UK special forces face big cuts in support network
The support network for Britain’s special forces is facing major cutbacks with around 600 posts earmarked to be lost in a reorganisation to coincide with the military pull-out from Afghanistan.

Sources told The Sunday Telegraph that the controversial move could become necessary because the campaign had seen a build-up of support and logistics to enable elite squads to carry out their operations which would no longer be necessary.

The proposals, drawn up at the Ministry of Defence, do not affect the fighting troops of the Special Air Service or the Special Boat Service.

However 156 posts are expected to be lost from the Special Forces Support Group, which provides infantry and specialised support to SAS and SBS operations. The rest of the 600 posts are from units providing vehicles, signals, logistics and intelligence — the key “enablers” which allow elite troops to operate.

The plans come in the wake of last week’s confusion over the Coalition’s plans for future overall spending on defence.

David Cameron suggested that totals would be increased “year on year” from 2015, following the next Whitehall spending review. But Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, later said the increase would apply only to equipment.

Mr Hammond today opens up a new rift with the Liberal Democrats over the future of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. He uses an article in The Sunday Telegraph to back a like-for-like replacement of the current Trident submarine system as “the best option for Britain”.

He warns that alternative systems being studied by the Liberal Democrats would carry “enormous financial, technical and strategic risk” — and could even risk triggering a nuclear war.

Sources said the cuts proposed to special forces support were “an option being considered by the military” because certain roles would not be needed after the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, scheduled to take place by the end of 2014.

Some military figures are unhappy about the latest plan. One said the decisions in the SDSR would be “completely undermined” if it was implemented and added: “This is absolutely bonkers — it will institutionalise overstretch within the UK’s special forces at a time when they have been operating, and need to continue to operate, at a high tempo.”

Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, said: “These very specialised, high-end forces, which the UK now needs more than ever, are being made redundant at the same time as ministers hail their importance. Prime ministerial promises to support defence seem even more worthless.”

Mr Hammond, meanwhile, backs moves to keep a continuous nuclear deterrent at sea. It offers Britain more “freedom of manoeuvre” in a crisis, while the Trident missile system provides “range” and “endurance”, he argues.

Replacing Trident would cost around five to six per cent of the annual defence budget, which would be “affordable” and would enhance links with the US, which uses the same system, according to Mr Hammond.

His comments come days after Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Treasury Chief Secretary, said a direct replacement for Trident was “not financially realistic”.

Posted by: lotp 2013-02-03