Paul Spedding considers how the UK could seek to harness its future total defence and security capability
Operating at the very heart of UK Defence, UK Strategic Command is tasked with ensuring joint capabilities – such as medical services, intelligence and information systems – are developed and managed across all five of the land, sea, air, space and cyber domains. To this end, it has identified its first priority as collaboration between the Ministry of Defence and wider government, and the second as collaborating with the UK’s allies.
Bringing all national capabilities to bear is about strengthening these priorities. Not just in terms of recognising the products and services that industry and others provide, but in considering the vulnerabilities that non-government UK contribute to the nation’s weakness, and the wider ways in which non-government UK can contribute to its strength.
So, how do we make sure we have not only the skills we need, but also the national awareness and unity when it comes to Defence? Narrative and manipulation of the public is often shaped by global companies, the extreme fringes of society and our adversaries. So, ultimately, will our defence and security vulnerabilities come to be patched or exploited?
Collaboration in action
Recognising the existence of a persistent adversary fuels our energy to change and improve. It challenges us to find the components we need to harness and the mechanisms we need to invoke, to become as good as we can be. In the digital space we need real collaboration and an environment which turns concepts into real life operations.
When it comes to wider than government participation in warfighting, the digital world begs an answer. Where will our cyber warriors reside? How attractive is the Ministry of Defence or our security agencies to our young people and the range of cultures and skills we need. How attractive is academia and how attractive industry?
What probably isn’t in dispute is that it will be a national struggle to develop our skills and learn how to fight fast enough. This means collaboration, experimentation and also the rapid assimilation of lessons learned will become imperative. We should recognise, then, that some of the tools and techniques we will deploy against our adversaries, regardless of who leads on such activities, are often common.
This suggests that the development of wider national underpinning capabilities, rather than government departmental ones, might help. At BAE Systems, we have been looking at this recently in respect of national cyber power, which will require a degree of government and industry re-organisation, such as extending the supply ecosystem and enabling unclassified resource to be brought to bear in classified operations.
The digital battlefield
Non-government participation in offensive action is a thorny subject but one we can’t avoid due to the importance of national competitiveness and resource flexibility. For years, we have had industry supporting the military, but let us take the concept further.
Future conflicts will see more store put on the weaponisation of data, cyber and electronic warfare. Perhaps digital wars may be fought with comparatively little physical engagement; targeting a nation’s economy, its critical national infrastructure, manipulating its population, collapsing its government. So how far forward and involved will non-civil servants need to be engaged in this collaborative national team? Offence and defence are two sides of the same coin.
The pace of change necessary to compete is undoubtedly not commensurate with the structured training of hundreds of thousands of people. So what we utilise at the sharp end of capability must be intuitive, perhaps familiar.
In some circumstances, commercial-off-the-shelf products will serve well, in others it will need to be tailored. Additional services such as security and evidential logging will be required. Delivered capability will need to adapt. Commercial services can also be called upon but it’s important to recognise the potential for deception activities, cyber attack vectors and issues such as sustainability of supply. Often it is the processes that are the greater area to focus on.
It’s important to learn, too. For example, bringing social media examples into command and control and intelligence processes and ways of working should reduce the training burden and level of complexity, thereby accelerating the evolution of capability in the process. Getting the balance is key, developing to an intuitive adaptive organisation at the sharp end, with more traditional structured training for the more stable capabilities.
Sovereign power structure
After the harnessing of our total UK capability, harnessing the capability of our allies and trusted partners comes next. Yet that doesn’t mean we must avoid sovereign systems. On the contrary, a strong and secure national data capability underpins the trust our partners and friends can place in the UK. It also, of course, underpins economic confidence and supports the prosperity agenda for the government’s Global Britain ambitions.
My own view is that we are engaged in a permanent conflict, the severity of which is difficult to see or assimilate. We are possibly enduring an erosion of our democracy through a thousand cuts, as our adversarial chess masters conduct operations against us, moving multiple pieces at a time.
We may need a truly national capability to be forged from wider than government. This new capability will need to be able to seamlessly accommodate the varying phases of engagement as they morph between below and above threshold conflicts both now and in the future.
About the author
Paul Spedding is Head of Pre-Sales & Strategy Defence, at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
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