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Refreshed Defence Command Paper sets out the future for British Armed Forces

The Defence Command Paper Refresh (DCP23), which was published on 18 July, takes learnings from the war in Ukraine – and wider threats to UK’s security – and sets out a plan to deliver a credible warfighting force that will keep the British Armed Forces on track to act as a global heavyweight both now and in the future. The British MoD elaborates.
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The global technology landscape is more complex and dynamic than ever, which is why Defence needs to stay at the cutting edge of a technology-centric approach (Picture source: British MoD)

A £2.5 billion investment in stockpiles and a Global Response Force that enables the UK to ‘get there first’ is behind a refreshed plan to improve the warfighting readiness of the British Armed Forces. It follows the publication of the Integrated Review Refresh earlier this year, which identified Russia as the most acute threat to security, recognised China as a long-term systemic challenge, and predicted a more adversarial international system.

The DCP23 outlines how the British Armed Forces will modernise and adapt to the changing global picture and, in particular, the British Defence will prioritise investment in science and technology to ensure the Armed Forces have a force greater than the sum of their parts.

It sets out:
• An additional £2.5 billion investment into the stockpiles and munitions, on top of the increased investment committed at the Autumn Statement
• A Global Response Force that enables the UK to ‘get there first, bringing together its deployed and high-readiness forces, and drawing on capabilities from all domains
• How Defence will become a science and technology superpower, enhancing its capabilities in fields such as robotics, human augmentation, directed energy weapons and advanced materials, to gain the edge on the battlefield
• An improved surge capacity through the Strategic Reserve, built around the ex-regular reserve forces to add further depth and expertise in times of crisis
• A new alliance with industry, engaging much earlier in strategic conversations and building in greater financial headroom to respond to changing needs
• A new employment model and skills framework, increasing fluidity between the military, the Civil Service and industry, while offering a more compelling and competitive incentivisation package
• A further £400 million to modernise accommodation that the service families deserve, which is essential for the operational effectiveness of our personnel.

Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace said: “We must adapt and modernise to meet the threats we face, taking in the lessons from President Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. This Defence Command Paper will sharpen our strategic approach – ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of military capability, and a leading power in NATO.”

Since the Defence Command Paper 2021 was published, the UK has led the way in Europe on support for Ukraine’s defence and remained a leading contributor to NATO, consistently meeting the commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on Defence and moving towards 2.5%.

In the last two years, the world has changed and the threats and challenges it faces have evolved, including Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The British Armed Forces are central to protecting the UK around the clock and when global security is challenged, one has seen the effect it can have on economic security. With a more campaigning approach to global competition, the DCP23 will support the Prime Minister’s priorities of growing the economy and reducing inflation.

The recent increased investment of £5 billion at the Spring Budget allows the Ministry of Defence to plan ahead, with the Defence budget – for the first time – over £50 billion a year. The certainty over an increased budget will support greater integration between the government and the British industry, which is fundamental to sustaining the fighting force, developing and exploiting new technologies, and producing the equipment we need to sustain the fight.

Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey said: “Our people and their expertise are at the heart of what we do, underpinning our strategic advantage across all domains and delivering a force that deters against threats and defends our homeland and those of our Allies. We also recognise that to maintain an advantage over adversaries we have to do things differently, responding to rapidly evolving geopolitical, technological and economic threats, learning lessons from Ukraine, and championing closer integration with our Allies and partners. This Defence Command Paper sets out how we’ll do this – prioritising investment in replenishment, modernising our forces and embodying a fully integrated approach to deterrence and defence.”

DCP23 is broken down into a number of chapters based on priorities including People; Science, Innovation and Technology; Industry; Productivity; Deterrence and Defence; Campaigning and Global Competition; Strength through our Partnerships; Strategic Resilience.


The Defence Secretary has been clear about the need to look at the career structures and remuneration package, which is why he commissioned the independent Haythornthwaite Review. Three key areas of the review’s recommendations have been identified to take forward.

• Greater career flexibility through a Spectrum of Service, which means increasing fluidity between the military, the Civil Service and industry.
• Enhancing the effectiveness of the offer by adopting a Total Reward Approach, giving a more compelling and competitive incentivisation package.
• Improving the digitalisation and simplification of the people management system, to remove the red tape that prevents flexibility and workforce agility and restrict access to talent. This will see progress towards a single Armed Forces’ Act.

The Ministry of Defence will also promote ‘zig-zag’ or ‘portfolio’ careers for all the people who want them and to revolutionise the way the Armed Forces recruit. The MoD will increase recruitment into the Armed Forces over the next two years and transition to a transformational tri-service recruitment model.

The provision of service accommodation is essential for the operational effectiveness of the Armed Forces and a key component of the offer provided to the British people. The MoD will therefore inject a further £400M over the next two years to ensure that it provides the modern accommodation that the service families deserve.

Reservists must also be recognised – at all levels in Defence – as a vital part of the workforce. The Reserves deliver both mass and access to battle-winning specialist civilian capabilities that Regular forces cannot readily generate or sustain and are also a crucial part of Defence’s engagement with the nation.

The Defence remains committed to Civil Service reform through the development of a ten-year reward strategy for Civil Servants in Defence, the introduction of improved long-term workforce planning, and by modernising the approach to the way the Defence attracts, recruits and retains talents.

Science, innovation and technology

The global technology landscape is more complex and dynamic than ever, which is why Defence needs to stay at the cutting edge of a technology-centric approach. As shown by the war in Ukraine, that battle-winning advantage is not just achieved by expensive and exquisite capabilities. It can also be delivered by judiciously combining the truly high-tech with the low-cost, the off-the-shelf and the inventive.

The MoD plans to invest significantly more than £6.6 billion in advanced Research and Development (R&D) to seize the opportunities presented by new and emerging technologies. It will also increase investment in its in-house capabilities in those areas which are key to evolving security challenges and future technological advances.

The Armed Forces will strengthen their engagement with, and increase their investment in, the UK’s world-class university sector and industrial base, nurturing a genuinely collaborative ecosystem with the aspiration to create one system for Defence Science and Technology excellence – Government, industry and academia.

DCP23 outlines the plan to accelerate the delivery of the Armed Forces’ own digital transformation, develop an ambitious new approach to the exploitation of intellectual property (IP) generated by Defence Science and Technology and other innovators, and continue to implement the AI Strategy, ensuring the Defence AI Centre is fully operational and offers the opportunity to exploit the rapid advancement in technology for campaign benefit.


Integration between Government and industry is fundamental to sustaining the fighting force, developing and exploiting new technologies, and producing the equipment needed to sustain the fight. To engage earlier in strategic conversations with industry, the MoD will move beyond the traditional customer-supplier relationship by developing long-term strategic alignment and binding Defence and industry into a Joint Endeavour. It will work with industry and the City to ensure that funding markets understand more clearly the critical need for world-class UK suppliers to gain access to third-party revenue and financial services so that defence suppliers are not disadvantaged.
It also means working more closely with the private equity and venture capital community, building on the existing relationships to attract private investment and grow new national security and defence companies.

With industry, the MoD will kickstart an honest assessment of industrial capability, capacity, and sustainment. Within Defence, it will be clear about UK’s sovereign requirements – in particular for munitions, complex weapons, and uncrewed systems.

There is an intention to set a maximum five-year commitment for acquisition programmes, with a maximum three-year commitment for digital programmes.

The MoD will also build a cadre of professionally qualified SROs and Programme Directors, and mandate Infrastructure and Projects Authority accreditation.


The need to compete effectively in a more contested world means Defence must deliver more, at an accelerating pace. To be truly competitive and to deliver even greater effect, the Department must be strategy-led, threat-informed, outcome-focused, and data-enabled.

It will take a much more sophisticated approach to managing risk, ensuring that it strikes a sensible balance between appropriate mitigation and seizing opportunity. Recognising that in working with partners globally, the MoD will often be in lower threat environments, where it can, and will, empower the people to be able to live and operate alongside the partner force, and to be enabled by them.

The Integration Design Authority (IDA) will optimise integration across Defence, driving Defence towards a software, not hardware-defined approach; and to valuing systems-of-systems above platforms. The MoD will seek to harness AI and digital capabilities to replace repetitive tasks across Defence. It will increase investment in AI-enabled military capability, prioritising AI options in Force Development and ‘balance of investment’ exercises.

The MoD will work with the relevant regulatory authorities – for example, the Military Aviation Authority in relation to drone technology – to enable the Defence to better test, experiment, and innovate within legal bounds.

The Defence is already reforming the way it works to remove Defence’s response to a more contested and volatile world 85 organisational and bureaucratic layers that are no longer fit for purpose and will drive towards a more productive Department.

It is essential that the MoD continues to invest in the Defence Estate, specifically through increasing its investment in technical infrastructure, and through the Defence Estate Optimisation Portfolio to enable core capability across Defence.

The MoD will continue to deliver an ambitious set of reforms across the organisation, accelerating the progress made on the Head Office Reform since DCP21.

Deterrence and defence

Defence’s core business is to deter and defend against the threats to UK’s security, to roll them back where necessary, and to adapt to them as they evolve. The MoD has committed to a one-in-two-generations programme of modernisation of the UK’s nuclear forces, underpinned by long-term investment of £3 billion over the next two years, with a further £6 billion over the subsequent three years.

Alongside an additional £2.5 billion in munitions and stockpiles, the Defence will also increase its investment in the resilience and readiness of the UK’s munitions infrastructure, including storage facilities. Over the coming years, the MoD will expand the capacity and reach of the NCF to keep pace with adversaries and ensure that offensive cyber capabilities are fit for future conflicts and deliver the greatest effect as an integrated part of the force.

The UK will continue to be a leading provider of military equipment to Ukraine. This year, its support will again total some £2.3 billion, including over 360,000 rounds of heavy artillery ammunition; hundreds of millions of pounds worth of strategic UAS; and hundreds of additional air defence missiles.

Campaigning and global competition

British Defence will always be required to operate globally to safeguard its interests and those of our allies. The GRF (Global Response Force) brings together forces from across land, sea, air, space and cyber to respond quickly to events around the world. Sometimes that’s moments of crisis like Sudan, where getting there quickly allows the UK to meet its commitments to its citizens and help other countries do the same. On other occasions, it’s about getting there first to move the geopolitical dial – to deter an adversary from doing something destabilising or illegal, or to embolden others to join the UK.

In addition to the Global Response Force, the MoD will further professionalise and operationalise the Integrated Global Defence Network to enhance relationships and improve the ability to sense and understand.

The MoD will continue to invest in its Global Hubs, which will provide the Armed Forces with a springboard to project globally, assure partners and combat current and future threats.

The Defence will also develop mechanisms across the whole of the Government to support its activist approach to exports, including the re-establishment of a Defence Exports Inter-Ministerial Group to drive priorities and sustain senior engagement.

Strength through our partnerships

A cooperative approach is needed to effectively and sustainably counter malign threats and support global stability. The MoD will continue to support close cooperation and coherence between NATO and the EU, recognising that there will be areas where the strengths and different tools of both organisations need to be combined.

Under the auspices of this trilateral partnership, the Defence will deliver SSN-AUKUS, a conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine that will be built and operated by both Australia and the UK.

The Global Combat Air Programme with Italy and Japan aims to harness next-generation technologies to deliver cutting-edge sensors, weapons and data systems. The aircraft, which will start to replace the Typhoon from 2035, will provide the backbone of the RAF fighter force and sit at the centre of a wider system of capabilities, including next-generation weapons systems and un-crewed aerial systems.

The Carrier Strike Group will return to the Indo-Pacific in 2025, representing the UK’s commitment to exercise the best capabilities the Armed Forces have to offer alongside partners in the region.

Strategic resilience

The British strategic resilience comes in part from its ability to mobilise at scale its military resources in a time of crisis in response to threats to the UK’s homeland. The Defence will work with its partners across Government to plan and test how it would better identify vulnerabilities, and exercise its systems, to secure and defend the homeland in times of war. By taking steps now, the MoD will strengthen its preparedness, and enhance its deterrence for the future.

The MoD will also step up its efforts to deliver an Integrated Air and Missile Defence approach. Doing so will provide a major contribution to homeland defence and national resilience.

Continuing to invest in the most cutting-edge technology is vital, and that includes the Sky Sabre air defence system, through collaboration within AUKUS, and with R&D channelled through the UK’s Missile Defence Centre into the detection and interception technologies of the future.

The Defence will work with other Government Departments to implement the 2022 Resilience Strategy, which sets out the Government’s plan to strengthen the underpinning systems and capabilities for resilience.

Defense News July 2023

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