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Conservative MP Mark Francois is opposed to plans to cut the regular Army to 73,000 by 2025, while increasing the size of reserve forces to 30,100. He wants the cuts reversed and argues that last year’s integrated review has been overtaken by events. Warning that axing soldiers now is the “height of folly”, he said: “In defence and security terms, Russia’s barbaric and illegal invasion of Ukraine is a complete gamechanger, on a scale akin to 9/11.”
In January, the UK Army consisted of 80,980 regular forces and 29,400 volunteer reservists, alongside 3,950 Gurkhas and 4,600 other personnel.
The cuts, overseen by Cabinet Secretary Sir Stephen Lovegrove, also resulted in an armoured brigade being dissolved, artillery being retired, the number of Challenger tanks reduced to ” and nine troop-carrying Chinook helicopters withdrawn.
The reorganisation saw the formation of four Ranger Regiments, within a special operations brigade, to train and advise so-called partner nations, and be ready for missions in the “grey zone” – coercive activities short of war.
But the cuts have left the Army’s 16 Air Assault brigade unable to mount airborne operations until new aircraft are approved – after the review axed the RAF’s C-130 Hercules aircraft fleet, which have been listed for sale.
Last week the Sunday Express revealed that all four of Britain’s tank regiments are now deployed on Nato’s flanks as part of a 7,000-troop strong “muscle flexing” exercise aimed at Vladimir Putin. This includes the first-ever deployment of British tanks to Finland, which wants to join Nato.
It also includes the deployment of two squadrons from the Queen’s Royal Hussars to Poland where, after the completion of a month-long exercise, they may be asked to remain in order to backfill a three-year gap following Warsaw’s decision to give its Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukraine. Claiming that the cuts to the Regular Army would leave it the smallest it has been since the post-Napoleonic period, Mr Francois argued that the conflict in Ukraine demonstrated the unique contribution trained soldiers can make.
He said: “For example, while many brave Ukrainian civilians have taken up arms, the complex anti-tank ambushes – taking out whole Russian armoured columns in a matter of minutes – which we have witnessed for instance around Kyiv, is a job for highly trained, regular infantry.”
Defence Minister James Heappey last week confirmed the Government is sticking with the policy. “The integrated review and defence command paper made clear that we must focus on defence capability rather than troop numbers in response to changing threats and priorities,” he said.
But Russia’s invasion, and the return of more conventional warfare that has accompanied it, may force some reversals.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said last week: “I have always said funding should be linked to the threat. If the threat grows, the Prime Minister has shown he is very open to further discussions.”
Last night a senior Army source added: “There is serious consideration being given to delivering an uplift to the Army.
“At the time of the review, all the indications were that the age of tanks was about to pass. Now, just months later, we are sending tanks to Finland and Poland.”
The source added: “Many officers suggested that the cuts were focused on saving money at the expense of capability, and we have left ourselves in a very tight situation which, clearly, has sent the wrong message.”
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