What the UK's Coalition Government Means for Defence

Following a hung parliament election result, what does the UK's new coalition government mean for the future of defence?


After five days of wrangling, in mid May 2010 David Cameron finally took possession of the keys to 10 Downing Street and set to work forming a Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition government for the UK.

Perhaps overshadowed by factors seen as more relevant to the majority of voters, such as the economy, immigration and civil liberty, defence has not featured strongly during the election process.

However, right wing standard bearer and former civilian army medial officer Liam Fox now steps into Bob Ainsworth's shoes as defence secretary and has a challenging job ahead of him. Lib Dem stalwart Lord Ashdown was at one point strongly tipped for the role, taking advantage of his experience in the Royal Marines.

Trident nuclear deterrent

Tory demands for a like-for-like replacement for the UK's independent submarine-based nuclear deterrent, Trident, receive continued support. This will prove to be a blow to the Lib Dems, who strongly oppose Trident, calling it outdated and overpriced – estimates for the replacement programme vary between £25bn and £100bn.

"After five days of wrangling, in mid May 2010 David Cameron finally took possession of the keys to 10 Downing Street."

The news will come as a relief to the shipyards that maintain the Vanguard Class submarines that carry the Trident missiles, including their home port at Barrow-in-Furness.

Certainly, all future defence spending will be subject to the promised Strategic Defence and Security Review. Headlining defence projects won't escape scrutiny, including the Labour-backed purchase of Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, which are being built by a Thales / BAE Systems collaboration and are due to enter into service in 2018.

Eurofighter cuts

The Lib Dems would certainly welcome a cut to spending on the Eurofighter jet programme, calling it an expensive cold-war relic. They have opined that front-line troops need more helicopters instead to support their missions.

Any decisions on defence spending will also have to pass the scrutiny of new Conservative Chancellor George Osbourne, though it's a fair bet his Lib Dem deputy Vince Cable will be checking his sums. Between them, they will have to contribute to the expected substantial spending cuts. The Conservatives have already promised to "maximise efficiency" by making 25% savings in the running of the MoD.

"Overshadowed by factors seen as more relevant to the majority of voters, defence did not feature heavily in the election."

The UK military budget is no loose change. The MoD boasts an estimated defence budget for 2010/11 of £36.9bn, reflecting the fact that the UK is one of the world's biggest hitters in defence spending.

Based on 2008 figures, the UK ranks third in the world in defence spending, only behind the US and China.

As the new UK Government sets to work and the cabinet members get into their stride in their new roles, the defence industry will be awaiting the outcome of the promised Strategic Defence and Security Review. Then the clamour to be on the receiving end of the big defence programme cheques Liam Fox signs will begin.

This article first appeared on our defence intelligence portal