Chief of defence staff warns of military expectations

General Sir Nicholas Houghton Gen Sir Nick Houghton would not be drawn on whether Britain would get involved in Syria

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The new chief of the defence staff has said the armed forces will have to "recalibrate" their expectations after exiting Afghanistan.

General Sir Nick Houghton said they must prepare to tackle new operations from a "standing start".

In an interview for Defence Focus magazine he said the biggest challenge following army cuts was to shape the Reserve Forces.

Labour said the forces are relying on a reserves plan "in complete crisis".

'Cynical and detached'

Gen Houghton said: "Defence has quite rightly focused on Afghanistan in recent years but getting back to a contingent posture that offers genuine political choices for the dangerous and uncertain world we face is now a clear priority."

He continued: "We have to recalibrate our expectation of the level of capabilities we can field on new operations from a standing start.

"We've got to get back into an 'expeditionary mindset' where we will not have perfect capability for every scenario."

Though the drawdown from Afghanistan is under way, and all combat forces are due to leave that country by the end of 2014, Gen Houghton would not be drawn on Syria.

"As it stands, no decisions have been made on our involvement in Syria," he said.

"It is, nevertheless, the duty of the Ministry of Defence to provide options for the use of military force in scenarios such as Syria, and military advice on the utility of those options."

The Yorkshireman replaced General Sir David Richards as chief of the defence staff in mid-July, at a time when the MoD is still making regular soldiers redundant while trying to increase the number of reserves.

The general said he planned to be "honest, straight talking and supportive" to those working in defence in times he described as "quite difficult for many of them".

He said there was scope for better internal and external communications - and the MoD had "risked people becoming cynical and detached from what defence was trying to do".

He also talked of the need to cut down on bureaucracy and change the culture within defence.


Gen Houghton said the forces were still in the "early days" of restructuring after budget cuts.

"We have made all the big decisions", he said. "But there is still an awful lot to do".

He said the biggest challenge was implementing the Reserve Forces proposition so that it balanced the needs of reservists with their families and employers.

"If we can deliver that proposition then the challenge of recruiting, for example 30,000 reservists for the Army Reserve, should, by historic standards, be a relatively easy one."

Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said a smaller force "can be smarter", but the government's policy had left personnel feeling "under-powered and under-valued".

He said: "Rather than strategically remodelling our forces for a post-Afghanistan, post-crash, rapidly-evolving security landscape, the government have simply shed capacity.

"Army strength and numbers rely on a reserves plan in complete crisis, which could severely limit our ability to respond to and shape world events."

But a spokesman for the MoD said the UK continued to have a world-class fighting force.

He said: "Since 2010, the MoD has balanced its budget for the first time in a generation and this year published the first 10-year equipment plan, which will see around £160 billion invested."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    598. JohnBA:

    I'm ex forces, I'm neither a killer or a criminal and while we're at it I got no "pile of cash" on leaving the forces. Your comments are offensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.


    300.000 city bankers and part time jobs for the rest of the country will not save the UK....Germany has a laugh about the UK after they announced a 2% growth rate based on solid manufacturing export with nearly no banking....

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    592. E.S. said:-

    ... "At least in 1939 we had the capabilities to build planes, ships and tanks!".

    Exactly so. This article, like so many, is a sideshow to distract us from the fact that Govt. policy has destroyed big industry on who's back small industries prospered. Our Industrial base is so hollowed-out that only about 10% of UK exports are home manufactured - Hence zero chance of growth.

  • Comment number 598.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    @594 - Because those slimey Tory MP's all made out of the whole Bank rip-off!
    Everything has taken a cut since those Bankers mugged the lot of us! We have been left with a kick in the teeth from government and one hefty bill to pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    Anything that discourages any future war mongerer like Bliar is no bad thing. I'd fight to defend this country in a heartbeat, but want no part of the messes of the Balkans and the middle east.
    I hope any soldiers that get canned are properly looked after. The politicians won't care though, throw the squaddies to the dogs, we've gold plated pensions is their attitude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    Stop playing Worldpower and take the head out of the US ass, than we could save even more on defence and spend it for the failed education system and other things and in a long long time we couls maybe play with the grown up continent countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    Perhaps the UK government should stop bullying the likes of David Miranda, who isn't a threat to national security. Perhaps the BBC should let us debate the matter.

    Anyway, to answer the question - there is no need for cuts. Why aren't the government pursuing the bankers who effectively stole billions from taxpayers ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    Back in the days of Wilson's Labour Govt' they advocated we make better use of the TA, so they sent some to Aden direct. The TA tried valiantly to keep up with the troops out there but couldn't because they hadn't had time to acclimatize. That is why a fire-brigade force of TA won't work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 592.

    @572. King802 'Are we capable of defending the UK from a major threat -of course not. It's 1939 all over again.'

    At least in 1939 we had the capabilities to build planes, ships and tanks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 591.


    When the UK (LONDON) mp's recall all the soldiers and families that they discharged (got rid of) so they could award themselves a nice pay rise, tell them to get stuffed and fight the war or wars themselves!

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    I could never understand the reasoning for defence cuts whilst the UK forces are currently in a highly volatile Middle East?
    It is folly to think that Britains forces should be made smaller at this time and to rely on the reserves to make up the difference.
    The world is getting smaller and war is happening more often.

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.

    USA, China, Japan, France, Germany & Brazil all have bigger economies than we do.

    With the exception of the US, do you see any of the others running around trying to be the worlds wet nurse?

  • rate this

    Comment number 588.

    583.SPEEDTHRILLS We should, & must, concentrate on homeland security in the defence of the realm.

    UK.Gov gave that duty away to EU when we joined the political part of the EU. I call it EUSSR.

    We now rely on NATO and EU comrades to assist us when the need arises.

    Please do not mention the Armada in Gibraltar.
    We are in this all together - one EU happy family. (Harumph!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 587.

    the ruperts of the military never look at themselves and their pet projects as the problem to many ruperts in all the services and not enough enlisted men and women now and expecting the TA sorry army reserve to take up the slack for every tour of Afghanistan a regular unit would spend one year training before deployment how can a reserve possible do that????

  • rate this

    Comment number 586.

    When you consider the armchair warriors Blair Cameron the pc touchy feely brigade.That run this country today.Our strategy for years now is to talk a good fight but hamstring our forces.With cuts and blowhard reselutions.It is a wonder our armed forces have not rebelled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    Rather than train our prisoners to be call center clerical staff. Let's train them to be soldiers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 584.

    To achieve an organisation/business success, we have to “give the maximum resources and support to front-line inventors/workers/solders”, and minimise all other costs”. It is a basic “maximum-minimum” scientific research rule. I hope our government can grasp this concept.

  • rate this

    Comment number 583.

    The task is the defence of a bankrupt, overpopulated European island with no natural resource to plunder. So who would want to invade it ? Rather a key threat comes from aspirations of global ummah sponsored by terrorism with the consequence of repressive shariah law in a future UK unles we contain it. We should, & must, concentrate on homeland security in the defence of the realm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 582.

    We need our army to defend our shores, not act like the USA as an international police force, we are too small and cant afford it.


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