Fears life at homefront will weaken fighting spirit

Picture: PA

Picture: PA

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PHILIP Hammond’s plans to bring the army home from Germany herald a revolution for our soldiers.

For the first time in more than 200 years the vast majority of the army – less a couple of battalions in Cyprus – will be living in barracks in Britain.

The implications of this development have been lost in the furore over the closure of historic barracks and alleged broken promises to move troops to Scotland.

This means that when the London government announces it is embarking on a new foreign military adventure the departure of those troops will be highly visible and politically sensitive.

This chimes with moves by David Cameron to give parliament a vote before British troops go to war and heralds an end to the British Army as an instrument of Empire.

While army chiefs welcome the impact on recruitment and retention of bringing troops home to allow, wives and families to put down roots and secure jobs, many officers are worried that it might take the edge off their troops’ fighting spirit as they get used to spending Saturday nights at home watching X Factor with their children.

The army top brass are now engaged in a major effort to secure the use of training grounds in the US, Kenya, Eastern Europe and the Middle East for use by home-based regiments.

They see this as key to maintaining combat skills, but also as a recruiting tool to attract youngsters looking for foreign adventure.

Plans being discussed by army staff call for almost every combat unit to take part in a major foreign training exercise lasting several weeks at least once every two years.

Not only will this give the troops some excitement, but it will also give the army, navy and air forces logistic planners much needed practice to move regiments and brigades from British garrisons to foreign war zones.

For the British Army, living and working at home will be a new experience that brings with it benefits and risks. The political implications are huge and signal that the government will now have to think very carefully before sending the army on major foreign adventures.

• Tim Ripley is a defence analyst and commentator.

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