The British Army is to shrink by a fifth and lose some 23 battalions as part of an economy drive. The transformation will mean that the Service will be better able to meet the security challenges of the future, the government insists.
UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “We have had to make tough decisions to implement our vision of formidable, adaptable and flexible Armed Forces.” He told Parliament Thursday Britain’s army will shrink its regular trained force to 82 000 from 102 000 by 2020 to save money. This will reduce the landward force to its lowest force level since 1750, the Daily Mail newspaper said.
“After a decade of enduring operations, we needed to transform the Army and build a balanced, capable and adaptable force ready to face the future. Army 2020 will create a more flexible and agile Army. Unlike the past, it will be set on a firm foundation of men and materiel, well-trained, well-equipped, and fully-funded,” he added.
“The regimental system will remain the bedrock of the Army’s fighting future.”
The changes are seen as an essential part of the Defence Vision, stemming from the Strategic Defence and Security Review, and will mean that for the first time regular and reservist soldiers will be fully integrated within a single force structure, a Ministry of Defence (MoD) statement averred. Achieving this will mean that the Army’s ability to adapt and respond will be even more effective in the future, the MoD says.
Implementing these changes will involve a long period of transformation for the Army, which will require a generational change in its vision, structure, composition and capability.
Chief of the General Staff General Sir Peter Wall in turn said: “The Army envisaged under Army 2020 will see our forces become better integrated and fully adaptable. It will capitalise on the powerful merits of a modern regimental system to deliver formidable effect when and where it is needed, and will create the best structure for the Army to face the challenges of the future.
“The changes in Army 2020 will demand resilience, flexibility and genuine adaptability from our talented and committed officers and soldiers. It is inevitable that some units will be lost or will merge but we have done this in a way that I believe is fair across the whole Army.”
Driving this change is the need for the Army to redesign its purpose so that in the future it will be able to deliver a contingent capability for deterrence and defence, overseas engagement and capacity-building, while providing the necessary military aid as a UK-based Army to ensure homeland resilience. A central plank of this will be to integrate the reserve elements into the Army structure with more clearly defined roles, as recommended in the Future Reserves 2020 study, the MoD adds.
In the review, the government said it would be more “selective” about future military deployments, and that it would be able to take part in one enduring operation like the Afghanistan or Iraq wars, but not two simultaneously, Reuters added.
The change in emphasis to a more adaptable and flexible Army, capable of undertaking a broader range of military tasks, has required a significant change to the current structure of the Army which has most recently been optimised for enduring operations in Afghanistan, the MoD statement said.
The key elements of this new structure are the Reaction and Adaptable Forces. The Reaction Forces will comprise three Armoured Infantry Brigades and 16 Air Assault Brigade, trained and equipped to undertake the full spectrum of intervention tasks. They will also be responsible for generating a Lead Armoured Infantry Battle Group and Lead Air Assault Group, capable of undertaking short notice contingency tasks. Given the high readiness nature of the Reaction Forces, they will comprise mainly regular forces with approximately 10 per cent coming from the Reserve Forces.
The Adaptable Forces will consist of a pool of regular and reserve forces capable of undertaking a variety of roles including overseas engagement and capacity-building, follow-on forces for future medium-scale enduring stabilisation operations, our standing commitments, and homeland resilience.
This pool of forces will be under the command of seven infantry brigade headquarters during peacetime which will vary in size and geometry. These headquarters will also be regional points of contact, responsible for the delivery of homeland resilience and engagement with UK society.
For operations, an appropriate force package will be selected from across the pool of forces based on the balance of capabilities required for that specific task. Integral to the Reaction and Adaptable Forces will be the Force Troops which will provide a wide range of support such as engineer, artillery and medical capabilities from a centralised pool of resources, the MoD adds.
Hammond aims to make up for cuts to the regular army by doubling the number of reservists to 30,000 and boosting their training and responsibilities. By 2020, he expects the combined army of regular soldiers and reservists to reach 120 000, Reuters added.
However, doubts remain whether employers will spare workers for long deployments and whether reservists can really substitute for professional soldiers. Doubts also remain whether employers will spare workers for long deployments. “It is inconceivable that there won’t be an impact on force projection …. Today’s plans may provide flexible forces, but it’s far from certain that they will provide sustainable military utility,” opposition Labour Party defence spokesman Jim Murphy told Parliament.
Former army chief Richard Dannatt told the BBC the army cuts carried risks. “Predicting the future is very difficult, strategic shocks happen, we often don’t get it right so let’s hope that the next decade is a rather more peaceful decade than the last, but I wouldn’t bet on it,” he said.
Hammond responded the British Army will still be able to deploy a similar-sized force to that sent to Afghanistan. “Despite what you read in some of your papers, people could be forgiven for thinking that we are nowhere in the military pecking order. We do have the fourth-largest defence budget in the world and the army is one of the top-performing armies in the world and will remain so,” he told reporters.
Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare at the London-based International institute for Strategic Studies said given the 20% budget reduction target, “it is difficult to see a credible alternative plan” to Hammond’s. “Taken as a whole, Army 2020 is an imaginative and radical series of initiatives that not only creates new organisations but envisages using both new and existing organisations in new ways. It is perhaps the most radical reorganisation of the army since the end of national service 50 years ago, and has the potential to genuinely transform the army’s capability – provided that it is properly led, managed, resourced and politically supported,” he said in an IISS blog.
Barry notes some innovative new organisations include grouping together previously disparate intelligence gathering units into a single new intelligence and surveillance brigade. “And a new “security assistance group” will not only keep alive the lessons from developing Iraqi and Afghan forces, but also to be the Army’s focus for engagement overseas by acting as a repository of reconstruction, language and cultural experts for overseas engagements.”
Units facing the cull are: the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards), 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Staffords), and the 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh (The Royal Regiment of Wales). The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland will be reduced to a public duties company.
The Armoured Corps is cut by two units with The Queen’s Royal Lancers amalgamating with 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’s) and the merger of 1st and 2nd Royal Tank Regiment.
The Royal Artillery will be reduced from 13 to 12 units with the withdrawal of the 39th Regiment Royal Artillery.
The Royal Engineers will be reduced from 14 to 11 units with the withdrawal of 24 and 28 Engineer Regiments and 67 Works Group, the Daily Mail adds.
The Army Air Corps will reduce from five to four units as 1 Regiment AAC merges with 9 Regiment AAC.
The Royal Logistic Corps will be reduced from 15 to 12 units with 1 and 2 Logistic Support Regiments withdrawn from the Order of Battle and 23 Pioneer Regiment disbanded.
The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers will be reduced to seven units with the withdrawal of 101 Force Support Battalion.
5 Regiment Royal Military Police will be disbanded.