May 9, 2009:
The United Kingdom's Territorial Army, similar to the US National Guard and Reserves, is being streamlined in order to make the Territorials better-trained and ready to fight in the least amount of time. Unfortunately, this may not make much of a difference unless the Army can do something about a severe manpower shortage in the reserves.
Most of the problems the UK's ground forces suffer from are related to years of defense budget slashes and poor pay, which have resulted in a lack of spare parts, equipment, and disgruntled and poorly paid servicemen. But the issue of manpower has always been Britain's major problem, regardless of whether the military was well-funded or not. During World War II, the constant and unceasing demands for manpower in the European Theatre caused growing personnel shortages in the army. In the old days, this wasn't so much of a problem since Britain could call upon hundreds of thousands of Empire troops to make up for their own shortage of bodies to fill the ranks. The majority of these soldiers came from South Africa, India, and the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand). Unfortunately, this is no longer possible since the Indians are no longer associated with the Commonwealth. As for the Australians and New Zealanders, they are unlikely to mobilize thousands of troops without a direct request from the monarchy and in the absence of a full-scale invasion. Furthermore, neither country has any plans to increase their army sizes in the near future. Currently, the Territorial Army numbers around 29,000, which is 30,000 short of what it is supposed to be. This is bad news for Britain, which is currently disengaging from one conflict (Iraq) and focusing on sending more personnel to another (Afghanistan). Britain is on her own.
Currently, the active army consists of about 80,000 officers, NCOs, and enlisted men. The 29,000 Territorial Army troops have several different degrees of obligation. The Regular Reserve is composed of two different classes (A and D). The A class reservists are required to answer compulsory calls for training and deployment whereas Class D troops report for service on a purely voluntary basis. Furthermore, Territorial Units are broken up into Regional and National formations. The Regional formations are composed of soldiers recruited locally from specific areas in the UK. Their commitment is a minimum of 27 days training a year. For National formations, who typically fulfill specialized roles such as logistics and medical services, the commitment is even less at 19 days per year.
Despite the limbo in which the Territorials find themselves regarding their personnel shortages, the government is smart enough to realize they're going to need the reserve forces. They are going to increasingly need the soldiers, and quickly, as they ramp up their combat operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban and the drug gangs. Currently, the Territorial Forces have no fixed timetable for training their units up to full combat-ready standards. This has caused some in the regular army to question whether, in their current state, the Territorials could provide any added value to the offensives in Afghanistan.
Currently, the reserves' time to get in shape and trained for combat operations is being capped at six months. This may not be enough time to conduct basic training and teach advanced skills before shipping the troops to a combat zone. The plan also calls for more training alongside regular army units, to learn heavy weapons skills. This usually result in the reduction of training times in order to get more soldiers in combat faster. The UK has made it clear that the Territorials are going to be in combat soon and they want them trained and ready to do their jobs as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, all the training and upgrading may be for nothing if they can't scrape up the recruits they need.