Britain boosts military spending – here’s what it will be buying

Some breathing space for the armed forces. Defence Images, CC BY-SA

The British government has published its Strategic Defence and Security Review – a document setting out how it plans to fund military operations.

The last time such an exercise was carried out was in 2010, when the government had over-committed to spending on equipment and needed to make cuts. In 2015, the economic situation is considerably better but the world is a more dangerous place.

And where the 2010 SDSR was infamous for heralding brutal cuts to the defence budget, the 2015 iteration has confirmed an extra £12bn for military equipment.

There is also a promise to increase the defence budget in real terms throughout the five-year parliament and to continue meeting the NATO target of investing 2% of GDP in defence. The Army will be maintained at no less than 82,000 personnel and there will be a modest increase of 700 (in total) to both the RAF and Royal Navy.

The shopping list

All four of the submarines that make up the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent are to be replaced – even though the cost has now spiralled by £6bn and there is significant opposition in parliament.

Security and intelligence agencies have also been promised additional support including £2.5 billion and 1,900 additional staff.

More hands to make lighter work. Defence images, CC BY-NC-ND

Other notable mentions include an expeditionary force (for fighting overseas). This will be expanded from 30,000 to 50,000 troops by 2025. There are to be two new strike brigades, which can be quickly deployed where needed, two additional Typhoon squadrons, and nine new maritime patrol aircraft (the MPA capability was fully cut in the 2010 SDSR).

The review also promises an additional squadron of F-35s aircraft, capable of operating from the two new aircraft carriers under construction, and doubling investments in special forces.

However, the increased equipment budget comes with a catch. In order to support such a substantial increase, the number of MoD civilian employees are to be cut by “almost 30% by the end of this parliament”. Adding to military capability while cutting manpower will put a strain on services, especially the Army and Royal Navy.

Changing threat

The review also offers some useful insight into how the British government sees the future of its military interests.

There is, for instance, heavy reference to the rise of the cyber-threat. This particular problem is evidently being taken far more seriously in 2015 than it was in 2010. Indeed, the review explicitly states that cyber-attacks will be treated as seriously as their conventional equivalents and that investments will be made to ensure the UK is robustly protected on this front.

Other kinds of scientific and technological innovations get a mention too. “Advances in medical technology, genetic engineering, biotechnology, materials science, big data and robotics hold huge potential for our security and prosperity,” the document states, “but such technology will also become available to more state and non-state actors, including terrorists, organised crime groups and cyber criminals”.

How much you got in cyber then, president Xi? Number 10, CC BY-NC-ND

The review also remarks on the rising powers of China, Brazil and India, as well as the traditional uncertainties that surround Russia. There is a sense that not only is there a threat of uncertainty in growing global powers but there is also danger in regional power changes, such as in Iran’s rise.

But the importance of soft power is acknowledged too. The review betrays a concern that some of the rising international powers (and indeed some of the established players) may not be particularly strict adherents to the international rules and norms set up in part by the UK, such as human rights. The bodies that oversee this system should be supported and strengthened, it suggests.

Overall, the review suggests that the UK is keen to properly equip the military and security services to counter state-based threats, terrorism, cyber and other technologies. Considerable changes have been made since the grim result of the 2010 review. The government is taking a much more focused approach to dealing with the UK’s national security and engagement in global security.