The British Armed Forces are the armed forces of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Also known as Her Majesty's Armed Forces and sometimes legally the Armed Forces of the Crown, the British Armed Forces encompasses three professional uniformed services, the Royal Navy, the British Army, and the Royal Air Force.
The Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces is the British monarch, HM Queen Elizabeth II, to whom members of the forces swear allegiance. Under British constitutional law, the armed forces are subordinate to the crown but can only be maintained in peace time by parliament's continuing consent. As a result, parliament still approves the continued existence of the standing armed forces on an annual basis. Consistent with longstanding constitutional convention, however, the Prime Minister holds de facto authority over the armed forces. The armed forces are managed by the Defence Council of the Ministry of Defence. Under the 1689 Bill of Rights no standing army may be maintained during a time of peace without the consent of parliament.
The British Armed Forces are charged with protecting the United Kingdom and its overseas territories, 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, ongoing 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).
Cold WarEditPost–World War II economic and political decline, as well as changing attitudes in British society and government, were reflected by the Armed Forces' contracting global role. Britain's protracted decline was dramatically epitomised by its political defeat during the Suez War of 1956. The 1957 Defence White Paper decided to abolish conscription and reduce the size of the Armed Forces from 690,000 to 375,000 by 1962. Seeking an inexpensive alternative to maintaining a large conventional military, the government pursued a doctrine of nuclear deterrence. This initially consisted of free-fall bombs operated by the RAF, but these were eventually superseded by the submarine-launched Polaris ballistic missile. While assurances had been made to the United States that Britain would maintain a presence "East of Suez", a process of gradual withdrawal from its eastern commitments was undertaken in the 1960s, primarily for economic reasons. By the mid-1970s, Britain had withdrawn permanently deployed forces from Aden, Bahrain, Malaysia, Mauritius, Oman, Sharjah, and Singapore. Agreements with Malta (expired 1979) and South Africa (terminated 1975) also ended.
With a permanent presence east of Suez effectively reduced to Hong Kong (up to 1997) and Brunei, the Armed Forces reconfigured to focus on the responsibilities allocated to the services during the Cold War. Substantial forces thus became committed to NATO in Europe and elsewhere; by 1985, 72,929 personnel were stationed in Continental Europe. The British Army of the Rhine and RAF Germany consequently represented the largest and most important overseas commitments that the British Armed Forces had during this period. The Royal Navy's fleet developed an anti-submarine warfare specialisation, with a particular focus on countering Soviet submarines in the Eastern Atlantic and North Sea. In the process of this transition and due to economic constraints, four conventional aircraft carriers and two "commando" carriers were decommissioned between 1967 and 1984. With the cancellation of the CVA-01 project, three Invincible-class STOVL aircraft carriers, originally designed as "Through-Deck Cruisers", became their ultimate replacements.
While this focus on NATO obligations increased in prominence during the 1970s, low-intensity conflicts in Northern Ireland and Oman emerged as the primary operational concerns of the British Armed Forces. These conflicts had followed a spate of insurgencies against British colonial occupation in Aden, Cyprus, Kenya, and Malaysia. An undeclared war with Indonesia had also occurred in Borneo during the 1960s, and recurring civil unrest in the declining number of British colonies often required military assistance.
20th/21st CenturyEditThree major reviews of the British Armed Forces have been conducted since the end of the Cold War. The Conservative government produced the Options for Change review in the 1990s, seeking to benefit from a perceived post–Cold War "peace dividend".All three services experienced considerable reductions in manpower, equipment, and infrastructure. Though the Soviet Union had disintegrated, a presence in Germany was retained, albeit 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 has been pursued since the Cold War's end. This has 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 has, however, highlighted the problem of "overstretch" in recent years. This has reportedly contributed to personnel retention difficulties and challenged the military's ability to sustain its overseas commitments.
The 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, the review announced that a regiment of Challenger 2 main battle tanks and a regiment of AS-90 self-propelled artillery would be converted to lighter roles.
In November 2010 Prime Minister David Cameron signed a 50-year treaty with French President Nicolas Sarkozy that would have the two countries cooperate intensively in military matters.
British ArmyEditThe British Army is made up of the Regular Army and the Territorial Army. The army consists of three TLBs (Top Level Budget): HQ Land Forces, HQ Adjutant-General, and HQ Northern Ireland Deployable combat formations consist of two divisions (1st Armoured and 3rd Mechanised) and eight brigades. Within the United Kingdom, operational and non-deployable units are administered by three regionally-defined "regenerative" divisions (2nd, 4th, and 5th) and London District.
The core element of the Army is the 50 battalions (36 regular and 14 territorial) of regular and territorial infantry, organised into 17 regiments The majority of infantry regiments contains multiple regular and territorial battalions. Modern infantry have diverse capabilities and this is reflected in the varied roles assigned to them. There are four operational roles that infantry battalions can fulfil: air assault, armoured infantry, mechanised infantry, and light role infantry. .Regiments and battalions exist within every corps of the Army, functioning as administrative or tactical formations. Armoured regiments are equivalent to an infantry battalion. There are 11 armoured regiments within the regular army, of which five are designated as "Armoured" and five as "Formation Reconnaissance". The 1st Royal Tank Regiment uniquely forms a component of the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear Regiment.
With the exception of the Household Cavalry, armoured regiments and their Territorial counterparts are grouped under the Royal Armoured Corps. Arms and support units are also formed into similar collectives organised around specific purposes, such as the Corps of Royal Engineers, Army Air Corps and Royal Army Medical Corps.
Special Air Service or SAS is a name shared by three special forces regiments of the British Army that have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world. The Special Air Service together with the Special Boat Service (SBS), Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), and the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) form the United Kingdom Special Forces under the command of the Director Special Forces.
While the Special Air Service traces its origins to 1941 and the Second World War, it gained fame and recognition worldwide after successfully assaulting the Iranian Embassy in London and rescuing hostages during the 1980 Iranian Embassy Siege, lifting the regiment from obscurity outside the military establishment.
The Special Air Service comprises 22 Special Air Service Regiment of the Regular Army, 21 Special Air Service Regiment and 23 Special Air Service Regiment provided by the Territorial Army. It is tasked with special operations in wartime, and primarily counter-terrorism in peacetime.
The Naval Service consists of the Royal Navy (including the Fleet Air Arm and Submarine Service) and the Royal Marines. In addition, the Naval Service is supported by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (a civilian-manned fleet, owned by the Mod) and the now privatised Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service.Referred to as the "Senior Service" by virtue of it being the oldest service within the British Armed Forces, the Royal Navy is a highly technologically sophisticated naval force, consisting of 79 commissioned ships and 184 aircraft.
The Navy has been structured around a single fleet since the abolition of the Eastern and Western fleets in 1971. Command of deployable assets is exercised by the Commander-in-Chief Fleet, who also has authority over the Royal Marines and the civilian Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Personnel matters are the responsibility of the Second Sea Lord/Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command, an appointment usually held by a vice-admiral.
The United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent is carried aboard the navy's Vanguard-class of four nuclear ballistic-missile submarines. The surface fleet consists of carriers, destroyers, frigates, amphibious assault ships, patrol ships, mine-countermeasures, and miscellaneous vessels.
A submarine service has existed within the Royal Navy for more than 100 years. The service possessed a combined fleet of diesel-electric and nuclear-powered submarines until the early 1990s. Following the Options for Change defence review, the Upholder class diesel-electric submarines were withdrawn and the attack submarine flotilla is now exclusively nuclear-powered.
The infantry component of the Naval Service is the Corps of Royal Marines. Consisting of a single manoeuvre brigade (3 Commando) and various independent units, the Royal Marines specialise in amphibious, arctic, and mountain warfare.
Contained within 3 Commando Brigade are three attached army units; 1st Battalion, The Rifles, an infantry battalion based at Beachley Barracks near Chepstow (from April 2008), 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, an artillery regiment based in Plymouth, and 24 Commando Regiment Royal Engineers. The Commando Logistic Regiment consists of personnel from the Army, Royal Marines, and Royal Navy.
British Royal Air-Force / RAFEditThe RAF is one of the largest and most technologically sophisticated air forces in the world. Consisting of both fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, the RAF has a large operational fleet that fulfils various roles. As of mid 2011, the RAF operates around 998 aircraft.
Frontline aircraft are controlled by Air Command, which is organised into three groups defined by function: 1 Group (Air Combat), 2 Group (Air Support) and 22 Group (training aircraft and ground facilities). Deployable formations consist of Expeditionary Air Wings and squadrons—the basic unit of the Air Force. Independent flights are deployed to facilities in Afghanistan, the Falkland Islands, Iraq, and the United States.
The Royal Air Forces operates multi-role and single-role fighters, reconnaissance and patrol aircraft, tankers, transports, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, and various types of training aircraft. Ground units are also maintained by the Royal Air Force, most prominently the RAF Police and RAF Regiment. The Royal Air Force Regiment essentially functions as the "ground fighting force" of the RAF. Roled principally as ground defence for RAF facilities, the regiment contains nine regular squadrons, supported by five squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment. By March 2008, the three remaining "Air Defence" squadrons had disbanded or re-roled and their responsibilities transferred to the British Army's Royal Artillery.