British forces ‘no longer fit for purpose’

British forces are no longer fit for purpose and the army is 20 years out of date, former UK service chiefs have said.

Richard Barrons, former commander of joint forces command, said the armed forces were close to breaking point, with the navy underfunded and the air force at the edge of its engineering capacity.

Speaking alongside counterparts from the navy and airforce, Barrons was giving evidence to a House of Commons defence committee investigation into the latest defence review.

Although the defence budget is £38 billion a year and the Treasury has promised wive-inflation annual increases, the Ministry of Defence has been hit bard by the sharp rise in the cost of plans and other equipment. The army has already fallen in size an the navy has much fewer ships.

Proposals for further cuts include ending the ability to mount amphibious landings and reducing the number of marines.

Service chiefs often complain budgets are never enough but the warnings at the defence committee come against a backdrop of cuts that raise doubts about the UK’s ability to fight a major conventional war.

The problem is exacerbated by spending on the renewal of the Trident nuclear submarine fleet and two aircraft carriers.

Barrons said the government faced hard choices but the security environment had changed, with threats posed by Russia, North Korea and groups such as the so-called Islamic State.

Barrons estimated there was a £2 billion gap between the defence budget and the programme the forces were being asked to carry out.

Barron’s said: “So the first discussion should be in government: ‘How much risk are we running in the world and what do we need to do to fix it?’ We don’t seem to want to have that discussion.

“So you end up with risk of a ridiculous, zero-sum discussion both within the service – the nonsense of culling marines to buy more sailors – and between the services, which is why you end up generally with a current navy structurally underfunded, air force that is holding together with a bunch of very good equipment but at the edge of their engineering and support capacity, and an army that, broadly speaking, is 20 years out of date.”

An MOD spokesperson said: “In the face of rapidly intensifying threats, we are contributing to the cross-government review of national security capabilities and looking at how we best spend our rising defence budget to protect our country.

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