Land power narrative in an ever-evolving battlefield
How is the development of new technologies and emergence of new threats shaping the future battlespace?
Technology is moving on in different areas and I think in the world of armoured vehicles in particular, we need to be mindful of a variety of trends. Clearly, we’ve got abreast in recent years of the digitisation of the battlespace and our modern armoured fighting vehicles take account of that.
However, it’s always a battle to keep up, which means incorporating stretch potential within our vehicles so that we can keep updating the digital platforms to keep up with emerging new capabilities. I’m sure that part of our discussion will be how we connect our armoured fighting vehicle systems with other systems in the battlespace, how we connect with emerging forms of ISR and particularly UAV based ISR, and how we take into account the profusion of different sorts of remote vehicles which can work alongside our manned platforms.
We also need to be mindful of new developments in anti-armour technology, of the new vehicles that potential threat nations are developing. If we are going to have credible deterrence, vis-à-vis Russia for example, we need to have confidence that our conventional, all-arms war-fighting capabilities outmatch their modern systems, including their new main battle tank.
What tools does the international community have to adapt to this new environment?
We’ve got a number of tools. For example, we now have a much more sophisticated simulation technology to study the potential of changes in vehicles before we ever get around to building them. We can war-game changes in characteristics of potential new vehicles, for example up-gunning the firepower or improving the protection, in a virtual manner. We can also trial them on the ground by feeding the characteristic into our laser simulator devices fitted to armoured vehicles, and then fight an actual, physical battle with real soldiers on the ground, simulating these characteristics.
This is an enormous advantage over past generations and we should be taking full advantage of this opportunity. However, if we are to do it, we need resources. It takes money and time to support the sort of exercises that produce the information we need. What we really need is the combination of the expertise of scientists and technical experts together with the instinct of soldiers, the feel for the ground, the kind of hunter-killer instinct real soldiers have in a real environment against a real enemy.
Is there a need to promote a land power narrative to help support the decisions of politicians who have been largely drawn towards the precision strike promises of air power? If so, how can that narrative be advanced?
Clearly the intervention in Libya showed the limitations of the employment of air power alone. I think many people have concluded that there should have been a land component to that operation, certainly in command and control terms. Of course, the intervention did achieve a certain amount in terms of limiting the immediate damage done to the civilian population, but the instability that followed has reverberated in Libya ever since. I believe the lessons of that and other campaigns would suggest that we always need to take into account the fact that, if we really want to engender significant changes on the ground, we cannot do it with partial and remotely delivered solutions.
The decision therefore needs to be made whether we will intervene in a joined-up, properly-resourced manner, or whether we conclude it is best not to interfere. If we take the example of Syria, the problem there has been so complex that there has been no easy military contribution to a strategy to resolve the overarching problem. The political decision has therefore been to avoid becoming militarily embroiled beyond a certain degree.
I think politicians in the future will need to consider the fact that if we wish to achieve lasting strategic changes amongst populations who are trapped in cycles of violence and conflict, and if the decision is to intervene, then land forces will usually be essential. The worst mistake can be to go into a situation half-heartedly, and not properly resourced. We need to cover off against the complete spectrum of both military and non-military requirements.
What do you see as the strategic trends in armoured vehicles and what capabilities do you think the armoured vehicle of the future will require?
I think we will see further digitization of our systems and there will be an increase in autonomous, unmanned vehicles of various sorts. We will see the incorporation of developments in weaponry and defensive technology, which is a continual process of evolution, within all of this.
We need to consider that in order to achieve our strategic objectives on the ground, even if we rely heavily on remote and technical solutions, we will usually at some point need the human connection with the population. Therefore, our armored vehicles need to take into account the need to get people into and around the battlefield safely. This will continue to be a huge challenge, given the range of threats that are posed to them.
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