US general warns British Army no longer top-level fighting force, defence sources reveal | UK News
A senior US general has privately told Defense Secretary Ben Wallace that the British Army is no longer considered a top-tier fighting force, defense sources said.
They said this decline in combat capability – after decades of cuts to save money – needed to be reversed faster than planned after Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“The bottom line… is a whole service unable to protect the UK and our allies for a decade,” one Defense Department source said.
Sources said Rishi Sunak risks failing in his role as “wartime prime minister” unless urgent action is taken given the growing security threat posed by Vladimir Putin. Russia.
This should include an increase in the defense budget of at least £3 billion a year; stop downsizing plan army More; and the relaxation of peacetime procurement rules that impede the UK’s ability to procure weapons and ammunition at speed.
“We have a wartime prime minister and a wartime chancellor,” one source said.
“History will look back on the choice they make in the coming weeks as the fundamental question of whether this government truly believes its primary duty is to protect the kingdom, or is it just a slogan to be uttered.”
Is the army capable? Watch our special program tonight at 19:00 on Sky News.
In giving an idea of the magnitude of the problem facing the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, it should be understood that:
- The armed forces will run out of ammunition “in a few days” if they are called to combat.
- The UK is unable to protect its skies from the missile and drone strikes that Ukraine endures.
- It would take five to ten years for an army to be able to field a combat division of 25,000 to 30,000 men backed by tanks, artillery and helicopters.
- About 30% of the British high-readiness forces are reservists who cannot mobilize within the time frame set by NATO – “so we will be in short supply.”
- Most of the army’s fleet of armored vehicles, including tanks, was built 30 to 60 years ago, and a complete replacement is not expected in the coming years.
European powers such as France and Germany announced plans to significantly increase defense spending following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
Putin is at war with the West
The European Union even stated President Putin now at war with the West and NATO.
But the British chancellor-turned-prime minister just wants the problem to “go away,” a second source said.
Sending tanks to Ukraine weakens British forces, chief of ground forces says
UK orders thousands of new anti-tank weapons in £229m deal
Mr. Sunak has not yet made any meaningful pledges to replenish his defense coffers, instead he is conducting an “update” on the Defense Policy Review due March 7 ahead of the spring budget, which will signal whether there are any new money. for the military.
While the picture is grim in the military, the military is in a particularly bad position.
There are plans to upgrade the service with combat vehicles, missiles and upgraded tanks, but these were developed before Russia started its war and the timeline for the conversion is too slow to handle the increased risk, according to Defense Department sources.
It’s not just individuals in British defense circles who are voicing such concerns: sources say last fall a senior US general offered Mr Wallace and some other senior officials a candid assessment of the British Army.
The general used the term to evaluate the strength of a country’s armed forces, with the first level being seen as the highest power such as the United States, Russia, China and France, and a status that Britain also seeks to maintain.
The second level would describe a more average power with less combat capability, such as Germany or Italy.
According to the sources, the general, referring to the army, said, “You don’t have the first level. It’s hardly the second level.”
One source insisted that the US and the rest of NATO understood that the UK was planning to rebuild its forces.
“This is the best cycle right now with more new investment over the next ten years,” the source said.
“As long as they don’t screw up with procurement, they’re well on their way to becoming a modern military.”
But other sources were less certain about how Britain was viewed by its allies.
Defense crisis long overdue
The defense crisis arose over a generation after repeated post-Cold War downsizing of the three branches of the military by successive Conservative, coalition and Labor governments to save money on peacetime priorities.
To compound the impact of the cuts, the Department of Defense and the Army have failed to procure some of the most needed equipment, such as armored vehicles and new communications systems, over the past 20 years, despite spending billions of pounds.
In addition, the need to supply Ukraine with most of the remaining stockpiles of weapons and ammunition to help the Ukrainian military fight Russia further increased the pressure.
Britain plays a key role in supporting Kyiv, and the prime minister was the first leader to promise to send Western tanks. He sought to emphasize this leadership role on social media after Germany and the US followed suit.
“Very happy that they have joined the UK in sending main battle tanks to Ukraine,” Sunak tweeted last Wednesday.
“We have an opportunity to intensify efforts to secure a lasting peace for Ukrainians. Let’s keep it up.”
Yet despite this tough speech, Mr. Sunak did not list addressing capacity gaps in his own armed forces as one of his top five priorities in his first political speech as prime minister in early January, even as the Russian war rages across Europe. .
“The approach of the wartime Prime Minister at the present time is to reduce the army, further devastate it, [equipment to Ukraine] and no plans to replace [the weapons] for five to seven years,” the first defense source said.
In 2020, Boris Johnson as Prime Minister increased defense spending by £16bn, the biggest increase since the Cold War, but not enough to close the gaps.
Since then, rising inflation, currency exchange rates and the need to accelerate modernization plans following Ukraine will mean more cuts without new cash, the sources say.
Chronic erosion has created what defense sources call an “empty force”, with a shortage of personnel, a lack of money to train and equip those still on the lists, obsolete weapons, and depleted supplies of ammunition and spare parts.
This has long been a concern, but Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has created an added sense of urgency – though according to General Sir Richard Barrons, the former senior commander, it doesn’t seem like he’s inside Number 10 yet.
“The money needed to repair the defense is small compared to other areas of spending such as health care, social security and interest on debt. So it’s a matter of government choice, not affordability,” he told Sky News.
“Defense can no longer be left at the bottom of the list… Why is it lost in Downing Street and the Treasury, but not in Paris or Berlin?”
Mr. Sunak has so far resisted calls, following his predecessor, Liz Truss, to raise defense spending to 3% of GDP by 2030, from just over 2% today.
NATO requires all allies to spend at least 2% of their national income on defence, a minimum baseline that France and Germany have previously failed to meet but have pledged to achieve.
The smallest army since Napoleon
The British army, at just 76,000, is half its size in 1990 and is the smallest since Napoleon.
The force is to be further reduced to 73,000 under current plans to be implemented if no new money is found.
Retired generals, admirals and air chief marshals have been sounding the alarm for years, usually finding their voice after choosing to remain silent in uniform.
But unusually, even incumbent officials have become more outspoken in public about their depleted capacity, a clear signal of serious concern within the government. Ministry of Defense in the main building and at the headquarters of the three services, as well as the strategic command.
“Known Opportunity Risks”
Speaking to a committee of deputies earlier this month, Lieutenant General Sharon Nesmith, Deputy Chief of the General Staff, outlined plans for the modernization of the army, which were outlined in 2021 as part of a package of works carried out in accordance with the government’s comprehensive review.
It called for the delivery of a combat division supported by new armored vehicles and long-range missiles to be in place by 2030, leaving a temporary gap.
“There were known risks to opportunity,” Lieutenant General Nesmith said in her testimony to MPs on the Defense Select Committee.
“I think through the lens of today’s war in Ukraine, on land, some of these decisions seem very uncomfortable.”
A government spokesman said: “It is clear to the Prime Minister that we must do what is necessary to protect our people, which is why the UK has the largest defense budget in Europe and we have made the largest investment in the UK defense industry since the Cold War. in 2020.
“We are providing our armed forces with the equipment and capabilities they need to face the threats of tomorrow, including through a £242bn fully funded 10-year equipment plan.”
Restoring military capabilities – something that most European countries have to do – is difficult, especially because of the need to balance support for the UK’s own defense industry and jobs with the provision of bulk purchases at a competitive price.
A separate defense source said: “The Minister of Defense has been making it clear for years that our army needs to be modernized to keep up with our allies.
“That’s why he received an additional £16bn in spending revisions in 2020… Reinvesting, learning from Ukraine and developing manufacturing skills takes time.
“We are on the way to start receiving new tanks, armored personnel carriers and air defense systems in a year. Over the next few years, the UK will rightfully regain its place as one of the leading ground forces in Europe.”