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:
— David Willetts (@DavidWilletts3) June 20, 2018
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.