David Cameron has defended the decision to make 11,000 redundancies in the UK armed forces — potentially including some troops now on the frontline in Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister conceded that axing around 5,000 personnel from the Army, 3,300 from |the Navy and 2,700 from the |RAF would be “difficult” for those affected.
But he insisted the losses were necessary to “modernise and update” Britain's forces for future challenges.
Labour criticised the Government for announcing details of the cuts at the same time Mr Cameron has been suggesting the RAF could help enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.
Last autumn's Strategic Defence and Security Review set out plans for reducing the size of the Armed Forces by 17,000 in total.
Some of that number will be met by not replacing people who were retiring or leaving for other reasons.
But defence officials disclosed that 11,000 personnel still face being made redundant on a compulsory or voluntary basis.
Commodore Jonathan Woodcock told a briefing for journalists that the first tranche would be notified whether they were being made redundant in September.
No-one serving in Afghanistan at that time will be eligible to lose their jobs, but virtually all personnel currently serving in the country could be included, he said.
The reductions are due to be fully achieved by April 2015.
The Ministry of Defence stressed the changes would have “no impact on current operations”.
In the wake of media leaks that trainee pilots were being laid off, and the accidental sacking of soldiers serving in Afghanistan by email, Defence Secretary Liam Fox also promised that reductions would be handled with “sensitivity and care”.
No-one who is deployed on operations, preparing to deploy on operations, or recently returned from operations will be considered for redundancy unless they volunteer. Those recovering from injury will also be exempt.
However, Commodore |Woodcock confirmed that personnel currently serving in Afghanistan would be eligible, as almost all will have completed their tour by September.
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: “This is incredible. At the same time as planning a no-fly zone over Libya the Tory-led Government chooses today of all days to sack RAF personnel. The pilots will be stunned and the country will be confused.
“These are the very same people who would help enforce no-fly zones. The Government is losing its way on defence.”
However, Mr Cameron laid the blame on mismanagement by the former Labour Government.
“These were incredibly difficult decisions, but we had an inheritance of a defence budget that was overspent by £38bn and where decisions had been put off and put off and we were not modernising and updating our armed forces so they were able to cope with the modern challenges they were going to have to meet,” he said.
“We did not take any of these decisions lightly.”