Ben Wallace said that the British military is drawing “lessons” from Ukraine

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Wednesday that with both candidates for prime minister promising spending hikes, the size of the British army will likely increase. The military “needs more money,” he said, citing Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

“I think defence needs more money because the threat has gone up and I’m threat-led,” Wallace told Sky News. The UK currently spends around 2.3% of its GDP on defence, and Wallace has previously lobbied Prime Minister Boris Johnson to increase this figure, claiming that Russia poses a “direct and pressing threat to Europe.”

However, with the British army moving toward drones and electronic warfare, government policy currently plans for a drop in troop numbers from 82,000 to 72,500 by 2025. Meanwhile, defence spending is slated to fall below 2% of GDP in 2026, with Wallace telling Sky that this dropoff will see Britain “go from the first [biggest defence spender] in Europe to eighth…and carry on falling.”

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Both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, competing to succeed Johnson as prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, have promised to stem this decline. Truss has vowed to hike spending to 3% of GDP by 2030, while Sunak has been more cautious, saying that military expenditure will rise to 2.5% “over time.”

Wallace suggested that he would back whichever candidate comes out stronger on defence. Asked how Truss’ promised 3% would affect the size of the army, he said that certain equipment would likely be bought faster, while more money would be spent on counter-drone warfare and missile defence. 

“The lessons from Ukraine are…you are better off having small but perfectly formed armored infantry units…than you are having lots and lots of vehicles with none of those protections because they just get killed on a modern battlefield,” he said.

“I think you would see an increase in the numbers of the army, but not necessarily where people think,” he added, saying that numbers would be increased where “relevant.”

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The military leadership will ultimately decide how to allocate the budget, and Wallace said that Ukraine’s experience against Russian forces will be studied by the top brass to determine Britain’s vulnerabilities. 

The UK defence establishment has been squarely focused on Russia as of late, with the country’s new armed forces commander explicitly stating last month that British troops must prepare “to fight in Europe once again” and “defeat Russia in battle.” Meanwhile, the UK has already spent £2.3 billion ($2.7 billion) on weapons and training for Kiev’s military since February – equivalent to 5% of Britain’s 2021 military budget.