An armoured British assault force of more than 120 tanks is expected to be mobilised next week for a possible Iraq war.
The force, including the army's main battle tank, the Challenger 2, will form part of a 15,000-strong force Britain is likely to contribute in preparation for impending military action led by the United States.
Advance parties, including tanks, artillery and armoured infantry units from the 7th Armoured Brigade, part of the 1st (UK) Armoured Division based in Germany, are to begin deploying in the Gulf in the next two weeks. They will be followed by additional units from the division's 4th Armoured Brigade.
And the RAF is sending a mixed squadron of Tornados, Jaguars and Harriers to Jordan for a "training exercise". So far, Jordan has said it would not allow its territory to be used for an attack on Iraq. But the RAF fast jets would be ideally placed there for raids on Iraqi anti-aircraft defences and Scud launchers in western Iraq.
The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal will sail for the Gulf this weekend with support ships, to be joined by the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean and Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade. Shipping sources have disclosed that the Ministry of Defence is seeking to charter up to 20 cargo ships for the transport of material and personnel.
The bulk of the British land forces will be based in Qatar and Kuwait, and they would not be in position until at least the second week of February.
America is yet to give any clear details of how a campaign would be conducted. The military and civilians in the Pentagon are said to be locked in argument about the size of the force needed and the timing of an attack.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies