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Fighting force of the future needs twice as many part-timers, say ex SAS chiefs

Two former SAS commanders are calling for the Territorial Army to be doubled in size and urging greater use of high-tech kit to enhance the fighting ability of regular forces in future conflicts.

In a dramatic intervention to the Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, General Sir Graeme Lamb and Colonel Richard Williams say that it is vital to implement fundamental change in the military mindset or risk losing more soldiers’ lives.

“We should reduce our number of full-time troops by around 25 per cent and equip them to fight the technologically sophisticated conflicts we face around the world,” the two decorated special forces commanders write in The Times today.

“We should double the number of reserves and give them the heavy weaponry to train to fight the pitched battles of the future, as well as contribute as formed units to intervention operations and homeland security.”

The comments come as the Government conducts a review of Britain’s defence and security apparatus, which is due to conclude at the end of next month. All aspects of the military are, potentially, up for debate including whether to maintain Cold War capabilities such as tanks and heavy artillery that are not used in Afghanistan, but could be called upon to fight a more conventional conflict in the future.

Colonel Williams, who left the military two years ago, told The Times that transferring the bulk of Britain’s heavy weaponry to the Territorial Army (TA) could save up to 90 per cent of the current cost of keeping full-time forces operational on such kit.

“Citizen soldiers work,” he said. “With the training, a reservist can fight just as well as a regular soldier, as has been proved in Afghanistan.”

The TA, which numbers 35,000, would not just be “Cold War warriors”. They would also be ready to be deployed alongside regular units in continuing operations. “With the TA you have a pay-as-you-go capability,” Colonel Williams said. “You only pay for them when they turn up. You don’t have to provide boarding schools for their children, allowance or barracks.

“Seventy-five per cent of the Israeli Defence Forces’ fighter jets are flown by reservists, while 50 per cent of fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain were reservists. Why can’t our fighter jets be flown by reservists?”

In the United States, Australia and Canada, part-timers comprise between 40 and 55 per cent of the Armed Forces. In Britain the proportion is just above 20 per cent.

“When we deploy, less than 1 per cent of our capability is reservists. That’s just ridiculous,” Colonel Williams said.

In today’s article, General Lamb and Colonel Williams say that the tardy response to cyber-warfare, threats from space and the ability to exploit surveillance has hampered operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The foot-dragging of the MoD over the need to shift to a technology-based environment has cost us lives ... and will cost us more.”

Colonel Williams recalled a conference in the US. To his left was a British officer in red trousers with a horse whip. To his right was an American from Space Command. “That indicated the difference,” he said.

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