David Cameron hailed the nation's armed forces as "the pride of Britain" after flying into the Westcountry to take centre stage at a Naval passing out parade yesterday.
The Prime Minister arrived by helicopter at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth to take the salute as 68 officer cadets completed 30 weeks' training.
Military experts said the true commitment of his Government to the Navy could be better gauged a few miles down the coast where a half-empty base at Devonport reflected a decimated fleet.
The Tory leader gave a rousing speech in balmy conditions on the south Devon coast, describing his first such parade address to the Senior Service as "leaving the best until last".
He said: "As Prime Minister I get to spend quite a lot of time with our armed forces, and I can just tell you this – there is nothing that makes me more proud of our country, of what we stand for in the world, or what we are capable of doing, than our armed forces.
"You are the pride of Britain, and to share this moment with you today is very special."
Mr Cameron is a regular visitor to the region and this year added his support to Britain's service personnel by attending the Armed Forces Day in Plymouth.
However, he has also come under fire for defence spending cuts as the MoD seeks to axe 25,000 personnel and 29,000 civilian staff by 2015 in the biggest round of savings since the end of the Cold War.
The region was hit hard by a series of swingeing reductions to service personnel and warships following 2010's strategic defence and security review (SDSR).
Plymouth's Devonport Naval Base was stripped of four warships, and around one-third of the first 1,000 naval redundancies were issued in the Westcountry.
Mike Critchley, editor of Warship World, said the loss of four Devon-based, type-22 frigates and replacing 12 destroyers with fewer but larger boats had left the Navy operating at "dangerous levels" even for peacetime.
"He (Cameron) gave a rousing speech to young officers but 30 miles away in Plymouth the base is half empty because the size of the fleet has been dramatically reduced," he added.
"It is all to do with money and he had to slash the size of the fleet but we are an island nation and defence should be the first concern.
"It is like insurance – if you don't think your house will burn down then don't pay – if you do, then cough up."
Mr Cameron inspected the ranks beneath a warm sun, which proved too much for one cadet, who fainted during the service a short distance from – but apparently out of view of – the Prime Minister.
In front of the cadets' proud family and friends, Mr Cameron, who was said to be the first serving Prime Minister to attend a ceremony at the century-old college, described his personal gratitude to the armed forces.
He also told those present in the magnificent setting overlooking the river Dart and its harbour that he has his own keepsake of Britain's military heritage.
He said: "A shell casing from HMS Liverpool sits in my office in Number 10 Downing Street; it was the last fired in anger in the Libya campaign, and it is a permanent reminder to me of the Royal Navy and its work to defend freedom."
Rear Admiral Clive Johnstone, who attended the event, revealed the future of the Dartmouth college, which some feared would be axed, could be secured by introducing a "commercial element".
"Clearly there is no money in the country but as the economy eases I have got one or two big projects and the college has a bright future," he added.
"If I had a training academy on the Dartmouth site which ploughed income into Dartmouth and made it better and better then what a fantastic up spiral that would be."
Commanding Officer Captain Jerry Kyd, who has captained HMS Ark Royal and Illustrious, said the cadets had displayed "commitment and courage" during a demanding training course.
He added: "We are delighted to have the Prime Minister as the guest of honour at the parade to celebrate the success of this latest group of officer cadets."