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What’s in the Integrated Review for defence?

By Harry Lye 16 Mar 2021 (Last Updated March 17th, 2021 10:42)

Raising the nuclear stockpile cap, strengthening forward basing, investing in the future Royal Navy fleet, research into ‘battle-winning’ technologies and a £9.3m refurb of the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms are just some of the UK’s plans to improve its defence and security footing.

What’s in the Integrated Review for defence?
Royal Marines of P Squadron, 43 Commando, as they manoeuvre through a cave system during an assault on an objective within the dark and winding caves of the famous Rock of Gibraltar. Image: MOD/ Crown Copyright.

Setting out the Integrated Review’s conclusions today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I am profoundly optimistic about the UK’s place in the world and our ability to seize the opportunities ahead.

“The ingenuity of our citizens and the strength of our Union will combine with our international partnerships, modernised armed forces and a new green agenda, enabling us to look forward with confidence as we shape the world of the future.”

While the Integrated Review outlines the UK’s wider strategy, the exact implications for defence are due to be revealed next with the publication of the Defence Command Paper on 22 March.

In a section titled “Strengthening security and defence at home and overseas”, the Integrated Review reads: “The UK can only maximise the benefits of our openness if we are strong and secure at home – ensuring that our citizens are safe from harm while protecting our democracy, the economy and the critical national infrastructure on which daily life depends.

“Security is also essential to an international order in which open societies and economies like the UK can flourish and collaborate in pursuit of shared goals, free from coercion and interference.”

Spending plans

In spending terms, the Integrated Review largely rehashes previously-revealed plans to boost spending on defence research and development and modernise the armed forces.

Specific spending plans mentioned include £6.6bn of previously-announced R&D funding, commitment to a ‘next-generation of naval vessels’ including the future Type 32 Frigate – a possible mothership for uncrewed systems – and soon to be acquired Fleet Solid Support Ships.

The document also reaffirms plans for eight Type 26 frigates and five Type 31 frigates.

Ahead of the Integrated Review, reports suggested the UK could see a significant reduction in its previously stated aim to acquire 138 F-35B fighter jets, however, the Integrated Review does keep the door open for more fighters, saying the UK will have ‘at least 48 F-35s by 2025.

Spending commitments also include plans to continue the development of the Tempest Future Combat Air System (FCAS) and deliver upgraded radars for the UK’s existing fleet of Typhoon jets.

The UK is also set to embark on £9.3m plans to support the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms – commonly known as COBRA – and establish a new situation centre able to pull in ‘live data, analysis and insights’ so government decision-makers can better understand and respond to potential crises.

F-35B jets on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth. Image: MOD/ Crown Copyright.

Modernisation of defence

In a section titled ‘Modernising defence for a competitive age’, the review reads: “We must update our deterrence posture to respond to the growth in state competition below the threshold of war under international law. As set out in the 2020 Integrated Operating Concept, this means being able to move seamlessly between ‘operating’ and ‘warfighting’.

“This will require a force structure that principally deters through ‘persistent engagement’ below the threshold of war while remaining prepared for warfighting when necessary. All activity, including that which has previously been seen as routine, has the potential to constrain or deter adversaries.”

To achieve this, the Integrated Review outlines plans for a more consistent global presence where more of the UK’s Armed Forces will be deployed overseas for extended periods.

The Integrated Review includes plans to invest in so-called ‘strategic hubs’ designed to increase the reach of the armed forces. Plans will see the UK invest in facilities and infrastructure in Cyprus, Gibraltar and Germany and improve other facilities in Oman, Singapore and Kenya. £60m is set to be earmarked for expanding the UK’s network of British Defence Staffs around the world by a third.

‘Greater priority’ will also be placed on ‘identifying, funding, developing and deploying new technologies and capabilities’ faster than potential adversaries. The government says this will allow the UK Armed Forces to ‘be decisive at greater reach’ – defeat enemies further afield – better ‘integrate’ with allies and “more efficient and cost-effective, reversing the trend of fewer and increasingly costly platforms.”

The Integrated Review also details plans to publish a defence artificial intelligence (AI) strategy and plans to invest in a new centre to ‘accelerate’ the adoption of AI across the “the full spectrum of our capabilities and activities.”

The document also says the government will publish a new defence and security industrial strategy that is aligned with its wider growth plans. Describing this, the Integrated Review reads: “It will constitute a more strategic approach to our core industrial base, from building ships in Scotland and armoured vehicles in Wales to manufacturing aircraft in England and satellites in Northern Ireland.”

Under the strategy, the UK will move away from ‘competition by default’ and instead prioritise UK industrial capability where necessary for ‘national security and operational’ reasons. The government is also set to ‘reform and revitalise’ its approach to ‘acquisition, exports and international collaboration’ making wider use of government-to-government arrangements.

Royal Marines successfully received bergan drops from Malloy Aeronautics heavy lift aircraft. Image: MOD/ Crown Copyright.

Expanding the nuclear deterrent

In a reversal of a 2010 policy aiming to reduce the UK’s nuclear warhead stockpile from no more than 225 to no more than 180 warheads by the mid-2020s, the IR says the government will move to a stockpile of no more than 260 warheads.

The document reads: “The fundamental purpose of our nuclear weapons is to preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression. A minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, assigned to the defence of NATO, remains essential in order to guarantee our security and that of our allies.

“In 2010 the government stated an intent to reduce our overall nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling from not more than 225 to not more than 180 by the mid-2020s. However, in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats, this is no longer possible, and the UK will move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads.”

In the review, the government also retains its commitment to maintaining four nuclear-armed submarines that at least one will always be on Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD) patrol.

On nuclear weapons policy, the document reads: “The UK’s nuclear weapons are operationally independent and only the Prime Minister can authorise their use. This ensures that political control is maintained at all times. We would consider using our nuclear weapons only in extreme circumstances of self-defence, including the defence of our NATO allies.”

The IR notes that the Dreadnought programme to replace the existing Vanguard-class submarines remains on track and within budget for the delivery of a first-of-class boat in the early 2030s.

The document adds that the government ‘remain committed’ to a long-term goal of nuclear deproliferation. The IR reads: “We continue to work for the preservation and strengthening of effective arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation measures, taking into account the prevailing security environment.

“We are strongly committed to full implementation of the NPT in all its aspects, including nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy; there is no credible alternative route to nuclear disarmament.”

Vanguard-class submarine HMS Victorious. Image: MOD/ Crown Copyright.