Sunday Times: "Top General: Cuts Mean UK Forces Can’t Do The Job"

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    "One of Britain’s top generals has warned that the armed forces have been “cut to the bone”, “hollowed out” and are “failing”.

    In a devastating critique, General Sir Richard Shirreff, the outgoing Nato deputy supreme commander, branded plans to recruit thousands of reserve troops to offset the shrinking regular army “one hell of a risk” and warned the “jury is still out” on whether it would succeed.

    He said Russia’s annexation of Crimea had changed the “defence paradigm” in Europe and required Britain to “prioritise defence”.

    However, he feared cuts had already hit the UK’s military capabilities hard, particularly the navy, which had been so “cut to the bone” that it could not take part in Nato maritime operations.

    “A hollowed-out navy means you can’t project power. I’ve heard this said in the Ministry of Defence: ‘The yardstick by which we measure ourselves is our ability to punch above our weight’. You can’t do that now. By that yardstick, therefore, we’re failing.”

    His comments are the most outspoken and critical by a serving senior officer since the coalition was formed in 2010. Shirreff, the third most senior officer in the British army, stepped down from his Nato post on Friday and is due to leave the army in August.

    His intervention is likely to reignite the debate over whether David Cameron’s government has cut defence spending too far at a time of growing global instability. Under a plan called Army 2020, the size of the regular army is being slashed from 102,000 to 82,000, the lowest level since Napoleonic times.

    Shirreff said the architects of it had “made a pretty good fist of a very difficult hand of cards” but he is clear that the restructuring will weaken the armed forces. “I wouldn’t want to let anybody think that I think that Army 2020 is good news, it’s not,” he said.

    “The sort of defence cuts we have seen . . . have really hollowed out the British armed forces and I think that people need to sit up and recognise that.”

    Shirreff is the first senior officer publicly to voice serious concerns about the government’s £1.8bn plan to recruit a 35,000-strong reserve force by 2018. The plan, a cornerstone of the government’s defence policy, has threatened to unravel due to a recruitment crisis.

    Shirreff said it was yet to be demonstrated whether moving to an army so dependent on reserve forces “is going to work or not”.

    “It’s certainly one hell of a risk. The point at which a risk becomes a gamble is a subjective view. I think the jury is out still.”

    A “complete shift in culture” among employers and the wider public would be needed for the plan to succeed, he said. “If the dependence on the reserves is going to work . . . the nation needs to get behind this. It’s not just the armed forces — this is everybody’s business.”

    Despite his position in the army, Shirreff said his biggest concern was the impact the cuts are having on the Royal Navy, which now has only 19 frigates and destroyers.

    “It is very noticeable in Nato that the one navy which is never participating in Nato maritime operations pretty much is the Royal Navy, which sends a pretty bad signal for a navy which [was] once one of the world’s greatest navies . . . that has an impact in the way people think about the UK. This is the result, I think, of cutting to the bone.”

    Shirreff, a married father of two, is one of the most battle-hardened and experienced officers in the army. He fought as a tank-squadron leader in the Gulf War in 1991 and commanded British troops in Basra in 2006. He last week returned to Britain after serving three years with Nato. He spoke to The Sunday Times as he left from Nato’s headquarters in Belgium, where he has been co-ordinating the alliance’s response to Russia’s takeover of Crimea and the build-up of forces on Ukraine’s eastern border.

    Shirreff believes it is “very plausible” that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, could extend his “land grab” into eastern and southern Ukraine and that even the invasion of Latvia, a Nato country, is a “realistic” scenario.

    “He has demonstrated that armed illegal aggression is part of the way he does business, so anything is possible,” said Shirreff.

    After years of being treated by Nato as a “strategic partner”, Russia is now “a strategic adversary”, he said.

    Shirreff argues that the UK and other European nations need to protect their defence budgets to deter Russia. This would mean deeper cuts to other Whitehall departments when further cuts are made after the next election.

    “It may just be that rather than defence, those cuts, which will have to come, come from other budgets and other departments,” he said. “We all support the efforts to get the deficit down but it is all about priorities. What really matters? Well, the first duty of government is to protect the nation. Defence is really, really important. And the electorate need to understand there is no point in having hospitals and schools and welfare unless the country is safe.”

    Unlike the Russians, the UK had lost the ability to manoeuvre huge army formations, of around 20,000 troops, around the battlefield, Shirreff said. Complex wargame exercises involving an entire division of troops, which had not been held for more than 20 years, needed to be resumed, he said."

    Top general: Cuts mean UK forces can?t do the job | The Sunday Times
     
  2. Suddenly they all speak out....after they end their tour of duty.
     
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  3. Interesting. Supporting illustration shows a Type 45 destroyer (order cut to eight in 2003 and to six in 2008 despite 'Post-Cold War Dividend' SDR '98 mandating 12) and two Hunt class MCMVs (MCMV numbers successively cut from 25 to 15 despite SDR '98 mandating 22).
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2014
  4. Purple_twiglet

    Purple_twiglet War Hero Moderator

    Retiring senior officer from the graveyard 4* post suddenly speaks up. Has he got a book coming out?
     
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  5. Well they can hardly do it before TOUREX can they. I expect that our friendly local Shirreff was making the same noises while he was in, to the people he was allowed to. It just grips me that it takes another brown job (albeit a Purple NATO one) to do it.
     
  6. Well no it wouldn't. If you haven't the means (leaving aside the will) to counter/deter any further "expansion", though, you give Ivan a free hand. Hammond and the rest of the chiselling, bean counting, new-safe-world-where-only-Terrs-threaten-our-cosy-lives doctrinists are now whistling as loud as buggery in the dark to make it all less scary.

    We can wring our hands and blame other Europeans (whatever they are) for spending less of sod all than we are. We can live with State after State being clawed back into the new "democratic" and almost capitalist Russia so long as the gas taps stay open and the new money doesn't bleed out of our economies. We cashed in the "peace dividend" without any thought for the brutal future and sacrificed and denuded the Force we once had in a series of Public morale sapping skirmishes. We demonstrated time and again that we were still big enough for the task demanded only to have the "fat" sliced away until we could just about do it.

    Well, we are now underinsured and the loss adjusters are in no mood for generosity: a bit like my neighbours down the road from me who've had their homes and livelyhoods underwater for weeks on end. You get the cover you pay for and the premiums don't go down when the threat goes up.

    Well done Parliament.
     
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  7. So, a General is telling us what we already know, but a poitician is refuting what the guy has said. Well, I know who I believe!!
     
  8. it really does irritate me when everybody says one thing BUT politicians like Hammond STILL try to pull the wool over our eyes by saying the opposite,when Robert Gates said what he said THAT was the moment our ineffectiveness became OFFICIAL,and when our own Generals and Admirals are saying it HOW CAN the likes of Hammond deny it,the UK military is like stage scenery ,..at first glance it looks like a rock however on closer inspection you find out its actually made of paper mashcha.....
     
  9. For Hammond to do anything other than "don't panic; everything is really alright and remember that there's no money" would put him in direct conflict with his incredibly un military boss. Spending money on defence by diverting even tiny amounts from other Departments doesn't win votes. That's all that matters, apparently.

    If we are hoping for the heirs of Brown the humourless to grasp reality and restore capability and persistence; don't hold your breath. The aims of the bright things of the Treasury and the likes of the Fabian Society have been met: we are now only capable of defending the Homeland from a direct threat. We don't now have the means to be beastly to foreigners in defence of our National interests.
     

  10. Don't forget what happens if someone DOES speak out, such as over the Libyan adventure and the RN's longer-term capabilities. I suspect a former 1SL still grits his teeth at David Cameron's "There are moments when I wake up and read the newspapers and think: 'I tell you what, you do the fighting and I'll do the talking'."
     
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