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Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)

Ministry of Defence
Department overview
Formed 1964 (As modern department)
Jurisdiction United Kingdom
Headquarters Whitehall, Westminster, London[1]
Employees 60,660 civilian staff (July 2014),[2]
Annual budget £37 billion[3]
Minister responsible Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence
Department executives General Sir Nick Houghton, Chief of the Defence Staff
Jon Thompson[4], Permanent Secretary
Child agencies Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
Defence Support Group
United Kingdom Hydrographic Office
Website /
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the United Kingdom

The Ministry of Defence (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.[5] 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.[6] The MoD also manages day-to-day running of the armed forces, contingency planning and defence procurement.


  • History 1
  • Ministers 2
  • Senior officials 3
    • Permanent Secretaries and other senior officials 3.1
    • Chiefs of the Defence Staff 3.2
  • Defence policy 4
    • Current threats 4.1
  • Departmental organisation 5
  • Property portfolio 6
  • Controversies 7
    • Fraud 7.1
    • Germ & Chemical Warfare Tests 7.2
    • Chinook HC3 helicopters 7.3
    • Volunteer army cuts 7.4
    • Overspending 7.5
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Bibliography 10
  • External links 11


During the 1920s and 1930s, British 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.[7]


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

Minister Rank Portfolio
The Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP Secretary of State Overall responsibility and strategic direction
The Rt Hon Mark Francois MP Minister of State Operations, force generation
Anna Soubry MP Minister of State Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans
Julian Brazier MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Reserves
Philip Dunne MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Defence Equipment, Support and Technology
Lord Astor of Hever DL Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Lords spokesman
Key Conservative
Liberal Democrat

Senior officials

Jon Thompson, Permanent Under-Secretary of State
The plaque outside the South Door of the MoD's Main Building.

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.[9] The Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Defence (generally known as the Permanent Secretary) is the senior civil servant at the MoD. His or her 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 General Sir Nicholas Houghton, late Green Howards. He is supported by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and by the professional heads of the three services of HM Armed Forces.

There are also three Deputy Chiefs of the Defence Staff with particular remits, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Capability), Deputy CDS (Personnel and Training) and Deputy CDS (Operations). The Surgeon General, represents the Defence Medical Services on the Defence Staff, and is the clinical head of that service.[13] 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).[14]

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".[15][16][17]

In November 2010, the MoD released its first ever business plan.[18][19]

Current threats

Following the end of the Cold War, the 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".[20] 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".[20]

Dannatt criticised a remnant "Cold War mentality", with military expenditures based on retaining a capability against a direct conventional strategic threat;[20][21] 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.[20]

The Defence Committee—Third Report "Defence Equipment 2009"[22] cites an article from the Financial Times website[23] 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 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.[22] The then Secretary of State for Defence, Bob Ainsworth MP, reinforced this reprioritisation of focus on current operations and had not ruled out "major shifts" in defence spending.[24] In the same article the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral 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.[24] According to figures published by the London Evening Standard[25] 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 [26] to cut costs and improve services for its personnel.[27][28]

Departmental organisation

A British armed forces careers office in Oxford


  • 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'. Its 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.[30]
  • 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.[31]

Central command organisations:

Support organisations:

Executive agencies:

Dstl, DSG and UKHO also have trading fund status.

Non-departmental public bodies:

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".[32]

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%).[32] These are largely managed by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

The headquarters of the MoD are in 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.[33]

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.[34]



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[35] in total in corrupt payments, such as substantial bribes from overseas arms contractors aiming to influence the allocation of contracts.

Germ & Chemical Warfare Tests

A government report covered by the Guardian in 2002 indicates 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 swaths of the population without the public being told." [36] The Ministry of Defence claims that these trials were to simulate germ warfare and that the tests were harmless. Still, 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. According to the report these tests affected estimated millions of people including 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 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.

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.[38] 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.[39] By the time the Chinooks are airworthy, the total cost of the project could be as much as £500m.[38]

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.[37]

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.[40]


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.[41]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Quarterly Civilian Personnel Report (MoD), 1 July 2014
  3. ^ Budget 2011. London: HM Treasury. 2011. p. 48. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Jon Thompson. "Jon Thompson - Inside Government - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  5. ^ The Defence Vision, Ministry of Defence website.
  6. ^ Strategic Defence Review 1998 Ministry of Defence, accessed 8 December 2008.
  7. ^ Ministry of Defence (2012-12-10). "History of the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Defence website". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  8. ^ "Ministry of Defence Home Page". Retrieved 2014-11-01. 
  9. ^ "Ministry of Defence - Inside Government - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  10. ^ Bernard Gray (2011-03-15). "Bernard Gray - Inside Government - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  11. ^ Professor Vernon Gibson. "Professor Vernon Gibson - Inside Government - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  12. ^ David Williams. "David Williams - Inside Government - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  13. ^ Ministry of Defence (2011-03-01). "Departmental organisation charts - Publications - Inside Government - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ [2]
  16. ^ [3]
  17. ^ "A welcome return of defence diplomacy » Spectator Blogs". 2010-03-14. Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  18. ^ "Business Plan 2011-2015 - Ministry of Defence". 2010-11-08. Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  19. ^ "2010-11-09". Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  20. ^ a b c d "MoD 'must adapt' to new threats". BBC. 2009-05-15. Retrieved 2009-06-23. 
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ a b The Committee Office, House of Commons. "Defence Committee - Third Report - Defence Equipment 2009". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  23. ^ "MoD orders spending clampdown", Financial Times, 16 November 2008,
  24. ^ a b Albert, Uncle (2009-09-18). "Head of Royal Navy tells Government not to cut ships". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  25. ^ Defence cuts 'to leave aircraft carriers without any planes', Robert Fox, 23 June 2009
  26. ^ "Ministry of Defence - CIO 100 2009". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  27. ^ Leo King. "MoD march out HR system firing at savings". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  28. ^ Jeremy Kirk. "Virus attacks Ministry of Defence". Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  29. ^ MOD website
  30. ^ MOD website, Defence Board page
  31. ^ MOD website, Defence Council page
  32. ^ a b MOD Land Holdings statistics
  33. ^ Better Defence Builds Project Case Study
  34. ^ "The Old War Office Building; a History" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  35. ^ "Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)".  
  36. ^
  37. ^ a b "MoD sorts out 'turkey' helicopters for Xmas".  
  38. ^ a b Hencke, David (4 June 2008). "Chinook blunders cost MoD £500m".  
  39. ^ "Ministry of Defence: Chinook Mk3 Helicopters"National Audit Office Value for Money Report: Executive Summary - .  
  40. ^ Cuts force TA to cease training BBC News, 10 October 2009
  41. ^ 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

  • Official website
  • Archived Website
  • SaBRE
  • Defence Image Database
  •—Defence News
  • UK Ministry of Defence's channel on YouTube
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