Forces chief supports cuts

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A major overhaul of the armed forces, including cuts to aircraft, warships and heavy armour, was signalled yesterday by Britain's most senior military officer.

General Sir Michael Walker, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said the services would be faced with "tough choices" over reform to cope with new threats and the war on international terrorism. He told the Royal United Services Institute that the Royal Navy's new Type 45 destroyers and two new aircraft carriers would mean older warships were not needed.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow's Defence White Paper, Sir Michael said the latest cruise missiles would allow the RAF to achieve its objectives while deploying fewer aircraft and a generation of medium weight armoured vehicles would "reduce our requirement for heavy armoured fighting vehicles and heavy artillery".

He said: "The changes we have started and will continue to make to our armed forces are fully supported by senior officers. They have not been forced upon us by politicians or accountants.

"Counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation operations in particular will require rapidly deployable forces able to respond swiftly to intelligence and achieve precise effects across the world."

Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, told the BBC: "Our armed forces have to go through the kind of change that modern businesses have gone through."

Keith Simpson, a Tory defence spokesman, said: "With the Army already understrength, and committed from Northern Ireland to Iraq and relying heavily on reservists, it would be highly irresponsible to cut the strength of the armed forces further."

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