The strength of our Armed Forces… Roll call! As the graph above shows, there were about 159,630 people serving in the country’s regular armed forces last year. 33,330 of these were in the Naval Service. 35,230 in the Royal Air Force. And 91,070 in the Army.
…is fading. These are historically low numbers. The Royal Air Force hasn’t been this unpopulated since the years between the two world wars. For both the Army and the Naval Service you’d have to go back to the Nineteenth Century. And all are still on downwards curves. The graph includes the anticipated strength of each force in 2020, according to the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2010 and subsequent revisions. By then, it’s thought, the Naval Service will have 29,000 souls in total, the RAF 31,500, and the Army 82,000. Compared to now, that’s an overall loss of around 17,000 people.
Reservists for regulars. The Government’s hope and promise is that reservists will make up the difference. Their plans for the Army are typical, in this respect. They foresee an “integrated” force made up of those 82,000 regular troops and 30,000 trained reserves, for a total of 112,000, by 2020. The problem is, there are currently only 21,030 reserves. Your country needs you (and 8,969 others).
Target practice. How is the Government doing at drafting all those extra Army reserves? The figures, on table 9b of this spreadsheet, are rather mixed. They distinguish between the total number of new recruits and the number of those who are already properly trained, and have separate annual targets for each. On the latter, we’re doing okay: this year’s target for the number of trained recruits was exceeded by 290. On the former, it’s less encouraging: the total number of recruits was 420 fewer than desired. The Defence Secretary himself doesn’t sound very optimistic about the whole process.
SDSR, all over again. The reason I mention all this is because there’s another Defence Review coming later this year. It could be used to modify the current plans. The emphasis on reserves ahead of regulars isn’t just unpopular with military high-ups, who might have to return to the Middle East in coming years, it’s also set the Government a series of targets that they will struggle to hit. I’ve no doubt that our Armed Forces need changing for a changing world – but perhaps the pace of that change can be slowed, or its nature transformed.