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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on 23 April 2024 that the UK will increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030 in what is being billed as the ‘biggest strengthening of [UK] national defence in a generation’.

The move, at the very least, is a solid advance from the UK government’s previous aspiration to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by an unspecified date to a costed commitment to do so by 2030.

Sunak, who made the announcement alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during a visit to Poland, stated, “In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the Cold War, we cannot be complacent. As our adversaries align, we must do more to defend our country, our interests, and our values. That is why today I have announced the biggest strengthening of our national defence for a generation. We will increase defence spending to a new baseline of 2.5% of GDP by 2030 – a plan that delivers an additional GBP 75 billion [EUR 87 billion] for defence by the end of the decade and secures our place as by far the largest defence power in Europe.

“Today is a turning point for European security and a landmark moment in the defence of the United Kingdom,” Sunak added. “It is a generational investment in British security and British prosperity, which makes us safer at home and stronger abroad.”

A press release from the prime minister’s office stated, “Defence spending will increase immediately and rise linearly – with a further GBP 500 million for Ukraine this year and overall increase of GPB 3 billion in the next financial year. Today’s announcement will see an additional GBP 75 billion for defence over the next six years, with defence spending expected to reach GBP 87 billion a year in 2030.”

Sunak set out three areas of focus for the increased UK defence spending:

  • Firing up the UK defence-industrial base by investing at least an additional GBP 10 billion over the next decade on munitions production, delivering high-quality jobs and investment across the UK and ensuring the UK has a rapid production capacity and stockpiles of next-generation munitions;
  • Modernising the UK armed forces by radically reforming defence procurement and creating a new Defence Innovation Agency to ensure the UK is at the cutting edge of modern warfare technology, with at least 5% of the defence budget to be committed to research and development (R&D);
  • Backing Ukraine in its military efforts to counter the Russian invasion. This will include committing an additional GBP 500 million this year for the ammunition, air defence and unmanned aerial vehicles that Ukraine needs, along with “a cast-iron commitment to maintain existing levels of support to Ukraine for as long as it Is needed”.

The newly created Defence Innovation Agency is intended to manage scaled-up investment in R&D and bring together the UK’s current fragmented defence innovation landscape into a single responsible organisation. This includes R&D in new weapon systems such as directed-energy weapons and hypersonic missiles, as well as space capabilities and other emerging technologies.

The press release from Sunak’s office additionally noted, “We will invest in areas that deliver advantage on the modern battlefield and better exploit low-cost solutions, like the inexpensive unmanned surface vehicles seen in Ukraine.

“We will also make defence procurement faster, smarter and more joined-up,” it added. “The new Integrated Procurement Model, launched by the Ministry of Defence in February, will break down individual service silos and bring in checks and balances through a new integrated design authority. The model will see new technologies being used by the armed forces earlier in the process, rather than waiting for a ‘perfect’ product.”

Sunak’s announcement also included plans to reform the Ministry of Defence’s Head Office to operate as a fully functioning strategic headquarters – “holding the front line command accountable for delivery, driving better pan-defence prioritisation and ensuring value-for-money, supported by the National Security Council”.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, flanked by Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt (left) and Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, arriving in Poland on on 23 April 2024: a trip on which Sunak announced an increase in UK defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030. (Photo: UK Prime Minister’s Office)