The most junior ranks of the armed forces should get a £6,000 pay rise to help boost morale, the Liberal Democrats said today.
Other privates and lance corporals should also get an average salary increase of at least £3,000, with an extra £1,000 for higher non-commissioned officer ranks, the party said.
Leader Nick Clegg said the measures would increase the "shameful" salary of the current lowest-paid recruits to £22,680, and put them on an equal footing with new police and firefighter starters.
"Nobody can put a price on the sacrifices our troops make on our behalf, but it is clear to everyone that pay levels are shamefully low for the lower ranks," he said.
"We can't continue to reward the bravery of lions with peanuts. The Liberal Democrats will ensure that no soldier, sailor or airman goes into harm's way on less basic pay than a new recruit to the police or fire service."
The rises would see the average basic pay across the ranks of private and lance corporal rise to around £25,000.
Mr Clegg said the move would cost between £300 and £400 million and should be funded from existing the Ministry of Defence budget by slashing the number of "desk jobs" by 10,000.
He said: "At the moment there is one MoD desk job for every two servicemen. We believe the ratio should be reduced, particularly as so many desk jobs in MoD are already done by serving officers.
"Other countries with similar sized militaries have a much smaller ratio."
British Army servicemen and women were awarded a 2.8% pay rise earlier this year after the Government accepted the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body.
The rise - described as one of the best in the public sector by the MoD - meant the basic pay for a private on operations rose to between £16,681 and £25,887.
Former army officer Tim Collins said that while a pay rise would be welcomed, more had to be done to look after soldiers generally.
Mr Collins, who left the army in 2004 after 23 years' service, told BBC News: "It's not all about money. The British Army is a vocation, men and women join really to serve their country.
"It was never really about money. What they would prefer is to be treated decently.
"My soldiers, for instance, lived in accommodation that would be unfit by law for asylum seekers.
"They would like to see that improved."
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "Armed Forces pay is recommended by the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB).
"In February the AFPRB recommendations were accepted in full by the MoD to give all serving personnel a pay increase of 2.8%, the third year running that Armed Forces pay increases have been amongst the best in the public sector.
"On top of basic pay, personnel deployed in Afghanistan for a six-month tour receive a tax-free operational allowance worth an additional £2,380 and a Longer Separation Allowance worth at least £1,194."
The spokesman said an Army Private deployed on operations would also receive a minimum of £1,194 in Longer Separation Allowance and £2,380 tax-free Operational Allowance over a six-month tour.
This would bring the minimum pay for a Private soldier deploying on their first operation up to at least £20,255, he added.Reuse content