Navy could lose 'fight on beaches' ships in planned cuts

Newsnight investigation shows

The Royal Navy could lose its ability to assault enemy-held beaches, under plans being considered in the Ministry of Defence, BBC Newsnight understands.

Two specialist landing ships - HMS Albion and Bulwark - would be taken out of service under the proposals.

The plan - part of a package of cost-cutting measures - has caused alarm among senior Royal Marine officers.

The MoD told the BBC that no decisions have been made yet and that discussion of options was “pure speculation”.

It is understood the head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, formulated the move as part of a package designed to balance the books and free up sailors for the service’s two new aircraft carriers.

Critics say the proposal would deprive the Royal Marines of their core mission. 

Among other cuts envisaged are: a reduction of 1,000 to the strength of the Royal Marines, the early retirement of two mine hunting and one survey vessels.

A senior Royal Marine officer blamed the introduction of the new carriers for exacerbating the senior service’s financial and manning problems.

He told the BBC: “This is the worst procurement decision of the past half century, that’s what the Royal Marines are being sacrificed for.” 

The proposed cuts are part of a raft of “adjustments” being considered by all three services - the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force - as the Ministry of Defence struggles to balance its books. 

The Royal Air Force could slow down orders of its new F35 fighter, and the army lose dozens of helicopters as part of their efforts towards the same goal.

In 2015 there was a Strategic Defence and Security Review, a paper intended to act as a blueprint for the coming five years. 

However the depreciation of sterling has made big buys of foreign equipment more expensive and the armed forces have crammed the programme with too many projects, creating a hole in the budget. 

The government announced “additional work to review national security capabilities” in July - a review by stealth - under the leadership of its national security adviser Mark Sedwill.

The proposed cuts to the Royal Navy have been put forward as part of this exercise.

Under the 1997 defence review, a group of ships was created to improve the UK’s ability to land its commando brigade, even in the face of opposition.

The helicopter carrier Ocean, two specialist landing ships - Albion and Bulwark - and four logistic support ships were to be acquired to allow the 5,000 strong force to continue performing operations such as the 1982 Falklands landing or the one on the Faw peninsula during the 2003 Iraq conflict.

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