• Toby Irwin

Hard Power Capabilities of the United Kingdom 2018/2019.

The purpose of this article is to provide an in-depth, but by no means fully comprehensive, account of British military capability. The data is taken almost entirely from Ministry of Defence publications, and as far as possible accurate up to at least April 2018.

The British Army

The Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom. It consists of 81,500 regular personnel and 27,000 reservists. The 2010 Strategic and Defence Review set out a plan to maintain regular numbers at 82,000 and reserves at 30,000 past 2020. This ratio will match the systems in the United States and Canada. The regulars are split into 31 battalions and the reserves into 15. The Army contributes two of the three branches of the Special Forces: the Special Air Service and the Special Reconnaissance Regiments. The SAS has three regiments, one regular (22 SAS) and two reserve. They differentiate from the regular Army due to their specialisation in direct action, counter terrorism and hostage rescue.

The Army operates a number of vehicles.

Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs):

- Challenger II (Main Battle Tank). #~250.

Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs):

- Bulldog. #=891.

- Warrior. #=769.

Protected Mobility Vehicles (PMVs):

- Jackal Coyote. #~500.

- Converted Land Rovers. #~720.

- Foxhound. #~400.

- Husky. #~311.

The Army also has its own air capability with the Army Air Corps. This force is separate to, but often works alongside, the Royal Air Force. It operates the Apache AH1 helicopter for offensive operations and the Gazelle AH1, Wildcat AH1 and Islander AL1 for reconnaissance purposes. The Air Corps has around 2,000 personnel.

The Royal Navy

The Royal Navy is the maritime force of the United Kingdom. There are 33,280 regular personnel and around 3,000 reservists. The former number is the sum composition of both Royal Navy personnel and the regular Royal Marines who number around 7,760. Personnel are largely dispersed over a significant surface fleet and submarine service. There are 10 submarines and 70 surface fleet vessels in the Royal Navy.

Classic First Rate Ship of the Line (Flagship):

- HMS Victory

Aircraft Carriers:

- HMS Queen Elizabeth (final sea trials)

- HMS Prince of Wales (nearing completion)

Type 45 Destroyers:

- HMS Daring

- HMS Dauntless

- HMS Diamond

- HMS Dragon

- HMS Defender

- HMS Duncan

Type 23 Frigates:

- HMS Argyll

- HMS Lancaster

- HMS Iron Duke

- HMS Monmouth

- HMS Montrose

- HMS Westminster

- HMS Northumberland

- HMS Richmond

- HMS Somerset

- HMS Sutherland

- HMS Kent

- HMS Portland

- HMS St Albans

Amphibious Warfare Landing Craft:

- HMS Albion

- HMS Bulwark

Patrol Ships (River):

- HMS Tyne

- HMS Severn

- HMS Mersey

- HMS Clyde

- HMS Forth

Patrol Ships (Fast Interception):

- HMS Archer

- HMS Biter

- HMS Smiter

- HMS Pursuer

- HMS Blazer

- HMS Dasher

- HMS Puncher

- HMS Charger

- HMS Ranger

- HMS Trumpeter

- HMS Express

- HMS Example

- HMS Explorer

- HMS Exploit

- HMS Tracker

- HMS Raider

Patrol Ships (Gibraltar):

- HMS Scimitar

- HMS Sabre

Survey Ships:

- HMS Echo

- HMS Enterprise

- HMS Scott

- HMS Protector

- HMS Magpie

Mine Countermeasures Vessels (Hunt Class):

- HMS Ledbury

- HMS Cattistock

- HMS Brocklesby

- HMS Middleton

- HMS Chinddingfold

- HMS Hurworth

Mine Countermeasures Vessels (Sandown Class):

- HMS Penzance

- HMS Pembroke

- HMS Grimsby

- HMS Bangor

- HMS Ramsey

- HMS Blyth

- HMS Shoreham

Strategic Submarines (Nuclear Deterrent. Vanguard Class):

- HMS Vanguard

- HMS Victorious

- HMS Vigilant

- HMS Vengeance

Attack Submarines (Trafalgar Class):

- HMS Trafalgar

- HMS Talent

- HMS Triumph

Attack Submarines (Astute Class):

- HMS Astute

- HMS Ambush

- HMS Artful

Like the Army, the Navy operates its own air wing known as the Fleet Air Arm. Since the retirement of the Harrier in 2010 there has been no squadron with fixed wing aircraft. This is due to change very shortly with the introduction of the F-35B aircraft onto the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers.

The United Kingdom operates a nuclear capability on board the Vanguard Class of submarines. This acts as the national nuclear deterrent. Alongside France, the United Kingdom is the only nuclear power in Europe (if Russia is omitted). Britain has around 215 nuclear warheads, with round 120 ready to be deployed at any one time. The four submarines operate on a rotation, with one always being operational at a random location at sea.

The Royal Air Force

The RAF operates a number of different vehicles. These are broken up into Fixed-Wing aircraft, Rotary-Wing aircraft and Unmanned Aircraft Systems/Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs). It has around 33, 800 active personnel and around 2,200 reserve. Fixed-Wing Aircraft are broken up into two groups: Fighter (Air to Air Combat) and Striker (Air to Ground). As of April 2018, there were 445 Fixed-Wing Aircraft (of which 330 are in service), 332 Rotary-Wing and 281 UAVs.

Fixed-Wing Aircraft:

- Eurofighter Typhoon. #153.

- Tornado GR4. #82.

- Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II. #22. (16 operational at time of article publication. A total of 138 to be ordered throughout lifetime).

Rotary-Wing Aircraft:

- Boeing Chinook. #60.

- various trainer aircraft


- Desert Hawk III. #221.

- MQ-P Reaper. #10.

Transport/Trainer Aircraft

- Airbus A400M Atlas. #20.

- Boeing C-17A Globemaster III. #8.

- Bae 146. #4.

- Lockheed Martin C-30J Hercules. #18.

At the time of writing, Toby Irwin is a second year student at the University of St Andrews. He is studying Modern History and International Relations. Areas that interest him the most are UK defence strategy and foreign policy.