UK must be able to 'fight and win wars on land', outgoing army chief says

The outgoing head of the army has stressed the importance of being able to "fight and win wars on land" and has warned that crises around the world are at risk of escalating.

In a farewell video message to his soldiers, General Sir Patrick Sanders, 58, said the need to modernise the UK armed forces is "even more acute".

His comments challenge a view held by some insiders that Britain, as an island nation, should prioritise its navy and air force.

The now-former chief of the general staff spoke about efforts to revamp the army, which has had to make do with ageing weapons and insufficient ammunition because of botched procurement projects and a lack of funding.

General Sanders pointedly noted how his force of just over 72,000 troops could "deliver the same operational outputs" - with deployments around the world, including to Estonia to defend the NATO alliance's eastern flank - as they could when they were 25,000 stronger.

"You will need to rebalance, creating space for modernisation," he said in the six-minute video, which has been posted internally and shared by a defence source to Sky News.

"But, in the lee of Russia's invasion [of Ukraine] and with the imperative to mobilise, our ability to generate this level of activity was both necessary and should be seen as a badge of honour."

The top soldier, who formally stepped down on Friday, has gained a reputation for speaking out bluntly about the need to rebuild the army after decades of cost-saving cuts and at a time of growing international threats.

He was also the first to raise the prospect of training civilians to fight future wars - an intervention that saw General Sanders being publicly slapped down by the prime minister's office and by his own boss - Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the head of the whole military - only for national service to be made a headline policy in Rishi Sunak's bid for re-election.

The internal video message avoided any such controversies.

However, the long-serving commander - who is succeeded by General Sir Roly Walker - made a point of spelling out the potential for future large-scale war.

"As I hand over, the urgency and imperative of modernisation is even more acute," he said.

"The trends and drivers for conflict are converging. Global crises are at risk of escalating and are increasingly interdependent."

Underlining the need for credible land forces, the army chief said: "We know that people live on the land and land is where human affairs are settled."

He continued: "We know that for the UK, homeland defence has never started at the white cliffs of Dover."

Instead, he said defending British shores requires an army that can "operate and fight away from home", working with allies on the continent as part of NATO.

Overall, the video - slickly edited with music and images of soldiers on deployments, exercises and parades - comprised an upbeat review of his time in charge.

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The general talked about efforts to support Ukraine against Russia, which has seen the army give away much of its older weapons and armoured vehicles - a move that will require even greater investment in defence by whoever wins the election to replenish stockpiles.

General Sanders thanked personnel who have been operating more closely to aid Ukraine.

"Some of you have provided specialist support and advice forward for which you should be enormously proud," he said, without going into detail.

It is thought these comments include thanks to the soldiers who form part of NATO deterrence operations in eastern Europe.

Signing off with multiple words of thanks, the officer quoted from Sir Winston Churchill, who once said "you make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give".

General Sanders said: "I couldn't agree more and what I've found is that the army, you have given so much back. More than I've deserved or asked for."