The Armed Forces are 9,900 trained personnel short of their government set target, new figures released today reveal. The British Army is also over 4,600 personnel smaller than it was 3 years ago. 

Under the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Armed Forces need to have 144,200 trained personnel by 2020. They’re currently at 134,300, with the number having fallen continually since 2016. Doubts have now been raised over the Ministry of Defence’s ability to meet the target by 2020.

The MoD’s Quarterly Service Personnel Statistics, which can be read here, showed that the:

  • Royal Navy and Royal Marines are 1,230 short of their 30,450 personnel target
  • Royal Air Force are 1,740 short of their 31,750 personnel target
  • British Army are 6,930 short of their 82,000 personnel target

The full time trained strength across all services is 6.9% lower than the 2020 target, compared to 3.9% below in 2016.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson defended the figures, telling the UK Defence Journal: “The Armed Forces continue to meet all of its operational commitments to keep Britain safe.”

“We are fully committed to improving our recruitment process, including working with Capita to ensure any challenges are being addressed.”

The MoD declined to comment on the implications of failing to meet the 2020 target.

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Phil C

So if we are able to meet all our requirements whilst being 10’000 people down, then the government target figure is surely too high.

John G

no they can cancel leave and reduce training to make people available to meet requirements but this is not sustainable in the long term. Also the Armed Forces should always have large redundancies built in case we take serious casualties.

Steve Taylor

No. It is a question of capabilities more than personnel numbers. A root and branch reform of the services is needed. Everything from asking what they are for to the pay of the most junior rating, and everything in between.

John D

HAHA how clueless.
a. We’re not able to meet requirements, regardless of what the top brass say.
b. Everyone else are having to work longer and harder for no more pay, therefore leaving in even greater numbers (I left last year myself).
c. There is zero scope for contingency. If anything, for instance a bump with Iran, is to kick off we are quite buggered and would not be able to sustain a campaign like we did in Iraq or Afghanistan.
d. We look weak to the world which is a strategic disaster.


is there any wonder why the recruitment is so low what with governments failing to look after it,s service personnel and i don,t mean lack of health care but married quarters dropping to bits,chased on witch hunts for doing there job and out sourcing recruitment to a private firm which takes so long people wanting to join just end up walking away,i served 15 years if i was asked would i do it again,in this day and age sorry no would be my answer


It may be the reason. However we actually see unemployment down and employment up. Furthermore it may be… although others may know more accurately… But if may be that potential solders see the danger of literally losing life and limb in asymmetric warfare. I hope we do continue to recruit and recruit well, but we have had an intense period where we have suffered quite high and debilitating casualties and for relatively poor military and political gain. We gave now I think got good tactics and good equipment and can give a good response to our insurgent enemies, but a… Read more »


I see where you are coming from but I disagree with your reasoning, as when the most intense combat was happening between 2006-2009 recruitment was not an issue. Combat footage on TV daily made young lads want to join and give it a go. And on no occasion did we ever have an issue about the “not being able to shoot back” on Herrick 4, 8 there was very little interference from heads shed at Bastion (although on occasion they did stop a number of fire missions in and around Sangin in an attempt to placate the district Governer) Herrick… Read more »


Got to Agree I went to my Army careers Center to Check out my Qualifications they Said they’d Contact Someone to find out if my NCFE Qualification was Worth Gcse’s Which I already knew it was just from that experience it nearly put me off Completely


It’s makes rather a mockery of the March statements from the 1st Sea Lord that all was well. Unfortunately the hollow words of yet another politician in uniform. I know who I believe, and despite many rejoicing about numbers at the time, it was obvious that there was still a big problem with recruitment and retention. The service is at a critical point, especially with experienced engineers being over used and burnt out due to shortages. Ships are sailing with reduced levels in engineering departments, usually with the senior rates filling the roles that junior staff would usually do,… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Minister Mordaunt.

Scrap the partnership with Capita at once and bring it all back in house. Reopen armed forces career offices, put veterans in uniform in them.

Expand the cadet organisation. Get tri service road shows set up around the UK visiting schools and deprived areas.


Ooo. Now where’s that “like” button.


Fully agree with the comment about recruiting but more needs to be done about retention (Housing, pay, etc) and support to veterans if we are to grow numbers.


You can not do to much with 82,000 troops anyway, we struggled to maintain 10,000 troops in afghanistan. Army size should be 100,000 at least.


In the perfect world with more funding I would agree but unless there is a significant national emergency this is not going to happen. We would be much better placed restoring the capabilities of our two arms which are more useful in direct defence of our island and projecting our power overseas. That’s means the RN and RAF. This coupled with modest increases in the size of the RM and Paras along with their support units would allow us to demonstrate to friend and foe alike our ability to kick the door down. We should leave occupation tasking to lesser… Read more »


Yep good point ,I would simply just like your post but we dont have ability on ukdj any more sadly.

Daniele Mandelli

Sjb absolutely bang on!

Power projection is indeed the RAF and RN. Supporting UKSF, Paras, Marines, and a Gurkha Brigade, if I had my way.


‘our ability to kick the door down.’

‘lesser ranked nations’….

Oh dear. You do know that we haven’t time travelled back to the 50’s, right?

The Saudi Arabian Air Force have more Tornado’s than the RAF.

Britain is a medium sized country incapable of conducting another Suez, Gulf War or even a Falklands. We need to accept that we can’t be world policeman.

Daniele Mandelli

“We need to accept that we can’t be world policeman.” Why? “lesser ranked nations” There are indeed Lesser Ranked Nations. Does Mozambique have the clout of the UK? Does Bangladesh? How many do I list? Like it or not, the UK is a P5 member and G8 member. A Nuclear power. Up the top of the Soft Power Index. Self Proclaimed Nuclear Power. Part of the Commonwealth. English is spoken worldwide. The UK has cultural economic diplomatic and military links worldwide due to legacy of Empire many on the left so despise. Which parts of that paragraph are medium sized?… Read more »

Robert Blay

Very well said?


Daniele well said as per usual, however you are falling into the trapthat I used to always willingly jump into, and that is to answer Iqbal the troll in an informed and subjective manner, when you should really just laugh at him and chin him off.

David E Flandry

Good post Daniele.


Iqbal if you struggle to understand the context of what I have written it would be better not to respond. You are underlining my point we do not have the capability to undertake significant land operations anymore but light but powerful forces such as a Commando Brigade with 4 commando units and an airmobile brigade are well within our ability to fund and support. That is not travelling back to the 1950s but is how we should be remoulding our forces. Those units supported by a modestly expanded RN and RAF would keep the UK in the top rank of… Read more »


Ah he is back with his words of no wisdom!

David E Flandry

Somehow we were able to maintain a 100,000 person army until Cameron and Osborne cut it by 20,000. This resulted in a serious morale problem, people left in droves beyond the desired target, promotions became more difficult, retention of mid-grade personnel became harder. Same thing happened to the RN and RAF.


As someone who is now 15 months into the application process for the RN , I believe the whole process is so long winded that only the most committed will stick around. People cannot afford to wait 18 + months to try and get a job , would be interesting to know the numbers on how many start the application and then drop out and the time frames involved Every interaction I have had with RN directly has been superb and only further motivated me to carry on with my application but the time scales involved do put people off.… Read more »


We have record numbers of people in employment.

The armed forces always struggle to recruit during periods of relative upturn.

Recruitment numbers will likely go back up if we leave the EU without a good deal and people look for a safe harbour in a stormy economic sea.


Pay better wages


NCO are paid pretty well, its only recruits and privates which are too low really.


NCOs are not that much better off. There are a number of factors to consider. Armed forces pay has not kept up with its civilian equivalents. In the 80s the AFPRB considered that a CPO Tiff in the RN was considered to have equal pay prospects and responsibilities as an London -Edinburgh Intercity Train Driver. Well nowadays a Chief tiff is probably on less than half of an intercity driver. The % difference in pay between rates has also diminished. The % jump in pay is not reflected by the % jump in responsibility or S**t that you have to… Read more »

Steve Taylor

Why would anybody with the necessary gumption and qualities waste their time when they could build a better career in the civilian world?


Not quite true but we all have an opinion, even if many have one without direct subject matter experience.

Robert Blay

You can still have an excellent career in the armed forces, but it is very much a lifestyle as well as a job, if your a clever lad, you could join as an officer, and be earning pretty good money from the off. And despite the story’s you hear in the press, most people who leave the forces go on to have successful careers in civvi street. I served in the RN for 14 years, I now work in the offshore wind farm industry.

Nigel Price

Not a surprise really, as a Navy vet with 23 years service I’m amazed any one would want to join today given the way the got treat ex service personnel.

I certainly would no longer recommend the military as a career.

Gareth Davies

Quite happy to join back up, however at the peak of my knowledge and experience (22 years) I was deemed past it… really !

Mr Bell

It seems to be coming home to roost. If you give people terrible pay and conditions is it any wonder our talented and committed young decide not to serve in the public services and get easier better paid office jobs instead? Have you seen the state of UK military bases and public infrastructure? Years of constant war fighting, force reductions lack of investment have meant those in the armed forces spend less and less time at home with their families and loved ones and more and more time on deployment. My brother served in the RMs for 15 years during… Read more »

Robert Blay

And if taxes go up, I can guarantee the money wont go on defence. Terrible pay and conditions? Really.i served in the RN for 14 years, I lived in single accommodation that was more like a travel lodge, en suit bathrooms, double beds, internet access, and that standard is becoming pretty much the norm across most military establishments, I had that back in 2008. Pay is actually pretty good, most will be promoted to leading hand within 5 years, that’s over 32k year, over 40k as a petty officer, your never going to be super rich in the forces, but… Read more »


Robert correct mate.


The Pension is no good anymore. Its now averaged out over you pay across your career. AFPS 70 is well dead and so is its replacement. I will agree that shore side single accom is far better than ever before as is the accom on the new ships. However the esprit de corps you had from mess living is dying out. Most people lock themselves in there room and cabin and you never see them outside of working hours. They dont use pay as you dine because its expensive and instead buy crap food from the local shops and end… Read more »


I do ok for pay…..about £70,000 as a submariner CPO. Be an officer as one person suggested? I would take the pay cut. I look forward to your comments