MINISTERS must heed warnings over Royal Navy manpower to avoid further pressure on the forces, naval experts say.
It comes after the country’s top military officer warned Britain is in danger of being left with ‘hollowed out’ armed forces.
General Sir Nicholas Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), said the Royal Navy was ‘perilously close’ to its ‘critical mass’ in terms of manpower.
‘While exquisite technology has been protected as the key to operational superiority, manpower has been seen as more of an overhead,’ he said.
‘Activity levels and training has been squeezed.
‘Unattended, our current course leads to a strategically incoherent force structure – exquisite equipment, but insufficient resources to man that equipment or train.
‘It is what the Americans call the spectre of the “hollow force”.
‘We are not there yet, but across defence I would identify the Royal Navy as being perilously close to its critical mass in manpower terms.’
The head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, issued a statement after the General’s remarks.
He said: ‘It is quite true the Royal Navy is under significant manpower pressure, in key specialist skills to meet today’s commitments.
‘This is a recognised leadership and management challenge that is part and parcel of the Royal Navy’s renaissance, and we are working to meet that challenge, but also to chase the opportunities it offers.
‘But I do not expect it to throw us off track.’
Now the government has been urged to pay heed to the warnings of those in charge of the forces.
Pete Sandeman, of the campaign savetheroyalnavy.org, said: ‘Bravo to the Chief of Defence Staff and First Sea Lord for being honest about the state of our forces.
‘They are absolutely right and the Royal Navy’s manpower problems are partly a result of the 2010 Strategic Defence Review decision to cut the fleet and make 5,000 personnel redundant.
‘Any minister with integrity should sit up and listen, but I would be most surprised if they do.
‘Having just made thousands redundant it would be most embarrassing to admit there are manpower problems.’
‘WE WILL CONTINUE TO ENSURE OUR FORCES ARE WELL-FUNDED’
PRIME Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman responded to the General’s comments at a Westminster media briefing.
He said: ‘The big point here which the Chief of Defence Staff was talking about is the importance in the future of continuing to ensure that our armed forces are well funded and properly equipped, and that is absolutely right.
‘This government has put the military budget on a sustainable footing. There was a £38bn black hole in the budget in 2010.
‘We will continue to ensure that our armed forces are well-funded and properly equipped.’
Asked whether the government would ensure the armed forces were properly manned, the spokesman said: ‘Of course.’