Select Committee on Defence Sixth Report

6  The War on Terror and Military Transformation

88.  A number of our witnesses drew attention to a fundamental principle of modern military operations which is particularly relevant for the purposes of the New Chapter, namely 'effects-based operations'. The Secretary of State was in no doubt of its importance—

    We must therefore move away from always assessing defence capability in terms of platforms or unit numbers. It is now more useful to think in terms of the effects that can be delivered—we must consider what effect we want to have on an opponent and at what time…There are traditional so-called "kinetic effects" [or] other effects designed to influence the will of an adversary…Effects-based planning has always been understood intuitively by good commanders.[135]

89.  Air Vice-Marshal McNicoll, however, told us that—

    Effects-based operations is something we aspire to…I do not think we have got there yet but what we are starting to do now and has recently been introduced is something called effects-based targeting which is a step on the road towards effects based operations, where…we think…more closely about linking…to the wider campaign…[136]

Despite the attention now being devoted to this concept, he went on to say that it—

    would involve understanding to a greater degree than I think is possible at the moment every aspect of the strategic environment in which both you and your opponent are operating.[137]

Nevertheless, if the principles of counter-terrorism laid out in the New Chapter and subsequent documents are relevant—to deter, disrupt, destroy terrorist activities—then effects-based operations, in full co-ordination with other government departments and international partners, will be critical to success.

90.  The attempt to develop more precise effects-based operations therefore provides the context in which the UK views broader military transformations taking place. There is a lively debate over whether the 'revolution in military affairs' currently underway principally in the US is in fact a 'revolution' or rather a more mundane, though certainly rapid, 'evolution' of technological transformation.[138] Our witnesses generally agreed, however, that the key factor in the application of these changes was the creation of an explicit process through which military transformation could be applied.[139] Even for the United States, it is not necessary that all military systems should be "transformational", as opposed to "legacy" (i.e. those systems acquired for military operations during the Cold War era). Mr David Gompert of RAND Corporation told us that there was a general consensus in US military circles that—

    the types of platforms and weapons that are truly transformational, as opposed to legacy, could be as small as 10 or 15 per cent of the total force…but to me the key in enabling systems…is in the command and control, and particularly on the technical side in interoperable command and control.[140]

91.  For the UK, therefore, the key challenge raised by the revolution in military affairs is to monitor accurately how the process is altering the structure and operations of US forces, since they serve as the prototype for all the technical trends in new methods of warfare. The MoD also has to assess the advantages and disadvantages that the UK possesses in these regards and balance them against what is firstly feasible and affordable in the evolution of UK forces for the future, and secondly is consistent with the principles set out in the SDR New Chapter. The application of particular types of force modernisation, and their employment in the campaign against international terrorism also raise complex questions relating to the development of network centric capabilities, an area highlighted in the New Chapter.[141]

Network-centric Warfare

92.   Network-centric Warfare is a formal US military concept that has been put at the heart of the transformation process of US forces, as they adjust to the technical opportunities and challenges of current and future technology. The Department of Defense (DoD) reported to Congress that the concept was "the embodiment of the information age transformation of the DoD".[142] According to evidence from the MoD, its central tenets in the US are robustly networked sensors, headquarters, units and weapon systems to improve situational awareness; the use of such awareness as a crucial contribution to the quality of command decision-making; and hence an ability to increase operational tempo, effectiveness and ultimately success.[143] In an example from the recent Iraq war, a US Global Hawk UAV was reportedly operated out of the United Arab Emirates, but its missions controlled from its home base in the US, where target imagery was also analysed before being passed to the Coalition Air Operations Centre in Saudi Arabia, which directed B-52 and B-2 bombers flown from bases in the UK and elsewhere. Despite the wide geographical spread of these networked components, targets (including Iraqi Medina Division forces around Baghdad) were able to be struck only 15 minutes after the UAV's intelligence was collected.[144]

93.  UK defence planners take a broadly similar approach, but, in the knowledge that the UK's ability to go down this road will be resource-limited, have put the emphasis not on wholesale transformation of the forces but rather on the "key enablers" of operational effectiveness. This keeps the focus on effects-based warfare and emphasises the role of people and training in achieving the benefits of "network-enabled capabilities".[145] The people, as well as the technology of the network, are centric in the UK's approach.[146] The potential opportunities for the UK are great. As Mr Bill Robins, of BAE Systems, pointed out—

    I believe that network-enabled capability offers the UK Armed Forces a chance to regain effectiveness, which should not have been lost in the first place. I do not see much scope for cost reductions in this. I believe that what we are trying to do is make sometimes paper-thin capability, which we have been left with in our Armed Forces, into the sort of reality that it should be.[147]


94.  If such hopes are to be realised then the UK must adapt the opportunities offered by networking to its existing strengths. Such strengths include its progress in encouraging joint working (often termed 'jointery' by the MoD) between the three Services. This has avoided some of the 'friction' in networking forces that still affects the US, where the individual services have made less progress in thinking and acting jointly. Another advantage lies in the tradition within the UK's Armed Forces of devolving responsibility down to low levels of command (mission command)[148] which can capitalise on the potential of new technologies to decentralise tactical command whilst centralising strategic command. Air Vice-Marshal McNicoll told us—

    We are looking at how mission command in the information age can work. We are agreed that mission command encapsulates one of the best aspects out of the British approach to the use of military force, the ability for a commander to articulate his intent and for the people beneath him to decide on the best way of carrying that out. The information age should allow a much greater dissemination, a much clearer exposition, of the commander's intent. The question that we are looking at at the moment—and this is ongoing work so please do not view it as policy—is whether we need in some way to decouple more than we do at the moment the command and control functions.[149]

Thus, the mission command tradition in the UK is a crucial element in permitting the full exploitation of the benefits of network enabled capability. These benefits however have the potential to undermine the principle of mission command. As Air Vice-Marshal McNicoll told us—

    …if, for example, there was a small operation going on somewhere and something was happening in that operation that might have a strategic impact, it may be possible in future (and it is to some extent possible now) for people at the strategic or grand strategic level to reach across the operational and tactical levels of command and make a decision and alter what is occurring there…[This does not mean] we get rid of the tactical and operational layers of command. There are still functions that these levels will have to carry out and the larger the operation the larger the burden on them because of the ability of somebody at the top of the tree to be able to see everything that is going on will obviously not be there regardless of how big the network is. This is one of the potential downsides of network-enabled capability, that it might allow what has been described as "long screwdrivers" to reach forward. What we want to try and do in our evolving thinking is try and work out procedures, a doctrine, for how we exercise that command such that control is exercised when it should be but is not over-control nor excessive control across the layers of command.[150]

95.  An American witness wrote, "the UK military leads the US military in jointness, decentralised C2 [command and control] and adaptability".[151] This judgement was echoed by the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability), Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, who commented that though the US was clearly well in advance of the UK at a technical level, "they look on us with undisguised envy because we are able to put in place the crucial elements of doctrine and process and tie that together with technical capability in a much more coherent fashion than they can".[152] This, however, contrasted somewhat with the view of the Secretary of State who told us—

    I am not sure that we are good at doctrines. I think probably what we are better at is reacting pragmatically to the kind of threat we have to deal with…[153]

96.  UK forces have the advantage of extensive experience in handling low-intensity operations, where networking can be highly effective. It can help relatively small numbers of troops or platforms to cover large tasks or geographical areas through rapid and flexible deployments. For high-intensity operations some of our witnesses were doubtful that network-enabled capabilities would allow smaller networked units (such as brigades) to be as effective in combat as larger, non-networked units (such as divisions). However, some of our ex-Service and expert witnesses felt that this was a definite trend.[154] To benefit from this trend, however, they were also clear that smaller units could only be effective if they could also rely, through the network, on timely indirect firepower from other sources, and if network components had been built and trained to operate with confidence in genuinely joint and integrated battle environments.

97.  The Committee was told that this was not, in itself, a distinct military doctrinal question. Networking technology will have an effect on the evolution of doctrine at all levels: "[it] is a physical capability; it is not a doctrine", Air Vice-Marshal Ian McNicoll told us.[155] However, this contrasted with other evidence which emphasised that one had to understand that "network-enabled capability is not a technology thing, purely, it is dealing with the total enterprise".[156] We believe that the doctrinal basis for embracing these technologies needs to be rigorous and clearly understood if the benefits of the network are to be realised by the UK Armed Forces.

Information Operations and the New Chapter

98.  The current emphasis on effects-based operations indicates that the MoD has embraced many of the lessons of previous conflicts such as Kosovo. As the Committee noted in its report on the lessons of the Kosovo conflict, the MoD had acknowledged the importance of an integrated "information operations campaign", including "co-ordinated pressure on a variety of fronts: economic, diplomatic etc as well as military".[157] More recently, the JDCC told us that—

    we now view the information campaign as being the central part of the campaign, information in the widest sense encompassing all actions of the campaign. The effects-based targeting…is very definitely part of that and our aspiration to move towards effects-based operations is also part of that.[158]

99.   Effects-based targeting, and the associated intelligence support, are the first signs of a move to adopt Information Operations as an overarching strategic concept. At the same time, network-enabled capabilities depend on the robustness of their networks. Indeed, we were told that one of the obstacles to the transformation of the US Army was the natural reluctance of ground soldiers to reduce their organic firepower and to be dependent on supporting fire called up over digital networks.[159] As Mr David Gompert told us—

    if those networks become vulnerable to information operations then the whole concept of network capability, network operations could become more vulnerable.[160]

100.  The dependence of 'transformed' military forces on information networks is evident to potential opponents who see disruption of US and allied networks as a source of asymmetric advantage.[161] This was recognised by the JDCC, which concluded that "Opponents will seek to contest this [command system] advantage through electronic warfare, computer network attack and asymmetric techniques".[162] We were also told that the links could be jammed and opponents could adopt information operations to make us not believe what we are seeing.

101.  We are concerned at the risks created by the potential vulnerabilities of "transformed" military forces and that they may act as a constraint on progress towards realising the full benefits of network-enabled capability. However, in the face of such vulnerabilities, the UK's cautious approach has potential advantages.

Doctrine and Training Implications of Effects-based warfare

102.   Air Vice-Marshal McNicoll told us that he did not believe that the advent of network-centric operations required a new doctrine. "What I do not think we need", he said, "is a document entitled Network-Enabled Capability Doctrine."[163] This was partly unnecessary because the UK already had "a well established doctrine structure".[164] Moving to an effects-based concept of operations, on the other hand, and requirements for greater "agility", did mean that as the technologies of network-enabled capabilities became integrated into the UK's forces, they "will prompt another significant change", though it was still too early to be specific about what that might involve.[165]

103.   In respect of the necessary integration between different levels of doctrine within the separate services and the relationship of that to major allies with whom the UK might expect to operate, particularly in this case, the United States, Air Vice-Marshal McNicoll accepted that naval and air forces are more easily fitted into network-centric frameworks, both physically and doctrinally, since—

    [the] two services are more platform-centric, if you like, joining them on a net is in some respects easier, although it is technically challenging and quite expensive. The problem with land forces is the range of individuals that you will have to join up.[166]

Naval and air forces also have had some 25 years experience of networking and so the cultural challenges are not as great as for land forces.

104.  Though discussions are continuing between the JDCC and the Director, Land Warfare, there is as yet no agreed assessment of the implications for land forces doctrine of these developments. As far as integration of doctrines between likely allies is concerned, Mr Hugh Kernohan (responsible for New Chapter implementation) told the Committee that effective operations between allies are not necessarily impossible simply because relevant doctrines do not match at the tactical level, as long as there is compatibility and understanding at the operational or the strategic levels. Tactical doctrines are driven partly "by the nature of the equipment and technical capabilities".[167] Whilst we accept the logic of these propositions, we will monitor the development of doctrine very closely in these areas since most of it represents new frontiers in important aspects of military thinking.

105.  Training is essential in modern warfare and counter-terrorism alike. Doctrine is the formulation of principles at appropriate levels of authority from which all training follows. The process of translating doctrine into training is necessarily protracted since new doctrines or changes in doctrinal principles take some time to be explained, absorbed, and embedded in the operational units who will give practical expression to the concepts. We accept that the UK now has a reasonably efficient structure to develop and embed doctrines at the various appropriate levels, and translate them into training regimes. We are still concerned, however, that the political and technical novelty of the developments the Secretary of State has outlined, and which other witnesses have elaborated, have taken some time to be addressed in a doctrinal context. Relevant work is clearly underway, but so are the evolving tactics of potential terrorists and those who would employ asymmetric tactics against the UK and our Armed Forces.

135   Geoffrey Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence, speech at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, 10 March 2003. Back

136   Q 577 Back

137   Q 577 Back

138   These issues were discussed during the Committee's seminar at King's College. Back

139   Q 508, Q 541 Back

140   Q 518 Back

141   SDR NC Vol 1, paras 35-54. Back

142   DoD, Report to Congress on Network Centric Warfare, July 2001. Back

143   Ev 2. Back

144   See Aviation Week, 28 April 2003. Back

145   Ev 2 Back

146   Q 509 Back

147   Q 540 Back

148   See Chapter 5 above. Back

149   Q 594 Back

150   Q 594 Back

151   Ev 87 Back

152   Q 654 Back

153   Q 693 Back

154   Q 531 Back

155   Q 579 Back

156   Q 541 Back

157   HC (1999-2000) 347-I, para 231. Back

158   Q 621 Back

159   Q 514 Back

160   Q 506 Back

161   Q 526 Back

162   JDCC, Strategic Trends: Strategic Concepts, Methodology, Key Findings and Shocks, (March 2003) p. 1-16. Back

163   Q 579 Back

164   Q 581 Back

165   Q 581-584, Q 591 Back

166   Q 592 Back

167   Q 587 Back

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