Navy bears brunt of cuts as four submarines are axed: Defence White Paper puts forward savings package worth pounds 1bn. Colin Brown reports

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FOUR SUBMARINES, which cost the taxpayer pounds 900m are to be offered for sale, lease, or will be 'mothballed' because they are no longer needed to meet the threat from the former Soviet Union.

The Defence White Paper, Defending our Future, also announces:

The surface fleet is to be cut from 40 to 35 frigates and destroyers;

Mine counter-measures vessels to be cut by nine to 25;

F3 Tornado fighters to be cut by 13 to about 100;

The Tornado 23 Squadron at RAF Leeming to go, bringing the total of UK-based squadrons down from seven to six;

And cancellation of a planned surface-to-air missile to replace the Bloodhound defence system.

They are among the casualties of pounds 1bn cuts over the next two years from the pounds 23.5bn defence budget announced in public expenditure plans earlier in the year. Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, said they took account of the changing requirements of Britain's defence, following the ending of the Cold War.

The four diesel-powered Upholder class submarines, were to go into service by 1995. The first of the boats, the Upholder, was ordered in 1985 and built at the Vickers yard in Barrow. It is in service. Two more, the Unseen and Ursula, were built at the former Cammell Laird yard in Birkenhead and are going through final development work at Devonport in Plymouth.

The fourth boat, Unicorn, also built at Cammell Laird's, was only recently launched. The boats provided vital jobs in areas of high unemployment in the late 1980s, but the cost is certain to be questioned by the Public Accounts Committee, the public watchdog on expenditure.

The Secretary of State for Defence said the ending of the Cold War could not have been foreseen when they were ordered in the 1980s.

The White Paper says the rapid decline in the size of the former Soviet submarine fleet in the North Atlantic means the Navy requires a force of 12 conventional submarines, not 16 as envisaged in the mid-1980s.

The White Paper admits that the first attempt to grapple with Britain's defence needs after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact - Options for Change, published in July, 1990 - failed to recognise the full extent of the restructuring that would be needed.

The threat of a massed-tank attack across the Western Front may have gone, but the White Paper says Britain is facing new demands outside the former Nato theatre of action in Europe. It points to more peace-keeping commitments for the UN like those in Bosnia, and unforeseen threats, possibly from the Middle East, in addition to the continuing commitment to the deployment of 19,000 servicemen in Northern Ireland.

'The old distinction between 'in' and 'out-of-area' is no longer relevant for defence planning. Instead, the criteria will be the depth of British and allied interests involved and the implications of the crisis for international peace and stability, while recognising our continued commitment to collective defence through Nato.' Two regiments of Chieftain tanks are being replaced by the new Challenger Two tank. It is understood that the MoD is scrapping plans to update the 400 Challenger One tanks, but will order 200 more Challenger Two tanks.

The White Paper also confirmed the commitment to the Eurofighter 2000, which it described as the 'cornerstone' of the RAF's future capability. The White Paper also promised more resources for support helicopters, likely to be the Westland- Agusta EH101 and transport aircraft.

The White Paper reinforces the Government's commitment to the Trident nuclear weapon system, operated from four nuclear submarines, although the White Paper states it will be the 'minimum deterrent required'. Initially, each Trident boat will carry no more than 128 warheads and the exact number 'may well be less'.

The White Paper emphasises the continued need for a substrategic nuclear weapon, but it makes no clear commitment about plans to replace the ageing RAF freefall nuclear bomb, the WE177.

Although it does not confirm that the plan to replace it with Tactical Air-to-Surface Missiles (TASMs) has been dropped, it hints that this is under review. Ministers are known to be considering deploying a tactical nuclear weapon on some Trident boats.

The MoD said yesterday that this would not require a new delivery system, but the anti-nuclear group, BASIC, said contacts in the United States had indicated Britain would buy Tomahawk cruise missiles for conventional use, which could be developed as a sub-strategic weapon.

The Army, which bore the brunt of the cuts in defence forces in Options for Change, is being reduced from 156,000 to 116,000 regular soldiers. In February, the Secretary of State for Defence announced a partial retreat and reprieved 3,000 troops. But the White Paper envisages 7,500 staff cuts and warns of more redundancies ahead.

The Royal Yacht Brittania, whose future is being reviewed, no longer has a war role as a hospital ship, the White Paper says. But the Queen's Flight of three BAe 146 aircraft and two Wessex helicopters would be used for casualty evacuation.

For the first time, the White Paper sets out the 50 military tasks the armed forces are expected to carry out.

Over the three years, 1993-1996, spending on the nuclear deterrent will remain at about pounds 3.8bn per year; pounds 1.6bn per year on defence of the UK; but spending on Northern Ireland will rise from pounds 1.6bn to pounds 1.8bn per year.

The 1992 Autumn Statement proposed a cut of pounds 570m on previous plans for 1993-4 and pounds 480m in 1994-5.

Leading article, page 21

Andrew Marr, page 22

Merger talks off, page 25

View from City Road, page 26

(Graph omitted)

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