Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)

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Ministry of Defence
Department overview
Formed1 April 1964 (as modern department)
JurisdictionUnited Kingdom
Headquarters Main Building, Whitehall, Westminster, London
51°30′14″N0°07′30″W / 51.5040°N 0.1249°W / 51.5040; -0.1249 Coordinates: 51°30′14″N0°07′30″W / 51.5040°N 0.1249°W / 51.5040; -0.1249
  • 57,140 civilian staff (May 2018) [1]
  • 192,160 military personnel [2]
Annual budget£41.4 billion; FY  2020–21 (~$55 billion) [3] [ verification needed ]
Minister responsible
Department executives
Child agencies
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The Ministry of Defence (MOD or MoD) is the British government department responsible for implementing the defence policy set by Her Majesty's Government, and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces. It is the UK's ministry of defence.


The MOD states that its principal objectives are to defend the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and its interests and to strengthen international peace and stability. [4] With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the MOD does not foresee any short-term conventional military threat; rather, it has identified weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, and failed and failing states as the overriding threats to Britain's interests. [5] The MOD also manages day-to-day running of the armed forces, contingency planning and defence procurement.


During the 1920s and 1930s, British civil servants and politicians, looking back at the performance of the state during the First World War, concluded that there was a need for greater co-ordination between the three services that made up the armed forces of the United Kingdom—the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. The formation of a united ministry of defence was rejected by David Lloyd George's coalition government in 1921; but the Chiefs of Staff Committee was formed in 1923, for the purposes of inter-service co-ordination. As rearmament became a concern during the 1930s, Stanley Baldwin created the position of Minister for Co-ordination of Defence. Lord Chatfield held the post until the fall of Neville Chamberlain's government in 1940; his success was limited by his lack of control over the existing Service departments and his limited political influence.

Winston Churchill, on forming his government in 1940, created the office of Minister of Defence to exercise ministerial control over the Chiefs of Staff Committee and to co-ordinate defence matters. The post was held by the Prime Minister of the day until Clement Attlee's government introduced the Ministry of Defence Act of 1946. From 1946, the three posts of Secretary of State for War, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Secretary of State for Air were formally subordinated to the new Minister of Defence, who possessed a seat in the Cabinet. The said three service ministers—Admiralty, War, Air—remained in direct operational control of their respective services, but ceased to attend Cabinet.

From 1946 to 1964, five Departments of State did the work of the modern Ministry of Defence: the Admiralty, the War Office, the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Aviation, and an earlier form of the Ministry of Defence. These departments merged in 1964; the defence functions of the Ministry of Aviation Supply merged into the Ministry of Defence in 1971. [6]

Ministerial team

The Ministers in the Ministry of Defence are as follows: [7] [8]

The Rt Hon. Ben Wallace MP Secretary of State Overall responsibility for the department; strategic operations and operational strategy, including as a member of the National Security Council; defence planning, programme and resource allocation; strategic international partnerships: US, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, NATO; nuclear operations, policy and organisations; strategic communications.
Jeremy Quin MP Minister of State for Defence Procurement Delivery of the Equipment Plan; nuclear enterprise; defence exports; innovation; defence science and technology including Dstl; information computer technology; the Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO); DIO estates and investment; environment and sustainability
The Rt Hon. The Baroness Goldie DLMinister of State for Defence Affairs (unpaid)Corporate governance including transformation programme; single departmental plan, risk reporting and health, safety and security; EU relations, including Brexit (excluding No Deal planning); engagement with retired senior Defence personnel and wider opinion formers; arms control and counter-proliferation, including strategic export licensing and chemical and biological weapons; UK Hydrographic Office; Statutory Instrument programme; Australia, Asia and Far East defence engagement; Defence Fire and Rescue; safety and security; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland devolved authorities; ship wrecks, museums and heritage; Ministry of Defence Police; ministerial correspondence and PQs
James Heappey MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Operations and operational legal policy; Brexit no deal planning; force generation (including exercises); military recruitment and retention policy (regulars and reserves); cyber; Permanent Joint Operating bases; international defence engagement strategy; lead for defence engagement in Africa and Latin America; human security; operational public inquiries, inquests; youth and cadets; commemorations, ceremonial duties, medallic recognition and protocol policy and casework
Johnny Mercer MPParliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence People and VeteransCivilian and service personnel policy, armed forces pay, pensions and compensation, Armed Forces Covenant, welfare and service families; community engagement, equality, diversity and inclusion, veterans (including resettlement, transition, defence charities and Ministerial Covenant and Veterans Board, and Office of Veteran Affairs), legacy issues and non-operational public inquiries and inquests, mental health, Defence Medical Services

the people programme (Flexible Engagement Strategy, Future Accommodation Model and Enterprise Approach), estates service family accommodation policy and engagement with welfare. Works with Cabinet Office.

Senior military officials

General Sir Nicholas Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff. Army (British Army) General Sir Nicholas Carter (US Army photo 180514-A-IW468-223).jpg
General Sir Nicholas Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff.

Chiefs of the Defence Staff

The Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) is the professional head of the British Armed Forces and the most senior uniformed military adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister.

The CDS is supported by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS) who deputises and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the armed services aspect of the MOD through the Central Staff, working closely alongside the Permanent Secretary. They are joined by the professional heads of the three British armed services (Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force) and the Commander of Joint Forces Command. All personnel sit at OF-9 rank in the NATO rank system. [9]

Together the Chiefs of Staff form the Chiefs of Staff Committee with responsibility for providing advice on operational military matters and the preparation and conduct of military operations.

The current Chiefs of Staff are as follows. [10]

Other senior military officers

The Chief of Staff is supported by several Deputy Chief of the Defence Staffs and senior officers at OF-8 rank. [9]

Additionally, there are a number of Assistant Chiefs of Defence Staff, including the Defence Services Secretary in the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, who is also the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Personnel). [11]

Senior management

Permanent Secretary and other senior officials The Ministers and Chiefs of the Defence Staff are supported by several civilian, scientific and professional military advisors. The Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Defence (generally known as the Permanent Secretary) is the senior civil servant at the MOD. Their role is to ensure that it operates effectively as a government department and has responsibility for the strategy, performance, reform, organisation and the finances of the MOD. [12] The role works closely with the Chief of the Defence Staff in leading the organisation and supporting Ministers in the conduct of business in the Department across the full range of responsibilities.

Defence policy

The 1998 Strategic Defence Review and the 2003 Delivering Security in a Changing World white paper outlined the following posture for the British Armed Forces –

The MOD has since been regarded as a leader in elaborating the post-Cold War organising concept of "defence diplomacy". [13] [14] [15] As a result of the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron signed a 50-year treaty with French President Nicolas Sarkozy that would have the two countries co-operate intensively in military matters. [16] The UK is establishing air and naval bases in the Persian Gulf, located in the UAE and Bahrain. [17] [18] [19] A presence in Oman is also being considered. [20]

The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 included £178 billion investment in new equipment and capabilities. [21] [22] The review set a defence policy with four primary missions for the Armed Forces: [23]

The review stated the Armed Forces will also contribute to the government's response to crises by being prepared to: [23]

Current threats

UK defence spending as a percentage of GDP, 1692-2014 UK defence spending as a percentage of GDP, 1692-2014, OWID.svg
UK defence spending as a percentage of GDP, 1692–2014
The plaque outside the South Door of the MoD's Main Building. MOD Sign MOD 45154855.jpg
The plaque outside the South Door of the MoD's Main Building.

Following the end of the Cold War, the threat of direct conventional military confrontation with other states has been replaced by terrorism. In 2009, Sir Richard Dannatt, then head of the British Army, predicted British forces to be involved in combating "predatory non-state actors" for the foreseeable future, in what he called an "era of persistent conflict". He told the Chatham House think tank that the fight against al-Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups was "probably the fight of our generation". [25]

Dannatt criticised a remnant "Cold War mentality", with military expenditures based on retaining a capability against a direct conventional strategic threat; [25] [26] He said currently only 10% of the MOD's equipment programme budget between 2003 and 2018 was to be invested in the "land environment" – at a time when Britain was engaged in land–based wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. [25]

The Defence Committee – Third Report "Defence Equipment 2009" [27] cites an article from the Financial Times website [28] stating that the Chief of Defence Materiel, General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue, had instructed staff within Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) through an internal memorandum to re-prioritise the approvals process to focus on supporting current operations over the next three years; deterrence related programmes; those that reflect defence obligations both contractual or international; and those where production contracts are already signed. The report also cites concerns over potential cuts in the defence science and technology research budget; implications of inappropriate estimation of Defence Inflation within budgetary processes; underfunding in the Equipment Programme; and a general concern over striking the appropriate balance over a short-term focus (Current Operations) and long-term consequences of failure to invest in the delivery of future UK defence capabilities on future combatants and campaigns. [27] The then Secretary of State for Defence, Bob Ainsworth MP, reinforced this re-prioritisation of focus on current operations and had not ruled out "major shifts" in defence spending. [29] In the same article, the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, acknowledged that there was not enough money within the defence budget and it is preparing itself for tough decisions and the potential for cutbacks. [29] The MOD has been investing in IT to cut costs and improve services for its personnel. [30] [31] [32] As of 2017 there is concern that defence spending may be insufficient to meet defence needs. [33]

Governance and departmental organisation

A British armed forces careers office in Oxford Army Careers Oxford 20051022.jpg
A British armed forces careers office in Oxford


Defence is governed and managed by several committees.

Departmental organisation

The following organisational groups come under the control of the MOD. [39] [40]

Top level budgets

The MOD comprises five top-level budgets. The head of each organisation is personally accountable for the performance and outputs of their particular organisation.

Bespoke trading entity

Executive agencies

Executive non-departmental public bodies

Advisory non-departmental public bodies

Ad-hoc advisory group

Other bodies

Public corporations

Support organisation

In addition, the MOD is responsible for the administration of the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus. [42]

Property portfolio

The MOD Main Building, Whitehall, London Ministry of Defence Main Building Mars 2014.jpg
The MOD Main Building, Whitehall, London

The Ministry of Defence is one of the United Kingdom's largest landowners, owning 227,300 hectares of land and foreshore (either freehold or leasehold) at April 2014, which was valued at "about £20 billion". The MOD also has "rights of access" to a further 222,000 hectares. In total, this is about 1.8% of the UK land mass. The total annual cost to support the defence estate is "in excess of £3.3 billion". [43]

The defence estate is divided as training areas & ranges (84.0%), research & development (5.4%), airfields (3.4%), barracks & camps (2.5%), storage & supply depots (1.6%), and other (3.0%). [43] These are largely managed by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

Main Building

The headquarters of the MOD are in Whitehall and is known as MOD Main Building. This structure is neoclassical in style and was originally built between 1938 and 1959 to designs by Vincent Harris to house the Air Ministry and the Board of Trade. A major refurbishment of the building was completed under a Private Finance Initiative contract by Skanska in 2004. [44] The northern entrance in Horse Guards Avenue is flanked by two monumental statues, Earth and Water, by Charles Wheeler. Opposite stands the Gurkha Monument, sculpted by Philip Jackson and unveiled in 1997 by Queen Elizabeth II. Within it is the Victoria Cross and George Cross Memorial, and nearby are memorials to the Fleet Air Arm and RAF (to its east, facing the riverside).

Henry VIII's wine cellar at the Palace of Whitehall, built in 1514–1516 for Cardinal Wolsey, is in the basement of Main Building, and is used for entertainment. The entire vaulted brick structure of the cellar was encased in steel and concrete and relocated nine feet to the west and nearly 19 feet (5.8 m) deeper in 1949, when construction was resumed at the site after the Second World War. This was carried out without any significant damage to the structure. [45]



The most notable fraud conviction has been that of Gordon Foxley, Director of Ammunition Procurement at the Ministry of Defence from 1981 to 1984. Police claimed he received at least £3.5m in total in corrupt payments, such as substantial bribes from overseas arms contractors aiming to influence the allocation of contracts. [46]

Germ and chemical warfare tests

A government report covered by The Guardian newspaper in 2002 indicated that between 1940 and 1979, the Ministry of Defence "turned large parts of the country into a giant laboratory to conduct a series of secret germ warfare tests on the public" and many of these tests "involved releasing potentially dangerous chemicals and micro-organisms over vast swathes of the population without the public being told." [47] The Ministry of Defence claims that these trials were to simulate germ warfare and that the tests were harmless. However, families who have been in the area of many of the tests are experiencing children with birth defects and physical and mental handicaps and many are asking for a public inquiry. The report estimated these tests affected millions of people, including during one period between 1961 and 1968 where "more than a million people along the south coast of England, from Torquay to the New Forest, were exposed to bacteria including e.coli and bacillus globigii , which mimics anthrax." Two scientists commissioned by the Ministry of Defence stated that these trials posed no risk to the public. This was confirmed by Sue Ellison, a representative of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down who said that the results from these trials "will save lives, should the country or our forces face an attack by chemical and biological weapons."

Territorial Army cuts

In October 2009 the MOD was heavily criticised for withdrawing the bi-annual non-operational training £20m budget for the Territorial Army (TA), ending all non-operational training for 6 months until April 2010. The government eventually backed down and restored the funding. The TA provides a small percentage of the UK's operational troops. Its members train on weekly evenings and monthly weekends, as well as two-week exercises generally annually and occasionally bi-annually for troops doing other courses. The cuts would have meant a significant loss of personnel and would have had adverse effects on recruitment. [48]


In 2013 it was found that the Ministry of Defence had overspent on its equipment budget by £6.5bn on orders that could take up to 39 years to fulfil. The Ministry of Defence has been criticised in the past for poor management and financial control. [49] Specific examples of overspending include:

See also

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