Senior military chiefs 'facing axe'
Senior military officers face a cull under plans to cut costs and make the Ministry of Defence "leaner", Defence Secretary Liam Fox has signalled.
Dr Fox said the MoD's backroom operations would have to shrink to ensure frontline troops got all the equipment and support they needed.
He indicated that top brass and civil servant numbers would be reduced to help tackle a £37 billion black hole in the department's finances.
The Defence Secretary did not comment on which military projects are facing the chop as part of massive Whitehall funding cuts ordered by the coalition Government. But he hinted there were still disagreements between the MoD and the Treasury over who will pay the £20 billion cost for replacing Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent.
Prime Minister David Cameron also admitted there were "difficult decisions ahead" as he attended a passing-out ceremony for Army officer cadets at the Sandhurst military training academy.
The scale of the savings defence officials need to make was highlighted by a report suggesting there could be a 20% cut to the budget for helicopters alone. A secret internal memo sets out demands for £3.96 billion of savings across the fleets of rotary wing aircraft operated by the Royal Navy, Army and RAF, according to the London Evening Standard. The MoD refused to comment.
Dr Fox used a speech in London to announce a wide-ranging reform of how the MoD is run to make it "leaner", less centralised and more transparent.
He said a visit to Afghanistan this week reminded him that supporting British troops on operations had to take priority over spending on staff in Whitehall. He said: "It brought home to me once again that the prime purpose of what we are doing is to make sure that our Armed Forces on the front line have everything they need, and all the support they require, to carry out their mission successfully and safely. That means that the backroom sometimes has to do without to make sure that the front line gets what it wants."
He said it would be "difficult and painful" to deal with this "dangerous deficit", but pledged a stop to the "endless salami slicing" of military budgets.
Dr Fox ruled out any merger of the Royal Navy, Army and RAF but suggested numbers of senior officers could be reduced. He said: "We will also consider whether the current senior rank structure across the services is appropriate for the post-SDSR world. We cannot demand efficiency from the lower ranks while exempting those at the top."