The Government has outlined plans to invest £2.5bn in the UK Armed Forces to enable it to 'get there first' in refreshed plans to improve the UK military's warfighting readiness.
The Defence Command Paper Refresh (DCP23), published today, outlines the investment in stockpiles of kit and a Global Response Force, to keep the UK "on track to act as a global heavyweight both now and in the future", according to the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
And Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has told the Commons that the Defence Command Paper refresh is focused on how to "drive the lessons" of Ukraine into the UK's "core business".
The Defence Secretary, who said this is "likely to be one of my last appearances at this despatch box" after confirming on Saturday he plans to resign at the next Cabinet reshuffle, also told MPs the UK's "strategic advantage" derives from four key sources, which require "urgent prioritisation".
Headline announcements at a glance:
- £400m is to be spent modernising accommodation that UK "service families deserve".
- £2.5 billion additional investment in weapons and kit stockpiles to improve fighting readiness
- A greater focus on science and technology to gain the edge on the battlefield, enhancing capabilities in robotics, human augmentation, directed energy weapons and advanced materials
- A Global Response Force that enables the UK to 'get there first', bringing together deployed and high-readiness forces, and drawing on capabilities from all domains
- An improved surge capacity through the Strategic Reserve, built around the ex-regular reserve forces to add further depth and expertise in times of crisis
- A new alliance with industry, engaging much earlier in strategic conversations and building in greater financial headroom to respond to changing needs
- A new employment model and skills framework, increasing fluidity between the military, the Civil Service and industry, while offering a more compelling and competitive incentivisation package.
No 'shiny' new announcements
There are no "shiny" new announcements in the Defence Command Paper refresh, Mr Wallace said.
Making a statement, the Defence Secretary told the Commons: "As Russia has so effectively proven, there is no point having parade ground armies, mass ranks of men and machines if they cannot be integrated as a single full spectrum force, sustain in the field under all demands of modern warfighting.
"That takes professional forces, well-equipped and rapidly adaptable, supported by critical enablers and vast stockpiles of munitions.
"And that is why, in this document, you won't find [a] shiny new announcement, comms-led policy driving unsustainable force designs…"
The MOD said the DCP23 takes learnings from Ukraine's war with Russia and wider threats to the UK's security to set out a "plan to deliver a credible warfighting force".
Broken down into chapters based on priorities, the paper focuses on; people; science, innovation and technology; industry; productivity; deterrence and defence; campaigning and global competition; strength through our partnerships; and strategic resilience.
A headline announcement for personnel is that £400m is to be spent modernising accommodation that UK "service families deserve".
This comes after waves of complaints over the state of military housing and assurances in a Christmas 2022 letter from Defence Secretary Ben Wallace that the "unacceptable" situation surrounding military families' accommodation was a priority.
Mr Wallace told the Commons: "And since all our Armed Forces personnel deserve the best quality accommodation, we are injecting a further £400m to improve our service accommodation in the next two years.
"Many of us over Christmas would have been frustrated by the support our service personnel and the families receive from those tasked with looking after their accommodation.
"It is for that reason I've withheld their profit and used the money to free for one year only the rent increases our personnel were due to pay."
People and employment
He went on: "Taken together alongside such initiatives as wraparound childcare, they are intended to enrich careers and enhance the ability of our most talented people to keep protecting the British people and to ensure they are rewarded and fulfilled while they do so."
Mr Wallace also unveiled "a new employment model and skills framework for our Armed Forces".
He added: "It will offer our people a spectrum, a service that allows far greater career flexibility, making it easier for military personnel to zigzag between different roles where the regular rules of war between the civil service and industry, we are transforming our forces.
The Defence Secretary added that there will be an "overall employment offer" made to personnel, providing a much more "compelling" and "competitive incentive package".
Global Response Force
As well as the investment, a Global Response Force will be established to allow the UK to deploy a high-readiness force with capabilities across all domains.
The DCP23 explains how defence will become a "science and technology superpower", bettering the UK's capabilities in robotics, human augmentation, directed energy weapons and advanced materials, to gain the edge on the battlefield.
Mr Wallace told the Commons: "We are establishing a defence's global response force – ready, integrated and lethal.
"It will be better to hear existing forces from across land, sea and air space and cyber to get there fast in response to unpredictable events around the world."
He added: "Crucially, today's paper also recognises that it is in the interconnected world the UK is unlikely to act alone.
"Partnerships are critical to our security and prosperity. So in future, we will be allied by design and national by exception."
Mr Wallace said the UK's support for Nato would remain "ironclad" and "we will continue to prioritise our core relationships. We will invest in deepening relationships with our new partners".
"This is why we invested to expand our global defence network, improving their communications and coordinating defence attachés within our intelligence functions.
"None of this is headline-grabbing stuff, but it is the fine details that make a difference to our national security."
Science and technology
The report sets out how the UK's Armed Forces will modernise to the changing global landscape, with the MOD saying science and technology will be prioritised to "ensure we have a force greater than the sum of our parts".
Mr Wallace told the Commons that the paper will look at "further strengthening our scientific and technological base".
He said: "We are already world leaders in specific areas, but to continue matching our adversaries, we must stay ahead of the curve in digital, in data, and the emergence of scientific fields.
"In 2021, we said we would invest £6.6bn in advanced research and development. In fact, we are now investing significantly more to stay ahead in the technologies proving themselves vital on the battlefields of Ukraine, such as AI, quantum and robotics.
"And we are enabling a culture of innovation across defence, pulling through those R&D breakthroughs to the frontline."
He added: "Following in Ukraine's footsteps, we are increasingly sourcing those £100 solutions that can stop 100 million threats in their track, winning both the kinetic and economic exchange of modern warfare."
On a planned new alliance with industry, Mr Wallace said: "Of course, our ability to do that depends on the quality of our relationship with the industry, which is our third priority.
"I'm pushing the MOD to form a closer alliance with our industrial partners, a genuine partnership to sustain our defence will mean doing things differently. Ukraine reminds us that time waits for no-one.
"It's no good holding out for the 100% solution that is obsolete by the time it's launched. 80% is often good enough, especially if it means swiftly putting the kit into the hands of our service personnel."
"Capabilities that can be rapidly upgraded, spiral developed for the relentless cycles of battlefield adoption to win the innovation battle.
"And instead of sticking to acquisition programs that drag on for decades, we're setting maximum delivery periods, five years for hardware and three years for digital programmes.
"Our fourth priority is productivity and campaigning in order to face this increasingly contested and volatile world.
"We need to make major changes to the machinery of the department and its methods. We are emphasising an ethos focused ruthlessly on the delivery of real-world effects, increasing the bang for buck in everything we do.
"This approach reaches into every part of the defence enterprise from the frontline to the back office and involves a major redesign of the Department of State.
"We must shift our whole organisational culture away from the previous peacetime mentality to one where we live and operate as we would fight, focusing more on outputs and inputs and achieving a better balance between risk and reward."
The report also states the UK military will improve its "surge capacity", built around the ex-regular reserve forces, to add further depth and expertise in time of crisis, build new alliances with industry partners, establish a new employment model and skills framework and spend £400m to modernise accommodation that UK "service families deserve".
Mr Wallace said: "We must adapt and modernise to meet the threats we face, taking in the lessons from President Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
"This Defence Command Paper will sharpen our strategic approach – ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of military capability, and a leading power in Nato.
He told Forces News: "I've always talked about hollowing out. There's no point in having a tank that's got no shell.
"Fundamentally, the first and foremost thing which we've started to place orders – we did one last week, half a billion pounds on more 155 shells, we've placed some orders on some of our anti-air missiles, we've replaced the NLAWs".
"Make sure appetite matches your chequebook. There's no point volunteering Armed Forces around the world on our behalf if we're not properly equipping them".
Mr Wallace added: "We've still got a bit to go in the big programmes, but the big programmes are the complex programmes.
"When you’re procuring something over 15/20 years, there is always going to be an issue. Inflation alone, exchange rates alone, can add hundreds of millions of dollars just to the bill.
"The other problem is threat can change. You can start building an F-35, 22 years in the making, and in the meantime, the enemy does something completely different.
"What this is all about is partly being aware of those changes and make sure that when you buy platforms for the future, that they are open architecture enough, to make sure that you can adapt rapidly to the changes."
It comes after the publication of the Integrated Review Refresh earlier this year, which identifies Russia as the most acute threat to the UK's security.
It also recognised China as a long-term systemic challenge and predicted a more adversarial international system.
Since the publication of the Defence Command Paper in 2021, the UK has led the way in terms of European support for Ukraine and remained a leading contributor to Nato – spending at least 2% of GDP on defence.
But, in the last two years, the world has changed and the MOD said the "threats and challenges we face have evolved, including Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine".
The MOD said with a more "campaigning approach to global competition, the DCP23 will support the Prime Minister's priorities of growing the economy and reducing inflation".
Also, with increased investment of £5bn at the Spring Budget, the defence budget can be planned ahead and, for the first time, will be over £50bn a year.
The MOD said the "certainty over an increased budget will support greater integration between government and UK industry… fundamental to sustaining the fighting force, developing and exploiting new technologies, and producing the equipment we need to sustain the fight".
After the publication of the paper, Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin told Forces News: "For some of our bigger projects, it takes us three to four years to even pull a business case together. That's before you even start to make something. Can we shorten that down enormously? That will help us.
"It's really, really important because the technology is changing at such a fast rate, that we sometimes have the problem that, by the time we bring kit in, it's already starting to be obsolescent and that's insane."
James Heappey, Minister for the Armed Forces, said the paper prioritises investment in "replenishment, modernising our forces and embodying a fully integrated approach to deterrence and defence".
"Our people and their expertise are at the heart of what we do, underpinning our strategic advantage across all domains and delivering a force that deters against threats and defends our homeland and those of our allies," he said.
"We also recognise that to maintain an advantage over adversaries we have to do things differently, responding to rapidly evolving geopolitical, technological and economic threats, learning lessons from Ukraine, and championing closer integration with our allies and partners."
After he delivered his statement on the defence plan to the Commons, Mr Wallace said: "This is likely to be one of my last appearances at this despatch box.
"It's been the greatest privilege to have served as Secretary of State for Defence the last four years. I want to thank my team, civil servants, special advisers, and members of this House for their support and their challenge.
"All of us here have a common interest of defending this fine country, its values and its freedoms."
Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey said: "This defence plan is not a good enough response to war in Europe, despite having taken the Defence Secretary over 500 days since Putin launched his brutal invasion of Ukraine to write it.
"The Defence Secretary must explain if he is pledging new money for stockpiles or these are funds already announced.
"The British Army is being cut to its smallest size since Napoleon and there is still no plan to ensure our Nato obligations are fulfilled in full.
"Labour will make Britain secure at home and strong abroad by conducting a full strategic defence and security review, ensuring our Nato obligations are fulfilled in full, and renewing the nation's moral contract with our forces."