Plans unveiled by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would leave the overall strength of the army at around 72,500, with other branches of the military braced to lose some “industrial age” capabilities, with older tanks, ships and warplanes to be axed or phased out early.
The details emerged despite a 2019 pledge from the Prime Minister that “we will not be cutting our armed services in any form.” Mr Johnson added at the time: “We will be maintaining the size of our armed services."
But following the publication last week of the integrated review of foreign and defence policy, ministers say the changes are necessary to create a more agile military capable of countering evolving threats around the globe.
Under the plans, the Royal Marines are set to be transformed into a new Future Commando Force (FCF) to be deployed around the world on an “enduring basis”.
The MoD said the FCF would take on many of the traditional tasks of the Special Forces, the SAS and SBS, alongside a new Army Ranger Regiment announced last week.
The FCF will see the Royal Marines evolve from an “amphibious infantry” held at readiness in the UK to a versatile, special operations-capable force “persistently forward deployed”.
The unit will receive more than £200 million of direct investment over the next decade to carry out maritime security operations and to “pre-empt and deter sub-threshold activity, and counter state threats”.
Ahead of the publication of the command paper, defence secretary Ben Wallace said: “From striking Daesh terrorists in Iraq, disrupting drug shipments and deterring Russian aggression in the Baltics, our armed forces already reach where others cannot.
“In the coming years, we will broaden the spectrum of this worldwide engagement even further.
“Across a vast global footprint, we will be constantly operating to deter our adversaries and reassure our friends, integrating with our allies, and ready to fight should it be necessary.”
But the SNP’s shadow defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald MP said: “Plans to cut the number of troops in our armed forces by a staggering 10,000 personnel is yet another broken promise from Boris Johnson’s Tory government.
“The move is short-sighted, reckless and will significantly undermine efforts towards dealing with the very real threats facing us.
“Rather than strengthening our conventional capabilities, the Tories are instead foolishly fixated on increasing their arsenal of nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
“Just a matter of months after stating that he will not cut armed services ‘in any form’, Johnson is now set to shamefully abandon that commitment, highlighting that Tory promises are not worth the paper they are written on, including their rhetoric to protect the Black Watch stationed in Scotland.”
Mr McDonald added: “The defence secretary must now come clean and set out the threat to Scottish army numbers.”
UK Labour shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “Further army cuts could seriously limit our forces’ capacity simultaneously to deploy overseas, support allies and maintain strong national defences and resilience.
“There’s a gulf between the government’s ambitions and its actions, which is set to grow with this new review.”