The MoD today published its latest manning figures. With a full-time trained strength of 173,960 the UK's Armed Forces are at 97% of their target figure - this includes 1,750 full-time reservists and 3,590 Gurkhas.
Compared with the previous year, the last 12 months have seen an 8.3% increase (1,600) in the number of new recruits and also a 1.3% decrease in the number of trained people leaving the Services. Defence Minister Baroness Ann Taylor said: "We are recruiting and retaining more and more highly valued and skilled people. The situation has been helped by "recent initiatives including pay rises, increased operational allowances and improved accommodation schemes".
However, the change since the start of the Iraq War five years ago is also interesting. Whereas in April 2003 the total strength of UK Armed Forces stood at 206,920, by April 2008 this had fallen to 187,060 - a loss of 19,860, a total strength decrease of almost 10%. Also in the year ending April 2003 there were 26,350 new recruits which compares with 21,310 in the 12 months to April 2008 - a recruitment decrease of 19%. The figures for leavers stay about the same - 24,100 (02/03) compared with 24,680 (07/08), but still an increase of 2.4% in leavers. Since 2003 of course UK Armed Forces not only continue to be deployed in Iraq, the Falklands and Cyprus but are also engaged in a full-scale war in Afghanistan, a major peace-keeping deployment in the Balkans and UN operations in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ethiopia and Georgia - not to mention on-going NATO commitments in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
So the UK now has significantly fewer resources to meet significantly higher commitments.
General Dannatt's Briefing Team Report disclosed earlier this month that Britain has an undermanned army which is "having a serious impact on retention in infantry battalions", with nearly half of all soldiers unable to take all their annual leave as they try to cover the gaps.
Neither does the DASA manning report show how increasingly dependent the British Army has become on recruits from the Commonwealth. These have increased from 360 in 1998 to 6,600 today or 6.3% of total strength. If this trend continues, 10% of the Army will consist of citzens from the Commonwealth by 2012.
Another interesting statistic - the number of 'active' troops per 1,000 citizens in the UK is 3.4, in Greece it's 16.6 and in Switzerland it's 47.9 - strange, eh?
Anyway, although Armed Forces manning levels do not compare favourably with five years ago, they at least indicate that recruitment and retention may now be starting to improve.
Link> MoD: DASA - Strength, Intake & Outflow of UK Regular Forces
Link> The Guardian: MoD may halt surge in Commonwealth recruits to army