Soldiers ordered to fire blanks in training as Ministry of Defence tries to save £700m

British soldiers have been barred from firing live bullets in training unless they are about to deploy to Afghanistan.

Insiders said the ban – which will affect the entire Territorial Army as well as many regular units – is the result of £700million spending squeeze to try to ease the Ministry of Defence’s budget crisis.

New recruits will still learn to shoot using live ammunition, and units preparing for operations in Afghanistan will be allowed to stage live-firing exercises in the final three months before flying abroad

ther troops will have to do without real bullets for their SA80-A2 assault rifles, which cost 30p per round compared with 10p for blanks.

The Ministry of Defence claimed there was less need for life-firing on rifle ranges because of the ‘ever-improving quality’ of computer simulation.

A spokesman said: ‘The top priority is to train those about to deploy to Afghanistan, but the training of others continues.

‘The soldier’s ability to operate his personal weapon effectively remains a fundamental part of operational capability, and an annual training requirement.

‘For artillery and armour, the ever-improving quality of simulation technology has reduced the need to rely on live-fire exercises, although they still play an important role. We are able to deliver excellent training using a combination of the two.’

Conservative MP and former infantry commander Patrick Mercer said: ‘We can’t have a popgun army.

The next thing you know we’ll be reduced to Dad’s Army-style training, shouting ‘bang bang’.’

One serving Army officer called the decision ‘a total farce.’

Five years ago the Army fired 20,000 live artillery shells in training. Last year troops were allowed to fire just half that figure.

The latest  move comes at a time when forces in Afghanistan are using huge stocks of live ammunition.

Former Defence Secretary John Reid famously suggested British troops heading for Helmand Province would leave after three years ‘without firing a shot.’

By April this year they had fired 12 million rounds of ammunition, half of it from assault rifles.