UK defence strategy strengthens AI, cyber and satellite spies

The nature of warfare is changing. Electronic warfare will need to be a key component of the UK’s defence strategy

Artificial intelligence and cyber capabilities have formed part of the government’s integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy.

In his speech announcing the defence review, defence secretary Ben Wallace described the need for a “digital backbone” based on data sharing using cloud technologies. “The lessons of current conflict demonstrate that however capable individual forces may be, they are vulnerable without integration,” he said

Wallace said warfare has changed and that there is a need for the UK to adapt its armed forces to cope with new, non-traditional threats. “While I know some colleagues would rather play Top Trumps with our force numbers, there is no point boasting about numbers of regiments when you send them to war in Snatch Land Rovers, or simply counting the number of tanks when our adversaries are developing ways to defeat them.

“That is why we have put at the heart of the Defence Command Paper the mission to seek out and to understand future threats, and to invest in the capabilities needed so that we can defeat them,” he said. “Because in defence it is too tempting to use the shield of sentimentality to protect previously battle-winning but now outdated capabilities.

“Such sentimentality, when coupled with over-ambition and under-resourcing, leads to even harder consequences down the line. It risks the lives of our people, who are truly our finest asset.”

Wallace announced a £1.5bn investment by UK Strategic Command over the next decade, to build and sustain what he described as a digital backbone to share and exploit vast amounts of data, through the cloud and secure networks.

He said this would support new approaches to training using simulations and the use of synthetics, “providing a step change in our training”.

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Wallace also emphasised the importance of AI, in supporting the defence strategy. “Keeping ourselves informed of the threat and ahead of our rivals means Defence Intelligence will be at the heart of our enterprise.

“We will exploit a wider network of advanced surveillance platforms, all classifications of data and enhanced analysis using artificial intelligence,” he said.

In his speech, Wallace discussed putting the National Cyber Force at the heart of defence. He said the cyber force, along with GCHQ’s offensive cyber capability, would be based in the North West of England.

Wallace also said that the Ministry of Defence has prioritised more than £6.6bn of research, development, and experimentation over the next four years in space technology. Among the areas of investment is satellite-based surveillance, which forms another facet of the strategy.

Wallace said the UK Strategic Command would partner, alongside the RAF, to deliver what he described as “a step-change in our space capabilities”. “From next year, we will start delivering a UK built Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance satellite constellation,” he said.

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