British Military 'Could Become Hollow Force'

Alistair Bunkall, Defence Correspondent
British Military 'Could Become Hollow Force'

The UK's Armed Forces are at risk of becoming a "hollow force", the country's senior military officer has warned.

Delivering his first annual Christmas address to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) , General Sir Nicholas Houghton said the Royal Navy would not be able to take any more cuts, but equally the military must earn the right to have its budget increased.

The Chief of the Defence Staff said he would identify the Royal Navy as being "perilously close to its critical mass in manpower terms" but also conceded that now is "not the moment to ask for more".

"But we must, as we go forward, protect what we have and ensure that there is a balanced investment in our people as well as our equipment," he said.

The Navy has reduced in size by 5,000 as part of the redundancy plan that affected all three services. Sir Nicholas' point was that it is all very well having the best equipment but a capable force also needs the personnel to operate it.

In a nod to what the future might hold, he paid tribute to the French armed forces who were engaged in conflicts in Mali earlier this year and are currently attempting to bring stability to the Central African Republic.

But it was also tinged with criticism towards politicians who voted against military action in Syria.

"I have recently observed with some admiration the relative ability of French forces to operate with a mindset of aggressive risk management," said Sir Nicholas.

"We must be careful as a society and as a professional military not to lose our courageous instinct since it is one of the things which keeps us a class apart."

Earlier this year the Head of the British Army told Sky News that Britain's chances of success in future wars could be "seriously damaged" by any more spending cuts.

General Sir Peter Wall said further savings could prove "quite dangerous, quite quickly".

Houghton took over the role of Chief of the Defence Staff from General Sir David Richards a few months ago.

He faces a challenging tenure with combat operations in Afghanistan due to come to an end next year as well as a further round of Army redundancies.

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