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The U.K. Wants to Accelerate Purchases of F-35s, Reaper Drones

F-35 Departs for First Training MissionF-35 Departs for First Training Mission
Capt. Brad Matherne inside an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission in Nevada in April 2013.Photograph by Brett Clashman — U.S. Air Force

In the government’s latest five-year defense review, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has outlined a plan to increase military spending by £12 billion ($18 billion), in an effort to address threats both conventional and irregular. As a part of the plan, the U.K. government will create two new fighter squadrons, accelerate its acquisition of F-35 fighter jets, purchase additional U.S.-built Reaper drones, and create two new 5,000-strong, rapidly-deployable “Strike Brigades” to combat emerging threats around the globe.

Companies like Lockheed Martin (“LMT”), General Dynamics (“GD”), Boeing (“BA”), and BAE Systems (“BAESY”) stand to benefit, as the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defense and Security Review—or SDSR—calls for the purchase of a range of weapons systems intended to reverse the British military’s recent trend toward a smaller footprint.

“At its heart is an understanding that we cannot choose between conventional defences against state-based threats and the need to counter threats that do not recognise national borders,” Cameron wrote in the forward to the SDSR. “Today we face both and we must respond to both. So over the course of this Parliament our priorities are to deter state-based threats, tackle terrorism, remain a world leader in cyber security and ensure we have the capability to respond rapidly to crises as they emerge.”

Between now and 2020, the SDSR calls for the purchase of nine Boeing-built P-8 Poseidon submarine hunting aircraft; extending the life of the U.K.’s existing Typhoon fighter jets; forming two additional Typhoon squadrons (built by Eurofighter, a consortium of European defense companies including BAE); and tripling the pace at which it purchases the 138 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets it has on order from Lockheed Martin.

Accelerating its F-35 purchases should prove particularly helpful for both the Royal Navy and Lockheed Martin. The $100 million all-purpose fighter jet has been criticized as too expensive, and ramping up production may be a good way for Lockheed to drive down the cost. Previously the Royal Navy was slated to have just eight F-35s to fly off of its new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers when the first one hits the water in 2020. Now 24 F-35s should be available to the new carrier from day one.

The most recent SDSR should translate into a shot in the arm for the U.K.’s dwindling armed forces, but it also serves as a potent reflection of just how much the world has changed since the last review in 2010. In 2010, the U.K. was already out of Iraq and winding down operations in Afghanistan. Crimea was part of Ukraine, Syria was still a cohesive state, and a diminished al Qaeda remained the global face of evil. The 2008 financial meltdown still lingered.

Against that backdrop, the 2010 SDSR amounted to wholesale slashing of the U.K.’s military enterprise, cutting ships, aircraft, and a whole lot of people from its future plans (something like 17,000 uniformed personnel were dismissed).

In contrast, the 2015 SDSR reflects both a changing global landscape and a changing U.K. The government is now on firmer financial footing, and with Cameron at the helm the country appears poised to reassert itself on a number of military fronts.

But to be clear, the uptick in U.K. military spending isn’t just about confronting threats posed by the Islamic State or the recent attacks in Paris that killed more than 100 people. Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon, for instance, is designed to track and target the most sophisticated enemy submarines, while plans to design and build a new class of light, general purpose frigates for the Royal Navy suggest a U.K. preparing to confront conventional naval threats from state actors.

Still, recent events like the attacks in Paris and the alleged downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt did leave their mark on the SDSR. For instance, the U.K.’s counter-terrorism spending will increase by 30% over the next five years. Meanwhile, Cameron said he will lay out plans to expand the scope of British bombing raids against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria this Thursday.

For more on defense spending, watch this Fortune video.

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