For all the Army claims it is going through a constant cycle of change, in many ways it differs little from its predecessor fighting in northern France in 1944.
Transport a soldier from the beaches of Normandy into the Army of today and they probably wouldn’t feel that uncomfortable.
But if you put them into The Telegraph’s newsroom or the City of London, they would be blown away by how technology has fundamentally changed.
New thinking is essential, not just for survival but to get ahead of the game. The Defence Secretary is right when he says we have the best soldiers in the world. We can’t ask those soldiers to do the same things, equipped in the same ways as they have been for years.
How are we creating an Army specialised to fight in a digitised and increasingly urbanised world? The integrated review took a step in the right direction, towards an expeditionary, agile and more global military.
The manner in which the Services are working together today, integrating with the intelligence agencies and drawing talent from other parts of government is impressive and deserves credit. The future of warfare won’t be fought by that many people with bayonets fixed.
The battlefields of the future, the peacetime environment that we live in now and the disruptive challenges that we face like Covid-19 require soldiers to think on an individual level.
Independence of mind
We need an independence of mind that corrals together when needed, but can act on its own when appropriate.
Mass, of armour or people, is a dated concept and doesn’t require the skill, training or intellect of the quality of people in the British Army. Forward-basing tanks in Germany to be closer to allies whilst messaging potential adversaries is a smart move.
As is the creation of the Special Operations Brigade. The 6th Division of which it is a part is pretty avant garde, and the US, France and Germany are envious of the collective, collaborative and specialist capabilities therein.
So the Army’s transformation plan is a step in the right direction, albeit one with a comfortable hand holding onto the traditional way of warfare. This is a welcome transitional step.
Balancing conformity with innovative thinking
Of course, we need an Army that balances enough conformity with a degree of challenge and innovative thinking.The new Ranger Regiment embodies this idea. It shows the direction of travel, but we’re not at the destination yet.
Soldiers today are joining with an ability to understand and manipulate technology and information that eclipses the Army of 20 years ago. We should harness that, nurture and encourage it. And then let it loose.
The Army’s transformation programme is called Future Soldier. We need to ensure it is exactly that, and doesn’t just polish what we’ve always done or replicate what others are doing.
If it is a step towards something more contemporary in 10 years time, that is very exciting. The best is yet to come.