The UK’s Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper
23 March 2021
The UK’s Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper
by Guy Anderson, Jon Hawkes, Gareth Jennings, and Kate Tringham
On 16March 2021, the UK released its long-awaited Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. This was followed by the release of the UK’s Defence Command Paper on 22 March 2021.
A summary of commentary and analysis from Janes follows.
The Defence Command Paper has seen combat aviation hit especially hard. Cuts for the UK aviation forces include the premature retirement of the Lockheed Martin C-130J/C-130J-30 Hercules transport fleet; backtracking from an earlier stated commitment to procuring 138 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning combat aircraft; a reduction in the planned procurement of five Boeing E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C), coupled with the early retirement of the Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW1; the axing of 24 Tranche 1 Eurofighter Typhoons; and the early retirement of the BAE Systems Hawk T1 jet trainer.
Specifically, the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) one remaining short-bodied C-130J C5 and 13 long-bodied C-130J-30 C4 variant Hercules airlifters are to be withdrawn from service in 2023, about 12 years earlier than planned; the F-35 programme of record of 138 aircraft over the life of the programme has now become an undisclosed number to be procured beyond the 48 already committed to; the Wedgetail buy is to be curtailed from five to just three platforms, with the Sentry’s out of service date being brought forward this year; the 24 Tranche 1 Typhoons that were due to be retired in 2040 and the Hawk T1s that were due to go in 2030 are now all going in 2025 (although this date is not linked to the Red Arrows display team that operates the type). While these represent the ‘cuts’, paper also included previously announced plans to invest in the Tempest sixth-generation combat aircraft, as well as a future medium-lift helicopter capability and other rotary-winged recapitalisation plans.
Cuts to armoured capability via the cancellation of the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) and the reduction in the Challenger 2 Life Extension Project (LEP) from 190 to 148 tanks reflect the extremely difficult task of converting the legacy equipment plan into a fully funded and balanced picture. The Army’s existing commitments to the Ajax and Boxer procurements will continue, with an intent to accelerate the latter, enabling a prompt retirement of the legacy Warrior from service in the middle of the decade.
The key outcome of the paper is that the Ministry of Defence has now ‘balanced the books’ and has a land equipment plan that is fully funded and viable, allowing coherent strategic planning of future capabilities and finally resolving the last of the delayed and failing programmes that the Army has been battling with for the better part of 25 years.
Cognisant that this is a brand new framework that will initially be filled with existing capabilities, if fully realised the changes to the force structure and procurement plans would finally make the army as agile and flexible as it has stated an intent to be for many years. A toolbox of so-called brigade combat teams allows the Army to respond in a nuanced and scalable manner to specific scenarios in the future and better address likely scenarios.
The Royal Navy is generally seen to have come out of the Integrated Review process in good shape. Plans spelled out in the Defence Command Paper include the introduction of a new Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance Ship to safeguard critical undersea national infrastructure in the North Atlantic, and the roll-out of the Future Commando Force (including the conversion of an existing Bay-class landing ship dock (auxiliary) vessel to serve as a littoral strike platform). The government also laid out an ambitious long-term UK shipbuilding programme to include three new solid support ships, Type 32 frigates, and a new class of Multi-Role Support Ship.
However, to free up resources for the recapitalisation programme some existing capabilities will have to be retired early. This includes the withdrawal of two Type 23 general purpose frigates, which will see the destroyer/frigate force level dip from a nominal 19 ships to just 17. The existing Hunt- and Sandown-class mine countermeasures vessels will also be phased out during the 2020s in favour of new autonomous MCM systems – which marks the first wholesale embrace of maritime autonomous systems in the fleet.
While the RN outlined its aspiration to grow its destroyer/frigate force up to 24 ships by 2035, it is an inescapable fact that the existing surface fleet will be under increasing strain pending the introduction of new Type 26 and Type 31 frigates from 2027.
The Defence Command Paper broadly outlined the UK’s approach to defence and security industries with pledges to make the defence acquisition process more agile, to adopt a more strategic relationship with industry, to increase the contribution that industry makes to national prosperity, to spread benefits throughout the four nations of the UK, to defend critical supply chains from predatory investment, and to encourage exports.
The Command Paper preceded the new UK Defence and Security Industrial Strategy and contained few signs of a radical shift in direction from the course charted in a plethora of government defence policy papers released over the prior decade.