Britain’s military are “hollowing out” due to low recruitment levels, a bombshell report revealed today.
All three branches of the military are “running to stand still” as they struggle to replace the numbers quitting, according to the study commissioned by Downing Street.
In the year to April, just 12,950 recruits joined the Army, Navy and RAF while 14,970 troops left, warns report author Mark Francois, a former Defence Minister.
The Army faces the biggest manpower crisis as it needs to recruit 10,000 people a year to maintain its strength.
It managed to attract just 7,000 entrants last year.
The devastating report blows a huge hole in the Tories’ 2015 manifesto commitment to keep the Army at 82,000 troops.
The Government since abandoned the pledge and now there are just 78,400 as the staffing meltdown stripped the Army back to its lowest level since before the Napoleonic wars 200 years ago.
The Mirror previously revealed worrying shortfalls in soldier numbers, including how hundreds of places on training courses went unfilled.
Yesterday’s report says: “The Royal Navy and the RAF are now running at around 10% short of their annual recruitment target, whilst for the Army the shortfall is over 30%.
“Constant pressure on recruiting budgets has only compounded the difficulty.”
The study also hits out at minsters’ botched privatisation of recruitment to outsourcing giant Capita, which is “performing badly”.
Labour said the report “underlines the Government’s shocking failure to manage recruitment to our Armed Forces”.
Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith added: “At a time of heightened tension around the world, the Conservatives’ record of missed targets and broken promises is putting our nation’s security at risk.
“It’s time that (Defence Secretary, Sir) Michael Fallon took his head out of the sand and got to grips with this problem urgently.
“This is just the latest reminder that Capita is completely unfit to deliver the recruitment contract.
“Yet instead of holding them to account for their failings, the Government is once again allowing the private sector to pocket millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money for limited returns.
“We know that dissatisfaction with pay and service life is one of the main reasons why personnel are leaving the Forces.
“It’s high time that the Government listened to our Armed Forces and lifted the public sector pay cap to give our personnel the pay that they deserve.”
Lib Dem defence spokeswoman Baroness Judith Jolly urged ministers to “stop ignoring chronic shortages in our Armed Forces and start urgently pushing through measures to get new recruits signed up”.
She added: “They need to work out why careers in the Army, Navy and air force aren’t attracting enough new recruits, and why so many of our brave boys and girls are leaving.
“A lot of this is down to morale, which has proven rock bottom in recent years.
“Our country can’t afford to have an Armed Forces which isn’t fully staffed and fighting fit – anything less puts our safety and security at risk.”
An MOD spokesman said: “We thank Mr Francois for his report and agree that recruitment is one of the MOD’s top priorities.
“Joining the military offers the opportunity for a great career, learning new skills and gaining unique experiences not available in civilian life.
“We’re aware of and working on the issues outlined in the report, including investing in recruiting the next generation of talent, diversifying our workforce and increasing our reserve numbers.”