New UK Strategic Command to drive integration for multi-domain effect

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Edited highlights from chief of the defence staff, General Sir Nick Carter's annual speech at the Royal United Services Institute highlights the need to integrate capabilities, innovate and cooperate with industry,

Extracts from General Sir Nick Carter's annual speech at the Royal United Services Institute related to hybrid threat (the original piece also covers geopolitics, staffing and other aspects of defence): 

"The multi-lateral system that has assured our security, stability and prosperity for several generations continues to be undermined by assertive authoritarian regimes who behave as if their historic right of entitlement is being denied to them. The challenge for us in the West is that the character of that competition. There is a growing academic consensus that that the idea of ‘political warfare’ has returned. This is a strategy that is designed to undermine cohesion, erode economic, political and social resilience, and challenge our strategic position in key regions of the world.

"The pervasiveness of information and the pace of technological change are transforming the character of warfare and providing new ways to execute this form of authoritarian political warfare including information operations, espionage, assassinations, cyber, the theft of intellectual property, economic inducement, the utilisation of proxies and deniable para military forces, old fashioned military coercion, using much improved conventional capability, and, of course, lawfare – all of which is backed by clever propaganda and fake news to help justify these actions. These regimes believe that they are already engaged in an intense form of warfare, but it is political conflict and not kinetic warfare. Their primary operational focus is on employing a range of mainly non-military instruments in non-traditional ways below the threshold of large scale conventional military operations to achieve strategic gains."

"I suggest that our starting point for a review should be a proper assessment of the threat and this should take the form of a net assessment that determines where our current trajectory will take us in 2030 relative to those of our competitors. We might deduce from this that our approach to deterrence needs updating, for the form of authoritarian political warfare that we are confronted with requires a more dynamic approach.

"Our doctrine talks about the four ‘Cs’ of deterrence: comprehension, capability, credibility and communication. To this we should add a fifth ‘C’ – that of competition, recognising that escalation and de-escalation need to be dynamically managed on multiple ladders – effectively manoeuvre in multiple domains.

"The need (is) for better intelligence and warning to inform genuine insight and understanding, and therefore further investment in persistent and forward engagement to establish networks, identify opportunities and develop relationships with allies and partners.

"A Defence review would confirm the importance of NATO. It is also, I would suggest, conducting one of the most rapid transformations of an international organisation in history - it is turning its mind effectively to the challenges of the future, including China, space, cyber, hybrid warfare, subversion, disinformation and new technologies. We have seen a NATO adaptation ‘roadmap’ on the challenges and opportunities of emerging and disruptive technologies, and NATO’s first new military strategy for 50 years which takes a 360-degree approach to security. And the UK is at the very heart of this thinking.

"A Defence review ...involves mobilising ourselves to improve readiness and enhance resilience; to protect our critical national infrastructure; and to think laterally about how to outmanoeuvre our opponents and communicate our actions. What worked for the predictability of stabilisation and counter insurgency operations in the last 20 years or so won’t work in today’s context. The efficiency initiatives of the last 25 years have taken risk against readiness and resilience. We have looked to optimise our logistic infrastructure, reduce inventory, rationalise stock, and outsource whatever we can to industry. We’ll need commitment from our industry partners to learn the necessary lessons and help us prepare to fight the war we might have to fight.

"Our modernised force will be framed through the integration of five Domains: Space, Cyber and Information, Maritime, Air and Land. This will change the way we fight and the way we develop capability."

"Our new UK Strategic Command which formally stands up next week as the successor to Joint Forces Command is charged with driving the essential integration across the modernised force to achieve multi-Domain effect. It will develop and generate the capabilities we need to operate successfully in this sub-threshold context (or grey zone as some call it) – including space, cyber, special operations and information operations. It will also command the strategic base, including the fixed parts of our global footprint, and the support, medical and logistic capability that enables operational deployment and mobilisation.

"We have to move beyond ‘Jointery’ – integration is now needed at every level – not just at the operational level where the term ‘Joint’ applies. Modern manoeuvre in any domain will only be enabled by effects from all domains. I saw this vividly as a divisional commander in Kandahar where the integration of cyber, air and land effect realised an outcome that was far greater than the sum of the parts. As we develop our operating concept for this modernised force – trend analysis suggests it will, and I will read you a list:

"Have smaller and faster capabilities to avoid detection; Rely more heavily on low-observable and stealth technologies; It will depend increasingly on electronic warfare and passive deception measures to gain and maintain information advantage; It will trade reduced physical protection for increased mobility; It will include a mix of manned, unmanned and autonomous platforms; It will be integrated into ever more sophisticated networks of systems; It will have an open systems architecture that enables the rapid incorporation of new capability, and rapid integration into the network; It will be markedly less dependent on fossil fuels; It will employ non-line-of-sight fires to exploit the advantages we gain from information advantage; And it will emphasise the non-lethal disabling of enemy capabilities, thereby increasing the range of political and strategic options.

"Now, we might think of these as ‘sunrise’ capabilities, with the corollary being ‘sunset’ capabilities that could be used for a while in the emerging operating environment in a mix of ‘high-low’ systems but will increasingly become too vulnerable in a warfighting context. This modernisation will require us to embrace information-centric technologies, recognising that it will be the application of combinations of technology like processing power, connectivity, machine learning and artificial intelligence, automation, autonomy and quantum computing that will achieve the disruptive effect we need.

"Predicting these combinations will be challenging, so we will have to take risk, accept some failure and place emphasis on experimentation by allocating resources, force structure, training and exercise activity to stimulate innovation on all lines of development. This will enable adaptive exploitation as opportunities become clear.

"To harness such a collective effort, we will need some strategic aiming marks to work towards. These might be to focus the functions where ethical application of Artificial Intelligence and autonomy could bring advantage, enabling platforms to be smaller, lighter and, perhaps, greener. And to value data as a strategic asset, rapidly detecting, attributing and rebutting ‘fake news’, and transforming the battlespace and the business – watch out the Sunday papers …

"Contributing to these strategic aims would be a series of ambitious initiatives whose aggregate effect would begin to build momentum. For example:

"Creating a ‘strategic sentinel’ able to gather and analyse intelligence and data from across HMG, allied and public sources to enhance the speed and effectiveness of decision-making; Creating a single source of the truth on the readiness of our forces at any moment without requesting or manually processing information, taking account, for example, of planned maintenance and personnel data Developing ‘Nextgen Training’ linking augmented reality, synthetic environments with live events with the training data fed back into training design and mission planning.

"Hardly any of the great military inventions of the last century emerged directly from a military requirement. They came from the outside world – and we are unlikely to develop the capabilities we need unless we do so in partnership with the private sector where most of the innovation in technology is to be found. This is what we are doing in proving the technology for a single synthetic environment in a partnership with the leading gaming innovator, Improbable, and the long-established simulation provider, CAE.

"We simply cannot afford the luxury of a process that uses excessive specification as an insurance policy against programme risk and we must reduce cost. This type of relationship must be based on a more open and transparent two-way conversation with industry, recognising that we all need to step up to the plate when it comes to the defence of our country.

"I suggest a key input to a Defence review should include a proper look at our defence industrial strategy. This would look across the defence and security sectors to identify how we can enhance our strategic approach to ensure we have competitive, innovative and world-class defence and security industries that drive investment and prosperity as well as underpinning national security.

"R&D must feature in this too – we must embrace open, outwardly facing innovation - in recognition that nobody does it all in-house any longer. We must establish an academic and entrepreneurial ecosystem. We must utilise technology scouts to boost our R&D and pound the pavements visiting universities, research centres, start-ups and established companies looking to establish strategic alliances with the right partners.

"Now, all this bears on human capability – our adaptive edge. Technology, the competition for skills in an evolving workforce and the abiding need to integrate across the Domains, and within them, will require a new approach that maximises the potential of all our talent from wherever it is drawn. The balance between generalists and specialists will tip increasingly towards specialist career streams.

"So, to conclude, I would suggest we are in a period of phenomenal change – more widespread, rapid and profound than humanity has experienced outside of world war. And it is more sustained than the two world wars of the last century combined - and it is still increasing. Our fundamental and long-held assumptions are being disrupted on a daily basis. Modernising will only get us so far – what is needed is a step-change in how we fight; in how we run the business; in how we develop our talent; in how we acquire our equipment; and in how we provide support – this requires transformation. As we enter the fourth Industrial Revolution, it is the same challenge and opportunity that faced our predecessors as they went from sail to steam.

"This scale of change must be led from the top but, equally, change at this pace must also be delivered bottom-up, by our extraordinary young men and women, who have grown up with digital technology, and who are far more comfortable with the modern world than their leaders. Hence the importance of empowering them to unlock their potential. But we will not deliver change of this scale and breadth on our own – it needs to be part of a national enterprise. And it calls for a very different approach to risk, for we will not change without being prepared to make mistakes and learn from them, as well as being prepared to shatter some shibboleths in the process."

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