27 FEBRUARY 1948, Page 2

Service Estimates

The Service estimates, published this week, show considerable re- ductions in expenditure ; £98,000,000 for the Army, £41,000,000 for the RAY. and £43,000,000 for the Navy. In all cases this economy is being effected through a decrease in personnel and an even more than proportionate decrease in the size of the arm which they man. It is clear from these estimates that the Government, while main- taining conscription, has its heart set on as speedy a return as possible to what it considers the level of peace-time establishments. This is a somewhat disturbing prospect. Last week, with its mount- ing crises in Czechoslovakia and Palestine, has emphasised that we are still as far away from a real as we are from a legal state of peace. The reductions which we have made in our commitments by our withdrawal from India and Burma and our prospective withdrawal from Palestine affect the Army appreciably more than the Air Force or the Navy. The aspect of the estimates which will attract the most immediate attention, abroad as well as at home, is the total absence of any new shipbuilding programme from the year 1948-9. The building carry-over into this year will include only one fleet carrier, two light fleet carriers, and eight destroyers. Even on this

basis it is thought to be improbable that we shall be able to man all ships in commission. Coming on top of the recent scrapping of seweral capital ships, this represents a drastic weakening of the Navy as an effective force. It is true that the tendency today is every- where away from capital ships (the United States have only two battleships in commission), and towards a mobile force of sea- or land-based aircraft as the main defensive and offensive weapon. This development was emphasised in the explanatory memorandum issued at the time of the Air Estimates which referred to the attention being now paid to the training of a mobile bomber force. But we are left in doubt whether the Services have the same potentiality for rapid expansion as they obviously have for rapid contraction.