Scrapping the RAF's Nimrod surveillance aircraft will leave a "massive gap" in British security, former defence chiefs have warned.
The controversial decision to get rid of the £4 billion fleet was taken on cost grounds as part of the Government's strategic defence and security review last year.
With the process of breaking up the equipment set to begin, a number of service chiefs signed an open letter to The Daily Telegraph warning of the dangers of the move.
"Machine tools have been destroyed; several millions of pounds have been saved but a massive gap in British security has opened," the letter said.
"Nimrod would have continued to provide long-range maritime and overland reconnaissance - including over the UK - anti-submarine surveillance, air-sea rescue coordination, and perhaps most importantly, reconnaissance support to the Navy's Trident submarines."
The letter was signed by Marshal of the RAF Lord Craig, the former Chief of the Defence Staff and Chief of Air Staff; Major General Julian Thompson, the commander of land forces in the Falklands conflict; Air Vice-Marshal Tony Mason, the former Air Secretary for the RAF; Major General Patrick Cordingley, the commander of the Desert Rats in the Gulf War; Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, the director of the UK National Defence Association; and Admiral Sir John "Sandy" Woodward.
Union leaders also attacked the Government's controversial decision to scrap the Nimrods.
Unite national officer Bernie Hamilton said: "The lunatics have taken over the asylum when the Government orders the Ministry of Defence to break up £4 billion worth of world-class defence equipment.
"The decision to scrap the Nimrod leaves a huge gap in the UK's defence capability and is a betrayal of the workers that played a part in its manufacture."
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "Ministers and service chiefs have made clear that the decision in October's SDSR not to bring the Nimrod MRA4 into service was difficult, but it will not be reversed and the dismantling process is under way."