Anonymous - Spectator waving a Union Jack at the farewell of the British soldiers in Gutersloh 130519 CREDIT PA.jpg

2020: What's Happened In UK Defence?

Anonymous - Spectator waving a Union Jack at the farewell of the British soldiers in Gutersloh 130519 CREDIT PA.jpg

The year 2020 for defence, like the whole of the UK, has been a major year of change and adaptation.

While the military has been on the frontline of the COVID-19 fight, Armed Forces personnel have continued to conduct operations at home and overseas.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Second World War veteran Captain Tom Moore famously raised £32m for the NHS in the lead-up to his 100th birthday before going on to be knighted by the Queen.

2020 has also marked the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain as well as the 75th anniversaries of VE Day and VJ Day (including the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Commemorations were particularly poignant this year with coronavirus restrictions preventing veterans and crowds from meeting in person to mark the occasions.

Notably, it was also a time to remember forces sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn who died in June, aged 103.


News of the first two people testing positive for the coronavirus in the UK came at the end of January.

Since then the pandemic has seen the Armed Forces helping set up Nightingale hospitals around the country, which provided additional care capacity for patients with coronavirus.

The RAF then helped with the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical staff across the UK.

In November, military personnel were deployed to Liverpool to support the first mass coronavirus testing pilot in the UK and has since done the same in South Wales and Medway, Kent.

After the welcome news that a coronavirus vaccine had been approved, personnel were seen in Bristol converting a stadium into a mass coronavirus vaccination site.


In February, Boris Johnson launched the Integrated Review – which has been described as the "biggest review of our foreign, defence, security and development policy since the end of the Cold War".

Its first phase has taken place, with the announcement of £16.5bn of extra funding for the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

The final conclusions of the Integrated Review are due to be unveiled in 2021, according to the Prime Minister.


The Army handed British military base Catterick Barracks Bielefeld, in north-west Germany back to the Germans.

It marked the complete withdrawal of 20,000 troops from Germany, first announced by the Government in 2010.

Personnel helping with the mass covid testing on Merseyside stand during a two minute silence at the Arena Convention Centre in Liverpool on Armistice Day (Picture: PA).
Personnel helping with mass COVID testing on Merseyside stand during a two-minute silence at the Arena Convention Centre in Liverpool on Armistice Day (Picture: PA).

During the summer, the British Army launched the service's first-ever dedicated cyber regiment.

13th Signal Regiment will provide the basis of the British Army's Cyber Information Security Operations Centre.

The Army also recorded its most successful recruitment year since 2014/2015.

The Defence Secretary said in November the number of British troops in Afghanistan could be reduced if the United States goes ahead with its own reductions in the country.

Just under 1,000 UK troops are currently in Afghanistan.


The newest of the UK's new class of aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, set sail from her home port for the first time in February.

The Queen Elizabeth-class vessels are the UK's largest ships ever built for the Royal Navy, with an expected service life of up to 50 years.

The Royal Navy's newest and 'greenest' ship, HMS Tamar was commissioned into the fleet. You can watch a guided tour of the vessel here.

The ship's catalytic converters reduce nitrogen-based emissions from her engine exhausts by up to 95%.

The Navy’s new Carrier Strike Group assembled for the first time during NATO's Exercise Joint Warrior which ran for 11 days and involved a total of 6,000 personnel.

The Royal Marines modernisation programme, the 'Future Commando Force', has seen the creation of a new unit, a new uniform, and new technology being tested.

RAF Typhoon over HMS Sutherland during training above the Arctic Circle (Picture: MOD).
RAF Typhoon over HMS Sutherland during training above the Arctic Circle (Picture: MOD).


This summer, the UK signed a £65m contract to build its first three Protector drones – the first UK-operated system capable of strike missions anywhere in the world.

The aircraft are set to enter service by mid-2024 and will replace the RAF's current fleet of Reaper drones.

RAF Typhoons operated in the High North for the first time in September.

They were supporting Royal Navy-led multinational task group of warships and aircraft.

The largest military exercise run by the Royal Air Force in the UK for more than a decade took place in October.


The Defence Secretary said in July, the UK will take measures to protect itself against military threats in space from Russia and China.

A month later, General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, warned of the military threat from space.

He said "We have all grown up with the traditional domains of Army, Navy, Air Force. The future is going to be about space, cyber, maritime, land and air."

Forces News gained exclusive access into HERMES – the new relocatable ground station at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratories (DSTL)

It is the Ministry of Defence's (MOD's) most significant investment in Space infrastructure in the last two decades.

Satellite Carbonite-2 passes over HERMES three times a day.
Satellite Carbonite-2 passes over HERMES three times a day.


The year started with the British military marking 20 years since the ban was lifted on lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) serving personnel.

The anniversary was commemorated at the Houses of Parliament and a range of defence buildings were lit up in rainbow colours to mark the occasion.

In July, following worldwide anti-racism protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd in the US, Chiefs of Staff across defence wrote a joint letter, setting out their commitment to improving diversity and inclusion in the Armed Forces.

The military chiefs also announced they will increase funding for defence's diversity and inclusion programmes.

In August, the first female RAF Regiment officers graduated from RAF Honington after the corps opened up roles to women in September 2017.

At the beginning of the month, the Defence Select Committee launched a study to examine the experiences of women serving in the British Armed Forces.

Military Life

It was announced this summer, British military veterans will be able to identify themselves as veterans in the next census for the first time.

The Government says the change will allow for improved veterans services, with data collected used to inform mental health support services for former personnel.

Veterans Railcard became available from November. It gives veterans a third off most rail travel.

The Royal Navy announced its implementing a 'tobacco-free' policy from January, with the aim of the British military being smoke-free by 2022.

Last month, the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill was voted through at third reading in the House of Commons.

The Overseas Operations Bill was introduced in March, after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan gave rise to an unprecedented number of legal claims.

One of the key aims behind the bill has been to limit false and historical allegations against service personnel and veterans in relation to overseas operations.

Cover image: PA.