Army cuts: Officer speaks of 'bitter disappointment'

  • 3 July 2012
  • From the section UK
British soldier in shadow
Image caption Army numbers are set to fall by 20,000 by 2020 if government plans are implemented

A senior Army officer has condemned plans to scrap one of his battalions as part of defence cuts.

Brig David Paterson said he was "bitterly disappointed" by plans to axe the second battalion of his unit, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (RRF).

In a letter seen by the Daily Telegraph , Brig Paterson told the head of the Army, Gen Sir Peter Wall, the move "does not make military sense".

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it did not comment on leaked documents.

On Thursday the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is expected to confirm to Parliament the scrapping or merger of dozens of Army units.

About a fifth (20,000) of Army personnel are set to lose their jobs by 2020 as numbers are cut to about 82,000.

The number of serving soldiers in the RRF is set to be cut from 1,100 to 600 personnel, the Daily Telegraph reported.

In the letter, Brig Paterson - the RRF's honorary colonel - questioned the criteria being used to single out the unit, which has a strong record in recruiting new soldiers and is the only regiment set to grow in numbers in the next six months.

Previously the defence secretary warned that regiments with poor recruitment records would be the most vulnerable.

Brig Paterson said: "I, as colonel, have the duty to tell my officers... and fusiliers why it is their battalion, which at the time of the announcement will be the best manned battalion in the Army... was chosen by chief of general staff (CGS).

"I will then also have to explain to my fusiliers in a fully manned battalion why they are likely to be posted to battalions that cannot recruit. This will not be an easy sell."

The serving brigadier also warned that with just one battalion formed of soldiers from both 1 RRF and 2 RRF, the fusiliers would "wither on the vine" and find their role in operations undermined.

He also criticised the short amount of time, about 24 hours, that unit commanders will have to digest news of the cuts and announce them.

"This is not long enough for my commanding officers to brief their men and cannot be right," Brig Paterson added.

In his letter, written on 11 June, the RRF commander added: "I would not want you to have even the slightest impression that I am challenging your orders.

"I do, however, have a strong conviction that... in creating a single battalion fusilier regiment we are not best serving defence, the Army... or the Regiment.

"If challenged or scrutinised by... the media, it cannot be presented as the best or most sensible military option."

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said this was "serious criticism" from Brig Paterson.

"The government is presiding over an erosion of trust and a decline in military morale. The impact on capability and the criteria used for Army changes must be clearly explained," said Mr Murphy.

"Tough decisions are necessary, but ministers' continued speculation and delay has only heightened uncertainty and a sense of disarray.

"The government must ensure that anyone made redundant is provided with post-service opportunities, including for service families."

An MoD spokeswoman said: "The CGS has held a number of discussions about the restructuring of the Army with senior officers.

"We have always been clear that more than one set of criteria is used in determining the future shape of the Army as it is restructured to become an integrated regular and reserve force by 2020."

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