Army plans for 40,000-strong war division 'at risk over funding and recruitment'

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Ambitious Army plans to establish a 40,000-strong war-fighting division are at risk unless the Government delivers on funding and recruitment, a hard-hitting parliamentary report has warned.

Plans for the new division formed a core part of the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) 2015 strategic review and are "central to the credibility of the Army", said the House of Commons Defence Committee.

They feature two armoured infantry brigades and a strike brigade capable of deploying at speed to counter a military threat from another state, such as Russia.

But the cross-party committee warned that the successful completion of the planned restructuring "cannot be taken for granted" due to manning shortfalls and "unacceptably low" levels of financial resourcing.

Committee chair Julian Lewis suggested that the Government must consider increasing spending on defence from the Nato minimum target of 2% of national income to the levels of 3% or more seen until the 1990s.

The creation of the new division relies on the Army maintaining manning levels of 82,000 regulars and 30,000 reservists, said the committee in its report.

But it said the Ministry of Defence had failed to hit the "historically low" manpower target for the standing Army, while there were "serious doubts" about it recruiting the necessary reservists by the target date of 2019.

It was "not clear" whether funding was in place to pay for the equipment needed by the new war-fighting division, with numbers of main battle tanks at less than half the level available in 1997. Further reductions would be "fraught with risk", the report warned.

It was "deeply concerning" that the National Audit Office spending watchdog had identified an additional £24.4 billion worth of spending commitments in the MoD's equipment plans and that a programme for new mechanised infantry vehicles is "uncosted", said the committee.

"The MoD must be clear that the financial settlement is sufficient to deliver this vital equipment - on time and within budget - without raiding other parts of defence expenditure," warned the report.

"Inadequate funding of these programmes would seriously impair, if not fatally undermine, the Army's ability to deploy either the division or the new strike brigades."

The report added: "A fully-manned and fully-equipped war-fighting division is central to the credibility of the Army. At present, it is a work in progress but there are clear risks to its affordability and delivery."

Dr Lewis said: "To be a credible force, the division must be fully manned and fully equipped. The MoD's future equipment plans are heavily dependent on identifying and achieving billions of pounds in so-called 'efficiency savings' over the decade ahead.

"So, while the Army's ambition is laudable, the MoD and the next government must make it a reality.

"As in many other areas of defence, the work of the Army is constrained by the fact that defence expenditure has fallen to an unacceptable level in GDP percentage terms - until the mid-1990s, the UK never spent less than 3% of GDP on defence.

"Until we accept the need to spend more than the 2% Nato minimum, the timely establishment of the war-fighting division, and the attainment of our manpower and equipment goals, cannot be taken for granted."

An MoD spokesman said: "Our troops are amongst the most capable in the world. In the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Ministry of Defence committed to providing adequate funding to ensure a fully effective fighting force."