Almost half of the British Royal Navy's warships are to be mothballed as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) tries to slash costs, the Daily Telegraph reported yesterday.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has admitted that 13 warships are in a state of "reduced readiness" and six further destroyers and frigates are being proposed for cuts, the paper said.
The move comes as ministers reportedly try to cut the defense budget by ?250 million (US$486 million) and amid major armed forces commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"What this means is that we are now no better than a coastal defense force or a fleet of dug-out canoes. The Dutch now have a better navy than us," said an unnamed senior officer.
It is likely that the six destroyers and frigates will eventually be sold or scrapped, while there are also fears that two new aircraft carriers promised in 1998 will never be built, the paper said.
Unnamed MoD sources told the paper it was possible that the navy would discontinue one of its major commitments around the world to save money.
It also quoted unnamed defense sources saying that two of eight destroyers on the order books will not be bought.
The former head of the Royal Navy, Sir Alan West, told the Sunday Telegraph last week that the government was putting British interests at risk by reshaping the armed forces to wage long-term campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The MoD was behaving "like these tinpot countries" which fail to invest in major equipment programs and was running the risk of turning the armed forces into "a gendarmerie," he said.
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