Armed Forces Minister Mark Lancaster speech at RUSI Land Warfare Conference 2018

Armed Forces Minister on 21st-Century Land Warfare

Mark Lancaster at the RUSI Land Warfare Conference 2018 on the Challenges Facing the British Army

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Mark Lancaster, gave the opening address on day two of the Royal United Services Institute’s (RUSI) Land Warfare Conference in London, June 20, 2018, highlighting the threats facing Britain and the ways in which her Armed Forces must meet them.

The Defence Minister spoke of a range of measure that the British Army must adopt to ensure competitive advantage against adversaries the complexity of the modern battlespace, including cyber and weaponized information.

An Era of Unprecedented Threats

Lancaster pointed to significant global trends, citing “resource scarcity, fragile states, rising populations, migration, regional tensions, trade disputes, hostile states”, among other things, that challenge the peace and prosperity of Britain. He also emphasised that the threats were different to the ones Britain had faced before and thus required different responses.

In highlighting these issues, the Minister said:

National security in the 21st Century doesn’t fit comfortably into those traditional boxes. It’s not just the range of dangers we’re facing but the breaking down of tradition boundaries, physical and virtual. Our adversaries have recognised this and they are adapting.

Russia

First on his list was Russia. Looking at the Russian Federation’s use of proxies and hybrid warfare, he weighed the possibility that Russia did not want to get her hands dirty. However, he thought it more likely that Russia had learned some hard lessons in Georgia and the Crimea, and was now “investing hard in the future of their conventional forces.”

“It is a myth to think,” he argued, “that Russia won’t use hard power at some point in the future. Fires and mass remain central to their way of warfare.”

He used the example of Syria to show how the Russian military has been testing capability and force integration.

Weaponized Information

He argued that “information is being weaponized to sow confusion and create tensions” by Russia to create exploitable situations. Coupled with Russia’s growing tolerance for risk and disregard of international order, created an “anarchic ungoverned space” pushing at the threshold of international law and posing increasing dangers of escalation and error.

Threat Diversity

Lancaster looked beyond Russia to recognise the growing diversity of threats facing global security:

We face a multitude of other challenges: hostile states, global extremist organisations, the rise of nationalism, political fragmentation, organised crime, terrorism and these threats have become so much more acute given the proliferation of sophisticated military hardware that was once the preserve of Tier 1 militaries.

Armed Force Remains Essential

Against this threat landscape, armed force remains central to upholding the freedom’s enjoyed in Britain. He singled out land power as the decisive element:

Wars can be won and lost in the land environment, and it is with land forces that we will continue to confront aggression, seize hostile territory, hold it and deny its access to the enemy.

However, the British Army has to maintain innovative advantage through exercises such as Autonomous Warrior, integrate its Reserve to build an effective whole force, become highly interoperable with allies and dominate the information domain.

Information Operations

He saw information dominance as comprising both narrative effects and cyber. He did not name the 77th Brigade, but as the British Army’s information operations force it is the 77th Brigade he meant when he discussed combatting information manipulation and false narratives.

Conflicts are not just won or lost on the battlefield but in the heads and hearts of the people and their leaders. Our adversaries believe that truth is malleable, that disinformation, the blurring of boundaries, and the creation of tension will together create an environment in which they can achieve their aims. We need to counter that to make sure the truth is heard.

[…] During the fight against Daesh, our forces weren’t just training Iraqi and Kurdish troops in how to defuse bombs and build bridges. They weren’t simply using Typhoon and Tornado to destroy the extremist threat. Behind the scenes they were also countering and rebutting their false narrative. Showing the so-called caliphate for the hollow charade it really was. Tying our enemies in knots in the virtual world so we could destroy them in the real world.

For cyber, Lancaster highlighted the role of the Defence Cyber School at Shrivenham and exercises such as Cyber Warrior in creating the type of cyber capability required by a modern army.

Interoperability

“The 21st century Division must be international by design,” said Lancaster, pointing to NATO and UN commitments, and multinational training exercises such as the recent JOINT WARRIOR.

Lancaster also mentioned “the success of other initiatives such as the UK-German wide river crossing capability”. This is the co-operation between the Royal Engineer’s 23 Amphibious Engineer Troop and 412 Amphibious Engineer Troop and the German Army’s Panzerpionierbataillon 130 at Minden in Germany – a collaboration highlighted earlier this year by General Sir Nick Carter.

While the US remains the first among equals of the UK’s allies, Lancaster also urged broadening Britain’s multinational partnerships with less traditional allies Ukraine, George, Lithuania and others.

The Whole Force

Defining the current period as a “hybrid age”, Lancaster argued that the British Army in the 21st century must be:

One that is able to manoeuvre in the physical and virtual domain that is stronger than the sum of its parts, that is international by design, that is integrated into the Joint Force and that is fused with the rest of capability across government.

Above all, a force that will leave our adversaries and allies alike in no doubt whatsoever that the UK as it has always done retains the strength, the will and the skill to defend our nation, our values and our way of life.

Mark Lancaster’s full RUSI speech can be read here.


Image: Soldiers of C Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment, are silhouetted against the setting sun during operations in Afghanistan in June 2014. From 9-12 Jun 2014, 9/12 Lancers and 2 Anglian performed their final operation of Operation Herrick 19/20 in support of the Afghan Government elections. The operation was the final time that the 9/12 Lancers will conduct before they return to the UK upon which they will be disbanded as part of Army 2020. 2 Anglian will return to the UK and take on their new role as a light mobility infantry unit. Photograph by Cpl Daniel Wiepen (Crown Copyright, 2014).