A devastating new report has highlighted skill shortages in 102 critical areas across the armed forces. Commanders have reportedly had to cancel leave as a result in an effort to maintain operations. 

The report from the Committee of Public Accounts (found here) referenced a shortfall of 8,200 regular personnel, and stated that the Ministry of Defence doesn’t expect to resolve this until 2022 at the earliest. The number of regular personnel was 18% below requirement in the 102 critical areas with skill shortages.

The news comes amid serious political questions as to whether the UK will remain a ‘tier-one military power’. Indeed the Defence Select Committee recently criticised the government for defence cuts and called for defence spending to return to 3% of GDP.

‘The Armed Forces need sufficient skilled personnel to meet the Government’s defence objectives and respond to the rapidly changing threats to the UK’

Committee of Public Accounts

The Ministry of Defence faces a 23% shortfall in pilots, a 26% shortfall in intelligence analysts, and a 17% shortfall in engineers. It was criticised for not developing a ‘coherent plan for closing the existing skill gaps and securing the new skills that it will need’.

One of the official recommendations began with the line ‘Following publication of the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) in Summer 2018….’. The report was evidently written prior to the parliamentary summer recess – it has since become clear that the MDP may not be published for several months yet.

An MoD Spokesperson said:

“Recruiting and retaining talent is one of our top priorities and we have a range of schemes, including retention pay for and direct entry into specialist trades and flexible working to make sure we attract and keep the skilled personnel we need.

The military has enough personnel to meet all its operational requirements, including being active on 25 operations in 30 countries throughout the world.”

Whilst the MoD is currently able to meet its operational requirements, doing so is having a negative impact elsewhere. Due to the shortage in pilots, qualified RAF personnel are being transferred away from staff jobs in the UK to operational flying roles abroad. This has led to an insufficient number of staff in headquarters across the country.

Commanders have had to cancel leave and training in order to maintain the current pace of operations. Cancelling leave has led to a doubling in the number of personnel describing morale as ‘low’, up to 67% in 2018 compared to 33% in 2010.

More worryingly, the report also highlighted the potential problem if the MoD ever needed to ‘scale-up’ the Armed Forces at pace during a time of conflict.

The UK Defence Journal will be investigating this further, and will produce an in depth summary of the report in due course.


  1. Manning is terrible in all areas of the military. But what did they expect!!?? They have took away all the perks of serving. We no longer have the excellent pension that we all signed up for (when the old pension scheme came in, in 2005 they had to ask are permission to swap but in 2015 they just did it! But that’s another story!). The pay has changed and not for the better! Since 2010 we had a 5 year pay freeze! And since then only a 1% increase (far below inflation!). So far I’ve only mentioned the money, the work load is horrendous too. They have cut manning but not the number of commitments we have to man. All this is meaning the serving sailors/soldiers and airmen are over worked, underpaid and are getting out in droves and we can’t get the boys and girls to enlist because they know how bad it is!! Meaning for work for those left behind.

  2. Easy. Scrap lots of what is left. The requirement disappears. Bingo!

    Does anyone seriously think MDP will bring anything but more misery?

    Depressing reading despite whatever spin HMG will put on it.

  3. Well when you have radio adverts saying you can get a nice hug in the army what do you expect? The RM adverts are far more effective.

  4. I can’t understand why there is still a shortage of pilots. MoD announced increasing at 2015 SDSR. There is non-stop action so I can’t believe pilots leave because they are bored. Is it the training system that has limited capacity? Probably explains why after 3 years we still don’t have any of the fabled additional typhoon squadrons operating.

    • RAF FTS reduced to just No 4 FTS when once there were 1 FTS, 4 FTS and 7 FTS for basic and advanced flying training.

      Hundred plus Tucano are being replaced by 10 of the new type, 10! forget its name, for basic FT under the MFTS, which is privatisation yet again. Their base at Linton is toast and they will move to Valley as a “Centre of Excellence” which is the usual spin MoD puts on these things.

      As for the Typhoons, I believe the RAF cannot stand up additional Typhoon squadrons until the personnel in the remaining Tornado units are released. So 12 ( B ) has already gone over to Typhoon, albeit as a training unit with Qatari crews too at first. IV (B ) and 31 Sqn are both still operating Tornado and deployed to Op Shader so how can they be withdrawn if there is nothing else to replace them.

    • My brothers son in law flies Apache helicopters here in the UK. 2hrs flight training per week and it required two bases to get eight aircraft (four each) to do a flypast on the RAF’s centenary flypast due to spares shortages!

  5. Same old story under Tory government Public see your pay and conditions ignored at a time of desperate need.
    NHS in England 110,000 vacancies, Armed forces 8000. It is all about pay and respect for our essential public workers. If we have a government that just don’t care is it any wonder there are recruitment issues?

    • Part of the problem and a big part is the guaranteed final salary pension accounting for such a large cost that is not seen or really understood. They see the head line figures in the private sector and compare like for like, which massively under valued the public sector wage. Move the public sector over to a more public sector pension scheme and then move the cost saving over to the salary and then see if underpaid. Alternatively the mod needs to think of a way of advertising this and showings it’s true cost.

    • As an Ex Serviceman on an AFPS 75 annual pension I have a lot of sympathy with the ‘lack of respect and Tory Government’ in the same sentence. However, the bigger National picture remains a National Debt expanding every day despite the deficit reducing (the deficit has to go into reverse before the Debt starts falling, and that’s not planned until at least the next Parliament), and consequently, hard choices about what you spend public money on whilst having to protect Public Sector pensions remains key. My own starter for ten would be to scrap HS2, invest half in other Rail upgrade projects and cap the bloated NHS spend at £100 billion a year; make them manage it within that already over-extended budget. As for changing public sector pensions into a more private sector model, well, that’s fair enough provided you incentivize terms and conditions of employment that will promote and enhance recruitment. Or just decide you don’t want Armed Forces at all. That of course is the cheapest option of all, but complicated by our NATO Treaty Obligations; ho hum, nothing but problems………….glad I’m out of it and enjoying the benefits of AFPS 75!!!!!

  6. Is the shortfall due to terms and conditions, or due to a reduction in the pool of suitable young people. The birthrate of young white males has fallen. People of Asiatic descent are not so likely to join the armed forces. Many Muslims will be extremely unwilling to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen. (Their only allegiance is to Allah)

    • Old geezer, please cite your figures for these claims. If true I suspect the reasons are far more complex. Might the short fall have something to do with us ending two very long conflicts and people involved moving on, the discredited nature ans poor results of both those conflicts, changing expectation in society and very low unemployment.

    • What a load of cobblers, Old geezer.

      I’m a Muslim and would have no problem serving in the armed forces. I’m a Republican but wouldn’t have a problem a pro forma oath to the people of the UK.

      I’m not surprised you have this skewed view of British Muslims. You only hear the loudmouth Caliphate propagandist types from the Muslim communities on the tv. These people purposefully cause trouble between Muslims and Non Muslims. You won’t hear the many times more law abiding Muslims because it doesn’t make good tv.

      Besides, all BAME communities are under represented in sectors ranging from the civil service to the armed forces. This is due to long term structural issues such as poverty, lack of fitness, lack of social capital and discrimination rather than disloyalty.

      • Iqbal wrote:
        What a load of cobblers, Old geezer.

        Actually he makes a valid point, Immigrants as a rule want their children to do better , which is why so many immigrants delve into areas which are deemed as well paid, with better prospects and which garner more respect for themselves. That is why so many doctors, lawyers are from the immigrant community in the Uk. Lets not forget those who have build up businesses from the ground up. Finally a lot of these people come from areas of the world where the military are shunned.

        “I’m a Muslim and would have no problem serving in the armed forces. I’m a Republican but wouldn’t have a problem a pro forma oath to the people of the UK.
        Good for you, however and a big however is that the a large percentage of the British military Islamic population is from the foreign and commonwealth sector (People who have taken up service with the UK from a foreign country) British Muslims are far and few between. With the largest contingent found in the medical corps (Reservist) followed by the RAF. My last posting was to a training establishment and we heard of a number of cases where recruits had to leave due to peer pressure.

        ” You won’t hear the many times more law abiding Muslims because it doesn’t make good tv.”
        Valid point, however you left out the losing face aspect of Islam which enables those loudmouths to get the silent majority to support their causes.

        “Besides, all BAME communities are under represented in sectors ranging from the civil service to the armed forces. This is due to long term structural issues such as poverty, lack of fitness, lack of social capital and discrimination rather than disloyalty.”
        Give over with the victim aspect. Mass migration to the UK is recent as in the last 20-30 years. The BLAME community in the UK accounts for around 20% of the population. Yet despite that low figure, none-whites are over represented in Sports, the NHS, TV. and those locked up. (Muslims alone account for around 16% of the prison population)

        As for a lack of fitness, the BLAME community is over represented in the field of sport, If Anthony Joshua (Brought up by single mother on a run down council estate) can become world champion anybody else can try. I joined the army with asthma , I hid that and not only represented the army at climbing, boxing and Karate, I still push out 10 hours a a week in the gym (Thats 10 hours solid training and none of this sitting around having a chat or looking at your phone) If I can do it. so can you.

        As for discrimination, I once got a room to myself at Brize Norton by asking for the prayer room (they didn’t have one so gave me a room to myself) My mate said “Your not a Muslim” I simply said I never said I was. The army ( as I suspect the rest do) abide by British law to ensure that Minorities are catered for, Be you LGBT+ (what the hell is that + ?) Religious or just f-ing strange, the armed forces will cater to your demands.

        I undertook my unit equal opportunities instructors course at Shrivenham a few years back. On our second day we walked into the classroom to find a woman wearing a red sari (sporting a dot) in front of us. She went off on a tangent regards how racist the armed forces are, that when cut she bleeds the same colour blood as the rest of us. She then looked at me and stated: “But I don’t have to tell you that farouk do I?”
        I went up the wall. I informed her that unlike the general population the armed forces spend a lot of time out of the country, there they learn of other peoples, cultures and ways of life. In fact may marry people from other countries in otherwords we know what it is like to be a minority and whilst generalising about the mindset of the British armed forces, she did just that by assuming by my name tag and the colour of my skin that I subscribed to her biased mindset.

        Yes not all Muslims are evil and you are correct in saying that and the vast majority of them just want to live in peace. But the simple fact remains that by remaining opaque to the majority British population they of their own accord are the architects of their own misfortune.

  7. I’m not surprised that the armed forces are facing a recruitment and retention crisis.

    The forces gave a reputation of taking men and chewing them out. The number of homeless service personnel sleeping rough, suffering from mental health and poverty is simply staggering. The forces have very poor support structures for personnel who leave for returning to the civilian sector. Use and abuse is all the forces do with their veterans.

    I hope that youngsters aren’t fooled into joining. What dies a 16 year old know about the world?

  8. Part of the reason recruitment is dire, aside from the fact that the Government has outsourced recruitment to CAPITA and its absolute awful online recruitment process, aside from Politicians don’t really see the military as a vote winner, and aside for the fact that the defence budget is seen a pot of available cash to waste “buying” votes, is the fact that we have no current, on-going conflict, which is on our TVs daily. I know for a fact that operations in Afghanistan did absolute wonders for recruitment (to the Army at least).

    Young lads (and ladies) could join, carry out basic training, go to Battalion and then smash a out a couple of tours. Like it or not, real combat is a recruitment tool, and since 2006 the MOD haven’t really had to actively recruit, as that was done on TV! Like it or not that’s the truth of it (not really the political waffle about right or wrong etc). We still have lads deployed, but now we have gone back to the “Cold War” Battle group training, and even though its part and parcel of soldering, bloody hell it can be boring! No, there are many reasons recruitment is pants, and all these things put together ensure we have an unfortunate “perfect storm” in which so many factors have pretty much destroyed the ability of our Military to carry out any enduring operations. We are good, we are skilled, we have some amazing kit, but we have no depth and therefore we are a one shot wonder!

    • Airborne,
      I was part of the recruiting process when we went over to capita. I saw at first hand how face to face communication which was replaced by the internet resulted in recruiting figures dropping.
      For example I had a a beautiful young female candidate with flawless skin refused access to the officer program as she stated in her application that she had once suffered from acne.

      Another who ran X country for her county was refused due to her breaking her leg as a child this was despite the fact she was also a serving soldier.

      I had to attend a meeting at Churchill hall Sandhurst regards Captia (a couple of years after they took over) and where we were told to make it work. I saw at first lots of Cols and Lt Cols who spoke out to shut up

      My boss and I actually visited Upavon (Capita army recruiting HQ) I can fully recommend Chopper’s Cafe on the A338 to get changed into uniform) and I was shocked at their lack of knowledge Something which is still promulgated on their website regards working for them:
      “I do not have any military experience or knowledge of the army , is that important?”
      Not at all. We will provide you with a comprehensive training programme that will equip you with the knowledge and expertise that you need to recruit for the Army.


      I personally know of two ex Warrants who found work at Army recruiting centres (Lincoln and Salisbury ) who left as they couldn’t cope with captia.

      In my eyest the move to Captia is the biggest f-up that the county has seen regards army recruiting.

  9. I am not Muslim, but I don’t have to walk far to see Muslims going about their normal lives as British citizens and enjoying all that brings, so 100% agree with you Iqbal. If you’re (generic you’re) British and feel part of the country, why should you feel any more or less inclined to fight for it than anyone else.

  10. Find the budget to increase salaries and some decent kit, especially a replacement for the SA80 rifle which has a poor record and an even worse reputation and you might just find that more young people would consider joining our armed forces.

    • Never going to happen, as airborne states above ‘defence budget is seen a pot of available cash to waste “buying” votes’ . Any tax increases and borrowing would go to anything other than defence. They will lump whatever they can into the 2% GDP number.

      As far as I’m aware no other department has been ask to pay for equipment from efficiency savings or support a strategy to rebuild an industrial sector. I’m not against either of these but to single out defence is just wrong.

  11. my nephew joined the engineer,s 3 years ago 6 years after i left the infantry,he ended up leaving because he was bored very little training stuck in camp most of the time exercises cancelled at the last minute and like he said he joined to be part of something and do something with his life but instead he said he felt like a loner except for the going out drinking as it was something to do..when i was serving we were all over the place training on exercise or on operations and the engineers were all ways with us,but speaking to some lads who i had served with and left long after me said it just went completely down hill,to the point they were county the rounds they were allowed to use on the ranges,so no wonder the army is in dis-array probably down to the penny pinches again,i can,t speak for the other to branches of the forces though but no doubt they are the same

  12. Just read a guardian article saying don’t list there is no issue and we should cut forces further. Do they not remember 1930’s. Dismantle forces, will be no more war. Unfortunately both sides get a vote.
    If u want peace prepare for war.


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