THE Ministry of Defence has slashed the number of regulars in the army by 20,000 three years ahead of schedule, new figures have revealed.
The revelation has raised concerns about the UK’s ability to have an effective armed forces with plans to fill the capability gap with reservists well behind schedule.
According to the latest figures, the army’s numbers are down to 82,000 from more than 100,000 in 2010, which was the target set for 2018.
Last month The Scotsman revealed that in the same five-year period, the MoD had only managed to recruit a net increase of 800 reservists and is almost 5,000 short of its target for 2020.
The figures have raised new concerns over the Tories’ strategy for the MoD with a debate ongoing over spending £100 billion to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent and the latest Strategic Defence and Security Review under way.
SNP defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara said: “It’s frustratingly ironic that the only thing the Tories appear to be able to deliver – and ahead of schedule – is cuts, cuts and more cuts. The Tories try to talk tough when it comes to defence but this is yet another example of their complete cull of conventional forces, all the while determined to press on with a renewal of Trident at the cost of £100 billion to the taxpayer.”
The MoD insisted that the army has the “manpower we need at the moment”, although the service faced challenges in recruiting.
But former commander Richard Kemp said it showed the plan was “incoherent”.
Col Kemp, a commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said: “To have already made the cuts by 2015, it shows confusion and targets that don’t match up. It doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
“The whole plan was to cover the gaps with reservists, but if you’ve not achieved that then it must mean that we have got deficiencies.
“Not only does that cause us concern about how we govern our people, but it is also the message we are sending to our enemies. That kind of message always shows aggression towards us.”
However, an MoD spokesman said: “This government is committed to an army of 82,000 and the funding is in place to deliver it. We have the manpower we need at the moment and, working with the army, we are taking clear action to keep driving recruitment upwards.”
The restructuring plan has previously been branded a “shambles’’ amid low recruitment levels of army reservists.
By April this year, the trained strength of the volunteer Army Reserve had reached 21,030, up by nearly 1,000 on the same time last year.