By Marco Giannangeli, Defence Correspondent
Sunday Express – 4 February 2018
The Royal Marines – one of Britain's premier fighting forces with a peerless history of protecting the nation - could vanish altogether if swingeing defence cuts go ahead. In a damning report, MPs say the regiment
“risks being sacrificed to short-term Treasury book-keeping”.
The Marines face becoming “watered down infantry” under leaked plans to scrap ships designed to carry them into enemy territory, the report says. It describes the axeing of specialist amphibious vessels HMS Albion and Bulwark as an
“irreparable act of folly”.
This would not only put Britain at the mercy of other nations but see the end of a unique capability, honed over centuries, upon which NATO depends. Britain has relied on Naval infantry since 1664 and the Royal Marines, formed in 1802, have fought in every conflict since the Second World War. Last night General Julian Thompson, who led 3 Commando in the Falklands in 1982, warned:
“These plans will spell the end of the Royal Marines as we know them. The days of D-Day scale amphibious landings may be over, but the days of landing against an enemy that is going to fight you on the beach aren’t.”
The move would have a drastic effect on Special Forces, 40 per cent of whom are recruited from the ranks of the Marines. The report, titled Sunset for the Royal Marines? and prepared by the Defence Select Committee, criticises Government attempts to carry out cuts without seeking independent advice or parliamentary approval. Plans to scrap the two vessels in order to save money and free up crews for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers, Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, were leaked in October. The news followed suggestions that 1,000 Royal Marines could be scrapped to help fill a £20billion hole in the defence budget.
More recent reports suggested axing 11,000 Army personnel and 2,000 Marines, and a potential merger of 3 Commando Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade, which includes the Parachute Regiment. The MPs warn:
“The institutional expertise the UK possesses in amphibious warfare has been hard won and continues to be maintained mainly by the Royal Marines and in the Royal Navy’s amphibious fleet. We are one of the few nations that have a sovereign capability in this specialism. Reductions of this type and scale would wipe this out and there would be no going back.”
Both Russia and China are building up their amphibious forces, warns the report. Russia, currently developing new amphibious craft, landed 11,500 troops in 96 hours during its invasion of Georgia in what Dr Peter Roberts, from the RUSI think tank, called a “flawless amphibious operation”. China, whose amphibious forces will eclipse those of the US Marine Corps by 2025, is exercising against opposed beach landings where it is willing to risk 3,000 casualties. Continued tensions in the South China Sea and on the Korean peninsula make the need for amphibious capability “highly desirable”.
Allies such as the US “think we’re mad” to contemplate mothballing amphibious vessels, said the report. Dr Roberts added that Britain’s amphibious capabilities were
“more crucial to the special relationship with the US than our aircraft carriers”.
The vessels are also essential for humanitarian purposes. Recently the Bulwark
“saved several thousand lives in assisting during the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean”.
Suggestions that Britain’s aircraft carriers could replace the role of amphibious vessels were also rejected by MPs. MoD officials have confirmed that carriers will not be able to carry landing craft or armoured vehicles. The space needed to carry 900 Commandos, their equipment and the helicopters needed to fly them would also affect its main purpose – the carrying of fixed-wing F-35 fighter jets.
“Operating both roles simultaneously would mean that neither is being run at full capacity, compromising both the carrier’s support of an amphibious operation by rotary and fixed-wing aircraft and its own fixed-wing air defence,”
said the report. The plans, dismissed as “speculation” by the Government, are part of the Cabinet Office-led National Security Capability Review by Sir Mark Sedwill.
Last night Tory MP Julian Lewis, who is Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said Armed Forces chiefs had been left out of discussions while budgets were slashed.
“There has been a creeping coup by civil servants in Whitehall which has sidelined the heads of the Armed Forces and has sought to make huge reductions in conventional military power, while failing to consult widely and failing to submit itself to proper parliamentary scrutiny,”
“Even if we avoid this crisis, there will be another one looming soon because the Treasury hasn't yet admitted that defence spending pegged at 2 per cent of GDP is not enough. We will not resolve any of these problems until we start spending something approaching at least 3per cent. After all, it's what we were spending in the mid-1990s, after the Cold War had ended."
An MoD spokesman said:
“Protecting the UK will always be our priority and the Royal Marines play a vital role in defending our country. Our brand new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is central to our efforts to build an Armed Forces fit for the future and is a symbol of our intent to remain a truly Global Britain.”
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‘CUTS TO ROYAL MARINES ARE “ILLITERATE” AND “SHORT-SIGHTED” ’
Defence Committee warns that scrapping amphibious ships would significantly undermine UK security
By Ben Farmer, Defence Correspondent
Sunday Telegraph – 4 February 2018
Proposals to shrink the Royal Marines and axe amphibious ships in defence cost-cutting would be
“totally at odds with strategic reality”
MPs have warned. A report from the Commons Defence Committee says following through with leaked suggestions to dramatically cut amphibious forces would “significantly undermine” Britain’s security. The report also criticises the conduct of a Whitehall national security review saying it failed to consult experts and was carried out without any Parliamentary scrutiny.
The National Security Capability Review begun last summer led to proposals to cut up to 2,000 Royal Marines as part of attempts to fill a £20bn budget black hole over the next decade. Suggested cuts also included the retirement of amphibious ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, as part of wide ranging reductions to all three services. But a series of former senior officers told the MPs that cutting the ships would leave Britain unable to mount a major amphibious landing.
While Theresa May and Gavin Williamson both rejected the proposals just before Christmas, MPs say that unless the Defence Secretary can secure more funding, the Marines remain at risk. Mr Williamson has launched a new defence review, but has continued to stress the need to find savings and efficiencies in the MOD budgets. The report concludes:
“The world is changing and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines need to change with it. However, if the price of such change is the sacrifice of this country’s amphibious capability, we can only conclude this to be a short-sighted, militarily illiterate manoeuvre totally at odds with strategic reality.”
The Committee dismissed MOD suggestions that the nation’s new aircraft carriers could take the role of the amphibious ships. HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales
“are in reality no substitute for the purpose-built amphibious warships in this role,”
the report concluded. Julian Lewis, Defence Committee chairman, said the proposal to axe HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark 15 years before they were due to leave service
“demonstrates, yet again, the desperate inadequacy of the defence budget”.
“We must reinstate a target of around 3 per cent of GDP – the percentage which we spent right up to the mid-1990s, long after the ‘peace dividend’ cuts, at the end of the Cold War, had been made.
He said that unless Mr Williamson got more money
“the Royal Marines will be reduced to a level far below the critical mass needed to sustain them as a high-readiness Commando force”.
The Committee said global trends such as the spread of cities along the world’s coastlines meant there was an ongoing need for amphibious operations. Yet, while every major defence power was seeking to increase their amphibious forces, Britain
“may be forced prematurely to abandon them”.
Johnny Mercer MP, a former officer in 29 Commando, said:
“This report puts into sharp focus the folly of removing from this nation’s military capabilities the amphibious fleet, and reducing the Royal Marines. In an area where every single other credible tier one military nation is expanding their Amphibious Forces, we cannot afford to be heading in the other direction, shrinking to the ‘little Britain’ so many of our foes would like to see.”
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‘IT’S A MISTAKE TO CUT THE ROYAL MARINES’
Britain's amphibious assault capacity is an essential part of its defence
Daily Telegraph – 5 February 2018
By dint of its geography and global reach, Britain has a long history of amphibious warfare. This country’s expertise was forged as a naval power with a geopolitical imperative to defend colonial possessions and deploy land forces to continental wars. The end of empire and peace in Europe appear to have convinced Whitehall strategists that amphibious capability may no longer be as important as it once was. Rumours of cuts in the Royal Marines, as the Government undertakes another security review, have met little in the way of a credible denial.
A new report from the Commons Defence Select Committee offers a timely warning of what a myopic approach this would be. There is always a danger of prioritising capabilities that were important in past conflicts but which will be redundant in future wars; if we did that we would still have a cavalry. Modern warfare will involve cyber conflict, unmanned aircraft, drones and computer-controlled battlefleets. But it would be foolhardy for a maritime nation to skimp on, or abandon, its ability to conduct effective amphibious operations. These are no longer D-Day-style beach attacks but covert landings of highly trained specialist troops, properly equipped and operating from purpose-built assault ships.
There is a deep concern that the manpower, the equipment or both could be cut, with specific threats to the strength of the Royal Marines and to the Royal Navy’s Albion class amphibious ships. The recent decision to separate Defence from the Strategic Review being undertaken by Sir Mark Sedwill, the National Security Adviser, is an opportunity to think again and avoid a serious mistake.
Although recruitment and retention remains high for the Royal Marines, the Committee fears that the current uncertainty risks having an appreciable effect on their fighting power, training cycles, basing and morale. Moreover, at a time when the UK’s most likely military deployment is of Special Forces to tackle the terrorist threat, it is perverse to reduce the pool of potential talent. A high proportion of badged members of UK Special Forces are drawn from the Royal Marines. Nor is it just about manpower. Amphibious operations need specialist assault ships, and the idea that the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers will fit the bill is misguided. The Committee calls the purported approach
“a short-sighted, militarily illiterate manoeuvre totally at odds with strategic reality”.
The Government has been warned.
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‘MARINES CUTS “WILL HAMSTRING OUR SAS” ’
Britain’s Special Forces face a “talent” shortage under plans to cut the Royal Marines, a top Tory MP has warned.
By Matt Dathan
Sun – 5 February 2018
Julian Lewis said the unit supplies up to 50 per cent of personnel in the SAS, Special Boat Service and Special Reconnaissance Regiment. The Chairman of the Defence Select Committee claims plans to axe 2,000 Marines as part of the Defence Review would be
“a hare-brained and toxic move”.
“If you’re going to cut them by any significant amount, then that’s going to have a huge knock-on effect on effect in the very areas that people are warning against: new types of threats.”
His [Committee’s] report also warned cuts threatened the future of two amphibious vessels vital to national security. He reiterated his call for Theresa May to increase Britain’s Defence spending from its current two per cent of GDP.
For every £1 spent on Defence, we spend £2.50 on Education, £4 on Health and £6 on Welfare. Mr Lewis asked:
“Where does that leave the claim that the Government continually parrots that Defence is the first duty of government?”
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[NOTE: Most other newspapers covered this Defence Committee Report in similar terms, and it led both television and radio news bulletins for much of Sunday, 4 February 2018. A typical interview can be seen here.]