General Sir Richard Barrons has claimed that Britain’s military is ‘broken’ and the British Army is ’20 years out of date’ at a Defence Select Committee meeting.

“All three Armed Forces are falling behind the rate of innovation you see in our peers. The people who are in defence, they have to keep going every day so they are never going to say publicly, or to themselves, or to their enemies, or to their allies that we’re broken.

But when they fly, sail or deploy on the land and they look at their equipment, they look at their sustainability, they look at the shortfalls in their training and they look at their allies, they know they are not fit for purpose.”

General Sir Richard discussed what he perceived to be the problem:

“The first discussion should be in Government, ‘How much risk are we running in the world and what do we need do to fix it?’ They don’t seem to want to have that discussion.

So you end up with the risk of a ridiculous, zero-sum, discussion both within a Service the nonsense of culling Marines to buy more sailors and between the Services – which is why you end up generally with a Navy that’s currently structurally under-funded, an air force that is holding together a bunch of very good equipment but really at the edge of their engineering and support capacity, and an Army that is now, broadly speaking, 20 years out of date.”

An MoD spokesman said:

“As one of the few countries to exceed NATO’s 2% spending target, our rising defence budget is the largest in Europe.

We are investing in brand new equipment from submarines, frigates and carriers for a growing Navy, to state-of-the-art vehicles for the Army, to a whole range of cutting-edge technologies through our £800 million innovation fund.”

The Royal Navy, by the way, is not growing.

34 COMMENTS

  1. At least the brass are speaking out and with the spending review delayed it will hopefully mean the Government will properly sort out this mess by providing the much needed funds the military require.

  2. Good – about time we had these sorts of discussions. Its clear the RM in particular are pivotal to the UK’s defence capability as they are constantly deployed.

    I really do believe we should be increasing the marines to a full Division, as they offer so much value to the UK.

    I agree with the Gen. Barrons and as many people on this forum have previously stated we need a comprehensive risk assessment (probably severely impacted by the massive reduction in the capabilities of the Foreign office in the past 20 years) and then the funding to match our preferred mitigation or response.

    There are so many social, industrial and cultural benefits to this country having a strong military that it is scandalous to treat them in such a way.

    Government needs to do more – the MOD statement on the end of this shows how disconnected they are from reality. Politicians do the spin – civil servants should remain factual and impartial.

    A cross party defence committee with teeth and a budget is needed here.

  3. Yet more dire warnings, just what does it take to make the government awaken to the truth? Great Britain has never been more in demand in so many theaters, either substantially or in an advisory role. However, if assets and manpower are up for the budget grab, matters will only get worse.

    Time for a major rethink on what is deliverable and what is not. The MOD needs to know what future spending is likely to be secure and what is not. I would recommend one option is to pull back from many overseas commitments until Brexit is sorted, that said, such a move would only encourage the grey-suited accountants, to encourage corresponding cuts. Remember, many grey suits don’t give a fig about the defence of the realm, just the bottom line, where bonuses reside.

  4. About bloody time too. Even the top ranking military officers, usually professionally silent for fear of being sacked are now starting to speak out.
    I would love to see the defence select committee go further and utterly roast the defence secretary.
    The Torries have admittedly inherited an utter mess from Blair and Browns years but never before has the UKs defences been so perilous. We know it, our potential enemies know it and are emboldened as a result.
    Answer is simple. Up the defence budget immediately to 3 or ideally 4% gdp to defence ratio.
    Increase and improve pay and conditions so a career in the armed forces is attractive again. As a hugely wealthy nation HMG viaHMRC could easily nwt an extra £30-40 billion a year.
    Reverse the recent cut to corporation tax and put it up by 1% again this year and 1% next year. Close the loopholes in legal tax avoidance outlined in the Paradise papers.
    Tax the rich more the UK has some of the richest net worth individuals in the world living mainly in London, Surrey and the Home Counties. They live in the UK for its safe secure democracy and freedom. Well that freedom for those individuals to live a luxurious lifestyle here in the UK comes at a price.
    If those measure do not give a much needed shot in the arm to public services including defence then we will all have to pay more tax. I personally would be happy with a 1-2% rise in NI if i knew the money was going directly to frontline services and not squandered on badly run projects running behind time, over budget etc.
    It is all about efficiency.
    Cut the numbers and tiers of twatish managers in defence, education, social services, NHS etc
    Then there is the massively easy win of an immediate 50% reduction in the utterly useless foreign aid budget.
    FFS stop sending £13 billion a year abroad. £6.5 billion would still be 0.35% gdp expenditure and still one of the most generous budgets in the whole world.

  5. The nonsense about being one of the only country in NATO to meet the 2% target ignores the fact one are one of only 2 that operate a nuclear deterrent. That cost is included in the 2% as on going running costs but also the treasury has moved this figure into the main defense budget from 2010 at least for replacement costs. If this and the running costs were outside of the defense budget as a whole or the 2% figure was raised to compensate for this fact then the budget would probably do as everyone desires.

  6. The general is talking a lot of sense. You can hollow out institutions, and they will look fine, but they will become increasingly brittle and incapable of responding. The trouble is that a frank political discussion of UK risks and policies – and then setting the defence expenditure to cover that has almost zero political utility if you are concerned about being re-elected in the next GE (no matter which party we are talking about).
    We are not yet investing enough in cyber operations and counter-cyber warfare – given we are coming under increasing attack and penetration as a society from Russia (witness the recent revelations over Brexit – a big win for the Kremlin unless the UK and EU-27 hammer out something sensible) and China. Too often it’s coming down to inter-service squabbling for the funds that are available. We’re on the cusp of needing a tech-driven radical revamp of our defence forces where ‘army’, ‘navy’ and ‘air force’ as discrete entities will look increasingly out-moded.
    Best Tim

  7. problem the military had was once the wall came down and the main threat from Russia at that time collapsed so did our military spending,i remember the day they were asking men for voluntary redundancies unheard of in the military you either did your service and left or kicked out for being a disgrace,since then spending on equipment and manpower became non existent exercises were scaled back,cuts to ammo supplies,i remember my RSM saying if anything kicks of we are screwed,he even joked at the cuts and said won,t be long before we carry broom sticks painted black instead of rifle,s….the issue now it,s going to take some serious cash to sort it out,and where are they going to get it from…that is if the idiots in power actually listen for once

  8. What parts are out of date? I do not doubt the General, it is refreshing someone has actually spoken up.

    Does he mean equipment?
    Does he mean doctrine?
    Does he mean organisation?
    Does he mean a combination of all these?

    Challenger II is having an upgrade. Pretty old.
    Warrior is having Warrior Capability Sustainment Program. Old.
    Jackal, Coyote, Mastiff, Ridgeback, Panther, Foxhound, Husky all purchased for Afghanistan, often from UOR. All taken into core I believe.
    MIV will replace HPM Mastiff.
    CVRT vehicles.. Ancient! Being replaced by FRES Series.
    FV432. Even more ancient!

    The Royal Artillery has been neglected for decades.
    AS90. Dunno? Has it been upgraded? Think I read the gun was outdated?
    Light Gun. This is certainly getting on. Now the mainstay of the Royal Artillery sadly. In the short term the only artillery for our Strike Brigades and totally unsuited for that role and too small calibre.
    MLRS has been upgraded to GMLRS.
    UAV. Watchkeeper, certainly not out of date.
    Rapier FSC will be replaced by Land Ceptor.
    Starstreak HVM. Don’t know if this has been upgraded or not.

    The Royal Engineers have had new kit – Terrier, Titan, Trojan.

    The AAC have the newer Lynx Wildcat, though in pitiful numbers.
    Likewise with Apache.

    No idea if the SA80-A2 is any good or not.
    Javelin replaced Milan. Is Javelin still valid as a ATGW?
    Bowman and PRR, lot of money spent on that.
    FIST Soldier technology and lots of personal kit for troops in Afghanistan like the Osprey Armour. I have not read that the stuff was no good?

    Lots of money spent on kit. What have I missed?
    Must be plenty of serving and ex soldiers here with expert opinions and first hand experience.

    • As90 needs a 52 calibre gun to be effective.

      Light gun needs to be replaced by M777.

      Over 900 Fv432 still on orbat, although most are not working.

      No LRATGW since swingfire.

      Watchkeeper still not operational, 4 have been lost during training.

      Desert Hawk 3 to be scrapped.

      • Mr Mandelli,

        Challenger 2- is getting a sustainment program, not an upgrade. The gun is still ineffective and the engine is still going to be under powered.

        Warrior 2 – Is costing a huge amount for the purchase of only 4 Btns worth, I give it 90% chance that project will be cut in the next 3 months.

        MIV- years behind Schedule and will not offer the kinetic effects that a true IFV such as warrior can, but strike does have its up sides.

        Jackal, Coyote, Mastiff, Ridgeback, Panther, Foxhound, Husky- Not war fighting platforms and would be wiped out in a modern conflict.

        CVR(T) is getting a replacement but we will be using it for a role it was not intended for due to the lack of suitable platforms.

        432- Will soldiered on, what an embarrassment.

        AS90- is in desperate need of an upgrade.

        GMLRS- Great for counter insurgency, not great for removing grid squares like it used to.

        The entire British Armies fighting force will be based around 2 tank regiments and 4 armoured infantry battalions…….. That’s it. It’s is now 1939 and in a few years we will be firing 2 pounders at Tiger tanks.

    • Remember guys, it’s not the politicians who decide what equipment is required- it is people like Gen Barron’s (rtd) – wait and see where he ends up (somewhere in the defence industry).
      On kit
      M777 – restricted by weight – gun and ammunition. Light Gun and some ammo can be carried by Puma, Merlin and Chinook. Only Chinook can carry M777 and some ammo. No point in deploying a gun with no ammo or men and we just do not have the lift flexibility to do it. AS90 was not deployed to Afghanistan because the amount of lift required to get the ammunition et al out from the U.K. and into theatre was huge and outweighed the effect.
      Helicopters in general pre and post Afghanistan have been deeply affected by single service bias and total lack of strategy.
      We have currently 6 airframe types fulfilling multiple cross functioning roles:
      Gazelle (40 yrs old – but works well enough for the French) – Army
      Lynx (light role helicopter for frigates with a secondary overland role) RN and Army
      Puma (medium lift helicopter that fits in between Lynx and Merlin) RAF
      Merlin (large anti sub helicopter adapted to carry troops) Royal Navy
      Chinook (medium lift helicopter – multiple versions in use) RAF
      Apache (Anti tank helicopter being adapted to be used at sea) Army
      All use different supply chains, all have different engines all owned by different services but declared for use by JHC.
      Army NCO’s can fly their helicopters but only RN and RAF pilots can fly theirs.
      JHC should listen to the requirements and then define the aircraft required, fleet types would be reduced (Puma and Gazelle scrapped, Chinook fleet rationalised) bit nimbers of aircraft and crews could be increased.
      A requirement for example could be the ability to lift M777 from ship to shore with appropriate ammunition and men to support landed troops for x amount of time.
      SA80A2 – weapon works, it has time left in it now it has been designed and built properly, shame it took a couple of wars and UOR’s to get it there.
      Bulldog – remove from ORBAT
      FV432 – remove from ORBAT
      Army just need to get on and do it, donate them to someone that can actually make use of them.
      Warrior and AJAX – decide which one you want, take the hit and get on with it.
      52 cal barrel on AS90 – it has been tested and proven, the barrel is still probably on the factory floor at Barrow.
      AS90 52 155mm
      M777 39/52 155mm
      Field Artillery now standardised, easier supply chain and for the bean counters – you do not need as many, you get a bigger bang that can be guided to the target so a reduction in collateral damage and reduction in rounds fired to generate effect.
      Give Watchkeeper to the RAF – make them responsible for the flying, use the Army to utilise the platform output (sensors and weapons).
      You cannot replace BOWMAN, it was and is not fit for purpose.
      Design a new system based on what is needed, integration is key.
      Hopefully food for further thought

      • Our use of AS90 with 39 calibre barrel and 105mm light gun by UK armed forces is that we do come up against a well equipped enemy, their longer range counter bombardment capability will devastate our artillery forces.

        Urgent upgrade of our artillery forces is required.

        • Agree. I feel the Royal Artillery has been neglected for decades.

          I would give Watchkeeper to the AAC. The RA’s use of UAV’s went back to a time when they were to be used in conjunction with MLRS. Now the UAV is used as a wider ISTAR asset.

          The 2 Regiments supporting the planned Strike Brigades, 3 RHA and 4RA, used to have AS90, and now have the Light Gun. This is totally unsuitable for the Strike Brigades. I read there is a plan to replace them with some form of wheeled SP gun, possibly the French Caesar.

  9. Simple solution, cut the foreign aid budget in half and invest the money in the MOD. This would roughly equate to a 17% increase in defense spending, 10% would cover the ‘annual’ structural deficit and the remaining 7% could be used to add back vital capability (like ship based ASM) and to rebuild our parts / missile /ammunition inventory.

    • Actually there is another solution to the Foreign aid budget – Paint all the old Helicopters, Land Rovers and Ships that we no longer want White and sell them to DFID for dispersal around the globe.

      Every time I see one of our ships going to deliver Humanitarian aid it has a load of brand new white Toyotas on it. Why can’t it be a set of well maintained and rugged Land rovers instead.

      Same with Rat packs – lets get them over to DFID in the last year of their shelf life and bill them for it.

      But ultimately I think the Aid budget needs to reduce – no doubt about it.

      • As importantly as the budget being reduced, we need to pull out of the official Aid rankings because the rules are to prescriptive even to sell DFID our out of date kit.

        We should make up our own rules and report on those instead.

  10. Remarkable how the brass find their gonads and speak out once they have secured their fat pensions and retired.

    The excessively large number of serving brass remain mute

  11. i love how the govt always say we have a growing defence budget and spend the 2%

    Thanks to the repackaging (chucking a bunch of largely irrelevant things into the budget that were traditionally not part of spending) it sure looks like we have that 2%, but in reality it is far, far less.

  12. I don’t see the situation as nearly so dire as the General suggests. That’s mainly because the threat environment is relatively stable. Russia does not have the numbers of capable surface ships, submarines, first-rate combat aircraft, EW assets or first-rate tanks it would need to challenge NATO far beyond its borders. The US relationship with China is stable, perhaps even improving. That makes it less likely that U.K. armed forces will be called to a Pacific operation. The southern cone has stabilized. The Iranian threat is no greater than it was five years ago.

    Against that background, the UK’s small but capable armed forces seem adequate, assuming that we will continue to operate with the US, with limited support from European allies.

    We are replacing our attack submarines with the capable Astute boats. We are generating a carrier strike capability that will soon be (arguably) more significant than we’ve had in fifty years.

    I accept that we have too few tanks, mobile artillery units and attack helicopters to overwhelm Russia, but the equipment is no worse than potential opponents. What tank is significantly superior to Challenger 2? What attack helicopter is significantly superior to our upgraded Apaches? Our transport capabilities are sufficient for purpose. Our small arms are better than they were; adequate, at least. New, capable APCs are coming.

    We do have weaknesses. We don’t have enough escorts and they lack suitable anti-ship missiles. I worry that we won’t be able to replace Type 23s one-for-one as they start coming out of service. When Tornado leaves service, we won’t have enough fast jets to maintain current strike capabilities. Our AWACS aircraft our getting long in the tooth. Our subs have only one weapon for attacking ships and subs and it’s thirty years old. We lack adequate attrition replacments for many systems and our missile stocks are far too low. Most significantly, we are short of light infantry and sailors.

    Still, in qualitative terms, our armed forces are better equipped equipped than at any time in my life. The problem is quantity. The problem is that the Army is too small, not that it’s equipment is obsolete.

    • I echo this.
      Who in the world has perfect kit for every eventuality everywhere?
      Some will be outdated, as long as the majority is modern, high tech is maintained in many areas and that which is obsolete has a replacement in place.

      I suggest again the answer is a balance of quality with quantity and that means not always going for the gold plated options, which may enable the UK to get some much needed extra mass.

      Fantasy fleets of all high end stuff are not possible in this political climate until the world security situation declines, the public show interest and defence wins our plastic politicians votes, which it does not.

      Nick, your Light Infantry comment. Do you really think we are short of Light Infantry? We have around 23 Battalions worth with A2020 Refine.

      Unless you mean elite infantry such as the RM and Parachute Regiment.

  13. Interesting Nick. I think we are at a sort of crossroad and we could do with sitting down and calmly and sensibly deciding on what our foreign policy is supposed to be, including what we could we provide for under foreign aid because I can’t see it being cut dramatically, if at all. Then it is a question of being realistic….what can we spend, what can we commit to under N A T O, what are our national priorities’
    I would say we start with the people and make sure that they feel wanted,are well looked after and well paid. Following on, regardless of the size of the armed forces they must be equipped with the best kit that money can buy and be FULLY trained how to use it.
    We all have our preferences as to what we would like to spend the available money on but it may be that some sacred cows must be slain. Five or ten years stability for the people at the sharp end will be worth it’s weight in gold!

  14. The problem for HMG however is that it’s not just defence that is in urgent need of extra cash. The NHS is looking in a pretty bad state too with waiting lists lengthening significantly and policing is looking none too healthy either. If it was only defence that was underfunded then yes, slashing the aid budget would help considerably, but if that were ever to happen (and personally I think it will at some point because the UK’s finances are under a lot of pressure that will soon get worse) the vast majority of the funds released would almost certainly go to some combination of health, social care, schools and policing.

    There might be a bit for defence but not much. Defence issues aren’t major vote winners, most of the general public care more about the other stuff I mentioned and, unless they have a military connection in their family, are probably completely unaware of any of the issues. Our politicians behave accordingly.

    • Agreed Julian.and I take particular note of what you say about the NHS. My family and I have received excellent treatment but there is also enormous waste. The old problem….the sharp end works but the tail is dragging it down. I have posted elsewhere on a NHS only tax to ensure that people understand how much it costing because I don’t think they know we are feeding a black hole. Money spent on an ever aging population through the NHS, welfare and pensions is going to soar in the next ten years and how the politicians think we can spend £14/15 billion on on overseas aid is beyond me!
      That amount of money,spent at home , would pay for The NHS, defence, better policing, improved public sector pay and a host of other items.

      • So obvious Geoffrey and yes SO un PC.
        And there lies the issue.
        HMG terrified of “how it makes them look” reducing overseas aid.
        When in fact, supporting your own is the most bloody obvious thing to do!

        • Here’s the thing. Few people give credit to the Tories for increasing aid, especially when it’s done at the expense of UK public services.

          It’s worse than just cutting our own public services – there is money, but we’re not going to spend it here.

          Upper middle class Tory global virtue signalling whilst devastating services they themselves generally don’t need or use.

          Really, how much (more) evil would most people say Tories were if they reduced Aid to fund vital UK services?

          Bill Gates would be upset but he’s not suffering for any of the service cuts because of it.

  15. Daniele… I like un PC…to be honest I’m sick of the term but I suppose we’re stuck with it.
    Ian. How many voters would be upset if we cut oversea aid and spent the money on the NHS and better conditions and kit for our armed forces? Answer…almost nobody. THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF VOTES OUT THERE IF THE GOVERNMENT ONLY HAD THE COMMON SENSE TO SEE IT.

  16. Royal pomp and pagentry needs to be separated from the army/mod budget. Sports and culture maybe. Billions spent on carriages,cannons,swords, bearskins,horses,uniforms,armour suits, drums,flags. Money that a modern army could spend on men and equipment. Use private firms or volenteers for boatmen, archers and such.

  17. great why did he not speak out and change things when he was serving.crap to say what should have happened when he could have made things better when he was serving

  18. General Sir Richard Barrons has claimed that Britain’s military is ‘broken’ and the British Army is ’20 years out of date’ at a Defence Select Committee meeting.
    Of course there is plenty of room for improvement in public services, and this includes the UK military. But there is a curve here that the General may be falling into the normal media trap of bad mouthing our military. The tabloids do love to sling mud at our military; it appears to be a prevalent fad. Why don’t the media for once state the UK’s brilliant, one of the most professional and experienced militaries in the world, which General Barrons may take some credit.
    It may be said it must be embarrassing for the retired General has he was one of those managing the Army for many years. What was he doing then? After all he appears to be doing-down his own hard work.
    He was one of the team that could have raised concerns twenty years ago, that the UK may lag behind if that is the true situation. General Baroons must take some responsibility!
    The General obviously is correct when stating more funding is required for the UK’s defence budget. However, in this very journal and the wider press, we read about improvements to the Challenger 2 tank, the new AJAX for the army, new warships, Astute class submarines and new fighter aircraft. Aren’t these modern capabilities?
    He also mentions the Russians in Ukraine. The Ukrainian mechanised battalions which were destroyed in the space of 15 minutes by a combination of Russian drones and long-range artillery.
    It’s one thing Russians fighting the Ukrainian forces and another taking on the British Army. I was not aware the Ukrainian military is superior to that of the UK? Ukrainian defence budget for 2018 is set to be about US$6.26 billion. Far less than the UK’s defence budget of about £40 billion.

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