We're rounding up some of the biggest security cleared stories of the past few weeks. In March, the government set out its vision for the future of the armed forces, a major nuclear project took a step forward and a new policing bill was introduced to parliament.
Army to be reduced to 72,500 by 2025
The British Army is set to be reduced in strength to 72,500 troops by 2025 as part of the latest defence review, the government has confirmed, with equipment including tanks and combat aircraft also to be reduced in numbers. However, at the same time, overall spending on the armed forces is set to increase by £24 billion.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace argued that "increased deployability and technological advantage" means the army can continue to expand its capabilities with fewer personnel. He highlighted drone technology and electronic warfare as among the key factors in this.
Currently, the army stands at 76,500 full-time personnel, well short of the established strength goal of 82,000. Opposition politicians criticised the cuts, with shadow defence secretary John Healey saying the plan is for "fewer troops, fewer ships, fewer planes" at a time when "threats to Britain are increasing".
£2 billion to be invested in next-generation air combat systems
The Ministry of Defence has confirmed it is to invest £2 billion in a new programme to develop a "world-leading" future air combat system known as Tempest. This work will help sustain a sector that already generates £6 billion a year and employs over 46,000 people across the UK.
A central element of the Tempest project is likely to be a new aircraft, but this is set to be augmented with a range of advanced capabilities that could include long-range weapons, space-based sensors and supporting uncrewed aircraft.
The MoD's director of future combat air Richard Berthon said this will be vital to the continued protection of the UK and its contribution to global security. He added: "This is an exciting milestone as we seize the opportunities created by digital design and delivery to revolutionise combat air delivery and preserve our operational advantage for decades to come."
Agreement signed for £4.4 billion investment in Sizewell C nuclear plant
More than 200 businesses and other organisations have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the development of a new nuclear power station in Suffolk known as Sizewell C that could lead to investment worth £4.4 billion in the area.
The government has been in talks with French energy company EDF about the project, which would involve the creation of a power station similar to the Hinkley Point C plant currently under construction in Somerset. A spokesperson for the plan said it will ensure the east of England is not left behind as the country moves to a greener energy sector to meet targets of being carbon-neutral by 2050.
The MoU outlines the potential investment for the region during the construction phase of the project. Research commissioned by the Sizewell C Consortium estimates that 73,000 direct jobs would be created in the supply chain by the project, or through local spending on goods and services, including 35,000 in Suffolk.
Belfast firm wins £98 million air defence missile contract
A Belfast-based firm has secured a new contract from the MoD for the development of a new missile defence system for use by the British Army and Royal Marines to protect against aerial threats such as fast jets, attack helicopters and unmanned air systems.
Thales UK had initially won a contract in 2018 to modernise and develop the Short-Range Air Defence (SHORAD) missile systems, but the latest announcement confirms a five-year extension to the contract, which will secure over 200 jobs at the firm's site and in the wider supply chain.
Worth £98.4 million, the investment is the second major contract awarded to Northern Ireland's defence industry in less than three months, highlighting the region's vital contribution to the UK's armed forces. Defence minister Jeremy Quinn said: "This contract ensures the vital air defence capabilities, capable of dealing with a multitude of threats, are maintained and readily available to deploy."
New justice bill to enshrine police covenant in law
The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have introduced a major new police and crime Bill that the government is pledging will restore confidence in the criminal justice system, while also offering greater protections for police officers both on the job and when they leave the force.
As well as aiming to provide police personnel with the powers and tools they need to protect themselves and the public, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will also enshrine the police covenant into law. This will strengthen the support received by serving and retired officers, staff and their families.
The wide-ranging legislation also introduces new sentencing guidelines, including doubling the maximum penalties for those who assault police or other emergency workers from 12 months to two years.
While the Bill has proved controversial, it has been welcomed by the Police Federation of England and Wales, with national chair John Apter saying: "This Bill contains a number of important changes we have been campaigning for over many years to give greater protection to police officers, and recognise the unpredictable, dangerous and demanding job they do."