This is Part II of the Armed Forces Review. Part I was published on UKIP Daily yesterday.
An undermanned army in crisis
The SDSR 2010 called for a cut in British Army personnel numbers from 102,000 to a mere 82,000 by 2018; a 40% reduction in Challenger 2 tanks; a 35% reduction in AS90 self-propelled artillery, and the withdrawal of 20,000 British troops from Germany. The SDSR 2010 also set out plans to make up the shortfall in full-time personnel numbers by increasing the size of the Volunteer Reserves (formally known as the Territorial Army) by 20% to fill the capability gap, reflecting similar proposals by John Nott three decades earlier.
In January 2018, the number of full-time British Army personnel stood at a mere 81,660 according to the National Audit Office. However, when this figure is broken down using the Government’s own recently-relaxed rules for personnel deemed ‘operationally ready,’ the number immediately falls to 77,470. Recent newspaper reports have even suggested that when sickness, injury, and other personal considerations are taken into account, the number of operational ready soldiers falls to as low as 60,000, the smallest standing UK army for over a hundred years.
As for the Government’s plans to increase the number of reservists, the figures make even grimmer reading. The recently privatised armed forces recruitment programme has become something of a national embarrassment, despite a £440million, 10-year contract with Capita that has seen over £664 million spent on ‘recruitment and retention’ incentives in the last five years for both reserve and full-time personnel of all forces.
According to the National Audit Office, only 1,975 reserve soldiers were recruited by Capita in 2013-14 against a December 2012 Army Demand Plan requirement of 6,000. This is a pattern that became increasingly familiar over following years. In the year 1st June 2016 to 1st June 2017, the number of people leaving the reserves rose by approximately 20%, while intake fell by 18%, leaving a meagre 1.4% increase in reserve manpower, despite a shortfall of 3,000 ‘trained’ reservists. In April 2018, a report by the National Audit Office revealed the percentage of regulars leaving the Armed Forces voluntarily has increased from 3.8% annually in March 2010, to 5.6% in December 2017.
In fact, things have become so bad, in October 2016 the Government was forced to redefine what is classified as a ‘trained’ soldier to meet operational requirements.
According to the Independent newspaper: “Some critics have also claimed official figures now underplay the true scale of the problem because the Government has redefined ‘trained soldiers’ in a way that allows many more reservists to be counted as trained strength.”
Under the Government’s new rules, any troops who have passed basic training (phase 1), but not yet completed trade or ‘advanced’ training, such as an advanced infantry skills course (phase 2), are classed as ‘trained’. Before 2016, only troops with both phase 1 & 2 training could be counted as fully trained and deployable. Why the change? The answer, of course, is to meet targets and look like the British Army has better readiness than is the actual case!
The fact is, like any voluntary organisation, the volunteer reserve will always suffer from fluctuating numbers. From my own time in the TA, I know there is always a core of troops who are dedicated to the unit, while the commitment of others wavered, only showing up when the whim took them, despite being kept on strength for months or even years.
While the SDSR 2010 removed a large amount of capability and operational readiness from the British Army, especially regarding personnel and armour, the Royal Navy (RN) suffered even more devastating cuts. These cuts included the loss of its last remaining aircraft carrier; a reduction in the number of helicopter landing ships; the scrapping of the Fleet Air Arm’s Harrier jump-jet force; and a reduction in personnel of 5,000 to 30,000.
The Royal Navy, all at sea
On the 6th June 1944 – commonly known as D-Day – 900 RN vessels of all types took part in the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe.
While it is unrealistic to expect the Government to keep the RN at wartime levels throughout protracted periods of relative peace, we, as an island nation, must retain a force that is adequately trained and equipped to deal with the flare-up of unexpected conflicts.
While in 1982 we were able to muster 115 to head for the South Atlantic, today, the entire RN fleet stands at a mere 89 vessels. These ships include one as yet non-operational aircraft carrier, six amphibious assault ships, six destroyers, 13 frigates, seven attack submarines and four ballistic-missile submarines. The rest of the fleet is made up of minesweepers, survey ships and other support vessels, with many no larger than the small patrol ships.
Sadly, until March this year, the RN could also boast a helicopter carrier. However, the last remaining vessel of this type, HMS Ocean, was decommissioned in March 2018 and sold to the Brazilian navy.
Of the 89 vessels that have survived the cuts, only the six destroyers, 13 frigates and seven attack submarines can be considered frontline vessels, with adequate sensors, weapons and protection to fight and survive in a battle against a sophisticated foe. However, as with the army, the numbers do not represent the true state of readiness. At any one time, approximately half of the RN’s vessels are undergoing maintenance or training periods, and several others are committed to routine standing patrols, leaving just a handful to respond to emergencies.
To be continued in Part III tomorrow