LONDON — The British government has ordered an update of its defense and security review published last year and hopes to complete a revised plan by the end of 2022, Prime Minister Liz Truss has announced.
Touted as the biggest defense review since the Cold War when it was unveiled in March 2021, Britain’s update of strategic aims and capabilities was overtaken by events following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“To ensure the U.K.’s diplomatic, military and security architecture is keeping pace with evolving threat posed by hostile nations, the prime minister has commissioned an update to the integrated review,” the government said in a statement.
Truss, who is in New York for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly this week, has also reiterated her commitment to increasing defense spending to 3% of gross domestic product by 2030.
John Bew, the prime minister’s special adviser for foreign affairs and defense, has the task of leading a Downing Street process to update the review.
“The refreshed strategy will ensure we are investing in the strategic capabilities and alliances we need to stand firm against coercion from authoritarian powers like Russia and China,” the government statement read.
The review update is expected to consider abandoning plans to cut British Army personnel numbers from 82,000 to 72,500.
Howard Wheeldon, a defense consultant at Wheeldon Strategic Advisory, argued that end strength and equipment levels should be an important part of the revised review.
“Confirmation by the Truss-led government of a review is very welcome, but will it go far enough?” he said. “Will there be a realization that while it is important to plan and build for tomorrow’s wars in relation to technology capability requirements, we must also ensure that we have sufficient manpower and equipment capability to fight today’s wars?”
The analyst raised concerns about how much cash will be available to meet the government’s pledge on raising defense spending.
“When it comes to believing that defense spending will get the boost that it so justifiably deserves, the jury remains out,” Wheeldon said. “It is all very well suggesting that spending on defense will increase to 3% of GDP by 2030 when we don’t yet know what GDP will be by then, and whether what we might need will be affordable.”
That concern was echoed by Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director-general of the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London, when he published a paper earlier this month pointing out how much the envisioned defense increase could cost taxpayers.
“To deliver on its commitment to spend 3% of GDP on defense by 2030, Liz Truss’s government will need to increase defense spending by about 60% in real terms,” Chalmers wrote. “This is equivalent to about £157 billion in additional spending over the next eight years, compared with current planning assumptions.” (£157 billion is equivalent to $168 billion.)
“By comparison, the 2020 spending review and the associated integrated review allocated an extra £16.5 billion over four years. This would be the biggest increase since the early 1950s,” Chalmers added.
Like Wheeldon, Chalmers said the revised review would need increases in personnel.
“To spend 3% effectively, the defense budget will require a significant increase in the size of the front line — numbers of formations and platforms,” Chalmers said. “An increase in service personnel numbers of 25-30% is likely to be needed to support an overall 60% increase of defense spending. This would increase total numbers of regular personnel from 148,000 today to around 190,000 in 2030, returning to the level last seen in 2010.”
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.