UK: Tough time for the Top Guns.

UK: Tough time for the Top Guns. - Life is tough for the military's top brass these days. Not only are cherished regiments set to disappear in the latest defence cuts, but the end of the Cold war is closing one of their lucrative bolt holes in Civvy Stre

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Life is tough for the military's top brass these days. Not only are cherished regiments set to disappear in the latest defence cuts, but the end of the Cold war is closing one of their lucrative bolt holes in Civvy Street.

Traditionally, when the admirals or generals hung up their uniforms, they would move to a senior position with a defence company. Here they could help their new employer to negotiate the Whitehall minefields or flog a few tanks and planes to the Arabs.

In the mid-1980s, when defence spending was at a high point, over 20 retired senior officers were employed by the top 10 defence companies. GEC was noted for its Whitehall firepower - with nine senior officers in its ranks, including General Sir Harry Tuzo, the former commander in Northern Ireland. But perhaps the company's prize catch was Marshal of the RAF Sir Michael Beetham, who has been chairman of GEC Avionics since 1986. When he left the RAF, Beetham claimed that he "did not want to sit at home digging cabbages and playing golf".

But these days big defence contracts are rare and the brass are no longer needed. Of the top defence contractors, apart from GEC, only Rolls-Royce - with Air Chief Marshal Sir Douglas Lowe - and Racal - with Admiral Sir Edward Ashmore - still retain such military links.

Beetham may yet get to play his golf and dig cabbages. Still, with generous index-linked pensions and the like, the fate of the top brass should be a darn sight better than that of their juniors. For them Civvy Street could mean joining the dole queue.

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