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Integrated Force 2030 - The New Force Structure

This essay was first published in October 2021, in the second volume of the Centre for Defence Studies series on The Integrated Review in Context: Defence and Security in Focus.

All the major defence reviews since the end of the Cold War have attempted to re-set the UK’s force structure. The 1998 Strategic Defence Review was the first to focus on expeditionary operations and included a series of ‘joint’ initiatives to co-ordinate the activities of the three Services more closely. A revised force structure was developed around the concept of Joint Rapid Reaction Forces (JRRF), which was billed as the spearhead of Britain’s modernised, rapidly deployable, and better supported front line. Twelve years later the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) designed an outline force structure to be delivered 10 years hence. Known as the Future Force 2020 (FF20), it had three broad elements. The Deployed Force consisted of those forces engaged on operations. The High Readiness Force were forces held at minimum notice to deploy, in order to react rapidly to crises. The Lower Readiness Force included forces recuperating from operations as well as those preparing to enter a period of high readiness. The 2015 SDSR saw the need for the armed forces to be able to deploy more quickly and for longer periods, in order to tackle a wider range of more sophisticated potential adversaries. To achieve this, it proposed the development of Joint Force 2025 (JF25), which would build on FF20 and be operational 10 years after the review.

Immediately after the 2017 general election, the Conservative government broke with the quinquennial review cycle to launch a review of national security capabilities. This work resulted in the publication of two separate reports the following year: the National Security Capability Review and the Modernising Defence Programme. While it could be argued that the substantial but largely unpredicted changes to the global security environment at the time warranted a premature re-examination of defence and security policy, the outcomes of both reviews were largely underwhelming. Neither resulted in any changes to the force structure; indeed, possibly the most positive aspect of the reports was that they introduced no cuts to equipment or personnel numbers.

By contrast, the 2021 Integrated Review (IR) did follow convention by outlining a new force structure. Moreover, although not stated explicitly, its name – Integrated Force 2030 (IF30) – suggests it will also be delivered in 10 years’ time. Outlined in the IR’s accompanying Defence Command Paper, IF30 is described as a future force structure that will be less defined by numbers of people and platforms than by information-centric technologies, automation and a culture of innovation and experimentation. However,

while the Defence Command Paper confirms that the armed forces expect to make a decisive shift in their approach to warfare, it is far from clear that persisting with a decennial cycle is the best approach to delivering an optimal force structure. Nor is it obvious precisely what IF30 will be resourced to undertake. – Dr Andrew Curtis

Decennial Force Structure Cycle

The quinquennial review cycle for defence and security was a commitment in the 2010 National Security Strategy. The MoD’s part in that process is detailed in the Defence Operating Model, which is promulgated through a series of ‘How Defence Works’ documents. Version 4.2, released at the time of the 2015 SDSR, explained the decennial force structure cycle:

Each SDSR outlines the main parts of an affordable force structure which we will deliver in 10 years time, based on our planning assumptions: This is known as the ‘Future Force’. We review this Future Force every five years, with each SDSR.

While this level of detail is not included in the current iteration of How Defence Works, Version 6 does keep the same approach to developing the future force. However, though

a five-year review and update of the intended force structure may seem like a good idea, the reality is that each one ends up abandoned mid-creation. None is ever fully delivered. – Dr Andrew Curtis

This leaves the process open to abuse, as it provides the opportunity for capability managers to stall the development of unpopular equipment until it can be argued away at the next review. A second problem is that the five-yearly identification of a future force has always created a programmatic aiming point, rather than a conceptual one. That is to say, it generated a task organisation for a new force structure but provided no direction on how the force elements contained therein should actually fight. As a result, over and above the high-level direction included in the 2010 and 2015 SDSR reports, defence planners had no conceptual vector to assist them in developing FF20 or JF25, to ensure they would be capable of operating against current and future threats. Instead, the single services had the latitude to choose the outcomes that reinforced their own bias and prejudice, instead of developing capabilities that may not always be in the interests of a particular service but are necessary for a joint, or integrated, force. Fortunately, as we shall see, this problem has now been addressed.

Shaping the IF30

In September 2020, Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter introduced the UK’s new approach to the utility of armed force in a new era of persistent competition and rapidly evolving character of warfare. This new approach is articulated in the MoD’s Integrated Operating Concept (IOpC). Its central idea is to drive the conditions and tempo of strategic activity, rather than responding to the action of others, from a static, home-based posture of contingent response. Conceptually, it recognises the nature of the current strategic context requires a strategic response that integrates all the instruments of statecraft – ideology, diplomacy, finance and trade policy, and military power. The ability to deter war remains central to the UK’s military purpose, and this now recognises the need to compete below the threshold of war to deter war, and to prevent potential adversaries from achieving their objectives in fait accompli strategies.

The decisive shift in the armed forces approach to warfare, called for in the Defence Command Paper, is driven by the IOpC. It forms the basis of the strategic approach (Chapter 3) and underpins the mobilisation of existing force elements to meet today’s challenges as well as modernising for the threats of tomorrow (Chapter 7). In short, it provides IF30 with the conceptual vector missing from both FF20 and JF25.

Employing the IF30

The Defence Operating Model makes it clear that the force structure is based on Defence planning assumptions. The 1998 SDR was the first review to include planning assumptions, which were constructed around a scale of effort baseline for expeditionary operations. This was a level of forces over and above those required for day-to-day military tasks and were divided into small, medium, large, and full scale. The scales of effort were supplemented by readiness, endurance, and concurrency levels. A level of readiness was the notice period within which units must be available to deploy for a given operation. Endurance was the likely duration of operations, including the potential need to sustain a deployment for an indefinite period. Concurrency was the consideration of the number of operations, of a given scale of effort and duration, that the armed forces should be able to conduct at any time. While elements of planning assumptions were kept classified, the SDR did include details of the requirements that drove the size and shape of the JRRF force structure.

The 2010 SDSR made no reference to scales of effort but did publish endurance and concurrency details for FF20. By contrast, the 2015 SDSR report included considerably less detail on planning assumptions. Apart from confirming that the maximum size of a single expeditionary force would be 50,000 (compared with around 30,000 planned for in FF20), it offered little insight into the type, quantity, and duration of operations the armed forces would be sized and shaped to conduct. Instead, it simply identified that when not deployed at the maximum number above, the armed forces would be able to undertake a large number of smaller operations simultaneously.

The IR and associated Defence Command Paper contain no planning assumptions for the employment of IF30 at all. Apart from confirming high-level defence tasks under the headings of: persistent engagement overseas; crisis response; warfighting; defending the UK and our territory; and the nuclear deterrent, they do not include any detail on what the armed forces will be actually expected, and resourced, to do. Even a freedom of information request, submitted after the IR report was published, has failed to unearth any more information. While some planning assumptions should always be classified, previous defence reviews have always provided at least a broad outline of what the future force structure is designed for.

Generic details of the size and type of operations, frequency, concurrency, and recuperation give defence analysts a framework against which to assess the development and suitability of the armed forces, as sunset capabilities are withdrawn, and sunrise capabilities are introduced. Without these guidelines in the public domain, it is impossible to tell what the government expects to get for the money it is committing to the defence budget or, more importantly, whether more is being demanded of the armed forces then they are funded to do.– Dr Andrew Curtis


With the introduction of IF30, the IR has adopted the decennial force structure cycle of its predecessors. However, that process is flawed, as its five-yearly reset means that no force structure is ever fully delivered. On a more positive note, basing IF30 on the IOpC does provide the armed forces will the conceptual vector that their capability planners have been missing.

Significantly, the IR does not include any detail on what the new Integrated Force will be resourced to do, in terms of size and type of operations, frequency, concurrency, and recuperation. Without this information, there is no obvious way to hold the government to account over the suitability and value for money of the future force structure. What’s more, it will be extremely difficult for external commentators to generate evidence-based arguments that tomorrow’s armed forces are being over utilised or under resourced.


Dr Andrew Curtis OBE is an independent defence & security researcher specialising in national strategy, the higher management of defence, and military logistics. His research interests stem from his 35-year career in the Royal Air Force, from which he retired in 2019. Andrew is an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and has a PhD in defence studies from King’s College London.


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