London — Britain yesterday announced a major restructuring of its professional army which will see the number of regular soldiers fall by a fifth from the present level of 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said.
The changes, which are a result of a 2010 strategic defence review, will cut the size of the army to half the strength it had during the Cold War era — when it counted 163,000 regular soldiers. However, the number of reservists would be expanded to give a combined force level of 120,000 by 2020. Under the planned changes, 17 army units will be abolished and others will be merged.
"Army 2020 will form a more flexible and agile army," Hammond told parliament. "It will be a forward-looking, modern fighting machine and the best of its class." After inheriting a "massive overspend" from the previous Labour government, "tough decisions" had to be made to "build a balanced, capable and adaptable force ready to face the future," he said.
Although the regular army would be smaller, the army as a whole would have the "agility required to enable it to respond to the challenges faced in an increasingly fluid global environment." The ministry pointed out that the changes coincide with Britain's planned withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014."
Jim Murphy, defence spokesman of the opposition Labour Party, criticised the reductions as short-sighted given that "new threats" were emerging around the world. Former army chief Richard Dannatt told the BBC the army cuts carried risks.
“Predicting the future is very difficult, strategic shocks happen, we often don’t get it right so let’s hope that the next decade is a rather more peaceful decade than the last, but I wouldn’t bet on it,” he said. - dpa