Military chief says there are not enough sailors

General Sir Nicholas Houghton
General Sir Nicholas Houghton

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Britain is in danger of being left with hollowed out armed forces, with ‘exquisite’ equipment but without the soldiers, sailors and airmen needed to man it, the country’s most senior military officer has warned.

General Sir Nicholas Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said that while the future budget for the forces equipment programme was guaranteed by ministers, military manpower was seen as an ‘overhead’.

Speaking to the Royal United Services Institute military think tank, he said activity and training levels were being ‘squeezed’ while the Royal Navy was ‘perilously close’ to its ‘critical mass’ in terms of manpower.

‘Whilst exquisite technology has been protected as the key to operational superiority, manpower has been seen as more of an overhead. Activity levels and training has been squeezed,’ he said.

‘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, then took the unusual step of issuing a statement acknowledging that his service was under ‘manpower pressure’ but insisted it would not ‘throw us off track’.

‘We take a long view on our duties at sea and, on behalf of our nation, are fully ready to meet the challenge,’ he said.