Reduction in numbers to 82,000 – with greater reliance on reservists – causes concern among committee members
The British military is at risk of being seriously undermanned in any future overseas operations as a result of budget cuts, according to a Commons defence committee report.
The cross-party committee questioned whether the reduction in army numbers from 102,000 to 82,000 – with part of the gap to be made up in an increase in reservists to 30,000 – had been sufficiently thought through and tested. “We have considerable doubts about how the plan was developed and tested, and whether it will meet the needs of the UK’s national security,” it said.
It also questioned whether 30,000 reservists can be recruited. “Otherwise there is a danger of a gap emerging in the army’s required capabilities and real fighting power,” the report says.
The committee said the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, accepted that radical changes to the army had been shaped by finances. “We are concerned that this consideration took primacy over the country’s abilities to respond to the threats, risks and uncertainties contained in the nationals security strategy,” the report says.
The MPs anticipated further overseas operations. “Despite the current lack of public appetite, we consider it to be a question of when, not if, UK armed forces will have to undertake an expeditionary operation in the future. In this context, it is essential that the army maintains its ability to undertake such operations at short notice.”
Hammond, responding to the report, insisted the UK could continue to mount future operations. “Britain will remain one of very few countries which can deploy a brigade-size expeditionary force on an enduring operation or a division-size force on a short-term operation,” he said.
The cuts had to be seen in context, he added: “The report fails to recognise the resources required to meet the security challenges of the future, such as cyber, which means shifting the balance of our investment. It is not possible to maintain tradition regular forces at historic levels while also investing in countering the threats of tomorrow.”