Elite forces to form joint rapid deployment unit

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Indy Politics

Defence Correspondent

Britain's fastest-moving elite forces including Royal Marines, paratroops and elements of the SAS are to be placed under a new command designed to enable them to intervene more swiftly and effectively around the world, Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, said yesterday.

The "Joint Rapid Deployment Force" will be available from August next year for operations on behalf of the UK, Nato, the Western European Union - European countries in in Nato - or the United Nations. Rather than cobbling forces together at the last minute in response to crises, the units from all three services, will have trained together to enable quicker deployment.

An implementation team under a Royal Marines brigadier, Jonathan Thomson, is being formed to finalise the formation of the JRDF by 1 August 1996.

The force will be based on 10,000 troops of the 3rd Commando Brigade, based at Plymouth, and the 5th Airborne Brigade, based at Aldershot. The Marines' Special Boat Service and the SAS can also be placed under command of the new force headquarters.

These units have proved too lightly equipped for operations such as those in Bosnia and the JRDF headquarters will be able to reinforce them with armoured battle groups, each about 1,000-strong, with tanks and Warrior infantry fighting vehicles. Support helicopters, Hercules aircraft, naval ships, civilian ships and aircraft may also be available to the force.

The idea for the force was announced by the then Secretary of State for Defence, Malcolm Rifkind, last July. A joint headquarters to mastermind operations round the world is being set up at Northwood, Middlesex. The MoD said recent announcements on the purchase of Chinook and EH101 support helicopters and C-130J Hercules transport planes "all have relevance" to the new force. So do new amphibious ships. The new commando helicopter carrier, HMS Ocean, was launched on the Clyde last Wednesday, and is now being fitted out at Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering at Barrow- in-Furness.