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Defence cuts hit 2,600 Army and Navy staff

Swingeing cuts to the Army and Navy were announced yesterday at a time when many are already complaining that operations in Afghanistan and Libya are leaving them stretched.

Yesterday 5,000 soldiers were told that they were in a perilous situation and a fifth of them would be redundant by September. Meanwhile, 5,600 Royal Navy personnel were told that 1,600 of them will lose their jobs.

The Brigade of Gurkhas was told it would not enjoy the protection of other key front-line posts. Their "loyalty" has left it overstaffed and needing to find 150 job cuts.

Last night sources in the Government protested that no one wanted to make the cuts but "we have no choice given the £38bn blackhole left behind at the MoD by Labour".

"We are doing everything we can to deal with the significant redundancies that lie ahead with sensitivity and care," said Commodore Jonathan Woodcock, head of Armed Forces pay and manning.

Under the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) the military has been told that it must cut 17,000 staff by 2015 and 11,000 will be redundancies.

Colonel Stuart Tootal, who left the Army after leading 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, in Helmand said: "The Government has admitted that the SDSR was conducted at pace. It should remain a dynamic process whereby it is kept under review. What is happening now is an indicator that the world is an uncertain place. This is an opportunity to pause and reflect, to take a statesmanlike look and consider how deep these cuts should be."

Yesterday, the Army and Royal Navy announced who would be targeted in the first tranche of four, a month after the Royal Air Force listed its figures.

"This morning across the Army commanding officers explained the process," said Brigadier Richard Nugee, adding that 150 fields were to be targeted in the first tranche of a process that will see the Army reduced by 7,000 by 2015. "The impact on individuals will be extremely varied. Some will see it as an opportunity. For others it will be a time of uncertainty and deep disappointment."

The Army is hoping that half its 1,000 cuts will be from voluntary redundancies, though not all will be accepted, before compulsory redundancies are selected "to maintain the right balance of skills" and announced by 1 September. A quarter will be officers .

Insisting that the process will not affect operations in Afghanistan, the brigadier said soldiers within the infantry, medical and intelligence corps will be protected, though their officers remain vulnerable. No one with less than eight years service will be made redundant. Services that are undermanned, such as Special Forces, junior infantry ranks or bomb disposal officers, will remain untouched with those facing redundancy being given the opportunity to transfer.

The Ministry of Defence has been at pains to say that those about to deploy, on operations or on post-operational leave in September, will not be targeted. However, post-operational leave only extends for six weeks so those about to return from Helmand are at risk.