LONDON — Defense spending is getting a £5 billion ($6 billion) boost from the British government, but most of the cash has been earmarked for nuclear programs and rebuilding depleted weapons stocks rather than addressing wider capability gaps in the armed forces.
The funding figures, released Sunday night, will be contained in a refresh of the 2021 integrated defense and security review due to be published later today.
News of the increase came as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak headed off to San Diego, California, for a meeting Mar. 13 with U.S. President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to announce details of the AUKUS nuclear submarine pact agreed by the three nations.
The £5 billion figure falls well short of the £8-10 billion funding injection sought by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
Around £3 billion of the extra cash will go towards nuclear submarine spending.
Funding Britain’s part of the plan to equip Australia with a fleet of nuclear submarines will consume a significant part of the spending hike planned for the wider nuclear effort, which also includes work on new classes of submarines, nuclear warhead replacement and other programs.
Led by BAE Systems, the British are currently building the final two of seven Astute-class attack submarines and have Dreadnought-class nuclear missile boats also in the construction phase. Spending has also begun on early design concept work for a new class of boats to replace Astute boats in the 2040s.
The remaining funds will go towards replenishing weapon stocks depleted by the ongoing supply of thousands of missiles and other ammunition to Ukraine in its defense against Russia.
The funds will be spent over the next two years, with £1.98 billion budgeted for the upcoming financial year and £2.97 billion the following 12 months.
Details of the plan have yet to emerge so it is unclear for the moment whether the £5 billion is a one-off payment or will be added to the MoD’s base line numbers.
Present defense spending amounts to £48 billion for this fiscal year and is set to rise only marginally in the upcoming fiscal year.
The government committed to a £24 billion, four-year uplift in defense spending in 2020, the largest sustained increase since the Cold War.
Meanwhile, the armed forces, particularly the Army, have seen their capabilities continue to be hollowed out, a situation made worse recently by a battering from inflation and exchange rate costs.
The spending figures see the British defense budget hovering just above the 2% of GDP targeted by NATO for its member states.
Analysts here say the British increase is modest compared with recent defense spending rises by NATO allies like France, Germany and Poland, all of whom have committed to substantial spending hikes in response to the growing threat posed by Russia.
Sunak has set out an ambition to increase defense spending to 2.5% of GDP in the longer term, but has not committed to a date.
The prime minister’s predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, both committed to spend 3% of GDP on defense by 2030, but that pledge has not been renewed by Sunak.
The opposition Labour Party, currently far ahead of the ruling Conservative party in the polls, said the government was failing to secure Britain’s defense for the future.
“This announcement does not deal with capability gaps that weaken our national defense and undermine the UK’s NATO contribution,” said John Healey, Labour’s shadow defense secretary.
“When 25 other NATO nations have already rebooted defense plans and spending since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Conservatives are still dragging their feet on the big decisions,” he said.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.