With the 2021 Strategic Defence and Security Review (2021 SDSR) in prospect it is timely to consider what might arise out of this assessment of the United Kingdom’s defence needs going forward.

The review is necessarily presaged by four main factors. These are: the COVID 19 pandemic; the economic downturn; the National Audit Office (NAO) report regarding carrier strike published 26 June 2020[1]; and, new concepts driving the development of the Future Commando Force.[2] Of these factors it may well be that the economic downturn will be the main driver behind the 2021 SDSR, in which case the equipment requirements of the armed services will either have to be scaled down or curtailed entirely. The UK faces difficult economic circumstances in an increasingly dangerous world. Herein lies the dilemma, the upcoming review must consequently make decisions which balance both the requirement for economic stringency, and at the same time not going down the same disastrous path of the 2010 SDSR. Unfortunately, if reports published in The Sunday Times on 5 July 2020[3] reporting heavy cuts to all three branches of the armed services (subsequently denied by the Defence Secretary) are proven to be accurate the current government has not learnt the lessons of history.

This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Kelvin Curnow. Kelvin’s particular area of interest is naval aircraft and aircraft carriers. He is a keen writer and over the past fifteen years he has had a number of articles published in different journals.

What follows is an attempt to nominate future threats which will be of concern to the UK, and recognising the parlous economic state, a discussion on cost effective ways of countering those threats using both current and new platforms. Nearly all the proposals involve purchase of proven weapons, technology and systems which ensures maximum benefit for every pound spent. It could be viewed as a ‘shopping list’ of equipment, however if the UK is to remain an actor on the global stage it should be considered to be a realistic appraisal of  future needs which can be met with proper planning and political will.


Replying to questions in the House of Commons Defence Select Committee on 6 July 2020 the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace stated that ‘only a fool starts the debate on numbers (money) rather than threat’.[4] It is to be hoped that Mr Wallace’s observation is correct and that sufficient money is made available to face the threats to the UK’s future security. Although it is impossible to predict every exigency there are some obvious areas where Britain may find herself required to employ her armed forces.

The possibility of conflict across the entire African continent and the Middle East remains high. Ongoing internal conflicts in Libya and Syria have already required international intervention on the part of the West. The UK remains active in Africa and currently has three Boeing CH-47 HC5 Chinooks along with a 250 strong light cavalry unit deployed in Mali to support a French led operation battling Jihadist insurgents. There is little likelihood of any further large deployments of British troops at this point in time. However, the US is concerned about ‘the threat posed by jihadist groups loyal to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Sahel, a vast region of arid scrubland south of the Sahara Desert, could start to threaten Europe as well as the wider region’.[5] Of particular concern is the civil war in Libya. The UN Government of National Accord based in Tripoli is supported by Turkey, Italy and Qatar while the Libyan National Army is supported by Russia, Egypt and the UAE. ISIS is also active in Libya. With increasing American reluctance to intervene in foreign conflicts it may remain with Britain and France to stem the tide of extremism. Gibraltar and the sovereign bases on Cyprus are strategically placed to counter such threats.

Britain no longer plays a major role in South East Asia and far less the Pacific. China’s desire to dominate the South China Sea will bring it into direct confrontation with a number of nations. Skirmishes have occurred between China and countries surrounding the South China Sea, notably the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. There have also been low level clashes between China and Japan in the East China Sea. Via the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) Britain has a commitment to consult with the other signatories Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand should any member come under attack. Through the FPDA the UK may be drawn into defending Malaysia against Chinese hostility. Post-Brexit Britain has also indicated that it wishes to build stronger economic and defence ties with Japan. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) approximately eighty percent of global trade by volume is conveyed by sea. Of that volume, sixty percent of trade passes through Asia, with the South China Sea carrying about one-third of all global shipping. The most important shipping channel in the world is the Straits of Malacca which lie between the Malayan peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. In 2017 a staggering 100,000 vessels passed through the strait.[6] In a sign that Britain understands the growing significance of Chinese belligerence and the necessity of the West to provide a counter to it, the fact that HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first deployment is to Asia and the Pacific cannot go unnoticed. Being an island nation reliant on sea trade Britain should not ignore this section of the globe, particularly post-Brexit.

The Gulf remains an area where conflict between Iran and the West could move beyond the low-level clashes which currently predominate to a more aggressive level of conflict. Iran’s seizure of the British flagged oil tanker the STENA IMPERO on 20 July 2019 can be viewed as a tit-for-tat response to the UK’s impounding of the Iranian oil tanker the GRACE I on 4 July 2019 while she passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. While the seizing of the Iranian tanker was an action in support of EU sanctions against Iran, the action by Iran was illegal because the British tanker was operating in international waters. This is the nature of Iranian actions against Western shipping in that the country operates outside recognised international norms and borders. As part of an international coalition protecting shipping in the Gulf the UK contributes a four-strong mine-hunting force the RFA Cardigan Bay and a Type 23 frigate and Type 45 destroyer under Operation Kipion. This is a substantial commitment in recognition that approximately twenty per cent of the world’s oil exports pass through the Straits of Hormuz. Despite the international coalition, which includes American warships, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that ‘the responsibility in the first instance falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships’ in the Gulf.[7] To protect British interests in the Gulf, the Mediterranean and South East Asia the UK will require more substantial naval forces than what it currently possesses or what is currently planned.

In a speech delivered to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on 22 February 2018 General Nick Carter stated that the greatest danger to Britain’s security came from a resurgent Russia.[8] Under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin Russia is prepared more than ever to exercise its military power exemplified by its 2014 occupation of Crimea. This undermined the presumption by NATO members that defence spending could be dramatically reduced because the conclusion of the Cold War signalled the end of any possibility of conflict in Europe. Russia has taken military action in the Crimea, the Donbas region of Ukraine (through proxies) and South Ossetia, using force to protect her interests and extend her sphere of influence. The Baltic states in particular feel threatened by possible Russian military action with the prospect that all three countries could be invaded as easily and quickly as the annexation of Crimea. Unlike Ukraine the Baltic republics are NATO members and Russian aggression would necessarily require a forceful response. With the US focussing on the Pacific and South East Asia as its main area of interest, and its intention to draw down its forces in Germany, the NATO alliance will be required to provide a suitable counter to Russian hostility and Britain will be obliged to play a major part in this.

F-35Bs on HMS Queen Elizabeth.


The 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) led by the then Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, set out the initial defence policy of the new Blair government. This was a foreign policy led document with an emphasis on expeditionary warfare. The SDR was generally reflected on positively by both defence planners and industry.[9] Unlike reviews both before and since it was not driven by cost cutting. A major decision announced in the SDR was to replace the three Invincible class carriers with two larger vessels. A decision announced in the SDR resulted in the RN’s BAe Sea Harrier FA2 and the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) BAe Harrier GR7 squadrons being merged to form Joint Force Harrier (JFH). As such the Future Carrier Borne Aircraft (FCBA) requirement was revised to include the replacement of the GR7s. This led to the renaming of the programme, with both fighters to be replaced by the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA). The JCA project was advanced when on 17 January 2001 the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US Department of Defense for full participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme. These twin decisions to build the two Queen Elizabeth class (QEC) carriers and purchase the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II have been the primary focus of defence planning since and have attracted a substantial proportion of the defence budget.

Twenty-two years on both programmes are nearing Full Operating Capability (FOC) and sit firmly at the centre of future strategic planning. Both are good examples of how properly undertaken defence reviews which have a clear understanding of future needs can remain relevant even after two decades. A feature of the SDR was that it set out an integrated programme to meet future defence requirements. Unfortunately this has not been repeated since as demonstrated by the 2010 and 2015 SDSRs, the first driven by cost cutting, the latter by the need to fill the huge gaps in capabilities left by the former.

Decisions announced in the SDR could largely be seen as a victory for the RN which had moved away from an emphasis on the size of the surface fleet and chosen  instead to  focus  the navy on three core  capabilities:  strike  carriers  equipped  with  advanced  jet  aircraft;  nuclear-powered attack  submarines  equipped with  Tomahawk land  attack  missiles; and, an amphibious  capability constructed around the Royal Marines.[10] These capabilities remain the key to the future of the UK’s strategic planning.

Royal Marines Storm Beach During Exercise Trident Juncture.


In two of the scenarios described above the primary means of armed response will come by way of deploying RN ships for both defensive and offensive operations. The proximity of land masses will mean that the ships will operate in the littoral which will place them within range of increasingly sophisticated weapons operated by both state and non-state players. It has become the practice of the UK and USA to fire both sea-launched and air-launched cruise missiles against high value targets. Raytheon Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles (TLAMs) fired from RN nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) have been used in operations in the Balkans, Middle East and Libya. These weapons have been used against high value strategic targets and integrated air defence systems (IADS). Confronted by high-tech anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons, usually of Russian origin, both the UK and US have fired large numbers of TLAMs and conventionally armed stand-off missiles (CASOMs) such as the MBDA Storm Shadow, thus avoiding the necessity to penetrate hostile air space. Stand-off cruise missiles are now de rigueur and expansion of the number of weapons in the inventory and the platforms from which they can be fired is something of a necessity.

Both the USA and France equip their ships, submarines and aircraft with cruise missiles, a pattern unfortunately not followed by the UK, but moving forward it will no longer be an option. It has been a common measure by successive governments to order ships ‘equipped for but not with’ weaponry. A primary example of this are the Type 45 destroyers which have provision for sixteen strike-length vertical launch systems (VLSs) forward of the existing Sea Viper silos. These could be Mk 41 VLSs for TLAMs and Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASMs), or Sylver A70 silos for the MBDA MdCN (Missile De Croisière Naval – naval cruise missile), a derivative of the Storm Shadow/SCALP.[11] The Type 26 has provision for twenty-four Mk 41 VLSs while the Danish Iver Huitfeldt class frigates, on which the Type 31 is based, are fitted with four Mk 41 VLS. It is logical therefore that with political will the Type 31 could also be fitted with Mk 41 VLSs. Accelerating the Type 31 programme, equipping them with a more comprehensive sensor suite and arming the frigates to the same standard as the Iver Huitfeldt class is a cost effective means of putting new, well equipped ships to sea relatively quickly replacing an increasingly obsolete fleet of Type 23s.

With the imminent withdrawal of the Boeing Harpoon Block 1C from RN service in 2023, consideration is being given to an interim replacement until the Anglo-French Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon (FCASW) becomes available. Among possible contenders to fill the Interim Surface to Surface Guided Weapon (I-SSGW) requirement are the LRASM, the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) and the Saab RBS15 Mk 4 ‘Gungnir’ (Odin’s Spear).  Whichever missile is chosen it should be capable of being launched from canisters, VLSs and the P-8A and be capable of anti-shipping strike as well as land attack. The United States Marine Corps is integrating both the LRASM and NSM on their F-35Bs so either missile would be good choice, not only from the aspect of providing another launch platform but also commonality with the UK’s principal ally.

Currently the RN relies on the Block IV TLAM which is launched from the torpedo tubes of Astute and Trafalgar class submarines for long-range land attack. The TLAMs are placed in a capsule to permit underwater firing. The USN fires its TLAMs from Los Angeles and Virginia nuclear attack class submarines (SSNs) and Ohio class nuclear powered cruise missile armed submarines (SSGNs) via VLSs. The RN has a modest stockpile of approximately seventy missiles. Replenishment of the stockpile will be impossible because Raytheon is to cease production of the capsule launched version of the TLAM. If the RN wishes to persist with launching land attack missiles via torpedo tubes it will only have one option, which is to purchase the capsule launched MdCN. Lockheed is in discussions with USN about developing a submarine launched version of the LRASM. Inevitably this will be launched via a VLS. Hence the RN finds itself once again in a dilemma facing multiple requirements for replacement missiles with a limited budget. At this point the best hope lies in the FCASW, the 300+ km[12] range MBDA CVS401 Perseus stealthy hypersonic cruise missile being developed for a possible in service date of 2030. This will be an ant-ship and land attack missile and will be capable of being launched from air platforms, the Mk 41 VLS and submarines via capsules. To replace weapons either obsolete or growing in obsolescence by the end of the decade the UK must commit to this programme and stay the course once the decision is made to purchase the missile.

Faced by future A2/AD threats committing to the Perseus will be key to future British power projection. While the QEC and its air wing (CVW) will play a central role in attacking potential threats and protecting the carrier strike group (CSG) there remains the difficulty that Russia and China possess AShMs which have a range greater than the F-3B’s 518 mi (834 km) radius action. Both countries have demonstrated a propensity to supply this class of weapon to both state and non-state actors who oppose the West. This dilemma could have been overcome by equipping the Lightning with Storm Shadow missiles, but plans to do so were cancelled. In the confines of both the Gulf and the Mediterranean ships in a CSG could be targeted by both long range AShMs and its aircraft by long-range surface to air missiles (SAMs) such as the Russian S-400 Triumf which has an operational radius of 248 mi (400 km). In this instance a CVW of twenty-four F-35Bs would be hard pressed to provide both air defence for the CSG and strike against land targets. Type 45 destroyers providing a defensive umbrella to the CSG are more than capable of dealing with saturation attacks, but with only forty-eight Aster SAMs available per vessel countering multiple salvos of AShMs would be problematic.[13] The most effective way of countering the threat is a CASOM strike against shore batteries of AShMs and SAMs. In the near term this could be carried out by a combination of air launched Storm Shadow missiles, the I-SSGW fired from ships and submarine launched TLAMs, replaced in the future by Perseus fired from all three platforms.

A lack of forward planning and financial commitment will severely compromise any future deployments by an RN CSG. The NAO report notes that a key component to support carrier strike, the Fleet Solid Support (FFS) ships, are not yet ordered. Despite a government commitment to restart a competition in September 2020 for the design and construction of the vessels there has been no commitment to a timeline. Along with the delays to the Crowsnest programme and with only forty-eight F-3Bs under contract, the UK appears to be going down the dangerous road once again of trying to generate a major capability on the cheap. The NAO report notes that more funds are required to ensure that a CSG has sufficient support ships and aircraft for it to be an effective force able to fulfil its stated roles.[14]

How the Fleet Solid Support Ships may appear.


Air power has proven to be a key component in operations both on land and on the sea. Employed competently even a small number of assets can have a disproportionate influence on the outcome of a conflict, with the Falklands war a prime example. Nevertheless, given the size and number of threats faced by the UK the current number of fighter aircraft available will be the Achilles Heel of UK future air operations.[15] While the F-35B is gradually replacing the Harrier fleet after a gap of ten years there is no replacement for the Tornado in prospect. Any claim that increasing the Typhoon force to a total of seven squadrons by retaining twenty-four Tranche 1 aircraft, and migrating the Tornado’s capabilities to that force under Project Centurion hides the fact that the RAFs combat mass has been dramatically reduced. Moreover, the force is stretched thin with commitments to quick reaction alert (QRA) in the UK and the Falklands, air policing in the Baltics, Iceland and Romania and the bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria.[16] With the retirement of the Tornado the RAF no longer possesses a long range strike aircraft, a requirement which could be filled by the F-35A or in the longer term the Tempest. In the interim Tranche 3A Typhoons could be upgraded to Tranche 3B configuration featuring the CAPTOR ECRS Mk 2 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. According to a 2018 House of Commons Defence Committee document, the radar was then ‘in the assessment phase.’ Main Gate investment approval was expected in the latter half of 2019.[17] Additional features could include conformal fuel tanks and possibly Eurojet EJ-200 engines with thrust vector control (TVC). This is a cost effective measure reliant on existing technology. Many of these features will be included on the ninety Tranche 4 Eurofighters ordered by Germany; hence costs to the UK will be substantially defrayed with respect to research and development and economies of scale. The lack of a long-range strike aircraft could also be mitigated by employing a larger number of tanker aircraft, something currently hampered by the AirTanker contract.

The lack of aerial refuelling resources is a concern for all air forces, not the least the RAF. Limiting the refuelling force to Voyagers operated by the AirTanker consortium has effectively restricted the RAF’s options. None of the aircraft operated by AirTanker are boom equipped, nor is this required by the contract. This leaves the RAF with no means of air refuelling its C-17, Boeing RC-135 Airseeker, P-8A and Boeing E-7A Wedgetail aircraft. This is a total of twenty-five aircraft the RAF cannot support with its own tankers.  The RC-135, P-8A and E-7 aircraft will be essential in monitoring air and sea traffic in the Gulf, Baltic region, Mediterranean and South East Asia, in addition to surveillance around the UK and in support of NATO. Given the small fleet numbers of surveillance aircraft, boom equipped Voyagers will prove to be invaluable force enablers permitting the aircraft to fly over greater distances and remain on station longer. The fact that the technology has been paid for by other countries would mean the cost to the UK would be relatively insignificant.[18]

The constraints applied by the AirTanker contract means that the RAF cannot deploy assets wisely or employ the most suitable aircraft to fulfil a particular role. The defence of the Falkland Islands takes up a disproportionate amount of the UK’s air transport/tanker assets with single examples of the Voyager and Atlas aircraft deployed. This commitment could be reduced if the UK were to modify some C-130Js to Harvest Hawk configuration. In one airframe the RAF would have an aerial refueller, an MPA capable of long range visual and radar reconnaissance and the ability to fly attack missions using Brimstone missiles. This would be a very capable aircraft for a small outlay.

Britain has long ignored the potential for the aerial refuelling of helicopters. This has been a practice used since the 1960s by the American armed forces and is now employed by the air forces of France (Armée de l’Air – AdL’A) and Italy (Aeronautica Militare Italiana –AMI). Notably the AMI has purchased a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) variant of the Leonardo AW101, the HH-101A CAESAR. This helicopter is equipped with a probe and will be refuelled by AMI KC-130J Hercules tankers. A portent for this possibility was demonstrated at the handover on 30 May 2018 to the Commando Helicopter Force of the first Mk4 Merlin which featured a refuelling probe.[19] Some of the twelve Merlin HM1s not converted to HM2 standard and currently in storage could be converted to this configuration. For a relatively small outlay Merlins modified to the CAESAR configuration refuelled by Harvest Hawks would provide a superlative capability not only for CSAR but could prospectively be used for Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD).[20] Additionally, given that the emphasis in the Future Commando Force structure is on the ability to provide a flexible response rather than ‘storming the beaches’ the Hercules/Merlin combination would be ideal with the ability to react quickly to developing situations. Traditional commando assault models based around the Albion Landing Platform Dock (LPD) assault ships no longer hold, particularly given that potential adversaries both state and non-state possess considerable A2/AD capabilities.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) together with situational awareness (SA) will be the key to managing the battlespace. While the acquisition of nine P-8As is welcome, the force will be stretched very thin with all the commitments it is due to fulfil. The situation will only be further accentuated if a decision is taken to replace the Raytheon Sentinel R1 battlefield surveillance aircraft with the P-8A. Since 2015 the AN/APS-154 Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS) has been flying on a small number of US Navy P-8As. Justin Bronk at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has made the case for purchasing additional P-8As for the RAF equipped with the AAS.[21]  This is an eminently sensible suggestion, the danger is that those in Whitehall may decide to purchase the radar and fit it to a number of existing P-8As, placing a further strain on an already over-stretched fleet. A precedent for this has been set with the decision to fit the Crowsnest radar system to existing Merlin HM2s rather than expanding the fleet. It would be far more prudent to retain the Sentinels. With the ability to operate outside the A2/AD bubble the Sentinel has the ability to look far in land, a role it performed above Libya in 2011 which was described as ‘pivotal’ by the head of the RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton. The Sentinels currently perform a similar role flying over the Baltic Sea identifying Russian instillations in the Kaliningrad enclave. They are fully amortised airframes which remain effective in their role and beyond the USAF’s Boeing E-8C JSTARS are the only aircraft of their type in the inventory of Western air forces.

Sentinel in flight over Iraq.


In the future ground forces will be essential to quickly respond to rapidly developing situations. In recognition that the nature of warfare is changing the United States Marine Corps USMC is divesting itself of seven squadrons of main battle tanks, deemed too cumbersome and logistically demanding for a lighter and more agile force required for the future. The UK’s Future Commando Force reflects such thinking. Two Littoral Response Groups (LRGs) are being formed, one based in Bahrain focused on areas East of Suez to be deployed in mid-2021, while the other UK based group will concentrate on NATO’s northern flank and the Mediterranean. The three Bay class Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) (LDS [A]) ships will be the initial hosts for the two groups. Flexible, rapid reaction groups will rely on cargo aircraft and helicopters. As noted above, air-refuelled helicopters would provide the best option for both mobility and rapid reinforcement.

Despite this concentration on light mobile forces, going forward the main battle tank will still have its place in modern warfare. The Baltic states feel particularly vulnerable to Russian aggression having witnessed the rapidity in which the Crimea was invaded. The UK continues to demonstrate its commitment to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by regular Typhoon deployments for air policing and committing to annual Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) naval exercises. Exercise Baltic Protector 2019 was a UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Maritime Task Group deployment of around 3,000 personnel and 20 vessels from JEF partner nations.  This exercise included the deployment of a Challenger 2 tank from HMS Albion. Currently the army has two hundred and twenty-seven Challenger 2 tanks in its inventory. The planned Challenger Life Extension Programme (LEP) will see only a reported one hundred and forty-eight upgraded. The LEP has been designed around obsolescence management, but the army now appears to favour a more comprehensive proposal from Rheinmettal. This includes new armour and a brand new turret incorporating the company’s L55 smoothbore 120mm cannon, the latter ensuring commonality with all other NATO members. On July 31 2020 Rheinmettal unveiled a radically upgraded Challenger 2 demonstrator equipped with a 130mm/L51 smoothbore cannon and upgraded armour. This tank would be capable of defeating the latest Russian tank, the T-14 Armata. BAES is proposing an upgraded tank, the ‘Black Knight’ which retains the existing L30 120mm rifled cannon. Whichever proposal is chosen remanufacture will occur in Telford at a plant jointly owned by RBSL (Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land) facility.

As rumours mount with respect to the forthcoming defence review, by late August 2020 the BBC and other media outlets were reporting that instead of upgrading the Challenger one option being considered is scrapping the entire Challenger fleet. The Defence Secretary has stated his preference going forward for a concentration on a move from ‘Industrial Age to Information Age capabilities – investing in cyber, space, electronic warfare, AI, robotics and autonomy’.[22] This view ignores the reality that nothing can replace the capabilities and firepower brought to the battlefield by a tank. The Challenger is an old design, but that does not mean it is obsolete, and with the upgrades described above can be a creditable weapon system into the future. It should not be overlooked that in the first Gulf War a Challenger made the longest ever tank kill in history over a range of 5,100m (3 miles) with a Depleted Uranium (DU) round. In the same conflict over two hundred Iraqi tanks were destroyed without loss. Predator unmanned aerial vehicles and Apache attack helicopters can destroy enemy tanks, equipment and positions, however it is only a Strike Brigade consisting of Ajax, Boxer, upgraded Warrior together with Challengers that will be able to successfully attack and hold a position. A tank’s presence on the battlefield cannot be matched be any other weapon and hence the Challenger LEP should be considered a cornerstone of the UK’s future military capabilities.[23]

AJAX, the Future Armoured Fighting Vehicle.


Given the Future Commando Force concept replacing the Albion class landing platform docks (LPDs) with vessels more fit for purpose would appear a sensible option. Formed around the concepts of quick response and flexibility, the force would be best served by the provision of air mobility, and going forward there are plans for the allocation of air assets. One option to provide air mobility is to purchase the Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey. At £57.5M ($72M USD) per copy this is a very expensive aircraft, but the capabilities offered are not matched by any other aeroplane. Being air-refuellable it can self-deploy over long distances, an invaluable feature when inserting commandos to counter rapidly developing situations. It can also refuel other aircraft via the V-22 Aerial Refuelling System (VARS). This would be particularly valuable with respect to extending the combat radius of the F-35B when operating from the QEC carriers. The V-22 is also able to provide COD and offer capabilities which would supplement the FFSs or even mean that only two vessels may need to be purchased. Deletion of this vessel from the ship building programme and the two Albion class from the fleet should be replaced by at least two LPDs with extended aviation facilities featuring a full length flight deck, and a well deck. These would not only provide excellent bases for the LRGs, but also given that helicopter/V-22 commando assault will be the preferred option in the face of A2/AD threats they would provide more landing spots than the current LPDs. Possessing a well deck these LPDs would possess the option of supporting traditional amphibious operations.

The Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) ship HMS Ocean and the French LPD FS Tonnerre proved invaluable in the 2011 Libyan intervention. Operating in the littoral out of range of Libyan shore batteries the ships launched Apache and Airbus Tiger attack helicopters against high value targets. Built to commercial standards LPHs can be built quickly and cost a relatively small amount. The cost of construction of HMS Ocean for example was £154 million, equating to £316 million in 2019. Additionally, urgent consideration needs to be given to replacement of the aviation training ship RFA Argus which leaves service in 2024. Replacing her with a more capable LPH/LPD of the same design replacing the Albion class would further extend the RN’s assault ship capabilities. The argument for constructing LPDs is further reinforced by the fact that in a cost saving measure no provision has been made for HMS Prince of Wales to act as an LPH, hence a replacement for HMS Ocean has become somewhat of a priority.

HMS Ocean in 2017.


With Britain and her allies facing an even more uncertain future with respect to their security, now is the time to make decisions which will ensure that there is sufficient equipment available for the UK to fulfil her defence responsibilities. The possible dangers to the Britain’s security will need to be met robustly, but such a response can only occur with adequate armed forces both in terms of numbers of personnel and equipment. Despite sensationalist figures quoted in the press that between 2019 and 2029 the funding of defence equipment faces a shortfall of £13.0bn, this is upper estimate calculated by the National Audit Office (NAO).[24] By way of comparison the estimated cost blowout of the Crossrail project is £3.5B and an estimated overspend on HS2 of £18B. Slashing government spending and austerity is a discredited means of addressing economic difficulties as ascertained in 2010. A nation cannot ‘go broke’ and in these times when money is cheap many economists would advise that borrowing is a prudential measure to move forward out of recession.[25] Defence expenditure is not dead money. Government expenditure allows industries to develop, new technologies to progress, generates new jobs and provides tax receipts to the exchequer. Over ninety percent of the programmes suggested above are of British origin, or would involve UK companies modifying or installing equipment sourced from overseas, hence foreign reserves are not drained. The UK should emulate France which is spending €15 billion to support its aerospace industry recognising that sales of aircraft worth billions of Euros will help reduce the trade deficit. Moreover, defence companies can provide support to the civil authorities by applying their knowledge of advanced technologies. The national response to COVID 19 for example would not have been as comprehensive without support provided to the NHS by the armed services and companies such as Rolls Royce, GKN and Airbus.

Russian and Chinese hegemony can only be countered by substantial conventional forces, with Britain taking a central role in any coalition, and at times taking leadership of countries with coalescing standpoints. The principal advisor to Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings has opined that there should an emphasis on artificial intelligence and drone technology as opposed to traditional defence equipment.[26] Such a view does not take into consideration that every conflict since WWII has been fought using traditional military equipment. Mr Cummings further demonstrated his serious lack of knowledge of defence matters when he commented that the QEC class programme was a farce which ‘continued to squander billions of pounds’.[27] Mr Cummings views should not prevail in the 2021 SDSR.

The defence review is an opportunity for the current government to signal how a global Britain is to take its place in the world. Inevitably this must be based on strong trading relationships as well as building affiliations with like-minded democracies, and committing itself to both of these ideals built around a strong defence policy.

This can be achieved through relatively small financial outlays, maximising the resources currently available through value adding capabilities and careful planning avoiding unnecessary wastage.


[1] National Audit Office, Carrier Strike – Preparing For Deployment, HC 374 SESSION 2019–2021 26 JUNE 2020, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/007678-001-Carrier-Strike-preparing-for-deployment.pdf>.

[2] Forces Net, What Is The Future Commando Force?, accessed 23 August 2020, <https://www.forces.net/news/royal-marines/what-royal-marines-future-commando-force>.

[3] Tim Shipman and Tim Riply,’ Army ‘to be cut by 20,000’ if No 10 plan is approved’, The Sunday Times, 5  July 2020, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/army-to-be-cut-by-20-000-if-no-10-plan-is-approved-bc2zbqm2h>.

[4] House of Commons, Hansard, accessed 23 August 2020, <hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-07-06/debates/9099CD53-0098-479D-9FC0-8293C96E7A28/TopicalQuestions>.

[5] Adrian Blomfield, ‘British troops back on front line against jihadists as war on terror spreads to Africa’, The Telegraph, 1 March, 2020, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/01/british-troops-back-front-line-against-jihadists-war-terror/>.

[6] Krishnadev Calamur, ‘High Traffic, High Risk in the Strait of Malacca’, The Atlantic, accessed 23 August 2020, <https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/08/strait-of-malacca-uss-john-mccain/537471/>.

[7] Patrick Wintour and Julian Borger, ‘UK Must Look After Its Own Ships in the Gulf, Says Pompeo’, The Guardian, 23 July 2019, accessed 24 August 2020, < https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/22/uk-must-look-after-its-own-ships-in-the-gulf-says-pompeo>.

[8] General Nick Carter, ‘Dynamic Security Threats and the British Army’, Royal United Services Institute, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://rusi.org/event/dynamic-security-threats-and-british-army>.

[9] Paul Cornish and Andrew Dorman, ‘Blair’s wars and Brown’s budgets: From Strategic Defence Review to strategic decay in less than a decade’, International Affairs, 85 (2), (March 2009), pp.247-61, p. 256.

[10] British Maritime Doctrine, BR1806 (London: MoD, 1995).

[11] Kelvin Curnow, ‘Improving the Type 45 Destroyer’, United Kingdom Defence Journal, Accessed 24 August 2020, < https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/improving-the-type-45-destroyer/>.

[12] This is the quoted range for the air launched and ship launched AShM variant. For land attack it would in all probability have its range extended to 1000+ km. This is exactly the path taken by MBDA in developing the MdCN from the Storm Shadow/SCALP.

[13] Kelvin Curnow, ‘Wartime Operations – Employing the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers’, United Kingdom Defence Journal, accessed 25 August 2020, <https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/wartime-operations-employing-the-queen-elizabeth-class-aircraft-carriers/>.

[14] See n.1.

[15] Nicholas Drummond, ‘Why the RAF needs the F-35A JSF as well as the F-35B’, UK Land Power, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://uklandpower.com/2018/12/07/why-the-raf-needs-the-f-35a-jsf-as-well-as-the-f-35b/>.

[16] Hugo Meijer and Marco Wyss, European Defence Policies and Armed Forces, (Oxford: OUP, 2018), p.82.

[17] Jamie Hunter, ‘Eurofighter’s New Radar Is Nearly Ready But Royal Air Force Wants An Even Better One’, The Drive/The War Zone, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/34940/eurofighters-new-radar-is-nearly-ready-but-royal-air-force-wants-an-even-better-one>.

[18] Kelvin Curnow, ‘The future of UK aerial refuelling needs – Part 1’, United Kingdom Defence Journal, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/the-future-of-uk-aerial-refuelling-needs-part-1/>.

[19] ‘New Merlin Helicopter Arrives’, Desider, Issue 119 (June 2018), p.18.

[20] Kelvin Curnow, ‘The future of UK aerial refuelling needs – Part 2’, United Kingdom Defence Journal, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/the-future-of-uk-aerial-refuelling-needs-part-2/>.

[21] Justin Bronk, ‘A Case for Replacing the RAF’s Sentinel R.1 Fleet with Additional P-8A Poseidon Aircraft’, RUSI,

Accessed 24 August 2020, <https://rusi.org/publication/rusi-defence-systems/case-replacing-raf%E2%80%99s-sentinel-r1-fleet-additional-p-8a-poseidon>.

[22] Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace gives a speech at the Air and Space Power Conference, (Ministry of Defence, 15 July 2020), accessed 30 August 2020 <https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/defence-secretary-ben-wallace-gives-a-speech-at-the-air-and-space-power-conference>.

[23] British Army Strike: An Inside View, UK Land Power, accessed 30 August 2020, <https://uklandpower.com/2020/05/06/british-army-strike-an-inside-view/>.

[24] National Audit Office, The Equipment Plan 2019-2029, HC 111 SESSION 2019-20 27 FEBRUARY 2020, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/The-Equipment-Plan-2019-to-2029.pdf>.

[25] Tejvan Pettinger, ‘UK National Debt’, Economics Help, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/334/uk-economy/uk-national-debt/>.

[26] Gareth Fuller, ‘Military spending: Dominic Cummings may have met his match in trying to reform the Ministry of Defence’, The Conversation, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://theconversation.com/military-spending-dominic-cummings-may-have-met-his-match-in-trying-to-reform-the-ministry-of-defence-129656>.

[27] Danielle Sheridan, ‘Aircraft carrier’s deployment to China shows its ‘immense capabilities’, former first sea lord says’, The Telegraph,  15 July 2020, accessed 24 August 2020, <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/07/15/aircraft-carrier-deployment-china-shows-immense-capabilities/>.

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Any reduction in capability needs to be balanced against the threats. Currently, the World is in turmoil fighting the ultimate weapon ‘Contagion.’ However, military commitments continue to grow, and in many parts of the globe. The risky question of what to cut is becoming more complex as we enter a world without EU membership, which is likely to place greater emphasis on naval priorities? As more players deploy their navies across the World’s oceans the threat of restricted shipping routes can not be overlooked. As vital minerals become more difficult to extract and transport, there is a likelihood tensions could… Read more »

Nigel Collins

So nothing until Block 4 2027-30 at the earliest. It’s time to invest heavily in UK manufactured equipment and the industry that supports it rather than simply buying off the shelf. Interest rates are low so start investing now. I’ve mentioned longer-range missiles to defeat Russia and China’s ability to counter Stealth technology within the next ten years at least two years ago and since on UKDJ, hopefully, the penny will drop sooner rather than later. We need to be looking closer to home as well with a missile defence system (Aster 30 Block 1NT-2 BMD) along with an anti-ship… Read more »

Nigel Collins

An excellent post by the way, interesting to note the sources for it. Many of which I’ve used as useful references in the past and very recently.

Meirion X

Anti ballistic missile defense systems are only really effective when deployed relatively close to an adversary in possession of ballistic missiles. So if the adversary launches it’s missiles the anti missiles would be launch to intercept the ballistic missiles in their boost stage. The USA is planning to deploy ABM systems in Eastern Europe.

Cruise missiles can be intercepted much later in flight by air defense missiles like Aster 30, due to their relatively low level flight paths.


Schoolboy question. Why do we need both Warrior upgrade and Ajax?

Mr Bell

I dont think we do Paul. I think retain and upgrade Challenger 2 to the envisioned standard , so APS, new engines, 130mm rifles gun. Warrior should go to retain heavy armour. The minute we dispose of challenger 2 we lose our armies combat endurance and ability to stand our ground. Any army facing a force of MBTs without it’s own, quickly will get overrun and removed from the battlefield. In a peer vs peer conflict can we guarantee total air superiority over a contested battlefront. No. Therefore n upgraded challenger 2 has to be retained.


I agree we need to have a MBT. But haven’t we chosen a Gucci turret upgrade and new engines? Aren’t the only things that really need upgrading the sensors and APS?

Daniele Mandelli

I support the MBT and the WCSP.

The retention of the MBT, even in reduced numbers, must be a priority.

However, I would accept the loss of Warrior provided the remaining money committed to it, the guns and turrets are transferred onto Boxer, and more MIV ordered. Makes an all MIV fleet of 8 Battalions rather than 4/4 as currently planned.


Though I’d not be terribly happy about putting the infantry supporting tracked MBT’s entirely on Wheeled APC’s.
It’s the Ajax “medium tank”/Boxer dynamic writ even larger.


Problem is you’re describing a new tank – gun armor turret and engine. If we need a new tank we should buy a new tank not just try to build it inefficiently by ripping down an old tank and patching it together – therein lies the well trodden path to Nimrod MR4A


The main difference between the upgraded warrior and ajax is that warrior can carry infantry. The ajax is packed pull of additional electronics and communication equipment so if warrior is cancelled it will be replaced by boxer. I read somewhere the mod had already signed for the new warrior turrets but I suspect they could be integrated into boxer modules if warrior is scrapped.


Is it feasible to cancel Ajax and rely on upgraded Warrior and Boxer? What is unique about Ajax?


Just fills a different role. Boxer and Warrior are primarily troop carriers (Boxer being really a replacement for FV432 and (in concept at least) the Alvis Saxon. In both are supposed to carry a section of infantry into zones where a simple unarmoured Man truck wouldn’t suffice and then provide fire support to that section of infantry via (in warriors case) the 30/40mm gun, or (in Boxers case) withdraw while providing support via it’s .50cal RWS. The Ajax family on the other hand is supposed to replace the CVRT family, with the primary role of driving ahead of a heavy… Read more »

Meirion X

The same for me Dern, thanks for this info!


Ajax will cover our armoured recce requirement. Its full of great senors, powerful sighting systems and very well protected. Warrior is a Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicle and Boxer is a Armoured Personnel Carrier. Both could do recce but not nearly as well.

Warrior CSPs main features are very good protection, tactical mobility and firepower in the form of a 40mm main gun (with APFSDS and HE) and a 7.62 coaxial MG.

Boxer has stategic mobility, good protection, RWS with either a GPMG or 50cal and can deliver more dismounted Infantry.

Meirion X

Yes, I would add that the cost of procuring the new gear is small beer, compared to the big ticket items like aircraft and warships.


Ajax is basically a replacement for the 50 year old CVRT where as the Warrior upgrade armed our only Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicle with a fully statabised and much more lethal 40mm gun, extra armour, better fire control and sighting systems. We really could do with all the upgrade and replacement programs.


Ajax isn’t the same thing as Warrior.
Warrior is a troop carring Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
Ajax is a formation reconaissance/fire support vehicle with a 40mm gun.

Ajax has a commander, gunner, driver and maybe one extra.
Warrior has a crew of three, plus 7 in the back.

Meirion X

I see the Chancellor has had a ride in ajax, he look vey jolly, and enjoying the ride!

Graham Moore

Despite the superficicial similarity of Warrior with its CSP upgrade and Ajax, they are very different vehicles. Warrior was introduced from 1984 to largely supersede FV432 and this equipped what became known as armoured infantry battalions. The AIFV mainstream version carries 7 dismounts in the rear and a crew of 3, one of whom, the Sect Comdr also dismounts. It principally delivers Infantry to Key or Vital ground allowing them to debus with suppressive covering fire from the cannon.Variants are: Inf Commmand, Repair, Recovery, Arty OV, Bty Comd. Veh weighs 25t. Ajax is a new vehicle but has its design… Read more »


Graham, thx for this comprehensive text. Much appreciated.


some people still see this pandemic as a deliberate move by China so it impacts countries economies in such a way,that defence spending is nearly all abolished or cuts made to current or future equipment,and reading into this it seems our government have fallen for it,as our government went way overboard spending what we don,t have,and yet again defense is the back up piggy bank,i only hope that the chancellor is serious about scrapping the Foreign aid budget,which could raise some funds

Mr Bell

Agree Andy. The oxford virology team developing the vaccine stated as much. Cv19 is a naturally occurring but human tweaked disease. Strangely its genome impacts BAME and unfit/ overweight caucasians more severely then Chinese. Hence why China is reporting “just 32000 deaths in a country of +1.4 billion people. It was engineered It was then deliberately unconstrained The Chinese knew that the united western world was too strong therefore weaken them through biological warfare and a pandemic is the perfect way to do this. I think if it is a choice of cutting our armed forces or ending furlough scheme… Read more »

Mr Bell

Yes the Chinese are our great friends. Firstly they lied about the true nature of the pandemic. I’m talking about its clinical attack rate, its morbidity and mortality. These are issues you wouldn’t understand Harold. Then they are happy to sell the UK PPE and medical equipment to treat the disease, that originated and was engineered in their country,at full exorbitant pricing. Conspiracy theory. No just the truth. If you dont believe me just get in contact with the Oxford vaccine development team, who have already widely reported that the viruses genome has been engineered and tweaked by humans. Seeing… Read more »

Meirion X

I very much agree of what you wrote, Mr Bell.

Gavin Gordon

I’m sure that Chinese have not done this deliberately, but they will be very interested in any economic/military fallout that ‘infects’ the west viz their own superpower ambitions. As we know, Rishi Sunak wrote his own warning over other state threats to the UK, principally Russia/Atlantic, just three years ago. His view will not have changed his mind; though now he is Treasury Chancellor it would be interesting to know to what extent he allies himself with Wallace, et al during the Integrated Review. When all is said and done, even if necessary cyber skills form a large part of… Read more »

Mr Bell

Excellent report. A fair and balanced assessment of where we are, the current threats we face with reasonable assumptions of possible future and emerging threats. Now is not the time to cut our armed forces or capabilities. Cyber warfare will not win a real life actual shooting war.
Cummings needs to be shown the door as he is the greatest threat to the protection of our democracy. Being an unelected, ungovernable, law-breaking liability who has zero expertise in strategic military planning.

Nigel Collins

Agreed Mr Bell!

Paul C

Unfortunately Cummings is unlikely to be shown the door as our weak and dependent PM relies on him. The Downing Street operation is effectively being run by a cabal of unelected and ungovernable advisors like Cummings who are hell bent on upsetting the apple cart and hang the consequences. Expertise is not part of the job description so expect a dog’s breakfast of an ‘integrated review’.


One of the better articles I’ve read recently about the 2021 SDSR and the suggestions are sensible, but given the quoted comments from Ben Wallace regarding information age vs industrial age trade off I fear this SDSR will be anything but sensible.

We can but hope, but it seams that it has been over 20 years since we had a sensible threat / objective driven review…

Cheers CR


Th uk would be on the UN Security Council with or without nukes H! We are a permenant member!


Difficult to know where to start with a rebuttal. Firstly, the UK ‘pokes its nose into the business of other countries either to deliver humanitarian aid or to forestall collapse in a state which would threaten lives here and abroad or to defend our lands. The Falklands, hurricane, relief, Bosnia, Ebola in Sierra Leone and Boko Haram come to mind. Sometimes we get it wrong as you might argue we did in Iraq. Life is not perfect. Secondly, heavy armour is needed to defend, take or retake well defended ground. I think there is a case for upgrading Challenger and… Read more »

Mark F

Corvid 19 a global pandemic but alas it seems th uk cannot afford what it already has in its inventory let alone new shiny toys. Yet from what I read countries such as Australia, US and even Canada let alone such States as Russia seem to be immune from cuts. All I can say is we must be so close to bankruptcy that before you know it us miere mortals will soon be living in mud huts in order to pay the EUs divorce bill. Hang on I get it! We go bankrupt no money to the EU.


EU divorce bill isn’t really understood, it’s just the cost of stuff we had already agreed to fund, it’s not an exit cost like people seem to think. Its got nothing to do with brexit why the country is bust, it comes down to successive governments winning votes by tax cuts etc paid for by borrowing and that coming to roost when the banking crisis hit. Our public purse was a mess well before covid/brexit or banking crisis. We are a lot closer economically to Greece or Italy than we are to Canada/Australia as they balanced their books all these… Read more »

Meirion X

Like pensions and redundancy pay for UK nationals employed by the EU?

Daniele Mandelli

TLDR…or TCDR. You work it out.

Robert Blay

I think COVID-19 has shown us all how potential unconventional warfare could be so affective. And how our day to day lives can be so easily turned on it’s head. A virus or a targeted cyber attack on our critical infrastructure could bring a country to it’s knees without firing a single shot. chaos would soon follow if supermarket supply chains where heavily affected eg. We all witnessed the panic buying back in late March. Although it’s not as ‘sexy’ as talking about Typhoons and warships, it’s now just as important as our conventional force’s. And we need to be… Read more »


My assumption is the next defense review will be all about cyber and cutting capability to pay for better cyber defenses. What i would like to understand is what exactly is the government working on around cyber. No question the US has a significantly better financed cyber defense unit and yet their elections were hit hard. What politicians/media outlets seem to forget is the external actors are not going after governmental infrastructure, but are legitimately using social media sites (paid posts / adverts). To stop it, the social media sites (to be fair they did do something when their reputation… Read more »

Supportive Bloke

A very interesting article – thank you for taking the time to put it together. The elephant in the room is, as always, numbers of ships built. If tiny numbers, per design, they rapidly get very expensive. I am not sure that the original Ocean price would be reproducible it was a very strange approach to buying a contract for keeping a yard going. And I am certain that the RN would not want something so cheaply built on its hands again. Ocean was really suffering with cheap bits failing all the time by OSD. Think of it this way.… Read more »

Paul T

Im not too sure HMS Ocean was in that bad a shape,it was assessed with HMS Illustrious and was kept on the books for longer.

Paul C

Because Illustrious was a much older ship and Ocean judged to be more suitable for the amphibious role. Unlike the Invincibles Ocean was an austerity design and very much built on the cheap. Her planned service life was a maximum of 20 years and she was was never intended for the hard life she ended up leading.


Haroldski Your demands seem like a wish list of what the UK’s foes want us to do, keep trying though , for mother Russia!!!! lol


Well your views as so ludicrous and negative what do you expect lol!!


Haroldov or Haroldev, otherwise you are implying he is Polish.


Presumption I’m afraid, why would you presume that someone called Iqbal to be an Arab! Oh dear maybe subconcious bias creeping in old man.


Well the Tories & Labour are now neck & neck at 40% in the opinion polls. So Boris has lost his lead. This should be a wake up call to him. He would be daft to cut things made in “red wall” seats that fell to him last December, but now look like going back to Labour in 2024.


It ranks high for those whose jobs depend on it.


Boris doesn’t care at this point, he has 4 years to go and a lot can change in that period. We are in the point of the election cycle that the government can get away with whatever they like, as not worry about the next election.


Except the next 4 years are likely to be pain not gain. Leave it too late & the Tories will not regain the lead in time.

Meirion X

It’s possible that If Labour keeps it up, they could well win in Scotland next year?


Rosa Klebb has used Covid to order Scots about. Does the average Scot like that?
Meanwhile, South Korea has just raised its defence budget 5%.

Gavin Gordon

Until events start to look threatening, Harold, when it trumps all others. It’s the tipping point that governments are constantly gambling against. A high stakes Russian roulette (!) which inevitably explodes in the public’s face. They don’t like that and will start to look askance at their leaders before then.


You have hit the nail on the head and this is what i find so damning about the political class, that they are willing to play games with our security and safety for their own short term political interests. Sooner or later the reckless and senseless decisions they have made over the last decades and particularly since David Cameron’s disastrous tenure will come home to roost, i had hoped Boris had learnt from that debacle but the vibe coming out of the government and through the media suggest not, i fear another cut and slash job is on its way


Lots of words Harold to basically just spout labour liberal party rubbish


Still weak replies, lacking knowledge and subject matter experience, going to have to be a 2 out of 10 today gramps! Keep plugging away you may improve!


Good article thx 👍

Meirion X

@Troll H
Just Another one of Your Anti British rants!
The regularly of Your rants now verges on the psychotic!

You Do sprout utter such rubbish!

You don’t seem have the intelligence to understand that Japan has two and half times the debt ratio as the UK, and they are still ordering more F-35s and
So if Britain’s debt is only about 38% of Japan’s debt, so we can afford of what we spending on our military. How come you are a businessman if you didn’t understand this?


Simple answer is Japan has a clear and very present threat in China to worry about. Realistically Russia isn’t a threat to the UK main land, and so the public/polictical interest in spending the money isn’t there. Spending money to defend other countries at a time of xenophobia running riot isn’t really going to win votes.

Meirion X

Countries run their finances much differently than households or businesses, Not just in Britain, but across the world.
Britain has had over long periods of time low and medium debt ratios, with the exception of World Wars and the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008.

Meirion X

If Britain had ran it’s finances like a business, it would certainly Not have given up its Empire!


Excellent article. But, and no doubt I will be called a cynic, UK defence reviews are all about saving money, under a thin veneer of addressing strategic needs. This one, given the economic background caused by Brexit and Covid, will be worse than most.


Totally agree !


I doubt defence spending will bankrupt the UK,its 2% of GDP and if we cancelled all defence spending tomorrow it wouldn’t make much difference, our interest payments alone are over double the defence budget. In fact the one area to invest is defence, its one area where the WTO US EU or others cannot stay its state aid. Germany has recognised this as it knows other infrastructure investment would need to be competitive and open to other nations. Smart investment in defence could reap commercial rewards, like hybrid/electric aircraft propulsion RnD investment could allow UK to lead a new sector.… Read more »


The reality is the amount spent on defence is relatively small when compared to the £160BN spent on the NHS or the £220BN spent on benefits
Replacing Ocean and Argus: £700m
Upgrading all of the Challengers: £1bn
Adding 500 more Boxers: £2.5bn
80 F35As to replace Tornado: £6bn
48 F35Bs: £4bn
5 more T31s: £1.25bn
2 more T26S: £2bn
20 more Merlins: £800m
Total: £16.25bn amortised over 10 years £1.62bn. So move across 15% from the Foreign Aid budget (perfectly justifiable considering how much of our forces time is spent on HADR) and we will have what we need?


The foreign aid budget won’t be reassigned to defence, it will be needed to help with trade deals and related promises and influence. This is why it now falls under the same ministry and foreign affairs.

Unless defence has a greater emphasis in the public consciousness then no Govt will prioritise it over the NHS or welfare (which includes state pensions). Unfortunately the general public don’t see it as an issue and just assume we have what we need to defend our interests. Until we are embarrassed in some way by our lack of investment things won’t change.


I’d add that our best hope in the short term is pressure from the US to up our defence budget and capabilities in return for a trade deal.


Foreign aid is usually delivered by the armed forces. Even as I type this I can see a story saying “British C17 delivers cold storage containers to beirut”. But it perhaps isnt important where it comes from: the wish list above is very affordable if considered within the £850BN the government spends every year. A lot of people say there are no votes in defence; I’m unsure. Its a niche example but I follow UK Heliopps as I’m local to them and the amount of support they get from the public suggests to me a lot of people very much… Read more »

Paul C

Yes, defence is not regarded as a major issue by most voters and this has been the case for some time. The economy and public services, on the other hand, are. Unlike during the Cold War years there is currently little or no perception of a direct or immediate threat to the UK.

I would also argue that the costly and fruitless campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan not only damaged our international and military reputation but also blunted any public appetite for military interventions. In other words, keep our heads down on the world stage and prioritise affairs at home.


Oh dear oh dear……


As normal we will see “innovation and Cyber” used as an excuse for cuts to all three services. As a military we have no depth, limited kinetic effect and no prospect of it improving anytime soon. However we do have a lot of niche areas where we are second only to the US, and biggest contributor in Europe, examples being ISTAR, RFA, Amphib, Heavy Lift, Med lift Heli etc. And we should priotise these committments to NATO. But contary to what some contributors state, most European nations are in the same weakend state, some in fact are shockingly bad, noticable… Read more »

r cummings

A very good and informative article, thanks author and UKDJ. However, I do not agree with the over-emphasis on the navy, which would inevitably be the junior service in any conflict short of a serious encounter with China. . We face two principal threats that we are ill-prepared to handle. One is a resurgent and reckless Russia which, emboldened by the US withdrawl from Europe and the parlous state of NATO Europe’s conventional defences, has broken international law 4 times by invading neighbouring countries and annexing 3 territorieso (South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea), fomenting a civil war in Ukraine, etc, etc.… Read more »


Correct on all counts but we need to be realistic! There will be no new money, no real new initiatives or capabilities. In my opinion we need to concentrate and stabailse what we have and priortise the niche capabilities we are already top players in. Yes the army is in shit state and Russia has shown to be a bear with a Putin directed sore head! However unless we are able to pre-deploy armoured assets on the continent, our limited Armoured Div will be unable to deploy in time, even with a little notice in any pre Russian build up.… Read more »


Andes…WTF should read reinforcement Bdes!

George Parker

Our armed forces need massive and immediate investment. The entire overseas aid budget should be devoted to that end. The situation is so desperate that arguments over which AFV or MBT’s to upgrade or trade off against the other are irrelevant. Our armed force has already been reduced well below it’s minimum effective strength.

Steve R

That will never happen, however. Any government that diverted funds from overseas aid to defence will be murdered by opposition parties. Plus it builds a lot of soft power for the UK and may lead the way to trade deals.

To be honest if Rishi Sunak simply removed MoD pensions from the core defence budget that would go a long way to righting things.

George Parker

A government with a suitable majority and good reason, could do this in one mini budget. After all, defence is their primary raison d’être. As for “may lead to trade deals.” Therein lies the solution. No trade, no aid. Trade profits used to fund defence. Stop aiding terrorists or we stop aid. Boycott the CCP or … etc As things stand, only Nepal and very few others deserve our financial help. Given the CCP turned a local epidemic into a global pandemic deliberately. I can’t think of a better reason to build up our military ASAP. If Pres. Trump wins… Read more »

Barry Curtis

The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2020/21 may reveal what hard choices the MOD will need to consider, following the financial downturn that the government overall will face in the years to come. The pandemic has now shown how fragile life is, what the ongoing review needs to consider is that defence will see its finances shrink, and what remains needs to be re-balanced to fill in the black holes.This will mean that all sacred parts of defence will need to be placed on the table with the nuclear deterrent being a prime target for axing alongside all tracked vehicles.… Read more »

Barry Curtis

Following on from my previous thoughts on this topic, the MOD will always be expecting extra money to counter the poorly budgeted defence projects, the strangest thing is, with the budget that the MOD currently has, the armed forces should be twice the size and well equipped. On reflection at least the same size as the US Marine Corp, who operate with a smaller budget. The MOD is remarkably like how the country is feeling now, it is trying to re-discover its true purpose in the world, and at the same time hold on to its great power status. By clinging to… Read more »