There has been some potentially well-founded cynicism (or genuine concern?) expressed in the media and from various armchairs about, for example, whether you can replace 4,000 or so pairs of army boots with a digital backbone and some AI, ML and edge computing. You can’t; it’s a brigades worth of people, and maybe being more direct about that would dampen down the critics. Our adversaries, who have also made huge technical advances, aren’t making those trades. But we won’t outbuild them and the taxpayer cannot finance us to do so, hence we have to outsmart then and you can mitigate the reductions and make the smaller force more capable in technology and skills and then work with allies, or (re) generate “war reserves” to build around a more capable core and play a longer game; something the Defence Command Paper set in the context of the Integrated Review clearly lays out.
Picture Extracted from “Defence in a competitive Age” under Open Government Licence v3.0
Key is the centrality of Strategic Command (Stratcom) and the importance of Multi-Domain Integration (MDI), which is far more than an evolution of joint, recognises the new domains of space and cyber (which are also of relevance beyond defence) and cross government efforts, encapsulated for example in Fusion Doctrine. The Defence Command Paper sets out intended upgrades to the Permanent Joint Operating Bases (PJOBs). So, Cyprus, Kenya, Gibraltar and so on, it is assumed, will be getting more resilient connectivity, infrastructure upgrades and improvements to the ability for forces to use them as springboards or places to poise. More persistent engagement includes more Defence Attaches, training teams, more exercising globally, Carrier Enabled Power Projection, and a far wider and more permanent web of influence to help develop capabilities in ourselves and others, and provide warning of impending issues.
The land domain
So, within all this for the land domain there looks like much change ahead; way more fundamental than some salami-slicing and renaming (albeit there is doubtless some of that!). It is understood that a study will see UK Special Forces focus on counter-terrorism and core SF tasks, whilst a new “Special Ops Brigade” in the Army, understood to be composed of what sound like small, 250 strong Ranger Battalions, will be created in addition to the re-designing of Commando Forces towards littoral tasks, and the retention of 16 Air Assault Brigade as an Air Manoeuvre Brigade Combat Team, albeit the loss of C130 will doubtless impose constraints. Along with the Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) units, 77 Brigade and Information Manoeuvre Groups, and the associated enabler slices of EOD teams, medics, engineers and logisticians there is no doubt that a deliberate shift to a more persistently engaged land force requires reorganisation and some re-skilling with more “bands of determined people” deployed more widely and for longer periods. These teams will be operating with less layers of command and with less close support and will have to be connected to both the defence enterprise (read the UK and the CIS infrastructure or digital backbone), allies and each other.
Crisis response and warfighting force
The Heavy and Light Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), together with enablers, will form the bulk of the crisis response and warfighting force and likely will be well served by Bowman (and then Morpheus and the wider Land Environment Tactical CIS programme), the Strike BCT similarly so, but with greater speed and distance of advance, and greater dispersion the prevalence of satellite communications at the tactical edge in the Army is expected to grow significantly to connect “puddles” of combat systems. But for those whose work will be more persistent, in smaller teams, Bowman (and then Morpheus) will need augmented, or in some cases may not feature unless the engagement force is then grown to deal with a crisis.
Resilient and small form communications solutions
These small teams will need the kind of services several organisations in MOD already use to access UK secret, NATO/Mission Secret and Unclassified services (open-source intelligence, international and local news are key to any engagement task…) and to do so with resilient and small form communications solutions, with plenty of connection options ranging from Satcom to local ADSL to LTE. Currently NSSLGlobal’s OSPREY solution and AP100 is being used by high readiness units and recce teams for this type of task. From these small “Points of Presence” (PoPs or hubs) reaching back to UK and delivering key IT services, individuals may need to get expert advice when away from the HQ over lightweight easy to use systems (such as handheld netted or point to point satphones), or local LTE with discrete SIMs and perhaps additional layers of security, vehicles perhaps acquired in theatre will need to be fitted rapidly with easy to use communications systems, and all of these types of solutions will be needed globally. In addition, knowing where these teams and their vehicles are precisely will be key, force protection for small teams in the middle of nowhere may require the application of additional technology, noting our adversaries’ capabilities to jam or spoof GPS signals. Defence users cannot rely on one communications path, or one satellite constellation; no matter how capable, they can be denied. Leveraging multiple bands and services brings choice and resilience; a fundamental element of a solid PACE plan (Primary, Alternate, Contingent and Emergency).
Connecting the Enterprise to the Edge
Defence has a generation of young leaders from “Corporal to Captain” used to google maps and smartphone delivered apps and they are likely to be the sort of people “persistently engaged” at the edge from the SFABs, the Spec Ops Brigade, Airborne and Commando forces and all the key enablers. Defence needs to leverage that experience and provide the best network and information possible as far forward as possible. So, connecting the Enterprise to the Edge utilising appropriate technology and blends of capabilities to deliver the best information which could be open source, multinational, inter-agency, or more focused to what’s around the corner, depending on the situation. Investing in the systems and tools to underpin persistent engagement in all its forms will be key to achieve the outcomes envisaged by the Integrated Review and the Defence Command Paper.