The British Army may be too small in size to fight a conventional war, according to a former leading general.
Sir Mike Jackson, who was the Chief of the General Staff from 2003 to 2006 has slammed the state of the country’s armoured corps, calling it a “shadow” of what it once was a few decades back. He said that the UK’s 80,000 man Army would likely struggle to hold its front in any future battle in the same way it was once able to.
“When I joined [The Army], the Cold War was very cold. The whole strategic posture was deterrence of the then Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact,” Sir Mike told the podcast General Talk.
“It needed mass. We had a comparatively large army for peace time,” he said, going on to note that, “it worries me that 80,000 may not be big enough.”
The former military leader said that the British Army may be able to sustain itself in a conventional war “at a pinch” but that “it would take some preparation time.”
“We are down to the position where really if we get it right we can field a single division. Perhaps of two or three brigades. That is [the] maximum effort we could expect of today’s Army,” Sir Mike added.
Typically, a brigade has about 4,000-6,5000 troops, while a division can have anywhere from 8,000-20,000 troops.
When Sir Mike joined the paratroops in 1970, he said that the Army’s regular deployable strength was about 176,000 with 80,000 reservists.
“The Royal Armoured Corps is pretty much a shadow of what it was when I joined,” he said.
The comments come amidst a cascade of reports over the past few years listing a steady litany of crises facing the UK’s armed forces.
Back in 2019, MoD figures revelled that the Royal Navy and Royal Marines were 1,230 men short of their 20,450 personnel target. The Royal Air Force was 1,740 personnel short of its 31,750 target. Yet, The Army was a staggering 6,930 men short of its 82,000 personnel target. Figures obtained by The Guardian that year also revealed that frontline combat units were operating without as much as 40% of their manpower.
Some of the reasons widely credited with explaining the UK military’s - but particularly the The Army’s - dwindling personnel numbers are the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a relatively stable economy, an ageing population and a youth demographic that is less interested in enlisting into the military than past generations.