Tri-Service

How many personnel are serving in the UK military?

A closer look at the UK Armed Forces' strength and the personnel who make up the services.

The British Army is exceeding its target for numbers of trained personnel by 7%, according to statistics recently shared by the House of Commons Library.

Targets for numbers of serving UK military personnel, also known as 'strength', have been set against figures outlined in this year's Defence Command Paper, rather than the previous 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) targets.

The total number of full-time Armed Forces personnel looks at both trained and untrained members of the forces – meaning those who have completed only Phase 1 of training, as well as those who have also completed Phase 2 of training.

Phase 1 includes all new-entry training to provide basic military skills, while Phase 2 includes an initial individual specialisation, sub-specialisation and technical training, following Phase 1.

Armed Forces Strength

As of 1 July 2021, the total strength of full-time trained and untrained UK Armed Forces was just under 159,000, 56% within the British Army and the rest split equally between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

However, when looking exclusively at full-time trained strength, the number of personnel was 137,394, comprising 77,823 in the Army, 29,708 in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, and 29,863 in the Royal Air Force.

Watch: Army has 'biggest adjustment to make' following Defence Command Paper.

While the RAF (-6%) and Royal Navy/Royal Marines (-2%) fall short of the target figures set out in the Defence Command Paper, the Army is 7% above its targeted size.

This sees the military as a whole 2% above the target set out in the Defence Command Paper, despite the shortfall in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and RAF. 

The Defence Command Paper also set a target to reduce the size of the Army to 72,500 by 2025.

Across all three services, there were 30,600 officers, (19%) and 128,300 personnel with other ranks.

The distribution of officers to other ranks varied across each service. A quarter of all RAF personnel were officers (25%), while fewer than a fifth held the rank in the Army (16%).

Reserves

In the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 (SDSR), the Government said it wanted to grow the UK's Reserve force by 35,000.

According to the MOD, as of 1 July 2021, there were 37,300 Volunteer Reserves and 3,500 Serving Regular Reserves across the UK military.

Watch: Defence Command Paper – what will change for the RAF?

The Future Reserves 2020 programme, set out by the Coalition Government, looked to expand the size of the trained Reserves.

In comparison to the numbers set out in the programme, the RAF was the only service to hit its target, with 2,872 reservists compared to a target of 1,860 – a 54% surplus.

The Army fell short of its target of 30,100 by 12%, with a trained reservist strength of 26,513.

The Royal Navy and Royal Marines also had a deficit of -7%, with a total of 2,891 reservists compared to their target of 3,100.

Overall, the military had a deficit of 8%, with a total trained strength of 32,276 compared to the 35,060 target set out in 2019.

Diversity in the Armed Forces

As of 1 April 2021, there were 16,470 women serving the UK Regular Forces – they accounted for 11% of the total trained and untrained strength of the military.

The figure was higher for the number of women officers, with 13.8% serving in the role.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2021, 10.7% of the total intake to the UK Regular Armed Forces was female, and since 2012, there has been a steady increase in the intake of female personnel.

Watch: Defence Command Paper – Royal Navy set for major fleet upgrade.

Ethnicity

In terms of ethnicity within the UK Armed Forces, as of 1 April 20201, roughly 9.2% of personnel (13,690) identified as belonging to a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) group.

Roughly half (49%) of the 13,690 personnel who identified as belonging to a BAME group were Black.

The second-largest group was Asian (26%), followed by Mixed (18%) and Other (7%).

The total proportion of BAME personnel across the UK Regular Forces has increased. However, there were proportionally fewer BAME personnel who held the rank of Officer, with 2.1% of Officers in the UK Regular Forces said to be from a BAME background. 

The Army had the highest proportion of BAME personnel, with 13.4%, while the Royal Navy and Royal Marines had 4.8% and the RAF 3.3%.

Religion

In regards to religion, 62.4% of personnel declared themselves Christian, while 34.1% declared no religion.

The next largest religion declared was Hindu (1.0%), followed by Buddhist (0.7%), Muslim (0.4%), Christian Tradition (0.2%) and Judaism or Sikh (0.1%).

Other faiths, including Druid, Pagan, Rastafarian, Spiritualist, Zoroastrian, Wicca, Baha'i and others, accounted for 1%.

Age

As of 1 April 2021, the average age of the UK military was 31, with 26% of Regular Forces personnel under the age of 25.

The average age of all Officers was 37, while the average age of all other ranks was 30.

Watch: Armed Forces Chief  – Defence Command Paper "will please personnel".

Location

According to the MOD's published data, about 96% of personnel were stationed in the UK.

Of the 5,900 personnel overseas, 65% were in Europe, 16% in North America and 6% in North Africa and the Middle East – with 13% of personnel stationed elsewhere in the world.

Across the UK, the large majority (90%) of personnel were stationed in England, while 7% were stationed in Scotland, 2% in Wales and 1% in Northern Ireland.

The location of almost 30% of the military's untrained intake was recorded as being from the South East or South West region.

London was recorded as the location for only 4% of recruits, and the top five parliamentary constituencies by number of recruits to the UK Regular Forces were Richmond (Yorkshire), Aldershot, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Plymouth, Sutton and Davenport and South West Wiltshire.