British Army of part-timers: Defence chiefs forced to desperately fill frontline gaps

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The situation is so dire that reservists now fill slots at deputy commander level at two divisions and several regional brigades.

A reservist has even been appointed to command Edinburgh Castle. Major General Alastair Bruce, a journalist, spends weekdays in Scotland supervising a staff of 30.

The Armed Forces are currently 8.5 percent short of the personnel needed to carry out all duties effectively. But the situation is particularly acute in the Army, which has 78,880 soldiers – almost 4,000 short of its 82,500 target – of which 75,210 are trained. Sources say that the overall figure may be reduced down to 75,000 in a forthcoming defence review.

To try to fill the shortfall, 4,160 reservists have been drafted in to operate in full-time roles. Although fully integrated, they do not receive free medical care or dental assistance unless they sign up for operations. In 2012, then-defence secretary Philip Hammond announced the transformation from Territorial Army to Army Reserve, admitting more integration would be needed to cut costs. But even under the One Army policy, regular and reservists maintained separate budgets and targets. Now, as regular Army figures continue to drop, Army Reserve is to be completely incorporated, allowing Ministry of Defence bosses to offer a single personnel figure which applies to both elements.

are In the latest quarterly statistics, the strength of the British Army is listed at 116,800 when regular and reservist figures are combined.

On paper, the Army Reserve is 30,000-strong, meeting targets set for 2020. In reality, however, some are not trained and around 12,000 failed to honour their contractual obligations to show up for weekend and annual exercises last year.

With the 4,000 already committed to regular forces, this potentially leaves a fully available reservist force of just 15,000.

Major General Jonathan Shaw, a former Parachute Regiment officer who wrote Britain In A Perilous World, criticised the integration. He said: “What we are seeing is smoke and mirrors. The MoD is pretending to have a reserve when the reality is that our reserve force is increasingly being used in the front line.”

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