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U.K. Ministry of Defence photo
LONDON — Despite having one of the largest, most advanced militaries in the world, the United Kingdom still has room to grow when it comes to bringing emerging technology into its armed forces, the chief of the country’s defense staff said Sept. 14.
The United Kingdom is planning a major investment into its military to the tune of over 600 billion pounds over the next 10 years, said Chief of the Defence Staff U.K. Royal Navy Adm. Tony Radakin, the professional head of the country’s armed forces and the principal military advisor to the prime minister and secretary of state for defense.
“The piece that I think we’re light on and where we need to get much stronger is when we’re seeing some of the technology that we need to introduce, it still feels that it’s slightly on the edge,” Radakin said during keynote remarks at the DSEI trade show. “We say that we want to be much closer [to industry], we say that we want industry to have a bigger impact, but I don’t think it’s easy for that to emerge.”
The British military must strengthen the flow and adoption of technology that is proving relevant on the modern battlefield, he said.
“We’re providing literally hundreds of drones, one-way attack drones, to Ukraine. Well then … when we look at our own army, where are our one-way attack drone regiments?” he said. “If we see some of those uncrewed surface vessel drones — again, we’re contributing to that — where do we see the Royal Navy with a coastal X Squadron or a raiding X Squadron?
“What would it look like to have a 500-ship navy, but 400 of those are drones?” he continued. “What would it look like to have an air force of 2,000 aircraft, but 1,500 of them are drones? What would it look like to have an army that has … the lethality of a couple of hundred thousand people, but it’s supplemented by the extraordinary technology that we have? And that feels to me that that’s the journey that we’re on. How do we make that far more mainstream as part of our armed forces?”
The armed forces have to work closer with industry “to take the money that we get from government — and it’s big money — and then see what is the best fit, and what is out there in order to have the best outcome in terms of protecting your nation and helping its prosperity,” Radakin said.
“There will be some conversations with government — it might be in the next spending review, it might be after the next election — as to, right, what does that look like?” he said. “But it feels to me it’s less of this constant, ‘What’s the size of the army? What’s the number of ships that we’ve got? What’s the size of your budget?’ Can we just probably put the U.K. contribution within NATO — we acknowledge what NATO provides to us — and then can we attenuate it for it to be even stronger?”
Radakin said the United Kingdom “will continue to be the strongest European partner within NATO,” noting the country provides nearly 25 percent of the alliance’s maritime strength and over 10 percent of its air and land elements.
“That’s an enormous position that the U.K. has within NATO, but I also think — and this is partly a reflection of Ukraine — we also need to look at the world where missiles are having longer ranges,” he said. “These drones are appearing, and the ability to get close to a country and then to be able to fly those drones in, the ability of cyber … to go into our societies and structures and to interfere with us.
“There is an aggressive world out there, which we’ve been really clear on in terms of state threats, and therefore I think we’re having a much bigger conversation about … homeland resilience. How do we better adjust to some of those threats?” he said, going on to list a variety of options, such as developing an integrated air and missile defense system and working more closely with the intelligence community.
Another factor is “the return to statecraft and how nations operate when their predominant security risks are other states,” such as Russia in Europe and China in the Indo-Pacific, following the last few decades that were “dominated by counterterrorism, by counterinsurgency operations,” he said.
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and one of the world’s top economies and militaries, the United Kingdom relies “on world trade — the Indo-Pacific in the next 20 years is going to be 40 to 50 percent of the world’s GDP,” he said. “So, it’s not something over there. It’s something here, and it impacts on all our lives, and then we have to respond to some of the concerns out there.
“We’re really clear that Russia is an acute threat, that our primary responsibility remains in the Euro-Atlantic, but we also have responsibilities elsewhere,” he continued. “China we see as a systemic competitor, and our role is to maintain security and stability everywhere, and that’s what we’re trying to do in the Indo-Pacific.”
Radakin highlighted the “strategic anchors” the United Kingdom has, including military facilities across the globe, the Global Combat Air Program to develop a sixth-generation fighter with Japan and Italy, and the AUKUS agreement with Australia and the United States.
“And then there are other players that I think are revealing, to me, extraordinary statecraft,” he said. “When President Biden invites South Korea and Japan to Camp David, for them to have their arrangement. When President Modi goes to Washington for a much stronger relationship between America and India. The relationship that you’re seeing with the U.K. and Saudi Arabia, and the relationships that we have with South Korea. So, those to me are all part of this statecraft and responding to some of the state threats that are out there.”
Topics: International, Emerging Technologies, Global Defense Market
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