The British Army consists of the General Staff and the deployable Field Army and the Regional Forces that support them, as well as Joint elements that work with the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. The Army carries out tasks given to it by the democratically elected Government of the United Kingdom (UK). Its primary task is to help defend the interests of the UK, which consists of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This may involve service overseas as part of a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Force or any other multi-national deployment. Soldiers may also be deployed on United Nations (UN) operations and used to help in other emergencies.
The increasing demands of imperial expansion together with inefficiencies highlighted during the Napoleonic Wars led to the Cardwell and Childers Reforms of the late 19th century. These gave the British Army its modern shape, and defined its regimental system. The Haldane Reforms of 1907, formally created the Territorial Force which still exists as the Army's volunteer reserve component.
On 1 April 2008 the two top level structures of the Army, Land Command and Adjutant General, joined to become HQ Land Forces, commanded by the Commander-in-Chief, Land Forces (CINCLAND). The command structure is hierarchical with divisions and brigades responsible for administering groupings of smaller units. Major Units are regiment or battalion-sized with minor units being smaller, either company sized sub-units or platoons. All units within the service are either Regular (full-time) or Territorial Army (part-time), or a combination with sub-units of each type.
Units names differ for historical reasons. An infantry regiment is an administrative and ceremonial organisation only and may include several battalions. An infantry battalion is equivalent to a cavalry regiment. For operational tasks a battle group would be formed around a combat unit, supported by units or sub-units from other areas. Such an example would be a squadron of tanks attached to an armoured infantry battle group, together with a reconnaissance troop, artillery battery and engineering support.
By the 19th Century a battalion of infantry generally contained 750 men, divided into ten companies, and commanded by its own colonel. One battalion in most cases constituted a regiment, but some regiments, as those of the Guards, contained two battalions. The grenadier company occupied the extreme right, and the light infantry company the extreme left of a battalion, and were therefore called its flank companies.
A unit is the generic term for a military organisation that is the basic building block of a specific operational capability. It includes service personnel predominately from a single cap-badge but with small detachments of other cap-badged personnel that provide specialist capability. A unit may be called a Regiment or a Battalion, dependent on the capability it provides and would generally consist of a Headquarters, a support sub-unit and 3 other sub-units called companies, squadrons or batteries, dependent on the unit type. The size and structure of each unit varies considerably (408 up to 729) and is dependent on its role and specialisation.
In the Future Army 2020 [A2020] structure, combat units would be grouped into either the Reaction Force or the Adaptable Force. Regiments or battalions in the Reaction Force are normally larger as they comprise mainly full-time service personnel able to deploy on operations at minimal notice. The combat units in the Adaptable Force are slightly smaller as their full-time manpower is planned to be augmented by reservists who would require additional training and preparation before the unit can be deployed.
Within the Infantry the standard unit is the battalion and consists of a battalion headquarters, a headquarter company, a support company and 3 rifle companies; the size is dependent on role. The Reaction Force infantry battalions are 729 or 709 strong, dependent on capability, each rifle company consisting of 3 rifle platoons. Within the Adaptable Force, infantry battalions are slightly smaller at 581 or 561 personnel.
The Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) unit is termed a Regiment and consists of a regimental headquarters, a headquarter squadron, a support squadron and 3 reconnaissance or sabre squadrons dependent on the unit role. Within the Reaction Force, an RAC Regiment is 587 or 528 strong and within the Adaptable Force it is 404 strong.
This terminology is applied across the British Army, so for example a Royal Engineer unit is called a regiment and its sub units are termed squadrons. Those Royal Engineer units supporting the Reaction Forces are c.600 strong and those supporting the Adaptable Force are c.500 strong. Similarly the Royal Artillery has Regiments but its sub units are termed batteries; its units in the Reaction Forces are c.600 strong and those supporting the Adaptable Force are c.400 strong.
The UK’s 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) set a new headmark for the UK’s Armed Forces: Joint Force 2025. Building on the changes of Army 2020, the British Army would be rebalanced to enhance it’s ability to generate a division capable of undertaking high-end combat operations while further reinforcing the Army’s contribution to domestic resilience and overseas engagement. The Army would move from having three armored infantry brigades, one ready at any time, to two armored infantry brigades and two new Strike Brigades, with one of each held at readiness. The Army would also reconfigure a number of infantry battalions to provide an increased contribution to countering terrorism and building stability overseas. They would conduct Defence Engagement and capacity building, providing training, assistance, advice and mentoring to UK partners. The Strike Brigades would be equipped with the new Ajax tracked vehicle family and a new Mechanised Infantry Vehicle.
Between 2010 and 2015 the Army was reduced from 102,000 trade-trained personnel to 82,000. This reduction was set out in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review and a subsequent review in 2011. It was achieved through a combination of redundancy, people leaving and reduced intake. From October 2016 the Army began to use two definitions: trained and trade-trained. From this point personnel who had completed Phase 1 of training were considered trained, whereas those who had completed both phases were considered trade-trained. The reason for the change was to allow phase 1 trained personnel to help in any response to crises in the UK, like flood assistance. Trade-trained army personnel are equivalent to trained Royal Navy and RAF personnel for comparative purposes.
As of 1 January 2021, the trade-trained strength of the army is 76,300. This is seven per cent below the target set in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) of 82,000 personnel. The army has not met this target since the middle of the last decade. The Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, announced on 22 March 2021 that the army will be reduced to 72,500 by 2025. This is set out in the Defence in a Competitive Age command paper. This means the existing target of 82,000 personnel, set in 2015, had been scrapped.
The new target of 72,500 continued the downward trajectory of the army’s size at a time when the Government is also laying out an ambitious plan for the armed forces. The plans for reduction were criticised ahead of publication by a former chief of the defence staff, Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, who argues “mass still matters”. John Healey, the shadow Defence Secretary, suggests the cuts could limit the UK’s ability to fulfil all of its tasks saying “there’s a gulf between the Government’s ambitions and its actions.” Prominent American former officials have also expressed disquiet. The former US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, said, given the option, he’d retain the force level.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|