The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is the Government’s foremost document on defence strategy. Together with the National Security Strategy it will review the threats the UK faces, what capabilities the UK needs to respond to them and how to configure the Armed Forces accordingly.

When will it be published?

It will be published on Monday 23rd November 2015. The Comprehensive Spending Review will take place on 25th November 2015. No date has yet been given for the National Security Strategy and is it not clear whether it will be a separate document, as it was in 2010, or combined with the SDSR. The Cabinet Office is the lead department for the SDSR.

What was in the 2010 SDSR?

Produced amid the financial crisis and budget cuts – the Comprehensive Spending Review announced an 8% fall in real terms to the defence budget to 2014/15 – the 2010 SDSR made significant changes to the configuration of the armed forces and announced major equipment cuts. These included cancelling the Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft programme; retiring the Harrier aircraft; retiring HMS Ark Royal; switching to the carrier variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and a new Future Force 2020 structure for the Armed Forces.

Reaction to the 2010 SDSR

The SDSR was portrayed as a unique opportunity to rebalance the UK’s defence priorities, commitments and spending.  However it subsequently came under considerable criticism which crystallised around two themes:

  • That it was a Treasury-led review, dictated by budgetary considerations, rather than a truly strategic assessment of the resources needed by the armed forces
  • The reductions to personnel numbers and cuts to equipment, prompting concern about the ability of the armed forces to fulfil all the tasks expected of them.

Expectations for the 2015 SDSR

The circumstances in which the 2015 SDSR are undertaken are vastly different to the situation in 2010. The Treasury has confirmed it will devote 2% of GDP on defence spending and the MOD’s budget will increase by 0.5% (above inflation) each year from 2016/7 to 2020/21.

The end of combat operations in Afghanistan means it is no longer the priority for Defence and attention has switched to combating ISIL/Daesh in the Middle East. The attacks in Paris has prompted renewed debate about whether the UK should extend offensive military operations to Syria.

The SDSR and NSS are expected to reflect what seems to be a more unstable global security environment with radical jihadist groups carrying out indiscriminate attacks in a range of countries. Russia barely featured in 2010 but is likely to merit far more attention this time round.

Broader themes underlying the SDSR are a call to be more international, more efficient and more innovative.

Significant developments under the Coalition and Current Government

The 2010 SDSR announced significant changes to the configuration of the armed forces and an internal reform programme for the Ministry of Defence. Some of these elements are ongoing and the briefing paper provides a snapshot of some of the changes to personnel, equipment projects and reform programmes begun under the Coalition Government that are likely to feature in the 2015 SDSR.

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