Defence chief believes Army numbers unlikely to fall below 73,000 following expected cuts

Watch: Admiral Sir Tony Radakin speaks to Forces News.

The head of Britain's Armed Forces believes the expected cuts to the British Army should be the last.

Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin told Forces News he expects planned cuts to Army numbers to go ahead, but says he does not anticipate the Army getting smaller amidst rumours that extra cuts to force numbers on top of those announced might be on the cards.

He said: "Some things are reasonably fixed, so the Government's made announcements about the size of its Armed Forces, the money available, some of the major programmes... and within those we are looking to see how we hone and refine and what adjustments we make to maintain our strength as the UK's Armed Forces but to be even stronger in the future."

On planned Army cuts

"My expectation is that planned cuts will go ahead," Admiral Sir Tony told Forces News.

He added: "My job is not to give guarantees, I follow the Government's line on this.

"The Government has been really clear on the size of its Armed Forces and where we currently are."

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the Chief of the Defence Staff at London Defence Conference 24052023 CREDIT BFBS
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin expects planned cuts to Army numbers to go ahead.

The defence chief had been speaking at the London Defence Conference, where he suggested that troop numbers were unlikely to fall below 73,000 when Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, publishes updated plans in a defence command paper in June.

"I don't think, with the defence command paper, that we anticipate that the Army's going to be smaller," he said.

The defence chief believes that the strength of the British Army is not in "mass".

He added: "I think we are slightly stuck in some of the numbers game. The numbers are important, I don't want to deny that, but the numbers aren't quite as totemic and as golden as people say. They can be a bit lazy as the arbiter of describing an armed force."

The Army currently has 76,000 regular soldiers, down from 97,000 in the past decade, and is set to see troop numbers fall further to 73,000.

Labour has called for the Government to halt the planned cuts, with shadow defence secretary John Healey calling them "perverse" at a time of increasing international threats, but the Prime Minister told the conference on Tuesday that he would not "second guess" military chiefs.

Benefits beyond simple 'mass'

Speaking at the conference, hosted at King's College London on Wednesday, Adm Radakin said the British Army had benefits beyond simple "mass".

He said: "The way that we describe mass, it's only through humans and the UK, as an armed force, has rarely been a major contributor in mass.

"We provide an operational advantage, whether that's because of fantastic intelligence services, fantastic special forces, nuclear submarines, amazing soldiers that are prepared to fight and lay down their lives.

"That's what our partners look for, but it's rarely mass."

He added: "In the future, our mass will be provided by technology much more than it is now."

Watch: The description 'hollowed out' has become increasingly familiar in describing the state of Britain's Armed Forces.

Lessons of the Ukraine War

Reflecting on the lessons of the Ukraine war, Admiral Radakin said the conflict was "an affirmation of the Western way of war" and underlined the importance of Nato to UK security.

He said: "Nato's got bigger by the addition of Finland. Nato will get even bigger again by the addition of Sweden. Nato has invested £350bn additional in terms of all of those countries putting more money into defence.

"Those are far bigger impacts than the conversations we're having about our domestic Armed Forces.

"And so, this fixation, I see sometimes, some newspapers, they portray a Russian Orbat (order of battle) against the UK, and yet we tell you as a policy that if we were to go to war with Russia it would be the whole of Nato and, suddenly, that Orbat is three million people in uniform, it's a couple of thousand ships and submarines, it's 15,000 tanks, it's thousands of fast jets."

Adm Radakin added: "The affirmation is we keep our nation safe by adopting collective security and being in the world's largest and most powerful military alliance ever, and the affirmation is further enhanced by being a nuclear power and being part of a nuclear alliance.

"Those are the foundations of why the UK is safe."

Watch: What impact has the war in Ukraine had on European defence spending?

Importance of tanks

Asked about the importance of tanks, Admiral Sir Tony said integration into Nato might mean they became less of a focus for the UK.

The last defence command paper, published in 2021, set out plans to cut the number of tanks in the British Army by a third, from 227 to 148.

Boris Johnson defended the policy, claiming that the days of "big tank battles" were over, but was criticised for these comments following the outbreak of war in Ukraine three months later.

Admiral Radakin, however, said tanks were not a "silver bullet" and the UK could rely on other Nato nations with stronger tank capabilities.

Watch: British Challenger 2 wins Nato tank competition.

Adm Radakin said: "When you look at the UK's Armed Forces, you have to then put them into where do we fit into Nato, where do we have particular capabilities that strengthen Nato, where do we rely on other countries that might have capabilities that we don't have?

"And then, are there some things that we might not be super strong in that capability, we want to have a modest element, and we'll expect others to be stronger.

"And the tank is an obvious one. There are other nations within Nato that are stronger tank nations. That doesn't necessarily mean that we dispense with tanks, it just means that in a balanced force, as part of a balanced international force, you then take those decisions as to how much do you need."

He added: "This notion that these are cliff-edge decisions and if you haven't got them suddenly you're naked and you're no longer safe, it's nonsense."

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