Posted on June 5, 2019
General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith made the comments in front of personnel and dignitaries at the annual Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Land Warfare Conference in Central London.
He said the army should probably focus more on how it fights rather than what it fights with. “What we need now is an urgent reappraisal of how, with what and by whom war is waged in the future. And how our capabilities are going to be arranged in a contemporary deterrent and containment framework. Rules of warfare are changing and need updating and which without correction, potentially leaves us close to a position of dominant irrelevance. And it might not be too far into the future before armies are no longer distinguished by the volume of their hardware – the number of tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and the like – but actually, and much more accurately, the sophistication and integration of their software and the associated artificial intelligence.”
From interference in elections, to using drones to carry out airstrikes, the geography and politics of conflict is rapidly changing.
While AI, cyber and hybrid warfare is essential to compete, it may not actually be all that is needed to win a war.
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, also speaking at the RUSI conference, said: “The reality is, the world is changing and the threats increasing from a diverse range of sources. As earlier speakers have said, cyber attack is now the new normal. Between 2016 and 2017, NATO saw such attacks on its infrastructure increasing by 60 per cent. Whether the origin is Russia, China or North Korea…or from hacktivists, criminals or extremists…the cyber threat can bring down our national infrastructure and undermine our democracy. All the while, we’re having to deal with the hybrid dangers as nations increasingly employ proxy actors to carry out aggression and intimidation at arms-length but now below the threshold of armed combat. Whatever the correct response to these new forms of aggression, in many cases their deterrence relies on a credible threat of hard power. And the reality is wars are still won or lost on land. We need to seize and hold territory endures and yes, the future may look very different in years to come, but meantime, while armour is relevant it must be capable, and we must be competitive. We have not been.”
In Westminster – a cross-government spending review is imminent, and beyond that, the MOD could well be asked to take yet another look at its equipment. With hardware costly, and budgets tight, fighting the fight in the information pace may not just be about bringing the army into the future, but also making it more affordable.