Britain will base hundreds of tanks and combat vehicles in Germany and rotate several troops on exercises through the country barely a year after withdrawing a large presence from the Cold War.
The Mini U-turn – part of a larger modernization plan for army unveiled by the defense minister on Thursday – will see Germany become one of three new “regional land hubs” for the army along with Oman and Kenya.
The goal is for more troops to be deployed to different parts of the globe for longer periods of time – training with partner forces for several months rather than the current exercise plans of weeks – to strengthen relations with allies and deter threats from states such as Russia and China.
The renewed presence in Germany will also mean that Britain can react more quickly to any Russian – or other – attack on a European NATO member state.
Ben Wallace, who spoke in the House of Commons, also outlined what the army will look like when it shrinks to 73,000 in 2025 from a target force of 82,000 – its smallest size since Napoleon’s time – to save money, even if the reduction is 500 soldiers fewer than originally planned.
The program – called “The Soldier of the Future” and described as the most radical restructuring in more than 20 years – is designed to “transform the army into a more agile, integrated, lethal, expeditionary force,” the defense minister said.
“Transformation on this scale – every single entity will be affected in some way by this change,” he told MPs.
It will include an additional £ 8.6 billion in funding for equipment over the next 10 years. However, one of the army’s most expensive programs – the Ajax 5.5 billion pound tank – is still plagued by problems that have not yet been resolved.
“Our army will operate across the globe, equipped with the capabilities to counter a myriad of threats from cyber warfare to conflict on the battlefield,” said Mr. Wallace.
Fewer soldiers will mean some base closures, including the Alanbrooke Barracks at Topcliffe in North Yorkshire. A total of 33 “closures” are planned, though officers said many of them are small, such as a number of reserve centers and cadet training centers.
There are winners as well as losers with some expected base closures being scrapped.
This includes the Glencorse Barracks in Edinburgh and the retention of the Brecon Barracks in Wales – a decision that is likely to be seen as an attempt to woo decentralized nations.
The army itself changes structure to become more streamlined as it shrinks in size.
No cap brands will be lost and there are no plans for mass layoffs. But the army will be rearranged under four divisions of infantry called The Queen’s Division, Union Division, The Light Division and Guards and Parachute Division.
A number of brigades will either be dropped or merged as priorities shift to build a greater ability to fight at a distance.
This involves investing in long-range missiles and surveillance.
As part of this alignment, 1 armored infantry brigade will merge with the artillery brigade to become a Deep Recce Strike Brigade.
Emphasis will also be placed on specialist competencies.
This includes the creation of a Ranger regiment to stand up from December 1, modeled on the Green Beret Special Forces in the United States. Britain’s Rangers will be able to operate in smaller groups than the regular army and be more self-sufficient.
They will cooperate with local troops or militias in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
On the new plans for Germany, the army aims to base a brigade of tanks and armored vehicles – about 250 machines in total, supported by trucks and other infrastructure – in the Sennelager training area, where British forces were previously permanently stationed.
Battle groups of hundreds of soldiers will then deploy to the training area to practice the equipment with NATO allies for about four months at a time.
They could then move on to Estonia, where Britain has for the past five years led a 1,000-strong battle group of NATO troops as part of a mission to deter Russian aggression.
The future British presence in Germany will be very different from the 20,000 people military footprints formerly located in the country – a legacy of the decades that followed the end of World War II. The permanent presence was withdrawn in 2020.
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A spokesman for the Army said: “NATO’s Forward Holding Base Sennelager is the Army’s land regional hub in Europe.
“Knowingly designed with our NATO partners, it will enhance our ability to quickly meet our commitment to NATO under the NATO Readiness Initiative by increasing our ability to store and store materials and equipment on the continent.
“Although the intention is also to increase our training there, together with our NATO partners, there is no plan to re-base British combat forces in Germany.”