In Depth

Is the British Army still fit for purpose?

Force ‘years off’ full strength despite recruitment campaign

British Army recruiters have admitted it will take years for the organisation to reach full strength, despite its popular “Snowflake” recruitment drive.

Enlistment into the Army fell significantly after recruitment was partially privatised in 2012, but new figures show a resurgence thanks to a shift in strategy.

With seven weeks to go until the end of the recruiting year, 99% of the 9,440 target has been reached - the first time in six years.

The recruitment boost comes after a lull last year when just 60% of the target number was achieved.

Advertising, popular TV shows depicting Army life, and a relaxation of health requirements have helped recruitment grow, but the Army has warned that one successful year would do little to reduce the overall shortfall, reports The Guardian.

Major General Paul Nanson, who heads Army recruitment, said it was “going to take years” to get back to the levels needed.

The number of serving personnel is currently 8,000 short the stated target of 82,000.

A crisis of recruitment or retention?

With recruitment rising, it appears to be a crisis of retention that the Army is suffering. In the last year, the Army reported 74,440 full-time and fully trained troops, down from 76,880 the previous year.

The MoD said it has been “working hard to improve recruitment”. The Telegraph reports on a recent survey of ex-servicepeople, which revealed an array of reasons for people choosing to leave the Armed Forces. The paper reports that the top factor influencing people to leave was “impact of service life on family and personal life” – cited by 62% of of service leavers – while the second most stated reason, at 56%, was “job opportunities outside the service”.

Major General Nanson said: “We're in a war for talent. Once we can prove we can maintain the level of improvement this year...then we can have a really good shot at closing that gap.”

Can the Army still operate?

MoD figures show that the Army has an 8,000 soldier deficit, but the Ministry says the Army “continued to meet all their operational requirements” despite this.

There are 25,000 British Army soldiers on operations or ready to be deployed on operations. In 2017, 42,000 troops took part in overseas exercises in 45 different countries, according to MoD figures.

However, the Daily Mail notes that under-18s – who made up an enormous percentage of new recruits in the past year – are not allowed to engage in combat operations. Instead they train at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, the paper says, and permission to enlist is required from a parent or guardian.

The Times says the Army has “struggled with a chronic personnel shortage” and is suffering “a worsening manpower crisis”.

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