My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence earlier in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, I would like to update the House on the details and implementation of the Army’s future capabilities, structures and basing. In March I stood here 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 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 intensive 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 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 not just to pay tribute to their extraordinary endeavours during Operation Pitting in helping to evacuate some 15,000 people in a matter of weeks or 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.
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 threats are proliferating ones, from increasing humanitarian crises to evermore capable and determined violent extremists and proxy forces, and 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—£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, and deployable. So the Army will 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. But, crucially, it will also be an Army designed for genuine warfighting credibility, as an expeditionary fighting force that will be deployable and lethal when called upon 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 tomorrow’s Army has six distinct elements.
First, it will be globally engaged, with more personnel deployed for more of the time, employing 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 R&D 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.
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 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 in 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. By the autumn of 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 also 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 receiving vehicles from 2023. We are resolving development issues with the troubled, but none the less technically capable, Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicle. We are upgrading the battle-proven Apache attack helicopters, while investing in everything from long-range precision strike ground-based air defence, to 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 to crises overseas.
I turn now to our plans to streamline the Army force structures. For too long, historic infantry structures have inhibited our Army’s transformation. We cannot afford to be slaves to sentiment when the threat has moved on. So today I can 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 also balancing their 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. While we are significantly reducing the total number of Army personnel, we are not compromising our presence in and contribution to the devolved nations. While numbers will reduce slightly everywhere except Wales, we are increasing the proportion of the Army based in each nation and investing millions in their 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 we will grow in Kinloss and Leuchars thanks to £355 million investment in the Army estate, delivering more than £1 billion of economic benefits.
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 established in north Wales. The retention of the Brecon barracks and the growth in Wrexham are just part of a £320 million investment in the Army estate in Wales. I know colleagues will be enthusiastic to learn the basing implications for their own constituencies, and the full breakdown of the Army’s new structure will be able to be found on GOV.UK after this Statement, or by clicking the link through 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 us from 72,500 personnel to 73,000. This will not incur any additional cost, since these positions had already been budgeted for within our spending review settlement. Together with the more than 10,000 Army personnel who work in other parts of defence, we will now have a new headline regular Army figure of 73,000, as I said.
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 current ambition of this Government.
Mr Speaker, transformation on this scale—every single unit will be affected in some way—requires radical structural and cultural change and that change must start at the top of the Army. So, 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 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 in the new 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 this nation and to meet the challenges of the future.
We will change the way it operates as much as the equipment with which it does so and evolve culturally as much as structurally, to place our future soldier in the best possible position to compete in all domains, both new and old, 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 I would have liked to have served 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.”
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement. In particular, I associate myself with the remarks she made about the return of our Armed Forces to Parliament yesterday.
It was the Government’s defence Command Paper, published only this year, which outlined a significant restructuring of the Army, including an overall reduction in troop numbers from 82,000 to 73,000 by 2025. This broke an election promise from the Prime Minister, and RUSI stated soon after that these cuts ended an era in which the UK could describe itself as a full-spectrum military power.
Today’s Statement confirms that the Army will be reorganised into a “leaner Army”, as the Secretary of State for Defence calls it, under four new administrative divisions of infantry. He said that numbers are reducing everywhere, but we must wait for a full breakdown online. It is welcome that the Government are responding to new threats of technology, cyber and hybrid warfare, but this should not be at the expense of other needed capabilities. Can the Minister reassure us that this is not the case? Can she reveal the impact on base closures to this Chamber now? Can she confirm that not one member of the Armed Forces will receive a redundancy package? Can she also explain what this Army restructuring means for European restructuring, our NATO commitments and global Britain?
We believe that, while our Armed Forces are highly respected worldwide for their professionalism and all-round excellence, numbers still matter. Our full-time forces are already nearly 10,000 below the strength that Ministers said in 2015 was needed to meet the threats that Britain faces. Can the Minister confirm the actual and final number for troop reduction and any timeline for that?
These cuts to Army personnel come at a time when the threats to the UK and our allies are growing and diversifying, especially if we consider various developments —for example, in Ukraine. Deeper cuts now could limit our forces’ capability and capacity to deploy overseas, support allies, maintain strong national defences and reinforce domestic resilience. Therefore, we believe that these reductions to the Army should be paused, pending a review, and reversed if necessary.
The procurement and delivery of armoured vehicles, which are vital to the protection of infantry on the ground, are also in disarray. The number of Challenger main battle tanks due to be upgraded has been reduced, the Warrior capability sustainment programme has been axed, and its replacement, Boxer, is unproven. Notwithstanding the remarks the Minister made in the Statement, can she give a further update to the Chamber on how these various programmes and their replacements are progressing? The £5.5 billion Ajax programme is more than four years late on its in-service date and has been beset by noise and excessive vibration problems, resulting in injured personnel. So far, just 14 have been delivered, at a cost of approximately £3.5 billion. Could the Minister give us an update on the current situation with Ajax?
Today’s Statement also comes at a time when Ministers are becoming increasingly reliant on troops to fix problems at home. There were 359 instances of civilian aid last year and 237 in the year to date. That is up from 120 or so in the four previous years. In Written Answers published just a few weeks ago, the Minister revealed that around 560 military personnel are currently deployed on supporting the NHS, 500 personnel are helping to supply fuel around the country, and 4,000 troops are on standby to help with Covid support. Can the Minister give us any update on how this restructuring may impact the support that the Army gives to the many emergency services around the country and on the various emergencies that occur?
Finally, change is always needed, but we seem to keep changing the changes. Is this the last time that we can expect there to be a major Command Paper or Statement changing things that were seen only a few years ago as essential for the defence and security of our nation? I finish by saying again how proud we all were to welcome our Armed Forces to Parliament yesterday. This Statement gives all of us an opportunity to mark that memorable occasion.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement and am glad we have gone back to having Statements repeated, rather than them being assumed to have been read. I have just come straight from the debate on genocide, led by the noble Lord, Lord Alton; I was trying to read the Statement during that debate, but it was such an important debate that it was quite difficult to read anything. It has been very helpful to hear the Minister, but this is also important to get a sense of the Chamber. When something is read out, you can see reactions.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I pay tribute to our Armed Forces. Sadly, I was not in Westminster yesterday, so was not able to help welcome back those from Op Pitting, but obviously the whole nation pays tribute to our Armed Forces, everything they have done in that operation, and the many things done in the 18 months to two years in which we have been dealing with Covid.
As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, we are now using our Armed Forces very extensively, yet we seem to think we can have them ever reducing in size. I am a bit worried about this idea of the “future soldier”; I am hoping there will be more than one of them and that this is not a Matchbox idea of an identikit soldier, but rather a strange, generic name meaning the 73,000 personnel that I think we will have as full-time regulars.
I found the Statement extremely confusing, and I do not think it was the way the Minister read it or my inability to read the statistics at short notice. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, we had a headline goal of 82,000 personnel, which was going to be reduced; at the moment, we are on only about 76,000 anyway. We are now told that another 500 soldiers means an increase to 73,000, but that is still fewer than we have at the moment, so will we see cuts or increases and is this anything more than hypothetical?
At one point, we were given the figure of over 100,000 personnel, including the reserves. Could the Minister clarify what assessment the Government have made about the actual number of personnel needed in an integrated force of regulars and reserves? What will the total target number be and is 500 actually an addition or not?
The second area where there is something a little misleading is the fact that one of the five points we are supposed to take away from this Statement is that there are benefits for the
“whole of our union, with an increased proportion of the Army based in each of the devolved nations”.
That sounds wonderful, but then you look at the detail and realise that that means a larger proportion of a smaller force, so that, with the exception of Wales, the devolved nations will have not actually more personnel serving but just a larger proportion. I am not sure that will feel like a real bonus in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Could the Minister explain how the devolved nations will actually benefit, in a tangible way?
Finally, on capabilities—sorry, it is not finally, I have two more points. On capabilities, the Statement says:
“We are resolving development issues with the, nonetheless technically capable, Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicle.”
Can the Minister reassure us that this vehicle will ever come into service? Is it really fit for purpose?
My final point is that we have had the Armed Forces Bill going through this place. We are almost at the final stages, but we have talked a lot about AI. That is touched on in the report. Will there be enhanced training for our future soldiers in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and how will that be brought it into the reduced size of the Armed Forces?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their comments. A number of interesting points have been raised. I welcome the noble Lord’s acknowledgement of living in a world of new threats requiring new technologies and capabilities. That absolutely is what Future Soldier is all about. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, used the rather provocative phrase “identikit soldier”. No, this means the absolute opposite; it means a flexible, fluid, resilient force in which we need people of talent and of disparate attributes and qualifications, who will all be able to find a place.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked a number of specific questions, not least on redundancies. I can say to him that there will be no Armed Forces redundancies as part of any restructuring. He was also interested in the timing in relation to the 73,000. My information is that the reduction of the Army will take place over the next four years, so we aim to reach that figure by 2025.
The noble Lord also asked a question about bases. I have very detailed information about that, and it is, generally speaking, good news. It is a mixture of bases which will stay where they are—some that were threatened with closure have now been reprieved, while others have closure dates that have been deferred. The easiest thing I can offer to do is to write to the noble Lord, because there is a picture pan the UK, so I hope he will forgive me if I do that.
The noble Lord spoke in a slightly bilious tone about equipment. I look through a glass half full rather than a glass half empty, because there is a very good story to tell. With the new shape of the Army, we are recognising that innovation, technology and digital transformation all have a role to play. Part of it is recognising sunset capabilities, which will be phased out, but, as I mentioned when I repeated the Statement, there are really exciting prospects, whether with Boxer, the Challenger 3 version of the tank or some of our new technical innovations.
The noble Lord asked specifically about Ajax. That remains at the heart of the Army’s plans for a modernised fleet of armoured vehicles for the future. We are not underestimating the challenges which have emerged in the developmental stage, but that is not in any way to diminish the potential of what will be a hugely important addition to our capability. As the noble Lord knows, the MoD and General Dynamics are currently working on and committed to identifying the root causes of the noise and vibration issues, and want to deliver a safe solution. So, rather than being pessimistic about equipment, I think that we can be very optimistic. It is part of a conjunction: not only do we have to get the correct configuration of the Army but we have to make sure, as I said in repeating the Statement, that it has the equipment that it needs.
The noble Lord raised an important point about Covid support and the extent to which we have been deploying our Armed Forces—I think that we would all want to thank them for this—in responding to the challenge of Covid. They have made a vital contribution on behalf of the country to supporting us all as we come through this pandemic.
The noble Lord hit on a very important point. One of the most exciting features of this Statement is that at long last it not only gives the reservists recognition and definition but acknowledges that they are an essential part of a whole-force approach. The reservists can offer us additional skills, expertise and talents that we may not readily have to hand within our Regular Forces. The recognition that the reservists have a tremendous potential to support us in a lot of the resilience work—hence the new unit in York—is an important development on that front. So I wish to reassure the noble Lord that, far from depleting availability of resource, the new proposals augment and sustain that facility.
The noble Lord asked rather mischievously whether this was the last major Command Paper and whether we could expect another one. I am old enough and long enough in the tooth to say sagely that we do not know what is around the corner. We make decisions for the best of reasons at the times that we make them. These decisions are based on a robust assessment of what threats are and where we are in relation to responding to them in the world we live in, where we now have technologies that we did not dream of 10 years ago. I think that the noble Lord will understand that we are responding to that as a Government innovatively, imaginatively and positively, and this is a very positive development for the Army.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about the 73,000 figure and the extra 500. I reassure her that these 500 people are not imaginary; they already exist. They are already budgeted for under our existing structures. They are people of particular skill and talent who have been identified and who can be deployed to these specific technical areas. Yes, inclusive of the reservists, we expect a total force of more than 100,000, and that is a very impressive capability.
The noble Baroness asked about benefits to the union and whether, at the end of the day, we are not giving the different countries within the union a rather poor deal if we are reducing the overall size of the cake. I absolutely disagree with that. I think, as we know, Wales in particular will see an increase. In Northern Ireland and certainly in Scotland, we will see a sustained commitment to the presence in those two parts of the United Kingdom, and that is very healthy. In the case of Scotland, we will see an additional unit, retention of premises that some people were very speculative about and thought would be closed—they are not going to be closed—and a major increase in the presence over and above the Army. In Scotland, if we take into account the submarine headquarters now based in Clyde, HM Naval Base Clyde, and the huge expansion at RAF Lossiemouth to accommodate Poseidon, which has been a big development, with the intention that Wedgetail will go there as well, we have an overall figure for regulars and reserves across the three forces of approximately 14,500 people. That is a very significant presence, and I know that it is a presence that is considered very positive by people in Scotland.
The noble Baroness asked basically whether the Army was fit for purpose. The answer is yes, but, without this, it might not have been. We will be able to field a fighting division in the future; we will be able to respond to our allies and supporters. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised a point in relation to NATO. He is quite correct: we will honour our obligations to NATO. It means that our Army will be better connected, faster and pound for pound more lethal than ever before. It will be integrated across domains with allies in NATO and beyond.
The noble Baroness’s final point was about artificial intelligence, and she had a pertinent question about whether we were sure we were getting the people in that we will need. That is a very relevant and important question. The answer is that we will continue to recruit great people—we have great people, but we will continue to recruit them. There is a need for a broader range of skills, including digital and cyber experts, so the Army will transform the way in which it identifies talent and how it trains its people. There will also be a step change in Army education and professional upskilling, all of which is relevant to what we are trying to do. As I said in the Statement, this is an investment in the human element of the Army, not just an investment in structure, buildings and equipment. We are investing in our people to give the Army the intellectual edge that it needs. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness.
I think that I have dealt with the questions that were raised, but I shall look at Hansard and, if I have missed anything out, I shall undertake to write to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness.
I thank the Minister very much for her Statement. Like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to our Armed Forces, particularly those who have been serving in recent years in Afghanistan under such testing and difficult circumstances.
Obviously, the main thrust of the Statement—rapid deployment and cutting-edge technology, particularly cyberwarfare—is absolutely right. However, as one of the diminishing number of people who served in the mid-1950s, when, if my memory serves me correctly, we had 1 million soldiers in the British Army of the Rhine alone, it comes as quite a shock that we are now talking about an Army of only 100,000 or so. What particularly worries me is that, in recent years, recruitment, even to this number, has not been satisfactory; there has always been a shortfall. What new strategies are there to ensure that this number of 100,000 is at least maintained? Of course, in this new Army, reservists, as the Minister rightly said, will play a significant role, with something like 27,000 of them. Is the Minister satisfied that the number of people with the right qualifications are coming forward for the reserve element in the Army?
I thank the noble and right reverend Lord very much indeed. He raises two important points. On recruitment, he is correct that challenges with recruitment were identified, and the approach to recruitment changed—and, actually, the position has turned around and is very encouraging. Part of what we are doing is to try to ensure that the Army represents an attractive career with an attractive future. Therefore, we are optimistic that recruitment will not be an issue and there will continue to be a good rate of applications to join the Army. We have no reason to think that that will not materialise.
On reservists and skills, one consequence of this reconfiguration, as I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is to make this a much more attractive prospect for reservists, for two reasons. It gives them a sense that they are valued, acknowledged and regarded as part of the scene, as it were; whereas I think before that they may have felt that they were on the periphery, additional when needed but not at the centre of activity. This turns that around and makes sure that they are part of a whole-force approach.
The other interesting thing is, with the changes that have been introduced and some of the innovations that have been implemented in very recent times, we are now offering greater flexibility to reservists so they can choose, along with their employers, what is a suitable period of commitment for them. It used to be much more rigid: it was a short period away and then back to the full-time job. We are trying to make sure that that is much more flexible. We think that that will also appeal to a lot of people, depending on where they are in their career in the outside world, and that should facilitate heightened interest in the reserves, and, I hope, encourage more people to sign up to be reservists, in the knowledge that we are tailoring a system that is designed to suit them and their employers, as well as benefiting our whole-force approach.
There is much to be excited about in this announcement—there is quite a lot of novelty—and, if I turned the clock back, I think it is an Army that I would want to join. I congratulate the architects. My worry is that, despite some presentational sleight of hand, it is an Army that will be some 9,000 fewer—and with that smaller Army the delivery will depend on a number of challenging things. Regardless of what the Minister has just said, it needs a perfect recruiting system. In respect of the reserves, it needs the willingness of employers to release reserves not as a last resort but as an integral part of what the Army needs to function on a daily basis. It also demands the adoption of some robotic and autonomous systems, which currently do not even have a legal framework within which to operate.
More widely, however, I want to turn to MACA—military aid to the civil authorities—which involves such things as assistance with foot and mouth, floods, Nightingale hospitals, post-Brexit supply chains and Covid vaccinations; all those things. Historically, those come out of what is called the Armed Forces’ irreducible capacity, but where within this structure is the irreducible spare capacity to meet the exponential rise in the tasks that relate to the resilience of the nation and which featured in the integrated review as among the principal future threats to the country? You cannot have reserves released by their employers to do MACA tasks in the UK when they form an essential part of making the regular force resilient. I think this House should be worried, despite many of the attractive novelties contained in this announcement.
First, I thank the noble and gallant Lord very much indeed for his initial reaction and for his very helpful observation that this is an Army that he would like to join, as I understood him to say. I think that says a lot.
The noble and gallant Lord raises important issues. He first of all mentioned the reduction in the number of personnel. I think he will be aware of this, but in the past we tended to have numbers in boxes and on pieces of paper, which was very comforting, but actually they did not reflect the number of people whom we could call on if the chips were down. For various reasons, the numbers were perhaps inaccurate, or people were unavailable, and they were not a regular or reliable indicator of who we had to hand. The intention behind all this is that, when we talk about these figures, they represent men and women who are on hand, ready to serve and can be called upon.
The noble and gallant Lord mentioned recruitment. I repeat what I said to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, that recruitment has had fairly positive progress in the past two or three years, and we hope that can continue. On the reservists, again, as I indicated, we have always had an interest in the reserve side of our Armed Forces. There is nothing to suggest that that is diminishing. The whole point about the new structures and flexibilities is that that will be increasingly attractive to them. He made the important point that that is only as good as the willingness of the reservists to be more involved and the willingness of their employers to release them. Attempts have been made to ensure that that is a more flexible territory, whereby reservists benefit from getting long periods off. On the whole, employers have a very positive attitude to reservists, so we hope that that attitude of co-operation will continue.
On AI, the noble and gallant Lord is quite right: it continues, as we discussed during the passage of the Armed Forces Bill, to be an intricate, complex and challenging environment. He is aware that, as far as the MoD is concerned, there is a defence strategy coming out fairly imminently, so I cannot say any more about that, other than to reiterate what I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that we are very clear that we must recruit to the Army people with skills that we need—and we will need the skills of people conversant with those areas of activity. The noble and gallant Lord makes an important point that we want to be sure that we have personnel who are of a calibre to cope with that new environment.
In relation to overall resilience and the Army’s ability to respond to the MACA requests, we have seen that very vividly and impressively articulated in the response to Covid—it is an important point. Bringing in recognition of the reserves and the appointment of the new company in York acknowledges that we need a way of steadily addressing that resilience issue so that we have a core of people poised to respond to these situations. We do not then necessarily take other forces away from what may be important deployed activity. I wish to reassure the noble Lord that implicit in the new structure is this essential component of flexibility and fluidity, so that there is much more movement and much more of a focus on having people available—maybe in smaller units; I accept that—to go to the job when the job needs to be done, wherever that job arises.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for repeating the Statement. On the point made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, when I joined the TA in 1974, we had 70,000 men and women in the TA alone. I accept that we need to make changes. There is no room for sentimentality, but I am worried that we are being too ambitious and trying to do everything. I am worried that we have too many chiefs and not enough Indians, at all levels.
Though there are numerous questions to ask about defence policy, I will ask three. It was said in the Statement that we will
“operate on a continuous basis … persistently engaged around the globe”,
with many operations being conducted simultaneously. That sounds great, and I accept that our strategic airlift is well organised, but I understand that it is a limiting factor now. What happens when we deploy a whole division? Do we have the airlift to do so? I do not think we do. The Statement referred to the Challenger 3 tank; the programme sounds hopelessly optimistic in suggesting delivery from 2025 onwards, given the technology involved. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that Challenger 3 will not have electric drive? Will the engine remain the CV12 engine supplied by Caterpillar, and will it have a diesel common rail direct injection system? My noble friend the Minister may want to write on that point. I will resist the temptation to talk about Ajax.
Finally and importantly, the primary role of the British Army is to train for war, but it sounds like we will be on operations all the time—numerous operations—and in contact with the enemy. There seems little time to train, especially for medium and large-scale operations. Most importantly, do we risk having too high a post-traumatic stress disease bill from continuing operations in contested environments?
My noble friend covered a lot of ground there. Let me see if I can deal with some of the points. He mentioned the possibility of too many chiefs, but I would make two observations. First, as was indicated in the Statement, at Army headquarters, there will be a 40% drop in the number of regular Army personnel, so that is one way of reassuring the Chamber that we are alert to the need to simplify the structures. The other thing implicit in the new structures is that we are providing opportunities for people to join and see career progress. If we have chiefs, we want them to be the right people —in my case, I want them to be women as well as men. If we can broaden the base, which is what this is all about, and provide more channels for activity and for operational work, we will get more people into these units, and they will see a fulfilling career ahead of them.
My noble friend was a little pessimistic about whether we are biting off more than we can chew. I would say no, we are not. The Army will continue to be a fighting entity and to have a warfighting division at its heart. The future structure will comprise two deployable manoeuvre divisions—the 1st and 3rd (UK) Divisions—and one information, manoeuvre and unconventional warfare division, which is the 6th (UK) Division. Thought has been given to what we are trying to do and how we do it.
On the Challenger tank, I am afraid my mechanical engineering knowledge is way short of what is necessary to reply to my noble friend. I will offer to write to him, which I hope is acceptable to him. His final question was on the important matter of the welfare of our Armed Forces. Indeed, I have a sense of déjà vu here, because we talked about this at length in our debates on the Armed Forces Bill. At the heart of what the Government and the MoD do with our Armed Forces is their welfare and well-being. Very important developments have been made in that field. I would hope that my noble friend’s prognosis as to the future would not manifest greater instances of people suffering from post-operational trauma or from mental health issues. We want to ensure that our Armed Forces personnel operate in environments where, with the support and advice that they get, they are spared that. If there are people who are unfortunately affected by such health conditions, we absolutely will make sure that we are in there supporting them, whether directly within their Armed Force environment or through many of the other support agencies available in conjunction with the MoD and the NHS.
My Lords, there are many things in the Minister’s Statement that I welcome, and a more high-tech, more professional military with the most modern equipment is something that I think we all welcome. What worries me is that the Statement mentioned the word “global” four times. Do we really think we are a global power any more? We have one aircraft carrier, I think, which is fiddling around in the China Sea; maybe it has some Ajax tanks on trial there, but do we think we are going to invade China with it? We are getting to be a bit naive on this. Surely the time has come to get rid of some of this gear and concentrate on the humanitarian elements that the Army does and has done so very well, and to cut out some of these vanity projects that, to me, are just a massive waste of money.
I can see that the noble Lord is not filled with festive enthusiasm for the Statement. I disagree with his assessment; I think that being a global power is not about chest-beating or trying to talk big and look big. Being a global power is about trying to make sure that, where you can work with allies and partners who share the same values, then, together on a global basis, you can influence agendas and bring support to where it may be required.
The noble Lord said that he thought we had one aircraft carrier. I am pleased to inform him that we in fact have two. I am also pleased to inform him that Carrier Strike Group 21, which has been operating over the last few months, most recently in south-east Asia and the Indo-Pacific, has proved an amazingly effective convening power. I can tell the noble Lord at first hand that the interest of other powers in what we have been doing has been extraordinary. They want to understand what we are doing, they want to visit and be on the carrier, and they want to be part of that activity. It is not about going around the world threatening people; it is simply making sure that we are a global presence, that we have a convening power and that we can reassure our friends and allies in different parts of the world that we are in the business of wanting to stand with them, shoulder to shoulder, and to support them if they feel in any way intimidated, never mind threatened. That is what we try to do.
The noble Lord suggested that there is a binary choice between having an effective defence capability—which of course is what the Government want and, I would argue, is very much what we do have—and dealing with humanitarian challenges. It is not a binary choice; the obligation of a responsible state is to deal with both. It is in fact our naval and military capabilities that enable us to respond to humanitarian situations. He makes an important point, but I do not think that it is a question of one or the other—you try to address both.
I certainly disagree with his somewhat depressed assessment of where we are. What we are doing with our defence capability in the United Kingdom is positive, strong, necessary, effective and, let me tell him, much admired, not least in NATO. He has a vision of what is meant by the phrase “global power”, but it is not about some Victorian caricature of people strutting around looking self-important; it is being at the cutting-edge of the real-life, 21st-century global existence and trying to be a presence for good within that.
My Lords, the future size has been referred to. Keeping the peace necessitates preparing for war, with the potential need for rapid escalation. What consideration has been given by planners to the capability to react on parallel fronts, given that this is a regrettable possibility?
The noble Viscount raises a good question. I would say that, implicit within the reconfiguration of what we are doing, is the very desire to introduce the flexibility to which he is referring, so that we have the capacity to respond quickly and effectively if a need arises. I think if he looks not just at the size of the Army but at how we now propose to restructure it into, I think, a much more intelligent way to address threat, wherever it is found and in whatever form it manifests itself, he will see that this is a very reassuring way forward to do just that.