The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the Army Command Review will ensure the service’s command structure can work in an “agile, imaginative and effective manner”.
Up to a third of the force’s senior ranks of 500 colonels and 200 brigadiers and generals could be axed, according to The Times, with plans drawn up by the head of the Army General Sir Nicholas Carter set to be implemented from April.
A MoD source said the figure of a third was “not something we recognise” but acknowledged there will be cuts at the senior level and a reduction on that scale “could be a possibility”, although that was not in the review.
The US Army has around 300 officers at the equivalent brigadier and general ranks - only 100 more than the UK for a force around five times the size.
The reduction in senior officer posts comes as the Army scales down to around 82,000 regular troops by 2020, with a goal of increasing the size of the reserve force to 30,000.
An Army spokeswoman said: “The Army Command Review is the next step in the development of Army 2020. It builds on the delegated model that Defence has implemented as a result of Lord Levene’s report on Defence reforms.
“It will ensure that the Army’s command structure and its staff are best placed to meet future challenges in an agile, imaginative and effective manner.”
According to the report the review aims to create a cadre of senior officers expected to be loyal to the Army as a whole rather than to the more narrow interests of their regiment, it will end obligatory two-year job rotations, allow career breaks for parents - something aimed at improving the chances of promotion for female officers - and introduce performance reviews with feedback from subordinate officers and peers.
General Carter’s review will also make a clear distinction between senior officers in charge of present operations and those thinking about future challenges, The Times said.
Retired officers told the newspaper that there was a need for reform, with senior roles often going to officers more for their ability to work with Whitehall than to stand up for their personnel.
“One of the reasons that our senior military leaders were so poor in Basra, Helmand and London was that many of them had got promoted to those leadership roles based upon their ability to do good staff work, or to be adept at playing compromise politics in the MoD as opposed to demonstrating the ability to lead men, machines and organisations in tough times with incomplete information and under huge pressure,” said Lieutenant Colonel Richard Williams, a former commander of the SAS, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Staff officers masquerading as military leaders typically give in to politicians, whereas real military leaders stand up to them and provide good advice.”
General Sir Nick Parker, who retired in 2013 as Commander Land Forces, the second most senior role in the Army, told The Times there was a need to modernise: “Aside from operations, we had great difficulty breaking out of triangular hierarchies that are driven by people with bits of paper.”