UK Defence Budget: Still a balancing act

On the opening day of DSEI 2021, taking place at London’s ExCeL centre, Ana Popescu, lead analyst for European budgets at Janes explores the current status of Europe’s largest defence spender….

The UK is Europe’s largest defence market, with the country’s defence industrial base featuring world-class capabilities across most domains. It continues to be a major force in global export markets, with UK government figures indicating that orders of GBP80 billion were achieved between 2011 and 2019.  Its defence and security strategy is underpinned by a government commitment to maintain defence spending at 2% of GDP or higher.  

Out with the old, in with the new: UK government expresses support for defence but cuts still on the horizon for older capabilities 

After the 2008 crisis, the UK defence budget was cut in real terms for five consecutive years. As a result, Janes interconnected industry intelligence highlights that the UK’s defence budget fell from 2.5% of GDP in 2010 to 2% by 2015. Increases following that were relatively small, 2-4% in nominal terms. This means the real value in 2020, when accounting for inflation, was less than 0.5% higher than the 2016 one. Moreover, the Ministry of Defence’s annual Equipment Plan which is the Department’s forecast budget to cover the costs of procurement and support of military equipment for the next decade had been running with a deficit for years. The UK MoD entered 2020 with a shortfall between GBP2.9 and GBP13 billion over 2019-2029, according to its own estimates. 

That said, in November 2020 Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced additional funds for military expenditure, with UK defence spending seeing a significant nominal increase of around 12% in 2021, bringing the budget up to GPB50.6 billion, or USD68 billion in real terms according to Janes data. This is followed by much smaller nominal increases averaging 0.7% for the following three years, which translates to real cuts of 1.5% over the same time.

Johnson’s announcement was also notable as Defence was one of the few cabinet departments given the certainty of a multi-year spending package. This marks a difference from the previous decades, throughout which successive governments announced their support for defence, but other political and economic issues, particularly UK’s exit from the European Union, took precedence.

Nonetheless, the boost in spending may prove less impactful than initially hoped. At the same time as the budget increase, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced the creation of a new National Cyber Force, a new Autonomy Development Centre and  RAF Space Command, making it clear that the new funds would not be allocated just to funding the existing gap in the MoD’s budget.

Indeed, the UK’s Defence Command Paper released 22 March this year made it clear that cuts are to be made, as the MoD looks to reconcile shifting strategic priorities with new technologies and the ever-present need to balance its books. Nonetheless, the defence increase announced in November last year marks an important and much needed step in UK’s journey to establishing its role outside the European Union and cementing its position as the second biggest spender in NATO.


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IRGC unveils UGVs

by Jeremy Binnie

Most of the UGVs that were displayed were EOD robots. (

Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) shed some light on its robotics programmes when it displayed dozens of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) during a ceremony to hand over equipment to explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams on 20 September.

More than 30 UGVs were seen displayed in photographs of the event, most of which were a tracked type configured as an EOD robot with a manipulator arm fitted with a camera and disruptor. The same type was also seen configured with a different sensor package and labelled as the ‘Hafez fire-fighting robot'.

Several more of this type of UGV were displayed without sensors or effectors and one was mocked-up with two small forward-firing rockets or missiles.

A much larger eight-wheeled UGV labelled as the ‘Qasim' was positioned as the centrepiece of the display. This was shown carrying a multicopter unmanned aircraft but was sufficiently large that it could potentially be used to carry weapons, casualties, or supplies.

A smaller tracked robot with flippers to enable it to travel over obstacles was labelled as the ‘Fajr cameraman robot'.

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DSEI 2021: British Army demonstrates progress with HED-powered prototypes

by Peter Felstead

A HED-equipped Jackal 2 high-mobility patrol vehicle and Foxhound protected patrol vehicle demonstrating silent running outside the ExCel Centre at DSEI 2021. (Janes/P Felstead)

Evidence that the power and mobility advantages of vehicles powered by hybrid electric drive (HED) are approaching real-world utility on the modern battlefield was in evidence at this month's DSEI exhibition in London in the form of three vehicles demonstrated by the British Army.

The three vehicles – a Jackal 2 4×4 high-mobility patrol vehicle, a Foxhound 4×4 protected patrol vehicle and a MAN SV 4×4 6-tonne tactical truck – each featured various commercially available HED systems supplied by UK firm Magtec. The Jackal, for example, has a four-cylinder Cummins diesel instead of the original vehicle's six-cylinder powerpack; a 150 kW electric generator; a 60 kW/hr battery; and four traction motors each rated at 50 kW driving the wheels.

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France to cut Sahel force by up to 3,000 in two years

by Jean-Marc Tanguy

Task Force Sabre, France's special operations force in the Sahel, will remain largely untouched by the cuts. (Jean-Marc Tanguy)

French officials have revealed new details of the planned drawdown in the Sahel region that was announced by President Emmanuel Macron in June.

France currently has about 5,500 troops committed to Operation Barkhane: its mission is to counter Islamist militants in the Sahel since 2014. This number will be cut to “between 2,500 and 3,000” by 2023, according to Colonel Pascal Ianni, the spokesperson for the French Armed Forces Staff. But the reduction could be accelerated after France's presidential election in April 2022, depending on who is elected.

Most of the personnel to be withdrawn will be ground forces, with the presence in Mali effectively reduced from three battalions to one.

The drawdown is now under way, with a source close to French Defence Minister Florence Parly telling Janes that Macron ordered it to be completed by the end of this year.

The three main bases in northern Mali (Timbuktu, Tessalit, and Kidal) are being evacuated and will be transferred to the UN mission in Mali and Malian Armed Forces (FAMa).

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On the opening day of DSEI 2021, taking place at London’s ExCeL centre, Ana Popescu, lead analyst fo...

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