Morale among troops is “fragile”, the Defence Secretary admitted yesterday as he set out plans to cut the Army to its smallest size since the 19th century.
Philip Hammond announced that five infantry battalions and 12 other units would be axed in moves to reduce the manpower of the regular Army from its current 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020.
The planned reductions, which are part of a drive to cut defence spending by more than £4bn, were condemned by MPs of all parties in angry Commons scenes. The Army will be split into two sections — a ‘reaction force’ on standby for deployment to trouble-spots and an ‘adaptable force’ to back it up.
The number of reservists will be boosted to compensate for the cutbacks and ministers are drawing up plans to approach major employers to release staff in the Territorial Army for longer periods.
Mr Hammond admitted yesterday that the planned redundancies and disappearance of historic battalions was having an impact on the spirits of servicemen and women.
“Morale is fragile. We have a lot of work to do to take our people through these big changes,” he said. “People never like change — change brings uncertainty.”
There were cries of “shame” from MPs as he announced that four infantry battalions — the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards), the 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, and the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh — will disappear.
A fifth, the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), will be turned into a “public duties company” carrying out ceremonial duties in Scotland.
Northern Ireland appears unaffected by the changes.
Almost 7,000 redundancies have already been announced and they will be followed by approximately another 11,000 in two tranches over the next two years.