The UK's defence dilemma

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced significant cuts to spending on troops and equipment as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

It is the first such review for 12 years.

Britain's army, navy and air force have all suffered cuts. But how will this leave the country's armed forces in comparison to other world military powers?

Military spending

The UK currently spends about £40bn annually on defence - about 6% of its total budget. But while many government departments are facing cuts of up to 20% under the Spending Review, the MoD has escaped with a cut of about 8% .

Defence Secretary Liam Fox successfully argued that the MoD should be spared the worst of the cuts, as it was already stretched to cover a £38bn spending over-commitment over the next 10 years left by the former Labour government.

Even with 8% cuts, Britain will remain one of the world's top spending military nations, broadly on a par with France and Russia, and superior to Germany and Japan.

Military forces

The UK's armed forces will lose thousands of servicemen and women under the review.

Initial fears that as many as 20,000 army staff could be cut did not materialise, instead the loss will be about 7,000 personnel.

The Army already has fewer active soldiers (112,130) than France (130,500), Israel (133,000) or Japan (151,640).

Under the terms of the review, the 7,000 army personnel will be cut over the next five years.

The UK's navy (39,020 active personnel) will lose some 5,000 people by 2015, which will take it below France (40,500) and Japan (45,500).

The RAF currently has some 43,780 active personnel, compared with Germany's air force (43,390), though with expected reductions to Tornado squadrons and closure of some air bases, this number will also be reduced by 5,000 by 2015.


The most anticipated announcement of the defence review - the fate of the UK's two planned aircraft carriers - was widely leaked.

Chancellor George Osborne explained that it would be more expensive to scrap HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales than to spend £5.9bn building them , due to penalty clauses written into the contract.

HMS Ark Royal, the only ship in the navy currently capable of launching jets at sea, will be scrapped early along with its fleet of Harrier aircraft.

The fleet of frigates and destroyers will also be reduced from 23 to 19 by 2020.

The decision on whether to renew the Trident submarine fleet will now be delayed until after the next general election.

The RAF has already agreed to reduce its order of Eurofighter Typhoon jets from 232 to 160.

Amid speculation that the UK's 123 Tornado jets would be phased out, it has now been confirmed that a reduced fleet will be retained, but three air bases, including RAF Kinloss, will close.

This will potentially leave the UK with fewer fighter planes than France (342), Japan (310) and Israel (407).

The Army will lose up to 40% of its tanks and heavy artillery.

The majority of the UK's 345 Challenger 2 battle tanks are stationed with troops in Germany, and reductions would leave the UK with fewer tanks than many of its Nato allies.

Equipment UK US China France Russia Germany Japan Israel
Aircraft carriers
Aircraft carrier
2 11 0 1 1 0 0 0
7 57 27 12 17 0 41 0
12 72 9 10 40 4 18 3
jet fighter
233 2379 1320 342 1080 217 310 407
Battle tanks
battle tank
345 6467 9840 451 7384 1525 876 2990
Nuclear warheads
255 9400 240 300 12000 0 0 60-80

Note: Israel has never officially confirmed or denied that it has nuclear weapons.

Sources: IHS / Jane's /Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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