Reductions to military manpower and budgets in the U.K. will require the government and others to 'recalibrate' what the armed forces can achieve, Gen. Sir Nick Houghton said. (Sean Dempsey / AFP)
LONDON — Britain’s new chief of the defence staff has warned that reductions to military manpower and budgets will require the government and others to “recalibrate” what the armed forces can achieve.
“We have to recalibrate our expectations of the level of capabilities we can field on new operations from a standing start,” Gen. Sir Nick Houghton said in an interview in an internal Ministry of Defence magazine.
Houghton, who took over as Britain’s top military officer last month, said it was not possible to retain the degree of sophistication in capability terms “when you adopt a more generic contingency posture ... we will not have the perfect capability for every scenario.”
The warning from Houghton comes just weeks after the next US ambassador to London said during a US Senate confirmation hearing in Washington that it was of “critical concern” that the British continue to have “full-spectrum capability, remain operable with us and also that they are able to continue to lead missions on behalf of NATO.”
Britain has slashed defense spending as part of wider financial austerity measures, with personnel numbers heavily cut and capabilities completely axed — albeit temporarily in some cases.
Part of those changes involves cutting regular British Army troop numbers to 82,000 from 102,000 while building reserve force numbers up to 30,000.
With the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan due to be complete by the end of next year, the British are moving toward contingency operations under a restructuring of the military scheduled to be complete by the end of the decade.
Houghton said the combination of “manpower reductions, keeping our people motivated, maintaining the right skillsets in the right places and continuing to prosecute operations and run the day-to-day business of defense is a huge challenge”
The chief of the defence staff said reform at the MoD was “long overdue” but admitted mistakes had been made in the transformation process, risking “ people becoming cynical and detached from what Defence is trying to do.”
Houghton also used the interview to take a swipe at bureaucracy at the London headquarters of the MoD and said changing the cultural and behavioral practices there remained one of the biggest reform challenges.
“Head Office by design has got to be smaller and more strategic, and therefore we’re going to have to adopt new behaviors. Currently we are guilty of creating bureaucracy, people checking up on others and holding people to account unnecessarily,” he said.