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Fighting a losing battle over the Armed Forces

By DPF Admin17th October 2013Latest News

The Coalition’s proposals for a radical restructuring of the Army, whereby 30,000 reservists are required to fill the gap caused by the compulsory removal of 20,000 regulars, have all the hallmarks of a disaster in the making. Our report today that the Army is currently recruiting barely half the number of reservists required to meet the target is yet another example of the immense difficulties the Ministry of Defence is encountering, as it presses ahead with its ill-considered plan for the most ambitious overhaul of our Armed Forces for more than a generation.

So far as the proposed changes to the Army are concerned, which are part of the vision set out in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, this newspaper has questioned whether replacing fully trained regulars with part-timers would enable the Army to maintain its elite war-fighting capabilities. Dr Liam Fox, the defence secretary at the time, promised Parliament that the 20 per cent cut to the strength of the regular Army would be implemented only once the reserves had been trained to a satisfactory level. But this commitment was quickly overturned as part of the Government’s insistence on making sharp reductions to the defence budget, with the result that the MoD is now in the invidious position of disbanding perfectly serviceable units – such as 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers – before reserve units are anywhere near ready to replace them. This is a point the Conservative backbench MP John Baron, himself a former officer, will be making in today’s Commons debate on Army reform.

Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, has undoubtedly faced a stiff challenge in filling the £35 billion black hole he inherited in the MoD’s budget, but there are mounting concerns in Whitehall that changes are being driven through for purely budgetary reasons, without proper consideration being given to their impact on the viability of the Armed Forces. Apart from the failure to recruit sufficient numbers of reservists, there are many other reasons why the proposals for the Army may prove unworkable. The demands made on future reservists, who will be required to spend up to a year in uniform, are clearly a disincentive for young men and women who have already embarked on a professional career, while the costs of compensating employers for such long absences have yet to be fully worked out. For a Government obsessed with cutting costs, and for Mr Hammond, who prides himself on his financial acumen, it will prove deeply embarrassing if the plan to replace 20,000 regulars with 30,000 reservists turns out to have been a false economy.

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