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United Kingdom
Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence Combined Services badge
Department overview
Formed 1964 (As modern department)
Jurisdiction United Kingdom
Headquarters Whitehall, Westminster, London[1]
Employees over 80,000 civilian staff[2]
Annual budget £35.165 billion (2009/10)[3]
Minister responsible
Department executive

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces.

The MoD states that its principal objectives are to defend the United Kingdom 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 the UK'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 World War I, 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 British Army, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force. The formation of a united ministry of defence was rejected by Prime Minister 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 Coordination 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. The new ministry was headed by a Minister of Defence who possessed a seat in the Cabinet. The three existing service Ministers—the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Secretary of State for 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]

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 ability to support three simultaneous small- to medium-scale operations, with at least one as an enduring peace-keeping mission (e.g. Kosovo). These forces must be capable of representing the UK as lead nation in any coalition operations.
  • The ability, at longer notice, to deploy forces in a large-scale operation while running a concurrent small-scale operation.

Perceived current threats

Following the end of the cold war, the perceived threat of direct conventional military confrontation with other states has been replaced by terrorism - Sir Richard Dannatt 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".[7] He told the prestigious think tank Chatham House that the fight against al-Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups was "probably the fight of our generation".[7]

Sir Richard Dannatt criticised a remnant "Cold War mentality", with military expenditures based on retaining a capability against a direct conventional strategic threat;[7][8] 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.[7]

The Defence Committee - Third Report "Defence Equipment 2009"[9] cites an article from the Financial Times website[10] stating that the Chief of Defence MaterielGeneral Sir Kevin O’Donoghue had instructed staff within Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) through an internal memorandum to reprioritize 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.[9] The then Secretary of State for DefenceThe Rt Hon. Bob Ainsworth, MP reinforced this reprioritization of focus on current operations and had not ruled out "major shifts" in defence spending.[11] In the same article the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval StaffAdmiral Sir Mark Stanhope, Royal Navy, acknowledged that there was not enough money within the defence budget and it is preparing itself for tough decisions and the potential for cutbacks.[11] According to figures published by the London Evening Standard[12] the defence budget for 2009 is "more than 10% overspent" (figures cannot be verified) and the paper states that this had caused Gordon Brown to say that the defence spending must be cut. The MoD has been investing in IT [13] to cut costs and improve services for its personnel.[14][15]

Senior officials

Ministerial Team

The ministerial team at the MoD is headed by the Secretary of State for Defence, who is supported by one Minister of State and four Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State.[16]

Permanent Secretaries and other senior officials

The Ministers and Chiefs of the Defence Staff are supported by a number of 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. His role is to ensure the MoD operates effectively as a department of the government.

Chiefs of the Defence Staff

The current Chief of the Defence Staff, the professional head of the British Armed Forces, is Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup. He is supported by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and by the professional heads of the three sections of the armed forces.

There are also several Deputy Chiefs of the Defence Staff with particular remits, such as Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Equipment Capability), Deputy CDS (Personnel) and Deputy CDS (Commitments). The Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Health), Lt Gen Robert Baxter, represents the Defence Medical Services on the Defence Staff, even though the Surgeon General, Surgeon Vice-Admiral Philip Raffaelli, is the clinical head of that service.[20] 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 customarily also the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Personnel and Reserves).

Departmental Agencies

The following executive agencies are the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence:[21]

The MoD has been reducing the number of bodies with Agency status - such as the Defence Analytical Services Agency and the Defence Medical Education and Training Agency - through reoganisation and mergers, taking them back into the core organisation.

Property portfolio

Main Building—The Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence, Whitehall, Westminster, London

Statue of a Gurkha on Horse Guards Avenue, near the Ministry of Defence building in London.

Main Building, from the air

A British armed forces recruitment centre in Oxford.

The Ministry of Defence is one of the United Kingdom's largest landowners, with hundreds of sites across the country, including military training grounds, ranges, storage and distribution centres, barracks, military-family accommodation and administrative buildings, etc. These are largely managed by the Defence Estates agency. A 2005 National Audit Office report values the MoD's estate at £15,300,000,000 and puts the area covered at 2,400 square kilometres (927 square miles) (or just under 1% of UK's land area). This figure has been much reduced since the Second World War and continues to diminish through rationalisation of bases, etc. Of this, a third is classified as "built"; two thirds are "rural" (mostly training areas whose natural environments have been little altered). The National Audit Office also estimates annual expenditure on the defence estate at £1,300,000,000.

The headquarters of the MoD are in Whitehall and are now known as 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. The northern entrance in Horse Guards Avenue is flanked by two monumental statues, Earth and Water, by Charles Wheeler. Opposite stands the Ghurka 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). A major refurbishment of the building was completed under a PFI contract by Skanska in 2004.[22]

Henry VIII's wine cellar at the Palace of Whitehall, built in 1514–1516, is in the basement of Main Building, and is used for entertainment. The entire arched brick structure of the cellar was moved a short distance in 1949.[23]


The most notable fraud conviction was that of Gordon Foxley, head of defence procurement at the Ministry of Defence from 1981 to 1984. Police claimed he received at least £3.5m[24] in total in corrupt payments substantial bribes from overseas arms contractors aiming to influence the allocation of contracts.


Chinook HC3 helicopters

The MoD has been criticised for an ongoing fiasco, having spent £240m on eight Chinook HC3 helicopters which only started to enter service in 2010, years after they were ordered in 1995 and delivered in 2001.[25] A National Audit Office report reveals that the helicopters have been stored in air conditioned hangars in Britain since their 2001 delivery, while troops in Afghanistan have been forced to rely on helicopters which are flying with safety faults.[26] By the time the Chinooks are airworthy, the total cost of the project could be as much as £500m.[25]

...the most incompetent procurement of all time...might as well have bought eight turkeys.

Parliamentary public accounts committee[27]

In April 2008, a £90m contract was signed with Boeing for a "quick fix" solution, so they can fly by 2010: QinetiQ will downgrade the Chinooks - stripping out some of their more advanced equipment.[27]

Volunteer army cuts

In October 2009, the MoD was heavily criticised for withdrawing the bi-annual non-operational training £20m budget for the volunteer 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.[28]

See also


  1. 51°30′14″N 0°7′30″W / 51.50389°N 0.125°W / 51.50389; -0.125
  2. "Defence in the Community". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  3. "Defence Spending". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  4. The Defence Vision Ministry of Defence website, accessed 23 April 2006.
  5. Strategic Defence Review 1998 Ministry of Defence, accessed 8th December 2008.
  6. History of the Ministry of Defence Ministry of Defence website
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "MoD 'must adapt' to new threats". BBC. 2009-05-15. Retrieved 2009-06-23. 
  8. Monbiot, George (2009-06-22). "Any real effort on climate change will hurt - Start with the easy bits: war toys Our brains struggle with big, painful change. The rational, least painful change is to stop wasting money building tanks". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-06-23. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Defence Committee - Third Report - Defence Equipment 2009
  10. "MoD orders spending clampdown", Financial Times, 16 November 2008,
  11. 11.0 11.1 Head of Royal Navy tells Government not to cut ships Friday, September 18, 2009, 11:30
  12. Defence cuts 'to leave aircraft carriers without any planes', Robert Fox, 23.06.09
  13. Ministry of Defence
  14. MoD march out HR system firing at savings
  15. Virus attacks Ministry of Defence
  16. New Defence Ministers - responsibilities confirmed, A Defence Policy and Business news article,28 May 10
  19. Cambridge academic appointed Chief Scientific Adviser for Ministry of Defence
  20. "Defence Medical Services Department". DMS. Retrieved 2008-04-01. 
  21. List of ministerial responsibilities (including Executive Agencies and Non-Ministerial Departments)
  22. Better Defence Builds Project Case Study
  23. History of MOD Main Building on Ministry of Defence website
  24. "Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)". Parliament of England. Retrieved 2008-01-19. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Hencke, David (4 June 2008). "Chinook blunders cost MoD £500m". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  26. "National Audit Office Value for Money Report: Executive Summary - Ministry of Defence: Chinook Mk3 Helicopters". NAO. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 "MoD sorts out 'turkey' helicopters for Xmas". The Register. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  28. Cuts force TA to cease training BBC News, 10 October 2009


  • Chester, D. N and Willson, F. M. G. The Organisation of British Central Government 1914–1964: Chapters VI and X (2nd edition). London: George Allen & Unwin, 1968.

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