A new Army recruitment campaign that emphasises it is okay for soldiers to cry and pray has been accused of neglecting those most likely to join up.
A series of short films due to launch at the weekend stress inclusivity, support and a sense of belonging in pieces which ask "Can I be gay in the Army?" and "What if I get emotional in the Army?".
Gen Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the General Staff, defended the new approach, saying society was changing and the Army’s traditional pool of white young men was shrinking, forcing it to reach out to a much broader base.
Poor recruitment means the regular Army is several thousand under strength and getting smaller as it tries to compete with a healthy civilian job market and a perception troops are currently doing little.
But the films sparked debate over the merits of the new softer messages, which contrast with previous campaigns emphasising action, adventure and military hardware.
One retired senior officer, Maj Gen Tim Cross, said he was in favour of recruiting from a broader base, but stressed they must be able to deliver high-intensity fighting power capable of "duffing up the Queen's enemies".
He told the BBC: "The concern, I think, for a lot of people - and it's an understandable concern and to some degree I have some concern as well - is that you end up with an Army that's not capable of doing what you want to do and when you send it away on operations it's not able to deliver.”
Col Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said the new campaign was "neglecting the main group of people who are interested in joining" and would not solve the recruiting crisis.
The regular Army is supposed to be 82,000 strong, having been cut from 102,000 earlier in the decade. The latest manning figures show it is in fact around 77,500.
Col Kemp said: "The main group of people who are interested in joining aren't worrying so much about whether they are going to be listened to, or if there's an emotional issue.
"What they are worried about more is how they are going to face combat and, not only that - they are going to be attracted by images of combat because that's why people join the armed forces."
He added: "This also reflects the fact that the Army, like the rest of government is being forced down a route of political correctness.
"What is most important is that the Army recruits and is full of soldiers. It's of secondary importance that they reflect the composition of society."
One former special forces soldier said the campaign was “not targeting the Army’s main recruitment pool, it is working in the margins. The message is well meaning does not inspire potential recruits.”
A serving soldier added: “To avoid the Army coming into disrepute, they’re trying to involve everyone. They’re trying to say you can still be in our army.
“Everyone joins to go to war, regardless of what they say. The biggest drive in recruitment is war or terror attacks. Because people join up to help.”
But Sir Nick said "combat ethos and fighting power” remained the Army’s highest priority.
"What this campaign is about, frankly, is a recognition that we don't have a fully manned Army at the moment, that the demography of our country has changed, and that we need to reach out to a broader community in order to man that Army with the right talent."
Sir Nick added: "Our traditional cohort would have been white, male, Caucasian 16 to 25-year-olds and there are not as many of those around as there once were, and our society is changing and I think it's entirely appropriate for us therefore to try and reach out to a much broader base to get the talent we need in order to stay in that combat effectiveness."
Army sources said earlier films stressing camaraderie in the new This Is Belonging campaign had been very successful, leading to a sharp rise in applications.
Others also supported the new messages, saying they were aimed at a different generation to the critics.
Army Sergeant Major Glenn Haughton said: “All should bear in mind that although the campaign is perhaps not to personal taste, it is aimed at a different generation. Results matter.”
Johnny Mercer MP, a former Army officer and Afghanistan veteran, said: "There is no point asking the Army to reflect the society from which it is drawn and then knocking them for conducting an evidence-based change of course on recruitment.
"We clearly have more to do to encourage men and women of all backgrounds to join up.”
The Army’s outsourced recruitment process, run by Capita, has been accused of worsening the manning shortfall by leaving recruits in limbo for months and switching the focus online, removing soldiers from high street recruiting offices who could help applications.
Maj Gen Cross said his own son had been left struggling to sign up.
Sir Nick has also in the past warned that a growing public tendency to see troops as victims could put people off.
Serving officers also told the Telegraph the key to making up the manning shortfall was to cut the numbers leaving early, by improving pay and conditions for those already serving.