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The Government published the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 on 23 November 2015. It sets out the Government’s approach to national security.

This briefing paper focuses on the armed forces and how the forces will be configured to support the overarching national security strategy. In other words, how will the armed forces be configured, manned and equipped to respond to the threats and priorities identified. An accompanying Library Briefing Paper takes a broader look at the national security strategy: The 2015 UK National Security Strategy (CBP-7431).

A new force structure

The SDSR outlined a new force structure building on the Future Force 2020 model unveiled in its 2010 predecessor. Renamed Joint Force 2025 it will provide, if required, an expeditionary force of 50,000 personnel. When not deployed at this scale the armed forces will be expected to undertake a large number of smaller operations simultaneously. The SDSR says Joint Force 2025 will be underpinned by significant policy changes for the recruitment and retention of personnel; a stronger international focus on defence and a defence innovation initiative.

The Navy will be able to provide a maritime task group will be based around the new aircraft carrier entering service during this Parliament. The Navy will however only receive 8 rather than 13 of the new Type 26 frigates and will instead develop a new, lighter frigate.

The Army will develop two new Strike Brigades equipped with new Ajax armoured vehicles. These Strike Brigades, together with two armoured infantry brigades, will provide the core of a war fighting division optimised for high intensity combat operations.

The RAF will fly an expanded combat aircraft fleet supported by transport and surveillance aircraft.

The armed forces’ role in projecting soft power globally is interwoven throughout the document. Defence engagement becomes a core task of the MOD and new defence staffs in key locations will be established.

More money for equipment

An additional £12bn is to be added to the equipment budget over the next ten years. The MOD had only two months prior to the SDSR published its annual defence equipment plan out for the next ten years to 2025. This new money brings the ten year equipment plan to £178bn.

Special Forces gain from this increase, with a doubling in money spent on equipment supporting them. This includes investment in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft.

However the SDSR also announced a £6bn increase in the overall cost of the Successor programme, the programme to replace the submarines that form part of the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent (Trident). This means the Successor programme is expected to cost £31bn over its 20 year acquisition timeframe, with a contingency of £10bn.

Major equipment decisions

This SDSR, unlike its 2010 predecessor, focused on what the armed forces would gain rather than what would be cut. The most significant announcements include the procurement of nine new Maritime Patrol Aircraft, extending the life of the Vanguard (Trident) submarines, an accelerated buy of the new Lightning II aircraft enabling more aircraft to be embarked on the new carriers when they enter service, and a reduction in the expected number of Type 26 frigates alongside a commitment to an overall fleet size of 19 frigates and destroyers. A new Shipbuilding Strategy will be published in 2016 which will provide some clarity on the build plans for the Navy’s new frigates and patrol vessels.

The Chief of the Defence Staff described the choices made in what capabilities to invest in as “a careful balance of counter terrorist capability, hard power investment: and a clear recalibration to better meet some of the more diverse challenges of the age.”

Small increase in personnel for the Navy and RAF

After a period of redundancies and reductions in size, there will be no further cuts to the regular armed forces. The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will receive a small increase of 700 personnel between them. The MOD will continue working on making the armed forces an attractive choice for both recruits and to retain those already serving. The plan to increase Reserve forces will continnue.

The MOD’s civilian headcount will be cut by almost 30% by the end of this Parliament.


The overall reaction to the SDSR was broadly positive and the increased spending on equipment welcomed. The new MPA, additional combat squadrons and new Strike Brigades drew particular attention, as did the changes made to the Successor programme, including the cost increase and programme management. However concerns about manpower, particularly for the Royal Navy, were widespread. Defence enthusiasts also noted the lack of detailed information about how and when specific capabilities will be implemented.

Contrary to 2010, on this occasion the Government opted to publish the NSS and SDSR in one document. The 2010 SDSR was widely perceived to be a Treasury-led, cost-cutting review that resulted in major personnel and equipment cuts.

About this briefing paper

An at-a-glance section outlines the most significant announcements in the NSS/SDSR that affect the armed forces. The following three sections then briefly identify the military tasks given to the Ministry of Defence, the MOD’s planning assumptions and the risks identified in the national security risk assessment that directly involve the MOD.

The People and Equipment section briefly lists the main equipment/manpower decisions in the document, ending with a more detailed analysis of some of the most prominent programmes.

The strategic nuclear deterrent (Trident) Successor Programme is afforded a section of its own.

The remaining sections run through military support to civil authorities, defence engagement (relations with allies) and Government relations with the defence industry. Parliamentary and media reaction to the NSS/SDSR is provided at the end.

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