Q&A: Army 2020 reorganisation

British troops in Afghanistan
Image caption The Army is unlikely to be able to fight on more than one front, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq

The British army is set for major change over the next few years following a restructuring review known as Army 2020.

What is happening to the British army?

It is getting smaller. Much smaller. The government has already announced that it is cutting its size by a fifth as part of the wider defence cuts. In 2010 the Army's strength was about 102,000 troops. By 2020 it will be a regular army of just 82,000. In other words half the size it was during the Cold War-era. In 1978 the Army had more than 163,000 troops.

What is Army 2020?

It is about restructuring the Army - deciding what kind of army there should be in the future, what it should do, and how it should be structured. The work has been led by one of the Army's rising stars, Lieutenant General Nick Carter. He has been given the chance to think strategically. But, there is still no escaping the fact that this review has been driven by cuts.

How have these decisions been made?

The Army has made recommendations to the government as to which units or regiments should be lost. These have been partly based on the unit strength and recruiting record of regiments. However the politicians have had the final say. David Cameron has stipulated that no "cap badges" should go. In other words he does not want to see entire regiments scrapped.

That means the Army has had to "salami slice" or merge existing regiments. So battalions, of about 600 personnel, will go, rather than regiments. The Army has also been told that there must be a "regional balance". That suggests that some Scottish regiments, which have a poorer recruiting record than others in the Army, will be protected. The government does not want to fuel nationalist sympathies.

Will all the old regimental names survive?

Not necessarily. Many historic regiments have already been swallowed up into larger regional regiments, though in some cases their names, battle honours and traditions still survive. For example, The 5th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland still carries the name of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

So what units will go?

Four infantry battalions will disappear - the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards), the 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment and the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh.

A fifth infantry battalion, the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), will become a single company to carry out public duties in Scotland.

The Armoured Corps will be reduced by two units with the mergers of the Queen's Royal Lancers and the 9th/12th Royal Lancers and the 1st and 2nd Tank Regiments.

What will the new Army look like?

There will be a reaction force made up entirely of regulars. This will be the "teeth" of the Army - highly trained units and ready to deploy at short notice.

The second element will be the adaptable force. This will consist of regular troops and an increased number of reservists from the Territorial Army. The adaptable force will provide troops for ceremonial duties, and for standing commitments such as defending the Falklands. It will also include a security assistance force that will send small teams of troops to advise, train and keep the peace around the world. The important fact here is that the Army of 2020 will be increasingly reliant on part-time soldiers.

How will the role of reservists change?

The Territorial Army, which is to be known as the Army Reserves, will double from 15,000 to 30,000. Reservists will receive more training and increased opportunities for promotion in exchange for having to make a greater commit to regular training and deployment. Under current arrangements, TA soldiers who have full-time or part-time jobs attend training sessions in their own free time and commit to between 19 and 27 training days a year. The changes would mean reservists' training would increase to 40 days a year.

A government White Paper published in July 2013 outlined various changes, including increased payments for reservists and £500 a month for small businesses while their staff were away on military deployments.

What will the new Army be able to do?

The defence secretary insists that Britain will be left with an effective, well-equipped fighting force. But it will be smaller and more reliant on reservists and private contractors.

In the past decade the Army has been able to fight in two countries at the same time - in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not in the future.

The new structure suggests the Army will intervene at an earlier stage to avoid conflicts by sending advisers and trainers to difficult parts of the world. But if it is engaged in a large-scale military operation in the future, it will have fewer resources. In the words of Prof Michael Clarke, the director of the Royal United Services Institute: "With 82,000 we've got a 'one-shot' Army. If we don't get it right the first time, there probably won't be a second chance."

One senior former army officer has likened it to switching from comprehensive insurance to third party, fire and theft. And no one knows what the next threat may be.

What will happen next?

The White Paper on reservists is the latest stage of the process, so more part-time soldiers will be recruited while redundancies continue in the regular Army.

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