How to Save £4,000,000 on the Army
THE Army Estimates of the years since the War show commendable progress in the process of reducing the annual cost of the Army to reasonable proportions. In fact, the figures since 1922' are remarkable, even allowing that one of the causes for the decline in the total has been due to the automatic disappearance of abnormal post-War liabilities, for which no credit can be taken.
Army expenditure totalled 62 millions in 1922, and 441 millions in 1925. The Estimates presented in 1926 showed a further reduction of £2,000,000, and those of this year again show economies totalling £1,000,000. But it is evident, from the much discussed strain which has been plaCed upon such an important part of our defensive system as the Territorial Army this year in order to find funds for it, that those responsible are reaching the end of their tether in the matter of saving money on the Army. Further, as far as stores are con- cerned, we have been living largely upon War stocks. Additional outlays in this direction will be asked for in the future.
For these reasons, then, it is more than ever desirable to consider whether, by some new methods or policy, there is not some way of further reducing the present military expenditure. Side by side with this desire to make our funds go further, it must be insisted upon that there shall be no falling off in efficiency or in fighting power.
Examining the Estimates for this year, we find that, of a total of approximately 41i millions, 8 millions are required for non-effective services, mainly pensions. This latter sum can obviously not be cut down. Of the remaining total of 33i millions, the outgoings on pay, food, clothing and quarters of the regular officers and men come to a sum of 17 millions. Quite 50 per cent. of the expenditure thus goes upon the regular personnel of the Army. Of the remainder, it is very questionable how far it is possible to cut down the allocations any further without seriously impairing the health, armament, comfort, and efficiency generally of the Army and its reserves.
The question then resolves itself into whether better use cannot be made of the 17 millions spent upon the regular units.
In 1922 there was a large block reduction of our forces when 22 infantry battalions and 5 regiments of cavalry went by the board, making a loss of some 17,000 men and 1,900 animals. Those units were allowed to go with mis- givings as a concession to the need for economy. They were not replaced by other means of strengthening the Army, and represented a net dead reduction of power. No -repetition of such a step is possible.
There remain, however, two methods of economizing on the Army. Both are well known, having already had some application to our forces. The one is the greater employment of labour-saving machines. The other is the extension of the system of using reserve or non- permanent personnel to make up the strength of the Regular Army on mobilization. . Both have certain advantages and disadvantages which require to be weighed.
Dealing first with the question of labour-saving ; this is the era of machines, and just as in civil life the highest costs (those of labour) have been reduced by the use of machine power, so in the Army it is necessary to examine how . far man and horse-power are replaceable to-day. It has been computed that the annual cost of a private soldier in the Army is £120, and that of the average horse £40. Even small numbers of men and horses therefore involve us in considerable annual bills.
It is generally accepted that—except for campaigns in mountainous, swampy or bush countries, which may be regarded as special cases requiring special equipment- s machine such as a light tank or armoured car is more efficacious in attack than a number of infantry. Having in mind that the crew are protected, and that they can move under heavy fire, it is probably not unreasonable to place a tank or .armoured car on a footing of equality with a platoon of infantry. Similarly in defence a couple of heavy machine guns are certainly the equivalent of a platoon. In theory, the Army will not be reduced in power by a total substitution of armoured vehicles and machine guns for infantry. In practice, however, there is a limit, for a strong percentage of riflemen will always be required. They are needed in battle, for instance, to close with enemy machine gunners after tanks have reduced the latter to impotence. They are needed out of action in large numbers for police duties, such as the finding of guards and the garrisoning of points of importance. Nevertheless, speaking broadly, a large increase in the numbers of armoured vehicles and machine guns and an equivalent decrease in riflemen will lead. to no diminution of the strength of the Army.
The financial aspects of such a transformation are interesting. On the basis of the previous argument that a tank equals a platoon in power, a tank battalion (64 fighting tanks) equals 4 infantry battalions (each 16 platoons). The cost of the tank battalion is £192,900* per annum, and that of 4 infantry battalions £453,600,* a difference of £260,700. For the cost of a machine-gun battalion (of 64 guns, equal in power for defence on our previous assumption to 32 platoons, i.e., 2 infantry battalions) no figures are now available, but it would probably be little above the cost of an ordinary battalion, say £120,000. Our Army numbers, exclusive of the Guards, 126 battalions. If about half only—i.e., 60--of these were converted, of which perhaps. 40 became 10 tank battalions and 20 became 10 machine-gun bat- talions, there would be a total saving of £8,675,000 per * Artily Estimates, 1927, p. 265. annum.t For all ordinary purposes to which the British Army is likely to be put suddenly in peace time, whether it be the defence of a locality such as Shanghai, preserva- tion of peace in India, Egypt, Iraq, or the garrisoning of overseas naval bases, &c., surely an army of 10 tank battalions, 10 machine-gun battalions and 66 infantry units is the superior of 126 infantry battalions. And as regards preparation for a major or a minor war, the fact that we have converted to the extent suggested is certain never to be regretted.
Passing on to the other method of economies on the Army—namely, the greater use of reserve or non-per- manent personnel in making up regulars to war strength —at present every unit has its reservists and on mobiliza- tion calls these up and incorporates them to the extent, in the case of the infantry battalion at home, of 22 per cent. Such a method of maintaining an armed force has the merit that on every man a sum of about £100 per annum is saved. It has the defect that a force com- posed largely of reservists cannot be as ready or as efficient as one permanently on a war footing. It is now the question whether the extension of this system is per- missible in the interests of economy. The writer believes that in the matter of the horse transport of the Regular Army at home it is.
A change on the following lines would seem to be feasible : Firstly, the horse transport now with regular units should be done away with, to be replaced by mechanical transport. Both the men and the vehicles should be drawn from civil life. The men would need to be organized into a form of reserve, to carry out an annual training, and to receive an annual retaining fee. The vehicles would be drawn from the most suitable of the hundreds of thousands now in use on the streets, and their availability insured by means also of a retaining fee. To facilitate annual training and lessen the time for mobilization, a small nucleus of regulars in each unit would be required. And to enable regular units to have some transport during the training season before and after the period in which the civilian transport is available, an increase to the existing R.A.S.C. mechanical transport will be necessary, though not a great increase if resources are pooled by stations for general use on demand.
In the regular cavalry, artillery, infantry, and engineer units at home there is to-day horse transport totalling 3,200 men, 5,887 horses, and 1,589 vehicles. In other units of the Royal Corps of Signals and Royal Army Service Corps there is more. The annual cost of this transport, allowing for the maintenance of reserves, is in the region of £900,000. By replacing this horse transport with mechanical transport maintained upon the basis suggested above, a considerable saving can be effected. To finance a scheme which provides an equivalent carrying power, making allowances for all the steps suggested above as necessary, an annual sum of £480,000 will be required. The possible economies of the change therefore represent £420,000 per annum.
_The effects of such a substitution, apart from the question of economy, are that there will be a greater mobility for the units concerned in all normal theatres of war and that, so far from the Expeditionary Force being delayed by having to absorb more reservists, by eliminating the animal to a large extent, the time required (many weeks) to fit shipping to take troops will be reduced. There will be certain difficulties. There may be insufficient drivers coming forward ; there may be troubles over arranging the training programme of f Since some of the 126 battalions are financed by Trylia., some of these savings, perhaps 30 per cent.. would go to India. regular units. For the field artillery there may at first be insufficient vehicles suitable •for the drawing of guns into action. But, provided the policy is adopted, none of these difficulties should prove insuperable.
For units abroad, which are maintained nearer a war- footing, the change is not applicable, for obvious reasons, on the same lines. But the gradual replacement in garrisons abroad, except in special forces intended for the North-West frontier, the Sudan, &e., of horse trans- port by regular mechanical transport will prove sound in the end and will bring units abroad on to the same footing as those at home as regards transport.
Both the steps advocated in this article represent progress towards complete mechanization of the Army, a surely inevitable end as far as a large proportion is concerned. At the same time, they offer the most important possibility of a further saving of over 4 millions, of which nearly 3 millions would fall to the relief of the home Army Estimates.
B. C. DENING.