UK Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled the government’s latest Security and Defence Strategic Review (SDSR) on 23 November, citing remote warfare capabilities and domestic counter-terrorism missions as central to the strategy.
Highlighting critical elements in the contemporary operating environment, including ongoing operations against Daesh; Russian intervention in Ukraine; cyber warfare; and the ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, Cameron reiterated the government’s plan to meet the NATO target to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence and security.
According to the SDSR, a total of GBP178 billion will be used to buy and maintain equipment for the UK Armed Forces over the next decade which will include doubling of investment in equipment support for UK Special Forces (UKSF) and other specialist units.
Highlights in the SDSR include plans to extend the number of expeditionary force elements from 30,000 to 50,000 personnel, comprising a land division, maritime task group and expeditionary air group. The so-called Joint Force 2025’s land division will include two armoured infantry brigades and two new “Strike Brigades”, each of which will comprise 5,000 personnel and equipped with a total of 600 Ajax armoured vehicles. An undisclosed number of infantry battalions will also provide specialist military assistance and counter-terrorism training capabilities to international partner nations.
The Royal Air Force will receive an additional two squadrons of TYPHOON aircraft as well as 24 Lockheed Martin F-35 LIGHTNING II aircraft instead of the eight originally planned. Additionally, the UK’s major capability gap of a maritime patrol aircraft will now be filled with the acquisition of nine Boeing P-8 surveillance aircraft, which will be tasked with protecting the country’s nuclear submarine fleet; anti-submarine warfare and maritime search and rescue.
The Royal Navy’s River Class Offshore Patrol vessels will be replaced with a newly designed variant while the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will procure an additional eight Type 26 frigates, due to enter service in the mid-2020s.
Finally, it was confirmed that the UK’s nuclear deterrent would be maintained with procurement of an additional four ballistic submarine as well as plans to procure PROTECTOR tactical UAVs (identity not yet disclosed) and Airbus Defence & Space (DS) ZEPHYR high altitude long endurance UAVs.
With regards to counter-terrorism efforts, Cameron announced an additional investment of GBP2.5 billion for the intelligence and security agencies over the same time period with an uplift in personnel by 1,900 personnel. Money will also boost the capabilities of GCHQ and counter-terrorism police units including SCO-19.
The SDSR also described contingency plans to help police cope with terrorism attacks similar to those witnessed recently in Paris, with Cameron explaining how the country faced threats from state and non-state actors.
Speaking ahead of the announcement, defence secretary Michael Fallon said: “On equipment, we’re spending some £12 billion more than we originally planned. We’re spending £178 billion - that means more ships, more planes, more equipment for the Special Forces.
“There will also be greater investment in defence intelligence, cyber capabilities, Special Forces equipment and interoperability with allies to support better and faster decision-making. By protecting the nation and building international stability, Defence also makes a key contribution to economic security and prosperity,” he continued.
Finally, Cameron highlighted plans to extend interoperability with allies in Europe and around the world as well as initiative to seize opportunities to, “reach out to emerging powers”.
“We must expect the unexpected but we can make sure we have the versatility to respond to risks to our security when they arise,” Cameron asserted. “To meet these priorities we will continue to harness all the tools of national power available to us, coordinated through the National Security Council, to deliver a ‘full-spectrum approach’.”
Commenting on the SDSR, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Research Director at RUSI said: “The outcome of this SDSR is much better than the armed forces had been expecting only six months ago, when further steep capability cuts – comparable to those suffered over the last five years - were widely anticipated.
“But it does not add up to a step change in UK defence capabilities compared to current levels. It is therefore best described as being a ‘steady as she goes’ review, providing a welcome element of stability in defence planning after five years of substantial reductions."
Finally, Professor Michael Clarke, Director General of RUSI concluded: “The SDSR has made interdependence between security at home and security abroad more of a reality. It has tried to shift resources and political weight in a balanced fashion to address the ability of defence and security forces both to go to war, but also to safeguard British society more efficiently from terrorist attack.
“Since the 2010 SDSR the government has been presented with the challenge both of preparing to deploy more conventional forces in a traditional war fighting manner, as well as being seen to meet a growing and long term terrorist threat.”