The Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, is warning the Army faces the loss or merger of whole units as its regular strength is cut by 20,000 over the next decade. He insists he’s not abandoning the regimental system, but says “difficult decisions” cannot be avoided as the Army is scaled back.
Addressing the Royal United Services Institute in London, Mr Hammond said in future there will be greater use of part-time reserves and private contractors. “A regular Army of 82,000 will have a different structure to one of 102,000. And some units inevitably will be lost or will merge,” he said. Mr Hammond says “the history and the heritage” of some units delivers “tangible military benefits in the modern British army” and adds: “So there is no question of abandoning the regimental system.
But that does not mean that we can avoid difficult decisions as the Army gets smaller.”
The Defence Secretary says the Army will need to use “more systematically the skills available in the reserve and from our contractors”. He says it will mean “working closely with partners to operate logistics more rationally through alliance structures” and “looking to others to provide the tail, where Britain is concentrating on providing the teeth.”
He went on: “And in making those decisions, the military voice must prevail; ensuring that the Army remains the capable and agile force envisaged in the SDSR.” He added: “The Future Reserves must be structured to provide, as they do today, some niche specialists capabilities that aren’t cost-effective to maintain on a full time basis.”
In the future light infantry battalions will be reinforced on deployment by reserve battalions, Mr Hammond said.
Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy, says: “The Defence Secretary has increased uncertainty where clarity was needed. We know the plans will mean regiments, jobs and traditions will be lost, but we have no answers for the military communities whose futures are in doubt.
“It will strike many as perverse if not self-defeating to sack 30,000 from the Forces only to hire private contractors. The Government plans to plug self-made capability gaps rather than reform our Forces for the future.
Mr Murphy says: “The Government has focused on structures not purpose. We have heard nothing on the role our Forces will play in future, the threats they will face, the priorities they will follow and the goals they will achieve. The Defence Secretary is presiding over decline not planning for the future.
“Savings have to be made, but in doing so our defences can be made more adept through reforms to procurement, partnerships and personnel.”