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Top Officials Offer Glimpse of a Restructured British Army

Jun. 7, 2012 - 11:24AM   |  
By ANDREW CHUTER   |   Comments
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LONDON — Britain is planning to cut its military logistics forces and rely more on contractors and allies as part of a restructuring of the Army, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told a land warfare conference here.

Outlining plans for a smaller, restructured British Army by 2020, Hammond said some units would be disbanded and others have their roles supplemented by reserves, allies and defense contractors as regular Army numbers are cut by 20,000 over the next few years.

A major shake-up of Britain’s logistic forces is in the offing as part of a transformation plan known as Army 2020, Hammond said June 7 at the Royal United Services Institute conference on land warfare.

“We are determined to rethink how we deliver every aspect of military affect in order to maximize capability at the front line … Thinking innovatingly about how combat service support is provided, using more systematically the skills in the reserves and our contractors, working closely with our partners to operate logistics more rationally through alliance structures, and looking sometimes to others to provide the tail where Britain is providing the teeth,” Hammond said.

Speaking at the same conference, Gen. Sir Peter Wall, the chief of the Defence Staff, said further work on a program known as Total Support Force comprising regular troops, reserves, Ministry of Defence civil experts and contractors is the subject of further work, but the outcome would be reductions in the regular logistics structures.

Hammond is expected to announce the details of Army 2020 in the next few weeks. That plan will likely see a radical change as the Army is restructured and some units disbanded or merged as the government looks to cut the number of regular soldiers from 102,000 to 82,000.

Reserve forces are to be rebuilt with an investment of 1.8 billion pounds ($2.8 billion) over 10 years to fill the gap left by the reduction of regular units. Decisions on the structure of the reserve forces will be announced in tandem with the release of the Army 2020 details.

Filling niche capabilities in cyber, medical and intelligence fields, a greater involvement in homeland resilience duties and even fielding complete reserve units for less complex operations are among the roles a rebuilt reserve force here is expected to undertake in the future, Hammond said.

Army reserve forces, known as the Territorials, have been in decline and, by some measures, only have a trained strength of 15,000, he said.

Some 25,000 reserves have been deployed with regular forces in Afghanistan and Iraq in the past decade. The British are trying to build flexible and adaptable land forces, moving away from military campaigns to a contingency basis within tight financial controls.

Hammond said the focus on the war in Afghanistan had meant the brunt of the defense budget reductions imposed by the government so far had fallen on the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy rather than the Army, particularly in terms of reducing personnel numbers.

“For the Army, the most difficult decisions are still to come as we move toward the end of 2014,” he said. “The transformation pace will quicken as Afghanistan comes to an end.”

Outlining some details of what a restructured British Army might look like, Wall said the transformation would involve removal of famous regiments and units from across the Army.

Most of the significant changes at the unit level would occur between 2014 and 2016, he said.

Reaction forces would provide an assault brigade equipped with attack helicopters. There will be three armored infantry brigades equipped with medium and heavy vehicles, including the Challenger tank.

In addition, there will be seven infantry brigades of various sizes made up of paired regular and reserve forces. These will be particularly suited to U.K. or enduring operations such as the Falkland Islands and Cyprus.

Force groups involving artillery, engineering, intelligence and logistics would provide maneuver support and logistics, Wall said.

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