18 Jul 2011

Liam Fox accused of ‘slashing’ troop numbers

As Defence Secretary Liam Fox is accused of slashing the army by cutting troop numbers in favour of reservists, he tells Channel 4 News the focus is on the “overall deployable strength of the army”.

The British Army could be cut to its smallest size since the Boer War – a hundred years ago – under new plans to get rid of thousands of regular troops.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox has said £1.5 billion would be invested in the country’s reserve force over the next ten years – enabling more of them to be trained for frontline operations.

Speaking to Channel 4 News, Dr Fox there will be a “number of challenges” in the future, including the threat of cyber-warfare.

On increasing reservists he said: “It is a major challenger for us but it’s sometihng that is accepted in many other countries.

“What I want to look at is the overall deployable strength of the army.

The reserves also bring something that the regulars sometimes don’t, which is a very close connection with the local community. Dr Liam Fox

“The reserves also bring something that the regulars sometimes don’t, which is a very close connection with the local community – and I want to see that fostered.

“And I think we are going to have a number of challenges to the culture of how we go about defence in the years ahead, not least because we are going to be in areas like cyber-space – a very different challenge to the physical challenges of the past.”

Dr Fox wants to build up the numbers of reserve soldiers to around 38,000, copying a model used in America and Australia and endorsing a Government-commissioned review of reservists.

“I do feel it’s a little offensive when we’ve used the reserves so successfully in Afghanistan to talk about them as Dad’s Army,” he said earlier.

Dr Fox said the Government would be investing £1.5 billion in the reserves over the next 10 years, building up the Territorial Army (TA) as the regular force declines.

In a Commons statement, he told MPs that he ultimately envisaged a total force of around 120,000 with a ratio of around 70 per cent (84,000) full-time regulars to 30 per cent (36,000) part-time TA.

That compares with a current regular Army of more than 100,000 with around 14,000 reservists.

The Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, who led a review of the reserves, said the changes would mean the armed forces would be better configured to meet the challenges of the future.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said a series of studies had been undertaken into the future of the British Armed Forces following October’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), to “continue the work of transforming and rebalancing defence”.