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Just weeks into office, the Prime Minister appeared to make good on one of his election promises when announced an integrated defence, security and foreign policy review. In his December 2019 interview with the Times, he spoke of the review leading to a “huge technological upgrade of security forces to keep Britain safe and strengthen NATO.” The review is expected to deliver a full-spectrum response capability to counter the contemporary security threats in the 2020s, expand our global horizons and reinforce our national mission as a force for good in the world. All part of the new post-brexit #GlobalBritain.
We have witnessed an instant reaction to the news calling for re-arming of UK Land Forces; new tanks, bigger guns and longer-range kinetic weapons. But if the biggest threat to our nation’s security is Global warming, cyber-attacks and the loss of confidence in democracy, then surely arming and re-organising land forces with this traditional equipment is a rather pointless exercise? As we return to being a global sovereign power, perhaps we should also be returning to political warfare employing ‘all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives’? We have to ask ourselves, ‘What capability do land forces want to bring to that war?’
The first thing we need to agree on what we understand by #GlobalBritain, what is the global positioning of Britain in the 2020s and beyond? There is no will to see returning coffins; and there is not just a general but an acute risk aversion to this traditional, sentimental style of warfare. Equipping or organising for it is surely pointless?
If the purpose of a military is to influence an adversary, how will this play out when this is an intellectual and not physical endeavour? It is appropriate, correct or even wise to modernise the kinetic capabilities of our land forces to provide a more lethal ‘stick’, when recent evidence would suggest that defeating an adversary in battle does not automatically win over a populace but instead buys their short-term compliance? Using force in this manner could be considered a failure of both influence and politics. Being better at traditional land warfare is pointless if we are never going to have one. Winning the peace, not the war, is what is most important for #GlobalBritain, as demonstrated by the forward presence missions in Eastern Europe and other locations.
If the Army’s pitch to government is for bigger and better heavy-metal ‘to act with yesterday’s logic’, then it will see its budget and numbers cut and its purpose further eroded. The nation does not want this traditional form of warfare. Politicians will not commit to it. This approach is unlikely to be very effective, both technically and strategically.
Perhaps the best use of land forces is merely to act as a deterrent? In an influence battle, the power of a high-speed fly-pass or a well-placed Royal Navy cocktail party can be a winning combination. What will be the Army’s contribution in this influence war?
Firstly, the emphasis must be on delivering influence in the form of intellectual and information superiority; enabled by weapon systems such as Cyber, InfoOps, PsyOps, Lawfare. Traditional kinetic land forces would then lend their support to these ‘new’ methods of warfare. There is little point in using land forces to influence an adversary if the big stick they are meant to carry is actually just a twig. Using it assertively but judiciously from time to time is important, but more important is the optics/narrative of that engagement.
Secondly, the debate about traditional fighting platforms misses the point. What is the effect that these platforms are to deliver, how will they do it and where will they fight? How will that conventional form of military power influence our adversaries in the next conflict? How will it help Government to achieve its strategic objectives? In marketing terminology, land forces will need to begin to sell the ‘sizzle’, not the ‘sausage’.
Finally, investment is required in those areas that will enable #GlobalBritain. Understanding our politicians, their pain points and their political objectives will be essential. As we go forward, Land needs to be pitching creative and innovation solutions that will deliver these political objectives at home and abroad. Purchasing bigger guns that will spend a fair proportion of their time kept in a garage is neither creative nor innovative (and probably
won’t be funded).
Building an intellectually advanced, agile, and lethal mobile Land Force for 2030 (lean and mean) that can be deployed globally, can integrate with partners/local forces is a far more useful proposition. Investment in STEM skills, technical career paths, and the cognitive abilities of all ranks will be an essential element of this force. It will be essential to use hyperscale computing power to leverage the maximum potential from the land forces that have been deployed. This info-centric capability will also provide commanders with InfoOps, audience engagement and a cyber weapon system as well as cognitive support systems to dominate the vital ground of the 4 billion connected minds.
The integration and symbiosis with the UK Defence industry are also essential – £14Bn of export sales is a lot of UK jobs, votes and a lot of UK tax take. That is also a lot of UK influence.
As Sun Tzu teaches us ‘The greatest victory is that which requires no battle’. Perhaps the future land forces should heed this advice and use more brain and less brawn – a debate that situates the conceptual component at the centre of Land Forces is urgently required and long overdue. Perhaps the future is less armour and more MBAs, fewer guns and a lot more MScs, maybe even an odd DBA or DPhil?
There will still be a need for land forces in the future. The use of special forces, specialised infantry, wheeled mobility and airborne formations will be an essential part of any future force. The rapid deployment of a niche lethal force with soft reinforcement, as a part of wider influence campaign, will be far more effectual than a lethargic and gradual deployment of conventional heavy force.
We will have to come to terms with the fact that Land Forces 2030 will be a lot different; more pony-tailed cyber geeks, crusty old academics and even the odd lawyer – Global Britain is to be an odd new world, but so classically British.