Young people taking a year off before starting university or a job could be paid to take part in military summer boot camps, under plans to create a “citizen army”.
General Sir Patrick Sanders, chief of the general staff, has raised the idea of a month-long course introducing people to army life, in the hope of encouraging youngsters to sign up, increasing reserves numbers.
He said his forces, including all reserves, would not be large enough to defend the country if there was a war, and it was now essential for Britain to lay the foundations for “national mobilisation”.
At a brainstorming session, heads of the military and government ministers also considered encouraging troops who leave the army to train for at least one day a year to keep their skills sharp, The Times reported.
This would involve mandatory fitness and weapon handling tests.
Defence secretary Grant Shapps has the power to recall former service personnel in times of national danger or a “great emergency”, although there are exemptions.
Gen Sanders last week said that within three years Britain should have a larger army of 120,000, including regular soldiers, reserves and a “strategic reserve” of former service personnel.
Around half a million people in all would be needed, according to his vision of a “citizen army”.
According to the latest Ministry of Defence statistics, army regulars and reservists currently total 102,520.
“Our friends in Eastern and northern Europe, who feel the proximity of the Russian threat more acutely, are already acting prudently, laying the foundations for national mobilisation,” he said.
The chief of general staff is said to be opposed to conscription, but held that civilians need to be involved in defending the country at a time of conflict.
“We need an army designed to expand rapidly to enable the first echelon, resource the second echelon, and train and equip the citizen army that must follow,” he said.
Nato military commander Admiral Rob Bauer said the military alliance needed to prepare for conflict with Vladimir Putin’s forces in the next 20 years.