Contributor: Andy is a serving Officer with broad ranging operational and thematic experiences.

The Global Strategic Trends Out to 2045 asserts that the British Army’s future adversaries could range from government-controlled militaries to armed non-state actors.  During conflict, greater reliance on automated technologies and ‘the internet of things’ is likely to expose us to higher risks of attack in the virtual and physical domains: we will be vulnerable to cyber-attack, to intensive surveillance capabilities through drone technology and fighting may be conducted by machines that don’t need to eat, sleep or rest.

As Gen Milley of the United States (US) Army has recently observed (Association of the United States Army Dwight David Eisenhower Luncheon Keynote ), the sheer number of sensors on the modern battlefield mean that you will be found, and, when found, you’ll be dead within hours if you don’t move again and again. Manoeuvre is likely to prove critical.   We may have to operate in small, compact, mobile teams and might be dislocated from our chains of command. We will have to use our initiative, acting without detailed orders, having to operate in multiple domains simultaneously, all of which will be contested.

Warfare is likely to involve extreme austerity with a lack of ability to re-supply. As Gen Milley says: being surrounded by the enemy in every domain will be the norm.  Anything electronic will be attacked, manipulated or shutdown.  In a war of necessity, we may be forced to take unpalatable risks to survive on the modern battlefield against a peer-plus adversary.  However, it cuts both ways and we have to get smarter about how we attack and defeat our adversaries’ capabilities.  This will require constant evolution in all domains and it is in the cognitive domain that we need most evolution, including in our doctrine, especially the UK Principles of War as stated in ADP Land Ops.  Perhaps considering new principles like ‘Simultaneity’ – of operating in multiple domains and in multiple dimensions concurrently – to produce not Concentration of Force but Concentration of Effect and therefore Economy of Effect rather than Economy of Effort.  In addition, the principle of Surprise is now increasingly difficult to achieve at the tactical level with affordable commercial off-the-shelf drones, persistent ISTAR platforms, interception of communications and capable, state-sponsored hackers.

We may come to the conclusion that we have to think differently even radically about how we fight, using asymmetric methods and exploiting our adversary’s weaknesses: they exist and we need to be more agile in our thinking and adaptability as an officer class.  The problem is not going to go away.  Whilst we can be rightly proud about our military history, sadly our past will not help us: what worked last time won’t necessarily work next time. We must not use doctrine as a safety blanket to retreat to when operating in complexity, relying on dogma instead of flexibly addressing complex problems. Further, we must be more honest about what we can achieve within our means. We won’t always be able to guarantee the support from other States to get us out of trouble: they are likely to be facing their own struggles. And we, the officer class, are part of the problem: our bias is for order, structure, compartmentalisation and hierarchy.  But we are also part of the solution – so we must change the way we think about achieving military superiority and fighting power, constantly challenge our doctrine and develop a culture in which agility (in all domains) is encouraged and valued.


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[BAE Systems / Breaking Defence] Solider, Battlefield Sensors Image
[BAE Systems / Breaking Defence] Solider, Battlefield Sensors Image

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4 Comments on "The Future Operating Environment and the UK Principles of War: ‘A Perspective’"

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To question surprise as a principle just because one aspect of it (i.e. concerning one’s presence / location) is increasingly difficult to achieve would be short-sighted. There are many other things with which one can be surprising; intent, actions or timing all spring to mind. If something is worth achieving – and I’d suggest catching the enemy off-guard and presenting him with an unexpected dilemma to solve is always worth achieving – we need to think more deeply about different ways of achieving it, rather than declaring it too difficult (which I appreciate the author just stopped short of doing).… Read more »
The principle is that of a “concentration of force”, It does not specify the required concentration. In fact it states “the decisive, synchronised (similar to ‘Simultaneity’ except it allows the effects to be overlapped and concurrent, or not, by design) application of effort and resource at the critical point in time AND SPACE”. (ADP Land Ops 1A-2) Thus the commander is allowed the freedom to decide how his effects are to be located in time and dimensionally. The third paragraph talks of a requirement to embrace asymmetric methods, Exploiting enemy weaknesses with versatile thinking. This sounds very similar to “an… Read more »
‘Economy of Effect’ makes little sense. Unless talkng in an extremely narrow doctrinal manner about using the fewest effects verbs, you always want maximum effect so that you achieve the desired outcomes. You may wish to take fewer actions (sticking with the OOEA framework) but that is adequately covered by ‘Economy of Effort.’ I’m not convinced that any of the principles of war need changing. Most of the overarching doctrine is sound and holds water even with the latest technological advances. Where we need to adapt is in our lower level doctrine and policy, including such areas as LOAC. The… Read more »
The article is a great start point on the complexity of operating in the information environment yet I fear that by simply trying to adapt a list of principles there is a danger of missing the trick that the author espouses. Namely; giving soldiers the freedoms and constraints to operate across multiple domains simultaneously. The confidence to do this can be generated through training, trust and ultimately a culture of ‘disciplined initiative’ (to quote Gen Milley) that allows all soldiers to operate outside of the traditional stovepipes they have been trained in. Whilst the principles of war are not, and… Read more »