Case for the defence grows weaker as Armed Forces are hit by new wave of cuts

Downsizing gathers pace as 4,000 members have contracts terminated

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The latest tranche of redundancies in the armed forces was announced yesterday, part of the largest cutbacks for more than two decades, with personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan among those affected.

Around 4,000 members from all three services received their notices of termination, as it was announced that Ursula Brennan, the Permanent Under Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, was leaving to take up the same post at the Ministry of Justice, a smaller government department.

In her farewell message, Ms Brennan talked about her tenure at the MoD at a time of "remarkable change" which is "never straightforward and often painful". She acknowledged that "everyone knows resources will continue to be under real pressure".

About a third of those notified yesterday will be facing compulsory redundancies in a second wave of job losses, which follows 2,860 job cuts announced in August and September 2011.

In this round, 2,900 posts will go from the Army, 900 from the RAF and 300 from the Royal Navy.

Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, said that fewer staff than anticipated were being axed from the Royal Navy and the RAF because of other measures, such as the winding down of recruitment.

Overall, the aim is to reduce the size of the armed forces from 180,000 to 150,000 over the next five years. The army will be reduced in numbers to 82,000 which, critics say, will mean it can no longer be classed as an army but a self-defence force, the widely accepted description for a force of under 100,000.

The MoD rejects the charge. Mr Hammond said yesterday: "Of course I regret that it has been necessary to make redundancies to deliver our plans for reducing the size of the Armed Forces.

"We inherited a multi-billion-pound black hole in the defence budget which had meant the previous government had not been able to afford to properly equip our troops with the kit they needed. We still have some way to go to bring the size of the Army down to 82,000 and decisions on what is necessary to achieve this are yet to be taken, but we won't compromise the mission in Afghanistan."

General Sir David Richards, viewed among the ranks as someone who had fought hard for their corner, urged some of those made redundant to consider applying for jobs which are in short supply across the three services.

He said: "Some of you may see redundancy as an opportunity. Others will see it as a significant challenge.

"Your chain of command will support you during the redundancy process, and I would encourage you to make full use of the comprehensive resettlement package as you make the transition to civilian life."

Jim Murphy, the Labour defence spokesman, said: "We are concerned about the human and military impact of these job losses.

"Capability is being lost, as are people's livelihoods. The Government has focused on structures not purpose.

"Savings have to be made but ministers must do much more to explain our future ability to project force around the world as well as how they intend to support the thousands being sacked."