The 2017 conference focused on the following themes:
- Today’s Strategic Context – the era of ‘constant competition’ and its policy challenges.
- The Chiefs Panel – international Chiefs of Staff shared their approaches to modernising land forces.
- Confronting the Information Challenge – addressing and exploiting the demands of operating in an Information Age.
- The Human Dimension – digital literacy, twenty-first century communication and maximising the talent on which they depend.
- Future Combined Arms Operations – capability development and integration for operating dispersed, decentralised and cross-domain.
- Training as Surrogate Warfare – enabling adaptation and innovation, building combat ethos and strategic outputs for reassurance and deterrence.
Watch the keynote address
It’s a great pleasure to be here and to return as the Defence Secretary.
I have a slightly strange record in that this is the fourth time in three years I’ve been appointed for this job.
Truly, as our conference theme reminds us, we are living in an age of constant competition!
Yet, if we really want to understand what the phrase means, we need to take a step back.
100 years ago our main dangers came from rival nations threatening us with conventional war.
The Army was expected to play a pivotal role fighting at close range.
It did so with unprecedented courage amidst the mud and blood of monumental battles such as Passchendaele which we will commensurate shortly.
But the Cold War introduced another level of threat - the shocking prospect of nuclear war.
Our deterrent relied not just on nuclear submarines, or NATO partnerships, but also we shouldn’t forget the physical presence of our troops, ranging ever ready along the frontiers of the iron curtain.
Yet globalisation and the relentless advance of technology are today posing our nations a very different set of problems.
We have state aggressors like Russia testing our allies along Europe’s eastern border using proxies to destabilise Ukraine and annex Crimea and deploying hybrid means to undermine democracy in countries far and wide.
And then we have non-state actors. Those lacking the power to threaten our nation as a whole, but intent on causing us as much carnage as possible as we’ve seen so recently - in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park.
And we have anonymous cyber foes – often sponsored by state or non-state entities, lurking behind a veil of encryption targeting our national infrastructure as we saw with the recent cyber strike on Parliament.
That is not a Cold War. It is a grey war. Permanently teetering on the edge of outright hostility. Persistently hovering around the threshold of what we wouldn normally consider acts of war.
IMPLICATIONS FOR LAND POWER
What does that mean for land power?
We will still look to you to seize and hold territory to fight in close proximity with…and among the population since our willingness to employ land power is critical to our deterrent.
Yet the question is neither about how or when we respond with appropriate force since we will do so at a time and in the manner of our choosing.
Instead the real question is how we retain enough room for manoeuvre, as equipment costs escalate and the demands, from a multitude of diverse, complex and concurrent dangers, grow.
And my thesis today is that the only way our armies can prepare for the battlefields of tomorrow is by placing innovation and adaptability at their core.
That will require investment.
We’ve chosen in UK to spend on bigger, bolder defence, increasing our budget year on year…at 0.5 per cent ahead of inflation. In 2016 our forces received some £35bn. This year it will be £36bn. And next year it will be £37bn. But having more money doesn’t mean we can do everything we want It has always been, it always will be a question of prioritisation.
Thanks to the delegated model Service Chiefs have responsibility, accountability and authority for their own budgets. And I know that the Army feels incentivised to review its processes and structures to find more efficient, smarter and more productive, ways of doing things so they can reinvest in new projects to keep us on the cutting edge.
At the same time, the Service Chiefs know that delivering some programmes will be contingent on making efficiency savings. This helps us focus so, by the time, we reach our Annual Budget Cycle we are concentrating not on the nice-to-haves but having more money for the things we need the most. And thanks to those decisions we now have a much clearer sense of the things that really matter.
The history of landwarfare is punctuated by moments of brilliance, instances where innovation and imagination changed the course of operations.
So the longbow, became the musket, became the machine gun.
The chariot gave way to the cavalryman.
And then a century ago at Cambrai the tank reached the Hindenburg line, triggering another revolution in warfare.
So today we’re using our £178bn equipment programme as the catalyst for a further step-change in capability as we introduce Ajax.
Ajax is more than just a piece of armour.
Ajax is an Information Age sensor. Able to hoover up data from the ground and air for miles around. Capable of detecting the invisible signs of cyber disturbance. Able to offer a more complete picture of an increasingly dispersed battle space, while co-ordinating our response with the wider force.
And AJAX isn’t the only bit of capability we’re bringing on line.
We are using our rising budget to invest in a whole raft of high-tech capability, unmanned aerial systems, autonomous vehicles and Apache attack helicopters.
Today I’m delighted to announce we have awarded a £48m six-year contract extension with Aviation Training International, to enable our ground crews to master all there is to know about this mighty flying machine. From avionics and armaments, to refuelling and rearming.
In a couple of months’ time we will be showcasing some of this next generation kit at DSEI.
These investments are not just about replacing old kit.
We now are buying equipment that gives us far more bang for our buck.
In a data driven era investment in vehicles of course must go hand in hand with an investment in networks
That’s why we’re enormously augmenting our processing power to handle the massive upload of new information
We’ve already taken the first step.
We are investing in MORPHEUS, a next-generation tactical communication and information system that will give us faster and easier connectivity.
In the longer-term, our Land environment tactical command and information system will eventually connect all of our sensors and systems.
Of course, great kit alone doesn’t guarantee an agile and adaptable Army.
So the second major investment has to be in people.
Before I continue I want to say that our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of Corporals Matthew Hatfield and Darren Neilson of the Royal Tank Regiment who died after a live firing exercise in Castlemartin on 14th June, and the other two soldiers who were injured in the same deeply sad incident.
The investigation is on-going but we are determined to get to the bottom of this tragic accident because our people are our greatest asset.
That’s why we remain committed to maintaining the overall size of the Armed Forces and an Army capable of fielding a warfighting division.
Mass will always be a vital part of our deterrence.
So we will maintain an Army that remains one of the very few nations in the world capable of fielding that warfighting Division.
And when it comes to Reserves our confidence in our Reserves plans is reflected by the fact that the Infrastructure and Projects Authority has recently taken the Army Reserves Programme off its books – the only programme to be so assured in the last 5 years.
But, in a more competitive labour marketplace, it becomes even harder to retain, retrain and recruit the right people with the right mix of skills.
So let me say a word on each of these.
On retention – our flexible engagement reforms championed by Sir Nicholas Carter…are key. Our new legislation will be published tomorrow.
We are going to make it easier for personnel to temporarily change the nature of their service, to give them a chance to work part-time or be temporarily protected from deployment to support an individual’s personal circumstances where operational need allows. That’s retention.
On to training.
The battle for information and influence will increasingly matter, so our soldiers will need to have a raft of new skills.
Becoming more adept at crunching the data churned out by their equipment.
More aware of what that information means.
More able to make swifter, better informed decisions
And we will need to increase our training in counter reconnaissance, because the information environment is far from being a passive space is now a hotly contested battleground, where we are constantly competing to correct the false narrative of our adversaries with a faster truth.
For that to happen, the Army will need to keep adapting its structures.
We’re starting today.
I can announce that we are now bringing the Royal Signals and Intelligence Corps together under a shared command.
The Intelligence Corps off course packages, collates and analyses vital information on the battlefield.
The Royal Corps of Signals provides the state-of-the-art technology to disseminate information quickly, in an agile way.
Working together those two Corps will bring a laser-like focus and co-ordination to our cyber efforts.
That’s retention and retraining, finally to recruitment.
There is a challenge here that I want to set before this conference.
We know we will need to reach out to the brilliant brains of tomorrow
Those who put apps above artillery, who pride brains above bayonets.
We know we have to maintain the Army as an attractive proposition for those who might not have normally considered a military career - the cyber geeks and tech wizards.
The question is how do we attract that element in the new generation?
Let me put forward a few initial thoughts to frame your discussions.
We’ll need to do more with our Reservists, more with our Whole Force of civilians and industrialists because they bring a fresh injection of new ideas, new approaches and outside expertise.
Second, we must also be more open to challenge from the younger generation
The Army is an institution. rightly reveres its great traditions but when they tell us, for example, that there are savvier ways for us communicate - let’s listen.
I’m glad that in the earlier session we laid down a marker here by inviting our juniors delegates to come up and show us a thing or two.
My final point is that an agile Army of the future requires strong partnerships sharing the burden of complex global challenges.
Our 2015 SDSR set us the challenge of becoming more international-by-design.
So, even as we step back from the political framework of EU, you will find us sticking by that plan and stepping up to confront those global challenges.
That’s why we will strengthen our commitment to NATO, the cornerstone of defence.
By increasing our budget year on year, we’re not just about fielding a division but to put our troops at the service of the Alliance.
Currently, the Army is heading up NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Taskforce.
A couple of weeks ago I saw it in action in Romania, partnering with 14 other nations in Exercise Noble Jump.
At the same time, our troops are leading our Enhanced Forward Presence in Estonia and Poland. By the end of this month we’ll have 10,000 soldiers supporting the NATO Alliance in one way or another.
Yet our efforts here show how we’re getting smarter as we adapt to the new era of competition.
We are not just using training and exercises to get our people in shape, but to deliver strategic effects
Messages of reassurance to our allies.
Messages of deterrence to our adversaries.
But if we want to be really smart we have to be able to spot a crisis before it turns into a catastrophe.
Or better still before it even arises.
That’s why we’re creating those Specialised Infantry teams.
Invested with specialist skills relevant to different parts of the globe.
There to sense danger, to provide early warning, to build the partnerships that head off trouble down the track.
And for proof of our commitment to keep reaching out you only need to look around the room.
This might be a UK land warfare conference, but we have here a huge number of guests drawn from our allies around the world.
You’re very welcome.
So platforms, people and partnerships are the key to us, the agile edge we need in this era of constant competition.
But we need to take the public with us on this journey.
Since the end of our Afghanistan and Iraq fighting campaigns, the public no longer has the same level of awareness about what our Armies are up to.
As the threats become ever greyer and murkier, as our responses necessarily become sometimes more opaque, as our adversaries become ever more effective at using misinformation to play upon public fears, it’s all the more incumbent on us to shine the light of transparency.
On this new greyer dawn, reassuring people that we’re on the case, showing them we do have the means to respond, that there is not simply a cost but a real value to what we do.
That’s why the public discourse, why open debate and why conferences such as this are so vital.
A century ago, after years of stalemate, that Mark IV tank burst through the Hindenberg Line.
An event that wouldn’t just lead to the Allied Armies winning the war but to war itself being transformed.
Today we are living in an age of instability, an age of constant competition.
But the answer is for our Armies keep adapting, to keep becoming truly agile.
Watch the recording of the concluding remarks
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It was a high-risk strategy running this conference on until this late in the day but I am much encouraged to see that the room looks very nearly as full as it did yesterday morning.
Unusually, I am also going to make some remarks about General Ben Hodges. I suspect I go back a little further with Ben Hodges than Patrick Sanders does, but this will be his last conference as the USAREUR commander and he has been a huge friend.
I can honestly say that our contribution to southern Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010 would have not been the same if it had not been for him making us all Americans and he did that tremendously.
I cannot think of a finer example of a multinational officer and I know he will know what I mean when I say that I suspect he is a better multinational officer than he is a joint officer, as US Marines are not necessarily the flavour of his month. Ben, thank you for everything you have done for the British Army – it has been hugely well-received.
I would like to thank RUSI and AUSA, our sponsors, and all of you for your contributions during the last couple of days. I think we have had a very high standard of panels and speakers and the chairmen have remained, helpfully I think, in lane. Thus, I think the conference has been coherent and it has followed the pattern that we hoped it would. I think we are on a high. We have now raised the bar and that will be a challenge for what we must do next year, I suspect.
I have found it a very rewarding experience and for me there are many highlights, but the one I would single out was getting the four Chiefs of Staff on the stage yesterday just before lunchtime.
As I said at the end of that, it was reassuring, I think for all of us, to see that we are all wrestling with similar problems and that multi-nationality and alliances are at the forefront of what we do. We have to be careful of the echo chamber, but I still think it is reassuring to see the four of us committing in that way.
The exam question that we posed was ‘how do you use land power decisively in this era of constant competition?’ I said yesterday this recognises that the security environment is increasingly complex, dynamic, and unstable. I said that the international rules-based architecture that has assured our prosperity and our stability, and of course our security, since the Second World War is being increasingly challenged.
I said that the pervasiveness of information is driving a rapidly changing character of conflict. As it has been exposed to us clearly today, by many speakers, our rivals are now using new tools to seek advantage. They are exploiting the ambiguity in the blurring of distinctions between war and peace.
I think we have concluded during the last couple of days that there will always be a decisive role for land power, regardless of this evolving character of conflict. Many speakers have talked about the nature of war and have emphasised the fact that it does not change. It is always visceral, it is always violent, it is always characterised by friction; it is about people, and it is about politics.
Those things happen on the land and that is where people live. As we heard graphically from General Milley yesterday, stand-off fires simply do not cut the mustard. We must evolve and there are many themes that I have picked up which I shall talk to.
First and foremost, we must recognise that this is all underpinned by hard power, but our hard power must be adaptive and agile. We must fight smarter and we need to get ‘ahead of the bang’ where we can.
We need the support of the population at home. Then we must recognise that our most important asset is our talent. We must unlock its potential. We lead a generation who want to be empowered and we must find ways of doing just that.
What of our hard power? The first thing I would stress from a British Army perspective is the importance of the divisional level. That is important whichever army you look at, if it aspires to be a reference customer, because the divisional level is the level where the full orchestra of capability comes together.
It is the level where manoeuvre is genuinely multi-dimensional. It is the level where the framework of the battle can be visualised in terms like deep, close, and rear, with brigades fighting within it focused on a single tactical activity; I think that was the point the General Hix made this morning.
It is also the level where we would warfight. There is a hierarchy of wisdom and experience that comes together at that level, which gives policymakers the confidence that, when it is deployed, risk can be effectively managed. We saw this in 1989 and we saw this in 2003.
I think it absolutely plays to the Defence Secretary's observation this morning about deterrence. You must be willing to use your conventional deterrence for that deterrence to be effective. That, in the final analysis, means you must be prepared to put boots on the ground. We are, as an army, resetting our understanding of the divisional level and the corps level, following some fifteen years or so of counterinsurgency.
We are clear that we have a number of obvious capability gaps, such as air defence, general support engineering, electronic warfare, or CEMA (Cyber and ElectroMagnetic Activities) as it is increasingly being called, and areas like logistics lift.
We need to fill these capability gaps and it is encouraging to see some progress is being made. The Secretary of State singled out Morpheus this morning, which will be the means through which we will link it all together, in CIS terms. Also, the new Attack Helicopter and it was good to hear him talk this morning of his expectation that MIV, our Mechanised Infantry Vehicle, will be on contract within the next couple of years. I banked that one, I can tell
I think we also learned today that we must get cleverer about the deep battle. The pre-lunch session illustrated some of the threats that we could be up against. We have only got one of these divisions and we cannot afford to lose it on day one of combat. That means we must think hard about how we fight it and the extent to which the close battle is the early move where the decisive engagement occurs is not necessarily practical.
We see Strike as a transformational opportunity. I talked yesterday about our ability to project land power at reach and to get under the Anti-Access Area Denial challenge and to project over significant distances.
I talked about the need to decentralise and to concentrate rapidly on what I think will be a more spacious battlefield. In order to realise this, we are establishing an experimental group, which will be under 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade, under the command of Brigadier Zac Stenning.
It will be there to provide coherence, first and foremost, to the fielding of Ajax. It is also important to test the proposition of Strike; to examine the force structure that we want to put into the field and how you task organise to test the idea of decentralised command and control; the notion of smaller all-arms groupings being available on this spacious battlefield; testing propositions like the ability to reduce our logistic need, modular logistics; what is the CIS that we need to exploit the network enablement these platforms offer; how does the air-land dimension fit into it to realise its full potential?
I think this also alerts us to the fact that we must be sensible about getting the right balance between ‘fight tonight’ and fight tomorrow. We are so busy at the moment, I question the extent to which we are aiming-off for the future and thinking about what the future needs to look like.
There has been much discussion today about numbers. Quantity, of course, as we have heard a lot during the course of the last couple of days, has a quality all of its own. How do we mitigate an almost unprecedented lack of mass and indeed aim-off perhaps for the war that we might have to fight?
That is where I feel strongly that we need to understand how we can maximise the full potential of all of our manpower, post formal mobilisation at, say, a hundred and eighty days readiness.
We understand that we have a regular component of around eighty thousand. We have some five to seven and a half thousand in trade training. We have a Reserve Component that last week broke the thirty thousand barrier, in terms of reservists on the books.
What we are now doing is looking hard at how we could mobilise the Regular Reserve. This is something we did very well during the Cold War and there are probably around thirty thousand in terms of potential there. Clearly, we wish to start with critical capabilities like Attack Helicopter pilots.
We should also recognise that some fifty per cent of the Army leaves it, in regular terms, before the age of thirty. Hence, as General Milley suggested yesterday, there is a large cohort there of young people who are critically current in terms of their skills. Why would you not turn to them if you had to mobilise for the war that you might have to fight? I think this plays to the point that Mark Sedwill made about the effect we want from our manpower.
The second way we will mitigate that lack of mass is through multinational interoperability. I talked yesterday about the importance of our systems being ‘extrovert not introvert’. This plays to our relationships, which take time to build, and that is why defence engagement must be conducted strategically and done over time.
We must work much more closely with industry. We are beginning, I think, at last, to make some progress with a Whole Force Approach. We have some good initiatives that are capability driven rather than manpower driven. For example, the palletised delivery system, deployable logistics. We are looking at the full solution from support, through personnel, through infrastructure, as well as equipment.
Clearly that will have an impact upon the numbers in our regular component because if you can use Sponsored Reserves in conjunction with industry that may mean that some Regular numbers are not as vital as they might be.
The key thing is to focus on the output of this and the way in which you can deliver that capability in a more productive way. I shall return to it in a moment, but the other way I suggest that we mitigate the lack of mass is through upskilling our existing components.
My second observation, which I think has fallen out of the last couple of days, is that we must fight smarter. Our core doctrine of Integrated Action, with its focus on all of the audience – including allies, indigenous partners, the population and not just the enemy – is now increasingly understood within our army.
I think more broadly it forces you to have a decent understanding of your opponent as well. We heard this morning from Igor of Russia's military strength. We also need to ask ourselves, I think, about what are the weaknesses that were not described this morning because understanding them might help us manoeuvre in a subtler way than perhaps we would automatically.
I think Integrated Action encourages the exponents of land power to insist when land power is used on the ground that there is in place an effective local political strategy because without that in place on the ground it is very difficult for land power to be used effectively.
I think a big lesson for all of us is that the next time our army is used it must be successfully. This of course requires us, as Rupert Smith would observe, to understand the sort of war that we are getting involved in.
Brigadier Tom Copinger-Symes’ study, which he talked about yesterday afternoon, will seek to identify the synergies between our information-facing formations. Those are our two signal brigades, our ISR Brigade and our 77 Brigade, the Information Warfare brigade.
I think this will lead to us distinguishing between infrastructure and networks, as opposed to the clever stuff like applications and data management. It will see a doubling, as the Secretary of State announced this morning, of our CEMA capability; we will have two regiments doing this rather than the one today. I suspect it will also lead to a closer relationship between G2, the intelligence function, and G6, the communication function.
I also hope it will lead to a modernised Land Warfare School capable of training modern warfare officers where the appropriate wings within it can focus on the modern skills that we need and that in itself will be an engine for adaptation and for change.
There was a bit this morning on modernising command and control and the ideas of reach-back with a much smaller forward deployed headquarters has to be a sensible direction of travel. We already have that with 3rd (UK) Division, through Project Picton in Bulford, and it is encouraging to see the ARRC’s ideas and the experimentation that they are conducting.
All of this will lead to us having much better information exploitation. It is time, is it not, for our decision-making to be better informed by data and real evidence – not simply military judgment, which is what we teach in Staff College – and I think that was very clear from Peter Apps’ excellent session yesterday afternoon.
Now, when you combine this with modern career structures, something I shall return to, we will see what Fiona Almond called the ‘digital T. E. Lawrence’, particularly as we use reserve service to exploit talent at no cost, as Peter Apps observed, rather ironically, yesterday afternoon.
But fighting smarter also requires us to train smarter. We did become very centralist in terms of the way that we deliver training during the era of counterinsurgency.
Training was done to you, as Karen Peek observed a moment ago. So what we must do in our processes is to make the time and the policy framework for leaders to allow their subordinates to make honest mistakes in the pursuit of learning.
Soldiers want to be able to fail, to reflect on that failure, to try again and then to succeed. Surrogate warfare, the last session we have had, must be a sensible way of looking at this because it is the means through which we will assure the combat ethos that we learned the hard way during fifteen years of counterinsurgency.
Training has got to become more adversarial. We must recognise that the nature of war needs to be represented within it. It is to become more urbanised. We must use modern simulation to bring it to life and it must be the laboratory of adaptation and innovation.
Picking up Eliot Cohen's point, leading from Michael Howard, about the importance of adaptability and the ability to change your doctrine quickly when you realise it is going wrong. And, of course, it must be used to deter, to reassure and to assure our alliance cohesion.
That means it must be visible and we have set in train a collective training review which we will get after all of this and will position us better for how we need to deliver collective training in the future. We need help and Alex Alderson’s presentation revealed the sort of help that we will need from industry if we are genuinely to maximise its potential.
As an institution, we must also accept challenge and we must find a way of institutionalising it. Our Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research is a first step in this direction, but we must bring the younger generation on with us.
The idea of ‘guided anarchy’ through websites like the Wavell Room or BrAIN (British Army Intrapeneurs Network), which Kirsty Skinner talked about a moment ago, is fundamentally the way that we will unlock their potential to innovate to use their imagination and to help us change at the pace that technology is requiring us to change.
The next point I think, in terms of using land power decisively, is getting ‘ahead of the bang’ to use Counter-IED language. This is the idea of being persistently engaged overseas to understand and to shape, to deter and to protect, and to enhance our prosperity.
It involves, in our case, a first echelon of Specialised Infantry Battalions, with the first two being stood up as I speak, and effectively a second echelon of regionally aligned brigades, which will not necessarily have to work with the first echelon, although they can be deployed up-front, but it is easy to visualise them as such.
These regionally aligned brigades, equipped with light infantry and light cavalry; capabilities which are proving to be remarkably effective in that upstream capacity-building task.
We also need to think about this idea of ‘beside, with, and through’ and using our headquarters like the ARRC Headquarters and our 1st Division to act as ‘beside, with, and through’ headquarters that can deal with institutional level capacity building to help indigenous organisations improve themselves.
There must be a different way of thinking of it and getting greater utility from those standing headquarters. All of this, I think, recognises that this era of constant competition is not linear; the decision is far better if it can be achieved in what we used to call Phase Zero.
I think my final point on using the Army decisively is that we cannot forget we must improve the connection at home. That is why one of our objectives as an institution, is to be an army that is engaged and connected positively at home, so that we have a better chance of assuring our own enduring resilience and our license to be used, which means conveying the understanding of what we do because this demonstrates our broader utility.
It is worth reminding people that I cannot think of any other institution which is available at such short notice, whether on a Friday afternoon to deliver ambulance drivers or tanker drivers, or to backfill the police to relieve them to do other things with the terrorism threat. The Army is always available and people should never lose sight of that final insurance policy that we provide.
I talked about maximising talent because we will not deliver any of those things that I have described unless we do maximise that talent. That is why we have underway now a rolling review of career structures, education and training, and talent management.
I use the word talent advisedly because I think we must move on from what we currently do, which is career management. I want everybody in the Army and those outside if they wish to be part of the community of interest to be involved because this is going to be a project for the coming generation. It is not for my generation or the soggy centre beneath me, it is for the coming generation.
It is going to ask three questions. What is the future career structure? What training and education intervention does this structure require? What talent-based management system is needed to deliver it?
The first question needs to explore a career to sixty years of age for officers and for soldiers. We have to become more age agnostic where we can; probably not in the combat arms but certainly there will be many other parts in the army where we can be age agnostic. This perhaps plays, to Fiona Almond’s point, about ‘Major Mark Zuckerberg’.
We must examine the balance between generalists and specialists. We are going to have to have more specialist career streams and we are going to have to work out how we remunerate and reward people and provide them with status in these specialist career streams because at the moment we are not maximising our investment from those specialisms, or indeed stimulating those who are genuinely specialists.
This will ask questions, I suspect, about our late entry commissioning system. It will ask questions about our ability to enact lateral entry into specialist career structures, which I think we must do as well. We must also think hard about how we maximise the potential of Warrant Officers, who have so much more to offer than what we perhaps allow them to do at the moment. If we do not do this, there is no doubt in my mind that Brigadier Copinger-Symes’ ‘clever, curious, and crafty’ soldiers, will quickly become cynical.
We need to think hard about what this flexible engagement system will do, which I think will be a piece of legislation that will survive contact with the next couple of years of the legislative programme. That will develop and build the opportunity for us to run portfolio careers, which is the way people want to work in the future. It will allow for a more permeable career structure and I think it will make life simpler and more transparent for people.
It will have to be underpinned by civilian competence frameworks, but it will enable us to become less insular and to maximise people's potential in a different way; recognising that with all of this we will have to be clear-eyed about the cost of it.
But what about the training and education interventions? I was struck by Harlan Ullman's observation about the need for a revolution in military education. At the moment we spend a huge amount of time on long courses. We send some four hundred Majors away every year on the Intermediate Command and Staff Course, some ninety Lieutenant Colonels away for a year on the Advanced Course, and we educate our Captains for long periods of time at Warminster.
Can we afford to continue doing it like this? I suspect we are going to have to wake up and deliver distributed training and deliver training over the lifetime of the career in a very different way.
We need new ideas to develop modern skills. We have just started a programme that will form up in August in the Army Headquarters called the Army Advanced Development Programme. It will have the McKinsey ‘kite brand’ on the top of it and some twenty officers and civil servants will get the opportunity, over either a year or two years, to develop the sort of business skills that are necessary to run the business in the future.
This is a fallout of Lord Levene's defence reforms; what we need to do to become smarter at running that business. We need to avail ourselves of the opportunities that industry offers us for placements and for academic opportunities.
We need to make it quite clear that it is not going to be an ‘MS risk’ [career foul] to go into a placement or to go on an academic placement. It must be good to do in the way that the US Army has invested in the notion of a ‘soldier scholar’ for many years. It has to be something valued and oursystem must change to respect that.
We have got to think hard about how we deliver trade training in the future, particularly in the light of our redefinition of what a trained soldier is and the adjustments we will probably make to training governance. We can maximise the junior entry in doing this, something that provides huge opportunity for people to better themselves.
We should remind people that we offer some 16,000 apprenticeships every year; more than any other employer in Europe. We must become smarter about STEM training; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – we are in the same competition as everyone else.
Wither Welbeck College in the context of that and how do we form closer relationships with the civilian sector and what of course the Department of Education is doing with its new tech levels?
But what about the talent-based management system needed to deliver this? How do we stream because we are going to stream if we want to maximise people's potential? At what point in the career do we do this? What assessment is going to be needed to achieve that sort of effect? What tools are needed in support of talent-based selection and promotion? Is our existing reporting system fit for purpose?
It is interesting that many of the criteria that are focused on, in terms of the box you tick on the existing officer or soldier report, are tri-service ones. Do they scratch the itch from a land perspective? I doubt it.
I think we need to think hard about what criteria we are assessing and how we do it. The notion of ‘360 degree assessment’ is gathering momentum in the higher levels of the Army and it probably needs to find its way right down into the bowels of the institution.
What delivery system do we need for this talent-based management system and does it involve people applying for jobs? That is something that does not happen at the moment, but I suspect it probably is needed.
How could it involve an integrated personnel management system with key industry suppliers, linked to our idea of a Whole Force Approach so that we can share the talent to achieve a common output?
How do we remove the unnecessary hurdles that mean that we haemorrhage so much of our female talent, in particular mid-time in the career? How can we change the constraints and the rules to make it possible for diversity to be a feature at Chief of Staff level, not just simply at the lower levels? How can we embrace the idea of embedded mentoring and career counselling?
There is a lot that must happen there and we want people to be involved in this debate because it is only by listening to the generation that matter that we have a reasonable chance of answering the question in the right way. It is not going to be done in one go, it is going to be a rolling process and we want to identify early gains as they become obvious to us.
Elsewhere in Maximising Talent, we must continue the momentum of broadening our recruiting base. We know we are too insular, too bottom-fed and we must reach out to new communities to sustain our talent and our manpower and we must make it easier for females. Although I think we might surprise Alexandra Altinger, who spoke yesterday afternoon, that actually we are quite an open-minded organisation and we are winning some prizes for our attitude towards this sort of stuff. It may surprise people but we are making progress.
We must work out how we empower our leadership at every level. It is clear to me, and it comes up every time we have an Army Conference, that people want to apply the principles of Mission Command in peacetime as well as they do in wartime.
This involves removing the impediments to empowerment. The culprits are risk aversion, over-assurance, a reporting system that encourages leaders to look upwards and not downwards.
We must reinforce the legal and moral framework that will make our leaders confident to take the risks they must take on the battlefield to seize those fleeting opportunities which are often the distinction between winning and losing.
We must remind ourselves that the strategic to tactical level compression can be managed by robust command and control. We also have to recognise that we are commanding a generation who genuinely want to be empowered and have the imagination, I sense, to be empowered.
It was impressive seeing those Officer Cadets on the stage yesterday afternoon. You might not have agreed with what they said about WhatsApp, but it was certainly good to see them performing. I would not have dared do that myself forty years ago.
This empowerment also has the potential to unlock the full potential of defence delegation, what I think Lord Levene expected when he initiated his work. Within this incentivisation is critical; if you make an efficiency saving it will not incentivise you if it is nicked by somebody else.
We must recognise that in so doing there is a sporting chance that we can also be more productive and if we do this right it will lead to a virtuous circle of improved capability.
From the Army’s perspective, I have no expectation of additional resources, but I have an expectation of being incentivised to use what I have to achieve more capability.
That is why we have run, during the last year, some empowerment pilots. One of the best examples took place at the Royal School of Artillery, which has been up and running probably as long as the British Army. It costs me around £100 million a year but, incredibly, I only delegate around £1.7 million to the Commandant of the Royal School of Artillery.
What we did last year was to give the Commandant the tools to be able to ‘live the dream’ of that hundred million, looking forwards over the ten-year programme, and through having those tools he was able to identify opportunities to deliver his output more productively, but also to make efficiencies which he could then bid back to us to recycle, in order to improve the capabilities of the Royal School of Artillery. He saved some £12 million in the first year and we gave him, I should think, about forty per cent of that back immediately to invest in simulation and other things for the betterment of the school.
It is that sort of culture which will create the virtuous circle which the private sector has understood forever, but the public sector perhaps does not understand so well, and we intend to drive that out into the Army from September onwards through a new programme which will develop and build on these pilots.
Critically, we will have to work out how we get the decisions made at the right level because we are not going to delegate all the finance staff and all of that gobbledygook. We are going to have to find a way of the decision being realised at the right level without over-facing the bandwidth at the decision-making level; that is the trick we must finesse, but I think it is an exciting prospect.
As Richard Susskind reminded us yesterday, the best way to predict the future is to invent it, and of course the very best leaders shape events rather than waiting to be shaped by them.
I hope you have enjoyed the last couple of days and what I hope you will now do, is to involve yourselves in the exploitation of this conference, centred on the four themes: information and warfare, information and people, the future of combined arms warfare, and training.
Thank you for your attention.
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I want to thank all of you for being here at this important conference. In many respects, it is important not because of the answers we are going to have, but rather the questions, the dialogue and the interactions between the folks that are here.
Thank you particularly to Nick Carter, a long-time friend. We have served together on many occasions throughout the Middle East. Thank you, Nick, for inviting me. General Vollmer and I also served together, as did many others in the crowd, with me or with American forces both in peace and war. I want to say thank you to all of you, not only for being here, but for your contributions to the united effort against common enemies over the course of many years.
Let me do a couple of things first. Let me subscribe myself to what Professor Cohen and Professor Strachan said earlier, both distinguished professors. If you have not read all their books, you need to. Most of what they say, not all of what they say, is spot on in my view. If nothing else, it is certainly thought-provoking. Most of what they said this morning I subscribed to, so I will try not to repeat their points.
I want to talk about some things from my point of view. When I say my point of view, I mean my own perspective, not necessarily the US government point of view, nor the Department of Defense’s point of view; this is my own personal estimate of the situation of my army and the organisation that I am in charge of within the current US system.
As many of you may know, I have two roles. One is to lead the United States Army, to ensure that we are manned, equipped and in proper states of readiness. This is one fundamental role of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army. The second fundamental role is to be one of the six members of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, providing the best military advice to the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, and the United States Congress.
Both roles are equally important, but I will talk mostly from a perspective of the first role. I am happy to be asked questions on the second role, but you should not expect too many answers from that.
I want to talk about the current situation, as I see it, and then I want to talk about where I see the US Army moving into in the future and what the implications are on some of the discussions you heard earlier.
First, let me start with the topic of the conference, an era of ‘constant competition’. I am not an historian, but I am a closet historian and I try to read as much as I can of history. I have been trying to think of any period in history when there was not constant competition and we have to be careful in the present, to have what I would call the ‘arrogance of the present’, or the ‘conceit of the present’.
As both professors said, we need to learn from history. Not so much for explicit lessons, but reading history in order to inform and develop our judgement and increase our situational understanding of the current. History does not in fact repeat itself; there are too many variables and human contingency is just too much. History does not repeat itself. However, as one famous American writer Mark Twain wrote, history does not repeat itself but it does rhyme.
I think it is worthwhile to have a deep and thorough understanding of history. But we have to be careful about us saying we are in an era of ‘constant competition’ as if it was something radically different from the past. It is the same with the idea that the world is becoming increasingly unstable; saying ‘the world is more unstable now than it has been in the past’.
Is that really true from a historical standpoint? Is it more unstable than say the fall of Rome? Is it more unstable than 1000 AD in Western Europe? Is it more unstable than in the United States during the American Civil War? Is it more unstable than the Napoleonic Wars, World War One, or World War Two? Probably not.
We have to be a little bit careful about being obsessed with the present and applying superlatives like it being the most unstable ever. It is unstable and it is perhaps increasingly unstable, but most observers say it is the most unstable since the fall of the Berlin Wall; most caveat it with that additional qualifier of ‘since the fall of the Berlin Wall’.
I suppose this is a very Western oriented, West European or United States oriented view. I think it is fair to say that, at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are in or perhaps entered into five or ten years ago, an era of returning great power competition. Which I think is what we mean by an era of ‘constant competition’.
This return of great power competition, which for some reason people thought was absent between the fall of the Berlin Wall and five or ten years ago. Perhaps because people wrote about a unipolar moment, that the United States had a dominant monopoly on hard power, military, and economic power. People thought that we had dominance of soft power and information and the United States was in a unipolar moment.
Perhaps this was right or this was wrong, but clearly today there is a return of great powers; specifically China, Russia, but also many others. We are entering – perhaps have been in for some time – a multipolar world, which is fundamentally different from an international geostrategic standpoint than a unipolar world.
I think that from a United States standpoint, we can and do man, train, equip, and size our force for what we perceive to be challenges or threats to US national interests. This is not news, all nations, I believe, operate out of their national interests.
The international environment is still a challenging environment, as we are not governed by a ‘higher power’, if you will, but rather all nations have some sort of requirement to defend themselves and protect their national interests – the United States is no different.
You can define threats in a lot of different ways. You can define them geographically, by nation state, by non-state actor. You can divide them by function or domain; cyber is an example of this, but the most common is probably nation state. For the United States – threat might be too strong of a word, so challenge might be more appropriate – it is concentrated on four countries: Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.
Each one represents a different type of challenge; each one has different capabilities; each one has a different will and determination to pursue their goals; and each one is unique in its own right. They must each be analysed on their own merits.
Then there is a fifth challenge, which I would place under the rubric of counter-terrorism, although some might say ‘counter radical Islamic terrorism’ and others ‘violent extremist organisations’. Pick your word, but there is a battle being fought today, generally speaking, through the Muslim Ulama. It is a struggle that has long, deep, historical and systemic roots. That battle has been going on for quite some time, arguably at least since the end of the First World War and the decline of colonial empires throughout the region.
Some might date it from the beginning of the Muslim Brotherhood, others might date it from Ibn Taymiyyah in the 14th Century. Start it when you will, but there are long, deep, historic, and systemic roots for the reasons why there are radical terrorists today in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, in Central Asia, Yemen, and North Africa.
There are reasons why terrorists run people over on Westminster Bridge or blow things up in Paris or elsewhere.
There are reasons why; it is not random. They are deep, they are historic, and they are systemic. They have taken along time to develop and it is my belief that they will take a long time to defeat. They manifest themselves in a variety of groups; some call themselves Al-Qaeda, others Al-Nusra, some say Islamic State or ISIS, and others the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and so on.
They are not all exactly the same; they all have different goals and objectives, some are local and regional, while others are aspirational in terms of the international. In any event, they all spin from the same historic, systemic roots and it is going to be a considerable length of time before they are ultimately expunged. And ultimately that will be done by the peoples of the region, expunging themselves of the scourge, with help from other countries, to include the United States. This will take a considerable length of time.
We call this a construct of ‘four plus one’, which is Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and the counter-terrorist threats. They are not all equal and I would not call them all enemies per se. China, for example, I would hesitate to call China an enemy. Some might say adversary, others would say enemy, some would say hostile, but I think they are what the title implies, they are a competitor.
The competition between the United States and China has a military dimension to it. That is a far cry or leap between that and calling them an enemy. I have heard talk and I have read many studies and books talking about the inevitability of war between the United States and China. I take exception to that, as history is not deterministic, it is not inevitable and it is by no means predictive.
You cannot take from history and predict the future. There is a lot of time between now and any time that the United States and China would become ‘enemies’, where armed conflict were to be pursued. There is a lot of commonality, areas of common interest, and areas that need to be worked out in that respect. But, that is a construct that we do use.
A couple of other comments about the current situation. First, I think that in terms of the economics, we are clearly in the midst of the largest economic shift in power in five centuries. The shift is from the North Atlantic based global economy to a North Pacific global economy. This began with the reforms in China starting in 1979 with Deng Xiaoping and that has given rise over nine to ten per cent growth, and although slowed to seven percent, that is still considerable for a country as large as China.
This growth has continued steadily for well over thirty years and, historically, it takes about a century or so for that shift to be complete. In my estimation, we are probably in the first three to four decades of that massive shift in economic power which will fundamentally change the nature of the international geopolitical environment.
Historically, in times of an economic shift of that magnitude there follows a massive military shift in hard power. In fact, it is my belief that we are seeing that today as the Chinese military – and I know there are Chinese officers in the audience – is clearly and unambiguously developing a very modern, capable military.
Why are they doing that? The Chinese have their own reasons, but they have clearly published these reasons in unclassified documents and I believe them, I take them at their word. I believe their declaratory policy that they want to assert themselves and be a co-equal partner with the United States on the global scene and they want to dominate the region in general and assert their historical rights. They have had enough with the ‘Century of Humiliation’ from the 1840s to the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949.
They essentially want the United States out of East Asia militarily, diplomatically, and for the United States to stop being a dominant power in that part of the world. It is a longer-term aspiration and it certainly does not mean conflict, but it does mean competition. We are going to have to have a lot of very serious discussions in the coming decades. But that economic shift in power, followed by a military shift in power is significant; it will likely be one of the drivers of future conflict.
Secondly, as we go forward, there will be a fundamental change in the character of warfare. In particular, a change in the character of ground warfare. I do not think the nature of war is going to change, I think that is immutable and I think Clausewitz was right when he spoke about fog, friction, the nature of war, and imposing your political will on your opponent through the use of violence.
I think Clausewitz’s analysis on the nature of war is fundamentally sound, but the character of war does change and it changes frequently. But fundamental changes only happen once in a while and I think we are in the midst of a fundamental change in the character of war.
The character of war is often changed by technology, societal reasons, or by environmental changes. The Napoleonic Wars indicated a shift in the character of war in that Napoleon was able to harness the powers of a democratic regime and the powers of nationalism in France and the levee en masse; he harnessed the power of the people to generate an armed force that had the run of Europe for quite a while.
Arguably, there were changes towards the end of the American Civil War in the 1860s, all the way through the turn of the century that were harbingers for the coming conflict of World War One. Things like barbed wire which was used to contain cattle inside a particular piece of terrain were then transferred for the use of combat on battlefields. Automatic weapons, machine guns, proximity fuses and other weapons technologies changed. There were tactics associated with the digging of trenches and the ascendance of the defence.
All of those things were readily observable in the Crimean War, the American Civil, the Russo-Japanese War and the Boer War. For whatever reason the people like me, the four-star generals of the day, did not quite connect those dots and did not see it coming. It was clear that there was a change in the character of war, but it was not understood what it all meant and in 1914 they marched off to war and ended up slaughtering each other over the next four years using tactics that were more appropriate to a different age.
We saw it again between World War One and World War Two, where there were multiple technologies developed; most importantly the internal combustion engine and the mechanisation of warfare. This, combined with the airplane and the radio for command and control, were available to every army, navy, and air force out there, but they all combined them in different ways.
The British consolidated all of their tanks into a single armoured division and the French spread them out one tank per battalion. However, only the Germans in Western Europe got it about right by putting all of these things together in a combined arms organisation. In that case, the technologies drove the change in the character of war, but only the Germans were able to combine it in ways that were unique and doctrinally applicable to the conduct of ground warfare in Western Europe and because of a very assertive doctrine they were able to have the run of Europe from 1939 all the way until they were stopped in Stalingrad in 1942. The combination of tactics, doctrine, leadership, plus the history of the German way of war since Frederick the Great, played a significant role.
I believe that today, sitting here in Westminster, that we are undergoing a fundamental change in the character of war. First of all, some societal changes; urbanisation is the most significant that will impact the character of ground warfare. By 2030 to 2050, eighty to ninety per cent of the world’s eight billion people will live in mega-cities. This will have enormous consequences for armies and specifically the United States Army, which has been optimised to fight in the plains of Northern Europe, North America and deserts – we have been sub-optimised to fight in jungles, in mountains, and in urban areas.
As we move into the future, it is highly probable that the most likely geographic terrain that the US Army will have to fight in will be highly dense and complex urban areas. The consequences for doctrine, organisations and weapons development will be significant. This will require a fundamental shift in how we organise, man, train, and equip the United States Army.
Secondly, we are in the information age – it is the speed of information and the ubiquitous nature of information that are important. In this room today, there are multiple electronic devices looking at us, cameras and cell phones.
Each of these devices is sending out an electronic signal that emits to some receptor or receiver which could be used by reconnaissance devices. Every electronic device here is an ISR device and could transmit specific information and, no doubt actually is right now as I speak, transmitting information back to intelligence services for analysis.
What this really means for us as militaries is that we have entered an age where large formations of military forces can be seen. The probability of massing large formations unseen is not high, especially against any sophisticated adversary.
Eliot Cohen spoke about precision munitions which started at the end of the Vietnam War and today we have the ubiquitous nature of precision munitions which are available to any country which has the money to buy them.
Today, proliferating throughout the world are precision munitions which are highly lethal, highly accurate, and can be fired at long range.
If you combine being seen and being hit, it is likely that the battlefield of tomorrow is likely to be far more lethal than battlefields of the past. This is especially true if this battle is between nation states as opposed to non-state actors. If the battle is between countries that have precision munitions and reasonably sophisticated ISR devices that battlefield will be highly lethal. Combine that with the complexity of urban terrain and I think just those factors alone will change the very character of warfare.
The change of kinetics has, for five hundred years, been reliant on gunpowder to throw projectiles through sky. That may be changing and there are now lots of non-kinetic capabilities out there, such as rail guns and lasers etc.
You also have Artificial Intelligence, which is an incredibly powerful technology that is rapidly being developed by many countries. Among others are robotics and 3D printing, but there are literally dozens of technologies which are converging in time and space that are going to have military application and are going to change the very character of ground warfare.
What does that mean then to the United States Army? It means we probably have to change our organisation, with battlefields becoming more lethal and the inability to mass large formations, and we are probably going to have to have smaller units of action.
We are going to have to increase the ability to decentralise command and control and we are probably going to have to move much more frequently than in the past; we are not going to be stable, or in a single location, for more than two, or three, or four hours. The consequences of that on the human dimension of warfare – on the ability to stay awake and endurance – is obvious if you have to move every two or three hours in order just to survive.
The probability is that US forces will be under threat from enemy air attack of some kind, whether rocket, missile, fixed or rotary wing. We have had the luxury of seven decades of uncontested air; that day is probably over.
In the electronic-magnetic spectrum we, the US Army, have had the luxury of more or less an uncontested electronic-magnetic spectrum in terms of our positioning, navigation, and timing against any kind of sophisticated nation-state. That capability, that uncontested space, will now become very contested, which has second or third order implications for us to lose communications, to lose positioning, to lose our GPS and so on. All of those are real.
Our logistics and lines of communication are unlikely to be secure one hundred per cent of the time. In addition to that, because of the location of the United States and as a global power, one of the things we bring to the fight is the ability to project forces globally. Those major lines of communication, strategic lines of communication if you will, are likely to be contested.
And then finally, I would leave you with four myths. The first myth, I would tell you, is the myth that wars can be won from afar with stand-off precision munitions. I believe that to be an utter myth. At the end of the day, precision or otherwise, it is a bomb and stand-off bombs have not done well to bring decision in war throughout history.
Again, history is not a predictor but it does rhyme, and the probability of winning and bringing decision – political decision in the national interest – from afar, is unlikely in my view. There are others who have different views and those are also strongly argued, but I think that history proves that out.
My father landed in 1945 on Iwo Jima as a young marine in the 4th Marine Division, fighting against the Japanese. The Japanese were a very committed military force, there were 22,000 Japanese on that island, and we the United States rolled up around four hundred ships in the pre-assault fire, around that single island which was two miles by four miles, eight square miles of volcanic land with no trees on it, so no cover whatsoever.
There were four hundred ships, whereas the United States Navy today has two hundred and eighty ships. Imagine one fleet of many fleets in World War Two, with four hundred ships rolling up at D-minus 96 (four days prior to Hhour) and hitting the beach. For six weeks before that, US Army air forces and US Navy air forces did around-theclock bombing 24/7.
No eight square miles of the Earth’s surface have ever come under as much bombing as the eight square miles of the island of Iwo Jima. Twenty-two thousand Japanese on that island, seventy thousand United States Marines hit that beach. Seven thousand of them were dead in nineteen days. Thirty-four thousand were wounded.
After-action reports indicate that of the twenty thousand Japanese who were on that island beforehand, we think that we killed in the pre-assault fires less than two hundred. We took just a hundred and nine prisoners off that island.
Against an ideologically committed enemy, that is willing to dig in and is willing to die for their cause, there is no amount of stand-off weapons that are going to destroy or defeat them that I know of. At the end of the day people wonder why armies are important, what is the logic, what is the rationale. Well, if war is about politics, and I believe it is, and politics is about people, and people live on the Earth’s surface, bombs and bullets from the sky may be the first shots fired in war but most of the time, if you are looking for decision, the last shot fired is coming out of an infantryman’s rifle.
It takes armies to bring decision one way or the other because war is a political act and you have to have decision to consolidate over your enemy and its population. One myth to keep in mind as we think about warfare is winning war from afar.
A second myth is that wars are short and I do not know how many times I have heard this myth. It is very prominent in my own country and it is very prominent elsewhere. On the hundredth anniversary of the First World War, I do not think any member of the leadership of Britain or Germany or France or Austria-Hungary on 1 June 1914 – as they were drinking lattes on the west bank of the Loire River, saying that life is good with their new communications and being intermarried as royal families and the grandchildren of Queen Victoria – would have thought for a minute that they were about to go off an abyss at the end of the month.
All that because some secondary prince was shot in Sarajevo – he was one of seventy people shot that year, government officials by terrorist organisations like the Black Hand – so if any of them thought that they were entering into a short war as a result they were sorely wrong. Yet they all thought they were entering into a short war, it was not going to be too expensive economically, they had the von Schlieffen Plan, Plan Seventeen and so on, all working on the assumption the war would be over in six weeks maximum, just like the Franco-Prussian War. Oh, how wrong they were.
The leaders walked right off the abyss, completely blind to sacrificing one in four young men in Europe, in a bloodfest that tore the continent apart, ended four or five empires, and set the conditions for the world we live in today.
So be careful of people who say wars will be clean and short, they very rarely are; on occasion yes, but not too
The third myth is that special forces can do it all. I am a proud special forces soldier and special forces are great, but they are special for a reason and they have special missions, training and are used for a special purpose – that purpose is not to win wars. Green Berets, SAS, SPS, Delta Force, Seal Team 6, all the special forces in the world do not fight and win wars.
Neither do armies, or air forces, or navies. Nations fight and win wars. People go to war as a nation and our forces conducting combined arms operations and joint operations go to wars. There is a great tendency in many of our countries, my own included, to place overreliance and overstretch on our special forces and to ask of them things that they are not designed, nor capable, of doing.
The last thing I would say – the fourth myth – is that armies are easy to generate, land forces are easy to generate.
After all, naval forces we know are hard to generate because it takes twenty or thirty years to build an aircraft carrier, it takes a long time to design F-35s and then it takes fifteen or sixteen years to train a pilot to operate those complicated machines.
Well I will tell you that there was a time when armies were easy to generate; back in the time when you could take your musket off of the counter and go out and fight the locals, that was fine. There was a time, in 1916, when General John Pershing could be chasing Pancho Villa with a constabulary force along the Mexican border and then twenty-four months later raise an army of four million and fight in France. There was a time when you could do that, but that time is long gone.
Land forces, land power, is a very complex exercise in human interaction with the use of violence. The driving of tanks, the use of UAVs, the use of close air support and all the other factors that go into combined arms operations is a very complicated thing, it is not an easy thing, and I would argue that it is the most complex human interaction ever known.
And it takes a long time to build those forces; it takes fifteen or sixteen years to build an F-16 pilot, but it also takes fifteen or sixteen years to build a platoon sergeant, twenty years to build a battalion commander, twenty-five years to build a brigade commander and so on and so forth.
Armies are not quickly generated. Significant sized land forces are required if you want to achieve your political objectives in today’s world, whether it is complex or otherwise.
I will stop there and get ready to field questions.
I would like to start with a few comments. The first comment is that we have seen a paradigm shift. We have discussed it and observed it already this morning, but I would like to give my perspective.
In 2014, we saw a paradigm shift. It has the same quality as 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, or 2001 when the attacks occurred in Washington D.C. and New York.
In 2014, Russia changed sides. They changed their attitude and war has become possible again in Europe. They did it in a hidden way. They did it in a hybrid way. However, they created fear in our Eastern neighbours.
Second, there was an organisation calling itself the Islamic State, which built up a terror organisation capable of running troops in Iraq and Syria.
Third, in 2015, we saw the largest migration wave ever coming into Europe, with one million people coming to my country and also to other countries. Since then, another quarter of a million people have come in addition.
Fourth, terror has come back to Europe. Starting in Paris in January 2015 and since then never-ending. They brought with them what we have not seen before in Europe, the ‘suicider’ as a weapon.
So, there was a paradigm shift in 2014 and 2015.
My second comment – geography matters. Your perception of threats is different depending on where you live. The threat is perceived differently if you live in the Baltic states than if you live in Finland, if you live in Sweden, Poland, or Romania; your perception of a threat looks to the east. If you live in France, the threat comes from Africa through the importation of terror. If you live in Italy, every day you have hundreds of refugees arriving at your
coast. The perception of threat is different.
The third comment, which I will return to later, is that our Alliance – what keeps us strong – is our centre of gravity and cohesion. These events which I just highlighted are driving wedges into the cohesion of Europe and of the Alliance.
It has led to a new assumption in Germany and in 2016 the new White Book [policy framework for Germany’s Federal Ministry of Defence] was published. The new White Book clearly states that in the past years Germany’s security environment has become even more complex, volatile, and thus increasingly unpredictable.
To us the army, it means we need to rebalance our structures. In previous years, we were much more focused – concerning training and equipment – on those operations we were doing in Afghanistan and in other places. Now the pendulum has shifted; the pendulum has swung back to collective defence. This means, for us, we must now look into our structures, our equipment, and our training.
But, although collective defence is now our main task again, it is not like in the Cold War. It is not about general defence planning, where each of our corps and divisions had a clear-cut mission. This is now about graduated response planning, preparing our troops to be ready in a 360-degree angle to defend the Alliance’s territory wherever it is necessary.
What has also changed since the days of the Cold War is the lack of mass. We will never again have the masses we once had, when we had forces available with many corps.
For us, the German Army, that means we will continue and increase the number of our troops in Resolute Support in Afghanistan; we have stayed with this mission and we will continue with the responsibility for the North of Afghanistan.
We will continue with the mission in Mali, where we provide troops for two of their missions; one being the European training mission and the other MINUSMA, where we go together with our Dutch and French colleagues.
We will also continue with our training of the Peshmerga in Iraq and we will continue with our commitment to Kosovo.
But, the pendulum has swung into a different direction. Since 2014, the focus of the Army has been the Baltic States, Poland, and the eastern flank. By taking responsibility for one of the Enhanced Forward Presence battalions in Lithuania, we have shared responsibility with our Dutch, Norwegian, Croatian, and French friends and will rotate our forces.
There is also a shift in the paradigm as we rotate the forces, which is different from Afghanistan and other areas like Africa. We will do relief-in-place, not equipment being stationed and soldiers flying in and taking over equipment, it is a constant relief-in-place every six months.
Luckily, I do not have a political ceiling which tells me what the highest number of troops is that I can obtain [for operations]. We are free and this is also helping to train our logistics systems.
The other goal is the VJTF, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, which we will provide forces for in 2019 and again in 2023, each time keeping our troops busy for three years.
But as the significant as those operations may be, the influential factors and different actors described in the previous session need to be considered in the context of growing omnipresent digitisation and networking.
They lead to processes becoming more dynamic and complex, and as such harder to control. We must face the fact that the battlefield is getting more transparent and complex, be it in terms of improved reconnaissance, capabilities of all parties, or in terms of the almost global dissemination of information in all areas of society and thus impacting our troops.
Additionally, the battlefield is becoming more lethal, even for well protected forces, due to the combination of improved reconnaissance, faster decision and engagement cycles, all due to tactical networked enabled operations and improved effectors.
In this case, my example is not our forces but of Russian forces in Ukraine. They have the means to identify their targets, to disseminate their messages, and immediately use their artillery. Those things we have done in Afghanistan and other places and still do on corps exercises or division exercises, but by building these huge tent cities of our headquarters. Those days are gone and you will only have a nice little headquarters like this once because the enemy can now detect you and react very fast.
The modernisation of land forces in a constantly developing and changing environment; modernisation seems to be the conditions to survive in future combat. But can we reduce this insight to such a simple formula? Is it enough to follow the new technological trends and invest in increasingly advanced equipment and weapons systems?
In other words, should we strive to reach the maximum of what is technologically feasible, or rather what we can
best handle? How do we want to fight in the future?
We should not only look for answers in the technological area, but particularly also in the human factor domain. Land forces always need boots on the ground, to bring to bear the full effect with people, for people, and most of all among people in direct contact.
The capability of seizing, holding, and controlling urban areas, as well as critical infrastructure, and the ability to make quick military decisions, will remain the unique characteristic of armed forces within the land component.
A particular challenge for land forces, is the ever-increasing number of deployments in vast and more urbanised areas, alongside force reductions as manifested in Enhanced Forward Presence. What does it imply for the modernisation of land forces? There we face a dilemma; at least, that is what we observe.
What do we want to provide? The most modern, most sophisticated technology available on the market, but the question remains if human beings, soldiers, can still handle it? For whom is the technology to be made?
Robotic weapons systems are still required to remain operational under the harshest of conditions and most importantly they need to be operated intuitively, even in stressful situations, under extreme pressure or adverse weather conditions. In view of the vulnerability of technology systems, this also implies the necessity of system redundancy if and when important digital systems fail.
We therefore need to achieve a more dynamic command and control process so as to increase the responsiveness of our decisions in the light of new and more complex threats and possibilities. There is a question about autonomous and partly autonomous weapons systems; this also needs to be taken into consideration. Mission command, gaining and maintaining the initiative, trust in well-trained military leaders and subordinates, thus the possibility to delegate responsibility, will remain critical keys to military success.
On the other hand, rapidly new developing technology and the use of new and normative technologies in current conflicts are an indication that advanced technologies are not only available to us. My most famous example is UAVs, those Drones you can buy at Toys R Us; Daesh is using them and Russia is experimenting with them. The question is whether we are fast enough to develop the countermeasures?
From a German perspective, the clear answer is ‘no’. Our procurement processes are much too long and complicated. The problem is on the table; where is the drone we got in Mosul and where is the means to get this thing down?
If we are in a kinetic environment, then yes, you can shoot it down. But if you are in an environment amongst people the question is what kind of means do I have available to get it down? There are possibilities that are on the market and you can buy them. Our procurement process – I point the finger to my side – is not fast enough.
Finally, a view of what are we doing at the moment in the German Army. Our measure is always what we have committed to NATO’s Blue Book [national capability contributions] and it is now our mission to get it fully equipped – that is the mission.
Modernisation must go in parallel. Yes, we want to have the first digitised brigade in three years. However, the new quality is quantity. We want to get back quantity. A battalion has X number of tanks and not one less. We need to have full numbers again and full equipment. This is what we are striving for and this is what we want to achieve, but we must be fast.
The other thing we must continue pursuing is the synergy effects that we can achieve if we improve the working relationships between our nations. I am NATO-minded because NATO has provided security for Europe for many, many years.
We provide security now to our eastern neighbours in NATO. However, inside of it, there are other alliances, smaller ones. This is the German-Dutch cooperation where we already have deep integration. This is the close cooperation with France and the German-French Brigade.
This is the cooperation with the British, with the M3 Amphibious Rig bridges, the only ones remaining in Europe. Everyone remembers attending Staff College and when you were planning moving across rivers a brigade had to have at least two bridges. Now we have just one remaining in Europe and this is British-German cooperation. We must continue with that and we must improve these capabilities.
We have the same with Norway, with Poland and with Lithuania. We must continue them and from my perspective, we must continue to build these pillars between our nations, and this is the bridge where NATO can continue to be successful in the upcoming years.
Once again, it is obvious that we need to stand united to face the upcoming challenges. There might be different views and different perceptions on facts, but we must do it together.
As long as we have a common understanding and as long as we are capable to transport that into the public, the public will understand that ‘yes, there is a coalition of twenty nine states in NATO and these states stay together, plan together and are reliable’.
Only then will this withstand any wedges being driven-in by those countries who do not accept the number of refugees they should have taken. It stops any wedge being driven-in by fake news from Russia or any other countries.
In the end, it is mainly about identifying options by which we can leverage technical developments in an operational context to add significant value for the combat troops. Not everything that is feasible is actually needed; in spite of all technical sophistications, in the end it is the personnel, the commitment of our armies, their women and men, which brings about the decision on the ground. It is their will which determines victory or defeat.
Thank you for your attention.
-Representing General Jean-Pierre Bosser
On behalf of General Bosser, I am very honoured to be back here to have the opportunity to speak at the Land Warfare Conference alongside General Milley, General Vollmer and General Carter.
It is worth sharing with you some reflections on this very relevant theme about how to modernise our armies.
First, I noticed this morning that amongst allies we have a common understanding of the strategic context that can be characterised by the idea of ‘the return of war’.
We have a common conviction that uncertainty and instability are more permanent elements of our operating environment. The very idea of rupture has become the pillar of strategic thinking and reasoning. Today, our thoughts are no longer based on stable elements of the international system, but based on elements of uncertainty and risk.
We share our analysis of the major characteristics of what is considered the most demanding, current, and future engagement. We spoke about urban areas, but also coastal areas and densely populated areas. We understand the threat in the same way, even if our priorities vary depending on the more specific situations we face, that of what we call a third generation of jihadism – horizontal and local jihadism – which aims at targeting all populations.
But this enemy is not the only one and we know that tomorrow’s enemy will also be a serious opponent that we will confront, at best, on equal terms. It will manage to place us in difficult situations using asymmetrical forms of combat. This enemy will act violently and with a strong determination which will at least be aimed at disrupting us, but at worst at destroying us.
We know that it will be difficult for us to fight our enemy alone. It is the reason why the ability to unify our efforts will remain at the very heart of our operational efficiency. The everlasting questions raised by any coalition action will continue to be present: which share of responsibilities should we assume? How can the available forces be pooled? How should we act? To whom should we entrust command and why? And once we have won, how can we share the benefits?
We draw the same conclusions about the implication of this environment which is a context even more dangerous and more complex. We must modernise our armies in all domains, areas, capabilities, human resources, doctrine, and training.
I am not going to detail the French Army modernisation process but it has a comprehensive vision about how to adapt and strengthen the use and efficiency of military power. We summarise this overall vision using three simple verbs: organise, equip, and orient.
First, organise, using a brand-new model called ‘Au contact’, which means in close relationship with the real world, and the point is to make a structural reorganisation now, marking a change in era and design to make the Army more connected, adaptable and agile.
Then, equip, is our capability transition we are currently in. It is a comprehensive transformation with a high level of ambition and with ‘Scorpion’ as its flagship programme [for experimentation in modernisation]. This capability transformation should enable us to meet the operational challenges of the next twenty years.
We tackle this capability transition from the viewpoint of its end-state – what are the operational needs to be met – rather than from the mere viewpoint of the tools. From this angle, one can detect four major themes: First, we need a much more resilient and interoperable command and control system. Second, a smoother interdomain manoeuvre. Third, accurate, powerful, and well-controlled Fires. Fourth, expeditionary projection with all the related logistic support and protection. Finally, the third verb, orient. We know that we will fight tomorrow’s battles with the army we build today. In other words, tomorrow’s victories begin today. This is the purpose of our Future Land Action Project, which is a research and innovation posture and paper launching a virtuous cycle enabling us to face strategic and technological ruptures and changes.
To this end, Future Land Action proposes, amongst others, an analysis of eight factors of operational superiority tooutmatch our possible opponents. In the coming years, these factors of operational dominance will underpin the Army’s evolution in the capabilities and organisation of doctrinal domains.
These eight factors of operational superiority are: understanding, cooperation, agility, endurance, moral strength, influence, mass, efficiency of command. If we can master these eight factors of superiority we will be in a position to outmatch our possible opponents.
We consider that mass is an important consideration for determining force ratios. We will always need mass and it relies on national assets as well as on cooperation with allies. We currently carry out reflections with the British Army, especially on defence engagement and the way we will be able to help armies, especially in Africa, to buildup again and to create mass on the battlefield.
The efficiency of command is also a constant theme of reflection. In that respect, I would like to mention the recent Franco-British seminar dedicated to authority and leadership. It is an example of reflections making our command style evolve, adapting it to the strategic context and to the conditions of intervention of our forces.
Against instability and uncertainties, we are convinced that we need to reconcile change with what never changes; the permanence of land power. The real nature of war never changes and is a standing element at the heart of the constant evolution of the forms of violence. The circumstances, technologies, and new domains of confrontation can change the grammar of war, but not its true nature.
It remains a social and human phenomenon, the confrontation of will power and of a sure force with the other armed stakeholders in the service of a political objective. Its core elements remain those that Clausewitz so well defined: violence, chance, reason. The basis of the legitimacy of the use of force will remain the values and the meaning of being a soldier.
Depending on technological evolution, it will be the responsibility of the combatants to preserve, or even reinvent, a meaning for military honour. Otherwise they would be nothing more than technicians of death.
The military tool and more particularly its land component remains a last recourse and keeps its true objective and its indispensable usefulness, as the defence in all possible circumstances, everywhere, of the country’s values and interests; the protection of the city, of its territory, of its people, and of its institutions.
The individuals, the soldiers and the land power, remain at the heart of conflicts and are the first two casualties of combat. Soldiers, the ones who fight and the ones who suffer in their flesh, remain at the heart of war as one of the key permanent elements of its nature.
Soldiers are those who accept to carry the weapons of and for their country, as well as the induced responsibilities and duties. This is what gives them their identity and what makes them so special. The values of the soldiers on operation must also fuse with the rules of life within the military community; they represent the basis of operational efficiency.
Technology must be put back in its rightful place; a precious and indispensable support for the combatant, a continuation of the intent of the military leader, highly increasing the efficiency of our weapons, but it cannot replace the intelligence and determination of the combatants, which remain one of the pillars for success of any military action.
The transformation of our forces confirms makes these basic principles and milestones of military ethics, as well as the good use of command, even more important than ever.
To conclude, two words: reactivity and creativity while keeping a very important military touch. We must keep in mind that events command and they will continue to do so. We are forced to act in reaction and we must strive to become increasingly reactive in uncertain and complex environments and structures, and functioning methods should not bring rigidity and complexity.
In a way, we must switch from strategic planning to strategic management. The great challenges of the years to come will be in the way we will manage to foster and develop this culture of strategic management rather than strategic planning.
Innovation and creativity is important, while making it compatible with the everlasting virtues of true soldiers in the way we command them. Geography is important, but the world is getting smaller and time is getting quicker. The acceleration of time requires constant modernisation with the ability to innovate and to be creative that we must develop and integrate in all levels within our armies.
Thank you very much.