The British Army is in “urgent need of recapitalisation” but the Chancellor and the Prime Minister “get that”, a defence minister has said.
James Heappey’s comments came after the Conservative chairman of the Defence Select Committee pressed him on remarks reportedly made by a senior US general that the British Army is no longer regarded as a top-level fighting force.
According to Sky News, the US general privately told Defence Secretary Ben Wallace: “You haven’t got a tier one – it’s barely tier two.”
Mr Heappey replied: “I think everybody is clear. The Secretary of State has said many times, as have I and other ministerial colleagues, that serial under-investments in the Army over decades has led to the point where the Army is in urgent need of recapitalisation.
“The Chancellor and the Prime Minister get that and there is a budget coming.”
Shortly afterwards, Mr Wallace suggested the armed forces have been “hollowed out and underfunded”, but called on Labour to accept some responsibility for the situation.
Shadow defence secretary John Healey noted that when Labour left government in 2010, the British Army “stood at over 100,000 full-time troops and we were spending 2.5% of GDP on defence”.
“The serious hollowing out has happened since. Who does he think has been in charge over the last 13 years?” he asked.
Mr Wallace responded: “You only have to listen to the veterans on this side to understand their experience under a Labour government.
“If (Mr Healey) wants to be the next secretary of defence, he should come here and get off his chest the shortcomings that his former government did.
“I’m happy to say that we have hollowed out and underfunded. Will he do the same? Or will he hide behind petty party politics?”
Downing Street acknowledged there had been “underfunding” of the military but insisted that billions of pounds had been committed to equipment.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We certainly agree there has been underfunding and it’s right that we are putting billions more into our armed forces.”
In response to Mr Heappey’s comments, the spokesman said: “We recognise that the armed forces have not received the money needed in successive years.
“That’s why we put into place the £242 billion 10-year equipment plan and it’s why we raised the defence budget so we continue to be the largest defence budget in Europe.
“That investment is the biggest in the UK defence industry since the Cold War.”