Equipping UK’s Armed Forces is a constant battle

By Michael Evans, Defence Editor

THE British Armed Forces are often described as the most professional and most combat-experienced in the world.

But are they the best-paid and the best-equipped?

Britain spends more on defence, buys hugely expensive weapons and support equipment, and sends all three Services on more overseas operations and in greater numbers than any other nation in Europe.

However, the youngest fighting soldiers in the Army risking their lives every day in Iraq and Afghanistan are earning as little as 14,000 a year, about 8,000 less than a firefighter or a police officer of comparable experience.

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) survey published this week on pay satisfaction indicated that nearly 30 per cent of soldiers and 17 per cent of officers in the Army said they were either “fairly dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied”. Questioned on how they thought their pay compared with civilian counterparts, 41 per cent of soldiers and 53 per cent of officers believed that their wage was “worse” or “much worse”. Most soldiers and officers seemed to be happy with their pension benefits but had no clue about which scheme they were in.

Keeping the Army — and the Royal Navy and the RAF — content and motivated, especially when required to fight wars to meet the requirements of the Government’s foreign policy, has to be one of the fundamental obligations of the politicians. Yet over the years there have been numerous examples of bitter struggles between the MoD and the Treasury over funding, no greater than when the Cold War came to an end, giving rise to an overenthusiastic search for a big peace dividend.

The reduced size of all three Services is a direct consequence of those post-Cold War decisions. They were made, of course, on the false assumption that the dangerous bi-polar world of the Cold War would be replaced by an era of spreading democracy and stability. What the strategists did not take into account was the possibility that the West’s idea of democracy might have to be forged with the help of precision-guided bombs and cruise missiles.

In the process, some of the basic needs of the forces were neglected. It is an indisputable fact that large numbers of troops sent to fight Saddam Hussein in 2003 did not have boots suitable for fighting in a hot climate; the SA80 standard rifle for all three Services was badly designed and nearly 100 million had to be spent converting it; and it is only recently that the MoD has begun providing single servicemen with proper modern accommodation.

The Armed Forces today are better off. The basic pay for combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is soon to be supplemented by a tax-free bonus of 2,240 for each six-month tour, at a cost to the Treasury of 60 million a year.

However, the main problem is that defence is a slow business.

It takes time for vital equipment to come through the system. Armoured Land Rovers that are vulnerable to roadside bombs are still the main vehicle used by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though new, heavier-built vehicles are on the way; and only two additional C130 Hercules transport aircraft have so far been fitted with fire-suppressant foam to avoid a repeat of the disaster in January last year when a Hercules burst into flames after being shot at from the ground in Iraq with the loss of all ten on board.


Present salaries for all ranks for the Army and the equivalent in the other services

(Pay bands depending on service)

Private/lance corporal
14,323 - 25,795

23,535 - 29,576

26,751 - 32,916

Warrant officer
29,612 - 38,551

Warrant officer 1
34,405 - 41,672

15,169 - 29,149

33,795 - 40,190

42,570 - 50,989

59,747 - 66,047

69,189 - 76,471

82,990 - 86,527