LONDON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Scrambling to shave more than $1.6 billion off running costs, Britain's Defense Ministry has suggested that it may ax the country's entire fleet of Tornado jets.
The move comes after a botched defense review left a hole in defense finances, requiring officials to cut more than $1 billion in costs by next month.
Scrapping the Tornadoes, including eight in operational use in Afghanistan, is one of the desperate measures being considered to make up the shortfall.
Other options include cutting 20,000 troops from the country's army from 2015 onward -- a move that would shrink the force to its smallest size in nearly two centuries.
"With the release of the U.K. Strategic Defense and Security Review last fall, the Tornado emerged as a big winner in a Ministry of Defense review that pitted the aircraft against the Harrier GR7/GR9 fleet in what evolved into a battle royal for which platform remained in service," the Defense Talk Web site reported. "Due to its continued use in the Afghan theater, the Tornado made the cut and the last Harriers were withdrawn from service earlier this year."
Now, military officials are purported to be considering the immediate withdrawal of eight Tornadoes deployed in Afghanistan.
"This move would be followed by the retirement of the remaining Tornado fleer of roughly 100 aircraft," Defense Talk reported.
The consideration comes amid growing concerns by the military brass over the sweeping defense cuts.
Earlier this week, 10 retired senior military officials wrote to the prime minister to express their concerns over the loss of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal.
The officials -- a former field marshal, three generals and six admirals -- said the loss, plus that of combat jets in the British air force "damaged" Britain's defense capabilities.
Late last year, Britain's defense secretary announced that the frigate -- used this week to evacuate British nationals stranded by sweeping unrest in Libya, the HMS Cumberland -- is to be decommissioned in April, following the strategic defense and security review.
It isn't the first time that such defense spending cuts have been ordered.
The Labor Party has already called for the defense review to be reopened in light of developments in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya.
That may prove unlikely.
"Sustaining both Tornado and Harrier would be prohibitively expensive in this current economic climate and Tornado continues to provide vital support to the front line in Afghanistan," said Defense Secretary Liam Fox said.