The military is struggling to recruit, train and keep staff, while their work is expanding, a report by an influential parliamentary panel said.
Army chiefs have warned that Britain's forces are fully stretched, with 7,200 based in southern Iraq and nearly 6,000 more fighting a revitalised Taliban in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose popularity plunged over the Iraq war, has come under pressure to improve pay and conditions for the armed forces.
Parliament's Defence Select Committee, which scrutinises defence ministry policy and spending, said the shortages would hit Britain's ability to "fight the next war".
The panel also raised concerns over the lack of helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Britain is a key U.S. ally.
"They are operating in challenging conditions in insufficient numbers and without all the equipment they need," their report says.
"With problems of undermanning continuing, there is a clear danger that the armed forces will not be capable of maintaining current commitments over the medium-term."
A fifth of Britain's armed forces are deployed on military operations.
Last week, former British army chief General Sir Mike Jackson said the government was "asking too much" of the armed forces.
"There is ... a mismatch between what we do and the resources we are given," he said.
In October, his successor, General Sir Richard Dannatt, sparked controversy when he said British troops had "exacerbated" problems in Iraq. He warned that his forces were badly stretched.
The Conservatives said Blair must take urgent steps to tackle shortages in the armed forces.
"He must address the mismatch between our military commitments and the decrease in our frontline capabilities," said Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox.
In a statement, the defence ministry said it was "keenly aware" of the burdens placed on its staff, but said the operations were sustainable.
"Commanders are content that the armed forces can cope with the current level of military commitments," it said.
DECEMBER 24th 2006 Before reading the following, bear in mind that the maintenance of the UK Armed Forces over the past 30 years has been financed due to the discovery and exploitation of North Sea Oil and Gas, often by British companies and always with benefit to the UK Treasury. That is not to say we cannot develop and exploit other assets and talents to keep them up to scratch in the future, but it will not happen without a deliberate policy to ensure this happens.
Admiral Sir Alan West said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was behaving "like these tinpot countries" that do not put money into major equipment programmes.
He told the Sunday Telegraph Britain's global status could be at risk if plans for two aircraft carriers were dropped.
"Our forces are among the best equipped in the world," an MoD spokeswoman said.
Sir Alan, who retired this year, told the newspaper that the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier programme was the "jewel in the crown of the strategic defence review".
He said he had set aside £3.5bn for the project, but warned: "There are officials within the MoD who are casting lascivious looks at [the programme].
"There is no doubt that the rats are out there having a nibble. If Britain wants to remain a world power and to operate with a deal of freedom around the world, these two carriers are vital."
He said reshaping the forces for "anti-terror" campaigns in places like Iraq may risk the UK's long-term security.
He said it "was a recipe for disaster" for a defence force which may have so much to do in the next 50 years.
But a spokeswoman for the MoD said the defence budget for 2007-8 would be £3.7bn higher than in 2004-5 in real terms.
"We are using these extra resources to modernise our armed forces to meet the challenges of the 21st Century," she said.
Sir Alan also warned that in 10 years' time the threat facing the UK could be something "far more dangerous than terrorism in central Asia".
He said that by spending money on running rather than developing the armed forces "all we could be left with is an armed forces that is effectively a gendarmerie.
"And I suppose we would retire to our island and hope that no-one gets to us."
Sir Alan is the latest senior military figure to speak out about issues affecting the armed forces.
In October, army head Gen Sir Richard Dannatt said in a newspaper interview that the presence of UK troops in Iraq "exacerbates the security problems" and they should "get out some time soon".
And his predecessor Gen Sir Mike Jackson earlier this month criticised the Ministry of Defence's running of the armed forces.
It is a pity that the call from the retired Chiefs of the General Staff has descended to abuse of the PM. His absence at certain meetings on certain occasions, political, military and social, has in the past often been taken as rudeness or contempt and this is unfortunate, as it was never the case. We most of us carry a certainamount of 'baggage' with us as we make out way up the career ladder . Only a few like myself have the opportunity to start at the top and work their way down under the excuse of experimental research and development. Gordon Brown has done his best to carry his persona and his personal aims through the stormy waters. It is hard to be all things to all men and women.
not for lack of poilitical will in the cabinet. Nor can I go along with
the mother of a soldier whose unfortunate death MIGHT have been avoided
if new bomb-detection devices had been taken outof stores a week
earlier and fitted to his particular vehicle. These things take time.
Being a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is a very dangerous occupation.
That is what soldiers do. So I welcome the call from the Chiefs of
Staff, but we must understand that fighting a necessary war in a far
off land is like any arduous task, full of circumstances which go
beyond our comfort zone. We will be asked to do the impossible just as
any team climbing Everest. With limitless funds and supplies we would
still be reliant on human factors, the skill and determination of our
armed services personnel. American casualties have been considerable.
the reason we need more funding is not to fight war in safety and
comfort, but to sustain the battle and win as soon as we can for the
sake of the civilians in the countries where these operations take
place. We need to plan for the future. The UK and France are the
nations that in effect provide the nuclear shield for the European
Union, thereby rendering European nuclear proliferation unnecessary.
They also provide, with help from our braver small EU members, the
effective expeditionary fighting forces to carry out UN and EU and NATO
tasks. We are therefore in my view in a position to demand, from the
richer EU states who do not contribute in men or machinery, to
contribute in funding to the UK defence budget if there turn out to be
tasks that we carry out globally on their behalf.
factor to take into
consideration here. It is giving Airbus one hell of a problem, but
perhaps there is another side to the coin which might enable Europe to
play an interesting financial card or two.
We have been fighting a war in Afghananistan on a peacetime military budget for some time. Recent additions to the equipment have been afforded by cuts elsewhere. Today the head of the army makes some interesting points in The Sunday Times about the army of the future:
We now have a new government, a Conservative-Liberal coalition. I refer the reader here to the entry of today's date on the file for the start of this government, which covers defence cuts.
Here are the rumours, published in The Telegraph, of drastic defence cuts.
After some meaningless argument about whether the Treasury of the MOD should pay for the upgrade of Trident (or any replacement) it has now been sensibly suggested that, since the financial problems are immediate and related to our ability to borrow at reasonable interest rates, the upgrade to Trident could be mildly delayed, thereby bringing a considerable, immediate, if temporary saving in the defence budget. With caution, I suggest this is the right move and presumably has been on the back burner for some time. More detailed arguments on our nuclear deterrent are in the file on that subject.
I can understand Dr Fox being annoyed that he can't send a memo to PM without it being leaked to the Telegraph but what he had to say was so bleedin' obvious that he should have said it in puiblic, very loudly, in the first place. For once I go along with the editorial choice of The Telegraph to publish its stolen material.
OCTOBER 19th 2010
The Defence Cuts are announced offcially.
The Harrier cuts are not such a good idea. We need to keep (in my view) a trained contingent of VTOL pilots and aircraft. They have more uses than carrier borne take-off and carrier landing. However, in any event we should get one carrier operational a soon as possible. If the facts were as Cameron states, he could have some justification for his complaints and his unsatisfactory solutions, but it is not clear that they are.
SERIOIUS CUTS IN RAF PILOTS IN TRANING, AND IN EXPERIENCED ARMY WARRANT-OFFICERS have sent shock waves through the country as well as the services affected. There is some reason to suppose that these cuts may save some expenditure in the short term but the disruption of the systems is risky. The notices of end of employment was very badly handled, presumably due to the speed with which these cuts are being implemented. I am not going to write much here until I have had a long think about this.
APRIL 14th 2011
BBC NEWS HEADLINE: Libya: Nato appeals for more planes
Libyan operation is a European problem. We led the decision making. But
NATO without the USA says it hasn't enough planes/pilots ready to do
the job the UN, through its resolutions, consigned to NATO to carry
out. How is this possible? The only European countries that appear to
be making a big enough profit to stay solvent these days are unwilling
to carry out NATO duties. In that case, in the words of Bob Geldof,
just SEND US YOUR F***ING MONEY so that those who are doing the job can
get on with it.