Reservists in the British Army will become specialists in cyber security, chemical-biological warfare and intelligence under sweeping reforms being carried out to transform the force in preparation for future conflicts, The Independent has learnt.
The Territorial Army, whose size is being doubled from 15,000 to 30,000, will have a much more integrated role to counter the new threats presented by technology and WMDs in the hands of insurgents and rogue states. It will also be extensively engaged in gathering information under plans drawn up by the military.
Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, today published a long awaited White Paper on the role of the TA which will be a third of the size of the regular army whose numbers are being reduced by 20,000 to 82,000 in budgetary cutbacks.
The numbers of Royal Navy and RAF reservists will also be increased, albeit on a smaller scale. The numbers of maritime reserves will rise to 3,100 and RAF auxilary to 1,800 from 2,300 and 1,370 respectively.
Reservists will also get military pensions and healthcare benefits under the reforms.
The TA will be to be renamed Army Reserves, and reservists will have enhanced training programmes intended to bring them closer to the standards of the regulars. It is hoped that putting some of them in the cutting-edge field of “intelligent defence” will be an incentive to join and stay in the force.
The Independent has learnt that the Treasury has blocked proposed tax breaks for employers of reservists, available in some states abroad. Instead, employers will receive an enhanced compensation package for staff who are absent on duty. Some reservists could be mobilised once in every five years, taking into account pre-deployment training, and the Government acknowledges that this cannot happen without the goodwill and co-operation of commerce and industry.
The Confederation of British Industry complained last year that it had not been properly consulted on the proposals with director general, John Cridland, saying :“This is the biggest change for reserve soldiers since the Second World War… But we are disappointed by the lack of proper engagement so far.”
Whitehall officials insist that detailed consultation had subsequently followed, although more discussions needed to be held.
The White Paper, it is believed, proposes that employers will have to sign up to a voluntary charter guaranteeing that they will not stand in the way of staff in the TA who have been deployed. They will also pledge to keep their jobs open. At one stage Mr Hammond had spoken about bringing in anti-discrimination laws such as those defending the rights of women and ethnic minorities to protect reservists, but has now decided against such legislation.
Mr Hammond told the Commons that the changes were "key" to ensuring Britain has the military capability it needs in the coming years.
"The job we are asking our reservists to do is changing," Mr Hammond said.
"The way we organise and train them will also have to change."
There is broad consensus among militaries in the West that cyber security has become a vital part of defence. The head of the Army, General Sir Peter Wall, stressed this when giving the keynote speech at the Land Warfare Conference at the Royal United Services Institute in London last week saying the threats presented by cyber space called for the armed forces to “think and act differently. Control of this domain and with it the ability to defend and attack in order to seize the initiative will be prerequisite for successful operations.”
However, Gen Wall also acknowledged that “The education and personal qualities of our cyber warriors are likely to be a challenge in more linear military behaviour and we therefore need to consider how we recruit and retain experts in the field.”
Military planners point out that these skill-sets already exist among civilians who can bring them to the military while also continuing with their professional careers outside. There are similar pools of knowledge in scientific and linguistic fields which can also be tapped into in relation to WMDs and intelligence-gathering.
The overwhelming likelihood is that combat for UK forces in the foreseeable future will be counter-insurgency operations. Military training teams are being set up for states which are felt to be at risk from instability or coming out of post-conflict situations where knowledge of languages and differing cultures would be of great benefit.
Some former military officers and opposition politicians claim that the Government is being highly optimistic in attempting to raise the numbers of reservists by 100 per cent at a time of recession with deep apprehension about over unemployment.
Among the critics, Colonel Bob Stewart, the Tory MP and Bosnia veteran, had suggested that someone at the MoD was “smoking a lot of dope” to come up with figures which were “pie in the sky”. Labour has accused Mr Hammond of “kowtowing to the Treasury by prioritising austerity over the UK’s national security interests”.
The Defence Secretary insists the projected number is achievable in the timeframe. However, a senior officer said “We would rather go for quality than quantity, that is part of the ethos of this plan. A slight delay in getting the exact number is not a disaster.
“The Army did not decide to lose 20,000 regulars to gain 30,000 reservists on a whim. These are the economic realities, budgetary constraints we face at the moment, like most of our allies. We need to be innovative and make the Army Reserve attractive to high-quality recruits.”
Volunteer soldiers: Origins of the TA
The Territorial Force was formed in 1908 by Richard Haldane, the Secretary of State for War, and combined the previously civilian-administered Volunteer Force, militia units and the Yeomanry.
It was the first time the previously separate reserve of part-time and retired soldiers had been regularised.
Shortly before the First World War, the TF was mobilised and soldiers fought alongside regulars in the trenches of northern France, despite the word “territorial” originally signifying that volunteers were under no obligation to serve overseas.
In 1920 its name changed to the Territorial Army, and by 1939 it had doubled in size to 440,000 as the Second World War loomed. After the conflict ended, the TA began to shrink.
With the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it again became increasingly important. Some 6,900 TA soldiers were involved in the hostilities.
They usually have full-time or part-time jobs and attend training sessions in their free time for which new recruits are paid around £35 a day.