* Army due to shrink by one-sixth by 2018
* Committee says budget concerns overshadow military
* Questions arise about Britain's role in the world
By Kylie MacLellan
LONDON, March 6 Cuts to Britain's army, driven
by the need to save money, risk leaving the country unable to
respond adequately to future threats, a committee of lawmakers
said on Thursday.
Last month Britain announced the final part of a plan to
help the country tackle its large public debts by shrinking its
armed forces by around a sixth. The army will be left with
82,000 soldiers in 2018, down from 102,000 in 2010.
The scale of the cuts has fuelled a debate about Britain's
diplomatic and military role in the world and its ability to
project force globally. They come as it prepares to withdraw the
last of its troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
"There is no question that UK armed forces will deploy on an
expeditionary operation in the future," said James Arbuthnot,
chair of the Defence Committee, which includes lawmakers from
both the governing Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, as well
as the opposition Labour party.
"It is essential that the army maintains its ability to
undertake such operations at short notice. Any loss of such
capability would have serious implications for the UK's national
security," he said.
The committee's report said it was not yet convinced the
government's 'Army 2020' plan would allow the country to deal
with "emerging and uncertain threats" and the Ministry of
Defence needed to better justify how it reached its conclusions.
The committee, which scrutinises policy but has no
legislative powers, said it was also concerned that budget
pressures appeared to have taken priority over Britain's ability
to respond to such threats in devising the plans.
They called on the government to provide parliament with a
detailed annual report of the army's ability to fight, and said
the first of these should be published in January next year so
it can be debated before national elections in May.
As well as the 82,000 regular soldiers, the government plans
to have a staff of 30,000 reserve soldiers. The committee said
respondents to its inquiry were sceptical that enough reserve
soldiers would be recruited in the time to avoid a gap emerging
as regular soldiers are made redundant.
It particularly criticised the army's contract with
outsourcing company Capita to handle recruitment, saying
there appeared to have been a "serious breakdown" in the
supervision of the contract process.
"Our concern is that the financially driven reduction in the
numbers of regulars has the potential to leave the army short of
key personnel until sufficient additional reserves are recruited
and trained," said Arbuthnot.
(Additional reporting by William James; Editing by Tom