Up to 800 Gurkha troops, an entire battalion, could be phased out of the Royal Army as part of a series of defence cuts being applied across the board. Strangely, the reason for the depletion of force levels may be the result of a hard won victory for the Gurkhas for better pay and pensions.
A dramatic improvement in pay and pension rights for these hill warriors from the Himalayan republic of Nepal over the past two years has now made the ''Johnny Gurkha'' too expensive to maintain at their existing force level of two infantry battalions.
The Gurkhas have a unique record of serving the armed services of three countries simultaneously – their own country, Nepal, the Indian Army and the United Kingdom's Royal Army. While in India and Nepal the Gurkha is universally known by the appellation or honorific, 'Bahadur' or 'brave,' the Royal Army addresses them differently as ''Johnny.'
Royal Army sources told media that the regiment survived cuts five years ago only because their poor pay and pensions made them an attractive proposition. New court rulings, providing them better pay and pension, now makes them more vulnerable in a wide-ranging defence review that seeks to slash defence spending by 10 per cent.
Early this year, the High Court gave Gurkhas the right to remain in Britain after serving - and also brought their pay up to the same level as the regular Army. The campaign, led by actress Joanna Lumley, forced Gordon Brown's government into performing a humiliating U-turn.
The ruling left the Government with a huge bill for providing for pensions for those settling in Britain. Military sources now say that the Gurkhas will be No.1 on the list when it comes to cutting infantry battalions.