- Is Britain capable of defending itself?
- British army numbers drop to 72,500 by 2025
- And British Army has more horses than tanks – 485 versus 227
If there’s one thing that the Russo-Ukraine war has taught us, and which I’ve been banging on about to anyone that will listen, is that numbers matter. Whether it be aircraft, missiles, tanks, ammunition, or indeed infantrymen, conventional modern warfare demands them all in spade loads. Recent peacetime predictions of consumption levels of them all have proved woefully inadequate, and militaries around the world are revising their estimates upwards.
Just look at the attrition rates in Ukraine. Although it’s always difficult to get hold of accurate figures, the first casualty of war being truth and all that, it’s estimated that the Russians have to date lost over 4,000 armoured fighting vehicles possibly as many as 80,000 personnel killed, wounded, missing, and captured. The losses suffered by the Ukrainians are a bit more difficult to gauge, but it seems likely that they have suffered proportionally along similar lines.
Both sides, however, have been able to continue the conflict, albeit at a reduced intensity, because they have numbers in reserve which allow them to continue fighting. Contrast this with the UK, where the army in particular has been reduced to its lowest strength since Napoleonic times. On current plans, the British army will have only 72,500 personnel by 2025.
Perhaps more worrying is that the UK fields only 227 main battle tanks, and this will reduce to a mere 148 when Challenger 3, the newest tank, comes into service in 2030. If we’re lucky we might, and I say again might, be able to put two regiments of fifty tanks apiece into the field, and at Ukraine rates of attrition they might last a week or so. There are no reserves to speak of and no backup, so they are essentially fire and forget weapons. They won’t be coming back.
It’s interesting to note that the British army has more horses than tanks, 485 versus 227. This is a false equivalence, of course, because nobody sensible is going to argue that one horse is equal to one tank. But it does perhaps illustrate where British army priorities are at the moment. The Russo-Ukraine war is a wake up call and proper funding for Britain’s armed forces now needs to be a government priority.