Can we recruit enough Reservists to make Army 2020 work?

I’ve written before of my reservations on Army 2020 here and here. The plan is to remove 20,000 regular soldiers from the establishment and replace them with an extra 10,000 reservists. It seems the Telegraph has some sort of MOD document expressing similar worries.

They report that ‘the Army is currently recruiting barely half the number of new reservists needed to hit that target.’

Some of the quoted data is alarming: ‘Only 376 recruits joined the Reserve between April and June, missing a target of 1432.’

Oops!

One might question the basic maths of replacing 20,000 regulars with 10,000 reservists, but the bigger risk to the Army 2020 plan is that reserve units will not have the manpower to augment regular units. You see, reservists are no longer going to be called out on an ad hoc basis – or when the balloon really does go up. No, they are now as integral to military deployments as regular units.

There is a chance, of course, that this is part of an elaborate recruiting plan. Perhaps the idea is to generate public interest and stimulate a sense of public duty with the story? But, then, perhaps those in government don’t quite realise that the notion of public duty is not what it was – no matter their protestations?

And perhaps this is just a short-term problem? Perhaps the message has just not got out there yet, and when it does, young men and women will flock to the colours?

I hope I’m wrong, but the risk is still considerable. The fundamental question remains: if someone wants to be a regular soldier, they will join the Regular Army; if they want to be a reservist, well, they’ll join the Reserves.

There is a great deal of logic – both fiscal and military – in the idea of creating an integrated force. Reservists are cheaper than their regular counterparts, they often have skills and expertise lacking in regular units, and their greater involvement could reduce the civil-military culture-gap.

But I prefer the old system of a regular army to conduct routine operations and respond to crises, and a reserve army to connect with the country and provide semi-trained manpower if the balloon goes up.

To rely on part-timers (not used pejoratively) to fill gaps in the Regular Army is not, as they say, an act of war. There’s a reason we developed the concept of a regular army: it’s better. I hope we are not taking a backward step.

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