The UK will reduce the level of its regular Army an additional 1,000 personnel as final cuts are made to reshape the military by 2018. (Cpl Mike O'Neill/Crown Copyright)
LONDON — Twenty four hours after the British government was heavily criticized by the National Audit Office (NAO) for taking significant risks in cutting the size of the British Army, the Ministry of Defence announced the final round of cuts required to achieve its target.
The announcement of nearly 1,000 regular Army redundancies, along with a handful of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy job losses, are the fourth and final tranche of cuts as the British head for completion of a big drawdown in troop numbers and formations by the end of 2018.
In order to meet severe government budget cuts and a huge overspend by the MoD, the British are cutting the size of the regular Army by 20,000 personnel to 82,000.
Overall, the Army is having to take a budget hit of £10.6 billion (US $17.8 billion) between 2011 and 2021. Much of that savings is being generated by reducing personnel numbers.
To fill the gap, reserve forces are being expanded from 19,000 to 30,000 and better integrated with regular forces as part of a transformation plan known as Army 2020.
Aside from the redundancies the cuts are being achieved by other measures, such as retirements and lower-than-projected recruitment.
The Conservative-led coalition’s 2010 strategic defense and security review announced a reduction of 17,000 posts from the regular armed forces with 5,000 each coming from the Navy and the RAF and 7,000 from the Army. A further reduction of 12,000 to the Army was announced as a result of a later cost-cutting exercise.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the announcement of the “final tranche of the redundancy scheme we introduced to rebalance our armed forces and address the black hole in the defense budget in 2010 allows greater certainty for military personnel going forward.”
By the time the cuts have been completed, Britain will field its smallest standing Army since the days of the wars with Napoleon 200 years ago.
Yesterday the NAO, the government spending watchdog, took aim at the implementation of the restructuring plan, saying the transition to the new Army structure comes with “significant risk.”
If not addressed the problems could significantly affect the “Army’s ability to achieve its objectives,” the NAO report said.
The spending watchdog said part of the problem was caused by the Army facing a significant challenge implementing Army 2020 alongside other substantial “change programs” it now has underway. These involve a new Army basing program, including the return of UK troops from Germany, merging and moving units, introducing new equipment and other issues.
The MoD is struggling to recruit the number of reserves required or to fill the holes appearing in the regular forces.
The NAO said the feasibility of increasing the number of trained reserves within the planned timescale had not been robustly tested and it could be 2025 before troop levels reached the required numbers.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said, “The Department and Army must get a better understanding of significant risks to Army 2020 — notably, the extent to which it is dependent on other major programs and the risk that the shortfall in recruitment of new reserves will up the pressure on regular units.”
The NAO also pointed out that the problems the Army faced were not just about personnel numbers. Having sufficient equipment could also be an issue if more funds are not allocated.
The MoD has a 10-year equipment plan costing £164 billion across the armed services. Within that the budget has an unallocated budget of £8.4 billion.
“The MoD has indicatively allocated £4.7 billion, over half its unallocated budget, to the Army, where gaps in capability are more likely to be experienced unless additional equipment to that already in the program can be purchased,” said the report.
The availability of the additional money, though, is subject to a number of risks, including further overall MoD budget cuts, said the NAO.
The watchdog warned that if the funds are not allocated in future years the Army will not have sufficient equipment to provide the capability required by Army 2020.
“A lack of equipment could also lead to wider impacts such as inefficient and less effective training, or a reduction in Army outputs,” said the NAO. ■