We do not presume to know the future perfectly; but we strive to understand it sufficiently to continually adapt. We know our adversaries fear our strengths, so we must evolve to fight where they are, not where we wish them to be. We bring land power to bear as part of a wider team, with the other services, our allies and partners - all woven together in a whole of Government approach. We are excited by the opportunities to work more closely with industry, and together accelerate development of new capabilities. The conference started by outlining the trends for the future and how the British Army will respond. More detailed description of how the Army will operate and fight followed; before we moved onto discussing how the Army will work more effectively with allies and partners, especially industry.
The conference aimed to expose the threats at a strategic level before looking toward the more nebulous ‘grey zone’ that is neither war nor peace. The sessions then discussed what we need to operate with our allies and partners. The day concluded with our vision of bi-lateral engagement with industry over the coming decade. It described how both the British Army and the defence industry could work as a coalition during the acquisition process and through more involvement through the life of programmes and beyond.
The British Army's Senior Leadership Team delivered presentations under the following four sub-themes:
Session 1: The Future Starts Now - Delivering Decisive Advantage
The obsession with predicting the future is a very human weakness. But in spite of our unceasing efforts to the contrary, we rarely find anything more than what Peter Hennessy (Distilling the Frenzy, 2012) described as the ‘thin wisps of tomorrow’[cut]. Moreover, a decade after General James Mattis declared that the US military “must avoid being dominant and irrelevant at the same time”, the debate on how to deliver decisive advantage in emergent and novel conflicts is no nearer a conclusion. How do we decide which of Hennessy’s ‘wisps’ will be the most significant, and how do we learn to live with uncertainty in a world where we may only get one chance to get our response right?
Session 2: Centrality of the Land Domain-The British Army Perspective
In today’s global strategic military environment, peer adversaries to western democracies seek advantage in the grey zone, where competition is constant through hybrid means. As such, western allies are now challenged to consider how Land forces demonstrate greater utility in non-war fighting activity as well as keeping their edge in war fighting at scale; this activity stretches across the spectrum of military effect, explained as ‘secure, engage, contest and fight’. As the character of warfare continues to change, we must ensure we keep up by remaining agile and adaptable as we enter a significant technological transition. We must unlock the potential of artificial intelligence, data analytics and machine learning; understand how we conduct command and control of autonomous robotic systems; but most importantly, not lose sight of our unique selling point as practitioners of dismounted close combat.
Session 3: Operational Advantage - Collaboration with Industry
As technology advances rapidly, both Industry and the Army have a challenge to keep up. When this technology is then weaponised by adversaries and applied against our national interest, the threat dynamic also evolves, making the challenge more acute. The Army has determined that the most appropriate mechanism to meet these twin challenges is to forge a much closer partnership with Industry. By engaging more often, cohering research and development and enacting a more agile acquisition approach, capability development will be accelerated. With modernised, up to date technologies in the hands of users, innovation, adaptation and agility will follow, setting the conditions for Operational Advantage. Our panel discussed how this relationship can benefit both parties, identified blockers and hurdles and considered if this ambition is realistic.
Session 4: Secure, Engage Contest and Fight – Collaboration with Allies and Partners
The shift from a unipolar to a multi-polar world following the end of the Cold War has witnessed an explosion of multi- and bi-lateral alliances that cross both political and cultural boundaries. While many will remain solely political in nature, those alliances that aspire to place their armed forces together on the battlefield must first overcome many technical and doctrinal challenges. Is there a choice to be made between interoperability and resilience? If we build and buy the same equipment, does our manufacturing chain become our Achilles’ heel? The panel examined each of these problems in an effort to understand the complexity of interoperability in the 21st century.