General Sir Richard Barrons, former head of Joint Forces Command, made the remarks before the House of Commons defense committee on Tuesday as part of a government review of national security capabilities and defense budget.
Speaking alongside counterparts from the navy and air force, Barrons warned MPs that a lack of money and policy of denial had left the British army “not fit for purpose,” and at risk of “institutional failure.”
“All three armed forces are falling behind the rate of innovation you see in our peers,” he told the committee. “The people who are in defense, they have to keep going every day so they are never going to say publicly, or to themselves, or to their enemies, or to their allies, that we’re broken.”
Barrons cited a lack of air defenses, unmanned drones and cyber warfare capabilities as reasons for a push to an increase in the military budget, saying that “defense is close to breaking and unless you put more money in it, it will fall over.”
“If we want an Army that can actually fight, we have got to acquire some modern capabilities. It is miles from being able to do that,” he said.
“When they fly, sail or deploy on the land and they look at their equipment, they look at their sustainability, they look at the shortfalls in their training and they look at their allies, they know they are not fit for purpose,” the retired general added.
During the Tuesday session, Barrons also warned of multiple “existential threats” to Britain and that the army needed to be prepared for countering them.
“We now live in an age where people who are not on our side have capability that they could – not saying they will, they could – inflict on the UK homeland at short notice, which we can’t deal with,” he said.
“[These threats] come in the form of Daesh (ISIL) who, if they could, would find weapons of mass destruction and apply them to the UK; thankfully, so far that has been comprehensively seen off,” Barrons added.
“We are locked in a daily confrontation with Russia, we are looking at North Korea which, within the next 12 to 18 months, will mate a nuclear missile to an intercontinental-range ballistic missile that can reach London – we can’t deal with that,” he noted.
This comes as the British armed forces have been asked to come up with a list of options for cuts as part of the Ministry of Defense’s struggles to control spending through an overall review.
Calling on the committee to reconsider proposed cuts to defense spending, Barrons stressed that all three branches of the armed services were already stretched to the limit.
Since 2010, the UK’s military approach has been conditioned by the reality of a dramatically shrinking budget. Since then, the size of the armed forces has also shrunk by around one sixth.