We need soldiers, not robots, says Army after PM insists more troops not needed

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Technology is important but the human behind it is still crucial, according to recruitment campaign - Eddie Mulholland
Technology is important but the human behind it is still crucial, according to recruitment campaign - Eddie Mulholland

The Army’s new recruitment drive insists robots cannot replace soldiers, just days after the Prime Minister said the UK did not need more troops.

It comes as Boris Johnson announced on Thursday that Britain will spend 2.5 per cent of its GDP on defence by 2030.

Mr Johnson said the UK would boost its spending in the wake of the war in Ukraine, as he warned of a “very different era” of insecurity in Europe.

Earlier this week Mr Johnson’s official spokesman insisted UK troop numbers were “the right size” following a defence review last year that plans to cut them by 9,500 by 2025.

The spokesman added that it was “wrong to focus solely on the numbers” and stressed that the Government is investing in cyber warfare and other new technology.

However, Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, the head of the Army, warned in a speech on Tuesday at the Rusi think tank that “it would be perverse” for him to advocate for reducing the size of the Army “as a land war rages in Europe and Putin’s territorial ambitions extend into the rest of the decade and beyond Ukraine”.

General Patrick Sanders says Britain needs to be 'ready' as Russia's war on Ukraine intensifies - Eddie Mulholland
General Patrick Sanders says Britain needs to be 'ready' as Russia's war on Ukraine intensifies - Eddie Mulholland

Defence sources said: “Gen Sanders said we need to be ready and mobilised now, so we need to fill our ranks in both reserves and regulars really quickly. It would be great if this increase in defence spending manifested in a bigger army. That makes recruiting now even more important.”

Military sources added that the Army currently stood at 77,000 and was decreasing “all the time”.

“It takes 18 months to alter that trajectory, so the decision to pause or regrow needs to be taken faster than the 2.5 per cent target,” they said.

Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the defence select committee, said the 2.5 per cent was “timid” and “shows we still don’t appreciate the changing geopolitical landscape and the scale of threats coming over the horizon”.

Dr Julian Smith, the former chairman of the committee, highlighted that the UK spent between 4.1 per cent and 5.5 per cent of GDP in every year of the final decade of the Cold War.

“Announcing at the height of a deadly confrontation in Europe in 2022 that we aim to achieve just a feeble 2.5 per cent in eight years time, shows an inability or unwillingness to face up to the gravity of the current crisis.”

A third military source cautioned that 2030 was “another world, another government,” and that if the Government “wants more troops in Europe the Army probably needs more troops not fewer troops”.

Col Nick Mackenzie, assistant director for recruiting, said the Army’s latest campaign, which shows a robot running through a desolate warzone, before turning into a human, showed that while “technology is really, really important” the soldier behind the technology could not be forgotten.

“There is always somebody, a person, behind that technology and that is what it is,” he said.

Titled “Nothing Can Do What a Soldier Can Do”, the campaign shows the central importance of humans in the future of the Army, despite new research showing a third of Britons think it may eventually employ more robots than people.

The new campaign makes clear that its future will be underpinned by soldiers who will be responsible for the development and utilisation of all technology used.

The Ministry of Defence said only soldiers “can make instinctive decisions on the ground in a conflict zone; improvise on rescue missions during natural disasters; or offer empathy and sympathy while helping the people and institutions around the UK during times of need, such as the pandemic”.

Col Mackenzie added: “Our people need to be more cyber aware, more focused, more technology driven. We are not moving away from that, we are saying we need people, as well, to drive that technology.”

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said: “A well-trained soldier is worth so much, and that is the strength of our Armed Forces. The advert recognises that at its heart our Army relies on the judgment of its individuals, no matter how junior or senior. In contrast the Russian army is stuck in a quagmire as it has an army that treats its soldiers like cannon fodder.”