DUNCAN BARKES Rethink needed over the ‘much too harsh’ cuts to Royal Navy

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I love of all things nautical. My late father served in the Merchant Navy and so the sea has always been central to my life and my affections.

As a young boy I was a frequent visitor to the Navy Days at Portsmouth, where being able to board a variety of vessels was heavenly, especially for a lad whose favourite bedtime reading was The Observer’s Book of Ships.

I have therefore been following the cuts to the Royal Navy with particular interest.

Out of all of our forces, the Royal Navy is enduring the harshest cuts of all.

HMS Ark Royal, the Navy’s flagship, will be decommissioned later this year.

A fine vessel, and one whose flight deck I have been privileged to stand on, its loss is a major nail in the coffin of our seaborne defences.

Those who defend the cuts argue that the need for such resources in the twenty-first century is unnecessary.

They argue that cyber attacks and home-grown terrorism is a far greater threat to this country than invasion.

Our membership of the United Nations and European Union is also cited as a reason for a radical overhaul of our defence strategy.

Evidently we can rely on the support of other nations should Britain find itself at the centre of an international conflict.

But I believe the cuts to our naval fleet are too harsh. Ark Royal aside, our seventy-strong fleet of Harrier jets has been scrapped, as have our fleet of Nimrod surveillance planes.

In total the cuts amount to a 7½ per cent reduction in the £37bn defence budget.

Various former Royal Navy dignitaries have voiced their concerns. Letters have been written to the prime minister demanding an urgent review of the cuts. Campaigns have been set up to save the name ‘Ark Royal’.

Emotion is running high, and rightly so. Many argue that if we had ‘another Falklands’ we would be ill-equipped to react.

I think they are right.

Recently, as the Libya crisis began to unfold, one of the vessels sent to liberate British workers was HMS Cumberland, a ship that is facing decommission.

What would we have done if this great old lady of the sea had already been pensioned off?

Some readers may be ex-Royal Navy or ex-forces. I would like to hear your view on the cuts.

I have solely been focusing on the Royal Navy, but both our army and airforce will feel the pinch.

Do you feel our nation has become worryingly exposed, or are these changes right for the time?

We know that cash needs to be saved. But is ripping the heart and soul out of our Royal Navy the most sensible cost cutting exercise?

I fear that at the rate we are going we will end up with a couple of tugs and a half-baked fleet of pedalos.