Future Stealth aircraft for nato. Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, commonly known as the British Armed Forces, and occasionally the Armed Forces of the Crown, are the armed forces of the United Kingdom. The Armed Forces consists of three professional uniformed services: the Royal Navy and Royal Marine Corps, forming the Naval Service, the British Army and the Royal Air Force.
The Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces is the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, to whom members of the forces swear allegiance. Under British constitutional law, the armed forces are subordinate to the Crown. However under the 1689 Bill of Rights no standing army may be maintained during time of peace without the consent of Parliament; Parliament gives this consent every five years by passing an Armed Forces Act. The armed forces are managed by the Defence Council of the Ministry of Defence, headed by the Secretary of State for Defence.
The British Armed Forces are charged with protecting the United Kingdom, its overseas territories and Crown Dependencies, as well as promoting Britain’s wider security interests, and supporting international peacekeeping efforts. They are active and regular participants in NATO and other coalition operations. Britain is also party to the Five Power Defence Arrangements. Recent operations have included wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 2000 intervention in Sierra Leone, peacekeeping responsibilities in the Balkans and Cyprus, and participation in the UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya. Overseas garrisons and facilities are maintained at Ascension Island, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Diego Garcia, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar, Kenya, Qatar and the Sovereign Base Areas (Cyprus).
The United Kingdom tested its first nuclear weapon under Operation Hurricane in 1952, becoming the third nation in the world to achieve the status of a nuclear power. As of 2012, Britain remains one of five recognised nuclear powers, with a total of 225 nuclear warheads. Of those, no more than 160 are deployed and active. Its nuclear deterrence system is based on Trident missiles onboard nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.
Four major reviews of the British Armed Forces have been conducted since the end of the Cold War. All three services experienced considerable reductions in manpower, equipment, and infrastructure during this period while re-structuring to deliver a greater focus on expeditionary warfare.
The Conservative government produced the Options for Change review in the 1990s, seeking to benefit from a perceived post–Cold War “peace dividend”. Though the Soviet Union had disintegrated, a presence in Germany was retained in the reduced form of British Forces Germany. Experiences during the First Gulf War prompted renewed efforts to enhance joint operational cohesion and efficiency among the services by establishing a Permanent Joint Headquarters in 1996.
An increasingly international role for the British Armed Forces was pursued since the Cold War’s end. This entailed the Armed Forces often constituting a major component in peacekeeping missions under the auspices of the United Nations or NATO, and other multinational operations. Consistent under-manning and the reduced size of the Armed Forces highlighted the problem of “overstretch” during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This reportedly contributed to personnel retention difficulties and challenged the military’s ability to sustain its overseas commitments.
A Strategic Defence Review (SDR)—described as “foreign-policy-led”—was published in 1998. Expeditionary warfare and tri-service integration were central to the review, which sought to improve efficiency and reduce expenditure by consolidating resources. Most of the Armed Forces’ helicopters were collected under a single command and a Joint Force Harrier was established in 2000, containing the Navy and RAF’s fleet of Harrier Jump Jets. A Joint Rapid Reaction Force was formed in 1999, with significant tri-service resources at its disposal.
The first major post-11 September restructuring was announced in the 2004 Delivering Security in a Changing World: Future Capabilities review, continuing a vision of “mobility” and “expeditionary warfare” articulated in the SDR. Future equipment projects reflecting this direction featured in the review, including the procurement of two large aircraft carriers and a series of medium-sized vehicles for the Army. Reductions in manpower, equipment, and infrastructure were also announced. The decision to reduce the Army’s regular infantry to 36 battalions (from 40) and amalgamate the remaining single-battalion regiments was controversial, especially in Scotland and among former soldiers. Envisaging a rebalanced composition of more rapidly deployable light and medium forces,