UK INFORMATION SUPERIORITY CHALLENGES
By Yvonne Headington
Information Superiority (IS) underpins the full spectrum of today’s security and defence activities. With defence budgets under pressure IS solutions are being sought through realising the full potential of current capabilities. This was one of the main themes to emerge from the Royal United Services Institute’s (RUSI) IS Conference, held in London on 25 and 26 September 2012.
The IS Context
Professor Michael Clarke, RUSI’s Director-General suggested that current command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (C4ISTAR) capabilities are “at the cusp of a maturity of technologies.” The IS challenge concerns the interaction between these mature resources and more glamorous – but immature – technologies. The impact of social media, for instance, was demonstrated during the Libyan conflict but there is little way of knowing how this ubiquitous technology will be exploited in future – for good or evil.
These social and technological developments are taking place in the context of a shifting global strategic environment in which the future for Europe looks increasingly less secure. Professor Clarke confidently predicts that, “British Forces will find themselves trying to stabilise situations in the Gulf in the next two or three years.” Austerity and insecurity produce a toxic mix and UK Defence is now focusing on preparations for possible future contingency operations while accommodating the realities of limited resources.
Colonel Fred Hargreaves, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff J6 Operations/Information Exploitation at the UK’s Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ), stressed the importance of lessons derived from current International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations in Afghanistan. Colonel Hargreaves suggested that ‘coalition’ should be, “driven into the DNA and psyche of people to think wider and think about interoperability and working with partners”. Thus we should be planning in terms of coalition, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C5ISR). Counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan, which have achieved a highly sophisticated level of C5ISR, are characterised as having:-
* Very clear command and control (C2).
* Strong international support.
* Common and interoperable standard operating procedures (SOPs).
* A fixed infrastructure, delivering high bandwidth and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) rich services.
* Investment of $billions per year.
In future “we will inevitably migrate away from the high water mark, where we are today” said Colonel Hargreaves, “toward more expeditionary capabilities with a concomitant reduction in situational awareness and therefore increased risk”. OP ELLAMY, the UK’s contribution to operations over Libya, provided a timely reminder of the importance of contingency operations – and raised a number of issues. A lack of investment in C5ISR means that ‘expectation management’ poses a particular problem for troops who have experienced advanced levels of ISR provision in Afghanistan; a situation compounded by an inflexible acquisitions process unable to keep pace with civil technological advances. In addition, future contingency operations are likely to embrace:-
* Ad hoc coalitions of the willing – and of the able – to ensure interoperability.
* Variable international support.
* Confused C2 and SOPs.
* A shift from land-centric to air/maritime-centric operations.
* Implications of cyberspace.
Specific IS challenges include the need to invest in ‘connectivity’, and not just high-end collection assets such as manned/un-manned aircraft. There is also a conceptual problem. “Information superiority is everybody’s business,” said Hargreaves adding that this should be an integral part of the military career. However, changing current attitudes is provin