Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirms 10,000 troop cut

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirms 10,000 troop cut to the size of the British Army as he insists new technology means ‘greater effect can be delivered by fewer people’ and blasts critics for playing ‘top trumps’ with military numbers

  • Defence Secretary Ben Wallace today announced a major Government shake-up of Britain’s Armed Forces
  • The Ministry of Defence’s Command Paper includes a 10,000 troop cut to the size of the UK’s Army
  • Ex-US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen said the cut is a ‘huge concern’ and will leave Army ‘pretty small’
  • Ex-head of Army Lord Dannatt said cut will mean UK can no longer fight two major operations at same time
  • Former British colonel Richard Kemp said cut a ‘huge mistake’ and could ‘endanger defence of this country’  
  • Publication of Command Paper comes amid political row over decision to increase size of UK nuclear arsenal 

What’s in the Defence Command Paper?

Changes are set to include: 

  • Additional investment for ‘intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance’ as well as for electronic warfare
  • Additional £3billion funding for the British Army 
  • The National Cyber Force will be expanded
  • New Space Command to co-ordinate military and commercial operation
  • Royal Navy will get a new Multi Role Ocean Surveillance ship (MROSS) protect vital undersea cables that are at ‘risk of sabotage’ by enemy submarines 

However, while the Army would get an additional £3billion, there are also understood to be cuts with a reduction of around 10,000 troops expected. 

There will also likely be cuts to armoured fighting vehicles and the last remaining C-130J Hercules transport aircraft.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace today confirmed a 10,000 troop cut to the British Army as he claimed new technology means ‘greater effect can be delivered by fewer people’. 

Mr Wallace said the overall number of soldiers will shrink to 72,500 by 2025 as he hit out at critics for playing ‘top trumps’ over military numbers amid widespread criticism of the move. 

He told the House of Commons that ‘as the threat changes, we must change with it’ as he set out the Government’s plans for a major overhaul of the Armed Forces which is designed to ensure it is ‘truly threat-oriented’. 

Mr Wallace said: ‘The army’s increased deployability and technological advantage will mean that greater effect can be delivered by fewer people.

‘I have therefore taken the decision to reduce the size of the Army from today’s current strength of 76,500 trained personnel to 72,500 by 2025.

‘The Army has not been at its established strength of 82,000 since the middle of the last decade. These changes will not require redundancies.’    

Responding to the troop cut, shadow defence secretary John Healey said: ‘The decision to cut the army by another 10,000 is a mistake, it could seriously limit our Forces’ capacity simultaneously to deploy overseas, support allies and maintain strong national defences and resilience.’ 

The cut was also condemned by Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of the Defence Select Committee, who welcomed new investment in modern technologies like cyber capabilities but warned: ‘They come at a huge price to our conventional defence posture with dramatic cuts to our troop numbers, tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and over 100 RAF aircraft including fast jets and heavy lift – cuts, which if tested by a parliamentary vote, I don’t believe would pass.’ 

The announcement came after the former head of the US military warned the UK will be ‘getting very close to not being able to contribute’ on the world stage by cutting 10,000 troops.  

Admiral Mike Mullen, ex-chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest ranking US military officer between 2007 and 2011, said the cut is a ‘huge concern’. 

He said slashing troop numbers by that much would leave the British Army ‘pretty small’ and roughly the same size as the US Special Forces.

Meanwhile, the former head of the British Army, Richard Dannatt, warned the cut would mean the UK would no longer be able to engage in two major separate operations at the same time.  

And former British colonel Richard Kemp said the reduction would be a ‘huge mistake’ and could ‘endanger the defence of this country’. 

The cut to troop numbers is included in the Government’s new Command Paper which spells out how ministers intend to modernise Britain’s forces following the publication of the overarching Integrated Review on foreign policy and security last week. 

The publication of the Command Paper came amid a rumbling political row over the Government’s decision to increase the size of the UK’s nuclear arsenal at the same time as cutting some traditional capabilities.  

The cut to the size of the Army will leave Boris Johnson open to accusations of breaking a general election promise after he said in November 2019: ‘We will not be cutting our armed services in any form. We will be maintaining the size of our armed services.’ 

Mr Johnson today insisted during a visit to BAE Systems in Preston that there will be ‘no redundancies’ when he was asked how he would reassure the UK’s allies about falling troop numbers. 

The Government’s plan means that instead of a redundancy programme there will just be fewer people recruited to replace those soldiers who leave the Army each year.    

Mr Johnson said: ‘We don’t want to fight wars. We want to deter them and we want to be useful around the world in partnership with our friends to keep the peace.

‘To do that you need strong, robust armed services of the kind that we are investing in for the long term, not just for military purposes though that is absolutely crucial, but for very, very good economic reasons as well.’   

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace today confirmed a 10,000 troop cut to the size of the British Army as part of a wider shake-up of the Armed Forces


Boris Johnson, pictured during a visit to BAE Systems in Preston, insisted there will be ‘no redundancies’ when asked about falling troop numbers. Reports suggest the Government will not replace every soldier who leaves the Army, resulting in a shrinking force

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace will today unveil his Command Paper for the future of the UK’s Armed Forces but he is already facing a backlash over an expected cut to the size of the Army

Former head of the British Army Richard Dannatt (pictured left) warned cutting troop numbers by 10,000 would mean the UK would no longer be able to engage in two major separate operations at the same time while ex-US military chief Mike Mullen said the cut would leave the UK Arm ‘pretty small’

How big are the UK’s Armed Forces and how do they compare with other countries?

The total strength of the full-time UK Armed Forces was estimated at 156,600 at the start of January this year, according to a House of Commons Library briefing.

Just over half of those people serve in the Army (56 per cent) with the remainder equally split between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

Just over 30,000 of those personnel were officers and 126,400 were other ranks. 

At the start of this year all branches of the Armed Forces were below a Government target set in 2015. 

The full-time trained strength was just over 135,000 – that is almost 9,000 lower than the target for 2020.   

An international comparison of total armed forces personnel shows the UK already trails significantly behind some of its global counterparts. 

Data published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank stated the UK’s overall fighting force was 148,450 in 2018. 

That was significantly lower than neighbouring France with 304,800. 

The United States had 1.38million, Russia had 1.5million and China had 2.7million.  

Mr Wallace said yesterday that he was not willing to ‘get into the speculation’ on troop numbers but insisted the Armed Forces will be the ‘right size’ to counter modern threats. 

He today warned against playing ‘top trumps’ with military personnel numbers as he confirmed the cut in the size of the Army. 

The Defence Secretary recalled his past army experience and how during his time as a soldier the UK could supposedly have fielded three armoured divisions in Germany but ‘in reality could muster much less’. 

He told MPs: ‘It was in truth a hollow force. That is why while I know some colleagues would rather play top trumps with our force numbers, there’s no point boasting about numbers of regiments when you send them to war in snatched Land Rovers or simply counting the number of tanks when our adversaries are developing new ways to defeat them.’

Mr Wallace said the aim of the Command Paper is to ‘seek out and understand future threats’, and invest in the capabilities needed to defeat them.

The Defence Secretary said that previous reviews of the Armed Forces had been ‘overambitious and underfunded’, leaving forces ‘overstretched and under-equipped’. 

He said fresh Government funding will ‘turn our current forces into credible ones, modernising for the threats of the 2020s and beyond and contributing to national prosperity in the process’.

‘It marks a shift from mass mobilisation to information age speed, readiness and relevance for confronting the threats of the future,’ he added.    

Speaking before the confirmation of the cut to troop numbers, Admiral Mullen told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme that reducing the size of the British Army will harm the UK’s ability to make a ‘sustained contribution’ to allied military efforts. 

He said: ‘I have been through just with my own counterparts years ago these reviews seemingly with new government after new government and the army seems to always get smaller.

‘I have said for the last several years, I mean at some point in time you need to be able to actually do something with your capabilities, including the army.

‘To me, it is not for me to say, but you are getting very close to not being able to contribute, quite frankly, and sustained contribution.

‘It is one thing to just go somewhere for a short operation. 

‘As we sadly found out in the last two decades none of these operations end quickly.

‘So it is a huge concern as I would look at it as an ally and somebody that I depend on to be able to provide capability. At some point you are just not going to be able to do that anymore.’

Asked if his concerns were shared by current US military chiefs, he said he did not know but added: ‘One of the numbers that I sort of have in my head is if you get to 72,000 or 70,000 whatever the number is, that basically the British Army is about the size of the US Special Forces and that is obviously for all of you in the UK, the leaders in the UK, to make that decision. But it is getting pretty small.’

Lord Dannatt told Times Radio: ‘With the Army at some 72 or so thousand, we would in my view not be able to mount the same size operations that we had in Iraq and Afghanistan concurrently.

‘We could do one of those operations and sustain it for several years but we couldn’t two at the same time.’ 

Colonel Kemp told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme: ‘There’s a problem with cutting the numbers because the Armed Forces in terms of numbers and men and women, tanks, aircrafts and ships is already far too low to deal with the kind of situations we could be faced with.

‘To cut it further I think is a huge mistake and does endanger the defence of this country.

‘There’s simply not enough money in the defence budget to both fund all of the new measures that are needed and also not neglect the more conventional forces that we still have to have.

‘To a very large extent I think it’s about deterrents. If you fail to show political will in being able to maintain large enough armed forces, I think it does encourage potential enemies to have a go at you.’

Wile criticising the cuts, Colonel Kemp defended the Government’s intention to increase its nuclear deterrent programme. 

He said: ‘When you look at the fact that Russia has developed new defensive capabilities against nuclear missile attacks and also further developed its own nuclear offensive capability, I think we have no choice but to adapt our nuclear capability to deal with that.’

Colonel Kemp also warned that China poses the greatest threat to global peace. 

The expected cut of 10,000 troops over the next decade would leave the British Army with approximately 72,500 soldiers

Patrol vessel HMS Trent is set to be permanently deployed in Gibraltar in a bid to support NATO and crack down on piracy off the coast of West Africa

He said: ‘Russia represents a threat, certainly in the short term to us, not necessarily in the long term, but that threat is almost irrelevant compared to the long term and significantly greater threat that China presents not just to this country to the entire western world.  

‘That threat comes from its growing military, it’s been growing its military forces at a frightening rate.’ 

The Government’s Integrated Review set out plans to increase the UK’s nuclear weapons arsenal but Mr Johnson is facing a backlash as Tory MPs and Labour question why more money is being spent on extra missiles. 

Ministers had previously committed to reducing the nuclear stockpile to a maximum of 180 by the middle of the decade but now the number of weapons will be allowed to grow to up to 260.  

Tory Defence Select Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood told MailOnline there was an ‘absence of clarity’ about why money was being committed to boosting the nuclear deterrent instead of conventional forces.

He said: ‘If you are going up by 60 warheads, what is the cost to that bearing in mind there is going to be a significant hit to our conventional capability, our conventional hardware – is that justified?

‘If we are losing tanks, armoured fighting vehicles, 10,000 troops as has been suggested, and there’s money to pay for 60 new missiles, when as a nuclear deterrent it is already a pretty solid statement – that is a political question that requires an answer from government.’

One senior Labour MP said the ‘lead supposition’ was that there are concerns more warheads are needed to guarantee the effectiveness of the deterrent.

Sir Keir Starmer said this morning that Mr Johnson was yet to make the case for the extra missiles. 

He told LBC Radio: ‘It is why has this Prime Minister gone against the trend and the international commitment to reduce the number and actually successive prime ministers of all parties.

‘Cross-party, successive prime ministers whether they are Labour or Tory have said we need to, whilst maintaining the deterrent, reduce the number, this is the first time I think it has gone up and this Prime Minister need to answer the question why that is.’ 

A decision by the Government to increase the UK’s arsenal of nuclear weapons has sparked a political backlash. The Trident missile carrying HMS Victorious is pictured off the west coast of Scotland in April 2013

It emerged over the weekend that the defence shake-up will see Britain’s Special Forces tasked with countering hostile state activity by the likes of Russia. 

The head of the Army, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, said the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) will be put on a ‘different trajectory’.  

The overhaul could see Special Forces soldiers operating alongside MI6 to mount surveillance operations against Russian intelligence and military units.  

The Army chief said some of the traditional roles fulfilled by the Special Forces would now be taken over by a new Ranger Regiment. 

Mr Wallace has pledged additional investment for ‘intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance’ as well as for electronic warfare under the Command Paper.

The National Cyber Force will also be expanded, there will be a new Space Command to co-ordinate military and commercial operation and the Royal Navy will get a new Multi Role Ocean Surveillance ship (MROSS) protect vital undersea cables.

The publication of the paper came as it emerged that a Royal Navy warship will be deployed permanently off the coast of Gibraltar for the first time.   

According to The Telegraph, the HMS Trent, a Royal Navy patrol vessel capable of carrying Merlin helicopters, will be sent to support NATO and crack down on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa.

The Navy will also deploy a spy ship to prevent Russian submarines damaging undersea cables that could potentially sabotage internet connections. 

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