The Royal Navy is turning to a ‘refer-a-friend’-style scheme in a desperate bid to enlist new sailors.
It comes as top armed forces chiefs warned Britain would be ‘riding its luck’ if it failed to get to grips with its military recruitment crisis.
The Senior Service is battling to reverse the sharp drop in the number of people joining, which senior commanders fear could hamper its ability to fight and ‘damage’ the fleet ‘for years’ to come.
In a bid to turn things around, sailors and Royal Marines are now being offered £500 rewards by the Ministry of Defence for each person they manage to ‘encourage’ to enlist, as part of an internal scheme set to last until March 2025.
The news comes amid concerns the globe could soon be plunged into a new world war, with General Sir Richard Barrons, the former Commander of UK Joint Forces Command, fearing the nation would now be ill-equipped for such a conflict.
‘This feels, as I imagine, how it would have been in the 1930s before the Second World War,’ the retired Army chief told MailOnline. ‘We could just be surprised and done over and that won’t be because we didn’t see the problem coming because we can – it’s on our doorstep.
‘If we are at risk of being pre-conflict rather than post-conflict, then we need to do a better job about deterrence – that’s having a resilient and credible force… At the moment I think we’re riding our luck. That’s a thing that keeps me awake at night.’
The Royal Navy is offering serving regular and reservist personnel £500 for each person they successfully refer who goes to join the military
Royal marine commandos line up to storm a compound during a military exercise in Dorset
The number of new recruits joining the navy has plummeted during the past year (file image)
General Sir Richard Barrons, the former Commander of UK Joint Forces Command, said the nation was ‘riding its luck’ by not tackling the recruitment crisis and investing more in defence
The recruitment woes comes as war continues to rage in Europe and the Middle East, with Russia refusing to back down from its invasion of Ukraine and Israel carrying on with its assault against the Hamas terror group in Gaza.
The number of sailors, soldiers and airmen quitting UK forces have skyrocketed, with 16,460 having left in the past year – up six per cent from last year – compared to 10,470 that joined, which is 2,130 less than the year before (16.9 per cent).
The British Army is set to shrink to its smallest size in almost 200 years, with the regular force due to be slashed from about 75,000 to 73,000, while the RAF has also declined, losing over 1,000 personnel since 2020.
Following a brief surge in enlistment during the pandemic, the Navy is now struggling to find new sailors, hiring less than half of the recruits it needs.
Latest figures show just 120 Royal Marines and 250 sailors were enlisted in the three months to July. It now leaves naval top brass on track to hire less than 1,500 people in the current financial year – with the average annual total being about 3,000.
Admiral Lord Alan West, former head of the Navy, said the Senior Service faced being ‘damaged for years’ if the recruitment crisis was allowed to rage on.
He told MailOnline: ‘You need a steady stream of trained people who come out of training and move down the various routes there are.
‘If that steady stream dwindles away it can be quite damaging. It damages you for years. It’s important to keep that steady flow marching along. At the moment it is extremely worrying in the way it’s dropped.’
Admiral Lord Alan West feared for the future of the navy if the recruitment crisis was not tackled
The comments come as conflicts continue to rage across the globe. Pictured is an Israeli bomb detonating during an attack in Gaza on Friday
Israel is continuing with its ground offensive following a murderous attack by Hamas terrorists in October (IDF forces are pictured on Friday in Jerusalem)
Speaking of the ‘refer-a-friend’ scheme now being rolled out by the navy, Lord West added: ‘We should use every lever we’ve got. We used to go out to the boozers with the Queen’s shilling. I’m not saying we should start doing that again. But we should use every lever we have to fix this problem.’
Lord West’s comment’s follow warnings from current First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key that the service is waging a ‘war for talent’, with the top sailor also vowing to overhaul Navy careers to attract ‘the best and brightest talent’.
But Robert Clarke, director of defence and security at the think-tank Civitas, said woes pointed to a ‘much larger problem’ facing the UK military – the ‘ability to make an attractive offer’ to a generation ‘largely out of touch with the notion of service’.
The veteran soldier said: ‘Of course there are many exceptions but this generational problem is becoming plainly evident to see.
‘This is why the British Army in addition to the Royal Navy are offering enormous collective sums to people joining, referring friends, or switching roles due to an ability to effectively target much needed skilled specialists.’
He continued: ‘The latest stats for the Royal Navy should be an alarming cause for concern in the MoD, at a time when the UK military is set to become the most in-demand in a generation, and when as we can plainly see, the world is more unpredictable and volatile than ever.
‘The government must now urgently address the challenge before them to improve both the offer to civilians but also the engagement with them.’
Meanwhile the war in Ukraine continues to rage, approaching its second year (pictured, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with his troops)
Smoke rises from Gaza following an attack by Israeli forces targeting Hamas on Friday
Armed forces chiefs in the UK have called for more to be spent on recruiting British troops in case the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza escalate (Royal Navy sailors are pictured)
Earlier this year, a major review into the armed forces found the efforts to recruit new troops into the military had ‘worsened’ in the past couple of years.
Rick Haythornthwait, author of the report, said forces personnel felt ‘disempowered by a system that swamps them with rules and process rather than embracing their ideas and initiative’.
‘Many feel that promises made are not being kept. In short, people’s expectations and ability, shaped by a world that is changing with unprecedented pace, has moved on. But the way Service personnel are incentivised and managed has not,’ he said.
Rear Admiral Alex Burton, the former commander of UK maritime forces, supported the findings and said the situation was ‘worrying’ but had been brewing for years.
‘The reality is that for some time now the relationship between the Government – representing the nation – and public servants has been eroded and the military doesn’t get the opportunity to voice that erosion. It’s not just pay, it’s other conditions like accommodation, stability and the quality of food in barracks.
‘The only way to voice that is by walking. Tragically, that’s what you’re seeing now across all three services in the number of people leaving the military.
‘The Services recognise this truth, hence the bonuses, but Rick Haythornthwaite made it clear in his recent review more must be done to incentivise retention,’ he told MailOnline.
Rear Admiral Alex Burton, the former commander of UK maritime forces, has aired his concerns
Pictured is one of the shipping containers where soldiers in Shropshire have been told to live in, kitted out with a single bed, drawers, a wardrobe and toilet area
Row after row of the huts have reportedly been installed at Clive Barracks near Tern Hill, which is home to the Royal Irish Regiment
He added: ‘It is worrying and it should be worrying.’
Military experts say the woeful state of accommodation in some parts of the armed forces – which has seen troops living in ‘rat-infested’ and ‘squalid’ barracks – was also having an impact.
Last week it was revealed dozens of soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment in Shropshire were being forced to stay in one-man ‘shipping containers’ because the state of their base at Clive Barracks near Tern Hill.
Earlier this year, the Navy’s Second Sea Lord was forced to step in and condemn one housing block for 300 sailors, dubbed ‘HMS Collingrad’ at HMS Collingwood, in Fareham, Hampshire.
Dismayed personnel at the training base broke ranks to share pictures of the shocking conditions at the Vivian Block, which had been damaged by flooding and left without hot water or heating over the winter.
The pictures showed servicemen crammed together in small cabins, sleeping on camp beds, while other images revealed crumbling walls and broken showers. Sailors even complained their fridges were ‘infested with maggots’.
Following the images, Vice Admiral Martin Connell, who is in charge of the welfare of all naval personnel, admitted it was ‘clear’ more needed to be done to give sailors ‘the accommodation they deserve’.
Former Armed Forces Minister, Mark Francois, said: ‘There is little point in spending £3billion on an aircraft carrier or £1.5billion on a nuclear submarine, if you don’t have the crew to sail them.
‘Years of neglect of sailor’s accommodation, at places like Portsmouth and the Clyde submarine base are now truly coming home to roost.’
The state of disrepair in HMS Collingwood over the last 12 months has been revealed by ‘fed-up’ sailors who shared images on social media
Pictures show sailors living in cramped conditions in cabins away from the flooded area
Sailors say they have had to deal with broken showers and radiators, blocked and overflowing toilets, and fire alarms that sound continuously late at night
HMS Collingwood in Fareham, Hampshire, has been blighted by flooding – proving to be the last straw for many sailors unhappy with its living conditions
Labour’s Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Luke Pollard MP, added ministers must act ‘now’ to boost military numbers – and to drive up living quarter standards.
‘At a time of rising threats, it is incredibly worrying to see so few people joining the Royal Navy. Ministers have continually failed to get to grips with the underlying causes of poor recruitment and retention, leaving at risk our future defences,’ he added.
‘During the last 13 years, the Conservatives have corroded the nation’s moral contract with those who serve. Personnel are forced to live in damp and mouldy housing, satisfaction with service life has fallen to almost 40 per cent, and more people are leaving the forces than joining.’
Defence sources have insisted Britain is not alone in its military recruitment woes, with other Nato allies also battling with their own problems.
On Wednesday, the commander of the Royal Canadian Navy released an extraordinary video, warning the force was in a ‘critical state’.
Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee said his fleet was suffering from a severe shortage of sailors and had ageing ships that were beyond their life cycles.
In a video posted to the navy’s YouTube page, the commander said the force may not meet its readiness commitments next year and beyond.
‘Historically, we have risen to every challenge, so I am confident we will find a way to get through this,’ Topshee said in the video.
Mr Francois added: ‘The state of naval recruiting – and retention – is now truly concerning. We cannot return to the “press gang” of Napoleonic times but unless incentives to persuade young people to join the Navy are improved, including giving them upgraded shore accommodation, we will find it increasingly difficult to send our warships to sea. It’s that serious.’
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: ‘All three services continue to meet their front-line operational commitments. Future recruitment is a top priority, which is reflected in this year’s Haythornthwaite Review and Defence Command Paper publications.
‘A number of trials and pilots are underway to support armed forces careers, backed by investment to increase recruitment and retention.’