Waterways Conference 2022: Obstacles and Opportunities for Manoeuvre

This conference explores how the approach to waterways needs to change to meet the modern threat environment.

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locationOnline / Institute of Directors, London


For centuries, waterways were the economic arteries of nations along which flowed trade, and simultaneously the natural barriers demarcating the boundaries between them. The advent of railways and of the combustion engine, which rendered rapid mobility across country ubiquitous, reduced dependence on waterways for transportation, and militaries became principally concerned with the obstacles they presented. Throughout the era of mechanised warfare, the speed with which armies could cross waterways was critical to their capacity to manoeuvre. The efficient crossing of wide wet gaps proved central to operational success, and failure, throughout the Second World War, and more recently, in the Balkans.

The capability to cross waterways has withered across NATO since the end of the Cold War, with permissive environments leading to armies of 'non-swimmers'. Few modern vehicles are amphibious, and bridging has received little sustained investment. As the world returns to an era of great power competition, however, the practicalities of gap crossing have become more complicated owing to wider changes in the operating environment.

With the proliferation of high-fidelity sensors throughout the battlefield, coupled with responsive precision fires, the emplacement of crossing points is becoming increasingly perilous. Securing a bridgehead is proving harder, and yet the need to cross waterways remains critical. Furthermore, as countries urbanise waterways are becoming increasingly complex, bisecting human terrain and constraining humanitarian access.

This conference is held in partnership between RUSI’s Combining the Arms of the Future project – supported by the Smith Richardson Foundation - the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, the Institution of Royal Engineers, and Royal Engineers Historical Society.


Speakers include:

  • Prof Andrew Lambert
  • Lt Gen Nick Borton DSO MBE
  • Lt Gen (Retd) Carsten Jacobson
  • Maj Gen Jeff Milhorn
  • Maj Gen (Retd) Pekka Toveri
  • Brig Chas Story
  • Brigadier General Frederic Richaud

Main Image Credit HQ ARRC | Wide wet gap

Read the related Conference Report

Waterways Conference 2022: Obstacles and Opportunities for Manoeuvre Conference Report


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    Opening Remarks and Session One

    Chair: Maj Gen Mungo Melvin, Chairman, Royal Engineers Historical Society

    Speaker: Professor Andrew Lambert, Laughton Professor of Naval History, King’s College London

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    Session Two: Lessons Upstream

    Mastering rivers has been critical to the conduct of land warfare for centuries. Before considering what has changed it is worth surveying the hard-won lessons from past experiences

    Chair: Dr Jack Watling, Senior Research Fellow, RUSI


    • Maj Pierre-Michel Arcade, Gendarmerie, Franco-German River Police Unit, France
    • Wilf Owen, Independent Military Analyst
    • Maj Gen Mungo Melvin, Chairman, Royal Engineers Historical Society
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    Session Three: Understanding the Problem

    Between the modern threat environment and sustained adversary investment in riverine capabilities, NATO faces significant challenges to its existing tactics while its opponents' field highly capable amphibious and gap crossing capabilities. This panel will explore the threats that underpin why tactics must evolve.

    Chair: Dr Sidharth Kaushal, Research Fellow Sea Power and Missile Defence RUSI


    • Florence Cross, Land Engineering Lead, Palantir Technologies UK
    • Maj Gen (Retd) Pekka Toveri, Former Chief of Finnish Defence Intelligence
    • Dr Jack Watling, Senior Research Fellow, RUSI 
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    Session Four: Recapitalising Riverine Capabilities

    The end of the Cold War and the limited anticipation of major offensive ground operations against a peer adversary saw amphibious, riverine, and bridging capabilities wither across NATO. It is worth surveying what is technologically possible today however, and where novel approaches may demand investment.

    Chair: Juliana Suess, Research Analyst and Policy Lead, Space Policy, RUSI


    • Heiner Oehlen, Executive Manager for Combat Systems, KMW
    • Ross Terri, Head of Business Development, ESRI
    • Tom Winney, Business Development Director, WFEL
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    Session Five: New Approaches

    How should the offensive component of a campaign combining strike and defence be conducted? Do specific effectors, by their nature, impact deterrence, and how might this shape resource allocation? How should strike be integrated with non-kinetic means of disruption?

    Chair: Major Alistair Beard, CGS Visiting Fellow, RUSI


    • Brig Chas Story, Chief Engineer, Allied Rapid Reaction Corps
    • Maj Gen Jeff Milhorn, Deputy Chief of Engineers, US Army
    • Brig Gen Frédéric Richaud, Chief Engineer, JFC Naples
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    Session Six: Closing Keynote

    Chair: Paul O’Neill, Director of Military Sciences, RUSI

    Speakers: Maj Gen Kev Copsey, Chief of Staff, Allied Rapid Reaction Corps

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Conference partners

  • The Institution of Royal Engineers

    Partners of the Waterways Conference

    Find out more
  • The Royal Engineers Historical Society

    Partners of the Waterways Conference

    Find out more
  • Allied Rapid Reaction Corps

    Partners of the Waterways Conference

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  • RUSI project: Combining the Arms of the Future

    The project maps the interactions between emerging and legacy technologies, and seeks to identify how tactical manoeuvre elements will organise and fight over the coming decades.

    Find out more

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