Members of the British Royal Air Force Red Arrows squadron perform a stunt
The government has denied that the iconic Red Arrows team of flying aces is to be axed as uncertainty lingers over the future of UK defence spending.
The nine-man team of pilots and their scarlet Hawk TI jets are famous throughout the world, and played starring roles in last year's Jubilee celebrations.
But the Mirror reported on 2 February that the unit, which costs £9 million a year to run, could be cut to save money and free up the expert pilots for other missions.
Defence chiefs poised for spending talks with ministers may be forced to use the unit as a bargaining chip as they struggle to make ends meet.
Downing Street has denied the claims, and tweeted: "Red Arrows are not facing the axe. Any suggestion that they are is wrong."
This week, Prime Minister David Cameron said he would honour his 2010 pledge that defence spending would begin to rise again in 2015, despite other government departments being told to expect a further spending squeeze in the year 2015-2016.
However, Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond later said that the rise only applied to equipment spending, which would rise by one per cent from 2015.
This would probably be insufficient for an overall real terms increase, and Tory backbenchers fear a continued spending squeeze could harm the combat capability of the armed forces.
The defence budget has been slashed by eight per cent in real terms since 2010, leading to hundreds of servicemen and women being made redundant.
Commenting on the Red Arrows fears, shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said: "The Red Arrows are part of our national character and history.
"The country would be dismayed if they were scrapped to make yet more savings in defence, which the Prime Minister seemed to rule out just days ago."
Kevan Jones, the shadow armed forces minister, said: "Our forces don't want jam tomorrow and P45s today. They will judge ministers on their record."
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