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General's parting shot sounds warning about Army cuts

By 2020, the British Army will have downscaled from 102,000 to 82,000 within a decade. Photo: John Walton/EMPICS Sport

Pretty soon the whole British army (82,000 personnel) will be able to sit in Wembley stadium together (90,000 seats) but they won't be able to fill it without the Royal Marines (8,000 personnel).

Of course the Army - shrinking from 102,000 in 2010 - do not like this. The military in general don't like being cut and the Generals in particular don't like it.

General Sir Richard Shirreff's parting shot has to be seen in this light. He says the armed forces have been "hollowed out".

Today the Defence Secretary responded saying that Britain still has the fourth largest defence budget in the world.

It is also worth pointing out that Britain is one of only four Nato members to actually meet its Nato commitment of a two per cent of GDP defence spend (along with the US, Estonia and Greece ... yes - that Greece).

So we're not doing badly on the spending front. Where the general has got a serious point though is that the massive increase in the Army Reserve - the old TA, which is supposed to make up for the reduction in the regular army - might not happen. He calls this "one hell of a risk".

General Sir Richard Shirreff has warned the Government's cuts may prevent UK forces "punching above their weight". Credit: Russ Nolan/PA Archive

To be honest, it was always going to be a very big ask to double the size of a reserve which couldn't even meet its existing targets. But if that doesn't happen what will it mean?

The general says that in the Ministry of Defence the yardstick they measure themselves by is being able to "punch above our weight" and that the UK might no longer be able to do that.

But do we want to? As one wise soul once remarked (I think he was in the Special Forces), "Punching above your weight is often the fastest route to a severe beating."