Size of UK armed forces shrinks despite growing threats

By John Mercury March 8, 2024

The size of the UK armed forces shrank by more than 7,000 soldiers, sailors, and aviators – a drop of 4% – to 183,130 personnel, last year despite growing threats, new figures show.

Only counting full-time, fully-trained armed forces, the number decreased by 3% or 3,870 servicemen and women to 130,660 personnel in the 12 months to 1 January compared with the previous year, the Ministry of Defence’s quarterly personnel statistics revealed.

Military chiefs are increasingly concerned about recruitment and the need to retain people, especially when those with specific skills such as engineering, logistics and cyber are being wooed by bigger salaries to quit defence and join the private sector.

The total number of people to join the regular armed forces last year contracted by 8% – or 890 personnel – to 10,680 compared with 2022.

The figure for new joiners was significantly smaller than the number of people leaving – which stood at 16,140, though that was a slight drop of 1%, or 80 personnel, from the previous year.

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Sky News revealed last July that the Royal Navy had suffered a serious drop in recruitment that could hamper its ability to fight at sea, and even crew the nuclear deterrent, unless fixed.

One source described the situation as a “general collapse” in the flow of new recruits into the service, but the navy rejected this characterisation, while conceding there was a challenge.

Responding to the latest figures, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “Recruitment and retention are absolute priorities and this is why we are introducing a range of measures to respond to the current recruitment challenge.

“We are investing in our people through trials to increase recruitment and retention, awarded the largest pay increase in over 20 years and committed to spend more than £4bn to improve service personnel accommodation.

“We have already started to see positive results, with January resulting in the highest number of regular soldier applications in over six years and an eight-year high in applications to join the Royal Navy.”

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