Future of RAF Marham still unclear

The future of Norfolk's largest military base remained uncertain today, amid conflicting reports over whether its aircraft would be shot down in a savage round of defence cuts.

The future of Norfolk's largest military base remained uncertain today, amid conflicting reports over whether its aircraft would be shot down in a savage round of defence cuts.

Ministers will next week set out the future shape of Britain's armed forces, against a background of major spending cuts and the changing face of potential threats the country faces.

Some commentators claimed RAF Marham's Tornado jets would be one of the highest profile casualties, as the air force bears the brunt of cuts to the defence budget.

Others claimed the Tornados would live to fight another day with their stable-mate the Harrier jump jet being grounded instead.

Around half of the 120-strong Tornado fleet is based at Marham, which also houses the specialised engineering works which maintain the planes.

The remainder are based at RAF Lossiemouth, in Scotland, where local politicians have been lobbying hard to keep their base open.

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While Norfolk MPs have been silent over the future of Marham, some commentators suggest the government is more likely to close bases in Labour's Scottish stronghold than Tory heartland.

Marham supports 5,000 jobs and brings an estimated �100m into East Anglia's economy. West Norfolk council leader Nick Daubney said its closure would be 'devastating' for the region.

But today it also emerged that so-called fine detail - such as which bases are to survive - may not even be announced next week.

The dog-fight between service chiefs which has been going on behind closed doors spilled into the papers this weekend, overshadowing spending cuts due to be announced to other government departments next week.

Ministers wanted to slash 10pc from Britain's �37bn defence budget. But after protests from senior officers and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister David Cameron intervened personally to limit cuts due to be announced in next week's comprehensive spending review.

Widely-quoted MoD sources said a deal had been reached, describing it as

'a settlement we can work with'.

Mr Cameron reportedly stepped in after the new head of the Army, General Sir Peter Wall, warned him that excessive cuts would threaten Britain's mission in Afghanistan.

The Chief of General Staff was reported to have told Downing Street he would

not accept cuts in Army numbers and training which would hamper the Afghan

operation.

Some senior military officers feared that they would be asked to absorb reductions in their budgets of as much as 20pc.

The Royal Navy looks set to get its two new aircraft carriers, which were widely seen to be at risk from the cuts.

But the number of Joint Strike Fighter F-35 jet planes which the new ships will

carry is to be cut from 138 to 40.

And there was also speculation that if the Harrier is scrapped, the ships will carry helicopters until the new JSF becomes operational, in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Navy's fleet of larger ships, such as frigates, will be cut from

24 to 16.

And the Army will face a 7,000 cut in manpower and a reorganisation into five

combat brigades of 6,000 troops each, down from the current eight.

The reorganisation will be made possible by the withdrawal of troops from

Afghanistan and remaining bases in Germany.

The National Security Review - due to be published tomorrrow - is believed to identify terrorist attacks from groups such as al Qaida and cyber-attacks on

vital computer networks as the greatest threats facing the UK.

Military conflict with another state are understood to be listed in fourth place, behind natural disasters, while the document outlines a future strategy of seeking to prevent conventional wars, while retaining the ability to respond to military threats.

Mr Cameron has spent the weekend in last-minute talks with senior ministers at his country residence Chequers to finalise the Comprehensive Spending Review.

?Cuts previewed - see tomorrow's EDP for our experts' analysis of how the cuts will hit jobs and services across the East.

?Cuts online - edp24 will carry live reports and commentaries as the big spending announcements are made.