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MoD braced for painful weight-loss surgery next week

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Contrary to reports, Army will take hits - but nothing important

As a result of all this, there would always have been a terrible day of reckoning about now for the MoD - regardless of external factors. Even if the credit crunch had never happened, even if the World Trade Centre was still standing, the British armed forces would still be collectively slipping a book down their trousers this weekend before the spanking that will happen next week.

Unfortunately the credit crunch did happen, and the cost of bailing out the banks and defibrillating the economy must now be met: so the spanking will be even bigger. What's the impact going to be?

We're now moving into the realms of rumour and leak, but decisions like this are pretty hard to keep secret. Following recent meetings of the newly created National Security Council (slash perpetual War Cabinet) it has apparently been decided that in fact the Defence budget will not be cut as harshly as that of some other departments. The cuts could be as low as 4 per cent, according to the Financial Times. Sparing the MoD is reasonable: it's a fairly small budget as government budgets go, and slicing another billion or so off it would cause far more damage than cutting the same cash from bigger departments.

That still leaves a lot of financial pain and grief, though, bearing in mind that only a substantial budget increase would allow the status quo to continue. The Army is taking its share of the bad news, contrary to what most defence correspondents are reporting: a large part of the UK's armoured-warfare juggernaut is to be shut down. This doesn't matter at all in terms of British clout or capability - it's now widely acknowledged among modern soldiers that classic tank warfare has moved into the realm of history for advanced nations** - but it will save vast amounts of money. Under previous plans, some £14bn was to be spent in the near future replacing today's tanks and infantry vehicles with amazing new invulnerable-yet-airportable supertanks. It now appears that many will not be replaced.

The navy, it seems, will get its two aircraft carriers in some form. What isn't clear is what sort of aircraft they will have, nor how many, nor how soon. But there was no option to actually save any money by cancelling the two vessels, as the previous government had signed yet another devil's bargain*** with BAE Systems (owner of the remaining British shipbuilding industry). Under this deal, if the carriers were cancelled the government would have had to order other ships to the same value. Wisely, the Coalition has decided it would rather have carriers than dozens of feeble, pointless frigates. Just how many of the current frigates will go remains to be seen, but rumour suggests fewer than one might expect: the navy will probably keep its six Type 45 destroyers and as many as nine or 10 of the present 13 Type 23 frigates (the antique, worthless Type 42s and 22s would have gone soon in any case).

This leaves the brunt of the cuts to fall on the RAF: certainly the airmen are panicking, if this speech two days ago by Air Marshal Timo Anderson is anything to go by. It seems likely that the entire fleet of Tornado GR4 deep-strike bombers will go, saving colossal sums of money in running costs and down-the-road replacements.

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