Gurkhas to be hit again as armed forces prepare to axe 4,500

The military will be seeking to cut up to 4,500 jobs across the three services in the second tranche of a sweeping redundancy programme launched next week.

The army is under greatest pressure and is expected to cut between 2,000 and 3,000 posts this year as it attempts to reduce its fighting force from more than 100,000 to 82,000 by 2020.

The RAF will need to make up to 1,000 redundancies in 2012, and the Royal Navy an estimated 500 – though that should be the end of the process for them.

The Gurkhas bore the brunt of the army cuts in the first tranche last year, and they are likely to suffer this time too because the Ministry of Defence believes the brigade has over recruited in recent years.

That has been bitterly contested by campaigners, who say the Gurkhas are being targeted unfairly.

The MoD has confirmed the controversial redundancy programme will enter its second phase next Tuesday.

Troops currently serving in Afghanistan or who are just back from operations abroad are likely to be exempted, unless they want to leave voluntarily.

The military is bracing itself for more compulsory redundancies this year because most of the men and women who wanted to leave applied to go last year, and the UK job market has become bleaker.

More than half of the army's compulsory redundancies last year came from the Gurkhas, who are recruited from Nepal. No Gurkhas applied for voluntary redundancy and none are expected to do so this time either.

"Every time the issue of redundancies gets raised it sends a shudder through the Gurkha community," said Peter Carroll, of the Gurkha Justice Campaign.

"Our campaign won them some equality, but somehow this has led the military to think they are less desirable. I thought the army appreciated the Gurkhas because they are ferocious fighters and very loyal, not because they were cheap."

Gurkha soldiers have been on operations in Afghanistan and have played a pivotal role in the training of the Afghan police force – local recruits warm to them more easily than to officers from other Nato countries.

But the MoD argues that the 3,500 strong brigade is over-manned because it continued to recruit at the same rate after the Gurkhas' length of service was increased in line with the rest of the army.

"They are still overmanned," said one Whitehall source. "That is a longstanding problem."

Under the terms of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, the navy and the RAF have to axe 5,000 jobs each by 2015. Both services believe they can reach the target this year, with the rest coming from natural wastage and freezing recruitment in certain areas.

In the RAF, those still in the line of fire are likely to include weapons systems operators and officers up to the rank of air commodore.

Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, is hoping the early end to the redundancy process for the RAF and Royal Navy will help to boost morale and provide stability after a bruising year. The army is reviewing how it should be structured after the cuts.

An MoD spokesperson said: "We need to structure our forces to ensure that they are sufficiently flexible and adaptable to meet the demands of an uncertain future. The decisions are not easy, but they will help to defend the UK."

The redundancy scheme will close after eight weeks and announcements are likely to be made in the summer.