Making the bleak assessment, Labour peer Admiral Lord Alan West, who served as First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy from 2002-06, highlighted the chronic underfunding faced by the services, which he argued were ‘too small’.
He was speaking as peers debated at Westminster the impact of the conflict in Ukraine following the Russian invasion, leading to heightened international tensions.
Lord West told the Parliament: ‘Despite all sorts of intentions there has been a lack of funding in defence for many years and, looking to the future, that lack of funding has been exacerbated by the assumption of what are very illusory efficiency savings, because they just will not happen.
‘Spending money on defence clearly is very hard for governments in our cosy, secure society, but the reason we are in a cosy, secure society is because we spend money on defence.
‘There’s considerable truth in the view that wars are won not on the battlefield but by building up military capability beforehand. It’s noticed by competitors, particularly dictators, and therefore it prevents war, but it takes time.
‘Many of us have warned of chronic underfunding and we have been told time and again we were wrong.
‘The reality is our armed forces are too weak to prevent war … and if there is war, and I am afraid one day there probably will, they lack the equipment and manpower to keep us safe.
‘Our army, navy and air force are too small. They lack the ability to withstand the inevitable attrition and are insufficiently equipped with state-of-the-art, fully maintained and sufficient core stocks for the inevitably high war usage rates.’
He also vented his concerns about the plans to reduce the size of the regular army – which has a trained strength of 76,300 troops – to 72,500.‘With war raging in Europe and possibly extending to a world war, there is a need for an immediate uplift in defence spending,’ the former security minister appealed.