STATEMENT ON UK ARMED FORCES OPERATIONAL READINESS AND EQUIPMENT STATE
Many of you will have seen and been deeply disturbed at comments a senior member of the United States military reportedly made to the Secretary of State for Defence, comments which included an assessment that the British Army is no longer considered a top-level fighting force.
Sadly, this isn't the first such assessment. Our Army has shrunk to half its Cold War size, while its ability to conduct Land Manoeuvre with fires has shrivelled with no major equipment replacements taking place for two decades.
Political leadership embraced the myth of a peace dividend and looked the other way as an increasingly turbulent world threw military and security challenges at our armed forces, resulting in operational tempo increasing rather than declining.
There are several reasons why, despite still having the fourth highest defence expenditure in the world, the British Army may be considered by our closest and most important ally as not fit for purpose.
Governments have taken pride in meeting the NATO GDP budget expenditure target on defence of 2%. Those same governments demanded a defence capability not just for territorial defence, but one that is also capable of expeditionary deployment at scale across the globe.
The operational complexity, equipment capability and strategic enablers needed to exercise this reach is far beyond that which most NATO members require for their role in the collective defence of NATO territory.
Defence procurement remains a bureaucratic, over-costly process that is riddled with waste and incompetence. Political and treasury interference combined with an inability to decide on the role of the British Army and the platforms and systems it needs, has meant that the catalogue of expensive capital equipment failures grows longer.
Over a decade of counter-insurgency operations have skewed the Army’s operational requirements obscuring much of its core purpose to provide a high intensity, warfighting capability at required readiness.
More latterly to spare government blushes it has had to turn to providing essential public services during industrial action. Support to Ukraine has hollowed out the force even further with frontline stocks of equipment spares, munitions, already at dangerously low levels, now depleted to the point of exhaustion.
The Army are not spoons in a drawer to be pulled out when needed. There is a limit to how often we can rely upon the superb quality of our soldiers to turn to meet each challenge.
The danger of escalating state-on-state conflict in Europe demonstrates previous defence strategy has been flawed and how unwise the decision to attempt ‘shop window’ defence and take the Army for granted has been.
Reform UK believes defence should be resourced for the tasks the nation sets it. Capability must be rebuilt and then maintained. Further cuts to the Army should be halted and a rapid equipment capitalisation must take place ensuring that a potential adversary is left in no doubts over the combat power this nation can deliver.
Mr Frederick Chedham
Frederick Chedham served in the British Army for 25 years, rising to the rank of Colonel, holding command and staff appointments both in the UK and Internationally.
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