UK outlines changes to boost Army reserves

LONDON (AP) — British army reservists will get military pensions and other benefits as part of a government bid to boost reserve numbers, the U.K. defense secretary said Wednesday.

The proposals unveiled by Philip Hammond — which include rebranding the Territorial Army as the Army Reserve — come as Britain cuts its regular army from 100,000 to just over 80,000 soldiers and increases its fully-trained army reservists to 30,000 from around 19,000 by 2018.

Hammond told lawmakers Wednesday that the government will invest about 1.8 billion pounds ($2.7 billion) during the next 10 years in the reserves.

“The job we are asking our reservists to do is changing,” he said, calling such moves key to ensuring Britain’s future military capabilities, and noting that organization and training must evolve as well.

Some lawmakers questioned whether the plans were realistic. Conservative Party lawmaker Bob Stewart said he was “slightly pessimistic” about the reserves increasing since recruitment “has not been great” over the last year.

Hammond acknowledged that the plans were not without risk, but said the government did not have the “luxury” to maintain current numbers.

“We have no plan B,” he said. “We will deliver these reserve numbers.”

Hammond announced further training and plans to bring forward some 40 million pounds of investment in new equipment for reservists.

New incentives will be offered to small- and medium-sized businesses to support their reservist employees, along with upgraded vacation and pension entitlements to improve overall reservists’ compensation.

Starting in 2015, reservists will be able to accrue armed forces pensions while they are training — in addition to when they’re deployed — and the government also will offer a “signing bonus” as part of efforts to encourage and speed up transitions by regular serving soldiers into the reserves.

More notice also will be given for deployments to make it easier for companies to plan around them — though the government stopped short of making it illegal to discriminate against part-time soldiers when hiring.

Chief of the General Staff Gen. Sir Peter Wall called the proposals a “welcome and timely announcement” for the army.

“The Territorial Army, as it has been called up till now… is ready for change,” Wall said.

Shadow defense secretary Jim Murphy said the opposition Labour Party backed many of the reforms, citing reservists’ “enormous contribution” at home and overseas.

“However, there are concerns that rather than synchronize the role of the Army with that of the reserves, today’s announcement appears belated, and there will be concern the reserves uplift is not designed to complement our Army but to supplement lost capacity,” he said.

Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd

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