Defence shake-up means our smallest Army since the Boer War
17th July 2011
The Army is to be cut in size by 17,000 soldiers in a radical overhaul of the armed forces to be announced on Monday. The reorganisation will see the Army shrink to its smallest size since the Boer War, while Britain’s reserve forces will benefit from a £1.5 billion investment programme. Members of the Territorial Army (TA), the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Air Force Volunteers Reserve will receive better pay and conditions, but more will be expected to take part in dangerous military operations when needed.
It is understood that by 2020 the Army will be reduced from its present strength of 101,000 regulars, to 84,000. The number of territorials will be maintained at 36,000.
In a separate development it is understood that RAF Leuchars is to close, leaving only one RAF airbase in Scotland. The site will become an Army barracks.
The Sunday Telegraph understands that the Ministry of Defence has secured extra funding from the Treasury in the next spending round, after 2013, of £1.5 billion to pay for the overhaul of the reserve forces as well as more funding for the equipment programme. The extra cash will pay for 14 Chinooks, which are due to come into service after 2014, three new Rivet surveillance aircraft and upgrades to the Army fleet of ageing Warrior armoured vehicles.
Approximately 7,000 soldiers will be cut from the Army by 2015, following the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, through a mixture of voluntary and compulsory redundancies and natural wastage. The remaining reduction of 10,000 will take place by 2020.
The review being announced tomorrow into the future structure and role of the reserve forces took nine months. It was led by General Sir Nicholas Houghton, the vice-chief of the defence staff, Julian Brazier, an MP and former TA officer, and Lt Gen Graeme Lamb, a highly decorated former SAS commander. It is understood that all of their findings will be endorsed by Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, in a Commons statement.
Dr Fox will state that after years of neglect in which reserves were stripped of resources and cut to the bone, they will receive millions in extra funding to “restore the reserves’ health and size”.
The Defence Secretary will also announce new specialist roles for the reserves including cyber security, intelligence, linguistic and medical duties. The regenerated forces will also play a part in homeland security and policing roles.
In the foreword of the Reserves Review, the authors say: “Our Commission has concluded that the UK’s Reserve Forces are in need of significant revitalisation and reorientation. Although continuing to do a remarkable job in many areas … the wider picture is one of relative neglect and decline.
“Our Commission recommends the immediate need for resources to be committed to stabilise and then improve the state of the Reserve. Within this unifying idea, our view is that the Reservist element of the Armed Forces must grow to become a far greater proportion of overall Service manpower.”
The aim is to make the reserves more professional, forming more stand-alone units that can deploy and operate on their own, rather than just being attached in small groups across the regular forces.
One of the key drivers of the review has been the cost of reserves compared with regular forces. Defence sources have told The Sunday Telegraph that five light role territorial infantry battalions cost a fifth of the amount needed to train a regular infantry battalion.
The review also found that Britain was out of step with other Nato countries whose territorials make up a much greater proportion of their armed forces. In the UK, the current commitment of reserve forces is below 20 per cent, whereas in the United States the figure is 50.5 per cent, in Canada 44 per cent, and in Australia 37 per cent.
During the Iraq War in 2004, TA soldiers made up a fifth of the British force in the country. At present they account for an eighth of the British strength in Afghanistan, a figure which the Government wants to increase.
One senior defence source said: “Over the last few years there have been a series of bad reorganisations which have undermined the structure of the reserves and have driven out many of the best officers. Training funds have virtually stopped and people have been leaving in droves.
“The TA has been reorganised seven times in the last 20 years. One review five years ago produced an infantry structure which prevented the TA from conducting proper collective training, together with an 80 per cent recruiting cap. But despite all of that there are still some very good units in the TA, such as the 4th battalion The Parachute Regiment.
“We are now back to the mentality of the 1930s when the officers paid for the men to go on exercise. The reserves are a valuable resource and they are being wasted.”
The closure of RAF Leuchars will leave Scotland with just one functioning RAF base at Lossiemouth, currently home to a Tornado GR4 Squadron. The new barracks at the Leuchars site will house thousands of soldiers due to be withdrawn from Germany in the next few years.
The decision to transfer the two typhoon squadrons currently based at Leuchars to RAF Lossiemouth was only finalised last Friday, although rumours of the move had been circulating for months.
It will also be announced that RAF Marham in Norfolk — another Tornado base — will remain open, primarily because it is the only Tornado servicing facility.