RUSI Land Warfare Conference 2018

The RUSI Land Warfare Conference (LWC) took place last week under the title of Twenty-First Century Manoeuvre. The question at the centre of the event was ‘How will land forces achieve competitive advantage beyond 2025?’. 

Over 700 attended and others watched live online. Among the delegates were academics, officers, industry representatives and young soldiers. In addition, military officers from 43 countries attended and contributed to discussion and debate.

The event was also General Mark Carleton-Smith’s first public appearance since becoming Chief of the General Staff (CGS). It provided him with the opportunity to give his assessment of the strategic context and the threats to the UK, our allies and partners which are intensifying as well as his views and vision for the Army and the future.

The conference opened by setting the context through the evolution of manoeuvre, exploring how and why seeking advantage in Land campaigns has changed over time. Day One focussed on the doctrine, capabilities and structures needed at the tactical, operational and strategic levels to outmanoeuvre potential opponents. Day Two considered the human factors and how armies need to modernise and train for the 21st Century as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Technology and the role of synthetic environments evolve to meet growing threats including Cyber and Information warfare.

the nature of warfare is broadening beyond traditional physical domains General Mark Carleton-Smith CGS

During his speech CGS described the strategic context as “exceptionally dynamic and complex” and how the “the nature of warfare is broadening beyond traditional physical domains. Warfare today is characterised by a persistent full-spectrum competition, whilst our own freedom to operate in the time and space of our choosing is increasingly challenged by the increase of integrated land, maritime, air and space systems”.

CGS explained that any perceptions in which there were no imminent or existential threats to the UK were misplaced. He went on to say that “it’s not just Russia. We are confronted by the consequences of a global order, challenged by other revisionist powers, of rogue states, that want a world shaped along their own authoritarian lines…..and they are a reminder that the international rules-based system isn’t self-sustaining”. He pointed out that this system is “underpinned by power, hard power, predominantly, although not exclusively, American hard power” and that this was something “we Europeans can’t take for granted”.

General Carleton-Smith then talked about the British Army pointing out that it “needs to be used and it needs to be useful,” and said he placed “a great premium on the hard-won lessons from the battlefield……And a code of leadership that values the irrepressible sense of humour of the British soldier; that keeps things in proportion and fundamentally has a sense of humility and an honest sense of decency. All of these things exist in our Army; if they didn’t I wouldn’t be stood in front of you today as CGS. But occasionally commanders need to breathe new life into these things; and that Time is now.”

a Winning Army founded on comradeship, self-respect and self-discipline General Mark Carleton-Smith CGS

CGS described how he wants “a Winning Army founded on comradeship, self-respect and self-discipline” and which was “imbued with initiative and daring” which if he were to “brand it, would be as intelligent, dynamic and adaptive warfighting professionals….paid to fight and to win which is a unique  responsibility on behalf of our nation.” 

General Carleton-Smith concluded that as “commanders and leaders our prime responsibility is the nurturing and nourishment of the fighting spirit of our men and women. It’s what they joined the Army for and their martial spirit is the only true test of our readiness. If we keep it bright, my experience is the rest will follow. And we are all custodians of something exceptionally precious, not just our Army, but our nations Army and its made of flesh and blood - and beating hearts.”