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General Sir Patrick Sanders Lays Down The Digital Gauntlet At The Airpower Conference By Julian Nettlefold






Is Morpheus Dead Before It Starts?

General Sir Patrick Sanders, KCB, CBE, DSO, ADC, Commander Strategic Command.  gave an informative and detailed brief at the 2020 Airpower Conference, ‘Information Advantage and Cross Agency Cooperation,’  regarding the future of multi-domain warfare in the Twentieth Century to defeat the advanced tactics being utilised by Russia, China and Iran in particular.

Strategic Command’s message is ‘Cohering Joint Forces to deliver Multi Domain Integration.’ The remit for Strategic Command is to deliver the two key elements of the Operating Concept, to be defence’s integrator and with the strategic capabilities they hold, to sharpen the competitive edge sub-threshold.

His vision as outlined, reaches far beyond the £11 billion Morpheus Programme, so are we looking at ‘Son of Bowman,’ a tactical system which is already out of date and obsolete before it is even deployed?

It is worth looking at the Morpheus Programme as a comparison to the vison as laid out by General Sanders.

What is the Morpheus Programme?

Morpheus is a £3.2 billion defence programme delivering the next generation of Tactical Communication and Information Systems (TacCIS) to forces operating in a Land Environment, inclusive of the Royal Navy in the littoral environment and elements of the Royal Air Force. The programme is delivered by the Battlefield Tactical Communications and Information Systems (BATCIS) Delivery Team in conjunction with Army HQ and Joint Forces Command. Morpheus will give access to fully integrated operational information technology that simplifies the user experience, allowing units to focus on the mission.

Morpheus is the first installation of Defence as a Platform (DaaP) in the tactical environment. By evolving the current Bowman system into the next generation of tactical communications, Morpheus enables evolutionary capability development in a way that has been impossible before.

The benefits Morpheus will deliver to the front line soldier include:

  • improved end-to-end shared situational awareness from soldiers to HQ
  • increased bandwidth and a more resilient network, allowing soldiers to get the information they need, when they need it
  • open architecture enabling interoperability by design, giving the ability to develop and deliver applications in the way soldiers want – leading to better usability and at a faster pace by selecting from across Industry rather than one Prime Contractor

The MoD does not have time on its side or the money to rip up the existing Morpheus timetable as GDUK is already engaged in a £300 million Programme to transition Bowman to Morpheus. In addition, many of the technologies in the Bowman system are reaching the end of their service life and need urgent replacement or upgrade.

Given the breadth of the future requirements outlined by General Sanders, one possibility could be an interim upgrade to the exiting Bowman system using new technologies and upgrades of existing systems such as being undertaken with the DRS rugged computers.

Information Advantage and Cross Agency Cooperation

Why does the Army have to focus on integration?

General Sanders outlined a plan to transition the existing joint operations in an era of industrial warfare. These have not shifted at the pace needed to be an integrated force able to operate and fight in the integrated age. Russia and China have already developed counter strategies to defeat the western method of waging war with its emphasis on full spectrum dominance, reaching the apogee in the First and Second Gulf Wars.

You can see this in the Russian Gerasimov Doctrine and the Chinese emphasis on restricted warfare that was set out as a concept in 1999.

In February 2013, General Valery Gerasimov—Russia’s chief of the General Staff, comparable to the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—published a 2,000-word article, ‘The Value of Science Is in the Foresight,’ in the weekly Russian trade paper Military-Industrial Kurier. Gerasimov took tactics developed by the Soviets, blended them with strategic military thinking about total war, and laid out a new theory of modern warfare—one that looks more like hacking an enemy’s society than attacking it head-on. He wrote: “The very ‘rules of war’ have changed. The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness. … All this is supplemented by military means of a concealed character.”

The article is considered by many to be the most useful articulation of Russia’s modern strategy, a vision of total warfare that places politics and war within the same spectrum of activities—philosophically, but also logistically. The approach is guerrilla, and waged on all fronts with a range of actors and tools—for example, hackers, media, businessmen, leaks and, yes, fake news, as well as conventional and asymmetric military means. Thanks to the internet and social media, the kinds of operations Soviet psy-ops teams once could only fantasize about—upending the domestic affairs of nations with information alone—are now plausible. The Gerasimov Doctrine builds a framework for these new tools, and declares that non-military tactics are not auxiliary to the use of force but the preferred way to win. That they are, in fact, the actual war. Chaos is the strategy the Kremlin pursues: Gerasimov specifies that the objective is to achieve an environment of permanent unrest and conflict within an enemy state.

These states have grown adept at integrating all of the State’s levers of power to gain advantage and initiative, including through trade wars foreign aid, cyber and information warfare and crucially capturing control of key technologies like 5G, AI or space control. This approach broadens the definition of warfare well beyond the boundaries of within which the west’s approach to warfare can be brought to bear. The Strategic Command approach is to pursue integration, joint is no longer enough. Integration must take place across government with allies and across five domains to counter the threat and to protect the UK’s interest. The UK must focus and develop an integrated operating concept with a compatible force structure, one that is credible to deter above the threshold and be more competitive below the threshold and with global reach, to operate consistently and fight when necessary. Concurrently the UK’s adversaries investment in innovation and disruptive information age technology is leaving the UK behind, whether it be in ISR, creating a transparent battlespace, AI or synthetics or the vast power of open source data and cloud computing or indeed by hypersonics and by previous and long-range multidomain precision fires, equally, integration is not yet ingrained in everything  the UK does.

The UK’s approach to equipment procurement is siloed and still sees duplication and inconsistency across the fence which is an inefficient use of the resources the British Army has. Even the most recent capabilities have been fielded as platforms rather than as capabilities, and more starkly when procuring them standardization and integration in and across the domain has not be considered. The Army is not able to capitalise on the vast amounts of data that platforms can deliver as the Army is unable to share, swop or even integrate data at a speed which generates tempo and advantage.

Where does the Army need to get to?

For examples of the exemplar of multi-domain integration and the challenge the Army needs to overcome, look no further than the Chinese and Russian development of anti-access area denial which we can see this playing out in the Eastern Mediterranean right now. The interplay of Russian systems since 2015 from disinformation to the use of hard power has developed their own A2/AD bubble which they can turn on and off at will.

In March 2019 the Swedish Defence Research Centre published – Bursting the Bubble? Russian A2/AD-Capabilities in the Baltic Sea Region.

Western nations are concerned about Russia’s capability to prevent – from a distance – an enemy’s access to a geographic area (A2/AD). A new FOI report, ‘Bursting the bubble?’ describes the danger as exaggerated and analyzes several possible countermeasures.

A2/AD is a military buzzword for the ability to deter, at a distance, an enemy’s deployment in a geographic area. With the aid of sensors that can see enemy targets at great distance and by using long-distance missiles, an enemy’s units can be resisted long before they reach their targets. A2/AD systems have been likened to ‘steel domes,’ or ‘bubbles,’ which make it impossible for an adversary to attack targets or send reinforcements to an area.

When Russia annexed Crimea and attacked eastern Ukraine, the West worried about an attack against the Baltic. Fears were aroused that in such a scenario Russia would be able to ‘cut off’ the Baltic Sea using A2/AD resources. This would make it impossible for NATO to aid its Baltic members with weapons and troops.

“In our report we establish that Russia’s A2/AD capability is less effective than what is claimed by either the Russian military or the Western press. For one thing, it’s more difficult than many people think to detect and strike a target that’s tens of kilometres away,” says Robert Dalsjö, Deputy Research Director at FOI, who wrote the report with Michael Jonsson.

Secondly, analysis shows that the actual range of the new Russian anti-aircraft system, S-400, which is promoted as having a range of 400 kilometres, is actually only 150-200 kilometres. Against low-flying missiles, the S-400’s range may be as short as 20 kilometres.

“This demonstrates that Russian A2/AD does not preclude the possibility of reinforcing the Baltic against a Russian attack. It is not hopeless, as some debaters would claim.” observes Robert Dalsjö.

Active and passive countermeasures

There are several measures for countering A2/AD systems. Some are passive, such as flying around the coverage area of sensors, or stationing troops at a location in good time. Others are active countermeasures, both “soft,” in the form of electronic jamming or chaff dispersed from aircraft, and “hard,” where portions of overall capability are physically knocked out.

“One can neutralise an entire system by knocking out just one link in a functional chain, for example a data link or a fire-control radar. And since seeing over the horizon requires airborne radar, it may then be enough to shoot down the radar aircraft.” says Robert Dalsjö.

To support their thesis, the researchers find support from, among other things, the war in Syria.

“There, we’ve seen how aircraft have merely flown detours around the areas where the Russian systems can operate. We can also see that in spite of the fact that the Russians have sold one of their most modern anti-aircraft systems to Syria, the Syrians haven’t managed to shoot down a single Western plane and, in thirty years, only an isolated few Israeli planes.”

However, making Russia’s A2/AD capability into a manageable problem requires commitments, according to the report.

“Western armed forces have long been fighting against poorly equipped adversaries, such as for example the Taliban. Thus, capacity-building and investments are now required in areas such as electronic warfare, countermeasures and guided weapons.” concludes Robert Dalsjö.

To defeat the adversaries in environments like this, the UK must operate across all domains and at high tempo, anything else won’t work, it’s the only way to overmatch.

To do this the UK needs to achieve three things.

  1. To integrate the domain but by design with a deliberate Programme.
  2. Exploit data through common hosting and standardization.
  3. Test and experiment the options virtually and a covertly in a secure or single synthetic environment.

How Do We Get there?

To achieve effects across domains Russia, Chain, Iran and North Korea all emphasise superiority and information as critical to success, the UK needs to do the same. The standardisation of the UK’s network, information exchanges and digital backbone is the critical enabler across everything the UK does. The UK’s networks must for the resilient train track be resilient the bearer data flowing from sensors to effectors. The UK must then exploit the data that is collected and not treat it as effluent.

Firstly, this requires a single cloud environment with computing power that can handle data to all common standards.

Secondly it requires agrees access protocols so that people can trust the data whether it’s our agencies or our allies.

Thirdly, it requires application commonality with an open plug and play approach.

Fourthly a sophisticated tool is required to run across the data, not least AI.

Fifthly it requires a gateway between the classification layers so you can browse down from secret and transfer up from secret.

This requires a quantum shift in the UK’s approach to technology and the need for a UK Digitization DARPA and the creation of an agile software centre that fuses expectation in data analytics, Machine Learning and AI along with robotics, blockchain, synthetics & visualization, quantum technologies and the Internet of Things.  These will lie at the heart of data driven and software defined capabilities which will offer Asymmetric operational advantage into the 2030s.  As well as a digital backbone, the UK also needs the right support spine for multi-domain integration and the ability to deter by projecting and sustaining our forces at the speed of relevance.

The UK needs to invest in its strategic base; digitization will again be key in the building the capacity we need into the network block the UK’s global strategic base to deliver this ambition. The UK needs a single federated support network to enable exploitation of bulk data that allows us to diagnoses and mitigate systems failure before it’s on us, will significantly enhance the UK’s ability to deliver support at the right time and the right place to avoid stockpiling. All of this underpinning work is geared towards enabling faster and better decision making, routed in deeper understanding from all sources and aided by data analytics and supporting technologies.

As far as Command & Control needed to execute this, the UK must inculcate instinctive inclinations to survey all domains multi-domain force objective. Commanders will need to be able to discern opportunities for advantage across the domain and all the levels of war which will need not just good information but guile, cunning and emotional intelligence against a backdrop of cross-domain manoeuvre. Division is not one of computers in command but calibrating the level of augmentation according to the complexity of the task.  To achieve this, it’s going to be a long journey there are many other lines of operation the UK needs to do; there are many other avenues which the UK needs to pursue.

The UK’s cyber resilience and cyber offensive capability, how we develop greater breadth and depth of special operations capability across domains and across domain to support our world-beating Special Forces. The transparent battlespace and how we build up understanding of synthetics and virtual training.

For now, the case in favour of multi-domain integration is clear and the digital spine for the backbone the UK needs to deliver is essential.  Integrating by instinct and by design will deliver capabilities which can deployed to and in and exploit multi-domain to deliver tempo. The greatest value it will offer is the ability to provide UK commanders and politicians with as many effectives much capability to draw on as possible including non-military to apply combinations the adversary cannot expect or guard against.

General Sir Patrick Sanders BIO

General Sir Patrick Nicholas Yardley Monrad Sanders, KCB, CBE, DSO, ADC is a senior British Army officer. He currently serves as Commander United Kingdom Strategic Command.

Born: 6 April 1966 (age 54 years), Wiltshire

Years of service: 1984-present

Commands helds: Strategic Command, 3rd (United Kingdom) Division, 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade, Task Force Helmand

Education: University of Exeter, Worth School, Cranfield University

Battles and wars: The Troubles, Kosovo War, Iraq War, War in Afghanistan

Awards: Order of the Bath, Order of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Order (Source: Wikipedia)

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