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Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom) facts for kids

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Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence, London from air.jpg
MoD Main Building, Westminster
Department overview
Formed 1 April 1964 (as modern department)
Jurisdiction Government of the United Kingdom
Headquarters Main Building, Whitehall, Westminster, London
51°30′14″N 0°07′30″W / 51.5040°N 0.1249°W / 51.5040; -0.1249
  • 60,000 (FTE) civilian staff (April 2021)
  • 198,940 military personnel
Annual budget £55 billion; FY 2021
Secretary of State responsible
  • The Rt Hon. Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Defence
Department executives
Child agencies
  • Defence Electronics and Components Agency
  • Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
  • United Kingdom Hydrographic Office

The Ministry of Defence (MOD or MoD) is the department responsible for implementing the defence policy set by His Majesty's Government, and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces.

The MOD states that its principal objectives are to defend the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and its interests and to strengthen international peace and stability. The MOD also manages day-to-day running of the armed forces, contingency planning and defence procurement.

The expenditure, administration and policy of the MOD are scrutinised by the Defence Select Committee, except for Defence Intelligence which instead falls under the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.


During the 1920s and 1930s, British civil servants and politicians, looking back at the performance of the state during the First World War, concluded that there was a need for greater co-ordination between the three services that made up the armed forces of the United Kingdom: the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. The formation of a united ministry of defence was rejected by the coalition government of David Lloyd George in 1921, but the Chiefs of Staff Committee was formed in 1923, for the purposes of inter-service co-ordination. As rearmament became a concern during the 1930s, Stanley Baldwin created the position of Minister for Co-ordination of Defence. Lord Chatfield held the post until the fall of Neville Chamberlain's government in 1940. His success was limited by his lack of control over the existing Service departments, and his lack of political influence.

On forming his government in 1940, Winston Churchill created the office of Minister of Defence, to exercise ministerial control over the Chiefs of Staff Committee and to co-ordinate defence matters. The post was held by the Prime Minister of the day until Clement Attlee's government introduced the Ministry of Defence Act of 1946. After 1946, the three posts of Secretary of State for War, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Secretary of State for Air were formally subordinated to the new Minister of Defence, who had a seat in the Cabinet. The three service ministers — Admiralty, War, Air — remained in direct operational control of their respective services, but ceased to attend Cabinet.

From 1946 to 1964, five Departments of State did the work of the modern Ministry of Defence: the Admiralty, the War Office, the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Aviation, and an earlier form of the Ministry of Defence. Those departments merged in 1964, and the defence functions of the Ministry of Aviation Supply were merged into the Ministry of Defence in 1971. The unification of all defence activities under a single ministry was motivated by a desire to curb interservice rivalries and followed the precedent set by the American National Security Act of 1947.

Ministerial team

The Ministers in the Ministry of Defence are as follows, with cabinet ministers in bold:

Minister Portrait Office Portfolio
The Rt Hon. Grant Shapps MP Secretary of State for Defence Overall responsibility for the department; strategic operations and operational strategy, including as a member of the National Security Council; defence planning, programme and resource allocation; strategic international partnerships: US, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, NATO; nuclear operations, policy and organisations; strategic communications.
Leo Docherty MP Minister of State for the Armed Forces Operations and operational legal policy; Brexit no deal planning; force generation (including exercises); military recruitment and retention policy (regulars and reserves); cyber; Permanent Joint Operating bases; international defence engagement strategy; lead for defence engagement in Africa and Latin America; human security; operational public inquiries, inquests; youth and cadets; commemorations, ceremonial duties, medallic recognition and protocol policy and casework
James Cartlidge MP Minister of State for Defence Procurement Delivery of the Equipment Plan; nuclear enterprise; defence exports; innovation; defence science and technology including Dstl; information computer technology; the Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO); DIO estates and investment; environment and sustainability
The Rt Hon. The Earl of Minto Minister of State for Defence Corporate governance including transformation programme; single departmental plan, risk reporting and health, safety and security; EU relations, including Brexit (excluding No Deal planning); engagement with retired senior Defence personnel and wider opinion formers; arms control and counter-proliferation, including strategic export licensing and chemical and biological weapons; UK Hydrographic Office; Statutory Instrument programme; Australia, Asia and Far East defence engagement; Defence Fire and Rescue; safety and security; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland devolved authorities; ship wrecks, museums and heritage; Ministry of Defence Police; ministerial correspondence and PQs
The Rt Hon. Surgeon Commander Andrew Murrison MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence People and Families Civilian and service personnel policy; armed forces pay, pensions and compensation; Armed Forces Covenant; welfare and service families; community engagement; equality, diversity and inclusion; mental health; Defence Medical Services; the people programme (Flexible Engagement Strategy, Future Accommodation Model and Enterprise Approach); estates service family accommodation policy and engagement with welfare

Senior military officials

191120-N-BD231-113 (49106133536) (Tony Radakin cropped 3-4)
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the Chief of the Defence Staff.
Coronation of Charles III and Camilla - Before King's Procession (078)
Defence chiefs at the Coronation of Charles III in 2023

Chiefs of the Defence Staff

The Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) is the professional head of the British Armed Forces and the most senior uniformed military adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister.

The CDS is supported by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS) who deputises and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the armed services aspect of the MOD through the Central Staff, working closely alongside the Permanent Secretary. They are joined by the professional heads of the three British armed services (Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force) and the Commander of Strategic Command. All personnel sit at OF-9 rank in the NATO rank system.

Together the Chiefs of Staff form the Chiefs of Staff Committee with responsibility for providing advice on operational military matters and the preparation and conduct of military operations.

The current Chiefs of Staff are as follows.

  • Chief of the Defence Staff – Admiral Sir Tony Radakin
  • Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff – General Gwyn Jenkins
  • First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff – Admiral Sir Ben Key (Head of the Royal Navy)
  • Chief of the General Staff – General Sir Patrick Sanders (Head of the British Army)
  • Chief of the Air Staff – Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton (Head of the Royal Air Force)
  • Commander Strategic Command – General Sir James Hockenhull (Head of Strategic Command)

Other senior military officers

The Chief of Defence Staff is supported by several Deputy Chiefs of the Defence Staff and senior officers at OF-8 rank.

  • Chief of Defence People – Vice Admiral Phillip Hally
  • Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Military Strategy and Operations) – Lieutenant General Roland Walker
  • Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Financial and Military Capability) – Lieutenant General Sir Robert Magowan RM
  • Chief of Joint Operations – Lieutenant General Charles Stickland, based at Northwood Headquarters
  • Defence Senior Adviser Middle East – Air Marshal Martin Sampson
  • Chief of Defence Intelligence – Adrian Bird
  • Director-General of the Defence Safety Authority – Air Marshal Stephen Shell

Additionally, there are a number of Assistant Chiefs of Defence Staff, including the Defence Services Secretary in the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, who is also the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Personnel).

Senior management

Permanent Secretary and other senior officials The Ministers and Chiefs of the Defence Staff are supported by several civilian, scientific and professional military advisors. The Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Defence (generally known as the Permanent Secretary) is the senior civil servant at the MOD. Their role is to ensure that it operates effectively as a government department and has responsibility for the strategy, performance, reform, organisation and the finances of the MOD. The role works closely with the Chief of the Defence Staff in leading the organisation and supporting Ministers in the conduct of business in the Department across the full range of responsibilities.

  • Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Defence – David Williams
  • Second Permanent Secretary - Laurence Lee
  • Chief Operating Officer — Nina Cope
  • Director General Finance – Charlie Pate
  • Director General Nuclear – Vanessa Nicholls
  • Director General Security Policy - Dominic Wilson
  • Director General Commercial - Andrew Forzani
  • Director General Strategy and International – Angus Lapsley
  • MOD Chief Scientific Adviser – Dame Angela McLean
  • MOD Chief Scientific Adviser (Nuclear) – Professor Robin Grimes
  • Lead Non-Executive Board Member – Lord Grimstone
  • Non-Executive Defence Board Member and Chair of the Defence Audit Committee – Simon Henry
  • Non-Executive Defence Board Member and Chair of the Defence Equipment and Support Board – Paul Skinner
  • Non-Executive Defence Board Member and Chair of the People Committee – Danuta Gray

Defence policy

The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 included £178 billion investment in new equipment and capabilities. The review set a defence policy with four primary missions for the Armed Forces:

  • Defend and contribute to the security and resilience of the UK and Overseas Territories.
  • Provide the nuclear deterrent.
  • Contribute to improved understanding of the world through strategic intelligence and the global defence network.
  • Reinforce international security and the collective capacity of our allies, partners and multilateral institutions.

The review stated the Armed Forces will also contribute to the government's response to crises by being prepared to:

  • Support humanitarian assistance and disaster response, and conduct rescue missions.
  • Conduct strike operations.
  • Conduct operations to restore peace and stability.
  • Conduct major combat operations if required, including under NATO Article 5.

Governance and departmental organisation

Army Careers Oxford 20051022
A British armed forces careers office in Oxford


Defence is governed and managed by several committees.

  • The Defence Council provides the formal legal basis for the conduct of defence in the UK through a range of powers vested in it by statute and Letters Patent. It too is chaired by the Secretary of State, and its members are ministers, the senior officers and senior civilian officials.
  • The Defence Board is the main MOD corporate board chaired by the Secretary of State oversees the strategic direction and oversight of defence, supported by an Investment Approvals Committee, Audit Committee and People Committee. The board's membership comprises the Secretary of State, the Armed Forces Minister, the Permanent Secretary, the Chief and Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief of Defence Materiel, Director General Finance and three non-executive board members.
  • Head Office and Corporate Services (HOCS), which is made up of the Head Office and a range of corporate support functions. It has two joint heads the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Permamant Secretary who are the combined TLB holders for this unit they are responsible for directing the other TLB holders.

Departmental organisation

The following organisational groups come under the control of the MOD.

Top level budgets

The MOD comprises seven top-level budgets. The head of each organisation is personally accountable for the performance and outputs of their particular organisation. These are:

  • Navy Command - Royal Navy
  • Army Command - British Army
  • Air Command - Royal Air Force
  • Strategic Command
  • Defence Nuclear Organisation
  • Defence Infrastructure Organisation
  • Head Office and Corporate Services

Bespoke trading entity

  • Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S)

Executive agencies

  • Defence Electronics and Components Agency (DECA)
  • Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl)
  • UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) – also has trading fund status.
  • Submarine Delivery Agency (SDA)

Executive non-departmental public bodies

Advisory non-departmental public bodies

  • Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors
  • Advisory Group on Military Medicine
  • Armed Forces Pay Review Body
  • Defence Nuclear Safety Committee
  • Independent Medical Expert Group
  • National Employer Advisory Board
  • Nuclear Research Advisory Council
  • Scientific Advisory Committee on the Medical Implications of Less-Lethal Weapons
  • Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees

Ad-hoc advisory group

  • Central Advisory Committee on Compensation

Other bodies

Public corporations

  • The Oil and Pipelines Agency (OPA)

Enabling organisation

  • Defence Business Services (DBS)

In addition, the MOD is responsible for the administration of the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus.


Competitive procurement processes are used whenever possible, and all new direct tender and contract opportunities valued over £10,000 are advertised on a system called the Defence Sourcing Portal. A separate internal policy generally operates in respect of low value purchasing below this threshold.

DEFCON contract conditions are numbered defence contract conditions are in contracts issued by the MOD (not to be confused with DEFCON as used by the United States Armed Forces, which refers to a level of military "defence readiness condition").

Examples include:

  • DEFCON 534: Subcontracting and prompt payment
  • DEFCON 620: a change control procedure
  • DEFCON 658 (cyber) applies to all suppliers down the supply chain
  • DEFCON 659 relates to security measures for disclosure of "Secret Matters" including within the supply chain, requiring a contractor to ensure that employees "engaged on any work in connection with the Contract have notice that the Official Secrets Acts 1911-1989 apply to them and will continue so to apply after the completion or termination of the Contract", potentially also requiring employees to "sign a statement acknowledging that, both during the term of the Contract and after its completion or termination", they are bound by the Official Secrets Acts 1911-1989 (and where applicable by any other legislation).
  • DEFCON 705: the MOD's standard IPR condition for fully funded research and technology contracts.

A full set of the DEFCONs can be accessed via the MoD's Defence Gateway (registration required).

Property portfolio

The Ministry of Defence is one of the United Kingdom's largest landowners, owning 227,300 hectares of land and foreshore (either freehold or leasehold) at April 2014, which was valued at "about £20 billion". The MOD also has "rights of access" to a further 222,000 hectares. In total, this is about 1.8% of the UK land mass. The total annual cost to support the defence estate is "in excess of £3.3 billion".

The defence estate is divided as training areas & ranges (84.0%), research & development (5.4%), airfields (3.4%), barracks & camps (2.5%), storage & supply depots (1.6%), and other (3.0%). These are largely managed by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

Main Building

Ministry of Defence Main Building Mars 2014
The MOD Main Building, Whitehall, London

The headquarters of the MOD are in Whitehall and is known as MOD Main Building. This structure is neoclassical in style and was originally built between 1938 and 1959 to designs by Vincent Harris to house the Air Ministry and the Board of Trade. A major refurbishment of the building was completed under a Private Finance Initiative contract by Skanska in 2004. The northern entrance in Horse Guards Avenue is flanked by two monumental statues, Earth and Water, by Charles Wheeler. Opposite stands the Gurkha Monument, sculpted by Philip Jackson and unveiled in 1997 by Queen Elizabeth II. Within it is the Victoria Cross and George Cross Memorial, and nearby are memorials to the Fleet Air Arm and RAF (to its east, facing the riverside).

Henry VIII's wine cellar at the Palace of Whitehall, built in 1514–1516 for Cardinal Wolsey, is in the basement of Main Building, and is used for entertainment. The entire vaulted brick structure of the cellar was encased in steel and concrete and relocated nine feet to the west and nearly 19 feet (5.8 m) deeper in 1949, when construction was resumed at the site after the Second World War. This was carried out without any significant damage to the structure.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Ministerio de Defensa (Reino Unido) para niños

  • Defence Review
  • The Lancaster House Treaties (2010)
  • Stabilisation Unit
  • United Kingdom budget
  • UK National Defence Association
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