Army says it need 20,000 more soldiers

The Daily Telegraph has obtained a British Army Document stating that it needs 20,000 extra soldiers in order to meet its commitments.

One of the most telling comments concerns the trade-off between equipment and manpower:

“We should be mindful of the fact that our US, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand allies have all recently increased the size of their Armies by approaching 20 per cent. Indeed defence may need to prioritise manpower over equipment if that is what we require to fight wars in the 21st Century.”

The Army spends dramatically less on equipment on the Royal Navy and the RAF. By presenting the upcoming Defence Review in terms of this choice, the Army is placing itself very well for what will be a very tough process.

The Army currently has 101,000 men and women serving in its ranks. It consists of 37 Battalions of Infantry (Light role, Mechanized, Armoured, Air Assault and Special Forces support), 10 Armoured Regiments (Formation and Recce), 16 Artillery Regiments (Air Defence, MLRS, Armoured, Light Gun, Surveillance), 15 Engineer Regiments, 10 Signals Regiments, 21 Logistics Regiments and 6 Army Air Corps Regiments. Modern Warfare calls for such a plethora of supporting services.

The fall in the numbers of Infantry units has been most marked. In 2004, with the end of Operations in Northern Ireland, the Treasury forced the Army to cut its Infantry strength by 4 Battalions. Supposedly not needing to base Battalions in Northern Ireland meant that the Army needed less of them. This is despite the fact that the Army had too few Battalions at the time anyway. As traumatic as they were to regimental identities, the 2004 reforms were right to establish larger Regiments with more Battalions.

The Options for Change review in 1990 set the current tone for Army cuts. With the end of the Cold War it was felt that the Army no longer neeed to to base such large forces in Germany with the British Army of the Rhine. Throughout the 1990′s successive cuts sliced away at the Army’s strength. Now, even though the Army is fighting a strenuous war in Afghanistan that is at present involving 6 Infantry Battalions, the cutting mentality is still there – Politicians, as ever, are obsessed with peace dividends. Yet the other combat arms and supporting corps’ seem to have escaped the severity of cuts.

Perhaps it is a case of the Army looking at its structure? Whilst it is unwise to plan only for the current war, when the armed forces are looking at having such limited budgets, it is more important to win a war we are fighting now than to sacrifice it for a war we know nothing about. The Infantry time and time again have been the key force in wars, and the war in Helmand right now is very much an infantryman’s war. The Taliban and other asymetric forces fight in an old fashioned, guerilla manner, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have demonstrated that large numbers of troops are needed to hold and secure ground in this context.

Perhaps also it is time to look beyond the narrow specialised roles of infantry? The Cold War in particular led to a large number of armoured and mechanised infantry Battalions sat in Germany. Such units then took almost a year to retrain to serve on the streets of Northern Ireland. In my opinion the primary role of infantry should be exactly that, to fight as foot soldiers. Specialist roles such as armoured and air assault should be an additional flexibility that all are capable of. The British Army has an Air Assault Brigade, yet infantry units that are not part of this Brigade regularly take part in helicopter assaults.

If only the RAF can be persuaded to invest in troop-carrying helicopters and close-air support…

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5 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Army, defence, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Army says it need 20,000 more soldiers

  1. Jed

    What should be examined closely is the role of the TA. If we are considering the future threat in the near term is infantry heavy COIN type engagements, then why do we have reservist infantry battalions that have to be called up from civilian jobs ? Why not re-role some tankers, artillery or engineers within the full time army (or recruit to replace them by natural wastage) while moving “big war” systems such as Challenger MBT, AS90 armoured artillery and some engineer functions to the TA ? They can train on their systems on weekday drill nights and weekends, and probably get extra training in before being deployed (as per Desert Shield / Storm). Meanwhile we will have bolstered the infantry numbers in the short to medium term.

    Just a thought…. :-) Of course the Govt. could either:
    1. Fund the military on a proper war footing
    2. Withdraw for said war if voters did not want to increase defence spending !

    • James Daly

      essentially what we’ve got is a situation whereby the TA is like a duplicate of the Regular Army, with its own Infantry, Armour, etc. Might it be advisable to look at where certain roles should fit in the regular/reserve structure? I think so. Look at the RLC’s railway unit – expensive to maintain on a regular footing, so it makes more sense to have it as TA.

      There does seem to be a feeling that by making something a TA function you’re devaluing it, which I think is a disservice to the TA – ‘One Army’ and all that…

      Another example, is it necessary to maintain an Armoured Engineer Regiment in Germany, whose role was about evacuating BAOR?

  2. Grim

    My Granddad served in the WWII equivalent to the the RLC railway unit in India. :D

    Back to topic, keep in mind the TA is supposed to be about being able to rapidly increase force levels in times of emergency. We don’t know what threats we’ll face in the future so we don’t know what it is we’ll need to increase in quickly, could be infantry, could be armoured units etc.

    I do think there should be more regular infantry units though, they’ve been crying out for them for years, I just wouldn’t want to deplete my entire armoured capability to do it.

    Anyway, i’ll probably be joining the TA in a year or two, so they better not cut the numbers.

  3. James Daly

    Its something I picked up from Mike Jackson’s memoirs, thats where I got the railway unit thought from. Not only is the TA a way to rapidy expand in an emergency, but it is a way of keeping certain capabilities that might be difficult to justify if they were regular army. Not only that but you can make use of people’s civilian skills, such as the many doctors and medics out in Helmand right now.

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