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The Future Operating Environment and the UK Principles of War: ‘A Perspective’

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.


The views expressed within individual posts and media are those of the author and do not reflect any official position or that of the author’s employees or employer. Concerns regarding content should be addressed to the wavellroom through the contact form

British Army

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

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Ross
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Ross

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 »

@griffiths_rach
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@griffiths_rach

Really enjoyed reading this, thank you. I can’t help bus feel that this all sounds so glaringly obvious. However as long as there is a continued political ‘long screw-driver’ approach to operations then there will be a corresponding requirement for a large staff. The key is where that staff is. Tactical resources have been routinely coordinated, when appropriate, at strategic level in our recent campaigns often defensively and resulting in saving lives. Disaggregation of the staff also lends to a smaller, albeit still notable, electronic signature. The targeting of such a large c2 hub is so easy that this alone… Read more »

Ross
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Ross

‘However as long as there is a continued political ‘long screw-driver’ approach to operations then there will be a corresponding requirement for a large staff.’ I think that so long as we have an army of, let’s face it, only one division; and so long as that division contains all our credibility (using the term advisedly) as a serious, major combat-capable army, then the intense oversight of operations by our civil leadership will continue. Ironically, the idea that war is too important to be left to the generals is only given more heft when the army is so small that… Read more »

Ross
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Ross

‘However as long as there is a continued political ‘long screw-driver’ approach to operations then there will be a corresponding requirement for a large staff.’ I think that so long as we have an army of, let’s face it, only one division; and so long as that division contains all our credibility (using the term advisedly) as a serious, major combat-capable army, then the intense oversight of operations by our civil leadership will continue. Ironically, the idea that war is too important to be left to the generals is only given more heft when the army is so small that… Read more »

Ben E
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Ben E

Headquarters function is one thing, but training in a dispersed way and increased trust in subordinates – earned, not automatic – will be what drives this forwards. It needs to be a review of the whole process, not just the physical size. OSW needs to shrink as the HQ shrinks, in order to be more efficient with data transfer and reduce the strain on communications systems – getting the commander to be comfortable without VTC or full motion video on demand.

Giles
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Giles

‘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 »

Chris
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Chris

All of the negatives you have alluded to from past case studies preceded Op Ellamy in Libya which you correctly stated was successful. Attack Helicopter Force had taken on the learning points from past operations and conducted arguably the epitome of the ‘div deep’ battle. I would also argue that we shouldn’t be compared with the US as our TTPs are different. The example in Iraq 03 was so catastrophic due to TTPs – flying over the same point more then twice, aircraft flying directly behind each other, flying over built up cities in the threat band (susceptible to small… Read more »

Andy Tante
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Andy Tante

Despite the scientifically-grounded points raised in the article, this is nonsense. JNCOs at that age are making choices and decisions on the battlefield that could get people killed. If we can’t trust them to make the right choices on something as clear cut as drug misuse, the Army is better without them making decisions at war. You don’t get second chances to make good decisions when somebody has died because of your bad one.

Chris
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Chris

Did Libya not actually demonstrate the value of Littoral Strike rather than Deep Div battle? The shortcomings of the required support and force protection burden for Avn support were overcome by operating from well found integrated support facilities ie Carrier ops. As always with the Div and Strike concepts actually achieving meaningful Theatre Entry is a shortcoming. Littoral Strike goes some way to overcome this and is relatively cheap in comparison to other delivery methods. Delivering the Strikes from Italy etc cost enough for 5 years of Carrier/Harrier operations. Perhaps we should be asking how Army Avn will deliver meaningfully… Read more »

Emile
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Emile

It’s an interesting line of enquiry. The human domain is often the most complicated and least understood but presents the most risk to an operation. We generally leave it to either specialised stabilisation/CIMIC units or the shorts and sandals brigade with very mixed results simply because we employ generalists who need time to establish an understanding of the environment and by the time they do, they rip out, and we’re forced to repeat the process. While I wouldn’t go as far a wake force, clearly we need more cultural specialists or units that know the area of operations they’re being… Read more »

Chris
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Chris

A wake force is an intriguing idea but I have a couple of concerns. Firstly, numbers. I realise that this article is aimed at militaries in general not specifically the British military but since that’s the background of most people here, let’s use the British military as an example. We have one deployable division containing something in the order of 10,000 ground troops. How many of those do we want to expend on our wake force? Clearly we don’t have a CONOPS for the wake force but its task is possibly comparable in complexity to COIN, The AFM suggests a… Read more »

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