This blog has noted before that the indications are that come 2015, with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, a new SDSR will look to reduce the army from its current planned weight of 95,000 to a lower figure closer to 80,000, and while it is impossible to confirm the rumour it just keeps on popping up. This time it is an article in the telegraph discussing manpower problems within the SAS, and how this would be exacerbated by a still further reduced army.
Maybe there is an element of truth within all this rampant speculation?
The telegraph made headlines this week with an article claiming that the Army would be facing a cut of up to 20,000 troops after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving manpower cut to circa 80,000 in the period following 2015. This has come as a surprise to some quarters given the vagueness of the SDSR itself, not least because of the constant reference to the heavily quoted number of 94/95 thousand troops alongside repeated references to the ‘aspiration’ of the 2020 force structure. It should not have been a surprise.
Notwithstanding ambiguous quotes in the SDSR document there were plenty of caveats.
In the previous paper this blog set out some tentative ideas, in the hope of attracting comment more than anything else, and fortunately plenty of comment was received, all of it useful. DominicJ, Jed, Jackstaff and Steve Coltman all have the gratitude of this blogger, much was learned, many ideas rethought, and now its time to have another stab at the matter.
So what is the aim of the exercise, what capability is desired, and how should it be sustained?
Given William Hague’s recent foreign policy speech it would appear that he intends for Britain to keep a premier role in international affairs, we currently have around 35,000 members of the Armed Forces deployed, and it is unlikely given the above that requirement for this commitment will decrease dramatically. Of those 35,000 personnel from all three branches of the Armed Forces ten thousand are engaged in Afghanistan, and a further five thousand are garrisoned in British overseas territories, this leaves approximately 20,000 scattered over sixty plus countries on non-operational deployments such as Germany, as well as numerous training, goodwill and peacekeeping operations in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. The total size of the enlisted forces numbers not more than 175,000, and given that the Defence cuts of 15% are anticipated at a time when units costs are growing at 1.7%/annum RUSI have stated that we should expect personnel numbers to fall in the order or 30,000 after the coming Defence Review. Clearly, having 35,000 members of the Armed Forces on operations and deployed will be unsustainable.
Is it time to consider creating a peace-keeping Corps to work alongside a newly refocused war-fighting Force?