The head of the Army has warned that any gap between military resources and planned capabilities caused by spending cuts “could become quite dangerous, quite quickly”.
Chief of the General Staff General Sir Peter Wall said imposing further efficiencies while the impact of previous deep spending cuts on the armed forces were still being absorbed would be “very disruptive”.
His comments came with the Ministry of Defence under pressure to deliver its share of the £11.5bn spending cuts across Government demanded by Chancellor George Osborne in his spending review.
Defence has some protection in the 2015/16 review, to be unveiled on June 26, with a guaranteed 1 per cent rise in equipment budgets from 2015, but Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has still been asked to cut 5 per cent elsewhere.
However, senior MoD sources claimed a deal with the Treasury was now close that would not involve any further reduction in military numbers or capability.
Sir Peter was interviewed as part of a Sky News documentary.
Presenter Jeff Randall asked him: “The spending review seems sure to bring further cuts to the defence budget, leaving a considerable gap between planned capabilities and available resources. How dangerous is that gap?”
He replied: “I think it could become quite dangerous, quite quickly.”
He told the programme: “We have got to the point in a number of parts in our set-up where we can’t go any further without seriously damaging our professional competence and our chances of success in the battlefields of the future.
“It would be a brave claim to say an organisation can never make more efficiencies but we do need the time for those efficiencies to get delivered. Imposing more on us now would be very disruptive.”
The UK’s most senior officer in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Nick Carter, told the documentary that politicians should “look themselves in the mirror each morning” and ask if the risks of cuts were manageable.
“At the end of the day our politicians need to determine what they want the Army to do. And if they determine that the Army’s going to do less, then it’s reasonable for them to reduce it still further,” he said. “But commitments have got to match resources.
“We are bound as military people to point out the risks, during the course of this, to our political masters and ultimately it’s down to them to look themselves in the mirror each morning and determine whether or not those risks are manageable.”
Shadow defence minister Kevan Jones said: “The Government have cut the Army without a replacement plan in place. [Its] defence plans rest on doubling the number of reserves and yet there is a recruitment crisis and employers have not been properly engaged.
“This stark warning underlines that the Government have taken a huge gamble. The country will worry that reduced numbers in the absence of reform will limit Britain’s ability to meet our ambitions in the world. Our services’ morale is continuing to fall. There are worrying skills shortages in the Army.
“Labour has argued for our forces to be reformed. Ministers, by contrast, have focused on savings over strategy.”
An MoD spokeswoman said: “We are currently negotiating our financial settlement for the 2015-16 Spending Review.
“Although no final decisions have been taken we have been clear that we would first and foremost seek to find genuine efficiencies that would enable us protect front-line capabilities and protect military manpower numbers.
“Whilst this process is ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further.”