (Systems Integrated System Technologies) divisions were given the grim news today - some saying it had come as a "bolt out of the blue".
Hugh Scullion, general secretary of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU), said: "The unions are shocked at the scale of these losses and will be demanding an explanation from BAE. Talks will begin locally in the first instance to attempt to mitigate the planned losses and if necessary national negotiations will follow. The unions will oppose any compulsory redundancies.
"With the forthcoming defence review these cuts may be the tip of the iceberg but knee-jerk reactions from employers could make things even worse. Cuts are being demanded before the shape of the defence industry has been decided. The defence industry will suffer more than necessary, if employers make poor judgment calls."
The company said there could be 212 job losses at Brough, in East Yorkshire, associated with a reduction in workload, mainly on the Hawk programme; 26 job losses at Chadderton, Manchester, because of a reduction in workload in the large aircraft business; 55 job losses within the Harrier team at Farnborough, Hampshire; 149 job losses at Samlesbury, Lancashire, and 298 job losses at Warton, Lancashire.
Kevin Taylor, managing director of BAE's Military Air Solutions (MAS) division, said potential job losses were in manufacturing, engineering and associated support functions.
"These potential job losses result from the impact of the changes in the defence programme announced in December 2009, together with other workload changes," he said.
"It is vital that MAS remains competitive by ensuring we have the correct balance of skills, capabilities and resources as we await the outcome. Today's announcement is designed to ensure we remain properly positioned in what will undoubtedly become an increasingly challenging environment.
"We appreciate this is difficult news and we are committed to working with employees and their representatives to explore ways of mitigating the potential job losses.
"We will do everything reasonably possible to support our people at this time. The teams leading the consultation at all five sites have my full support in seeking mitigation opportunities across the whole of MAS and in other BAE Systems businesses."
Rory Fisher, managing director of BAE's Integrated System Technologies division, said 206 jobs would be lost by the end of 2011, adding: "These reductions will shape our business appropriately to meet existing and future commitments. We will take all possible actions to mitigate these potential job losses."
Mr Scullion, of the CSEU, added: "The defence industry is vital to the UK economy. The technical expertise built up in the UK is transferable to other areas of manufacturing. The Government is risking destroying the UK's manufacturing base with ideologically driven cuts."
The CSEU is an umbrella group representing Unite, the GMB, Prospect, Transport Salaried Staffs Association, Community and Ucatt.Reuse content