Taken from the Sunday Times (or rather a website with the article as I refuse to use that stupid paywall)- normally I'm fairly cynical of most reporting - particularly the Times which is legendarily innacurate or susceptible to printing 'agenda driven leaks', but given that we're now seeing decisions being taken, its possible there may be a grain of truth in this one. The incoming head of the armed forces, General Sir David Richards, has persuaded David Cameron to spare 20,000 soldiers from the Treasury axe after convincing him they are vital for the Afghan war. He told the prime minister that the army needs to maintain its strength of about 100,000 troops for it to support nearly 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan for the next five years. The Royal Navy and the RAF will bear the brunt of the cuts imposed under the Strategic Defence Review. It is a victory for Richards, who has outmanoeuvred Ministry of Defence officials. Cameron has accepted that it would be politically damaging to slash the army at a time when it is fighting alongside America and other Nato allies and when casualties are at their highest level since the start of the war in 2001. The forthcoming cuts will be the deepest for nearly 20 years, when the armed forces were slashed by a third. Other service chiefs are furious. Nearly half of Britains fighter jets and more than a third of the navys frigates and destroyers will go. Plans for two new aircraft carriers will still go ahead at a cost of £5 billion. But there will be a sharp reduction in the number of jets operating from them. Richards has spent the summer making the case for protecting the army from cuts, insisting that it needs to retain its seven combat brigades to provide enough units for six-month tours of duty. In an unusual move, Richards was appointed directly by the prime minister after he interviewed candidates. A senior army officer said: This deal is a realisation that we can only succeed in Afghanistan if we back the army to the hilt and concentrate resources where they are needed. Senior government sources say the first key decision on the future of Britains armed forces was made early last week, and that cuts to Britains £38 billion military budget will now be limited to just over 10%. Despite Richardss success in protecting troop numbers, he has had to agree to brutal cuts of £5 billion a year to the parts of the military not directly involved in Afghanistan. Defence sources say the RAF and the Royal Navy will each have to save £1.5 billion a year, and to cut 10,000 jobs. There will be further savings of £2 billion a year from cancelling procurement projects, closing military bases and making 10,000 civil servants redundant. General Sir Richard Dannatt, the former head of the army, told The Sunday Times that the proposed deal would allow Britains armed forces to maintain their national stance and he described it as not a complete show-stopper. However, the deal could still be blown apart depending on the outcome of heated arguments about the replacement for Trident. Dannatt described the Trident issue as a political game changer and said it would not be manageable for the MoD to have to find the money for Trident from within its budget. If you delay Trident and look at alternatives it would be adequate, he said. Sources say Richards would accept a trade-off whereby conventional forces are spared deeper cuts if there is a delay until after 2015 in ramping up spending on Trident. Under existing plans it would cost £5 billion to fund the first phase of the replacement for Trident over the next five years. Pleas by Liam Fox, the defence secretary, for the Treasury to pay for the new nuclear deterrent separately from the MoD budget are likely to fall on deaf ears. Fierce arguments are expected within the national security council over where the axe will fall in the RAF and Royal Navy. However, The Sunday Times has established that plans to buy 22 new Chinook heavy-lift helicopters pledged by Gordon Brown to help troops avoid Taliban roadside bombs are to be scaled back to only 12. Most of them would not have been ready for six years, after Camerons deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Upgrades to keep 35 Puma helicopters in service for another decade are to be scrapped and their base at RAF Benson closed. The RAF is expected to confirm that it will retire at least half of its 160 old Tornado and Harrier fighter jets early, leaving the future of RAF Marham, Wittering and Lossiemouth in doubt. The Royal Navy will go ahead with plans to close its Devonport dockyard and nine older frigates and destroyers are to be retired. Although the navys two new aircraft carriers now seem safe, the air group to operate on them will be significantly reduced to fewer than 40 aircraft. A £700m replacement for the amphibious carrier HMS Ocean will now not be built and one of the new carriers will have to act as a floating base for the Royal Marines. A £300m upgrade of the Royal Navys 35 Sea King amphibious assault helicopters is to be scrapped, and they will all be retired within five years. Richards, formerly head of the army, left behind detailed plans for efficiency savings across the army when he handed over to his successor, General Sir Peter Wall last week. Army savings will be measured in low hundreds of millions and much of this will be ploughed back into the Afghan war chest. The vast majority of the 20,000 British troops currently based in Germany will be found new homes in redundant RAF bases in Britain by the middle of the decade.