The British Army’s new Chief of the General Staff, General Mark Carleton-Smith, addressed the audience at RUSI today in his first public keynote. In it, he stated plainly that the world has “never been more unpredictable”.

He also profoundly argued that we under-estimate the change” that will take place in the coming years. The conference had already seen major news, with Major General Chris Tickell discussing EMP capability the previous day.

This article was submitted by Henry Jones. Henry is a student based in the UK. His interest in defence is derived largely from family connection, as well as studying international security. He has previously written for The People’s News, and is the grandson of Lt Col ‘H’ Jones VC, killed in the Falklands War.

In his speech, he argued that most of the technological change taking place in defence would likely occur in the next decade. The need for adaptable and modular platforms was highlighted, as well as encouragement for comradeship: a winning Army needs comradeship.”

Perhaps surprisingly, he spent an equal amount of time discussing the qualities of the British Army’s people as he did the threats we face. He notably talked of the ‘irrepressible sense of humour of the British Army’, bringing smiles to those around the room.

With regard to threats, Carleton-Smith was clear: there are many, including those that are not “state based”. He argued that we face a darkening geopolitical future”, due to the fact that the “global order [is] challenged by a number of rogue states”. He picked out Russia in particular as a state “in revisionist mode”, who’s “intent is now matched by a growing arsenal of long-range precision capabilities”.

Indeed, he stated that the belief there is no imminent threat in the short term is incorrect. He also addressed the issue of defence cuts. He made plain that to fall behind in capability would be to lose an “unquantifiable advantage from which it might be impossible to recover”.

Further to the Defence Select Committee’s report that was released on Monday, he stated that the defence budget should be in direct proportion to the threat”. This remark was made more poignant by the fact that the previous day, Lt Gen Frank Leidenberger from Germany referred to “the good old days of the Cold War”, and suggested that in 2018, we are in a “lukewarm war”. Mark Lancaster MP (Minister of State for the Armed Forces) was another who argued that the threat now is as bad as it was during the Cold War.

If General Carelton-Smith believes the threat faced today is similar in severity to that faced in the late 20th century, it would seem he agrees with the Defence Select Committee’s report. His rationale perhaps points a desire for a 5% of GDP defence budget, as seen in the 1980s.

Also today, there were discussions on the training of the British Army, and how that might evolve in the next 25 years. Rather worryingly, there seemed a consensus among both the panellists and those in attendance that our infantry is currently unprepared for the prospect of urban warfare. As mentioned numerous times during the conference, adversaries will draw us to urban areas; they know we’ll struggle in such an environment.

Information warfare was widely discussed: Mark Lancaster stated our adversaries believe that truth is malleable. We need to counter that”. One of my favourite quotes of the conference came also came from Lancaster:

“We must tie our enemy into knots in the virtual world, so we can defeat them in the virtual world”.

Carleton-Smith seemed at ease over both days, engaging with those present frequently. He also held a private breakfast alongside Mark Lancaster for junior officers and staff. I was fortunate enough to be invited by RUSI to attend said breakfast, although it was closed door and thus cannot be discussed.

To summarise, I would mirror the comments made by David Willets, Defence Editor at The Sun:


General Carleton-Smith goes into the role of CGS with a full appreciation of the threats we face today, and clearly has the resolve to address these threats. The army will likely evolve under his leadership, and this is a good thing.

 

21 COMMENTS

  1. It’s good to see a high-ranking serving officer talk about the danger the nation faces. Too often the people with power to do anything stay quiet only to speak up 20 years later.

  2. Let’s hope the new CGS is a leader and not a politician like Sir Nick Carter. It may get you to the top, but I really dont see what Gen N.Carter has done for the army he commanded.

    We need leaders and I am impressed with Gavin Williamson to date and the First Sea Lord, lets hope Gen Carelton – Smith lives up their impressive lead

  3. The current state of affairs both in Europe and the US, is of great concern to many. Under Trump, the relationship shows signs of modifying to the point, his country may reduce its defence commitments in Europe? That would impact on NATO in terms of planning and also on members current defence budgets. There may be some growing dsiquite in Washington in regards to current European defence budgets, and the planned trade tariffs against US goods will not improve the climate? Reliance on maintaining US contributions could be at risk. I for one feel Trump will play tough and demand evidence of substantial military spending inside Europe and the EU, before the tempo changes back to one of more meaninful support.

    The British are currently meat in the sandwich in regards to future UK/EU/US military dependency. I feel sure the US will show a softer hand in its dealings with the UK MOD. One litmus test will be if the planned closure of RAF Mildenhall goes ahead, and the transfer to Germany actually happens in a few years. The planned drawdown has already been delayed until 2024. If their plan goes ahead then only one fighter base will remain, after a steady reduction in UK based assets. The plain truth will hit the UK Government just as did the realisation, that the NHS, needs substantially increased funding. I feel sure an equal concentrated effort will be necessary militarily, to support a Global Britain and any possible shortfalls, if the US rethinks its foreign policy in the West?

  4. about time the adressed the urban warfare issue. urban is one tough nut to crack and time and time again we get sucked into fighting in it. its like herding cats.
    issues such as poor comms (bowman/prr need confining to the bin) not enough manpower to hold, no vehicular support and a lack of simunition rounds is always highlighted whenever we do touch on urbex.
    seniors mistook the ‘contingency’ directive for cold war tactics and couldn’t wait to go back to pre Afghan ‘back in my day’ training. juniors saw this as an issue, undoing all the graft they had done at a heavy price so voted with their feet. another example of not listening to the boots on the ground.

    • The reason urban warfare has become hard is down to one basic problem and that is Rules of Engagement. Their are several ways to take a city.
      1. Starve it out. Easiest in theory but time consuming. Also presents the issue of either shooting or interning NGOs who think food is a human right. Also you have to shoot anyone trying to flee so they continue to be a drain on supplies. Still the most humane as you don’t expose every home to it’s dose of machine gunfire and grenade.
      2. Storm it by infantry with all means available in support (artillery, air support, and armor) irregardless of collateral damage. Quicker but exposed to both casualties, civilian deaths, and collateral damage.
      3. Turn it in to Dresden or Kiev and just walk by like in WWII. Only possible if you don’t need the city and their is significant political backing.
      4. What we have been doing add a whole mess of complicated barely comprehensible ROE to make war with morons fair. Then upon realizing that this has made casualties on both sides in addition to civilians skyrocket by needlessly extending the conflict. Attempt to make it better by buying expensive gear.

  5. Another way to look at it is that the afgan/Iraq mess has almost certainly guaranteed there will be no political will to fight another insurgency war for a decade or two and so the generals are now looking at next realistic case, seeing none they are going for the worst case which is all our war with Russia.

  6. The incessant anti-Russia stuff in the media has left England sadly the least supported team at the World Cup.

    Even the African nations are bringing more fans.

    • and this has nothing to do with the Russian fans targeting the English fans in Paris or the massive racism problems and the fear linked to this and whether the Russian police will be fair.

      It’s a shame they are under supported but equally I would be scared to go as an England fan.

      • Not true

        Not sure if you saw *Russia with Simon Reeve” on the BBC last month, he got off a train in Moscow, quickly showed the Kremlin, then got in a taxi straight to one of the most deprived parts of the city on the outskirts and spoke to poor people about the state of Russia, then he left.

        And when he was leaving you could hear thunder in the background and the camera kept cutting to depressing images as he left.

        That’s the BBC’s image of Moscow just before the World Cup.

        It was blatent propaganda, some English guy who lives in Moscow did a video on YouTube showing the good parts as a counter, students and tourists in the square having fun, trendy bars and clubs, a thriving nightlife and great transport, lovely restaurants and a really nice atmosphere, yet you never see that on Western tv.

        Even the football commentators and pundits have been saying how nice all the cities are, it’s like they are shocked having been brought up with this propaganda, they weren’t expecting it.

        For me it’s three factors why we are so under supported this World Cup, the media’s coverage or Russia over the last two years, the para military type Russian football hooligans, and the under expectation of the actual football team to deliver after what happened two years ago.

  7. The abiding difficulty for the likes of an effective Military Chief of the General Staff, and let us assume that General Mark Carleton-Smith be made of such right stuff, is that they very soon realise the visions they follow and orders they are given, are much more to preserve and retain a failed politically inept, fiat currency centric program rather than being able to enable and provide security for a more supportable and more equitable future paradigm. Such an increase/change in intelligence creates a quite revolutionary conflict within which be irreconcilable and would result naturally in there being a dramatic dynamic kinetic revision?

    Defenders of the indefensible and perverse have always, and will always, do battle against an increasing range of foe who will be both practically invisible and virtually anonymous and unbeatable and thus effectively almighty …… and in these days and ages of almost instant universal communication, such situations are to be expected rather sooner than later.

    A further point to consider is that in such cases are most all just as spectators to unfolding events with no means or intelligent way to influence direction and change events.

  8. Two major problems facing HM forces.

    1. Equipment, major capability gaps exist and getting worse. Insufficient modern equipment available in the quality and quantity required.

    2. Personnel, crisis in recruitment and retention.

    I don’t see anything being done to address those issues.

    Words are great, but urgent action is required.

    In my opinion the UK is not a major tier one player, yes we have nuclear weapons, yes we have some world beating conventional weapon systems but the capability gaps in our armed forces are getting bigger by the day.

    Our wish armed forces capable of robust sustainable and independent military action to defend our national interest.

    Major increase in funding is required, I will let others decide where the money is going to come from.

  9. I’ve suggested this before but I think it would unblock things. There is considerable and justified scepticism in Whitehall that the officer corps is hugely bloated, ever expanding and self serving. That the priority of the chiefs is with them and not with the cash starved, ever decreasing combat forces. The deal would be that the forces (as they do in the US) would be restricted by law in the numbers of officers they can employ. That would be the stick. The carrot would be an increase in defence spend. I suggested 2.5% of GDP but after the NHS announcement that ship has sailed. The best that could probably be achieved would be an increase in annual growth. From the current 0.5% to maybe 1.0%. It doesn’t sound much but over time it would amount to a considerable increase. Sadly I think it would be far more likely to be rejected by the chiefs than the treasury.

  10. Mike, a very long time ago I was informed that military capability was based on a tripod of elements. You correctly identify two of these as being equipment and people the third element being training and operations. I still believe it is only when you have a sufficient quantity and a first class quality in all of these things that you can genuinely claim to have the military capability to meet the range of threats that face the nation.

    • Bill you are correct, the training of our military personnel is still the best.

      UK military personnel still outperform by some margin.

      However given the current recruitment and retention crisis that is not sustainable in the future.

      In my opinion it takes about 2 years to train a soldier to the standard required to perform on the battlefield and many more years to gain further skills and experience to become an expert in his area.

      • Yes 2 years to train a professional and at least another 3 to make the beginnings of a quality NCO. Then finally after 10 years (less if they deploy as that is the best teacher) you have someone you can truly count on to pass his skills on to the next recruits.

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