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    • Cost-cutting proposal may see the Army reduce its manpower target to 75,000
    • Thousands of roles being recruited for are likely to be axed, sources have said
    • Senior Army chiefs recognised that some positions can be filled by machines

    The Army will slash its 82,000 manpower target by 7,000 under cost-cutting proposals handed to ministers, it can be revealed.

    Thousands of roles that are currently being recruited for are likely to be axed, with some of the gaps being filled by machines.

    As part of a ten-year plan, the Army has offered to reduce its current target of 82,000 regular troops to 75,000, defence sources said. 

    It is currently at around 74,000-strong but its ambition for years has been to reach the 82,000 figure.

    It has, however, struggled with recruitment and senior Army chiefs now recognise that some positions could be filled by technology and machines. 

    The Army has offered to reduce its current target of 82,000 regular troops to 75,000 in a ten-year cost-saving plan, defence sources said (file photo)

    However, Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons defence select committee, said the decision to reduce the target was ‘sheer madness’.

    ‘It is completely wrong,’ he said. 

    ‘Even today they are over-stretched. We are short staffed in key skill sets. We don’t have enough Warrior and Challenger [tank] drivers.

    ‘These battalions will tell you they are exhausted. We are kidding ourselves that we could manage with a depleted size.’

    He said the proposed cut was coming at the time ‘when the world was more dangerous’.

    A Government source said: ‘No one is going to lose jobs and nothing has been decided, this is just a suggestion put forward by the Army.

    ‘More jobs could be done by automated machines which would require less people. Recruitment is an issue. It’s a commitment to focus on automation and use machines where we can.’ 

    It is thought the machines could include technology such as drones and robots. 

    In theory, autonomous vehicles could be used to carry heavy loads instead of soldiers.

    Injured soldiers could also be evacuated by drones or other automated vehicles, reducing the need for troops to carry their comrades, or call in helicopters.

    Slashing troop targets is one of the offerings sent to Number 10 as part of the Integrated Review, the largest overhaul of foreign and defence policy in decades.

    Negotiations are continuing about which assets and upgrades will be scrapped, with more money expected to be pumped into cyber and space warfare. 

    Each service – the Army, RAF and Royal Navy – has been asked to submit proposals for how they could save money and also where they need more cash.

    Thousands of roles that are currently being recruited for are likely to be axed, with some of the gaps being filled by machines (file photo)

    It is understood the Army has drawn the line at 75,000, with the head of the service saying that it is as far as he is willing to go if he is to retain a credible fighting force.

    General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith does not want a single soldier to lose their job and this way they would not have to, sources said. 

    No decision has been made on whether the Army’s offer will be taken up.

    A source said: ‘We advise against making assumptions or drawing false conclusions on the review, based on leaks or partial information.

    ‘The guiding principle of the IR is to ask ourselves what the threat is, and whether we have the capability to meet it.’

    The Tories had pledged to keep the Army’s strength above 82,000 in 2015. In 2017 the party manifesto dropped the figure but pledged to ‘maintain the overall size of the forces’.

    Army chiefs had believed coronavirus would lead to a surge in recruits but now there could be a battle for the remaining posts.

    An MoD spokesman said: ‘This Government has committed to grow defence spending. The MoD is progressing its contribution to the Integrated Review by planning how best to meet tomorrow’s threats within that increasing budget.’

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