TA soldiers set for front line role

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Indy Politics
HUNDREDS of Britain's part- time volunteer soldiers could be used to reinforce hard-pressed Regulars on the front line in UN peace-keeping operations such as Bosnia or Cambodia from the end of next year, Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, announced yesterday.

Until now, the cumbersome machinery for calling up reserve units has made it impossible to use them except in the event of total war. In the Gulf war, only selected specialists were called up. A detailed announcement on the new arrangements will be made later in the year.

At the same time, the Navy's volunteer reserves are being cut. The Royal Naval Reserve - the equivalent of the Territorial Army - will be cut from 4,700 to 3,500 and the 2,700-strong Royal Naval Auxiliary Service - part-timers who receive expenses but are unpaid - will be scrapped entirely. The Royal Fleet Reserve - ex-regular Navy personnel - is unaffected.

Opening a Commons debate on Defence, Mr Rifkind said: 'I believe the time has come to make arrangements to deploy Reserves much more widely in operational roles in peacetime.' The radical change in policy is regarded as long overdue by many defence experts. In the Gulf, the US deployed whole brigades of National Guardsmen and women, but many British reservists were annoyed and frustrated because, after years of training and commitment, they were not called on.

'With a few exceptions we have only called out reservists at times of heightened tension or in war,' Mr Rifkind said. 'We are now moving to a world where the possibility of major confrontation is less than it has been for many years, but where the demands placed on our forces for peacekeeping and related tasks have never been higher.

'We might use volunteers from the TA to form units to contribute on a planned basis to operational commitments undertaken by the Regular Army. The feasibility of attaching a composite TA infantry company (150 troops), composed of volunteers, to Regular units undergoing UN tours is being examined with a view to running a pilot scheme in late 1994,' he said.

However, the 'pilot scheme' is unlikely to involve sending the TA to Bosnia as its members are not trained or equipped to work as mechanised infantry - the sort of troops required.

The Cabinet is to finally decide next Thursday whether the lucrative Trident refitting contract should go to Scotland's Rosyth dockyard or to Devonport in the West Country, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

At a 35-minute meeting yesterday, Gordon Brown, Shadow chancellor and Rosyth's MP, urged John Major to conduct further investigations into the costs of new buildings, restructuring and redundancy and to seek independent expert advice before making the decision.