Hoon axes jobs, ships, planes and an airbase

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Indy Politics

The Defence Secretary today announced that four infantry battalions - three from England and one from Scotland - are to be cut in the "restructuring" of the armed forces.

The Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon unveiled a major shake-up of the military today, setting out cuts designed to save money and to equip the armed forces for modern warfare.

As part of reforms, the RAF will shed 7,500 jobs and the Navy 1,500 jobs by 2008. In addition, some 10,000 civilian posts across the armed forces will be cut.

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Hoon announced that four infantry battalions - three from England and one from Scotland - are to be cut as part of the "restructuring".

He said three type-42 destroyers and three type-23 frigates would be taken out of service from the Royal Navy by March 2006.

One RAF Tornado F-3 air defence squadron would be cut and the withdrawal of two Jaguar squadrons would be brought forward to 2006, with the final Jaguar squadron to be disbanded in 2007.

Mr Hoon announced that RAF Coltishall in Norfolk would be closed by the end of 2006 and the overall RAF manpower requirement reduced to around 41,000 by 2008.

The Shadow Defence Secretary Nicholas Soames said service personnel would feel "betrayed politically and morally" and the public would be "dismayed" to see the Armed Forces "treated in such an underhand way".

Mr Soames warned that the changes would "seriously damage our military capability ... while we wait for the arrival of unproven new technology".

And he added: "There is a deep crisis in the defence budget."

Mr Hoon told MPs: "The threats to Britain's interests in the 21st Century are far more complex than was foreseen following the disintegration of the Soviet Empire.

"That is why the Defence White Paper signalled that we should continue to modernise the structure of our armed forces, to embrace new technology, and to focus on the means by which our armed forces can work together with other Government agencies to meet the threat of international terrorism and the forces of instability in the modern world."

The changes are driven in part by a shift in military strategy following the end of the Cold War towards the development of highly flexible rapid reaction forces capable of swift deployment to troublespots anywhere in the world.

The heavy equipment and large infantry units needed for the lengthy stand-off with the Soviet Union in central Europe are increasingly seen as redundant in the face of modern-day tasks such as tackling terrorism, preventing WMD proliferation and peace-keeping.

Another objective is to free up funds for investment in hi-tech digital systems, enabling British forces to work more easily with their American counterparts.

But the shake-up - heralded in last December's White Paper - also reflects financial pressures on the MoD.

In last week's Spending Review, Chancellor Gordon Brown gave the Ministry a 1.4% annual real-terms increase in its budget, but demanded £2.8 billion in savings on procurement of equipment and back-room support functions by 2007-08.

In his statement, Mr Hoon said the Navy would pay off its oldest type-42 destroyers, HMS Cardiff, Newcastle and Glasgow, by the end of 2005.

In addition, three type-23 frigates, HMS Norfolk, Marlborough and Grafton, would be paid off by March 2006.

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