House of Commons Library

The defence capability review: equipment

Published Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A simple introduction to the front-line equipment of the UK armed forces. The Government is reviewing its defence capabilities.

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This briefing paper provides a simple overview of the vessels, land equipment and aircraft of the UK armed forces. It is not intended to present a complete account of all the equipment of the armed forces but simply an introduction to current and planned capabilities and an explanation of what they do.

The paper has been written for the debate The Government’s review of defence capability on Thursday 19 October 2017. An accompanying debate pack is  also available to MPs.

The context of the debate is:

A National Security Capability Review

The Government announced in July 2017 that the National Security Advisor will conduct a national security capability review. The Government last conducted a major review of its defence capabilities for the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (Cm 9161) which was published in November 2015. The next SDSR is due in 2020 but there have been calls for the SDSR to be refreshed in light of Brexit, which the SDSR did not discuss.

The Government has said relatively little about the review, although the Defence Secretary said in late September: “as the dangers we identified in our 2015 Defence Review intensify, we are reviewing our national security capabilities to ensure our investment remains as joined-up, effective and efficient as possible”. It is unclear when or in what format the defence capability review will be published.

Pressure on the defence budget

The Defence Equipment Plan 2016, published on 27 January 2017, lays out a £178bn spending plan for the next decade 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”. The NAO particularly highlighted the £24.4bn of new commitments added to the equipment plan by the 2015 SDSR and expressed reservations about the ability of the MOD to make the planned efficiency savings required to fund the plan:

It is worrying to see that the costs of the new commitments arising from the Review considerably exceed the net increase in funding for the Plan. The difference is to be found partly by demanding efficiency targets. There is little room for unplanned cost growth and the MoD must actively guard against the risk of a return to previous practice where affordability could only be maintained by delaying or reducing the scope of projects.

The NAO added that the equipment plan is vulnerable to changes in foreign exchange rates, noting that approximately £18.6bn is to be paid in US dollars.

Pressure on the defence equipment budget, including from foreign exchange rates, combined with the mini-review, has prompted a flurry of reports in the media speculating as to ‘where the axe might fall’.

Purpose of this briefing paper

This briefing paper is intended to serve as an aid to those needing an introduction to the different types of major equipment platforms operated by the UK armed forces, be they frigates, tanks or combat aircraft. Focus has been given to the more prominent current and planned front-line capabilities and as such, it is not intended to provide a complete account of all of the equipment of the armed forces.

Equipment numbers, unless otherwise stated, are taken from Defence Statistics’ annual publication UK Armed Forces Equipment and Formations 2017, which gives numbers as of 1 April 2017. This also gives ‘in service’ numbers which, Defence Statistics notes, varies across equipment types and between Services. Full details can be found in the publication and associated excel documents.

 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8112

Author: Louisa Brooke-Holland

Topics: Armed forces, Defence equipment and procurement, NATO

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