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If new chief fears the Army is not fit for purpose, he must fix it


GENERAL Sir Patrick Sanders, the new Chief of the General Staff (CGS), as the head of the Army is known, has stated: ‘I am the first Chief of the General Staff since 1941 to take command of the Army in the shadow of a land war in Europe involving a continental power.’  

In the same message to troops, he added: ‘There is now a burning imperative to forge an Army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia.’ 

The former statement is just plain wrong, as the CGS should jolly well know. There was the minor ‘shadow’ of the Cold War, which kept the Army busy for half a century – thankfully without firing a shot (which might have been nuclear-tipped).  

Then came the Balkan Wars, which included both genocide and Russian involvement. Our commitment to Nato, which exists to deter Russian expansion – which started in the Ukraine in 2014 – remains extant. 

General Sanders’ latter statement is an overdue, tacit admission that the Army that he has inherited from his lacklustre predecessors is not fit for purpose, a theme which I and others have been propounding on TCW and elsewhere for years.   

It is extremely doubtful that the Army could field a credible armoured brigade, equivalent to just three Russian battalion tactical groups, although our commitment to Nato is for three times that – an armoured division.  

The general’s predecessors have left him with tanks in need of an upgrade (funded, but not started), an infantry fighting vehicle that is being deleted (its technically flawed upgrade being cancelled) and a reconnaissance vehicle replacement (the dreaded Ajax) that is, at best, a decade behind schedule.  

It gets worse. The war in Ukraine has demonstrated that towed artillery is vulnerable and that artillery range is vital. Yet half our artillery regiments are towed, using the short-range (relatively) small-calibre 105mm light gun – first fielded in the 1970s.  

There are just two regular regiments of self-propelled 155mm artillery, on the ageing AS-90 platform, plus one of the powerful Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). Yet his predecessors deluded themselves into thinking that this gave them a deep strike capability.  

Certainly there are some drones, but none can attack. The Reaper, which can carry missiles, belongs to the RAF and its use is more strategic – having more important things to do than kill armoured vehicles. 

Moreover, most of our infantry is ‘light role’, which means these troops go to war on foot, having been transported to the battle area by lorry or aircraft. Foot soldiers are slow, vulnerable and usually overloaded. They were obsolete – apart from some special roles, such as parachuting – in 1916. 

As the CGS implied, the Army is not equipped and organised to fight Russia, or anyone else. Nor can it fight for a ‘long haul’, as our wannabe war leader Prime Minister has acknowledged the Ukraine conflict is likely to be. War is seldom quick – as Vlad the Invader has discovered. So the CGS has a turnaround to perform. 

In failing organisations, the rot starts at the top. The Future Soldier document, published by his predecessor in November last year, is an exemplar of the problem. 

It promises an integrated, warfighting capability by 2030 – rather than the necessary war-winning capability that we need now. It baldly states: ‘Climate change forces us to question some of our most basic assumptions about how we operate.’ Really? Why? How?  

The Army’s job is not to fight climate change, it’s to defend the UK and its national interests against foreign military aggression. While rising sea levels and temperatures may have a peripheral impact on warfare, 2,000 or more Russian tanks is the military threat. Current defence policy is to deal with that by further reducing the size of the Army.  

If General Sanders is going to confront his Secretary of State with the reality behind the Potemkin village that is the British Army and brutally confront reality, I’ll break out the champagne.  

I am not holding my breath. 

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here.

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