THE ROYAL Marines 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.
These plans will spell the end of the Royal Marines as we know them
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 of 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”.
The Royal Marines have fought in every conflict since the Second World War
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”.
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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.
VCG via Getty Images
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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,” he said.
“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.”