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British Armed Forces - Statistics & Facts

After reaching a post-1945 peak of 871,700 personnel in 1952, the size of the British Armed Forces has fallen considerably, to a low of just 144,430 personnel by 2019, before rising slightly to 149,280 by 2021. As of the most recent year, the Armed Forces are comprised of 82,230 personnel in the British Army, 33,200 in the Royal Air Force (RAF), 27,210 in the Royal Navy, and 6,640 in the Royal Marines. The majority of the British Armed Forces were male this year, making up 132,810 of the personnel, compared with 16,470 females. Across all branches and ranks in the armed forces, the average age of personnel was 31, with the army having the youngest average age at 30 and the RAF the highest at 33.

Why has the army shrank so much?

The reduction in the size of the British Armed Forces throughout the latter half of the twentieth century reflects the period of decolonization that occurred in this period. Despite attempts by Britain to hold onto its empire after World War Two, it had virtually disappeared by the 1970s, lowering the number of conflicts that involved the UK. The end of the Cold War in 1989 further diminished the scope of the military's overseas commitments, leading to a relatively rapid fall in personnel in the early 1990s. UK defense spending also fell sharply in this period, from 5.5 percent of GDP in 1984 to just 2.2 percent 20 years later in 2004. Since reaching this point, defense spending has fluctuated between 2.5 and 2.1 percent and was 2.3 percent in 2020. Although this is only slightly above the NATO target of spending at least two percent of GDP on defense, the UK still spends more on defense than many NATO members.

Operational deaths in the armed forces

Since 1945, the year with the highest number of operational deaths in the British Armed Forces was 1951, when there were 829. In this year, Britain was involved in three different conflicts, the Malay Emergency, the Anglo-Egyptian War, and the Korean War. By the 1960s, there were typically far fewer operational deaths, with a spike of 296 deaths occurring in 1982 due to the Falklands War. Britain's involvement in the War in Afghanistan and subsequent Iraq War from the early 2000s onwards led to increased operational deaths during that period. However, there have been far fewer fatalities in recent years, with 16 deaths reported between January 1, 2014, and February 28, 2021.


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