BAE Systems
BAE Systems is the UK's largest defence contractor REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo

The government has been urged to take steps to save jobs at BAE Systems' plants in northern England amid reports the defence giant is set to axe hundreds of workers in the UK.

Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith described the news of imminent job losses at BAE's Warton and Samlesbury plants in Lancashire as "devastating" and called on the government to give long-term certainty to the defence industry.

According to Reuters, as many as 2,000 job cuts could be announced by the company on 10 October, although earlier reports had suggested that the number of redundancies would be half that amount.

The report comes amid a slowdown in demand for Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, which are assembled at the Warton and Samlesbury plants.

"This is devastating news for the workers and their families," Griffith said.

"The men and women who work on the Eurofighter are highly skilled and the potential loss of these jobs would have an appalling impact on them, the local economy and wider supply chains.

"The government must come forward urgently with a clear plan to secure these jobs at BAE, as well as a proper defence industrial strategy to give the industry the certainty that it needs."

If confirmed, the job losses would be a blow to the new, more "active", industrial strategy laid out by Prime Minister Theresa May to boost the post-Brexit UK economy.

It follows closely on the heels of the US imposing punitive import taxes on Bombardier jets following a competition law complaint from rival Boeing, with the move threatening thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland.

Reports said the majority of the job cuts at BAE would be concentrated at its operations in Warton and Samlesbury, while redundancies are also expected at its dockyard in Portsmouth as well as other locations.

Unions warned that the UK's defence capability would be "significantly undermined" and key manufacturing jobs lost for a generation if the BAE cuts went through.

"BAE must also come clean on its plans," Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said. "Unite is demanding urgent discussions with the company.

"Once these jobs are gone, they are gone for a generation and with them the skills and ability to control our own defence and manufacture the next generation of fighter jets and other defence equipment in the UK."

More than a third of the 34,500 people employed by BAE in Britain work on the Typhoon jets.