MISCELLANY OF MISUNDERSTANDINGS
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
18 Feb 14. In a recent ‘Times’ article the historian Antony Beevor suggested that required policy in relation to reduction of Army personnel numbers from a current 102,000 to 82,000 may just be but a first stage within a much larger plan to take numbers of serving soldiers down toward 65,000. Many will be concerned should this suggestion eventually prove to be correct whilst others no doubt will be content to accept that making even larger cuts in Army personnel numbers could be sound policy provided that the actual number of soldiers trained, ready and available for front line duty within this figure was increased from the current low level.
A counter argument, and one that has to an extent been helped by an assertion that due to the Americans placing a high value on our ‘special forces’ suggests that if full time Army numbers are allowed to go down too far then we could find ourselves in a situation of not being able to recruit sufficient numbers of ‘special forces’ from the existing troop resource pool. Such a view is probably not without merit.
In a separate press report over the weekend I note that former Chief of the General Staff, Lord Dannatt has warned that the £1.8bn plan to create a 35,000-strong reserve force for the Army planned and that is required to offset the planned removal of 20,000 full time soldiers by 2018 will need a ‘minor miracle’ to succeed. I am no particular fan of Dannatt but in this case there is more than a degree of truth in what he says and that goes rather against the air of confidence and optimism one hears on the subject of reserves within the MOD.
Another article, this time in the ‘Independent’ went so far as to say that so-called experts have calculated that at the current rate of recruitment it will take four hundred and thirty-three years for the Future Reserve 2020 to meet the target that Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond has pledged to achieve by 2018! I am in no position to judge whether a seemingly spurious calculation such as this has merit or not but it does strike me as rather odd that we appear to be burying our heads in the sand on the issue of Army reserves.
In the meantime I live in hope that the ‘buck’ on the Army reserves issue problem is not being conveniently avoided on the basis that it can be safely passed onto the next Government to sort out following the General Election due in May 2015. That would certainly not be the right way of running UK defence.
The above two paragraphs are in danger of portending to press forward a view that the Army is being put under far too much pressure to cut personnel numbers and capability. I do not believe that to be the case. Regular readers of this series will know that it is extremely rare for me to touch on Army related matters and rest assured that I will not be dwelling on them for long here.
However, I do believe that having been required to place so much resource into Afghanistan over the past few years the Army was entitled to be behind the curve in scaling back resources as required under SDSR 2010. But that is not a permanent excuse and it does not mean that the Army should in any way be allowed to renege on planned personnel and equipment cuts. Neither does it give credence to howls of anguish constantly being heard from ‘brigades’ of retired senior officers that Army personnel numbers have already been cut too far.
For too long evidence of waste in Army policy has stared us in the face and I wish to hear no further reasoning as to why personnel and equipment capability cuts in the Army should not be speeded up. For the life of me I cannot understand why we continue to maintain a fleet ageing and hugely costly Challenger Tanks that to my mind will never again be used in battle. Warfare and technology have both moved on and so too has the matter of affordability. Indeed, if affordability is