13 January 2010
The UK will have to cut the number of armed forces personnel by 20 per cent in coming years to survive rising costs and the damaging effects of the recession on the MoD budget, according to a report from the Royal United Services Institute.
The cuts would see the number of personnel fall from around 175,000 today to 142,000 by 2016, according the the report's author, Professor Malcolm Chalmers.
Cuts in the number of aircraft and Naval vessels are also anticipated in Chalmers' report, which predicts cuts in the defence budget of around 10 to 15 per cent in real terms over the same period.
The report says the growing costs of UK defence capabilities, combined with cuts in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) budget as a result of the recession, will make it impossible to preserve current numbers of service personnel and front-line capabilities.
The report says: "In the absence of a fundamental change in strategic orientation, and even allowing for further efficiency savings, projected reductions in budgets and personnel will require large reductions in the number of frontline capabilities.
"If cutbacks are evenly spread, ground formations (including infantry, armour, artillery and support regiments) would have to fall from 97 to 79, available aircraft (fixed wing and rotary) would be reduced from 760 to 615, and major vessels (submarines, carriers, escorts and major supply ships) would fall from 57 to 46. The central question for this year's defence review will be whether some of these capabilities should be protected at the expense of deeper cuts in others."
"If Britain's defences are to be put on a sustainable footing, efficiency savings will not be enough. In addition to the likelihood of significant real reductions in the available budget, defence planners need to take account of continuing growth in the unit costs of defence capabilities. The combination of these two trends means that the next six years are likely to see a reduction of around 20 per cent in numbers of service personnel, and a commensurate reduction in numerical military capabilities (major vessels, aircraft and ground formations)."
The report warns that resorting to short-term balancing of the defence budget in the strategic defence review, which is due this year, may force the MoD to conduct a further 'mini-review' during 2012-2013.
"Politically, the choice between these two options may depend on an assessment of whether it is better to incur the political pain of defence cuts all at once, or in successive smaller doses," write Chalmers. "In strategic terms, the choice may hinge on whether longer term defence priorities can be agreed while the broader consequences of the Afghanistan operation remain so uncertain."
An MoD spokesman said: "Like all departments, the Ministry of Defence is facing challenging financial circumstances.The Chancellor has already said not a penny will be cut from the defence budget next year but it is not possible to give a meaningful assessment beyond 2010/11 as future spending plans have not yet been set."