British Army ‘too small,’ warn US military experts
General Raymond Odierno told a British military conference in the US that “significant-sized” land forces are needed for governments to reach their goals.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) has come under central government pressure to make a further £20 billion (US$26 billion) of savings over the next decade.
The National Audit Office (NAO) earlier this year claimed the department’s ability to pay for maintenance and equipment is at “its highest risk.” This has led the MoD to instead consider cutting roughly 20,000 soldiers to meet spending constraints.
It would be the second round of savings in just two years, after former Prime Minister David Cameron ordered cuts to the ranks from 100,000 to just over 80,000 – its lowest level since before the Napoleonic Wars.
In a bid to justify the cuts, the MoD said the army could easily be reconstructed if needed by drawing upon reservists.
General Odierno, however, was unconvinced.
Speaking at the conference, organized by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Odierno stressed the importance of troop numbers.
“Bombs and bullets from the sky may be the first shots fired in a war but most of the time the last shot fired is coming out of an infantryman’s rifle,” Odierno said, according to the Times.
Eliot Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, backed the commander’s comments.
“Firstly, your military is too small,” Cohen told the conference. “There is no question about that.”
“If you cut it further it will be bad news ... because numbers matter.”
Britain’s chief of general staff, Sir Nicholas Carter, conceded the army has shrunk to its smallest size in 400 years.
The Conservative Party’s 2017 election manifesto said the UK has one of the biggest defense budgets in Europe, and pledged to maintain the “overall size” of the military, “including an army that is capable of fielding a warfighting division.”
“We shall expand our reach around the world,” it added.
As the June 8 election resulted in a hung parliament, it is unclear how much the Tories will commit to spending.
The Tories’ statement, stands in stark contrast with a US report published in March claiming that because of cuts to Royal Air Force (RAF) capabilities, the UK is bound to experience “severe constraints” as it engages in military operations overseas.
“Significant reductions in mechanized capabilities and Army end strength mean that for the next several years, the United Kingdom will probably be able to deploy and sustain no more than a brigade (around 6,500 troops) in overseas combat missions,” the report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) states, according to the Daily Mail.
It added that such constraints were already being felt in the UK’s campaign against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
“Those constraints—combined with declining political will to use force overseas— have already been felt in the ongoing counter-ISIS air campaign, to which the United Kingdom (like many NATO allies) has only been able to make a very modest contribution,” the center said.