British soldiers are being forced to train with blanks rather than live rounds to save money.
The entire Territorial Army (TA) and a number of nonfrontline regular army units will be affected by the ban on the use of real bullets in personal weapons, according to defence sources.
Soldiers bound for Afghanistan will be spared the restrictions, but even they will start training with live rounds only in the last three months before departure. Those learning to shoot as part of basic training will also be allowed to use real bullets.
Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP and a former infantry commanding officer, said: “The idea that our frontline reserves should not be able to use live rounds is quite extraordinary.
“We can’t have a popgun army. The next thing you know we’ll be reduced to Dad’s Army-style training, shouting ‘bang bang’.”
News of the ban emerged as Gordon Brown returned from a surprise visit to Afghanistan to bolster support for the war.
Yesterday a Royal Marine was killed on foot patrol when a Taliban bomb exploded near Gereshk in southern Afghanistan. He was the 208th British serviceman to die in the conflict.
The bullet ban is the result of a £700m cut in the money available to run the army in the UK.
Soldiers are required to maintain basic standards of proficiency in the use of their weapons; the SA80 is the standard issue service rifle, while officers use a Browning 9mm pistol.
They must pass an annual test, demonstrating their ability to clean their weapons, fire at a target to calibrate or “zero” the sights, and then achieve a specific score firing live rounds.
They fire a minimum of 100 live rounds, with the average noninfantry soldier firing about 300 a year. The cost of a single SA80 live round is approximately 30p, compared with 10p for a blank.
The Ministry of Defence conceded that tank and artillery units had also seen a sharp cut in the number of rounds they were allowed to fire on training exercises.
The number of artillery rounds fired in training fell from 20,000 in 2003-2004 to half that figure last year and is even fewer this year.
Computer simulation is being used as an alternative, but it cannot reproduce the experience of live firing.
This weekend one officer said: “We’ve been told we cannot fire live rounds unless we are going to Afghanistan. How on earth is a professional soldier supposed to be able to keep up his skills like that?
“But the situation is so desperate that Land Command [which runs the army in Britain] is already overspent by £50m. It is absolutely wretched. It is a total farce.” The MoD said it “did not recognise” the £50m figure, but senior sources confirmed it was the rough size of the overspend. The MoD said: “The top priority is to train those about to deploy to Afghanistan, but the training of others continues. The ever-improving quality of simulation technology has reduced the need to rely on live-fire exercises, although they still play an important role.” It was unable to say which regular army units were affected by the ban.
The revelation that soldiers are firing blanks follows an admission to MPs earlier this month that British troops had fired more than 12m rounds between April 2006, when they first went into southern Afghanistan, and April this year.
Most of the rounds were from small arms, with about 6m fired from SA80 rifles and 5m from machineguns.
Although the government claims the full cost of operations abroad is funded separately from the defence budget, the Treasury reduces the figure by about half to take into account costs that are not incurred in the UK because the troops are in Afghanistan.
The TA has also been ordered to cut in half the training for its soldiers, with funding for “man-training-days” for reservists cut from 90 a year to 50 for some and 30 for others.
Last week a mother of a soldier serving in Afghanistan revealed that she had spent £1,000 per tour sending her son kit because he was so poorly equipped.
Lorna Daniel, 52, from Looe, Cornwall, has sent Paul, 29, a corporal with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, items including a high-quality sleeping bag, vests, gloves and torches.
how can you say that when britian is helping the usa fighting 2 wars it started.
Britian is a small country which has troops in both iraq @afghanistan ,yes most brits would like more money spent on its armed forces.but remember after the usa its britian which has the most troops in both war zones. and may be instead of giving arms to pak the usa could give us some instead after all were standing shoulder to shoulder with them.
dont worry this lame azz govenment will soon be gone but not for the reasons your thinking.
[QUOTE=Antimony;61609]What does fighting in Iraq and A-Stan have to do with not being lame-azz?
what its got to do is cost.$$
wars cost money and if they need to cost cut, so that they can continue to fulfill there role in iraq/afghanistan so be it.america may have unlimited defence budget but thats up to them.the last time britian went to war it was done with no american help.[argentina]
britian has helped the usa 3 times since,and any attack on the uk will be dealt by our mod @british forces.
Yeah, well. Over 11,000 bullets are being fired every day in Afghanistan (not to mention the bombs, missiles, shells, grenades, enormous amounts of fuel and all the rest). That is expensive. Even so it is rather appaulling. But, we will make do. We are a crafty and ingenious (no false modesty) lot who have consistantly shown our ability to muddle through.
Besides this measure is not expected to be in practice for long. There is a shake up at the moment regarding procurement and how money is spent in general. And there will be an even larger one soon with the Defence Review.
The entire issue (and many others) stem from the current Government's odd way of funding wars.
[QUOTE=sky;61617]There isn't really any current military threat to our country, excluding terrorism. No real threat to our overseas territories either, the Falklands is the only one really contested and it is well guarded, while the Argentine military is in a pitiful state. We are not going to let that state improve either.
Some may say Russia is rising again, but their military is falling apart by all accounts. Putins media operations have cost them dearly, and now with the budget falling they are in even more trouble. Even their much touted new projects are in trouble. They are putting a large proportion of their money into trying to keep a credible nuclear deterrent, at the expense of the rest of their forces.
Any force anyone could put on our island would be crushed anyway. So the focus is on expeditionairy and coalition ops.
That is not to say we shouldn't stay prepared for a war with industrialised nations. Even with NATO and ABCA we must remain ready.
The US does give us ammunition in Afghanistan if we fall short, they lend us Helicopters when we need them for large ops, or just to pull out wounded, they lend medic teams when ours are fatigued. They help us with strategic air lift, air support, (most of the airstrikes I called in in Afghanistan were from American planes), and other supplies all and sundry. We are ABCA, through political differences we will always help each other. That you can count on.
Some people are saying the Torry's will be more forces friendly, but I doubt it. When you look at what they have been saying regarding military funding. They are just critising the current lot's performance in this regard to score some brownie points in the eyes of the public. They have rallied around the forces a lot in the last year or two especially. So Cameron shouts at Labour for failing to properly fund the military, the public agree and presume from his retoric that he will be more military friendly. While I doubt he will be.
On a similar note most of the public are rather short sighted regarding the military and military procurement. They scream at the purchase of anything that is not nessesarily useful in today's war, then pat themselves on the back for supporting the troops. But if we didn't purchase big ticket items like the Eurofighter and the CVF's we would leave huge gaps in capability. Yes we need a lot more in Afghanistan, Helicopters especially. But we cannot let todays war dictate all our procurement and the like.