Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)

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Ministry of Defence
Department overview
Formed1 April 1964 (As modern department)
JurisdictionUnited Kingdom
HeadquartersMain Building, Whitehall, Westminster, London
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Employees56,860 civilian staff (October 2015)[1]
Annual budget£46 billion; FY 2017–18 (≈$64 billion)[2]
Minister responsible
Department executives
Child agencies

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.

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.[3] 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.[4] 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 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. The new ministry was headed by a Minister of Defence who possessed a seat in the Cabinet. The three existing service Ministers—the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for War 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.[5]


The Ministers in the Ministry of Defence are as follows:[6][7]

Minister Rank Portfolio
The Rt Hon. Gavin Williamson CBE MP Secretary of State Overall responsibility for the department and its strategic direction
The Rt Hon. The Earl Howe PC Minister of State Department spokesman in the House of Lords, commemorations and ceremonies; Efficiency Programme; EU relations, including Brexit; Lawfare; ceremonial duties, medallic recognition and protocol policy and casework; commemorations; engagement with retired senior defence personnel and wider opinion formers; community engagement; arms control and proliferation, including export licensing; UK Hydrographic Office; Statutory Instrument Programme; Australia, Far East; defence fire and rescue; London estate; Defence Medical Services; museums and heritage; ministerial correspondence and PQs
The Rt Hon. Mark Lancaster TD MP Minister of State for the Armed Forces Operations; operational legal matters; force generation and international defence engagement including: operations and operational legal policy; force generation (including exercises); manning, recruitment and retention of regulars; cyber; Permanent Joint Operating Bases; Northern Ireland; international defence engagement; Africa and Latin America; operational public inquiries, inquests, safety and security
The Rt Hon. Tobias Ellwood MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence People and Veterans Civilian and service personnel policy; veterans policy including resettlement, transition, charities and Veterans Board; Armed Forces People Programme; mental Health; DIO better defence estate; armed forces pay, pensions and compensation; Armed Forces Covenant; service justice; welfare and service families; youth and cadets; security and safety including vetting (non-operations); inquiries and inquests (operations and non-operations); environment and sustainability; equality, diversity and inclusion
Guto Bebb MP Minister for Defence Procurement Equipment plan delivery, the nuclear enterprise, defence equipment and support reform, defence exports, innovation, science and technology (including Dstl), information computer technology, the Gulf, the Single Source Regulations Office, and Scotland and Wales

Senior military and civilian officials

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the Chief of the Defence Staff.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, 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.[8]

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.[9]

Other senior military officers

The Chief of Staff is supported by several other senior military personnel at OF-8 rank.[8]

  • Chief of Defence People – Lieutenant General Richard Nugee
  • Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Military Capability) – Lieutenant-General Mark Poffley
  • Director General MOD Saudi Armed Forces Projects – Air Marshal Ian Morrison
  • Director General Defence Safety Authority – Air Marshal Richard Garwood
  • Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Military Strategy and Operations) – Lieutenant-General Mark Carleton-Smith
  • Defence Senior Adviser Middle East

Additionally, there are a number of Assistant Chiefs of Defence Staff, including the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Reserves and Cadets) and 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).[10]

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.[11] 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 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 Britain 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.

The MOD has since been regarded as a leader in elaborating the post-Cold War organising concept of "defence diplomacy".[12][13][14] 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.[15] The UK is establishing air and naval bases in the Persian Gulf, located in the UAE and Bahrain.[16][17][18] A presence in Oman is also being considered.[19]

The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 included £178 billion investment in new equipment and capabilities.[20][21] The review set a defence policy with four primary missions for the Armed Forces:[22]

  • Defend and contribute to the security and resilience of the UK and Overseas Territories.
  • Provide the nuclear deterrent.
  • Contribute to improved understanding of the world through strategic intelligence and the global defence network.
  • Reinforce international security and the collective capacity of our allies, partners and multilateral institutions.

The review stated the Armed Forces will also contribute to the government’s response to crises by being prepared to:[22]

  • Support humanitarian assistance and disaster response, and conduct rescue missions.
  • Conduct strike operations.
  • Conduct operations to restore peace and stability.
  • Conduct major combat operations if required, including under NATO Article 5.

Current threats

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".[23]

Dannatt criticised a remnant "Cold War mentality", with military expenditures based on retaining a capability against a direct conventional strategic threat;[23][24] 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.[23]

The Defence Committee – Third Report "Defence Equipment 2009"[25] cites an article from the Financial Times website[26] 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.[25] 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.[27] 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.[27] According to figures published by the London Evening Standard 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.[28] The MOD has been investing in IT to cut costs and improve services for its personnel.[29][30][31] As of 2017 there is concern that defence spending may be insufficient to meet defence needs.[32]

The plaque outside the South Door of the MoD's Main Building.

Governance and departmental organisation

A British armed forces careers office in Oxford


Defence is governed and managed by several committees committee.

  • The Defence Board is the main MOD corporate board chaired by the Secretary of State and responsible for top level leadership and management across defence. The board's membership comprises the Secretary of State, the Armed Forces Minister, the Permanent Secretary, the Chief and Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief of Defence Materiel, Director General Finance and three non-executive board members.[33]
  • The Defence Council provides the formal legal basis for the conduct of defence in the UK through a range of powers vested in it by statute and Letters Patent. It too is chaired by the Secretary of State, and its members are ministers, the senior officers and senior civilian officials.[33]

Departmental organisation

The following organisations come under the control of the MOD.[34][35]

Top level budgets

The MOD comprises seven 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

  • Central Advisory Committee on Compensation

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.[37]

Property portfolio

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".[38]

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%).[38] 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.[39] 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 World War II. This was carried out without any significant damage to the structure.[40]



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.[41]

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."[42] 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." Asked whether such tests are still being carried out, she said: "It is not our policy to discuss ongoing research." It is unknown whether or not the harmlessness of the trials was known at the time of their occurrence.[citation needed]

Chinook HC3 helicopters

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

The MOD was criticised for spending £240m on eight Boeing Chinook HC3 helicopters which only started to enter service in 2010, many years after they were ordered in 1995 and delivered in 2001.[44] A National Audit Office report reveals that the helicopters have been stored in air conditioned hangars in Britain since their 2001[why?] delivery, while troops in Afghanistan have been forced to rely on helicopters which are flying with safety faults.[45] By the time the Chinooks are airworthy, the total cost of the project could be as much as £500m.[44]

In April 2008, a £90m contract was signed with Boeing for a "quick fix" solution, so they could fly by 2010: QinetiQ would downgrade the Chinooks—stripping out some of their more advanced equipment.[43]

Volunteer army cuts

In October 2009, the MOD was heavily criticized 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.[46]


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, investing in projects that have taken up to 10 and even as much as 15 years to be delivered.[47]

See also


  1. MOD civilian personnel quarterly report: 2015,, 1 October 2015
  2. Budget 2015 HM Treasury (18 March 2015) - see Chart 1 on page 6
  3. The Defence Vision, Ministry of Defence website.
  4. Strategic Defence Review 1998 Archived 26 October 2012 at the UK Government Web Archive Ministry of Defence, accessed 8 December 2008.
  5. Ministry of Defence (10 December 2012). "History of the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Defence website". Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  6. "Her Majesty's Official Opposition". UK Parliament (in English). Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  7. "Our ministers". GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Organogram - Ministry of Defence". (in English). 31 March 2016. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  9. "Ministry of Defence - Our senior military officials". GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  10. [1] Archived 8 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  11. "Ministry of Defence - Our management". GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  12. [2] Archived 5 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  13. "The "defence diplomacy", main component of the preventive diplomacy. Toward a new symbiosis between diplomacy and defence - Centre Thucydide - analyse et recherche en relations internationales". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  14. "A welcome return of defence diplomacy » Spectator Blogs". 14 March 2010. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  15. Wintour, Patrick (2 November 2010). "Britain and France sign landmark 50-year defence deal". The Guardian. London.
  16. "East of Suez, West from Helmand: British Expeditionary Force and the next SDSR" (PDF). Oxford Research Group. December 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  17. "A Return to East of Suez? UK Military Deployment to the Gulf". Royal United Services Institute. April 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  18. "The New East of Suez Question: Damage Limitation after Failure Over Syria". Royal United Services Institute. 19 September 2013. Archived from the original on 2 July 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  19. "Defence Secretary visits Oman". Ministry of Defence. 1 October 2015. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
  20. "PM pledges £178 billion investment in defence kit". Ministry of Defence. 23 November 2015. p. 27. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  21. "UK announces rapid strike forces, more warships in new defence plan". Reuters. 23 November 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  22. 22.0 22.1 "National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015" (PDF). HM Government. November 2015. pp. 27, 29. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 "MoD 'must adapt' to new threats". BBC News. 15 May 2009. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
  24. Monbiot, George (22 June 2009). "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 23 June 2009. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  25. 25.0 25.1 The Committee Office, House of Commons. "Defence Committee - Third Report - Defence Equipment 2009". Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  26. "MoD orders spending clampdown", Financial Times, 16 November 2008,
  27. 27.0 27.1 Albert, Uncle (18 September 2009). "Head of Royal Navy tells Government not to cut ships". Archived from the original on 6 June 2012. Retrieved 3 June 2013. Unknown parameter |dead-url= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  28. Defence cuts 'to leave aircraft carriers without any planes', Robert Fox, 23 June 2009
  29. "Ministry of Defence - CIO 100 2009". Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  30. Leo King (23 March 2009). "MoD march out HR system firing at savings". Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  31. Jeremy Kirk (19 January 2009). "Virus attacks Ministry of Defence". Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  32. Defence budget: New equipment at risk over MoD savings 'doubts' BBC
  33. 33.0 33.1 "Our governance". GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  34. "Departments, agencies and public bodies". GOV.UK (in English). Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  35. "A Short Guide to the Ministry of Defence" (PDF). National Audit Office. September 2017. p. 40. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  36. Baldwin, Harriet (19 July 2017). "Submarine Delivery Body: Staff - Written question 4686". UK Parliament. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  37. Overseas Territories: The Ministry of Defence’s Contribution (PDF). Ministry of Defence, Directorate-General Security Policy.
  38. 38.0 38.1 "MOD land holdings bulletin: index". GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  39. Better Defence Builds Project Case Study Archived 6 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  40. "The Old War Office Building; a History" (PDF). Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  41. "House of Commons Debates - Wednesday 16 Oct 1996 - Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)". Hansard. 16 October 1996. Retrieved 19 January 2008.
  42. Antony Barnett (21 April 2002). "Millions were in germ war tests". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Lewis, Page (20 December 2007). "MoD sorts out 'turkey' helicopters for Xmas". The Register. Archived from the original on 21 December 2007. Retrieved 4 June 2008. Unknown parameter |dead-url= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  44. 44.0 44.1 Hencke, David (4 June 2008). "Chinook blunders cost MoD £500m". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  45. "National Audit Office Value for Money Report: Executive Summary - Ministry of Defence: Chinook Mk3 Helicopters" (PDF). NAO. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  46. "Cuts force TA to cease training", BBC News, 10 October 2009
  47. Bowden, David (10 January 2013). "MoD Overspends Equipment Budget By £6.5bn". Sky News.


  • 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.

External links