US, UK Navies Hit By Manpower Crisis; Reports Say After USN, Royal Navy Drops Key Criteria To Meet Recruitment Goals

In a drastic move — reflecting what some describe as a “desperate” attempt to bolster recruitment numbers — the United Kingdom has reportedly decided to cancel a key criteria for aspiring Navy recruits. 

Sky News, citing sources, reported the cancellation of the swimming examination for potential Naval recruits. The decision is aimed at addressing a recruitment crisis within the Royal Navy.

The move comes after the US Navy similarly lowered its recruitment standards for lower-performing recruits due to challenges in meeting enlistment targets. 

The British Royal Navy’s decision marks a departure from traditional entry standards. Recruits are no longer mandated to demonstrate swimming proficiency before enlistment.

Previously, candidates were required to undergo a rigorous 30-minute swim test as part of the recruitment process. However, this prerequisite has now been waived, sparking concerns about the potential implications for operational readiness and safety.

The unnamed defense source expressed reservations about the relaxation of entry requirements, characterizing it as a manifestation of the Navy’s desperation to shore up dwindling recruitment figures. 

Customs and traditions of the Royal Navy - Wikipedia
A corps of drums of the Royal Marines Band Service marching near HMS Duncan. Corps of drums are commonly found in the Royal Navy and Commonwealth navies, being an integral part of British naval music. Wikipedia

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source voiced apprehension about the potential consequences of admitting non-swimmers or weak swimmers into the ranks without adequate preparation.

Under the new protocol, applicants will be permitted to “self-declare” their swimming abilities. Those unable to pass the Royal Navy Swim Test will receive remedial training during Phase 1 basic training. 

While this approach aims to facilitate recruitment and minimize delays, critics argue that it risks compromising the quality and preparedness of recruits.

Concerns have also been raised about the potential strain on resources, with the Royal Navy likely required to allocate additional instructors to accommodate the influx of recruits requiring swimming instruction. 

Additionally, some experts have lamented what they perceive as a race to the bottom in recruitment standards, warning of prolonged training periods and diminished readiness among personnel.

However, a spokesperson for the Royal Navy defended the decision, asserting that standards had not been lowered. The spokesperson reiterated the Navy’s commitment to maintaining proficiency standards while expediting the recruitment process by emphasizing the continued requirement for recruits to pass a swim test during training.

The US Is Also Facing Similar Issues

Amid mounting challenges to meet enlistment targets, navies around the world are adopting more flexible measures to bolster their ranks. 

The British Royal Navy’s decision to eliminate the swimming test for recruits is just one example of a broader trend toward simplifying recruitment processes and accelerating entry for potential candidates.

The Royal Navy’s move follows reports highlighting a significant decline in enlistment numbers, reflecting a growing struggle to attract qualified individuals to military service.

Earlier, a report characterized the Royal Navy’s situation as a “general collapse” in recruit intake, but the navy disputed this, acknowledging instead that there was indeed a challenge. 

Similar concerns have reverberated across the Atlantic, with the US Navy recently announcing initiatives to broaden its recruitment pool.

US Navy sailors render honors for the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. Photo: US Navy

Earlier this year, the US Navy decided to enlist individuals who did not graduate from high school or obtain a general equivalency diploma (GED), as reported by the EurAsian Times.  

The decision follows a previous move in December 2022 to accept recruits with lower scores on the Armed Services Qualification Test, reflecting a willingness to accommodate candidates who may not meet conventional standards.

While such measures are relatively rare and often avoided by other military branches, recruitment pressures amid evolving geopolitical challenges have compelled navies to reconsider their recruitment strategies. 

With a dwindling pool of candidates who meet stringent physical, mental, and moral standards, navies are grappling to adapt to changing demographics and societal trends.

The urgency to bolster recruitment has been further underscored by recent geopolitical developments, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war. 

In the face of heightened security threats, Western nations are increasing military expenditure and fortifying defense capabilities. They are now also scrambling to reverse the downsizing of their armed forces that has occurred over the past decade or more.

For example, Germany revealed that its troop numbers declined slightly last year. The German defense ministry announced in February 2024 that its army, the Bundeswehr, decreased by approximately 1,500 troops in 2023, resulting in a total of around 181,500 men and women by the year’s end. The Bundeswehr aims to expand its ranks to 203,000 troops by 2031.

Nonetheless, the effectiveness of the recent measures remains to be seen, considering the challenges inherent in the military sector. 

Factors such as quality of life, relocations, international assignments, uncertainty, and the potential risks involved highlight the need for significantly higher salaries to attract individuals to apply and join the armed forces.