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Chief of the General Staff's

RUSI Speech

A year ago, I stood before you: in the shadow of the outbreak of war in Ukraine, and on the eve of the Madrid summit.  

I outlined my first order of the day to the Army. That we needed a new approach - that we had to mobilise to deter Russian aggression and prevent the spread of war in Europe.

And I offered my firm view that, despite the threat we faced, I had every confidence that our Army would rise to the challenge.

I am proud to say that we are doing so.

We have some way to go, but we have moved out:

We have mobilised our minds. The Field Army and our Futures Directorate are studying Ukraine’s emerging lessons and changing how we fight. We may not yet have found our generation’s equivalent of Fuller or Liddell-Hart, but in our new Land Operating Concept we have the conceptual framework to underpin our transformation; it is built on the evidence from significant consultation with academia, industry, and practitioners from across the world, and tested by over 55 days of wargaming. We are planning to fight differently. And win.

We have mobilised our equipment. We have led by example, committing British vehicles and weapons to our Ukrainian allies. British NLAW anti-tank weapons helped stop the Russians in their tracks outside Kyiv, Stormer anti-aircraft systems protect Ukrainian skies and Challenger 2 tanks and AS90 guns are spearheading Ukraine’s counter-offensive.

We have mobilised our training. Well over 17,000 Ukrainians have been trained on British soil and intelligence intercepts tell us that the Russians know when they are fighting soldiers trained here - testament to our instructors’ professionalism and Ukrainian tenacity. Our efforts are saving the lives of Ukraine’s citizen soldiers and helping them repel the Russians – we and our international training partners can be proud. 

We have mobilised with industry. The purchasing of Archer 6x6, signed and sealed within two months, has demonstrated that we can procure rapidly. We have committed to spend over 100 million pounds on Long Range Precision Fires. We have directed almost 200 million pounds to be spent on new ISR.

We have mobilised our productivity. 9,000 soldiers are currently protecting British interests overseas, with nearly 6,000 of them in Europe. Today’s Army is the most productive that it has ever been in my 38 years of service; indeed, we have broadly the same number of soldiers currently deployed as we did a decade ago, despite having reduced in size by 21% over that period.

And we have mobilised the old but sometimes neglected the idea that Land matters.

Last year, I compared our generation’s situation to that Europe faced in 1937: I used it to signal the imperative to mobilise our armies and our industrial base to avert the spread of war.

It was controversial for some. Others, especially those leading land forces on NATO’s eastern and Northern flank, told me it had particular resonance.

Consider the alternative: an army that did not respond to war on NATO’s borders, that wasted time through prolonged equivocation as did our forbears in 1920s and 30s, that did not strengthen our credibility and resilience, would leave the nation and NATO weaker.

It would be an Army that sooner or later would meet with a shock.

But unlike our predecessors, we are safer – for now. NATO is stronger, Russia is temporarily weaker and Ukrainian bravery and sacrifice is buying us time. Time to modernise. Time to train ourselves. Time to ensure that we are prepared so we can deter.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine have granted us an opportunity. An opportunity to avert war. A chance to reverse some of the disinvestments made during the ‘peace dividend’ that came with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that we all hoped would prevail.  

But, for every extra month that we are privileged to gain, there is a terrible cost; one that we can never take for granted, nor one that we can irresponsibly squander.

We must do more.

We owe it to Ukraine.

But no matter how this war ends – and it must be through a Ukrainian victory - I believe the Russian threat will remain. Despite setbacks, Moscow’s intent has been revealed to the world.  

This will be a generational struggle. It is one we must arm ourselves for.

It is one we must be ready for.

Now we are well supported in meeting the threat, thanks to the Government’s, including a generous settlement in 2021’s Integrated Review and recognition of the changing strategic situation reflected in this year’s Refresh. Plus, the imminent revision to the Defence Command Paper, which builds on all this work. And, thanks to the modernisation efforts of our sister services, we are part of a Defence that is getting stronger.

We are also not standing alone; we are privileged to draw on the strength that only comes with having close allies and partners, especially within NATO and JEF. We share the same professionalism, values, and determination to support Ukraine however long it takes. And with Vilnius only a few weeks away, we meet ahead of what will be a crucial summer for NATO.  I am pleased to welcome twelve of my fellow Chiefs here today, and am extremely grateful to both my French and Finnish friends and colleagues: Pierre Schill and Pasi Valimaki for agreeing to share their insights with us.  

Because we must all remember that autocracies, and those who lead them - whoever they may end up being - fight wars very differently to democracies - their lack of accountability makes that so. And, despite the lively debate around the capability of the Russian forces and the ambiguity over political stability in Russia itself, one thing is certain: Putin’s army is holding ground. His soldiers’ boots remain lodged on Ukrainian soil and, for Kyiv to succeed, they must be forced from it.

It is still too early to tell how successful the ongoing counteroffensive will be. But Ukrainian shaping activity has been impressive – and the AFU are clearly fighting with great skill, courage, and determination.

As we look to the future, I am inclined to follow the advice of those who live on NATO’s eastern flank; those who know that you should never write off Moscow. Those who know that throughout its long and turbulent history, Russia has been a country of comebacks. We should also consider that a fractured Russia is unlikely to be a good thing for European security.

Irrespective of the turbulent events this weekend Putin's warped motives are unabated. Internal debate in Russia revolves around how to fight the war more effectively, not how to end it. The Kremlin continues to direct mobilisation. As Jack [Watling] and Nick [Reynolds] have so eloquently demonstrated, the Russian Army is learning, albeit at a horrendous price. Living standards have not dropped. Russian arms factories are on a war footing, with workers taking on extra shifts to keep the production lines going.

And Russia is by no means a nation engaged in total war; in the Great Patriotic War Russia dedicated 61% of GDP to the war effort. This so-called special military operation is drawing only three percent of GDP.

It has the means to go much further

Failure to defend Ukraine, deter further aggression and extinguish Russian expansionist ambition risks undermining an international order that has maintained peace and ensured prosperity for eight decades. I am sobered by the number of governments that appear to have accepted Putin’s narrative– that this is a defensive war - while embracing non-alignment. We must acknowledge the limitations of soft power and recognise that preserving our international system demands the restoration of deterrence – deterrence underpinned by hard power and credibility.

Combat credibility.

For UK deterrence to succeed, we need credible armed forces that are balanced across all of the domains. Those who believe that our geography allows us to minimise investment on land or that we can simply hide behind the armies of other NATO contributors are simply wrong.

Land matters; it is where people live. And, as the great naval strategist Julian Corbett wrote in 1911, it is where “great issues between nations at war have always been decided – except in the rarest cases.”  

His words ring true today. And his logic applies across the globe, something made clear to me when I visited our US partners at the Land Forces Pacific Conference last month and learned just how central land forces are to setting the Pacific theatre and deterring aggression; they extend reach, reassure partners and secure critical lines of communication.

Even in the 21st Century, an army’s credibility will still be measured by how skilfully it can conduct the full orchestra of war – its mastery of combined arms manoeuvre and its ability to integrate with others; for success will only come from being part of a modernised multi-domain force. This is nothing new; the Army has always been at its very best when operating together with the other services.

And while we need our sister services to win on land, I am also determined that the Army plays its part in enabling them to succeed in their domains.

We will do so faced with a changing character of war. The deep battle is increasing in importance. The close battle is playing out at a greater range. We are witnessing the rise of autonomy and seeing the centrality of data in modern warfare. We have had the first glimpses of the revolution that artificial intelligence, robotics and potentially quantum computing will bring. Their effect will be felt through that timeless battle of invention and counter-invention, but as we look towards the 2030s, to survive and win, armies must punch further, harder and process data faster than their opponents.

Ukraine has reminded us that success can only be achieved with a secure land industrial base together with the stockpiles to sustain the fight. That mass is still indispensable. That we need to plan to reinforce and regenerate the force - for to only focus on the first echelon – i.e. those troops that we will put into battle at the start of a war - is to prepare for failure.

But it would also be remiss of me not to emphasise that we should treat many of these lessons with caution; one wonders what shape we would be in if, in the first few days after the Russian invasion, we had sold off our armour to invest in TB2 or one-way attack drones. Context is all.

So what does this mean for the British Army?

We must never again be unprepared as our forbears were in the 1930s; I am therefore minded to heed Henry Kissinger’s advice to leaders as he celebrated his hundredth birthday: “identify where you are. Pitilessly.”

Many of our platforms are outdated and not fit for purpose. I trained on the 432 armoured personnel carrier in the 1980s when it was already 30 years old; it is still in service today. Our armoured reconnaissance vehicle CVR(T) came into service in 1973, our infantry fighting vehicle Warrior in 1987 and Challenger 2 in 1998; these are rotary dial telephones in an iPhone age.

Now change is coming. Over 35 billion pounds is being spent on new equipment over the next 10 years. 35 out of our 38 existing platforms are going out of service and being replaced by new capabilities; they will make us one of the most modern, connected, and lethal armies in the world.

The Army is restoring momentum – but we must accept that our procurement record has been poor and our land industrial base has withered.

Furthermore, our Army Reserve is not as capable and credible as we need it to be; Future Soldier put us on a path to reconstitution but it was unrealistic about our Reserves’ ability to reinforce Regular structures.

And we are still too bureaucratic; despite my promise last year, Whole Fleet Management remains!

We must rectify these faults. And there isn’t a moment to lose - we must now take the same spirit of mobilisation and turn it towards transformation; the next steps in the reforms that started with Future Soldier.

First, we will think and fight differently. The initiation of Project WAVELL and the release of the new Land Operating Concept are important steps, however there is no room for conceptual complacency. We must keep testing our assumptions. We must keep refining our theory of victory. We must use hard evidence to make our force design decisions.

And to those of you sceptical as to whether we can do this, I recommend you get to Warminster and see the Army’s Experimentation and Trials Group; you will witness the future of British land warfare.

Second, last year I said that I was prepared to look at the structures of our Army if I judged that it would make us better prepared to fight in Europe. That time is now.

We must have the confidence to structure ourselves to meet our core purpose – to fight and win wars on land - and provide genuine utility and credibility to NATO if called upon, while still being able operate globally in support of the United Kingdom’s interests.

So over the coming months:

We will uplift the 1st Division into a credible Land Component Command Headquarters, one capable of integrating effects across all domains. This will include resubordinating 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team under the 1st Division and looking at how the Army’s Global Response Force, announced in Defence Command Paper 21, can contribute to the joint force

We will optimise the 3rd Division to warfight under an enhanced Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. These formations will be at the very heart of our  commitment to European deterrence, maximising the opportunity that the new NATO Force Model presents us.

By the end of this year, Joint Helicopter Command will have evolved into a Joint Aviation Command. This new organisation will pioneer uncrewed aviation into the 2030s, reflecting the emergence of Human-Machine Teaming technology and the rapid proliferation of Uncrewed Aerial Systems.

We will unlock the true potential of Land Special Operations in enabling the joint force and supporting our NATO allies. 77 Brigade together with the Army Special Operations Brigade and our CEMA Group, have the potential to be a world leading special operations capability, capable of creating opportunities or constraints in crisis or conflict.

And, in the spirit of Haldane, our Reserve force will form our second echelon. A Reserve that provides our nation with resilience and mass. And by moving away from insisting upon equivalence between our Regulars and Reserves, it will also be one truly designed for our reservists; recognising that they are constrained only by the time they can give, and not by their ambition or desire to serve.

Third, we will make the Army more lethal:

We have already let contracts to replace the ammunition we sent to Ukraine, and have committed to increasing our stockpiles of key and general munitions.

The next two years will see the delivery of Boxer, Ajax, more than 60 recapitalised M270 rocket launchers and Archer 6x6.

We will reprioritise investment towards Remote and Autonomous Systems and dismounted situational awareness capabilities.

We will continue to enhance our long-range fires capabilities, which enable us to support the other domains from the land, such as through attacking an adversary’s air defence or sinking enemy ships.

We will invest in Air Defence, tripling our short range and doubling our medium range capabilities.

The Army AI Centre is already established and, by 2024, will we have built a new Land Component Data Fusion and Analytics Engine; both exponentially increase the tempo of our decision making and targeting.

And, in doing so, we will maximise the Land Industrial Strategy’s full potential. I have now seen the full extent of the decline in our sovereign Land Industrial Base. It is essential that we relight the furnaces and work with industry to build national resilience and help our country prosper. We will support wholeheartedly DE&S’ reform of our acquisition processes to ensure we can play our part in supporting the UK’s new science and technology framework - and fully benefit from our nation’s world-leading innovation and research.

Finally, I am determined that we maintain our commitment to our soldiers and Civil Servants. When, like so many of our international partners, we are faced with a highly competitive market for talent, we must do our utmost to recruit our nation’s best.

And we remain a powerful tool of social mobility; I was recently struck by this statistic in the recent Times Educational Commission final report: in Britain it typically takes five generations for someone to go from the bottom to the middle of income distribution. In Denmark it takes two.

But if you serve a full career in the Army it can be done in just one;

We must also acknowledge the pressures our increased productivity places on our people and their families. Parts of the Army are working incredibly hard to maintain our outputs; the line between ‘good busy’ and ‘bad busy’ is extremely fine – as AFCAS demonstrates. We will lessen the negative impacts of service life where we can.

Two billion pounds is being spent on refurbishing our accommodation. Our soldiers now have access to wraparound childcare. Through Programme CASTLE and our Talent Management System, we will provide our people greater ownership over their careers and ensure that we have the right person – Regular, Reservist, or Civil Servant – in the right role.

We will also double down on our efforts to cut unnecessary policy and inefficient processes. We must spend more time on our core purpose – and I intend to fully maximise the potential of AI and ML in our headquarters to do so.

And I am utterly determined that we continue to set the culture of teamwork and professionalism that enables our soldiers to prevail.

But our commitment to our people must go deeper still.

As we see today in Ukraine, the margin between success or failure in a land campaign comes down to soldiers. Tired, thirsty and hungry. With uneven loads digging into their backs, sweat in their eyes and blisters on their feet.

It is they who deliver victory; they who are our very lifeblood.

And, as Ukraine demonstrates, the only true test of an Army is war itself.

Therefore, in closing, I am reminded of another lone individual who stood before a RUSI audience, some 50 years ago:

“I am tempted…to declare dogmatically…”, he told the assembled crowd, “…that whatever doctrine the Armed Forces are working on now, that they have got it wrong. I am also tempted to declare that it does not matter that they have got it wrong. What matters is their capacity to get it right quickly when the moment arrives.”

He was the late, great Michael Howard. Possibly our nation’s greatest soldier-scholar. He was with the Guards at Salerno. He had smelt the stench of battle. He knew war’s enduring nature.

Standing in his shadow today, I sense that his words might still ring true.

But they are not an excuse for complacency. As we are learning un Ukraine, adaptation comes at a cost. A cost in lives.

And with a land war raging in Europe, I would argue we have little excuse for getting it wrong.

Let us therefore pledge that our generation will not squander the opportunity we have been given - by both our government and by the sacrifice of the brave people of Ukraine.

Let us embrace it.

Let us ensure that when our Army is next asked to fight on behalf of the people of this country it is as best prepared as it can be.

For this is the Army that our soldiers and our nation deserves.