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Big changes in world threats and defence requirements

Invading and defending forces need to ward off cyber attacks on intelligence, communications and control systems.

Military Surveillance Officer Working on a City Tracking Operation

Charles Stanley

in Features;


Late last year Azerbaijan had considerable military success against Armenia before a ceasefire and settlement was negotiated. Some military thinkers believe it was one of those decisive moments when a conflict redefined how wars will be fought and what equipment will be needed. The Azeris claimed that more than  250 Armenian tanks were destroyed by their drones.

In 1862 in the American civil war, two new ironclad ships fought a revolutionary naval encounter between the Monitor with two larger guns mounted in a new swivel turret and the Merrimack with more smaller guns and a ram. It was inconclusive. What the world navies learned from it was that none of the traditional wooden warships could survive an encounter with these armoured and more powerfully armed new ships. The world’s navies turned to entirely new designs and new materials to create new fleets.

Some think the war over Nagorno Karabakh has proven tanks and armoured vehicles are no match for a swarm of drones, and that this will redefine what future armies need. Others defend the tank and argue that it was the poor deployment and inadequate defence that led to the mass slaughter of so many armoured vehicles. A tank army now needs low-level air cover to see off the drones, and a more mobile and spread out deployment that does not offer such easy targets.

Whatever the truth of this divide, all sides do seem to agree that in future invading and defending forces will need to be able to combat swarms of relatively cheap unmanned flying bombs and aerial vehicles. A successful army needs to ward off cyberattacks on its intelligence, communications and control systems. It needs to have good visibility of the battlefield and the ability to dominate airspace at all levels above the ground. This means shifting the balance of spending more towards the digital age, with more commitments to cybersecurity and cyber attack, to drone support and anti-drone activity, to low-level, as well as high-level air cover and to the control of disinformation.

Countries with much smaller budgets than the USA or NATO can now equip themselves for interventions and conflicts that might provoke a US response, by concentrating on asymmetric and lower cost warfare. They can also break the western rules by seeing the battlefield as including power networks, transport systems and even health systems in the opponent’s country which they can seek to disrupt by remote means. Today the west not only faces regular cases of Russian, Chinese and other military aircraft flying towards western defended airspace to test vigilance and reactions but also faces regular tests of its systems and networks from hostile states and terrorist groups seeking to spy on information, disrupt systems and spread disinformation to cause alarm.

The conclusion for the defence industries is that things have just got a lot more complicated. Cyber, computer, communications and command and control budgets will expand considerably given the nature of the threats. Drones will become commonplace and in large numbers. The Azeris used Israeli and Turkish drones to great effect. Their reconnaissance drones allowed concentration of fire power against defined enemy positions with accuracy. Their loitering munitions or suicide drones could fly above the tank forces waiting for the right opportunity to attack and destroy a target. Advanced militaries will need to spend more on warding off these weapons which are popular with terrorists and thug regimes, and on developing their own as a substitute for some of the very expensive and now more vulnerable platforms they are using. The West can no longer take technological and military supremacy for granted given the damage relatively cheap unmanned ways of combat can effect. Advanced militaries will still want some strong conventional forces but will need to protect and use them aware that failure in the digital and drone world could leave them very vulnerable.

The investment message is twofold. Risks to global security now include risks of cyber attacks on domestic civilian systems as well as on military units for terrorists and rogue states. Defence spending will increasingly include larger budgets on cyber and digital. Nations will need better digital and unmanned capability, both to keep civilian systems safe and to ward off threats to their traditional weapons.

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