U.K. Shrinks Army to Half Cold-War Level, Boosts Reservists

Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said the U.K. will cut its army to 82,000 personnel by 2020 from 102,000, around half its size at the height of the Cold War in 1978, as he announced which units will be merged or scrapped.

The cuts are part of broader government spending reductions, as well as a response to gaps in the defense-ministry budget that Hammond’s Conservative Party blames on the previous Labour administration. Hammond said the number of part-time reservists will be doubled to 30,000 by 2020 to back up the regular army in the biggest shakeup in 100 years.

“Our combat role in Afghanistan is coming to an end and with it the predictability of the army’s main effort,” Hammond told lawmakers in Parliament in London today. “Looking beyond 2014 we need to restructure to face an increasingly uncertain world.”

There will be 17 fewer major units as a result of the program, known as “Army 2020.” The reductions will fall across infantry, cavalry and logistics units and shrink the force to its lowest level since the Napoleonic wars in the early 19th century. Under spending plans announced in 2010, the defense ministry must cut its budget by 8 percent over four years.

The “Army 2020” plan will also split the force in two, comprising a reaction force to respond to global emergencies and an adaptable force capable of a wide range of tasks and deployments.

The scrapping of individual battalions with histories dating back hundreds of years has provoked an outcry in the military and their supporters.

Hammond said the restructuring would create a “balanced, capable and adaptable British army that will remain best in class.”

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