British army to be cut to 72,500 troops by 2025

Defence strategy review signals shift towards cyberwarfare and drones

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson is shown around the Team Tempest facility during a visit to BAE Systems at Warton aerodrome in Preston on Monday. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/AFP via Getty Images

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson is shown around the Team Tempest facility during a visit to BAE Systems at Warton aerodrome in Preston on Monday. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/AFP via Getty Images

 

The British army will shrink to 72,500 troops by 2025 as the country’s defence strategy shifts towards cyberwarfare and drones. A command paper published on Monday foresees major investment in long-range rocket systems, drones, electronic and cyber capabilities.

But the reduction of 10,000 in target troop strength will mean a major loss of conventional capability that military experts warned will leave Britain unable to carry out two major overseas deployments at the same time.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace said better technology could make British forces more effective with smaller numbers as he defended the troop cuts in the House of Commons.

“As the threat changes we must change with it, remaining clear-eyed about what capabilities we retire, why we are doing so and how they will be replaced,” he said.

“In defence it is too tempting to use the shield of sentimentality to protect previously battle-winning but now outdated capabilities. Such sentimentality, when coupled with over-ambition and under-resourcing, leads to even harder consequences down the line. It risks the lives of our people, who are truly our finest asset.”

Nato allies

Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healy said the decision to shrink the army was a mistake that would worry Britain’s Nato allies.

“It could seriously limit our forces’ capacity simultaneously to deploy overseas, support allies and maintain strong national defences and resilience,” he said.

“After cutting nearly 45,000 personnel from the armed forces over the last decade, this decision will be another blow to our forces, who rightly pride themselves on their history, dedication and skill. It will also cause concern amongst our military allies who rely on Britain’s contribution to collective defence.”

During a visit to BAE Systems, Europe’s biggest defence contractor, in Preston, Boris Johnson said the defence review would make British troops “more valuable” despite the cut in numbers.

“What we are doing is giving them the kit now that they will need to make themselves all the more useful, all the more, I’m afraid, lethal, and effective around the world. Therefore, all the more valuable to our allies, and all the more deterring to our foes,” he said.

“We don’t want to fight wars, we want to deter them, and we want to be useful around the world in partnership with our friends to keep the peace. To do that, you need strong, robust armed services of the kind that we are investing in, investing in for the long term, not just for military purposes, although that’s absolutely crucial, but for very, very good economic reasons as well.”