Public face call-up if we go to war, military chief warns

A Challenger 2 tank storms down a track on Lulworth Range in Dorset
A Challenger 2 tank on Lulworth Range in Dorset. The Army has had problems with recruitment - Corporal Rebecca Brown, RLC/Army

The British public will be called up to fight if the UK goes to war because the military is too small, the head of the Army is to warn.

General Sir Patrick Sanders will stress the need for the Government to “mobilise the nation” in the event of war with Russia in a speech on Wednesday.

With the British Army being reduced to its smallest size for centuries, The Telegraph understands Gen Sir Patrick, who has been openly critical of troop cuts, wants British men and women to be prepared for a call-up if Nato goes to war with Vladimir Putin.

It comes after a senior Nato military official warned that private citizens should prepare for an all-out war with Russia in the next 20 years, which would require wholesale change in their lives.

Adml Rob Bauer said that nations needed to be prepared to “find more people if it comes to war”, and to consider “mobilisation, reservists or conscription”.

‘Shift’ in the mindset

The Army chief would not support conscription, it is understood, but believes there should be a “shift” in the mindset of regular British people, where they think more like troops, who are mentally prepared that war with Russia could happen.

Gen Sir Patrick, who will stand down as Chief of the General Staff in six months, will make his speech at the International Armoured Vehicles expo in Twickenham.

In 2022, Gen Sir Patrick used a speech to warn that the UK was facing its “1937 moment” over the war in Ukraine, and said Britain must be ready to “fight and win” to ward off the threat from Russia.

He said: “This is our 1937 moment. We are not at war, but must act rapidly so that we aren’t drawn into one through a failure to contain territorial expansion.”

Putin is on the front foot in Ukraine and has tripled Russia’s military expenditure, while Nato is struggling to replenish weapon stocks it has given to Kyiv.

On Tuesday, the chief of Norway’s armed forces said the country must increase defence spending in the face of a potential war with Russia within three years, following its neighbour Sweden in urging citizens to brace for conflict.

Defence fears if Trump wins

Meanwhile, the US is struggling to pass a $100 billion military aid package for Ukraine amid Republican opposition, with defence sources warning that if Donald Trump wins the presidential race, it will hand Russia victory.

Mr Trump has previously pledged to end the supply of American munitions which have been used to win back territory captured by Russia since February 2022.

On Tuesday, Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, met with the Ukraine Defence Contact Group, where he urged others to join the UK in increasing their aid. This year the UK plans to raise its military aid to £2.5 billion.

The UK aspires to spend 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence, and Mr Shapps has said he would like to increase this to 3 per cent, though he failed to set a date last week for the target.

Cabinet tensions over defence spending have emerged as Penny Mordaunt, the former secretary of state, warned Mr Shapps earlier this week that Britain’s national interests were at risk unless the Royal Navy kept pace with hostile nations.

All three armed forces are experiencing a recruitment and retention crisis, with the number of fully trained soldiers in the Army set to fall to 72,500.

Recruitment and retention crisis

The number of regular troops in the Army stands at 75,983, although defence sources insisted applications for the Army were at the highest they had been in six years.

Last week Capita, the outsourcing specialist in charge of the Army’s recruitment, said soldiers who have visible tattoos, hay fever or a record of asthma should be allowed to join to solve the crisis.

The Royal Navy is struggling to hire more than the other forces, with just 29,000 full-time recruits.

Earlier this month The Telegraph revealed that the Navy has so few sailors it will have to decommission two warships to staff its new class of frigates.

HMS Westminster and HMS Argyll will be decommissioned this year, with the crews sent to work across the new fleet of Type 26 frigates as they come into service.

A recent MoD survey found that just 34 per cent of service personnel said they felt valued while 46 per cent felt dissatisfied with the overall standard of their accommodation. Over the past year, 16,260 personnel have left the Armed Forces.

It comes as the forces struggle to retain female personnel amid a sex harassment crisis engulfing the military.

In 2012, Capita was awarded a 10-year contract by the MoD to work on its recruitment. In 2020, this was extended by two years.

This year, having been given the task of recruiting 9,813 people, Capita admitted it has so far only recruited 5,000.

It came as Ukraine was hit by a wave of Russian missiles on Tuesday, in attacks that killed eight people and wounded dozens in Kyiv and Kharkiv.

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