ARMY cutbacks threaten to drastically reduce the number of Colchester-based soldiers who are trained to make parachute jumps.

The Parachute Regiment, whose second and third battalions are part of Colchester Garrison’s 16 Air Assault Brigade, is facing a reduction in its budget as part of a package of defence cuts.

Its entire force of 2,500 men are trained to jump, but according to unconfirmed reports just a fraction of that number will be taught the skill in the future.

Ministry of Defence sources say once serving troops have retired or moved on, the regiment will plan to leave itself with an elite band of just 120 parachutists.

Before the war in Afghanistan, the paras’ main job was to be permanently ready to mount an airborne landing involving up to 1,800 men.

But with the nine-year-old conflict placing huge pressure on the Army, they have instead been fighting as regular infantrymen.

Parachuting is of little value in war-torn Helmand Province as troops attempting to drift slowly to earth behind enemy lines would be vulnerable to attack.

Even if an airborne assault were desired, it is claimed there are too few RAF Hercules aircraft available to transport the paras ahead of any drop.

An MoD source said: “There simply isn’t the capability to mount battle group operations in which we were able to drop 900 paratroopers and their kit.

“Afghanistan has stretched our resources and there is very little parachuting taking place.”

While the mooted cuts would not greatly affect the paras’ readiness for action in the current military landscape, they would come as a blow to the image of the prestigious regiment.

Its troops are identified by the distinctive red berets worn by members of the airborne invasion force who spearheaded the D-Day landings, and by the wings paras qualify to wear.

An MoD spokesman said: “The future configuration of our armed forces will be based on the findings of the strategic defence and security review which is under way.”