About Defence

PJHQ - History

Northwood Visitor Centre

Northwood Visitor Reception

The need for a permanently established tri-service headquarters grew out of the increasingly unstable and uncertain post cold war world.

By the early nineties the hoped for 'new world order' had failed to materialise and the UK had already found itself embroiled in war in the middle east as well as a growing involvement in the increasing unstable Balkans.

Up until that point, responsibility for the planning and conduct of any UK-led or joint overseas operation had been handed to one of the single services.

In 1982 Operation CORPORATE in the South Atlantic (the operation to recover the Falkland Islands) was planned and controlled by Fleet and Strike took the lead for Op GRANBY (the liberation of Kuwait) in 1991.

The changing geopolitical scene and the prospect of more UK forces being deployed in theatres around the world was one of the main driving forces behind the Defence Costs Study (DCS) which recommended the creation of a Permanent Joint Headquarters.

The DCS highlighted a number of serious shortcomings in the handling of defence, not least the essentially ad hoc and reactive way in which operations were planned and conducted by the single services.

The establishment of a Joint Headquarters was driven therefore by the desire to enhance operational efficiency and effectiveness and achieve financial savings.

This was supported by a recognition of the need for a pro-active, permanently manned organisation that would ensure a smooth transition from the early planning stages of a potential deployment, through to the conduct of a joint operation, and subsequently the recovery of forces and adoption of lessons learned.

The then Secretary of State agreed the proposed delegation of functions related to the planning and conduct of operations from MOD Main Building to a new Joint Headquarters.

From its original inception it was understood that there was a need to establish a proper policy/execution divide with the Ministry of Defence handling the strategic policy, PJHQ focusing on the conduct of the operations and the Front Line Commands supporting and delivering the required military capability.

The Base in 1961

The Northwood Base in 1961

The location chosen for the establishment of this new headquarters was Northwood. The RAF who established Coastal Command Headquarters there in 1938 had originally purchased the 35-hectare site.

By 1996 when PJHQ was established, the Northwood base was also home to the Commander in Chief of Fleet and the NATO Commander Allied Maritime Component Command Naval Forces North who still remain.

The Headquarters was officially opened on 3 May 1996 by The Rt Hon Mr Michael Portillo MP, Secretary of State for Defence and was declared fully operational on 1 August of the same year.

The Headquarters was scaled originally to handle the five concurrent operations then running in addition to other business such as the command of the Permanent Joint Operating Bases. Since then PJHQ has grown as the number and tempo of operations has increased.

On 6 May 2010 Her Majesty The Queen, accompanied by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, opened the new Joint Headquarters building at Northwood. Designed to accommodate 950 people, the new building will allow for the collocation of all PJHQ staff for the first time since its inception in 1996. The building also hosts a separate multinational headquarters which will permit multinational or EU-led operations to operate on site without the constraints of embedding non-UK national staff within PJHQ's facilities.

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