Army discusses the future with Industry

Today, over 320 members of the defence industry gathered virtually with the British Army at the Land Industrial Symposium to discuss mutual investment in the transformation of the Army and the future security and prosperity of the United Kingdom.

The event follows the launch of the government’s Defence and Security Industrial Strategy (DSIS) in March 2020 promoting the British defence industry, the second largest Defence exporter in the World, enhancing the relationship between the Services and industry, and ensuring that the benefits of the Army’s £19.5 billion investment in land equipment are felt as part of the levelling-up across the whole United Kingdom.

Speaking at the Symposium, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Lt Gen Christopher Tickell CBE said:

‘Welcome to the 2020 Land Industry Symposium, certainly the first online Symposium of its kind we have held. It’s a pleasure for me to be able to talk to so many of you – and for so many more to be able to join; this is just one example of the advantage of digital technology – of which more later!

This is an opportunity for some of those who are working hard on current and future delivery of equipment programmes to share our thoughts with the defence industry community. Although I can’t actually see you; be assured that making time to hold events such as this one is, in my view, time well spent. Without you, we cannot have the progress we need, at the rate of change the world demands, with the right R+D in place.

This symbiotic relationship must continue to deepen, in order that we should both succeed.

In these extraordinary times, it is perhaps more important than ever that we have such an opportunity to maintain a dialogue; none of us have had any experience in dealing with the strategic shock COVID has delivered, nor do we yet know the full implications – for the global economy, for the UK, or for the whole world. But we can continue to work together, to ensure we can return to some kind of new normal as fast as possible.

The Army’s training, competencies and standards were called upon in short order to meet some of the immediate and medium-term requirements COVID threw us.

And – to quote from a previous CGS, General Sir Peter Wall –

It is quite natural……that this large resource of well-trained commanders and staff officers can make a significant contribution in any national crisis that requires a well-planned response, thinking to the finish. A response that has to work, despite the friction and setbacks that will naturally occur. A response that deals with an unknowable, undefinable and unpredictable threat in the form of Covid 19 and which requires a fusion of talents drawn from all sectors of our society.

We have been demonstrated to be – and will continue to be – the nation’s guarantor for a wide range of contingencies. Providing specialist assistance and a sizeable, versatile backstop. But as a result of COVID, things are going to change: In terms of working practises, exemplified by events like this one; In financial terms; budgets are undoubtably going to be impacted; And in the way we all operate. How are we going to manage this collaboratively?

Against this backdrop then, it is worth considering some of the strategic issues that were already developing – if not accelerating – before COVID:

Firstly, we are in an age of exponential change – a global technological revolution occurring at a rate which it is ever-more challenging to keep pace with. One which is no longer driven by Governments’ R+D, but by commercial demands. We also see an era of constant competition - our adversaries are using asymmetric methods, have digital capability and reach, and are seemingly unbound by multilateralism or a rules-based order.

It’s extraordinarily difficult to meet that competition – to do so we must develop autonomous systems to reduce risk to force; train more specialists to compete in the cyber and electronic warfare space, and to use more unconventional warfare.

We must modernise capability – I think that’s universally acknowledged to be a truism – although we need to maintain a credible armoured fleet – like Challenger and Warrior - at the same time.

Secondly; the weakening of the global economy, coupled with a vacuum in terms of leadership, and a rise in nationalism across the world. Finally, the increasing assertiveness of Russia and China, and the implications for us, and for our relationships and alliances in the future.

These are challenges we are all facing. Our relationship with industry, then, is going to be one of the most important factors in how we address many of those strategic issues, allowing us to truly transform how we operate; being dynamic and innovative, and thinking long-term.

The Army Warfighting Experiment is perhaps the biggest, and most familiar, example of the success of our partnerships with industry. Many of you will have had the pleasure of Salisbury Plain in winter, when AWE took place in December 2018. We will be delivering AWE again, noting the results it has already delivered.

Such experimentation has delivered tech that is now being used by soldiers, like the Black Hornet three. The Black Hornet 3 is a micro-drone designed for short-range reconnaissance. The drone weighs just 30grams – barely a tenth of the weight of your average mobile phone. Soldiers from a 3 SCOTS used the IR sensor to find the enemy on a defensive position and then moved through the position in a matter of minutes. This was because troops were able to understand a huge level of detail, down to car registrations and door entry points.

It has a sortie time of about 25 min and a range of about 2km. It has both electro-optic and infrared cameras, allowing Sections to conduct route clearances with greater stand-off distance between sensor and soldier, keeping them outside the threat envelope for longer. The drone can replace more risky roaming patrols to keep soldiers safer and afford them some more rest time. It was procured in June 2018 and was in use four months later.

We also saw troops develop the use beyond that which was originally taught; the system was used to search vehicles struck by IEDs, reducing the threat. The thermal capacity was used to understand effectiveness of Blue Forces’ camouflage and concealment – even to observe and reduce their thermal signature, reducing the chance of being detected by the enemy. Such use can provide a feedback loop to you, the developers, to continuously improve the technology.

I can’t think of a better illustration of how equipment programmes, industry, and the soldiers on the ground are working together to make progress in our ambition to be a lighter, faster and more agile outfit.

We are absolutely going to double down on areas such as this, working with industry partners who can lean in to problems, use innovative solutions, and add value.

We are looking forward to progressing The Army BattleLab initiative; which is not just an example of our commitment to engage, but also an opportunity to extend the effort outside big set pieces like AWE. The chance to accelerate prototype warfare – testing and experimentation - and lead this area of Defence innovation, and to work with industry on a more regular footing.

Partnership is the future; the Army’s deepening relationship with industry is the way we can make progress to best effect.

We acknowledge that, given the timing of this symposium, we are somewhat limited in what we can expand upon regarding the Integrated Review, which we are expecting to be published in the autumn. Having said that, what I can tell you is that this will be a punchy proposition, which aims to answer all of the strategic and tactical considerations already mentioned.

My own comment on the Integrated Review would be to say that we are working hard to modernise and transform – Be under no illusion, this will be absolutely future-focused. We must sort out our big equipment programmes, but we are not just looking at savings, we are also looking at ways we can give ourselves the headroom to invest further in areas like cyber and EW.

National resilience is undoubtably higher up on the Government’s agenda. We are likely to see greater emphasis on UK supply chains and solving some of the vulnerabilities which have emerged as a result of the pandemic (some of which the Army was able to help solve in the short term). Trends indicate the Nation will face increasing environmental, economic and social challenges in the coming decade, as well as the continued threat of terrorism and pandemics.

In answer to these trends, the Army’s national and regional footprint - just as General Sir Peter Wall described in our response to COVID – allows an effective command network, with specialist capabilities and ‘disciplined, versatile mass.’

Global Britain. British interests abroad. Exports. Expect to see these considerations being given more weight in our higher-level strategic thinking. You will have seen that, with the merger of DFiD and FCO, the Government is fully focused on Global Britain as a strategic concept; and the Army – with its international footprint and bases in places such as Brunei, Germany, Kenya and Oman – will be at the heart of meeting this aim.

Prosperity will be ever-more important – what are we doing as the Army, and what are we doing collectively, with industry, to enhance prosperity from as many perspectives as possible? Are we investing in the right capabilities, The right skills And the right infrastructure long term? Are we doing our bit in the Army to train our people in a way that invests in them, and in our future capability? What can we do with you to ensure we are thinking about our export potential as we develop platforms?

The key to progress here is mutual understanding:

So, to the remainder of the session: You will hear more detail on the British Army Land Operating Concept; how we are going to fight and train in the digital era; and how we are going to meet the challenges I have set out already.

The Defence Security Industrial Strategy review into the UK’s defence and security industrial strategy will identify how the government can take a more strategic approach to ensure that we have competitive, innovative and world-class defence and security industry sectors.

You will hear more on what the DSIS means for us; for Army and industry together – key themes are likely to be; how open architecture and modular systems can help smooth the procurement cycle, how exports can be given greater consideration, and how we can support employment and economic growth.

And you will hear that we are committed to working in ever-closer partnership on Defence Digital, and ongoing equipment programmes.

More importantly though, this should be a conversation; we also need to listen to you, to understand and to be open to innovation, to dialogue and to new perspectives.

So before I hand over, I’d like to leave you with a final thought; adaptability, and seizing opportunity, coupled with a willingness to learn, will be how we make the most of these unusual times. I very much hope to see many of you in person soon.