The British Army’s third highest ranking officer has raised further doubts on government plans to slim down the armed forces. General Sir Richard Shirreff, told the Sunday Times that plans to slash active personnel from 102,000 to 82,000 represented “one hell of a risk”.
Sir Richard said: “We all support the efforts to get the deficit down but it is all about priorities. What really matters? Well, the first duty of government is to protect the nation. Defence is really, really important.
“And the electorate need to understand there is no point in having hospitals and schools and welfare unless the country is safe.”
General Shirreff’s statements come as it was revealed that Britain now has fewer tanks than Switzerland – a country that has not fought a war in 150 years. The Mail reports that Britain maintains 227 active Challenger 2 tanks, “while the famously neutral Swiss have 380 German-made Leopard 2 vehicles.” Russia currently has 2,550 tanks and the US has 10,000.
Shirreff went on to point out that the government had made a pretty good fist of a very difficult hand of cards but said: “‘I wouldn’t want to let anybody think that I think that Army 2020 is good news, it’s not.
“The sort of defence cuts we have seen… have really hollowed out the British armed forces and I think that people need to sit up and recognise that.
“A hollowed-out navy means you can’t project power. I’ve heard this said in the Ministry of Defence: ‘The yardstick by which we measure ourselves is our ability to punch above our weight’. You can’t do that now. By that yardstick, therefore, we’re failing.”
The news comes after the House of Commons Defence Committee Select Committee claimed that Russia’s actions in Crimea has taught us the that state-on-state conflict remains a threat. They went on to say that the UK must maintain a “credible deterrent” against threats such as nuclear and cyber attacks.