A striking feature of much online debate regarding the defence of the UK is that it is conducted in abstraction, with little or any concern for the very real and fundamental constraints and, yes, opportunities, that form the essential framework for British defence policies.

So this is an attempt to summarise those fundamental realities.

To ensure thoroughness, it starts with the obvious (geography) and then moves on to the less well-known facts (demographic, economic, industrial and historical). Some will find nothing here that they didn’t already know. Others, however, may be very surprised by what they read. 

To start then: the UK is an island  nation, occupying most of the archipelago known as the British Isles. This is composed of more than 6 000 islands, of which the two biggest are Great Britain and Ireland. The UK occupies most of the archipelago, including all of Great Britain and the north-east of Ireland. The British Isles lie off the coast of North West Europe, in the Atlantic Ocean and its subsidiary seas (the Irish Sea, the North Sea) and straits. The Atlantic is a famously stormy ocean, and so are most of its subsidiary seas. These waters both directly link the UK to, and insulate (not isolate) it from, a huge swathe of the world. The Atlantic and North Sea also give access to the Baltic and Mediterranean and their littoral countries, as well as to the Arctic Ocean and its littoral countries (which include Russia).

The Atlantic also gives access, directly and indirectly, to the other great oceans of the world. In nautical terms, Argentina, Canada, Russia and South Africa, and every country in between, are neighbours of Britain.

The UK retains a number of mostly island overseas territories, including Gibraltar, Ascension, St Helena, the Falkland Islands (plus South Georgia and the South Sandwich Isalnds), Tristan da Cunha and Anguilla, Bermuda , British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands (all in the Atlantic or Caribbean), Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean (where the US has a base), Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as Pitcairn Island in the Pacific. Many, but not all, of these territories have airports or air bases. Britain, of course, is responsible for their defence.

File Photo: A Point class ship at the old Mare Harbour in the Falklands.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK population in mid-2018 was 66.4-million. This is forecast to rise to 69.4-million by mid-2028, more than 70-million by mid-2031 and 72.4-million by mid-2043.  According to “World Population Review”, the British population is the 21st biggest in the world. In Western and Central Europe, only Germany has a larger population. The same source states that the UK is the 49th most densely populated country in the world (at 279 people per square kilometre) – Germany ranked 60th, Italy 70th, China 80th, France 94th, and the US 174th(1). So, although Britain’s population is not huge, it is, by global standards, pretty substantial. 

The UK population is composed 51% of women/girls and 49% of men/boys. This is not a trivial matter. History shows that British women are strongly committed to the defence of their land and people, but women also tend to be reluctant to support pre-emptive wars. To adopt nuclear jargon, women are generally against first strike operations but will strongly support second strike operations. Like it or not, future defence policies, postures and operations will have to be justified in ways acceptable to women. In this regard, the significant increase in the number of women experts in defence, military history and strategic studies should be noted.

In nominal US dollar terms (that is, converted from sterling to dollars using the exchange rate between the two currencies) the UK has the sixth largest economy in the world. In purchasing power parity (PPP) terms (which eliminate exchange rate fluctuations but which have other issues), the British economy is the ninth biggest in the world. Either way, it is a top ten economy. In terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, the UK ranks 23rd (2). The economy is composed predominantly of services (more than 75%), with manufacturing and production (not just manufacturing – see below) contributing less than 21% and agriculture less that 0.6% (3). (Despite its small contribution to national GDP, British agriculture produces 60% of the country’s food needs. It does so even though it only employs less than 2% of the labour force (4)).   

The state of British manufacturing is much misunderstood by those outside the sector. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, in both 2016 and 2018 the UK was the world’s number nine manufacturer. Germany was fourth, Italy seventh and France eighth in both years (5). The manufacturing sector contributes 11% of Britain’s gross value added (GVA (6)) and employs 2.7-million people (7). 

The British automotive industry has an annual turnover of £71.6-billion and directly employs more than 169 000 people. The British electronics industry, however, employs more than 800 000 people, has an annual turnover of £78-billion and is the world’s fifth largest in terms of production. The defence industry contributes 142 000 direct jobs, and an annual turnover of £24-billion. The chemicals industry directly employs 105 000 people and the pharmaceuticals sector another 53 000; together, they add £15.2-billion to the British economy every year and jointly they form the country’s largest manufacturing export sector. The plastics industry is responsible for more than 170 000 direct jobs, with an annual turnover of £23.5-billion. The nuclear sector contributes more than 63 000 direct jobs and can supply more than 80% of the work needed to build new nuclear power plants. The space industry is responsible for more than 34 000 direct jobs and has an annual turnover of £11-billion. The final example of a leading British manufacturing sector is perhaps the most surprising of all: textiles and fashion. This sector provides 340 000 direct jobs and adds more than £11.5-billion to the UK economy every year. It is also the third largest fashion employer in Europe, after Italy and Germany (8). Note that five of these eight sectors (electronics, defence, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, nuclear and space) are indisputably high-technology sectors, while two (automotive and plastics) are at least partially high-technology.

British industry is 21st century industry.

The UK services sector is even less understood than the manufacturing sector. The list of economic activities covered by this category is very large. The Office for National Statistics includes, under this rubric, health, education, wholesale, retail, maintenance, transport (air, land, water, warehousing, postal and courier), accommodation and food and beverage services, information and communications (including computer programming, telecommunications, broadcasting, publishing), professional and scientific and technical activities (including accountancy and auditing, engineering and architectural, legal, and scientific research and development), administrative and support activities (including business support, rental, services to buildings, security), creative and entertainment activities, gambling, real estate, and financial and insurance services.

HMS Montrose accompanying the British registered ‘Stena Important’.

Note that the Merchant Navy and the country’s airliner fleets are part of the services sector. At the end of 2019, the UK-registered merchant fleet totalled 1.5-million gross tons (excluding all vessels of 100 gross tons or less) making it the 24th largest in the world. But the British Merchant Navy is much more than the UK-registered ships. It also includes all the vessels registered in the Crown Dependencies (the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey) and British overseas territories (Bermuda, Caribbean islands, the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar). The UK and these territories together form the “Red Ensign Group” and their combined merchant fleet is the tenth largest in the world, with a total deadweight tonnage of 50.2-million tons.

Nearly half this total is registered in the Isle of Man.

According to the UK Department of International Trade, exports of both goods and services accounted for 31.5% of British GDP in 2019, and imports for 32.7%, meaning that trade was responsible for 64.3% of the country’s GDP. Trade with the European Union (EU) accounted for 47.3% of total British trade, with trade with non-EU countries amounting to 52.7% (10).

Given that economics is the basis of national power, I would argue that all the world’s top ten economic powers, whether measured in nominal or PPP terms, should be regarded as significant powers, but that those countries which are in the top ten when measured in both these terms can be classified as major powers. The countries in the top ten in both rankings are (in alphabetical order, with their nominal and then PPP rankings) Brazil (9th, 8th), China (2nd, 1st), France (7th, 10th), Germany (4th, 5th), India (5th, 3rd), Japan (3rd, 4th), the UK (6th, 9th), and the US (1st, 2nd). The countries that appear in the top ten only in the nominal list are Italy (ranked 8th) and Canada (10th). Their counterparts on the PPP list are Indonesia (7th) and Russia (6th)(11). 

These countries, of course, are far from equal. The US still remains the sole superpower, although China is gaining on it. China, France, India and the UK have nuclear weapons. China, France and the UK have credible second strike capability, India does not yet, dropping it into a lower league. While the US alone has large-scale global intervention capability, China, France and the UK have significant long-range intervention capability, well beyond their home regions, but not global (except in cooperation with allies or, nationally, with only small, if not token, forces). India does not. Nor does Japan, Germany, Brazil (although Brazil has power projection capabilities within its home region of South America/South Atlantic).

To China, France and the UK must be added Russia, because of its possession of the second most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world and its significant (but again, not global) power projection capabilities. All four of these countries also have near-global diplomatic reach and (except for Russia) near global economic interests. I would argue that these four countries should be classified as “hemispheric powers”. Germany, Japan, Brazil (and Canada, Indonesia(12) and Italy) would rank as medium powers (with India as a “medium power plus”), along with most (if not all) of the countries ranked as having the world’s 11th to 20th biggest economies.

From economics to history: England/Britain/UK has usually fought its major wars by means of coalitions, often taking the junior role on land and the senior role at sea. Britain fought against France, from the reign of Louis XIV down to that of Napoleon, by creating alliance coalitions. Likewise, Britain fought the Crimean War as part of a coalition, with France, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and Sardinia. 

The British troops in the Crimea were part of a coalition army. The UK fought both the First and Second World Wars as a member of coalitions. Britain fought the Korean War (1950-1953) as a member of a coalition, and the 1956 Suez operation was an Anglo-French (with covert cooperation with Israel) affair. Yet again, the UK fought in the 1990-1991 Gulf and 2003-2011 Iraq Wars as a member of coalitions. The 1982 Falklands War, against quasi-peer foe Argentina, was a rare aberration. Finally, of course, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and, in Far East, the Five Power Defence Agreement, are coalitions. Probably the last major war Britain fought against a peer enemy without being in a coalition was the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667), more than 350 years ago! 

This combination of geographic, demographic and economic facts, including the high-technology 21st century nature of most of British industry, suggest that a defence policy centred on sea power and airpower plays to Britain’s strengths (being high in technology and low in personnel demands, as well as highly flexible), as does a policy of quality over quantity. (To give only the most obvious example, how on earth is the UK, or even the US, expected to contest with China in quantitative terms?) And creating and maintaining an army designed to fight peer foes as part of a coalition is exactly what Britain has done, with great success, for centuries. 


  1. https//:worldpopulationreview.com accessed 11/04/2020
  2. www.investopedia.com/insights/worlds-top-economies/ (last updated 18/03/2020) accessed 12/04/2020
  3. “How the UK makes money” www.investopedia.com (accessed 12/04/2020)
  4. Ibid. 
  5. The ranking for 2016 cited by www.themanufacturer.com/uk-manufacturing-statistics/ (accessed 12/04/2020); the 2018 ranking from the World Economic Forum “These are the top 10 manufacturing countries in the world”, published 25/02/2020, www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/02/countries-manufacturing-trade-exports-economics/ (accessed 16/02/2021).  
  6. GVA is defined (by www.investopedia.com/terms/g/gross-value-added.asp) as the measure providing monetary value for the amount of goods and services that have been produced in a country minus the cost of all inputs and raw materials that are directly attributable to that production.
  7. www.themanufacturer.com/uk-manufacturing-statistics/ (accessed 12/04/2020)
  8. Ibid.
  9. See www.ons.gov.uk (accessed 12/04/2020) and Department of Transport “Shipping Fleet Statistics: 2019” published on 15 April 2020 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/884887/shipping-fleet-statistics-2019.pdf, accessed 31/05/2020. 
  10. Department of International Trade “Trade and Investments Core Statistics Book” https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/878294/200227_Trade_and_Investment_Core_Statistics_Book.pdf and “UK Trade in Numbers February 2020”
  11. CIA The World Factbook, op.cit., Investopedia.com (worlds top economies) op.cit.
  12. Indonesia is powerful enough to apparently not be intimidated by China and to push back against Chinese incursions into its exclusive economic zone. See BenarNews “Indonesia: Jokowi Vows to Enforce Maritime Rights amid China Tensions” Radio Free Asia, www.rfa.org/english/news/china/indonesia-natuna-01082020155021.html, accessed 24/05/2020.
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Rebecca Campbell
Rebecca graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand with a BA in History & Political Science, a BA Honours in International Relations, and an MA in International Relations (with distinction). She started her career in academia, specialising in strategic studies, but subsequently moved to journalism. For the past two decades she has worked as a science and technology journalist for South Africa's leading business and technology journal. Her technology beats are aviation, defence, civil nuclear power, & space.
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George Royce

I completely disagree with the notion that foreign/defence policy will be determined by women, simply because there are more of them, than men. Most people don’t think with their sex/gender, they have personal convictions which they stand by. So as ever, defence policy will be shaped by the mood of the country, which at the moment, seems to want to be truly ‘global Britain’. That was the point of Brexit, out and into the world. Whether we have the budget for it, is another matter. I do wish authors would stop trying to wrangle in their identity politics guff. No… Read more »

Sean Crowley

Agree , Australia has more women but Defense has political consensus that what they want they should get , oh and we also arrest you if come here illegally by boat and throw you out of the country to a tropical hell hole , and that is politically accepted by both parties .

Geoffrey Roach

George and Sean,
The pressure group 21st century with BLM and LGBT and Woke irritate me and the reason is that they flog their own narrow line instead of saying All Lives Matter and so on. Having said that I am not racist or homophobic. My bother in law is gay and my cousin is married to an Indian.
I suppose what I’m saying is that it doesn’t make any difference who makes decisions providing they give that decision their best shot.

Little Unicorn

The article makes no such assertion; it suggests that future defence policies will have to be justifiable and acceptable to women – far from women ‘determining’ what they will be. In fact, if anything, the article supports your stance that defence policy will be shaped by “the mood of the country”. Given that women, as the article suggests, will be in the majority, their ‘moods’ will go further towards shaping defence policy.

However, as with any group, it is unhelpful to suggests that everyone within holds the same views, beliefs, or ideas on how policy should be implemented.


Especially as the difference male/female is bordering on trivial so there really is no point to it.

It rather detracts from the rest actually.

Gavin Gordon

To be fair, George, this does not constitute identity politics as we are currently, & only temporarily I am sure, encouraged to view it. Astoundingly, there are only two sexes mentioned – when did that last get a look in? Since the author is female, this is a pertinent opening remark to bear in mind. After that, the article follows referenced data sources alongside her own knowledge base from which logical comments have been drawn, whilst still being left open to valid debate – another refreshing link to the recent past. The article evidently concludes with an endorsement of the… Read more »

Andy P

George, I think most of us are partly moulded by our sex/gender, there are reasons there are stereotypes, that doesn’t mean we all have to fit them but its not unrealistic to assume the stereotypical woman will see things differently than the stereotypical man. That there are more women getting involved in politics will have an influence, the greater the number, the more you’ll get the stereotype. That’s painting with a very broad brush of course while it maybe has nothing to do with “personal convictions” it might influence how they achieve an aim. Interesting article though, a lot of… Read more »

Something Different

Women make up around half of the electorate and therefore their opinions will be accounted for by any party wanting to gain election. Also saying a group shouldn’t sway policy simply because they make the majority seems a tad anti democratic? You are the one who has turned this into a discussion about identity politics. I thought it was a rather banal and accepted statement that certain groups, when looked at as an average, will more strongly favour (by what degree depends on the situation) certain political opinions than others.


Fascinating stuff, thank you. I’ll retain it as a reference as there is some confusion about the financial structure of the UK. Increasing demands for home rule or total independence by Wales and Scotland does cloud the long-term future of the UK’s defence planning, as budget contributions from both will still be essential, if we are to maintain the currently planned strength? The UK may not be the only country to see separation as there is some mood music from America, that suggests the possibility of some states breaking away from the Union? That could certainly tip the balance of… Read more »

Levi Goldsteinberg

I am becoming increasingly more and more nervous about the review. A real sense of impending doom


I share your concern. These reviews are really nothing but cost cutting exercises, and in the current economic climate……..

Graham Moore

At least there is £16.5bn extra over 4 years – I didn’t expect that announcement when well into the very expensive pandemic. I am ex-army and I fear this talk of a 10,000 cut to an already very small army. We have already had the scare stories of the already small tank fleet being cut or eliminated, although Ben Wallace has rowed back somewhat on that. It seems fashionable to deride the army’s ‘heavy metal’ but we have used tanks on warfighting operations in the last 30 years far more than any navy ship – and when was the last… Read more »

Peter S

When you try to cram in so much, you are bound to get something wrong. The 2nd Boer war, a major undertaking involved no allies and neither did those during the expansion of British India during the 19th century. Interesting categorisation of UK as a hemispheric power, but is that Western or Northern? I think it is more useful to regard Britain as a wealthy medium sized power, along with a number of others like France, Italy, Germany. Japan could be seen as something more powerful, measured by GDP and population,but for obvious historic reasons has chosen a limited military… Read more »


Peter – 60% of our own food probably doesn’t differentiate between what we need and what is a nice to have.
The Woke Hipsters may be in a bucket about not being able to spread organic avocado on their hand crafted,organic wholemeal bran, artisan toast but as long as the staples are there we should be OK.
Personally not being able to eat Camembert, Parma Ham, Bratwurst, Avocado, Dragon fruit or a physalis fruit (!) is not going to mean the end of my existence.

Peter S

But could you cope with no bacon?

Steve R

My fiancee not being able to eat parma ham might mean the end of MY existence ;-p


But what about the Tea!

Meirion X

“…an medium size powe…”
An medium size power is a country of an economy of several hundred billion $. It would certainly not be in the top ten economies of the world!
An example of a medium size power is South Africa.

Last edited 1 month ago by Meirion X
Peter S

Yet this “top ten” country couldn’t keep control of Basra or Helmand. The delusion that we are a global power leads to poor decisions and overreach. The consequence is an endless series of cuts, which we all deplore.

Meirion X

Certainly your friends the Soviets couldn’t keep control either!

Peter S

Do you even stop to think? The Soviet failure should have taught us to stay clear of Afghanistan. I said so 20 years ago.I was right then and I’m right now.


USA needs to sell Bullets bombs and Bandages. to make it powerful, Biden only been in charge 4 weeks and he is bombing people.

Meirion X

Yes, he is learning the ropes quickly!

Last edited 1 month ago by Meirion X
Meirion X

I mean Biden’s opponents are Not nice at all!
So he better get mean with them!

Last edited 1 month ago by Meirion X
Meirion X

The Soviets failed because they got it all wrong! First they supported an undemocratic government that did not have the support of the people of Afghanistan, so fail to win the hearts and minds of the people.
The western backed anti-terrorist government has introduced democratic government to the people of Afghanistan.
The Afghans have now a 180000 strong army that can hold its own, and with western airpower support to take the fight to the insurgents and win back all the countryside.
The western troops will be eventually bewithdrawn.

Last edited 1 month ago by Meirion X
Graham Moore

Our three Afghan wars should have told us to not venture there for a 4th time!

Graham Moore

Peter, The negative Basra story is often the one peddled by certain senior US military officers who did not understand our mission, and thought it was ‘gung ho to the max’. I served with Patrick Sanders very briefly – he did a genius job in Basra. Helmand – I was there – we put in far too few soldiers – and we were assigned to the wrong province – we should have been in Kandahar province. It is no delusion that we are a global power – we have a Level 2 bluewater navy (one of only 2 in the… Read more »

Meirion X

“The big question we face is whether to have an increased presence in the far East and what for.”

To be part of a coalition of reassurance to defend the nations of the Far East from the new threats in the Far East.

James V

Peter, I believe the comment regarding the Anglo-Dutch war referred quite specifically to a major war fought against a ‘peer enemy.’ I am not seeking to call into question the formidable nature of the forces faced in both those conflicts for example Punjab Sikhs and of course the Ghurkas of Nepal proved to be undoubtedly tough competition in conquest of the subcontinent. However, that being said in the late 19th century Britain was arguably the most powerful country on the planet controlling nearly a 1/4 of the earth’s land surface and 459 million people ( less prior to conquest of… Read more »

Last edited 22 days ago by James V
Geoffrey Roach

Hi Rebecca
Really interesting paper with a lot of useful information…. will tuck it away for reference. I have to say, because I’m biased, that your last paragraph matches my own views exactly. The Royal Navy needs to be given priority; the Royal Air Force is sound at it’s current strength but there are items that need to be addressed and the army can be a highly efficient, well armed and readily available force of 70,000 if those that make decisions have some imagination.

Robert Blay



I think everyone agrees that technology is a huge force multiplier when it comes to military engagements. Typhoon and F35 equipped with Brimstone and Spear 3 would lay waste to armoured brigades. The problem is holding ground. The British army had 30,000 soldiers deployed the NI and they struggled to exert control. How is that number supposed control area 100 times that size with 10,000 soldiers actively deployed.


Holding ground hasn’t really been very profitable for the British state since the end of the colonial period. With the end of the colonial period there isn’t really any large areas of ground that Britain needs to hold anyway. We can trade with people throughout the world without the burden of pacification or large scale defence commitments. If there is some place that needs control exerted over it then of course we would be doing this in conjunction with coalition partners. That’s my take anyway.


British involvement in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan suggest that Britain does in fact needs to have the ability to hold large areas of ground. Or they have to change policy.

Meirion X

I think the solution is eyes in the sky 24 hours a day?

Geoffrey Roach

…which is presumably why the MOD is getting rid of Sentinel! The decision making of a highly successful department . Argh…

Meirion X

I also hope there is an better alternative to Sentinel Geoffrey!

We will have to just wait and see, particularly what the US is doing in this area of INTEL.

Geoffrey Roach

Interesting comment on Sentinel…care to elaborate?

Meirion X

The USAF is looking into replacing its jStars which is based on the Grumman E8(707) platform. It is equivalent to our Sentinel.
No final decision has yet been made, Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Roach

OK thanks.

Peter S

Not sure that’s what her last paragraph says. An army to fight a peer enemy as part of a coalition doesn’t say anything about the size of that army, either in absolute terms or relative to the other services. Nor does the reference to high tech naval and air forces address priorities between them. To some extent, seapower, which allowed Britain and other European states to dominate the world has become less decisive. Airpower, now based on smart weapons and long range missiles, could rapidly overcome surface fleets. That possibility is the USAs biggest fear. UK has invested huge sums… Read more »

Meirion X

It is a navy first plan, with naval airpower at the heart of it!

It seems your mind is unbalanced!

Last edited 1 month ago by Meirion X
Peter S

So far you have called me a hard leftist, of uncertain gender, a teenager and now unbalanced. All wrong. You on the other hand are ignorant, rude, stupid and at best semi literate. Spending so much on what looks likely to be a token carrier borne air capability has done exactly what I have described- left too little to maintain an adequate air force or a properly equipped army. Even the RN has suffered with overage frigates and ships left uncrewed. Are you really so dense that you can’t see the problem? From your many posts one can only conclude… Read more »

Geoffrey Roach

I think the word your looking for for Meirion is succint… Sense in a couple of lines and no endless paragraphs.

Meirion X

Well, you seem rattled don’t you? You have lost arguments with other posters as well! Other posters have called you far worst then I have call you in other places as well for your annoying behaviour of persistenting to overturn the consensus on the issue. And also, you have been insulting to me as well. I do agree with you on the ageing frigate problem, and an inadequate RAF fast jet force, but we don’t need a large army for an island nation, but needs to well equipped one. The solution to the problems you mention, is not to decapitate… Read more »

Andy P

Sorry Meirion, this bit sounds very conceited.

as well for your annoying behaviour of persistenting to overturn the consensus on the issue.”

The ‘hive mind’ of UKDJ posters cannot be questioned…..

Meirion X

Yes Andy, there is a ‘hive mind’ just not only on UKDJ, but on other forums as well.
I think there are limits to which you can challenge the consensus of an issue on a forum. Go beyond it, it becomes boring and repetitive, eventually annoying.
I have no problem with others challenging an idea, particularly if there is an reasonable alternative idea, and makes common sense.

What do you think, Andy?

Last edited 1 month ago by Meirion X

Navy has a full order book of new vessels and designs under procurement. RAF will want want but until it delivers on its training failures, needs little that again isn’t on order. ARMY is a procurement mess with its entire equipment either old outdated or not suitable. Challenger 2/Warrior/Ajax/Boxer/Foxhound/Husky/Mastiff. Army needs to work out where it fits in the UK Defence window as it leaps around every time the top brass change. waste money moving projects around needs to draw a line and procure for that line. wasted to much time and now money is running out, has too many… Read more »

Geoffrey Roach

There is a paper in the Analysis section re British Army..towards 2030 that may interest you. The main RAF issues are around Poseidon numbers but may go UAV; the Herks for special forces and the number of F35’s version A or B; and recent rumours that the F35’s we have may not be upgraded to bloc 4 standard… I guess we have to wait and see.

Graham Moore

I agree that an army of 70,000 – (but are we talking about the total size of the regular army being 70,000 or a larger army with the ability to deploy 70,000 – there is a big difference betwen the two) – could be highly efficient, well armed and readily available but would it have the footprint to do the job (one shot deployment) without incurring significant risk of failure/casualties or have the numbers to achieve the longevity to roule for 12.5 years as we did in Afghanistan.
We really should have deployed twice the number we did to Helmand.


Well, since this is an online debate, forgive me for this little abstraction; Britain is an Athens not a Sparta. Throughout its history the UK was able to employ the Periclean strategy more effectively than the Athenians ever could.


Yes but, in the end, Sparta won the Peloponnesian War. A united Greece could defeat a much larger Persian army, but in a Greek against Greek battle, size of the army was crucial. The plague that wiped out a quarter of Athens’s population was the decisive event, since Athens could not field an army comparable in size to that of Sparta. In any event, 50 years later Phillip of Macedon overwhelmed Athens and Sparta with his superior army.


I don’t think the plague is as decisive as you think. This occurred very early in the period we now know as the Peloponnesian Wars, some 26 or so years before the final conclusion to the conflict and well before Athens most successful period. A more serious blow to Athen’s chances was the abandonment of Pericles’ naval strategy and the fool hardy attempt to fight a large scale war to conquer Sicily.


On the contrary, the plague resurfaced twice and not only devastated the population of Athens, it broke down the social order and morale. One can never be certain about what ifs, but had Athens not been devastated by three plagues one would favor its eventual triumph over Sparta and her allies.


Fascinating, thanks for that! I was aware of only one plague during the Peloponnesian War; the one that slew Pericles. Time to dust down the old Thucydides I think.


Good summary of where The UK stands, but only really reaffirms what most of us already know and advocate – namely that as an island nation at the forefront of global trade and technology we should focus on command of the sea and air, with a smaller but potent Army that can contribute to coalition operations and give us a stake in the decision making without the commitment to lots of boots on the ground for enduring periods. The Army has done itself no favours by completely failing to articulate what it’s future role should be. I think around 75,000… Read more »


Obviously the above would require cutting a lot of light infantry battalions in 1st Division and possibly losing some cap badges as part of a reorganisation of the regimental system.

A tall order for an Army that built itself around 7-8 brigades when it had 110,000 people.

I always wonder where all these extra people are stashed!

Daniele Mandelli

Agree with your force structure suggestion.

To get the kit the army needs after the corner they’ve put themselves in means some personnel and LI battalions have to go.

The heart of the army is its fighting power, that means Tanks and Warrior. With them gone what happens then. Tanks I’m confident will remain but if WCSP is scrapped we’d better pray they are buying several hundred extra Boxer with otherup gunned variants.


Yep, if it’s a straight choice then it has to be a properly funded and equipped 70k Army over the 82k version full of ancient fleets within fleets of vehicles and lots of light battalions seemingly without clear roles. Warrior would still be 40 years old even if it went through the full upgrade. Cannot understand who thought it was better to stick with it than buy a new IFV in the first place. Has echo’s of Nimrod! Maximizing the Boxer commitment by getting additional batches and salvaging the Warrior turret may not be perfect but it’s a 90% solution… Read more »

Graham Moore

Why would you reduce the Reserve Army from its Establishment figure of 35,000 at the same time you are shedding 7,500 regulars?


Skipping the odd aside around ‘women’ which I feel added little to no value within this article, I did find this quite interesting and I really appreciated the concise breakdown of the economy (genuinely learnt something).
And I have to grudging agree (purely to finicial constants) that the UK priority should be:

Royal Navy (incl Royal Marines)
Royal Air Force
British Army

I take no pleasure in placing the Army at the bottom, and to clear that does not mean we can allow it to becoming unfit for purpose.

John Hartley

I think the list is missing Influence, Diplomacy, Infrastructure & Engineering. Look at those countries that modelled themselves on the UK. Parliaments, voting, independent courts, railways, cricket, rugby, football, etc. India took our red tape & ran with it. Sorry India. Look at many foreign navies that modelled themselves on the RN, including some that were never part of our Empire. All those foreign students who came to the UK & picked up some of our ways. I would even welcome 90% of Chinese students. Just not those engaged in spying or pushing the agenda of the CCP. Our economic… Read more »

Peter S

Well put. The headlong rush to dismantle existing power generation, with no viable plan to replace it, is a bigger threat to our national security than most of the potential military dangers. I also worry that we have allowed so much defence manufacturing to wither that we now import all our naval guns and marine diesel engines and look set to become even more dependent on imported key components for future armoured vehicles. I believe we no longer have the capability to design and build new military small arms. On the brighter side, a long term well thought out plan… Read more »

John Hartley

Well we pinched/licence built other countries small arms. Think Lewis & Bren guns, FN FAL, etc. Even the Sterling SMG was really an evolved MP28. We could get a UK contractor to licence build what we needed, rather than import all the time.

Peter S

Yes. I know we order in smaller numbers than USA but their insistence on domestic manufacture must be the right way to go. We buy BAE/Bofors 57mm guns from Sweden. US has a facility to manufacture them.
Was the last truly British rifle the Enfield musket rifle.

Geoffrey Roach

John/ Peter It’s no wonder you agree with each other. What are you on about?

Andy a

What do you expect when the media and government has basically made private shooters look like the enemy as they are easy target compared to criminals with guns, with no local small arms industry we have no choice but buy abroad


Hi John
I read an article that if you want to sell military hardware to Australia you have to build it in collaboration with an Australian company…. if this is right it seems like a good idea

John Hartley

Yes I want the UK to have a viable defence industry, but we also need a thriving civil manufacturing base too. Look at WW2 & how civil production switched to weapons of war. For example, Austin Motors turned out 330 Avro Lancaster bombers, Singer sewing machines switched to making .38 revolvers. Furniture workshops made parts for DH Mosquito bombers. This is not just history. During the last year, parts of UK factories switched to making PPE for the NHS. Ineos chemical works added hand sanitiser to their products. If you have a large domestic manufacturing capability, it can be tasked… Read more »


Good overview and a useful benchmark but what is the comments section for if not for nitpicking?
Can we really still build 80% of a commercial nuclear reactor? The pressure vessels and turbines of the new Hinkley plant are built abroad, I would have thought that that’s more than 20% already.


ok i got bored and stopped ready, sounded a bit like a BBC political agenda from Question time.

what a poor story….

Paul Walker

Fundamental factors influencing British defence policies – MONEY (or lack of). The end.

Graham Moore

“And creating and maintaining an army designed to fight peer foes as part of a coalition is exactly what Britain has done, with great success, for centuries”. Great words Rebecca but I see a giant snag. Worth pondering first who the peer foes are who might be ranged against NATO or an adhoc US-led coalition – Russia? China? Any other foe would be non-peer but still a mighty challenge eg North Korea, Iran. Most coalitions are US-led and the Americans expect the UK to field a minimum of one highly capable (armour-heavy) warfighting division with its own supply lines, a… Read more »

Glenn Ridsdale

Very good article, despite the historical error. I’d suggest the War of 1812 against the USA was the last major war the U.K. fought alone.