General Sir Richard Barrons, former Commander of Joint Forces Command, warns that the defence budget must be increased so the UK can protect against potential attacks from China or Russia.

The General told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

“I’m sure I haven’t convinced him because I am sure nobody in government is at the minute having the profoundly important debate that we need to have about how the world has changed, how the UK is at greater risk and what we need to be prepared to do in the future because the future will not replicate the comfortable recent past.

The risk today and more so in the future is that countries like Russia and China already have capability that could hold the UK homeland at military risk at very short notice.

We can’t really deal with that and we also run the risk in the future that British citizens or friends abroad will be in great jeopardy, they would need military help and we would have removed the ability to help them and our place in the world would be much diminished and we would be at risk.”

Sir Barron also warned that the Army should not shrink in size any further:

“I think the army of 82,000 plus a strong reserve of 30,000 is a good place to start. I don’t believe it can be any smaller. Below 82,000 is a problem but it is not the core issue. The core issue is what equipment does that Army have and how do you get it to the places it needs to be to do the things it must do.”

Sir Richard concluded by remarking that the MoD needs to “think about defence in its historically normal context of being prepared for wars of necessity where public opinion demands action.”

Last year, General Sir Richard Barrons wrote a scathing 10 page assessment of Britain’s armed forces in a private memo to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. Below are excerpts from that memo.

● There is no military plan to defend the UK in a conventional conflict. “Counter-terrorism is the limit of up-to-date plans and preparations to secure our airspace, waters and territory . . . There is no top-to-bottom command and control mechanism, preparation or training in place for the UK armed forces [to defend home territory] . . . let alone to do so with Nato.”

● Navy ships and RAF planes are often deployed without adequate munitions or protections because they have grown used to depending on US forces to protect and support them. “Key capabilities such as radars, fire control systems and missile stocks are deficient.”

● Small numbers of hugely expensive pieces of military equipment make the UK’s capabilities “extremely fragile”. It is unlikely the UK’s two new aircraft carriers, which cost £2bn each, will ever be sent within 300km of the Chinese coast, for example. “We operate platforms that we cannot afford to use fully, damage or lose — industry would take years to repair or produce more.”

Read more about the memo here.

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Yes he is right,but he never said a thing while serving.


Saying this sort of thing while serving is a great way to get yourself fired


Attitudes do need to change in every line of activity from defense to hospitals. The mechanisms currently in operation in the UK services, need to change in order that the most potential can be gleaned from every employee regardless of rank. The rules need to be rewritten in order that key players can flag issues of concern and have the reassurances that no negative actions will ensue. That means the capability to put forward ideas and suggestions, without fear of reprisal from management/seniority. Industry operated in a similar mode until relatively recently, where you did your job and shut up.… Read more »


Retired seniors can say what they like virtually, and are useful to raise concerns. I daresay serving officers have words with them as well. Stanhope was one of the few who spoke out while still first sea lord, and was either booted out or due for retirement a couple of years later. Haven’t heard a thing from Zambelias, West is around a lot. What Stanhope said by the way was the the RN was running hot, and wouldn’t be able to do a sustained Libya, or another one.

David Steeper

I would agree that there are fundamental problems with our defence spend. But I would beg to differ that it is not the absolute level of spend that is the main problem. For all of the forces the first priority is not the defence of this country or it’s friends. their first indeed overwhelming priority are their bloated, under worked officer corps. I would suggest a solution to them. That defence spend would be increased to 2.5% on one condition. That the proportion of officers should be reduced to the level of the USMC or IDF. I will guarantee you… Read more »


Hi David You have hit the nail on the head. The USMC has an externally audited budget of circa $30bn pa is larger than the whole UK armed force and has more tanks, aircraft than the UK – it is scheduled to have 400+ F35 against the UKs 138 – but I believe that is their operational requirement not their total order so far worse than it looks. Clearly the USMC do not fund a nuclear deterrent or Navy or the policy elements and civilian staff of the MOD but for the additional $20bn p.a that constitutes the remaining UK… Read more »

David Steeper

Well said.


Realistically the defence budget can only be increased through more borrowing. Cutting other departments isn’t going to work as they have all been ravaged and no politician will argue that we need to reduce pensions and welfare to pay for frigates, nor should they. Foreign Aid could be used to fund humanitarian work by the armed forces but only after a change in rules at the OECD. We could reduce our commitment to the OECD but that would play out badly on the world stage.

Deferring the elimination of the budget deficit seems to be the only answer.


Why is Foreign Aid even in the budget? If the preachy little parasites in the NGOs want to waste their time and hard earned money that is their prerogative. Helping prop up incompetent and often totalitarian governments and tin pot dictatorships by giving them loads of cold hard cash is all it accomplishes. Also who why not reduce the welfare rolls the threat imminent starvation was a very effective incentive to work in my youth. Unlike the pensioners they have not earned any of the money they are receiving. Also who gives a single solitary damn about world how the… Read more »


I don’t disagree with the sentiment on welfare – but if we do make savings in that area then it will almost certainly be used to bolster the NHS and education budgets, not defence. Given that we are now supposed to be looking to the wider world for trade etc do you not think that a foreign aid budget is a good idea to keep/gain influence and goodwill? It needs to be lower though and we should be able to spend it on humanitarian missions like the recent hurricane response. With other departments crying our for more funding defence will… Read more »


Point taken Rob but a ring fenced Foreign Aid budget of 13Bn is far, far too much and needs to be drastically cut. DfiD is literally sitting on billions with nothing to spend it on whilst the coffers of the Armed Forces and other Depts – esp the Foreign Office – are empty. This needs to be changed; in times of austerity when money is tight across the board, 0.7% if GDP simply can’t be justified.


Totally agree on it being too much. Foreign Aid should be under our control and spent where it really will make a difference.


I think foreign aid is poorly managed and badly abused Humanitarian aid on the other hand – the uk could be a world leader Imagine if we had delivered a load of container homes to the carribean after the recent hurricanes – made in the UK to very high standard. This not only benefits UK industry but actually would give those people in overseas territories a head start on rebuilding their lives. Incorporating the latest solar and water technologies the uk could become a world leader in humanitarian aid and its delivery. I also believe hospital ships crewed by RFA… Read more »


Well said Pacman27 – why shouldn’t British industry benefit from the DFID budget; the money is spent supporting UK companies whilst the purchased products are shipped overseas to where they are needed – it’s a ‘win-win’ and makes perfect sense.

Mike Saul

The deficit can be cut by introducing a simpler fairer tax system that generates the maximum amount of sustainable revenue in the long term.

Trouble is current crop of politicians do not have the courage to tell the voters the hard truth and implement the changes necessary.


The armed forces require a complete overall of their command structure, we need to radically shrink the number of O-5 (Lt Col, Commander) ranks and above, and to use these reductions to increase the other ranks. The RN for example is short of front line sailors but has more Admirals than ships, and something like 9 or 10 ‘command’ grade officers per fighting ship. The military as a whole is a fraction of its cold war size, but we haven’t seen a corresponding cut in the upper ranks. Honestly, its time to ask if any of the services actually require… Read more »


Completely agree with much of the above. Many jobs currently filled by Officers can actually be done by SNCO’s too. We have far too many very senior Officers because for some reason industry etc feels better when they talk to someone with a degree. (not withstanding the fact many SNCO’s in all 3 services have higher education qualifications) The Foreign Aid budget needs to go… just does. I couldn’t care less about ‘Up stream engagement’ The welfare budget needs to be seriously looked at. People should be rewarded for working not sitting around on their collective fat asses. I’m not… Read more »


He’s quite right.

Anyone that matters listening?



No votes in defence.

Unless we get attacked in some way of course then everyone will be asking why we didn’t have this or that. Politicians should be able to see past their own short term-ism and properly fund defence but we all know they will not do that at the expense of vote winning policies such as more funding for the NHS, education, and state pension increases.


Used to be Rob, the Conservatives used to be the party of choice for defence back in the old Cold War days where Labour were seen to be weak. Different days now.

Geoffrey Roach

Sadly, I can’t but agree but look at the other options. Sends a shiver down your spine! Let’s pray that the promises of an increase is some how brought about

. Michael Fallon could make himself and the Conservatives very popular with an awful lot of people. and pull in a lot of votes. There are huge numbers of people in a lot of marginal seats who depend on defence for their livelihood.

Mr Bell

Agree with all of the comments. the armed forces top brass need to take a long hard look in the mirror. Why is it that they retire then and only then mention the perilous state of our armed forces. summed up best by having some exquisite kit but to little of it and too few personnel. There is no resilience built into our armed forces. It seems the navy operates with the concept that war is never going to happen and if it does we will suffer no ship or submarine loses or battle damage. Even though the RN is… Read more »


There is lots of debate on this blog but I think all of the problems mentioned have roots in the fact that our procurements and service structures are not efficient. We therefore have less than we should for our 2%. I think the following is needed… PEOPLE Eliminate the bureaucraticly expensive procument system and wasteful competitions and long decision timelines like FRES, F35-B/C and T26. Cut the Defence Equipment and Support Agency (we don’t need 20,000 people to buy food and toilet paper for our 150,000 armed forces personel), and stop handing over cash for stupid stuff like the £0.5bn… Read more »


I knew the UK had a officer heavy force but I didn’t think the Army would have more general officers than the US Army’s active duty list and nearly 7 1/2 times the USMCs.


Bloody Hell TH. for once you are bang on the money and I find myself in total agreement with you… Not something I ever thought I would admit to.. A single force structure with the RAF absorbed into the other services is needed, we also need to concentrate on Cyber as a supporting force. I have stated a few times I believe we should have a 6/7 Division UKDF structure with 2 Divisions being expeditionary (carrier groups/RMs etc), 4 Divisions conducting our standing commitments and a single core command/control/logistics support core. Each division would be rotated through tasking on a… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Tim, not TH. The only thing TH is good for is pouring his nation down the toilet.


In a similar vein I believe welfare should be capped at 50% of minimum wage (as that is what we believe the minimum wage people should earn – surely we should not be paying people more for not working) Minimum wage should be tax free. A single uniformed police force for the UK and an FBI style force for all major crime (separating community policing from the more serious crime). But of course this will not happen – from a tax perspective – not taking money from people only to give it back to them must be far more efficient… Read more »

Mr Bell

Welfare should be capped so that no person out of work receives more in benefits then a newly qualified nurse, policeman, fireman eg someone who serves the public good. So max benefit payment (including housing and everything else, should be £21k. It is ridiculous that in the uk you can be a career unemployed benefits claimant, never work a day in your life and earn more than a soldier, sailor ir RAF personnel who potentially will risk their lives for their country. although risking your life is not just restricted to armed forces. A nurse working in the frontline of… Read more »


– Spending 2% of GDP on defence would be a good start…. £34bn is not 2% of GDP

– There isn’t even 82,000 people in the army, which he well knows.
As of May 1st this year the Army had: 78,000 personnel.


Absolutely agree Joe and within that 34Bn is the nuclear deterrent, pensions and others line items that shouldn’t be. Fallon and HMG threw everything they could muster to pretend to meet the 2% GDP requirement but fooled no-one in the process. Everyone who cares knows we don’t truthfully meet it and 2% is the NATO stated MINIMUM – not the desired goal!

I fear the neglect of our Armed Forces will some day come back to haunt us as a nation – we need the British public to waken up to what’s going on!


Gideon Osbourne really did a number on defence when he moved everything into core spending.

When Doris in the canteen took early retirement, that money comes out of core defence expenditure.

It’s farcical


the huge number of civil servants / non combat staff needs to be addressed. The plan for cutting the defence budget was the cut private sector roles but maybe they need to look at public sector also. The problem is the unions would go nuts and the government has no desire to fight the unions, so instead equopment gets cut and lives put at risk. One of the biggest takeaway from the Afghan/ Iraq mess was there wasn’t enough helicopter and yet it seems they are slowly reducing down again. Already apache numbers cut to 50 and rumours of more… Read more »

Tim sinnett

Go away TH.


yes i think there is about 74,840 regs and 2,940 Ghurka plus mobilised reserves and 4600 phase 1 trained troops.. According to 1st September monthly personnel figures..

John Clark

As a remedial action we need to invest an additional 3 billion into Defence per annum, right now! This money would be recovered from the foreign aid budget This would be used (in part) to offer decent incentive led pay rises to personal we desperately need to retain and for that matter re-join. The services are loosing highly skilled men and woman to the private sector every day (same issue in the NHS), to combat this I would move away from the public sector “straight jacket” thinking of everyone gets the same salary at a particular rank or grade. That… Read more »


we need a more realistic strategy. saying oh let’s take money out of the foreign aid budget and put it into defence, is clearly a non-starter. Firstly it would be immensely unpopular with the electorate and more importantly any additional cash first needs to go into other areas like the NHS or the transport infrastructure. Equally avoiding political interference is a no go, this is done all over the world and is human nature for the elected politicians to want to get re-elected by being involved in jobs going into their area. Additionally politicians love confirming future big purchases without… Read more »

John Clark

Hi Steve, I understand what you are saying, the trouble is we are currently sleep walking into a hugely dangerous world situation. Let’s take a look at the Cold war for instance, yes we had Northern Irish domestic terrorism to deal with and numerous east/west sparked and fueled flash points and of course the threat of Nuclear war, but at least those Nukes were in (relatively) stable hands. the world today is far more dangerous and our country is in much more danger. Yet Defence policy is purely politically driven. The 5 year Defence reviews were supposed to stop this….… Read more »



David Steeper

Guys if you ignore him he’ll go away.


Gents I think its time all parties are required by law to map taxation to spending commitment as whilst I support an increase in the defence budget I would also like an increase in education spending so that we are producing enough key skills staff in this country to stop the madness of having chronic shortages of key skills whilst we have record numbers of people at university. By putting this into the public domain and then having to maintain these spending pledges by law, we would get the required traction. Its pretty simple in reality. Health duties (cigarettes alcohol… Read more »

John Clark

Spot on Pacman, excellent suggestions, trouble is all the main parties would jump at the idea to to get voted in …. Then use their majority to change the law!

You just can’t expect ANY political parties to be honest or indeed honorable…

Mr Bell

Paceman- genius- that would utterly end all the smoke and mirrors and the grey areas of creative accounting rife in this country- like creative accounting is going to stop Putin, a resurgent Russia or any other despot dictator