'Increased demand' on NI Army reservists

'Increased demand' on NI Army reservists

Major restructuring of Army Reserves UK-wide will have an impact on those based in Northern Ireland - although numbers will not be cut within the region.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced on Wednesday that 38 military reserve bases will close across England, Scotland and Wales, under the £1.8bn Future Force 2020 reforms.

Nine Army bases, two Navy bases and two Royal Air Force bases will be either created or reopened to offset the cuts and move towards a 'whole force' concept, relying on a mix of regulars, reservists, civil servants and contractors.

The Government plans to cut regular Army numbers from 100,000 to 80,000, but grow the reserves - rebranded from the Territorial Army to the Army Reserves - from around 20,000 to 30,000 over the next five years.

A number of incentives are to be offered, but concerns have been expressed about the potential impact of the White Paper proposals if the recruitment targets are not met.

It's not as if we are trying to do something that hasn't been done before. All of our English speaking allies operate with far greater reserve forces as a proportion of their regular forces than we do.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond

In Northern Ireland, there are currently 2000 men and women in the Army Reserves - in a number of roles such as infantry, logistics support, medical, field engineering, and artillery.

In recent years, they have been involved in operations both overseas and at home, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Cyprus and the London Olympics.

At sub-unit level, some reserves will need to relocate from four of their current bases.

"We see the Reserves delivering much more in the future, providing general military and specialist capabilities - not only as individuals, but also as formed groups," the senior Army officer in Northern Ireland, Brigadier Rob Thomson, said.

"Naturally and rightly, this means changes and improvements to both individual and collective training. It also means that we will improve the equipment available to the Reserve."

He added: "When fully integrated, the Army Reserve can absolutely expect to be deployed on operations, possibly for up to 6 months every 5 years - any deployment will, of course, depend on the operational demand."

This increased demand will be matched by greater predictability and stability regarding training and deployments for both our people and their employers.

Brigadier Rob Thomson

According to the senior Reserves officer in Northern Ireland, Colonel Nick Tougher, reservists in the region play a major role in deployments.

"The men and women in the reserves within Northern Ireland, whilst representing only about 4% of the total UK reserves strength, have consistently provided around 20% of all reservists on difficult and dangerous overseas deployments," he said.

"The average reserve soldier serves just under 12 years here, compared to a UK average of around four years."

With reservists likely to be called up more often, support will be required from employers.

The Chief Executive of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association in NI, Johnny Rollins, recognised the burden on companies and firms affected, but added that their support was critical.

"We know that in tough times many employers face extra burden in releasing key members of their workforce, both for military training and deployments," he said.

"These needs are not only understood and respected and we are hoping the changes will allow us to give greater predictability."


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