The RUSI Land Warfare Conference, which took place last week, was attended by more than 600 delegates from around the world in a hybrid virtual and in-person event. Key themes were the future battlefield, digitisation and integration.
The RUSI Land Warfare Conference, which was opened by General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, Chief of the General Staff (CGS), was themed ‘Integrating for Operations Today and Warfighting Tomorrow’.
‘An Era of Truth Decay’
General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, who is head of the British Army, spoke of an ‘era of truth decay’; setting out the threats to liberal democracy and a rules-based order.
He described ‘the return of Great Power rivalry and balance of power consideration once more the currency of political exchange.’
In order to counter this, CGS set out a blueprint for a modernised, digitised and expeditionary Army, with soldiers ‘adapted to changing threats and technology.’
A ‘significant’ transformation from hardware to software will take place, with a ‘greater emphasis on a wider coalition of partners and allies… and on a networked global presence.’
Central to this future force would be a ‘modernised close-combat capability’ along with ‘EW, cyber, and next-generation ground-based air defences.’
COMPETING IN THE FUTURE OPERATION ENVIRONMENT
‘Wars without states’
The first panel discussion, chaired by Deborah Haynes, Foreign Affairs Editor, Sky News, was opened by Dr Sean McFate, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
He said ‘we live in an information age, and weapons means and ways that provide plausible deniability and now more useful in war than raw firepower. If you want to win a war…. you do it in the shadows, beneath the threshold – not of foreign intelligence agencies, but of global media.’
He went on to look at information operations, and the importance of ‘shaping operations.’
He warned ‘state-centric world order is giving way to a world where anyone can wage war for any reason they want. This will, in the future, yield wars without states.'
Several of the speakers were from the US, among them, Major General Maria Barrett, Commander General Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM), US Army, who set out the ‘agility and integration’ needed in order to address the continuum between peace and war. She said that ‘no one domain will prevail…. We will be contested in all domains. It will vary in combination, geography, time and adversary.’
‘What is key is the ability to integrate’
The importance of the UK/US partnership was emphasised throughout the day, as was the need for integration.
‘It’s not sufficient to just be joint, there must be a level of multi-domain integration which will exceed the sum of its parts.’
‘The [US] Army’s answer is pursuing integration of non-lethal capabilities and lethal capability in our Multi-Domain Task Force. Many of the capabilities within the task force already existed. What is key is the ability to integrate.’
Major General James Bowder, GOC 6 (UK)Division went on to add that our ‘hard power continues to matter,’ and the British Army is ‘standing ready to fight.’ He added to CGS’ aim for more global presence, saying the Army must ‘get out into the world and work out how to apply Land power in novel ways in order to constrain.’
General Bowder went on to outline how persistent engagement might look under Future Soldier, the Army’s transformation plan, including leveraging Defence Global hubs, creating the Security Force Assistance Brigade and the generation of the Ranger Regiment.
WARFIGHTING ON THE FUTURE BATTLEFIELD
‘Digitisation is not of value in itself’
The second session, chaired by Professor Peter Roberts, Director Military Sciences, RUSI, with commentary from Lieutenant General Sir Edward Smyth Osborne, Commander Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, asked what the future battlefield will look like, and how climate security and climate change will shape this.
Lieutenant General Alfons Mais, Chief of German Army, Bundeswehr echoed CGS’ introductory comments and offered a German perspective; stating that Land forces should be used ‘as a whole, rather than taking tools from a toolbox’.
He set out the main challenges; ‘what is the right force mix? How can we generate a continuum of forces to give politicians all options? Where are our limits/ capability gaps? How can we accelerate the solutions?
Digitisation is not of value in itself; it reduces our resilience. We need to develop and refine digitisation. It comes at a price.’
‘Without data you can’t fight’
Elsa Kania, Senior Adjunct Fellow, Centre for Future American Security focused on China, and she asked, ‘what would it like to be in a fight without the superiority of recent history?’
‘Increasing innovation is not just a feature of Chinese military strategy, but of China’s grand strategy. Impact of military-civil fusion will particularly come into play in new technologies and digitisation. Without data you can’t fight.’
‘One of the greatest advantages are allies and partners’
Session three focused on integration; within the whole force; integration of Regular and Reserve forces, civil servants and contractors, allies and partners, as well as better integration with industry.
General (Retd) Robert Brown, Executive Vice President, AUSA pointed to the importance of working together with allies and achieving Multi Domain Operations to a level not seen before. This includes range, speed and the convergence of capabilities.
‘One of the greatest advantages are allies and partners, particularly over Russia and China.’ He talked about interoperability of equipment and systems but stated that people were the most important aspect of successful integration.
‘The systems are never going to be perfect but the relationships with each other solve a majority of the problems and makes up for the other issues in most cases.’
‘If we do it right, interoperability will deter, and we’ll never have to fight, we go together, and we have sustained peace and prosperity we all desire.’
‘We need more pace and more agility’
Major General Sir Simon Hamilton, Director of Support, British Army spoke of the importance of integrating with industry to improve our acquisition.
He highlighted that the new Land Industrial Strategy is an opportunity to build longer-term relationships with industry, which will offer many benefits.
‘Now more than ever, we need to put in place a better formula for integration with industry. We need more pace and more agility. But not at any cost. We still need to demonstrate value for money.’
Alex Cresswell, Chairman and CEO, Thales UK made comparisons with regularly used tech such as mobile phones, contactless payments and how they work seamlessly, and how the entire military digital support systems can perform more like these examples, and better exploit available data.
He asked what we can learn from civilian economy about digital transformation, such as ‘development mini-cycles… [with] developers and users working together.’
Jeremy Quin MP, Minister for Defence Procurement, added some closing remarks, summing up the whole conference by stating:
“The character of war is changing; speed and adaptability must be our mantra, as we approach the new challenges that we face.”
ABOUT THE RUSI LAND WARFARE CONFERENCE
The RUSI Land Warfare Conference, the 20th held by the RUSI, attracted more than 600 attendees from around the world. It was held for the first time as a hybrid event with both virtual and in-person guests. Attendees were from the British Army as far afield as Mali, Kenya, and Estonia, and international delegates from more than 30 countries.