The Ministry of Defence cadet forces

The Ministry of Defence cadet forces provide a challenging and stimulating contemporary cadet experience that develops and inspires young people within a safe environment.

The Ministry of Defence sponsors and supports five cadet forces (voluntary youth organisations). They offer challenging and enjoyable activities for young people, and prepare them to play an active part in the community while developing valuable life skills. The cadet forces are based on the traditions, values and standards of their parent Service but they are not part of the Armed Forces.

The cadet forces comprise of the:

  • Sea Cadet Corps
  • Volunteer Cadet Corps
  • Combined Cadet Force
  • Army Cadet Force
  • Air Training Corps

They aim to provide challenging and enjoyable activities for young people living in the UK and certain locations abroad and to better prepare them for their role in the community. Not only do cadets have the opportunity to learn new skills and engage in adventurous activities in disciplined and well-structured organisations, they may also gain nationally recognised qualifications based on their achievements. Depending on the grade achieved these qualifications can equate to GCSEs and may help cadets in their future education and career.

Adults who volunteer to help with the cadets also have the opportunity to receive useful training and gain recognised qualifications.

Cadets have the chance to learn new skills and engage in adventurous activities in disciplined and well-structured organisations based on the traditions, values and standards of the armed forces.

Sea Cadets


Sea Cadets (including Royal Marines cadets) aims to give young people the best possible head start in life through fun and adventurous nautical activity. From learning new skills and working in teams, Sea Cadets offers an environment where young people find confidence and inspiration.

Sea Cadets follows the customs and traditions of the Royal Navy, its biggest supporter. Across the country, over 14,000 young people in 400 units in towns, cities and ports challenge themselves and develop new skills, like sailing, boating and rock climbing. They are supported by nearly 5,000 volunteers whose dedication makes Sea Cadets possible.

The Volunteer Cadet Corps


The Volunteer Cadet Corps (VCC) started as a means of delivering training and mentoring to gainfully occupy the spare time of sons of Royal Navy and Royal Marine non-commissioned officers. The VCC was formed in 1901 and consists of around 460 cadets and 150 volunteers located in eight Naval Bases and Royal Navy establishments along the south coast of England and east Scotland.

Membership of the VCC is open to young people between the ages of 9 and 18. Children of serving and retired members of the Armed Forces and children of members of the public living in the local area of each VCC unit are eligible to join. The VCC sits under the existing cadet governance structure of Royal Navy.

The Army Cadet Force


For action and adventure, fun and friendship, the Army Cadet Force (ACF) is hard to beat. With over 37,000 cadets (aged 12 to18) and more than 9,000 adult volunteers across the UK, the ACF is one of the country’s largest voluntary youth organisations. It is also one of the oldest, and celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2010.

We welcome boys and girls from the age of 12 (and in at least year 8 at school), of all abilities and backgrounds and, through a broad range of exciting, challenging, educational and adventurous activities, help them develop physically, mentally and socially. Some of our activities have a military theme, others have more of a community focus. Combining military and community activities in this way, enables us to offer our young people a unique blend of personal development opportunities, all designed to promote fun and friendship while also helping them prepare for success in their chosen path in life, whatever that might turn out to be.

The Air Training Corps


If you’re a fan of aviation, action and adventure, love sports and getting to know people, then you’re in the right place. Every year, over 44,000 Air Cadets and volunteer staff take part in exciting events in over 900 squadrons across the UK.

Our aims are to:

  • promote and encourage a practical interest in aviation and the Royal Air Force among young people
  • provide training which will be useful in the services and civilian life
  • encourage the spirit of adventure and develop qualities of leadership and good citizenship …..and there’s one more important thing…it’s a lot of fun!

The Combined Cadet Force


The Combined Cadet Force (CCF) is a unique educational partnership that operates in schools across the UK. Through enjoyable military themed and adventurous activities, cadets have the opportunity to take responsibility, develop skills such as leadership, self-reliance, resourcefulness, endurance and perseverance.

There are around 500 CCF contingents in schools and colleges throughout the UK, with about two-thirds in state schools and a third in independent schools. CCF contingents contain one or more sections from the Army, the Royal Navy, Royal Marines or the Royal Air Force, and promote the aims and values of the Service they represent.

Today the CCF contingents form a vibrant, inclusive youth organisation for pupils aged between 13 and 18, offering significant developmental opportunities in a unique educational partnership with the schools in which they are based. Membership of a school cadet unit can positively affect attendance and behaviour and can deliver personal development outcomes that are recognised by Ofsted as a valued addition to a child’s education.

Each school contingent is run by a team of enthusiastic adult volunteers drawn, in the main, from teachers within the school, although outside volunteers are often invited to help. Schools may also employ a School Staff Instructor to administer their CCF contingent. Adult volunteers have the opportunity to gain nationally-recognised qualifications in leadership, management and outdoor pursuits.

The success of any CCF contingent is due to the educational partnership that exists between the MOD and the school and the CCF works best when it is fully integrated into the school curriculum. A school cannot run a successful CCF without the full support of the Headteacher.

Adult volunteers with the cadet forces

The cadet forces could not exist without the support of nearly 29,000 adults who volunteer to help train cadets, run meetings, activities and events. These dedicated people give cadets the chance to get involved in activities ranging from canoeing to rock climbing, map reading to flying, and first aid to The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

For those less keen on the more physical activities, there are also opportunities to use practical skills and help with administration, fundraising or local management groups.

Like cadets, adult volunteers can also gain nationally-recognised qualifications up to the equivalent of a Master’s degree.

Cadet Expansion Programme

The Cadet Expansion Programme (CEP) is a joint MOD and Department for Education programme, originally launched in 2012. The first phase of the CEP had an initial target of establishing 100 new cadet units in state secondary schools in England by September 2015. This target was met 6 months early in March 2015. Following this achievement, in July 2015 the Government committed an extra £50-million from LIBOR fines to the second phase of the programme with the aim of increasing the number of cadet units in schools across the UK, both state and independent, to a total of 500 by March 2020.

This target was met in November 2019, and the total included new CEP units in Scotland (which adopted a bespoke Linked Detachment model), Wales, and Northern Ireland. CEP has prioritised schools in less affluent areas, with the vast majority of new units being opened in state schools. Having met the 500 target, work is now underway on the third phase of the CEP with the aim of achieving the Government’s ambition (announced in September 2018) to have 60,000 cadets in schools by 2024.


In 2018 MOD announced a joint venture to provide cyber training for up to 2,000 cadets a year through the National Cyber Security Centre’s exciting ‘CyberFirst’ programme. This nationally recognised programme, which significantly increases the provision of cyber training for cadets, is divided into age-appropriate progressive elements. These start with the one-day Adventurers courses for 11 to 14 year olds, progressing to a range of residential courses for young people from 14 to 17. Cyber training for cadets is one way in which MOD can help fill a key national security skills gap and grow the pool of cyber and computer security skills in the UK.

MOD: working with young people

There is a need for our young people to be offered tangible and realistic opportunities for enabling them to grow and get the best possible start in life. As MOD is one of the largest public sector organisations it is able to play a leading role in providing opportunities for young people. Indeed, the range of activities provided for and by the cadets (which is MOD’s main youth related activity) is wider than any other United Kingdom youth organisation.

One of the reasons the cadets are so popular is because of the unparalleled opportunities they provide in terms of team-building, leadership, citizenship and recognised education and professional qualifications. MOD support for young people is aimed specifically at helping build the lives and confidence of young people and recognises the part the Department can play in this important social agenda.

Contact Details

The Youth and Cadets team, based at the MOD, is a component of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Division. It offers advice to government on youth policy and the cadet forces.

RF&C Div: Youth & Cadets
Floor 6 Zone D
Ministry of Defence
Main Building

Cadet statistics

A few interesting facts you might not know about the cadet forces.

At 1 April 2020, there were around 130,310 cadets, broken down as:

  • 45,020 Combined Cadet Force
  • 14,670 Sea Cadet Corps
  • 37,410 Army Cadet Force
  • 32,760 Air Training Corps
  • 460 Volunteer Cadet Corps

Enabling so many cadets to take part are nearly 29,000 adult volunteers:

  • 3,340 Combined Cadet Force
  • 4,660 Sea Cadet Corps
  • 9,100 Army Cadet Force
  • 11,680 Air Training Corps
  • 150 Volunteer Cadet Corps

Cadets typically range in age from 12 to 18 years old.

Adult Volunteers typically range from 18 to 65 years old.

History of the cadet forces

The history of the cadet forces dates back to the 1850s with the formation of several forerunners of the existing organisations.

The Cadet Corps, the forerunners of the Combined Cadet Corps, were formed firstly in certain schools as a means of training young people to support the masses of volunteers who were required to boost the army following heavy losses in the Crimea War and the possibility of further war. These Cadet Corps were recognised by the War Office and permitted to wear the uniforms of their parent volunteer battalions, later to become the Territorial Army. As the threat of war receded, some Cadet Corps developed into Rifle Clubs, and cadet battalions not associated with schools became Social Welfare Organisations, the forerunners of the current Army Cadet Force.

Meanwhile, also during the 1850s, a number of orphanages were established to look after children orphaned as a result of the Crimean War. These were run with the help of sailors returning from the Crimea. An organisation was then formed called the ‘Naval Lads’ Brigades’ and over the following 50 years or so 34 Brigades of Boys were established. They were granted recognition by the Admiralty in 1919 and the title ‘Navy League Sea Cadet Corps’ adopted.

Following the First World War there was a reluctance on the part of the public to support any military organisation because of the huge losses incurred in the war and the Cadet Forces for a while received no support from government and had to be entirely self-supporting.

Then, in 1938, a retired officer from the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force, Air Commodore Chamier, had the foresight to see the need for people trained in airmanship and started the Air Defence Cadet Corps. This comprised units set up in some schools to provide part-time training for young men intending to join the Royal Air Force. They were hugely successful and their value noted by the government at the time. Developing from the Air Defence Cadet Corps, the Air Training Corps was formed in 1941 by Royal Warrant.

By 1942, the other cadet forces started to thrive once again and were heavily supported by the government.

Today, the cadet forces are very different to those early groups of young people. The focus now is on developing tomorrow’s citizens by providing challenging and interesting activities, although the values and ethos of the armed forces are used as a means to achieve this aim. Up to 40% of a cadet’s time is spent on adventurous training activities.

Cadets not only have the opportunity for self-development but they also get involved with volunteer and charitable work in the community. The activities that cadets do can lead to the gaining of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award or vocational qualifications. Adult volunteers also have the opportunity to gain nationally recognized qualifications.

Many cadets do go on to join the Armed Forces, and we are delighted to welcome them, but there is absolutely no pressure for cadets to follow military careers. The Ministry of Defence accepts that the cadet force organisations add value to the youth of today and for this reason continue to support them wholeheartedly.

Updates to this page

Published 12 December 2012
Last updated 26 May 2021 + show all updates
  1. Updated: content of page to reflect present day.

  2. Updated Cadet Expansion Programme information.

  3. Updated content to remove inaccurate and out of date information.

  4. First published.

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