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Britain's Armed Forces 'Woefully Under Strength'

Colonel Bob Stewart, DSO MP, London (Good Friday 14th April)

A Tory MP and former UN commander described the size of Britain's armed forces as "laughable" and "disgraceful".

Bob Stewart told MPs that Britain’s military was too small at a Westminster Hall debate yesterday.

He called on ministers to spend what is necessary and forget the target of spending 2% of GDP on defence.

Conservatives Leo Docherty and Jack Lopresti also put pressure on the Government by suggesting the target be raised to spending 3% of GDP on defence. The latest figures show that there are 82,210 full-time soldiers in the army but only 75,190 are fully trained - the government's 2020 target is 82,000.

Since 2014, the number of fully trained soldiers has fallen from 87,180 – despite the government meeting its target to reduce the number of personnel by more than 20,000 in 2015 (three years ahead of scheduled).

Mr Stewart, a former British Army officer and United Nations commander in Bosnia, said: "Clearly our armed forces will be much smaller than they've been in the past.

"I think it's disgraceful. I agree with (Mr Docherty) - we haven't got enough troops. 82,000 is laughable.

"It's smaller than our armed forces and our army has been since the 17th century.

"The total number of soldiers, sailors and airmen in uniform is about 160,000 to 170,000.

"Of course I want 2% spent of GDP, but actually I want more than that. I want what we need to spend on defence sorted out and we should do all our reviews by looking at what we need, not against some kind of figure."

Mr Docherty (MP for Aldershot) led the debate, saying that a "a very large and a very potent" armed forces was needed to face down global threats.

He said: "Mass does matter and it will continue to matter. "Now of course, as a former soldier it would come as no surprise that I'm an advocate and I will always be an advocate for bigger armed forces.

"In an ideal world, I would like to see not 2% of our GDP spent on defence, but somewhere nearer 3%.

"But we've got to live in the real world, we've got to play the pitch that we inherited, and we are still dealing with the legacy of Labour's mismanagement of the economy."

Mr Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) said: "Some colleagues are calling for 3%, given the uncertainty of the times we are in. "This is something we should consider seriously, looking at all the aspects of defence policy and the fact we are looking to increase our global presence and our global reach."

Shadow defence minister Wayne David said that specialist Royal Navy officers are being transferred between different ships due to their short supply.

The number of fully trained Royal Navy/Royal Marines personnel is 29,120 – a 1,330 shortfall from the government’s 2020 target.

Mr David said: "The Army is woefully - as we've heard - under strength, and rumours are rife that there may well be further cuts in the future.

"The RAF could certainly do with more personnel but the shortages are most acute arguably in the short term in the Royal Navy."

The latest figures also show the RAF to be 1,080 below the 2020 target of 31,750 fully trained personnel.

Defence minister Harriett Baldwin said:

"One of the things that it's important to emphasise is that we are committed to increasing our defence budget in every year of this Parliament.

"It is not just the link to the size of the economy, it is also a 0.5% link above inflation every year for the rest of this Parliament.

"We are already the second largest defence spender in Nato, we are the fifth largest in the world, and we will sustain this investment by continuing to meet that Nato guideline.

"We plan to spend £178 billion on new equipment and support to that equipment between now and 2026 - that investment allows us to maintain the size of the armed forces."

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