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There are three main ways to measure the number of military personnel (also known as strength): the total full-time UK Armed Forces, total full-time trained UK Armed Forces, or the total full-time UK Regular Forces.

The total full-time UK Armed Forces is the most comprehensive of the three measures. It comprises trained and untrained members of the UK Regular Forces, Gurkhas and full-time reserve service personnel (FTRS).

The total full-time trained UK Armed Forces is perhaps the most important measure as this is what the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (2015 SDSR) personnel targets are based on.

The 2015 SDSR targets

The 2015 SDSR indicated that the required number of full-time trained UK Armed Forces personnel by 2020 would be 144,200 and re-affirmed the Government’s commitment to increase the size of the trained strength of the reserve forces (known as Future Reserves 2020) to 35,060 personnel.

UK Armed Forces

The total strength of the full-time UK Armed Forces (trained and untrained) at 1 April 2020 was just under 155,000. Most personnel were within the Army (56%) with the remainder being equally split between the Royal Navy/Royal Marines and the RAF.

Across all services there were 29,800 Officers (19%) and 124,600 personnel with other ranks (81%). The distribution of Officers to other ranks varied across each service: around a quarter of all RAF personnel were an Officer (25%) compared to less than a fifth (17%) in the Army.

As at 1 April 2020 all branches of the UK Armed Forces were below the 2015 SDSR target for 2020. The full-time trained strength of the UK Armed Forces was 132,451 which is a shortfall of 11,749 (8%). The Army had the largest proportional shortfall (10%) and the Royal Navy/Royal Marines the smallest (5%).

Future Reserves 2020

The Future Reserves 2020 (FR2020) refers to the programme begun under the Coalition Government (2010-15) to expand the size of the trained element of the Armed Forces Reserves, increase the circumstances in which they might be deployed, and better integrate the reserves with the regulars.

This policy was driven by the findings of an independent commission into the Reserves in 2011 and encapsulated in a 2013 White Paper ‘Reserves in Future Force 2020: valuable and valued (Cm 8655). The Defence Reform Act 2014 removed limitations on how the Reserves could be used and changed the name of the Territorial Army to Army Reserve.

The Ministry of Defence provided revised trained strength targets for the Reserves in November 2016 (HCWS248), revising those announced in December 2013.

The original December 2013 target was based on the number of trained personnel (those who have passed Phase 1 and Phase 2 training). Following the change in definition of the trained strength for the UK Regular Army and Army Reserve in 2016, the measurement/target for the Army Reserve is based on those who have passed Phase 1 only. The Maritime and RAF Reserves targets were unchanged.

The November 2016 statement set the trained strength targets for 31 March 2019 at 35,060 personnel: 30,100 personnel for the Army Reserve, 3,100 personnel for the Maritime Reserve, and 1,860 personnel for the RAF Reserve.

The RAF Reserve is the only element of the FR2020 to have achieved its targeted strength. The Maritime Reserve is close to achieving its target – by 1 April 2020 it was shy of its 3,100 target by 226 personnel. The Army Reserve is currently missing its target by 3,100 personnel; this is despite the change in the trained strength measurement/target which occurred in October 2016. Overall, the trained strength of personnel within the FR2020 programme at 1 April 2020 was 33,000 – this is a deficit of 2,141 against the target.

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