New analysis has revealed that the British army will have fewer than 70,000 soldiers within two years.
The figures have prompted concern among European and American generals who have questioned whether the UK can still be considered a top-level fighting force.
Based on present trends, the army will be 52,000 strong in a decade’s time. This is small enough to fit inside Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
The figures, complied by The Times, show that if the army continues to lose troops at its present rate, the number of regular soldiers will fall to 67,741 by 2026.
There are concerns about army recruitment
Francis Tusa, who writes the Defence Analysis newsletter, said that over the past two years he had spoken to generals, admirals and air marshals from around the world who had expressed concern about between the capabilities the UK military presented and what they saw on the ground.
He said one European Nato general told him in September last year that the UK “can’t put a brigade in the field” and has “kit falling apart”.
Tusa said: “The problems facing all the services are major, deep and growing: personnel, infrastructure, training, and that’s before you get to equipment.”
A senior US general reportedly told former defence secretary Ben Wallace, that Britain was “barely a tier two military power.”
Former armed forces minister Mark Francois has said Capita should not have had its contract renewed
It comes as the army has failed to reach its recruitment target for soldiers every year for the past decade.
Despite this, Capita, the outsourcing company which oversees recruitment, has been awarded contracts worth more than £1.1 billion.
In 2020 it was awarded a two-year contract extension with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) worth £140 million. This started in March 2022, when its ten-year contract ended.
Former armed forces minister Mark Francois, who sits on the Commons defence select committee, said the company should have been sacked, not had its contract renewed.
Shadow defence secretary John Healey added: “On current trends, our army is set for further decline if ministers do not get to grips with their recruitment and retention crisis.”
Former chief of the general staff General Lord Dannatt warned The Times of parallels with the 1930s, when the “woeful” state of the UK’s armed forces failed to deter Hitler.
He said: “There is a serious danger of history repeating itself.”
An MoD spokesperson said that British Army tanks were operating in Europe and later this year 20,000 troops would take part in Nato manoeuvres.
They added: “Whilst there are undoubted challenges to military recruitment, people are at the heart of the military and the MoD is taking tangible and concrete steps to address shortfalls.
“More widely, the UK is spending more than £50 billion on defence this year to protect our interests wherever they are threatened.”