Defence Costs Study: New orders worth pounds 5bn promised to sweeten the pill

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The Independent Online
DEFENCE orders worth pounds 5bn and estimated to preserve 10,000 jobs were promised yesterday, as 'sweeteners' to offset the pounds 750m-a- year cuts. They include a firm pounds 1.1bn order for 259 Challenger 2 tanks.

Many of the orders have been promised before. But defence officials insisted yesterday that, had the Defence Cost Study not achieved the savings demanded by the Treasury by cutting support areas, equipment orders would have been sacrificed.

The orders and invitations to tender are:

Invitations to tender will be issued shortly for one or two amphibious assault ships for the Marines, to replace Fearless and Intrepid. The Government has committed itself to replacements but until firm orders are placed they remain vulnerable.

An invitation to tender is being issued for a new class of nuclear-powered submarine, the Batch 2 Trafalgar, to replace Swiftsure.

Firm orders for another seven Sandown class minehunters and for 259 Challenger 2 tanks, to add to the 127 already ordered. This means the Army will have an all-Challenger 2 fleet, rather than a mix of 1s and 2s, with associated savings on maintenance and support.

A pounds 700m order to update 142 Tornado GR1 aircraft. This will help sustain British Aerospace's manufacturing base at Warton in Lancashire until production of the new Eurofighter 2000.

More laser designator pods, worth about pounds 300m, for Tornado, Harrier and Jaguar aircraft.

Studies are continuing into arming Royal Navy submarines with Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, and into the Conventionally Armed Stand-Off Missile for the RAF.

Twelve Harrier GR7s will be transferred from storage to the front line, increasing the RAF's striking power.

RAF flying training is to increase. Fast jet pilots will get a total of 8,000 hours a year more to practise skills. This will mean an increase in low flying and night flying, which generate protests.

A new joint headquarters is being set up at Northwood, to control joint land, sea and air operations. It will have under its command the Commando brigade, comprising the Royal Marines and commando-trained specialists from the Army, and the paratroops of 5 Airborne Brigade. The two brigades could be deployed together under the headquarters of 3 (UK) Division, which is to be given facilities so that it can be deployed by air.

Finally, a third armoured reconnaissance regiment is to be created and assigned to the Nato Rapid Reaction Corps in Germany.