British Army is in a ‘dire state’ says Tobias Ellwood
Britain’s Armed Forces need a £3billion annual boost to maintain their status as Europe’s leading military power, a general said last night. Gen Sir Richard Barrons called for Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to sanction the funding to replace weapons and tanks given to Ukraine, and stop “deliberately keeping defense broken”.
It follows a recent claim by a senior US general that the UK is no longer a top-level fighting force able to defend its allies.
Gen Barrons, who headed the Joint Forces Command until 2016, cited “political incontinence” at the heart of Downing Street which is failing to recognize the challenge Russia will pose once the war in Ukraine ends.
He said: “We have an Army that can issue PPE and drive ambulances but is in no state to fight. We are at a point where the world is much more threatening while our Armed Forces are at their most broken since the Cold War.”
His warning follows a claim by a senior US general that the UK is no longer a top-level fighting force able to defend its allies.
While Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is desperately trying to convince the Treasury to raise spending by £10billion in next month’s Budget, Gen Sir Richard noted: “Prioritizing domestic issues such as boats in the Channel when the UK faces a looming existential crisis is political incontinence.
“We have never felt smaller and never have the key decision-makers at the heart of government felt more disconnected from the reality we all face.
“They are refusing to acknowledge the world we live in by deliberately keeping defense broken at the most critical time for a generation.”
Britain will need to replace tanks that have been sent to aid Ukraine
Unwaivering support for Ukraine comes at a price, as the Ministry of Defense has given equipment and ammunition worth more than £4 billion in the past year.
The UK will take over from Germany and lead Nato’s Very High Readiness Taskforce, a 5,000-strong military unit ready to respond to a crisis at a moment’s notice, from December.
But it is not clear if the 14 Challenger tanks being given to Ukraine can be replaced by then.
A £229million deal has been signed to replace the 10,000 Nlaw anti-tank missiles given to Kyiv, but the “glacial” rate of resupply means it will take many years to rebuild Britain’s stockpiles.
The replacement of other in-service kit – ranging from 30 AS90 tracked artillery guns, armored vehicles and rocket systems – has also to be arranged.
Rishi Sunak’s decision to double the number of Ukrainian troops trained in the UK to 20,000 per month has also made it more difficult for British recruits and troops to train.
Gen Sir Richard said: “Last year only half of the Army’s companies (100 soldiers) had been trained to company level. Training of Ukrainian troops is one reason for this. Salisbury Plain can be full of Ukrainians or it can be full of British troops, but not both.
“But other issues that have contributed to the problem is the need for ambulance driving training, Border Force training and a lack of money.
“Training requires the burning of fuel and spare parts, and a lot of training is canceled because there just isn’t enough money.”
He added: “It is important that we continue to support Ukraine. If we fail, what message will it send to China and other rivals?
“But there is a massive gap between our sense of ourselves and our actual capability, and this is not helped by a government which seems completely disconnected from the realities we face.” Three former defense secretaries have also urged the Government to increase military spending in next month’s Budget.
Sir Michael Fallon, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Portillo warn the threats the UK faces are “even hotter” than in the Cold War.
They point out that Britain is spending less than half of what it did on defense back then in terms of the percentage of GDP.
They also say Britain risks failing to meet its Nato obligations.
General Sir Richard Barrons has urged the government to commit more funding to the Armed Forces
Sir Michael, who was Defense Secretary under David Cameron and Theresa May from 2014-17, said: “We were spending twice as much during the Cold War and we’re now facing even hotter threats, including from new weapons and new technologies of all kind.”
Sir Malcolm, who served as Sir John Major’s Defense Secretary, added: “There are particular gaps that do need to be filled and they’re not necessarily that expensive.
“It’s the Army I’m thinking of particularly. The Army is roughly about 70,000 manpower.
“I think that is too small for the obligations we have or are likely to have and I think it should be increased to 100,000, back to where it was not that long ago.”
And Mr Portillo, who succeeded Sir Malcolm under Sir John between 1995 and 1997, said: “A Nato country may be violated, or indeed another non-Nato country that we care about, such as Moldova.
“But it could also be a Nato country – Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland – and in such a case we would have to make a robust response, and it’s very debatable now how robust a response we could make.” Of all three services, the Army has the oldest equipment and plans to “recapitalise” have been pushed back to 2030.
Meanwhile the number of regular troops is being cut to just 75,000 with no move to replace lost capability with reservists.
Michael Portillo has warned that we may not be able to protect our NATO allies
However, a plan to upgrade 148 Challenger 2 tanks is ahead of schedule – but they will not be seen until 2035.
Last week’s Military Balance report by the non-partisan International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank revealed glaring differences between Britain’s capabilities and those of France.
Despite the UK still spending more on defense than its neighbour, France can field two full divisions compared with our one-and-a-half (which includes reservists) and outmatches Britain in terms of combat troops, combat aircraft and and frigates.
In the report the IISS noted: “There was an ambition to raise defense expenditure to three percent of GDP by 2030, but by the end of 2022 a new government was committing only to two percent of GDP, amid economic headwinds.”
But IISS land warfare expert Brigadier Ben Barry said many achievements need to be remembered.
He said: “No army in Europe – including US forces – deployed so many forces so quickly to so many different parts of Europe as Britain following last year’s invasion.”
On February 13 last year, when both Washington and London were warning of an imminent Russian invasion, Nato hailed the UK as the “anchor” to its new defense and deterrence posture.
Britain has played a vital role in leading and pushing the agenda for Ukrainian support – the first to offer training for forces, the first to provide lethal aid such as Nlaws and the first to offer main battle tanks.
But Gen Sir Richard Barrons warned: “The only really effective battlegroup we possess is in Estonia. The three battlegroups we deployed last year had little working kit, little ammunition and little training.
“What happens when shooting in Ukraine stops and we are left with a bitter Russia convinced it was Nato who had beaten it?”
Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, head of the Army, is drawing up plans for urgent re-modernisation but they require the political will to see them through.
But Gen Sir Richard said: “We must begin the recapitalization of the Army now, today, and this requires an immediate annual boost of £3billion.
“The Russian problem will remain for a decade. If China remains our long-term challenge, Russia is a speed bump which we simply must get over.”