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Defence Secretary’s HoC Statement on Army Restructuring

HoC Oral Statement: Army Restructuring: Future Soldier (26 November 2021).

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ben Wallace) With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the details and implementation of the Army's future capabilities, structures and basing.

In March I came to the House to announce the outcome of the Defence Command Paper, part of our integrated review. I said that we must adapt to new threats, resist sentimentality, and match our ambitions to our resources if we are to field armed forces that remain relevant and credible for the challenges of the future. I also said that we owed it to our service personnel to ensure that we now turn that policy into reality and that the work to do so had only just begun.

The Army was tasked with undertaking the most significant modernisation in a generation and, after an intense period of planning—for which I am especially grateful to the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, Brigadier Clark and the rest of the team—I can now announce to Parliament the details of its plans, entitled “Future Soldier”.

Let me begin by paying tribute to those soldiers, the brave men and women of the British Army. To me, they are the finest in the world. Yesterday, we witnessed soldiers, alongside colleagues from other services, parade outside Parliament. It was an opportunity to pay tribute to their extraordinary endeavours during Operation Pitting, helping to evacuate some 15,000 people in a matter of weeks, and to thank them for their service and sacrifice throughout the decades-long Afghan campaign. It was also a reminder that the Army that departed Afghanistan was a very different one from that of 2001. But the Army of the future must adapt even more radically if it is to adapt to the threats of the future. Let us be clear: those are proliferating threats, from increasing humanitarian crises, to ever more capable and determined violent extremism and the use of proxy forces, to the ever present spectre of great power competition.

To keep pace with the changing character of warfare, our Army must be forward-looking, adaptable and embracing of new ways of working as much as new weapons and technologies. Not only must it have the best force structure to counter an ever growing range of threats to the UK, our people and interests, but it must achieve our ambitions on schedule and in budget. Thanks to the Prime Minister's record settlement for defence announced at last year's spending review, we have been given the time and resources to undertake the generational modernisation that defence needs.

Far from being deprived of investment as some claim, we are injecting £41.3 billion into Army equipment and support this decade. That is £8.6 billion more than had been planned prior to the integrated review. We are using those funds to create a modern, innovative and digitised Army. Our future Army will be leaner but more productive, prioritising speed and readiness over mass mobilisation, but still over 100,000 strong, integrating regulars and reserves, as well as all the civil servants and partners from the private sector. As the Chief of the General Staff has said, it must be an Army that places a premium

“not just on mass, but on critical mass; relevant, networked, deployable”.

The Army will now be reorganised to operate on a continuous basis, fielding all the relevant capabilities for this era of constant competition, and persistently engaged around the globe, supporting our partners and deterring our adversaries. Crucially, it will also be an Army that is designed for genuine warfighting credibility, as an expeditionary fighting force that will be both deployable and lethal when called on to fight and win. Since the publication of the defence Command Paper, my officials have worked hard to finalise a reform programme to deliver our priorities at home and abroad. Our future soldiers will find that tomorrow's Army has six distinct elements.

First, it will be globally engaged, with more personnel deployed for more of the time, employed in a new network of regional hubs based on existing training locations in places such as Oman and Kenya.

Secondly, it will be a key contributor to NATO warfighting, capable of fielding a division throughout the decade, as we transition to the new capabilities for a fully modernised warfighting division by 2030.

Thirdly, it will be enhanced by state-of-the-art equipment, including upgraded tanks and digitally-networked armoured vehicles, as well as long-range precision strike, cyber and electromagnetic capabilities.

Fourthly, it will exploit innovation and experimentation to get ahead of the evolving threats. Not only will the Army share the £6.6 billion of defence's increased research and development investment, but next year both the new British Army battle lab and a dedicated unit, the Army trials and experimentation group, will be established to stay at the cutting edge.

Fifthly, it will have integration at its heart, bringing together regulars, reserves and civil servants to form a more productive force with warfighting and resilience at its heart and cross-Government working in its DNA.

Sixthly and finally, it will be an Army that benefits the whole of our Union, with an increased proportion of the Army based in each of the devolved nations and expenditure contributing to prosperity throughout the United Kingdom under our upcoming land industrial strategy.

I am pleased to report that we have already made substantial progress. When it comes to global engagement, we have formed the new Army special operations brigade, in which the new ranger regiments will sit; established the security force assistance brigade; and set up a NATO holding area in Sennelager, Germany. In terms of warfighting, we have reinforced NATO's Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, established new brigade combat teams and reinforced the Army's global response force.

Over the next five years, implementation will continue apace. At the end of this year, our new ranger regiment will reach initial operating capability. By mid-2022 our new deep recce strike brigade combat team will be established, and by Autumn next year two battalions of the Mercian Regiment will merge to form a new Boxer-mounted battalion in one of our armoured combat teams. The recapitalisation of major equipment is already under way. I am determined to do everything within our means to accelerate the introduction of Challenger 3 tanks, with an ambition for their delivery to units starting from 2025 onwards. Likewise, we are transitioning to Boxer armoured personnel carriers from the retiring Warrior, with units starting to receive their first vehicles from 2023.

We are resolving development issues with the troubled but, none the less, technically capable Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicle. We are also upgrading the battle-proven Apache attack helicopters while investing in everything from long-range precision strike, ground-based air defence, uncrewed aerial systems, electronic warfare and tactical cyber. These cutting-edge capabilities will be wielded by the newly restructured brigade combat teams—self-sufficient tactical formations with their own combat support and logistics. They will include 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team and a new aviation brigade combat team, which together will form our global response force, providing defence's rapid response for crises overseas.

Let me now turn to our plans to streamline the Army force structures. For too long, historical infantry structures have inhibited our Army's transformation. We cannot afford to be slaves to sentiment when the threat has moved on. Today I can therefore confirm a major reorganisation under four new administrative divisions of infantry: the Queen's Division, the Union Division, the Light Division, and the Guards and Parachute Division. These divisions are designed to reflect historic ties, while balancing the numbers of battalions and unit roles, offering greater flexibility and opportunity to soldiers of all ranks.

As announced in March, these plans do not involve the deletion of any cap badges, further major unit changes or any military redundancies. Although we are significantly reducing the total number of Army personnel, we are not compromising our presence in and contribution to the devolved nations. The numbers will reduce slightly everywhere except Wales, but we are increasing the proportion of the Army based in each nation and investing millions in the defence industry and estate.

Northern Ireland will keep the same number of battalions, but host a greater proportion of the Army's workforce and gain an additional reserve company of the Royal Irish. Scotland will be home to more battalions—going from six to seven units—and a greater proportion of the Army than today. We will be retaining Glencorse barracks and will grow in Kinloss and Leuchars, thanks to £355 million of investment in the Army estate.

Wales will see the return of the Welsh cavalry—the Queen's Dragoon Guards—to Caerwent barracks and a new reserve company of 3rd Battalion, the Royal Welsh to be established in north Wales. The retention of the Brecon barracks and the growth of Wrexham are just part of a £320 million investment in the Army estate in Wales.

I know that colleagues will be enthusiastic to learn the basing implications for their own constituencies. The full breakdown of the Army's new structure can be found on the Government website or by clicking on the link in the “Dear colleague” letter that will be distributed.

Our future Army will be as agile in the new domains of cyber and space as it is on the ground. It will contribute the most personnel of all the services to those enhanced information-age functions, such as the National Cyber Force and Defence Intelligence, which are so critical to our new integrated force. In practical terms, this amounts to an additional 500 regular personnel, taking the number from 72,500 to 73,000. Together with the more than 10,000 Army personnel who work in other parts of defence, we will now, as I said, have a figure of 73,000.

As I said back in March, the size and capabilities of our Army must be dictated by the threat. What we can show on paper or even muster on parade matters little if we cannot rely on those numbers when it counts, or deliver the relevant capabilities required. Unlike the purely financial or numerically driven reviews of the past, we have taken a positive, pragmatic approach, matching our size to the current security environment and the Government's current ambition.

Every single unit will be affected in some way by this change, and transformation on this scale requires radical change at the top of the Army. By 2025, the Army's headquarters will be reduced by 40% regular personnel, and reserves integration will be made more productive across the force. Notably, the covid pandemic underlined the need for resilience structures that can cope with crises on the home front, so a new reserve brigade based in York will ensure that we can provide forces at the point of need. Simultaneously, we will be strengthening our Army's institutional foundation across the United Kingdom by establishing regional points of command.

Our Army has always been defined by its people and their adaptive, resilient, determined and diverse qualities, so this review puts investment in human capital first. The more we use our people, the more we must make sure they are properly supported. That is why we will be modernising individuals' careers and family assistance, all of which will be consolidated in an Army people plan published early next year. Finally, in this more competitive age, we will ensure that equipping our people with the ability to understand, compete, and fight across all domains is firmly at the forefront of defence policy making.

This is an Army that we can remain proud of, not just for its historical achievements or the “Top Trumps” comparisons of numbers of tanks and people in its ranks, but because it is an honest force that is credible and relevant, relentlessly adapting to confront the threats to the nation and meet the challenges of the future, changing the way it operates as much as the equipment with which it does it, and evolving culturally as much as structurally to place our future soldier in the best possible position to compete in all domains, both old and new, to shape our world for the better. Like their forebears, I am certain they will grasp these opportunities with both hands. It is certainly an Army that I would have liked to serve in. I am certain that this modernisation programme will allow them to do just that and ensure the Army remains both relevant and credible, in support of our Prime Minister's vision for a global Britain that is a safer, stronger and more prosperous place. I commend this statement to the House.

The exchanges that followed can be found using the source link below.

Topics of discussion included:

  • the need for the Army to adapt to new threats (including climate change risks), weapons and technology, and Government action to support them in doing so
  • the balance of making the British Army efficient while remaining strong in number
  • an increased focus on innovation within the Army, including the new British Army battle lab and a dedicated unit
  • specific Army contributions to tackling cyber threats
  • lack of clarity on Army strategy and size provided by the update
  • the danger of cutting army numbers and scaling back provisions when the replacements are not ready
  • the Government’s broken election promise not to cut army numbers
  • integrating the proposals with those of NATO countries
  • the impact of skills shortages and poor pay and conditions within the Army
  • problems within the Ministry of Defence procurement system



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