British Army 'could be reduced to just 50,000 troops', defence expert warns

In the worst-case scenario, the Armed Forces would be cut from about 145,000 to just 115,000

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The British Army could be reduced to just 50,000 troops – the lowest level since the 1770s, when the UK lost the American War of Independence, according to a leading defence expert.

Professor Malcolm Chalmers, director of UK defence policy at defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), analysed the main political parties’ budget plans and produced a “pessimistic” and an “optimistic” forecast of what this would mean for the military, The Daily Telegraph reported.

In the worst-case scenario, the Armed Forces would be cut from about 145,000 to just 115,000, including 50,000 in the Army. Under the latter prediction, the total numbers would fall to 130,000.

Professor Chalmers said: “In either scenario, the result will be a remarkably sharp reduction in the footprint of defence in UK society over a decade.

“The prospects for the defence budget remain closely tied to wider economic growth. The government is not yet convinced that strategic security risks are high enough to justify an exemption for defence from austerity.”

Concern has been growing over cuts to the military in part because of Russian actions in the conflict in Ukraine, with fears that Moscow could turn its attention to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which are all in Nato members and which the alliance’s other members are duty bound to protect.

Lord Dannatt, a former head of the Army, told the Telegraph that the report made “sober reading”.

“I think pressure is beginning to mount on the Government to recognise that there might be some votes in defence after all,” he said.

Andy Smith, of the UK National Defence Association, added: “We do not need a huge army but we certainly need an army that enables us to secure our homeland and our international interests.

“Military strength guarantees political influence, and we certainly wouldn’t have any influence at all with an army of just 50,000. It would put the United Kingdom in a potentially perilous situation and would represent political failure by our leaders on a monumental scale.”

The Army is currently being cut from 102,000 to 82,000 soldiers.