The Government has once again defended its plans to reduce the number of soldiers in the British Army. The decision comes despite calls to halt the shake-up because of the war in Ukraine.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced last year that troop numbers would be slashed by 10,000. He claimed new technology means ‘greater effect can be delivered by fewer people’.
The size of the Army is to be cut to 72,500 soldiers by 2025 as part of a move towards drones and cyber warfare. Announcing the major overhaul of the armed forces, Mr Wallace said it marked a shift from ‘mass mobilisation to information age speed’, insisting the country must be able to ‘seek out and understand’ new threats to security.
This week in Parliament, John Healey MP, the Shadow Defence Secretary, asked why Government ministers were pushing ahead with the plans when the UK needed an army ‘capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle’. The urgent question in the Commons was answered by Leo Docherty MP, the Defence People and Veterans Minister.
He said: “We are absolutely resolute to be agile and will strain every sinew to deliver at pace the technological and military revolution that we need to deliver in order to make ourselves more lethal, agile and deployable around the world than ever before.
“For too long… the measurement of our military capability has been about men in vehicles, in garrisons, rather than our ability to project power and that is something we are absolutely confident that we are getting right.”
He added: “Manifold lessons will be drawn from the outrageous Russian invasion of Ukraine but one of them will be about the vulnerability of armour and large bodies of troops – and about the potency of technology, remote fires and the urgent importance of having a fully-modernised military that is match fit in terms of technology.”
When the shake-up was announced in March 2021, Mr Wallace said the government was increasing the UK defence spending by £24bn over the next four years. He added it was tempting to use the ‘shield of sentimentality’ to protect ‘outdated capabilities’ but doing so would put lives at risk.
The cut was to the target for the number of fully trained people in the Army, from 82,040 to 72,500 in 2025. ‘Full-time trained strength’ is the number of soldiers who have completed their general, basic training and a second phase of specialised training for a specific role.
But the target was not being met and there were actually only around 76,000 such soldiers in the Army, which was around 6,000 short. So the Ministry of Defence was already on the way to getting down to its new target.