26 March 2021
A new era for the British Armed Forces is about to begin. On 22 March, the Government of the United Kingdom officially released its Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, which will define the government’s vision for the UK’s role in the world over the next decade.
As declared on the UK government’s official website, the Prime Minister and the National Security Council jointly led this ambitious initiative, representing a whole-of-government effort. The Integrated Review aims to define the government’s aspirations regarding the UK’s role in the world and the long-term strategic objectives regarding national security and foreign policy (GOV.UK, 2021).
The Ministry of Defence contributed to the Integrated Review with the Defence Command Paper named Defence in a Competitive Age. The militaries eagerly awaited this report’s publication, as it outlines the future vision of the UK armed forces, ensuring the military is prepared for new and emerging threats and challenges (Ministry of Defence, 2021).
According to the document, the British Armed Forces will develop into a threat-focused integrated force, which will manoeuvre its thinking over land, sea, air, space, and cyber domains. Over the next decade, the Ministry of Defence plans to invest billions in these sectors (Ministry of Defence, 2021).
As for the Royal Air Force, over the next four years, it will receive £2 billion to further finance the Future Combat Air System, which will provide manned, unmanned and autonomous platforms, including swarming drones and the ultra-modern Tempest fighter. In addition, the air force intends to upgrade the Typhoon fleet with new weapons and a state-of-the-art radar (Allison, 2021). (Ministry of Defence, 2021). However, it has also announced an intention to retire the oldest Chinook helicopters from the fleet and fully retire all C130-J Hercules.
Additionally, the government has declared that it will invest £6.4 billion in space technologies over the next ten years, including satellites and a new Space Command, National Space Operations Centre, and Space Academy. Furthermore, £6.6 billion will fund research and development projects to enhance equipment capabilities. There will be further investments to develop artificial intelligence, new weapons, and capabilities to enhance electronic warfare (Ministry of Defence, 2021) (Allison, 2021).
The British Army will undergo several changes as well. Among the major transformations, the Defence in a Competitive Age report draws attention to the decrease in service members. During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that there would not be any cuts. However, the British Army will relinquish up to 9,500 soldiers, settling to 72,500 soldiers by 2025. According to experts, the British Army will its smallest size since 1714 (Sabbagh, 2021).
This downsizing raised concerns within Parliament regarding the British Army’s international credibility, especially towards its allies (Allison, 2021). Nevertheless, according to the Ministry of Defence, the personnel cut will not impact the troops’ strength and capabilities. In this regard, the British Army will receive significant funds to modernise its equipment, allowing it “to become more agile, integrated, lethal and expeditionary” (Ministry of Defence, 2021). During a meeting with the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the Prime Minister assured that the planned investment would take the UK’s total defence expenditure to 2.2% of GDP, emphasising the British commitment to contribute to global defence and security (Beale, 2021).
The British Army will receive an additional £3 billion to invest in new vehicles, long-range rocket systems, air defences, drones, electronic warfare, and cyber capabilities (Ministry of Defence, 2021). Over the next decade, the Ministry of Defence will invest £250 million in the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS), which will upgrade the long-range rocket artillery platform. Moreover, the British Army will invest over £800 million on a new automated Mobile Fires Platform, enhancing close support to artillery systems and improving operational mobility (Ministry of Defence, 2021).
The document outlines further changes that will occur to the service. The British Army structure will be reorganised into seven self-sufficient Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), divided as follows: two heavy, one deep strike, two light, one air manoeuvre, and one combat aviation brigade (Forces.net, 2021).
Furthermore, by August, the British Army will establish a new Ranger Regiment as part of an Army Special Operation Brigade. The plan is to have it operational by 2022, and over the next four years, the British Army will receive over £120 million to equip it. The Ranger Regiment will be formed from the current Specialised Infantry Battalions: 1 SCOTS, 2 PWRR, 2 LANCS and 4 RIFLES (Ministry of Defence, 2021). The Ranger Regiment will be the core of a Special Operation Brigade and it will replace the existing Specialised Infantry Group (Forces.net, 2021).
According to the Ministry of Defence, the Ranger Regiment will operate in complex and high-threat environments, and it will serve to deter enemies contributing to collective deterrence. It will be deployed to support allied nations in delivering defence and security, as well as training, advising, and supporting its partners on the field (Forces.net, 2021).
Defence in a Competitive Age has set a new course for the British Armed Forces, aiming to evolve the services into one of the most integrated, technologically advanced, and agile militaries globally. The purchase and development of highly developed weaponry states the UK’s will to be more influential by promoting its capabilities across land, air, maritime, cyberspace, and space.
Nevertheless, the cooperation with its allies and partners will still be fundamental to guarantee the armed forces’ readiness and interoperability. Joint exercises and strategic planning will be essential to set common goals, build shared capabilities, and strengthen global security commitment.
Written by Luca DILDA, Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre
Allison, G. (2021). British Army to be cut by 10,000. UK Defence Journal. Retrieved 25 March 2021, from https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/british-army-to-be-cut-by-10000-troops/.
Allison, G. (2021). Summary of the UK Defence Review. UK Defence Journal. Retrieved 23 March 2021, from https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/summary-of-the-uk-defence-review/.
Beale, J. (2021). Defence review: British army to be cut to 72,500 troops by 2025. BBC News. Retrieved 23 March 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-56477900
Forces.net. (2021). New Army Ranger Regiment: What We Know So Far. Forces Network. Retrieved 24 March 2021, from https://www.forces.net/news/new-army-ranger-regiment-what-we-know-so-far
Forces.net. (2021). Defence Command Paper: What It Means For Each Service. Forces Network. Retrieved 23 March 2021, from https://www.forces.net/news/defence-command-paper-what-it-means-each-service.
GOV.UK. (2021). Ministry of Defence Integrated Review Command Paper. GOV.UK. Retrieved 24 March 2021, from https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/integrated-review-ministry-of-defence#defence-command-paper
Ministry of Defence (2021). Defence in a competitive age. London: Secretary of State for Defence by Command of Her Majesty. Retrieved 23 March 2021, from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/971859/_CP_411__-_Defence_in_a_competitive_age.pdf
Ministry of Defence. (2021). Defence outlines 2030 vision for the armed forces. GOV.UK. Retrieved 23 March 2021, from https://www.gov.uk/government/news/defence-outlines-2030-vision-for-the-armed-forces.
Sabbagh, D. (2021). UK army, navy and RAF all to be cut back, defence review confirms. The Guardian. Retrieved 23 March 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/mar/22/uk-army-navy-and-raf-all-to-be-cut-back-defence-review-confirms.