The Scotsman 27/01/2004 http://news.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=99922004 Army fears Hutton 'smokescreen' will conceal cuts GETHIN CHAMBERLAIN DEFENCE CORRESPONDENT MILITARY commanders fear the government might use the aftermath of the publication of the Hutton report to slip out details of an unpopular shake-up of the army which would involve cuts in troop numbers and leave Britain struggling to cope with its international commitments. An announcement on army restructuring is due within the next month, and there are suggestions that the Ministry of Defence could take the opportunity to bury the bad news with an announcement at the end of the week. But one very senior officer has told The Scotsman he does not believe the government would be able to cut troop numbers while maintaining its international commitments and retaining the current practice of allowing a gap of two years between deployments, which ensures troops are at their optimum operational efficiency. "If the government chooses to have less commitments and if it is able to get away with less commitments by whatever means to do with the state of Northern Ireland, the state of Iraq and our other global commitments, then you can have a smaller army," he said. "But the evidence suggests otherwise and certainly the evidence of the post Cold-War period is of a constantly high level of commitment and a constant willingness of government of whichever variety to commit troops to the new world order." The publication of the defence White Paper in December failed to dampen months of speculation about possible cuts. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, spoke of a need for significant changes and an increased reliance on hi-tech systems, but he put off a final decision on the future of the army until this year. That left open the possibility that savings could be made by amalgamating under-recruited regiments, such as the Royal Scots, undermining attempts to attract new recruits and unsettling serving soldiers. The government has based much of its thinking on a move away from conventional forces based around heavy armour in favour of lighter, more mobile forces which would be equipped with vehicles capable of being transported by air to the theatre of operations. But that system - known as Future Rapid Effects System - exists in large part only on the drawing board, and the officer cautioned against a rush to cut troop numbers in favour of technological solutions. "If you combine Northern Ireland with our commitments in the Balkans and Iraq, what you see is hugely manpower-intensive operations, an aspiration to move to highly technical solutions to all problems, what in the jargon is called network-enabled-capability is not yet deliverable, if it ever is deliverable," he said. With the MoD haemorrhaging billions of pounds on projects which have run wildly over budget and are years behind schedule, the pressure is on to find savings in other areas. One possibility is that the MoD could save money by cutting the rest and training period between deployments. But the officer claimed the army would lose its edge without proper training. "I think it would be fair to say that the army, or defence, can cut its cloth by other means, by reducing training activity. I think that would be a dangerous thing to do," he said. Army commanders are growing increasingly annoyed with the continuing speculation about the future of the regiments. Lieutenant-Colonel James Cowan, the commanding officer of the Black Watch, said he had been assured that there was no threat to the future of his regiment, but admitted that such speculation had a potentially damaging effect on recruitment. "It is annoying when there is speculation of this kind because I know it to be unfounded," he said. "Of course it has an effect, because we are like the stock market. The stock market relies on confidence to keep on going upwards and we rely on peoples confidence that there is a job to come to."