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Army: Divisional Manoeuvre and Deployment Training

Volume 794: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they propose to deploy a largely fully formed and supported division into the field for divisional movement and manoeuvre training.

My Lords, the Army has a substantial and sophisticated exercise programme in place to ensure that it is trained and ready to operate at the divisional level. This includes training with allies and partners. There are currently no plans to deploy an Army division into the field for training.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. In the face of a resurgent and irresponsible peer opponent, rather than massively increase military capability and defence expenditure, would it not be far more cost effective to test, demonstrate and perfect our supposed ability to deploy at divisional strength against a peer opponent?

My noble friend makes a very good point. The issue to stress in this context is that if we were to fight at divisional scale, we would likely be doing so as part of a multinational force, probably NATO. The Army therefore regularly exercises with allies and partners, and a good example of that was Exercise Trident Juncture held last November, which involved some 50,000 personnel from 31 allies and partners. That was a really good opportunity to test every element of our war-fighting capability on land.

My Lords, the proposal from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is to have troops ready for deployment training. However, it is important that in such an exercise we only deploy troops who are available for deployment. Will the Minister link that to the comments that were attributed to the Ministry of Defence this weekend about the fact that more than 20% of the total staff of the Army are medically unfit for deployment?

My Lords, the press coverage on this has been somewhat overdramatised. A person can be medically downgraded for a whole variety of reasons, most of which are minor and temporary and do not prevent them fulfilling their core duties. A good example would be a sports injury. Medically non-deployable, another category of personnel, can include more serious circumstances but also includes pregnancy, which—my brief says—is a self-limiting condition.

My Lords, is there not one issue underlying both this Question and that from the noble Lord, Lord West? There are insufficient funds in the defence budget, and if we wish to live up to our international obligations and our aspirations, and to defend this country and our interests abroad in the way we say we do, we may need to spend more on defence.

My noble friend makes an extremely important point, and we in the Ministry of Defence are always very conscious of the point he has stressed. But it is also important for all three armed services to look at the resources they have to see how they can use them even more effectively. The SDSR in 2015 and the modernising defence programme recognise the changed threat that faces us, and as a result the Army will be able to generate a more capable war-fighting division, at higher readiness, as part of the Joint Force 2025 programme.

My Lords, I note that it is not the intention of the Government to deploy and manoeuvre at a divisional level, but I assume it is a capability we believe we have. Is that a capability we have? Do we have the logistics capability and the trained staff necessary for the complex task of manoeuvring large bodies of troops?

My Lords, yes, the Army is already prepared to deliver a division, albeit at best effort. As I have just said, it is working towards its Joint Force 2025 structures that will deliver a more capable force at higher readiness. The point the noble Lord makes about enablers and logistics is well made. The exercises in which the Army has participated recently have been a very good test of those enablers.

Does the Minister agree that the exercise proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in his Question is much more satisfactory than any desk-bound exercise, if I may put it that way, not least because it allows the demonstration of capability as a practical illustration of deterrence and provides reassurance for our allies? Why does the Army not take the opportunity of a showcase to show that it possesses all these qualities?

With respect to the noble Lord, in effect it has done so. Exercise Saif Sareea in Oman, for example, which the noble Lord will be aware of, demonstrated very capably the Army’s ability to deploy in strength overseas with partners. I can reassure the noble Lord that the training the Army undertakes, both in the field and by way of simulation, is fully up to the standards he would expect and enables the Army to be confident of its ability to field a division.

My Lords, the essential prerequisite for putting an Army into the field is the capacity to recruit enough soldiers. Without that, you can do very little. We now have the smallest Army since the Napoleonic wars. We have a reduced target of 80,000, which we have failed to meet by several thousand, and we have just launched a campaign through newspapers and the media to recruit snowflakes. This must terrify the Russians. Who is responsible for this? Is it Ministers, civil servants or the outsourced company that has failed so miserably to produce our soldiers?

My Lords, the responsibility for Army recruitment lies chiefly with the Army itself in conjunction with Capita, with which it has a partnership agreement. I completely accept that Army recruitment figures have fallen seriously short of target. A great deal of work is going on to remedy that. Encouragingly, the number of applications to join the Army over the last year is at a five-year high. The challenge now is to improve the conversion rate between those who apply and those who join, and there are signs of progress in that area as well.