Leading article: Our Army must learn to adapt


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The Independent Online

When the Army announces the biggest structural overhaul in half a century, there is no way to avoid controversy. Even more so given that the radical reform programme – known as Army 2020 – includes cuts in capability to meet the demands of significantly reduced defence spending. As many as 11 infantry regiments could go, including such illustrious names as the Black Watch and the Queen's Dragoon Guards.

But this is no time for sentimentality over historic cap badges. And the Army faces new challenges. After years embroiled in Afghanistan and Iraq, there will be little enthusiasm for British boots on the ground in any protracted expedition for many years to come.

If there are some broad areas of uncertainty in setting out the Army's future role, other aspects are crystal clear. One is that it will require the expertise to help build security in troubled nations. Another is that it will need ever more of the skills more commonly found in civilian life – although it may not be cost-effective to maintain, full time, the entire range of specialist capabilities that might be required in emergencies.

It is for this reason that the latest review will double the number of part-time reservists even as it cuts the number of regulars back to the lowest level since the Boer War. Once the reforms are completed, more than a quarter of the Army will be drawn from the reserves – in areas such as medicine, cyber-intelligence and logistics – to provide support to the professionals.

There are, however, difficulties to be overcome if the integration between the Army's regular and reserve components is increased. At a time of growing economic hardship, it will be trickier than ever to persuade both potential reservists themselves, and their employers, to commit to the extra responsibilities required. Small and medium-sized companies will find the sudden and prolonged absence of staff prohibitive, and larger ones, even with improved financial incentives from the Government, may be resistant.

There is much in favour of proposals for reform. But the practicalities of the Army 2020 blueprint may yet need further thought.