UK Politics

David Cameron ponders armed forces reservists boost

Royal Marine in Afghanistan
Image caption A review of defence spending in October 2010 recommended large-scale job losses

The prime minister is considering a report which recommends that reservists should play a greater role in Britain's armed forces, the BBC understands.

David Cameron personally commissioned the review which is due to be published before the summer recess.

The BBC's Carole Walker says it will suggest increasing training so that companies of reservists can deal with instances such as civil emergencies.

The MoD said it would not speculate on the outcome of the review.

However, our correspondent says Mr Cameron is thought to be sympathetic to the review's ideas.

The review, carried out by the deputy head of the armed forces, General Sir Nick Houghton, was commissioned at the time of last year's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

He was asked to look at the future role and structure of the Territorial Army and its Royal Navy and RAF equivalents.

As part of the SDSR, the government announced that 7,000 soldiers, 5,000 navy personnel and 5,000 RAF personnel would lose their jobs by 2015.

Reservists were spared any immediate reductions, despite reports during the negotiations over cuts that suggested their numbers could drop by as many as a third.

Cost implications

Part-time troops currently make up 17% of armed forces numbers, but the review is expected to recommend a significant increase in that proportion.

The BBC understands that it will suggest making better use of the specialist skills and experience that reservists can bring from their civilian work.

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Media captionColonel Stuart Tootal: "They [government] musn't do defence on the cheap"

It will also say that with more training and professionalism, companies entirely made up of reservists could tackle certain missions alone.

But our correspondent said that although reservists were cheaper than full-time personnel, money would still have to be found to pay for that training and that could be difficult in current economic circumstances.

The UK has a far lower proportion of reservist to regular soldiers than major allies - presently around 15 to every 85 full-timers compared with a 50:50 split in the US and 40:60 in Australia.

Colonel Stuart Tootal, a former commander of 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment who served with reservists in Afghanistan, warned against doing "defence on the cheap".

He told BBC Breakfast: "There is more that the Territorial army and reservists can do... but you have to resource it, and that is going to cost money.

"Our reserves at the moment are great people but I don't think they get enough resources so there is a capability argument in terms of how much more money we are going to put into the reserves and secondly there's a balance. The reserve forces can't replace the regular forces. They supplement and support it and reinforce it."

He added: "If they are not properly equipped, they are not properly trained, then you are going to take operational risk."

Prof Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said a lot of work needed to be done before the TA could be used in this way.

"The problem is, not enough of them are ready and fit and trained to go on to the frontline. Only about one in 20 of the TA is ready to be deployed at short notice. That proportion will have to change if the TA is to play a much greater role in British operations," he said.

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