UK pledges $6B in defense spending ‘ramp up’ to replenish stocks, support AUKUS subs


A member of 40 Commando UK Royal Marines seen on exercise Musandam Fort 2022 in Oman. (UK MoD)

BELFAST —  British defense spending will increase by £5 billion ($6 billion) over the next two years to replenish ammunition of stocks supplied to Ukraine, modernize nuclear capabilities and fund the next phase of AUKUS submarines, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced today.

Sunak’s spending pledge falls under the Integrated Review Refresh (IRR) 2023, a national defense strategy update commissioned to incorporate lessons learned from the war in Ukraine and redefine how the UK should deal with the threat of China. The document is set to be unveiled publicly for the first time in Parliament Monday, when more details are expected to be made public.

Sunak announced the “ramp up” in investment “to meet the challenges of an increasingly volatile and complex world,” said the UK Ministry of Defence in a IRR preview released to media today.

The additional funding of $6 billion is less than half the amount UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had apparently requested, according to Sky News, but his department said he welcomed it in a statement.

“The Defence Secretary is delighted with the settlement, especially in these economically challenging times,” explained the MoD. “The Prime Minister has continued his support from 2020, where record sums were invested in defence and is determined to show Europe-wide leadership.”

Despite the previous Conservative Party government pledging to increase military spending to 3 percent GDP by 2030, Sunak stopped short of making any such commitment and has deferred a new defense spending review until after 2025.

Instead, he will “set out an ambition to increase defence spending to 2.5 [percent] of GDP in the longer term,” noted the MoD.

The new funding offered by Sunak will specifically see £3 billion ($3.6 billion) spent on construction of nuclear industrial infrastructure, nuclear skills programs and improving support services for in-service submarines. Those activities will “support the delivery of AUKUS” added the MoD.

The other £1.9 billion ($2.3 billion) will go toward replenishing weapons stockpiles supplied to Ukraine and new investment in UK munitions infrastructure. UK minister for defence procurement, Alex Chalk, told the UK defence committee in January that funding over 10 years had been approved to replenish weapons stocks, in addition to £560 million ($684 million) set out in the Autumn Statement 2022, a UK budget review published in mid-November.

Sunak will join US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in San Diego Monday to launch the next stage of AUKUS. The three leaders are expected to agree on a deal involving at least three US Navy Virginia-class attack submarines to be supplied to Australia to bridge a capability gap between the retirement of Australia’s Collins-class and new ships. Later, Australia reportedly will build new subs based on UK designs, after some have entered UK service.

Beyond AUKUS, the IRR also “identifies a number of priorities” to tackle strategic threats posed by Russia and China, which include “denying Moscow any benefit from their illegal invasion of Ukraine” and an amended approach to countering the Chinese Communist Party’s “increasingly concerning military, financial and diplomatic activity,” according to the MoD.

Additional IRR “priority actions” include:

  • The introduction of a new National Protective Security Authority within spying agency MI5, established starting Monday to “provide a wide range of UK businesses and other organizations with immediate access to expert security advice.”
  • Establishment of an “Economic Deterrence Initiative to strengthen the power of UK sanctions enforcement,” closing off options for human rights abusers and oligarchs to evade sanctions.
  • Doubling funding for the “China Capabilities program,” including investing in Mandarin language training. The UK will also “roll out a College for National Security curriculum,” strengthening national security capabilities across government.
  • Introduction of a new “Integrated Security Fund” worth £1 billion ($1.2 billion) to deliver on the “core objectives of the Integrated Review at home and around the world.” including cyber security, counter terrorism and human rights.
  • Publishing a “refresh of the UK’s Critical Minerals Strategy” so UK maintains “reliable access to the vital components for everyday and future technology.”

More information about British military planning is expected when a refresh of the 2021 Defence Command Paper, commissioned to support the IRR by addressing acquisition and technological priorities, publishes before the NATO summit, according to the MoD. The heads of state event is set to take place July 11 to 12 in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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