Back in the 19th century, the great British Empire owned about a quarter of the world in terms of land, population and GDP. With such a massive empire, the largest in human history, the British Armed Forced (also known as Her Majesty’s Armed Forces) provided the vital role of holding it together and made sure everything worked smoothly. After World War 2 when the British colonial empire began to dismantle, its military was greatly reduced in size but its importance was well preserved.

Ranked 22nd in the world according to its number of troops (wikipedia), UK is still the world’s second largest military spender. In 2006, 59 billion $ went into military needs, (roughly 2.5 % of the GDP) making the British Armed Forces one of the most efficient and technologically advanced armies in the world. This has helped the UK to preserver a strong voice in the world affairs opposed to its relatively small size.

The British Armed Forces have three branches: The British Army (BA), The Royal Navy (RN) and the Royal Air Force (RAF).

The British Army (land forces):

104.000 active manpower

345 tanks

456 Reconnaissance Vehicles (Light Tanks)
about 3500 APCs and Infantry Fighting Vehicles

209 Self-Propelled Artillery
2727 Other Artillery Pieces

90 attack helicopters {67 Apache helicopters}
196 other purposes helicopters
10 airplanes

Until 2002, 386 Challenger 2 tanks were produced. Developed in the late 1980, they rival other modern tanks like M1 Abrahams, the German Leopard 2 or the Russian T-90. Their model is based on the Challenger 1 tank, which entered service in the early 80s. Challenger 2 first entered service in 1998.

The light tank force is mostly made up of the models Scimitar and Sabre which are based on the Scorpion tank. The Scorpion was in service between 1973 and 1994, but both Scimitar and Sabre are superior to it. These are light tanks usually used in reconnaissance missions.

UK’s APCs are mostly composed of “FV 432”models, dating from the 60s. There are about 1,500 FV 432 and 1,000 of these are to be upgraded after they failed to rise to expectations in Iraq. There are also about 664 Saxon wheeled APCs and some Stormer APCs.

A newly addition to the British Army is the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle designed to keep up with the modern Challenger 2 tanks, 794 are currently in service.

In the future, the British government is planning on changing its aging FV 432s and Saxons with “the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV). An armoured 8×8 wheeled vehicle which combines the most modern armour technology, particularly against mines and direct fire, with high mobility and considerable capacity. (

The Royal Navy/Royal Marines (naval forces):

38,000 active manpower (7,200 Royal Marines)

3 aircraft carriers (22.000 tonnes each)
8 destroyers
17 frigates (type 22 and 23)
9 patrol vessels

4 ballistic missile submarines
9 attack submarines (3 more under contractions)

UK’s three Invincible Class aircraft carriers were built in the 80s especially for submarine hunting and although old and small, they still do a good job. However, they seriously lag behind modern supercarriers (like the US’s Nimitz Class). For this reason, The Ministry of Defence has decided that the Invincible Class will be replaced by Queen Elizabeth Class, expected to enter service in 2014. The new carrier class will be 3 times bigger (65.000 tonnes) and will operate the new F-35B joint strike fighter.

All 8 destroyers are type 42 and are currently being changed with “the most advanced air defence ships in the world”, the type 45. The first type 45 has been lunched in 2006.

The ballistic missile submarines (Vanguard Class) were launched in 1993. They can carry up to 16 Trident II D5 missiles. By 2020 UK intends to completely replace its Trident forces with a completely new class of nuclear-armed submarines.

The attack submarines are made up of 7 Trafalgar class and 2 Swiftsure class. The attack submarine Swiftsure class is currently being replaced by the Astute Class. These are the biggest and most powerful attack submarines to be built for the Royal Navy (about 30 per cent larger than the Trafalgar Class).

Fleet air arm (except the Harrier 2 multi-role jet aircraft [there about 27 of these]):

117 helicopters (mostly Merlin and Lynx types; 42 are Sea King helicopters)
The Merlin and Lynx helicopter are mostly for anti-submarine operation but they can easily perform other tasks.
More info can be found at

The Royal Air Force (air forces):

around 330 attack aircraft
around 130 fighter aircraft (further 177 Eurofighters to be delivered)
48 transport helicopters
33 support helicopters
75 transport aircraft
28 other aircraft (transport/support)

One of the most known jet fighters in the RAF is the Harrier. Work on it started in the late 50s and entered military service in the second half of the 60s. Since then, the model has been continuously upgraded and now has reached its 9th version, the GR.9. There are 60 operational Harrier jetfighters and 11 T-11 for training purpose.
The JFH (Joint Force Harrier) received its first upgraded Harrier GR 9 from BAE Systems’ Warton facility in November 2005, now there are currently 36. Under the terms of a £500 million programme the avionics of some 60 x Harrier GR 7/7A will be upgraded to GR 9 standard and 11 x Harrier T 10 will be upgraded to T 12 standard. –

It is important to note that RAF has around 140 G4 Tornados (attack purpose) of which 110 are operational and also73 F3 Tornados (fighter purpose). Developed in the 70s, they proved themselves to be very capable in penetrating enemy defences in both Iraq Wars.

The Eurofighter started development in the 80s and today one of the most advanced jet fighters in the world, rivalled only by the F-22 Raport and the future Sukhoi T-50. However, in comparison with the later two the Eurofigher is already in active duty. RAF owns 55 Eurofighters but it will eventually get to have around 230. Their purpose is mainly air defence.

The Puma HC1 first entered service in 1971, and the RAF currently has a fleet of 33 aircraft available to the front-line Support Helicopter Force.

The transport fleet has 50 aircraft and in a mixture of C1/C3 and another 25 C-130J C4/C5 aircraft.

The RAF has a mixed fleet of nine hose-and-drogue extended refuelling.

In the future the RAF intends to procure 150 Joint Combat Aircraft F-35B.

Strategic forces

UK owns about 160 nuclear warheads of which are 144 deployed according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.