The British Army must be ready “to fight war at its most feral” as it goes through what could be “the most significant transformation” since motorised vehicles replaced horses in the 1930s, according to the Chief of the General Staff.
General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith said that rapidly evolving and emerging technologies means the Army must change from a legacy of equipment and method rooted in the Cold War to a modernised, digitised expeditionary force able to combat the challenges of the future.
“Because soldiering has always been about evolution, and successful armies have always adapted to the changing context, threats and technology,” he said.
Gen Carleton-Smith outlined the strategic challenges of a world facing up to Covid-19, climate change, disinformation, economic coercion and technologically-enabled authoritarian regimes.
“The events of the last 18 months have prompted a timely re-appraisal of many of our priorities - strategic shocks tend to focus the mind,” he told an audience at DSEI, the leading international defence exhibition.
“We’ve been reminded of the importance of thinking much more strategically and expansively about the relationship between defence, security and industry, about strategic resilience and the integrity of our strategic base in a much more volatile world.”
General Carleton-Smith said that the plans set out for the Army in the Integrated Review reflect “a changing character of war” and therefore “we are changing with it, including taking a significant bet on tech”.
He said: “Which is why what has emerged from the Review is a sharper, harder and more dangerous Army; a more dynamic and active global posture that leverages our network of overseas training hubs and delivers a more persistent international presence. And that means an Army that is more expeditionary and more rapidly deployable, with an emphasis on logistic sustainment; an Army that is more digitally connected and networked, and an Army that’s more specialist; and an Army that when it fights is more lethal, more mobile and much better protected.”
CGS highlighted the development of the Army’s first Land Industrial Strategy to create “a more constructive and mutually beneficial relationship” with industry to replace an equipment programme that has been “somewhat incoherent and piecemeal”. While the Army has signed contracts to upgrade the Challenger main battle tank and purchase Boxer mechanised infantry vehicles, it must also change its mindset and look to order services and capabilities from industry. Career placements for officers at firms in the defence sector will help to improve awareness and understanding.
Referring to the development of the Ajax family of armoured fighting vehicles, CGS said “we’ve got to get Ajax right – because it’s a capability gamechanger.”
This strategy would be supported by better experimentation and research and development by the Army, working in partnership with industry and international partners to encourage “rapid incubation and adoption of cutting-edge defence technologies.”
To address environmental concerns, the Army is working to open solar farms at bases around the country and Project Mercury is studying the use of electrically-powered vehicles on the battlefield.
General Carleton-Smith said: “I’m not saying that warfare is going to be green or is even going to be environmentally friendly, but I am saying we need a more efficient exploitation of new tech to drive a strong and responsible environmental agenda.”