Will the armed forces £10bn shortfall affect the UK's cyber ability?

News by Max Metzger

Reports of billion pound shortfalls in the UK armed forces means that some conventional forces will be cut back, but how will it affect cyber?

The armed forces are reportedly facing a £10 billion shortfall, but how will that affect the UK's cyber capability?

Military chiefs are expected to axe a great deal from the armed forces, according to The Times.

A number of conventional forces are being considered for cuts, including three Royal Marine Commando units. The forces are apparently also facing equipment shortages and the rising cost of military jets due to the weak pound.

A serving officer with knowledge of the situation told the Times “there is a significant challenge and how that challenge is managed will have an effect on everything we do.”

But how will this affect the UK's cyber capability? The current government has invested millions to bolster the UK's cyber posture from both an offensive and defensive standpoint.

In April 2016, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) minister, Michael Fallon, announced that £40 million would be spent on a new Cyber Security Operations Centre. Fallon said at the time that “this new Operations Centre will ensure that our Armed Forces continue to operate securely. Our increasing defence budget means that we can stay ahead of our adversaries in cyberspace while also investing in conventional capabilities.”

Later that year, Fallon announced another £265 million investment in the MoD cyber capabilities to complement the operations centre. Again, Fallon underlined the critical importance of cyber-defence: “It's crucial we use our increasing defence budget to stay ahead and investing in this programme will help us protect against these threats.”

Jon Louth, a specialist adviser to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, thinks that cyber is not going away anytime soon: "If we're having this conversation in ten years time, it will be very much a question of cyber at the opportunity cost of some conventional platforms.”

Ewan Lawson, senior fellow for military influence at the Royal United Services Institute, is largely unimpressed with the attitude towards cyber. He notes a general unwillingness to get serious about defending not just new systems, but old ones too.

“There's a danger well end up carrying more risk as a result of this shortfall on the defensive side, and on the offensive side I just don't think that we're necessarily yet in a place to exploit the possibilities”.

He has yet to hear “anything convincing about how the the weight of effort has shifted between the strategic level capabilities that you might expect to be run out of Cheltenham [where GCHQ is based] and the tactical level capabilities that an army in the field would think about using”. 

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