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MoD sacrifices manpower to pay for equipment

More than 11,000 soldiers are to be given their marching orders to pay for an extra £3 billion of military equipment, senior Army chiefs said yesterday.

There is “considerable disquiet” among commanders after ministers announced plans to reduce the Army to its smallest size since Victorian times. replacing regular soldiers with part-timers.

Military commanders and opposition politicians said the drastic reduction raised questions about whether the military will ever stage major operations abroad again.

There are also fears that the Army will no longer be able to wage armoured warfare after ministers refused to give a guarantee that a £5 billion programme for 2,000 armoured vehicles will go ahead.

In a series of announcements before Parliament, the Ministry of Defence has decided to plough millions more into the Territorial Army. Training and equipment will be increased to ensure reservists can deploy on operations.

A substantial readjustment was also made to military bases, with the Army moving out of Germany mainly into Scottish sites vacated by the RAF.

The decision to shrink the Army was made during a Cabinet meeting on Friday as the hacking crisis continued to dominate the headlines.

However, the MoD will receive a guarantee from the Treasury that will ensure it gets a one per cent increase to its equipment programme allowing the purchase of the new aircraft carriers, Joint Strike Fighters, 14 Chinook helicopters, the Navy’s Global Combat Ship and new drones.

The package will be worth £3 billion over the five years to 2020. Ministers offer no guarantees that the Army’s future armoured vehicle project, known as FRES (Future Rapid Effect System) will go ahead.

Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, outlined the drastic changes to the military in an address to the Commons.

The announcement follows the Reserves Review, the Basing Review and the so-called Three Month Exercise that re-examined last year’s defence review.

“I am very conscious of the uncertainties that these changes will cause for Service personnel and their families,” he said.

“The overall package is good news for our Armed Forces and means they can look forward to the future with renewed confidence because the defence programme I have announced is underpinned with real resources.”

Dr Fox committed the MoD to balancing the books by 2020 with the “unfunded liability”, now put at £43 billion, clawed back through cuts.

He said £1.5 billion was being invested in the TA that had been “shamefully neglected” under the last government. Out of a force of 36,000 TA there are currently only 14,000 with adequate training to go on operations. The MoD hopes to raise this number to 30,000. The TA will be trained to become more like the US National Guard, able to serve alongside regular Army colleagues, some as entire battalions.

Currently, reservist soldiers supplement regular soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan.

Under the reforms, 30 per cent of the Army will consist of the Territorial Army, an arrangement similar to America and Canada whose reservists make up 35 per cent of the force. But the dramatic reduction of the Army has astonished military figures and politicians.

Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, said: “It is hard to conclude anything other than that this is strategic shrinkage by stealth, because today’s cut in the Army is bigger than the entire current deployment of all UK Forces in Afghanistan.” Gen Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, said the reforms were “risky” because the reserves would not have the same expertise as regular soldiers. He said: “The overall capability of the Army will be reduced significantly.” The UK National Defence Association said in a statement: “Incredibly, despite the dangerous world situation, we now have the smallest army in over a hundred years.

“This is not just irresponsible, it is gross negligence.”

Filed in: World News

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