In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Western allies and other partners across the globe have imposed an unprecedented package of coordinated sanctions against Russia.
This page highlights some of the current issues affecting UK defence policy and global military operations, with links to Library Briefing Papers examining them in more detail.
Defence Command Paper Refresh
The Ministry of Defence is expected to publish a refresh of its 2021 Defence Command Paper, setting out its vision for the armed forces, in June. In March the Government published its refresh of the 2021 Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy. See Library paper The Integrated Review Refresh 2023: What has changed since 2021?
UK Defence expenditure
In 2021/22, the UK spent £45.9 billion on defence. This was £3.6 billion higher than the previous year (£2.5 billion higher after accounting for the effects of inflation). The Ministry of Defence received a four-year settlement at Spending Review 2020, when the Government allocated an additional £16.5 billion to the defence budget over the period 2020/21 to 2024/25. The Government described this as the “largest sustained increase in the core defence budget for 30 years”. See Library paper UK defence expenditure
Armed Forces Personnel
The 2021 census in England and Wales included a question on veterans for the first time. Across England and Wales, 1.85 million people reported that they had previously served in the UK armed forces (76% in the regular forces, 19% in the reserve forces and 4% in both). This represents 3.8% (almost 1 in 25) of the total population aged 16 or over. Overall, 7.0% of households in England and Wales included one or more veterans. See Library paper Constituency data: UK armed forces veterans, 2021 census
On 24 February 2022 Russia launched military action in Ukraine, with forces crossing into the country from Belarus in the north, Russia in the east and Crimea in the south. President Putin said it was a “special military operation” intended to protect the people of the Donbas and to “demilitarise and denazify Ukraine”. He denied that Russia planned to occupy Ukrainian territory or to “impose anything on anyone by force”. The UK’s military assistance to Ukraine is examined in Library paper Military assistance to Ukraine since the Russian invasion. Other research relating to the conflict, including sanctions, energy security, international legal issues, NATO, and implications for the UK is available on the Library’s The conflict in Ukraine hub.
NATO has been increasing its military presence along its eastern borders in response to Russian action in Ukraine. Library paper NATO: Reinforcing its eastern flank discusses how and where NATO has established and increased its military presence along its eastern flank in response to Russian activity since 2014. The next NATO Summit will be in Vilnius, Lithuania, 11 to 12 July 2023.
UK forces in the Middle East
The UK has forces deployed across the Middle East as part of Operation Shader (Iraq/Syria) and in support of maritime operations in region (primarily Operation Kipion). See Library Paper UK forces in the Middle East region.
UK forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021. In March 2023 an independent inquiry into alleged unlawful activity by British forces in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013 was officially launched.
The Procurement Bill and the defence procurement regulations
The Government intends to repeal the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011 (DSPCR) as part of a wider overhaul of Government procurement regulations. Report Stage of the Procurement Bill in the House of Commons is scheduled for 13 June 2023.
Ajax is the Army’s new armoured fighting vehicle programme. Costing £5.5 billion, it is the biggest single order for a UK armoured vehicle in more than 20 years and will replace the Army’s ageing fleet of tracked reconnaissance vehicles. However, the vehicle’s entry into service has been repeatedly delayed and the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) management of the programme criticised by the National Audit Office, the Defence select committee and the Public Accounts committee. See Library paper Ajax: The British Army’s troubled armoured vehicle programme
The UK nuclear deterrent
Since 2006 work has been underway on several programmes that will maintain the UK’s nuclear deterrent beyond the life of the current system. Much of the focus in that time has been on the delivery of a new class of ballistic missile submarine (the Dreadnought class), which are expected to enter service from the early 2030s, and cost £31 billion (with a £10 billion contingency); Library paper, Replacing the UK’s Nuclear Deterrent: Progress of the Dreadnought Class examines this in more detail. In February 2020, the Government also confirmed the existence of a programme to replace the UK’s Mks4/A nuclear warhead from the late 2030s; See Library paper Replacing the UK’s nuclear deterrent: The Warhead Programme. The cost of the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent is examined in Library paper The cost of the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent
Protecting the network of undersea cables and pipelines
The attack on the Nord Stream pipelines in September 2022 highlighted the vulnerability of undersea infrastructure, such as cables carrying internet services and energy pipelines, to malicious attack. NATO says Russia is “actively mapping” critical infrastructure on the seabed. The Ministry of Defence has accelerated the procurement of a new ship specifically to detect threats to the seabed and cables. RFA Proteus is expected to begin operating in summer 2023; see Library paper Seabed warfare: Protecting the UK’s undersea infrastructure
Armed Forces Housing
The maintenance and repair of service family accommodation has long been an issue for armed forces personnel. Complaints about the service provided by the new contractors began to emerge in the latter half of 2022. See Library paper Armed forces family housing: Maintenance issues. Separately, the Ministry of Defence recently won a court case with Annington Homes Ltd, which owns most of the armed forces family housing stock in the UK. See Library paper Armed forces family housing and Annington Homes.
Current operations and deployments
Each service provides information on their current operations and deployments on their website:
Information about committee activity, relevant legislation and debates in Parliament can be found on News from Parliament on military operations.
A briefing paper on the history, functions and membership of the Privy Council
A briefing paper on the first year of the reign of King Charles III, with a focus on constitutional and ceremonial events which have taken place between the King's accession in September 2022 and Accession Day in September 2023.