The future of the British army: On the defensive | The Economist Future of the British Army. [h=3]On the defensive[/h][h=1]Why the resignation of Liam Fox, a flawed but reforming defence secretary, is bad news for Britains armed forcesand the army in particular[/h]Oct 22nd 2011 | from the print edition THE resignation on October 14th of the defence secretary, Liam Fox, almost a year after the publication of the landmark Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), was the last thing either Britains beleaguered Ministry of Defence (MoD) or its armed forces needed. Dr Fox leaves behind much unfinished business for his successor, Philip Hammond, who may be a competent cost-cutter but who has no previous knowledge of military matters. Dr Foxs departure followed a torrent of embarrassing newspaper revelations about his working relationship with Adam Werritty, a close friend and self-styled adviser. But despite Dr Foxs poor personal judgment and disregard for the rules (see article), he will be missed. He was a vigorous and knowledgeable defence secretary who, despite implementing sharp spending cuts (about 7.5% over five years), was also engaged in a serious attempt to change the behaviour of a dysfunctional department that had racked up £38 billion ($60 billion) in unfunded commitments under a series of hapless Labour ministers. In this section Chancing it Trouble turning up the heat Skin-deep truths about beauty Right but wrong-headed Reprints [HR][/HR]Related topics Liam Fox British politics Political policy World politics Government and politics A year on, the SDSR is still controversial. Its critics say it was a rushed job that neither cut deeply enough to put the defence budget on a sustainable footing nor made the right choices about which capabilities to reduce. Dr Fox argued that given the scale of the MoDs budgetary crisis there were no easy options and that the SDSR was a work in progress with many details still to be fleshed out. He was perhaps halfway through this process before he left. In December he appointed one of the ministrys harshest critics, Bernard Gray, to bring some realism and order to procurement. And in June he announced a series of radical changes to the way the MoD is structured. The thrust of the reforms was to concentrate strategic leadership at the top of the department and establish a new Joint Forces Command to integrate capabilities such as military intelligence across all three services. The single service chiefs would also get greater responsibility (and accountability) for managing their own organisations, a prospect they welcomed. A few weeks later came what amounted to a second round of post-SDSR cuts. Dr Fox revealed that the regular army, which had escaped relatively unscathed with a reduction of only 7,000 by 2015 (the year after it should cease combat operations in Afghanistan), would be cut by a further 5,000 in 2015, and by 20% (from 101,000 to 82,000) by 2020. Some extra money would be found to beef up the reserves into a bigger and more usable force of 30,000. But Britain was going to have to get by with its smallest army for more than a century. From the armys point of view that was not the most worrying thing. Libya provided a timely reminder of the value of air and maritime assets for projecting force at short notice. But the political appetite for operations involving large numbers of boots on the ground may not recover for a generation. The SDSR made no attempt to say, other than in the vaguest terms, what the army might be for after Afghanistan. Given the prospect of a defence budget under strain for years to come, the army fears it will be the target for any piecemeal cuts that may have to be made. Manpower is both expensive and a softer target than big procurement programmes, such as Britains future aircraft-carriers, which are protected by tightly drawn contracts. Seizing the opportunity provided by Dr Foxs plans for decentralisation, General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the army, asked Major-General Nick Carter, a former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan and the director-general of land warfare, to carry out a review that would shape the army of the future. Insiders say General Carter is reaching radical conclusions. Quick, we need a new plan His review starts from the premise that whatever the tactical successes of the British army in Iraq and Afghanistan, those campaigns have not worked out well overall. It also makes a number of other assumptions. The first is that the next few years will be dominated by getting off the Afghan hamster wheelextracting men and equipment from Afghanistan in good order and deciding which bits of kit to keep and which to leave behind. The second is that by 2020, after troops have come home from Germany, the army will be almost entirely based in Britain for the first time in generations. The third is that the army must move to a contingency posture rather than a campaigning one, putting the onus on adaptability. It looks as if one of the ideas in the SDSRthat there should be five essentially identical multi-role brigadeswill be quietly junked in favour of tailoring the force for the challenge around two light and two heavy brigades which will draw on other resources as needed. Although a good deal of the armys heavy armour and artillery will be mothballed or scrapped, investment in tactical-level networkinga key lesson from Afghanistanwill be given priority. Where deep cuts are made, the emphasis will be on preserving institutional readiness by retaining just enough skills, expertise and equipment to regenerate capabilities quickly. General Carters review is also putting a lot of emphasis on upstream conflict prevention and capacity-building. The army already carries out training missions in bits of the Middle East and Africa, but the idea is to go much further, with around 3,000 of its people actively engaged around the world. As well as making future wars less likely, Sir Peter hopes that this will attract bright and culturally sensitive people to an army career. And if the army is called upon to fight in far-flung places, the hope is that it will know more about them than it did when it pitched up in Basra or Helmand. Whether the army will get the green light for its plan is uncertain. Senior officers are worried that without Dr Fox to champion them, the reforms aimed at decentralising the running of the single services will wither. As one puts it: He might have given new meaning to the word hubris, but we wanted his leadership.