British Army’s size and structure

The regular British Army is being scaled back as reservists take on a bigger role and its structure is overhauled.

The British Army has a full-time trained strength - the Regular Army - of less than 95,000 personnel (as of April 2014), according to the UK Armed Forces Annual Personnel Report.

Additionally, there are more than 30,000 reservists in the Territorial Army (TA).

The most senior serving officer is the chief of the general staff (CGS) who commands a single Army Staff which works out of Army HQ in Andover, Hampshire.

Cuts and changes

Following the Strategic Defence & Security Review (SDSR) of October 2010, the plan was to cut the number of regulars to 82,000 by 2020 - down 20,000 on 2010 figures.

From 2015 onwards, the strength and role of reservists is likely to increase in line with the recommendations of the Future Reserves 2020 commission.

What is envisaged is a combined trained Army of 112,000 personnel, made up of 82,000 regulars and 30,000 TA volunteers, by 2020.

'Force 2020' proposals

In July 2011 the government's basing review set out a planned future structure for the Army. Reorganisation of the service from 2015 would be centred on five multi-role brigades of around 6,000 personnel.

The brigades would be equipped and trained to conduct a range of operations - anything from counter-insurgency to conventional combat.

These so-called 'Force 2020' proposals were for:

  • An armoured regiment of Challenger 2 tanks
  • An armoured reconnaissance regiment
  • An armoured infantry battalion in Warrior armoured fighting vehicles
  • A mechanised infantry battalion in Bulldog armoured vehicles
  • Two light infantry battalions.

The shape and structure of the Army can be confusing.

On the detail, check personally with someone who knows the Army well. Alternatively, seek out a current Army List or check the Army website.

Names and numbers change frequently and some famous names have vanished entirely. The Royal Green Jackets, for example, and the Devonshire & Dorset Light Infantry are now both part of The Rifles regiment. 

Any one part of the Army can simultaneously belong to a number of others. And the precise make-up of the larger units can change according to the task in hand.

The 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment is part of The Royal Anglian Regiment but also belongs to 12 Mechanised Brigade, which in turn is part of 3 (UK) Division - one of the Army's two deployable combat formations.

It is also worth remembering that for historical reasons an infantry battalion is the equivalent of a cavalry regiment.

Infantry

At the heart of the Army is 50 battalions of regular and territorial infantry organised into regiments.

In the Infantry, the term 'regiment' is usually applied in training, manning and historical terms. Fielded infantry forces comprising companies, or groups of them termed battalions, may be part of larger organisations such as the multi-role brigades mentioned earlier.

What's envisaged is a combined trained Army of 112,000, made up of 82,000 regulars and 30,000 TA volunteers by 2020

Many regiments have a geographical base and recruit from particular parts of the country. They are commanded by a colonel.

As far as putting soldiers into the field goes, the basic structure of the Army is as follows: division (8,000 to 25,000 troops, depending on composition); brigade (3,000 to 15,000); battalion (500 to 900); company (80 to 130); platoon (20 to 30); section (six to 10).

Cavalry

Twelve regiments make up the Household Cavalry and the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC), and they are equipped with a range of fighting vehicles.

The Household Cavalry is made up of the Life Guards, the Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards are the Blues; 1st Royal Dragoons are the Royals) and the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. The latter has a ceremonial role on state occasions.

The rank names of non-commissioned officers in the Household Cavalry are unique in the British Army. A corporal is known as a lance corporal of horse. The equivalent of a sergeant is a corporal of horse.

Army Corps

In addition to infantry and cavalry regiments, the Army is divided into almost 20 different Corps. Each is a collection of regiments or smaller groupings of soldiers or service personnel who share an area of expertise.

These areas range from bridge building in the field to bridge building in the dental surgery.

Members of the various Corps are usually attached to infantry battalions or brigades. 

Territorial Army

The 'part-time' soldiers of the Territorial Army form a quarter of the British Army's strength - but could constitute more than a third by 2020.

The largest of all the Reserve Forces, the TA has played an increasingly important role in support of the Regular Army. The phrase 'part-time' refers only to the initial time commitment that each soldier makes.

TA members are mostly organised into regional brigades. Each commits to serving 27 days a year in uniform, covering all the activities of regular troops - from combat and engineering through to intelligence and ceremonial.

Army equipment

Do not guess at the names of Army equipment - not all armoured vehicles are tanks. In fact, the British Army has one main battle tank, the Challenger 2.

The Army website has details of weapons, individual equipment, artillery and air defence, landing craft and aircraft. This is the place to find out the difference between Starstreak and Rapier; or between a Samson and a Sam.

The Army site is also the place to go for latest deployments.

 

Photograph: Press Association