Report details decrease in UK military personnel

The House of Lords Library has released a detailed report titled ‘UK defence policy and the role of the armed forces’, penned by Charley Coleman on 24 August, 2023.

This article presents the main points raised in the report.

The report highlights the following core considerations shaping the UK’s armed forces size decisions:

  • an assessment of current and future threats to UK national security
  • the need for contingent/reactive capability—the requirement to be able to respond immediately to domestic or international crisis
  • current operational and international obligations (for example, NATO, UN)
  • changes in technology, the introduction of new equipment and restructuring that leads to equipment becoming obsolete or surplus to requirements
  • the need to deliver against the military tasks as efficiently as possible, maintaining a balanced, affordable defence budget

In reference to the army’s structure, DCP21 conveyed the vision that the “army of the future will be leaner, more lethal, nimbler, and more effectively matched to current and future threats.” By 2025, the government aims to reduce the army’s full-time trained strength from 76,000 to 72,500. An overview from 1 April 2023 reveals:

  • Royal Navy/Royal Marines: 29,350 (a decrease of 1.4% from 1 April 2022)
  • Army: 74,830 (a decrease of 3.1% from 1 April 2022)
  • Royal Air Force: 29,380 (a decrease of 1.6% from 1 April 2022)
  • Total: 133,570 (a decrease of 2.4% from 1 April 2022)

The report mentioned that in January 2023, the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee released ‘UK defence policy: From aspiration to reality?’. In this, the size of the army was debated. General Sir Nick Carter, former chief of the defence staff, believed the army should be “in the order of 80,000” for combined NATO force participation.

Professor Jamie Gaskarth from the Open University raised questions regarding the army’s core purpose, stating, “it is rather confusing about what it is supposed to do“. He further remarked that managing multiple roles with 72,500 full-time troops might be challenging.

Conversely, several experts felt that personnel numbers aren’t the sole indicator of capability. Professor Malcolm Chalmers from RUSI remarked, “it is unfortunate in today’s world that the main metric we use for army capability is the number of people … If you are saying that you want a bigger army but you want them less well equipped, I would say no“.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace asserted that focusing solely on army size isn’t holistic; modernisation and technological advancement would offset personnel reductions.

The committee concluded that while troop numbers are crucial, they aren’t the definitive metric for the army’s capabilities. The pivotal issue lies in whether the army possesses the necessary resources and skills to execute governmental objectives, factoring in equipment quality and training depth.

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