Defence Secretary announces Future Soldier for the British Army
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announces Future Soldier, the British Army's most radical transformation in 20 years
Defence Secretary statement to the House of Commons 25th November 2021
With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to update the house on the details and implementation of the Army’s future capabilities, structures and basing. In March, I came to the house to announce the outcome of the Defence Command Paper, part of our Integrated Review. I said we must adapt to new threats, resist sentimentality and match our ambitions to our resources if we are to field armed forces who remain relevant and credible for the challenges of the future. I also said that we owed it to our service personnel to ensure we now turn that policy into reality, the work to do so had only just begun.
The army was tasked with undertaking the most significant modernisation in a generation and after an intense period of planning which I’m especially grateful to the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith and Brigadier Clark and the rest of the team, I can now announce to Parliament the details of its plans entitled Future Soldier.
Let me begin by paying tribute to those soldiers, the brave men and women of the British Army. To me they are the finest in the world. Yesterday we witnessed soldiers alongside colleagues from other services parade outside Parliament. It was an opportunity not to just pay tribute to their extraordinary endeavours during Operation Pitting, helping evacuate some 15,000 people in a matter of weeks or just to thank them for their service and sacrifice throughout the decades long Afghan campaign. But it was also a reminder that the Army that departed Afghanistan is a very different one from that of 2021. But the army of the future must adapt even more quickly if it is to adapt to the threats of the future. Let us be clear, those threats are proliferating ones, from increasing Humanitarian crises, to evermore capable and violet extremism, and the use of proxy forces. And the evermore present spectre of great power competition. To keep pace with the changing character of warfare, our army must be forward looking, adaptable and embracing of new ways of working as much as new weapons and technologies. Not only much it have the best force structure to counter an ever growing range of threats to the UK, our people and interests but it must achieve our ambitions on schedule and in budget.
Thanks to the Prime Minister’s record settlement for defence announced at last year’s spending review, we have been given the time and resources to undertake the generational modernisation that defence needs. Far from being deprived of investment, as some claim, we are injecting £41.3 billion into army support and equipment this decade, £8.6 billion more than had been planned prior to the integrated review. We are using those funds to create a modern innovative and digitised army. Our future army will be leaner but more productive, prioritising speed and readiness over mass and mobilisation. But still be over 100,000 strong, integrating regulars and reserves as well as all the civil servants and partners from the private sector. As the Chief of the General Staff has said it must be an army that places a premium not just on mass, but on critical mass, relevant, networked and deployable. So the army will now be reorganised to operate on a continuous basis, fielding all the relevant capabilities for this era of constant competition and persistently engaged around the globe, supporting our partners and deterring our adversaries. But crucially, it will also be an army designed for genuine warfighting credibility as an expeditionary fighting force that will be both deployable and lethal when called upon to fight and win.
Since the publication of the Defence Command paper, my officials have worked hard to finalise a reform programme to deliver our priorities at home and abroad. Our future soldiers will find tomorrow’s army has six distinct elements. First, it will be globally engaged with more personnel deployed for more time, employed in a new network of regional hubs based on existing training locations in places such as Oman and Kenya.
Next will be a key contributor to NATO warfighting, capable of fielding division throughout the decade as we transition to the new capabilities for a fully modernised warfighting division by 2030. Third, It will be enhanced by state of the art equipment, including upgraded tanks and digital network armoured vehicles, as well as long range precision strike, cyber and electromagnetic capabilities.
Fourth it will exploit innovation and experimentation to get ahead of the evolving threats. Not only will the army share the 6.6 billion pounds of defence, increased R&D investment, but next year both the new British Army’s battle lab and a dedicated unit the army trials and experimentation group will be established to stay at the cutting edge.
Fifth, it will have integration at its heart, bringing together regulars, reservists and civil servants to form a more productive force with warfighting resilience at its heart and cross government working in its DNA.
And finally, Mr. Speaker, it will be an army that benefits the whole of our union with an increased proportion of the army based in each of the devolved nations and expenditure contributing to prosperity throughout the United Kingdom under our upcoming land industrial strategy. I’m pleased report we already made substantial progress. When it comes to global engagement we inform the new Army Special Operations brigade in which the new Ranger Regiments will sit. Also we’ve established a security force assistance brigade and set up a NATO holding area in Germany.
In terms of warfighting we’ve reinforced NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction for core established new Brigade Combat Teams and reinforce the Army’s Global Response Force. Over the next five years implementation will continue a-pace. The end of this year our new Ranger Regiment will reach initial operating capability by mid-2022 our new deep Recce strike brigade combat team will be established by the autumn of next year two battalions of the Mercier regiment will merge to form a new boxer mounted battalion in one of our armoured combat teams.
The recapitalization of major equipment is already underway. I’m determined to do everything within our means to accelerate the introduction of Challenger three tank with an ambition for the delivery to unit starting in 2025 onwards. Likewise, we are transitioning to boxer armoured personnel carriers from the retiring warrior with units starting to receive their first vehicles from 2023. We are resolving development issues with the troubled and nonetheless technically capable, however, Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicle and we are upgrading the battle proven Apache attack helicopters while investing in everything from long range precision strike, Ground based air defence, un-crewed aerial systems, electronic warfare and tactical cyber. These cutting edge capabilities will be wielded by the newly restructured Brigade Combat Teams - self-sufficient tactical formations with their own combat support and logistics. They will include 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team and a new Aviation Brigade Combat Team, which together will form our Global Response Force providing defence’s rapid response for crisis overseas. Let me now turn to our plans to streamlining the army structure. For too long, historic infantry structures have inhibited our army’s transformation. We cannot afford to be slave to sentiment when the threat has moved on. So today I can confirm a major reorganisation under four new administrative divisions of infantry, the Queen’s division, the Union division, the Light division, and the Guards and Parachute division. These divisions are designed to reflect historic ties, while also balancing their number of battalions and unit roles, offering greater flexibility and opportunity for soldiers of all ranks.
As announced in March these plans do not involve the deletion of any cap badges or further major unit changes or any military redundancies. While we are significantly reducing the total number of army personnel. We are not compromising our presence in and contribution to the devolved nations. Our numbers will reduce slightly everywhere except Wales where we are increasing a portion of army based in each nation and investing millions in the defence industry and estate. Northern Ireland will keep the same number of battalions but host a greater proportion of the Army’s workforce and gain an additional reserve company of the Royal Irish.
Scotland will be home to more battalions going from six to seven units. And a greater proportion of the army than today. We will be retaining Glencorse barracks and we will grow in Kinloss and Leuchars thanks for 355 million pounds investment in the army estate. Wales will see the return of the Welsh Calvary Queen’s Dragoon Guards to Caerwent barracks and the new reserved company of Third Battalion the Royal Welsh to be established in north Wales. The retention of Brecon barracks and the growth of Wrexham are just part of a 320 million pound investment in the army estate in Wales.
I know colleagues will be enthusiastic to learn the basing implication for their own constituencies and the full breakdown of the Army’s new structure will be able to be found on the government website. Or if you click through the link in the Dear Colleague letter that will be distributed. Our future army will be as agile in the new domains of cyberspace as it is on the ground. It will contribute to the most personnel of all the services to those enhanced information age functions, such as national cyber force and Defence Intelligence, so critical to our new integrated force. In practical terms, this amounts to an additional 500 regular personnel from the 72,500 to 73,000. Together with more than 10,000 army personnel who work in other parts of defence, you will now as I say have a figure of 73,000. As I said back in March, the size and capability abilities our army must be dictated by the threat. What we can show on paper or even muster on parade matters little if we can’t rely on those numbers when it counts, or deliver the relevant capabilities required. Unlike the purely financial and numerically driven reviews of the past, we’ve taken a positive pragmatic approach matching our size to the current security environment and the current ambition of the government. Mr. Speaker transformation on this scale, every single unit will be affected in some way by this change.
It also requires a radical change at the top of the army. So by 2025, the Army’s headquarters will be reduced by 40% Regular personnel and reserve integration will be made more productive across the whole force. Notably the COVID pandemic underlined the need for resilient structures that can cope with crises is on the home front. So a new reserve brigade based in York will ensure we can provide forces at the point of need. Simultaneously we will be strengthening our Army’s institutional foundation across the United Kingdom by establishing regional points of command. Our army has always been defined by its people and their adaptive, resilient, determined and diverse qualities. So this review puts investment in human capital first, the more we use our people, the more we must make sure they are properly supported. That’s why we’ll be more be modernising individual’s careers, and Family Assistance, all of which will be consolidated in an army people plan published early in the new year.
And finally, Mr. Speaker, there’s more competitive age, we will ensure that equipping our people and the ability to understand, compete and fight across all domains is firmly at the forefront of defence policymaking. So Mr. Speaker, this is an army that we can remain proud of, not just for its historical achievements, or the Top Trumps comparisons of numbers, tanks and people in its ranks. But because it is an honest force, this is a credible and relevant, relentlessly adapting force that will confront the threat to the nation and meet the challenges of the future. Changing the way it operates is as much as the equipment with which it does it, and evolving culturally as more as much as structurally to place our future soldier in the best possible position to compete in all domains, both old and new, to shape our world for the better. Like their forbearers, I’m certain they will grasp these opportunities with both hands. It is certainly an army that I would have liked to have served in.
Mr. Speaker, I’m certain that this modernization programme will allow them to be just that and ensure the army remains both relevant and credible in support of our Prime Minister’s vision for a Global Britain. That is a safer, stronger and more prosperous place. And I commend this statement to the house.