By Tim Shipman, Defence Editor
Sunday Express – 18 July 2004
New Royal Navy warships will not be up to the job, the Senior Service's big guns claimed last night. Senior Naval sources say the Type-45 destroyers Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon will hail as the future as he announces big defence cuts this week, will not be fitted with Tomahawk land-attack missiles.
The failure to give the main ships the ability to attack land was condemned yesterday as "absolute folly". It threatens to derail the Government's defence policy, which is based on fighting joint army, naval and air operations overseas. On Wednesday, Mr Hoon will pave the way for a drastic reduction in the size of the surface fleet and a cutback in submarines. The biggest reorganisation of the Army in two centuries will see historic regiments merged.
Mr Hoon will say the plan, which will also hit the RAF with a reduction of airfields, planes and staff, is to create a high-tech military capable of waging expeditionary warfare around the globe. But insiders say it is just a cover for cost-cutting to plug the £10-billion hole in the defence budget. The MoD could save millions of pounds on the Tomahawk missiles by buying a bulk consignment in tandem with the US military, but delaying for years will mean they have to pay even more if they upgrade later.
One admiral said:
"Tomahawk gives us the ability to accurately hit targets 1,000 miles away with a 1,000-lb warhead. Whoever fires it is more or less invulnerable. We must have this shot in our locker."
Only the dwindling number of submarines will be able to fire Tomahawk. The order for new Type-45s, is expected to be cut back from 12 to eight or even six ships.
Tory defence spokesman Julian Lewis said:
"It is an astonishing gap in the potential capability of these otherwise very powerful ships for them not to have a sea-to-land capability other than a turret gun. It is absolute folly not to give these most powerful of weapons."
Mr Hoon is expected to announce that two or three frigates will be axed and three older Type-42 destroyers will be mothballed. Britain's contribution to NATO patrols could be cut, including anti-terror patrols in the Mediterranean. Insiders say the MoD is "buying the silence" of the Navy on cuts by holding out the promise of two new aircraft carriers. But not even that deal is safe. Defence chiefs are looking at buying two smaller rust-bucket ships from the US.