'Leaner' Military Strategy to Tackle MoD Pounds 37bn Black Hole; CULL OF BACKROOM WORKERS AND SENIOR OFFICERS AHEAD

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Byline: SAM MARSDEN ;JAMES TAPSFIELD

THE numbers of senior military officers and civil servants are to be reduced to help tackle the pounds 37bn black hole in the Ministry of Defence's finances.

The department faces cuts to its backroom operations to ensure frontline troops get everything they need, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said yesterday.

It was also reported last night that the UK's military helicopter fleet is facing 20% cuts under plans to slash defence spending.

A secret internal Ministry of Defence memo sets out demands for pounds 3.96bn of savings across the rotary wing fleets operated by the Royal Navy, Army and RAF, according to the London Evening Standard.

Options outlined in the document include scrapping the entire pounds 1.7bn fleet of 62 new Lynx Wildcats for the Navy and Army, phasing out the Navy and RAF's Sea Kings and the "deletion" of the RAF's Puma helicopter, the paper said.

Other scenarios could see numbers of Chinooks, Merlins or Apaches reduced.

The provision of helicopters for British forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan has been a politically charged issue.

While in opposition, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats argued that Labour ministers were putting troops' lives at risk by failing to provide enough of the highly manoeuvrable aircraft.

The Ministry of Defence refused to comment on the report.

Earlier, launching a wide-ranging reform of how the MoD is run, the Defence Secretary said the ministry had to be "leaner", less centralised and more transparent.

Dr Fox said he was reminded while visiting Afghanistan this week that supporting British forces on operations had to take priority over spending on staff in Whitehall.

He said: "It brought home to me once again that the prime purpose of what we are doing is to make sure that our Armed Forces on the frontline have everything they need, and all the support they require, to carry out their mission successfully and safely.

"That means that the backroom sometimes has to do without to make sure that the frontline gets what it wants."

Giving a speech in London, Dr Fox said the "ghastly truth" was that financial mismanagement by Labour had left the MoD with an "unfunded liability" of pounds 37bn over the next 10 years. …