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Armed Forces: Size Targets

Volume 718: debated on Monday 18 July 2022

8. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of maintaining current targets for the size of the armed forces in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (901120)

We continue to assess the threat posed by Russia and other competitors around the world. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), we are, of course, excited to see defence spending play such a prominent role in the leadership debate. We look forward to working with the new Prime Minister to assess the threat and look at what changes to defence capability might be needed thereafter.

As has been said, cutting 10,000 troops came from the integrated review, which predates Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The outgoing Chief of the General Staff has said that he is

“not comfortable with an Army of just 73,000”,

and Lord Dannatt has stated that the capability of the fighting force is

“well below what it should be”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 June 2022; Vol. 823, c. 438.]

Given the answers we have heard from the Dispatch Box about increased spending, does that mean that Government Front Benchers agree that the cut of 10,000 should be reversed and that a much larger Army is required?

Nobody in the Ministry of Defence will ever argue against more money being spent on defence, but let us be clear: if more money were made available, there are other things that we would do more immediately than regrow the size of the Army. There are things that we would want to do about the lethality and deployability of the current force, to get more from what we have at the moment. If thereafter there is a discussion about regrowing, great, but there are other things that we would do first.

Autonomous weapons systems are likely to be force multipliers in the future. To what extent does that impact on the Minister’s assessment of manpower? What doctrine does he believe will be needed to govern their use, and how is he recruiting soldiers with the skillsets necessary to handle them effectively?

My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. Autonomy is increasingly the key to the successful generation of overwhelming force in the battle space. That is a key part of the integrated review and within the defence industrial strategy. It may well be that a more lethal force—even a bigger force—does not necessarily acquire more workforce in the future if that is the way in which the trend continues to go.