Politics

Defence Spending: What Military Technology Has Boris Johnson Promised?

An extra investment of £16.5bn has been made for defence over the next four years.

The military is set to benefit from the Government's largest defence spending package since the Cold War.

An extra £16.5bn has been pledged across the next four years for the Armed Forces, which the Prime Minister says will take UK defence spending to 2.2% of GDP.

Ahead of the publication of the Integrated Review's findings, expected next year, Boris Johnson has gone into greater detail about the technological achievements he expects to see over the coming years.

Below is a list of elements within defence and how each could be impacted by the money.

Sea

The Prime Minister has announced the new investment will "restore Britain’s position as the foremost naval power in Europe".

He added that British warships and combat vehicles will carry "directed energy weapons" to destroy targets with "inexhaustible lasers".

Mr Johnson said the extra MOD funding would allow plans for eight Type 26 and five Type 31 frigates to continue, as well as the building of support ships to work with the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

"We are going to develop the next generation of warships, including multi-role research vessels and Type 32 frigates," he continued.

The future solid support ships that would supply a Carrier Strike Group, which will see several UK or allied vessels accompany HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales on deployments.

"Once both of our carriers are operational in 2023, the UK will have a Carrier Strike Group permanently available, routinely deployed globally and always ready to fight alongside NATO and other allies," Mr Johnson said.

"Next year HMS Queen Elizabeth will lead a British and allied task group on our most ambitious deployment for two decades, encompassing the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and East Asia.

"We shall forward deploy more of our naval assets in the world’s most important regions, protecting the shipping lanes that supply our nation, and we shall press on with renewing our nuclear deterrent."

HMS Queen Elizabeth returns to Portsmouth with tugs 151020 CREDIT BFBS
The UK will have a Carrier Strike Group "permanently available" from 2023, according to the Prime Minister.

Air

Research and development perhaps slipped under the radar during the Prime Minister's announcement, receiving a total of £5.8bn in the next four years.

While work to identify and combat evolving threats is not new, some of the additional £1.5 billion will be put towards a 'Future Combat Air System', a project known as 'Tempest'.

The sixth-generation fighter jet is not expected to enter service for another 15 years, but development is well underway with artifical intelligence and laser-directed energy weapons among the features being looked at.

It is due to replace the Typhoon, and is expected to be in service for as many as seven decades.

Tempest concepts have shown a manned, central aircraft flanked by Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft to act as decoys and feed information to the pilot.

Research has also seen potential for a system placed under the pilot’s helmet to measure brain activity and stress indicators, aiding decision-making.

Boris Johnson explained how air capabilities would form part of a joined-up military approach in the future.

"A solider in hostile territory will be alerted to a distant ambush by sensors or satellites or drones, instantly transmitting a warning using artificial intelligence to devise the optimal response and offering an array of options – from summoning an air strike to ordering a swarm attack by drones, or by paralysing the enemy with cyber weapons," he said.

UAVs 'swarming' on the Tempest (Picture: BAE Systems).
A concept image of the Tempest, swarmed by unmanned aerial vehicles (Picture: BAE Systems).

Land

Boris Johnson went into some detail on how he sees soldiers operating in the future, stating: "We shall reshape our Army for the age of networked warfare, allowing better-equipped soldiers to deploy more quickly."

Land force has been disputed in recent months, Ben Wallace dismissing reports that all tanks will be mothballed and that defence officials were considering a larger aviation role in NATO.

Former Chief of General Staff, General Lord Richard Dannatt, told the BFBS Sitrep podcast the land environment has been "significantly underfunded", and that upgrading, rather than scrapping, the Challenger 2 tank and the Warrior armoured fighting vehicle would be "extremely important" to the Army.

A cash injection will see the development of autonomous vehicles, though land technology received little mention in the latest announcement.

The Prime Minister has told MPs the UK will act speedily to "remove or reduce less relevant capabilities".

Challenger 2 on Exercise Saif Sareea 3 in Oman 021018 CREDIT MOD.jpeg
Former Army chief Lord Dannatt wants to see the Challneger 2 tank upgraded, after reports it could be mothballed (Picture: MOD).

Cyber And AI

A new agency dedicated to Artificial Intelligence (AI) will also be announced by the Prime Minister, in addition to the creation of a National Cyber Force (NCF).

The British military receives around 1,800 cyber attack attempts per month, but it is thought the National Cyber Force will see the UK on the front foot in the domain.

The cyber force will be a joint project between the MOD and GCHQ, the latter credited with hacking into Islamic State systems in 2017 to uncover the drone capability of the terror group.

The NCF intends to disrupt terrorists, hostile state activity and criminals, while supporting military operations, the Government announced – part of Boris Johnson’s plans to end an "era of retreat".

It comes as part of what Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has called a "step change" toward "information warfare", the Army launching 13th Signal Regiment, its first regiment entirely dedicated to cyber, in July.

AI was mentioned within by the Prime Minister’s future, joined-up scenario - helping to devise the best response which could involve an air strike.

However, there was little detail shared on the promised AI agency and its role alongside or within the Office for Artificial Intelligence, which has existed outside of the MOD since 2017.

GCHQ will join the Ministry of Defence in leading the National Cyber Force (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Space

A British Space Command, a 2019 Conservative Party manifesto pledge, was mentioned by Mr Johnson.

Much attention surrounded the establishment of the US Space Force  last December, a move to protect interstellar interests and keep pace with developing threats from China and Russia.

Since then, NATO allies Canada and France have continued to develop their own defence capabilities in space domain, and the UK claims its command will launch its first rocket-mounted satellite in 2022.

The Chief of the Air Staff this week suggested that future conflicts "may even be won or lost in space".

Earth from outer space
In 2019, NATO declared space a warfighting domain (Picture: NASA via US Department of Defence).

People and personnel

In addition to looking ahead to how soldiers of the future will work in "the age of networked warfare", Mr Johnson said the UK will be "strengthening the ability of our Special Forces to operate covertly against our most sophisticated adversaries".

UK job creation, meanwhile, is continuously highlighted throughout the financial pledge, with tens of thousands set to benefit from military commitments to shipbuilding, the renewal of a nuclear deterrent and the development of new technologies.

Personnel numbers were raised by Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, who asked if there would be “any further cuts” to the amount of serviceman and woman in the future.

In response, Mr Johnson did not rule out reducing the overall number of personnel.

He did however offer a guarantee of safety to the Black Watch infantry unit, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, in response to a question from Ian Blackford.

Lord Dannatt told BFBS Sitrep costs of ambitious equipment programmes, like those highlighted by the Government, could overrun the £16.5bn figure at a cost to personnel, leading to a reduction in the size of the Army.

Cover image: MOD.