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The Government has not given a date for when it intends to publish the National Security Capabilities Review. The Financial Times has reported the review may be split with decisions on the future of the armed forces pushed back until later in the year. From a defence perspective, much attention (and Parliamentary time) has been given to what this might mean for the armed forces. Public speculation has focused on suggestions that the Royal Marines and two major Naval ships, HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, could be vulnerable. Media have reported Brazil is to buy HMS Ocean when it leaves service this year. The Government’s annual update on the Dreadnought programme confirmed a decision on replacing the warhead for the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent will be required this Parliament. Library paper The defence capability review: equipment provides an introduction to the front-line equipment of the armed forces. 

The annual defence equipment plan, setting out the MOD’s planned spending on equipment for the next decade, is usually published in January. The 2016 plan laid out £178bn in spending to 2025-26. The National Audit Office said in response “the risks to the affordability of the Ministry of Defence Equipment Plan are greater than at any point since reporting began in 2012”. There are particular concerns about the vulnerability of the defence budget to fluctuations in exchange rates – the NAO estimated approximately £18.6bn of the 2016 plan is to be paid in US dollars. The Defence Committee was similarly sceptical of the MOD’s ability to find the efficiency savings needed to fund the equipment budget in its report on the acquisition process published in December. How the Department interacts with industry was the subject of the Defence Industrial Policy Refresh, published just before Christmas. The MOD pledged to improve the way defence delivers wider economic and international value, to help UK industry to be internationally competitive and to make it easier for businesses to do business with defence. Library paper UK defence expenditure looks at current and historical defence spending as well as international comparisons.

The annual report on the Armed Forces Covenant was also published at the tail end of the last session. Maintenance of service accommodation, childcare provision and managing the transition to civilian life were highlighted as areas the MOD intends to focus on in the future. Recruitment and retention of personnel continues to also be a worry, amid media reports that the Army could be further reduced in size. All three services are under their required strength. Library paper UK defence personnel statistics contains a wealth of statistical information on personnel numbers.

The Ministry of Defence published the following reports at the end of the last session:

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