UK's Integrated Review: cut British Army and unleash the winds of technological warfare

Fit for concept forces commanded from £9 million Situation Centre minutes from Downing Street

TALLINN, ESTONIA - DECEMBER 21:  Prime Minister Boris Johnson serves Christmas lunch to British troops stationed in Estonia during a one-day visit to the Baltic country on December 21, 2019 in Tallinn, Estonia. The base is home to 850 British troops from the Queen's Royal Hussars who lead the Nato battlegroup along with personnel from Estonia, France and Denmark. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - Pool/Getty Images)
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Britain is due to unveil a top-down shake-up of its international security strategy on Tuesday, but one thing is already clear: the decisions will mean a much smaller, perhaps weakened Army.

Dragging the Army into a new strategic reality removes the uncertainty that has crept in after the long slog of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Trails of the Integrated Review suggest reducing the number of Army servicemen and servicewomen by 15 per cent to 70,000, and a bet that the wars of the future are not going to be personnel-intensive.

It might indeed be a visionary move, with a greater reliance on machines doing the jobs of people.

“The idea is to modernise the Army into an ultra-modern force with drones, long-range rocket artillery and cyberattacks,” said military expert Prof Michael Clarke.

“It's a neat trick if you can do it but it'll take them a decade to re-organise.”


Retired Brig Ben Barry feels it could be a risk too far.

"It's potentially overambitious and could leave the Army thinly stretched. Unless there is a significant investment in modernising the Army's capability, this will decline by about 50 per cent over five years."

The other two services, the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, look set to continue receiving modern warships and advanced jets, with the air force tilting towards unmanned fighter aircraft.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will oversee military operations and terrorism emergencies from the new £9 million Situation Centre – or SitCen – command bunker in the Cabinet Office, just a short walk from Downing Street in London.

The prime minister and important Cabinet members will sit alongside military and intelligence chiefs to watch drone strikes and military operations on wall-to-wall flat screens.

Mr Johnson will make a statement in the House of Commons legislature outlining the review's conclusions on Tuesday.

Ahead of the statement, he said: “The foundation of our foreign policy is who we are as a country: our values, our strengths and – most importantly – our people.

“So I am determined to ensure we have a foreign policy that delivers for those people.

“Our international ambitions must start at home, and through the Integrated Review we will drive investment back into our communities, ensuring the UK is on the cutting edge of innovation and creating an entire country that is match-fit for a more competitive world,” Mr Johnson said.

Integrated Review: What will happen to British Army?

The personnel reduction is almost inevitable, as the service sheds people in preference to machines.

There will be a loss of infantry battalions and armoured units, with the number of new Challenger III tanks nearly halving to 150.

Similarly, the artillery will lose its AS-90 155mm self-propelled artillery weapon and multiple-launch rocket systems. Instead, the service will expand the stock of long-distance precision-guided rockets and attack drones.

It will likely retire the faithful but ageing 600 Warrior tracked armoured personnel carriers, which need a £1.5 billion upgrade, but keep 600 Ajax and 500 Boxer armoured vehicles.

Integrated Review: What will happen to the Royal Navy?

Boris Johnson is clearly persuaded that his vision of "Global Britain" requires the powerful Royal Navy that the country possessed in previous centuries.

Two aircraft carriers are at long last becoming operational, but to back up Mr Johnson's pledge that Britain will become the “foremost naval power in Europe” with a “shipbuilding renaissance”, more warships are being built.

There will be eight Type 26 frigates and at least five Type 31 multipurpose frigates, to be joined by possibly a similar number of the new Type 32 frigate.

This will increase the Navy's surface fleet from 17 to 24 warships, in addition to seven Astute-class hunter-killer submarines and three Dreadnought-class ballistic nuclear submarines. The Navy will also develop unmanned vessels for mine-hunting and surveillance.

Integrated Review: What will happen to the Royal Air Force?

Instead of getting 138 F-35 Lightning combat jets, as military chiefs had hoped, the RAF will probably receive at most 50 of the £100 million aircraft.

The big order will be cancelled in favour of the proposed Tempest fighter, which would be able to operate with or without crew.

Similarly, 24 Typhoon fighter jets will be retired early, with the RAF retaining seven frontline squadrons. The RAF will likely lose 11 surveillance planes and potentially up to 14 C-130J Hercules transport planes.

"The air force is going to get into drones in a big way and is going to dress that up as modernising," said Prof Clarke.

“But the Navy will fly the flag around the world with a carrier battle group and become a powerful, potent force."

However, Brig Barry sounded a warning about the tank cuts. "An army that moves away from heavy armour and armoured warfare will be much less effective, and it will also have much less influence."