David Cameron reckons the expansion of the numbers of the Territorial Army that can be deployed on operations is something to boast about - as opposed to getting defence on the cheap, which might be suspected. "Our plan to increase the trained strength of our Territorial Army from 14,000 to around 40,000 in the next few years is something that all Conservatives can be proud of", quoth he.
As it happens, this seems to me a broadly feasible objective. But it has to be done correctly if it is not to be merely a numbers game. Because here's the basic truth: reservists don't make good 21st century infantry.
Of course, almost anyone who can be taken to one side and given 6 months training in formation can make the grade: whole armies have been raised in less time and infantry skills are not rocket science. That's not the point. The point is to use reservists in those roles where they bring specialist and directly useful skills to the party without needing extensive training: in the words of last summer's Future Reserves report:
"Employing Reservists as specialists is a cost-effective way of importing civilian expertise rather than replicating expensive training pipelines."
Thus, medics, HGV drivers, helicopter pilots, civil engineers, linguists etc etc can be ideally placed to make tremendous and cost-effective contributions with relatively little purely military training.
But not infantry. Why ? Because modern conflict requires that infantry be trained in formation, for manoeuvre warfare. This can't be done at weekends. The Army long ago realised that TA tank units made no sense, and the same is true of infantry.
Now folk will rightly laud the performance of TA infantry, deployed in penny packets, in many a recent conflict. So will I: but it doesn't alter the basic point, because they have been taken aside for several months training beforehand: they don't deploy as formed units. It may also fairly be pointed out that 10 Para was a redoubtable outfit (it certainly was: headbangers all, just like their regular counterparts), and that the TA SAS squadrons are frighteningly effective (they are - but they are virtually full-timers, truth be told). But these are not the thousands or more of which Cameron speaks.
So - beef up the number of ops-ready specialists, and we'll be well served. Oh - and whatever you do: don't even think of deploying reservists against rioters and strikers in Blighty, as some have suggested. That really would be the beginning of the end.