Army forced to axe 20,000 posts amid budget cuts, provoking anger within senior ranks
Thousands of soldiers could face compulsory redundancy over the next two years as the army pushes through radical reforms that will be outlined on Thursday.
With the army needing to axe 20,000 posts because of budget cuts, commanders are pushing to downsize as quickly as possible rather than prolong the process.
This means the next two tranches of redundancy will be huge – and are likely to coincide with the draw-down from Afghanistan, leaving the army to start afresh in 2015.
Though it is hoped many soldiers will leave under the voluntary redundancy scheme, the Ministry of Defence acknowledges the target cannot be reached without pushing some to the door.
Another reason the army wants to press ahead with the cuts is to protect its personnel from EU legislation due to become effective in 2015, which will mean they are entitled to only three months pay if made redundant, rather than the nine months salary given now.
The redundancy rounds are the inevitable consequence of the spending squeeze, which also forced the army to rethink its structure in a review undertaken by Lieutenant General Nick Carter. His reforms will be outlined by the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, in a statement to MPs, which has been repeatedly delayed because of its political sensitivity.
Hammond is expected to confirm that five battalions are to be scrapped, including the 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Battalions are also to be lost from the Royal Welsh, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and the Mercians.
Other historic regiments are believed to have been spared. They include the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, Royal Dragoon Guards, the Rifles and the Parachute Regiment.
Under the proposals, the Queen’s Royal Lancers will be merged with the 9th/12th Lancers, and the 1st Royal Tank Regiment with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment.
The changes will form part of plans to implement a new structure, which will see the army reduced to a strength of 82,000 and in effect split into three; reaction forces, adaptable forces, and force troops.
The reaction forces will be the army’s spearhead and will be trained, equipped and prepared for speedy intervention operations anywhere in the world. They will include the Royal Marine Commandos and the Parachute Regiment.
The adaptable forces would take over from the reaction forces, but would take 18 months to prepare for combat. They will comprise existing full-time regiments and reserves.
Underpinning both will be the force troops, or “theatre troops”, made up of all the units required to support the front line – such as the artillery, engineers, signals, intelligence and medical corps.
The army’s most senior officers, including chief of the general staff (CGS), General Sir Peter Wall, believe the reforms “make the best of a difficult job”.
“Nobody in the army wants to see redundancies, but in the circumstances, there’s little we could do,” said one official.
But the reforms have caused anger and frustration within senior ranks. Earlier this week a leaked letter to General Wall from one senior officer in the Royal Fusiliers revealed the anger that has been brewing over the scale of the proposed cuts.
Brigadier David Paterson, the honorary Colonel of the Regiment of Fusiliers, said the decision to axe one of its battalions will not “best serve” the armed forces and “cannot be presented as the best or most sensible military option”.
He added: “I, as colonel, have the duty to tell my men why it is their battalion, which at the time of the announcement will be the best manned battalion in the army, with recruits waiting in the wings, was chosen by CGS. I will then also have to explain to my Fusiliers in a fully manned battalion why they are likely to be posted to battalions that cannot recruit. This will not be an easy sell.”