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Defence Notes

Disruptive technology holds the key to multi-domain integration, says STRATCOM chief

27th May 2021 - 14:39 GMT | by Andrew White in London


Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, head of UK Strategic Command. (Photo: RUSI)

The UK must innovate and develop a ‘competitive edge’ with AI, quantum computing and other emerging technologies if it is to achieve effective multi-domain integration, Gen Sir Patrick Sanders told the RUSI Strategic Command Conference.

Multi-domain integration (MDI) continues to attract the attention of UK defence strategists, reflecting the importance of the concept in the March 2021 MoD Command Paper 'Defence in a competitive age'.

Most recently Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, head of UK Strategic Command (STRATCOM), described how cyberspace, science and technology (S&T) and rapid decision-making would help the armed forces achieve an operational advantage over peer adversaries across the modern battlespace.

Addressing the RUSI Strategic Command Conference 2021 on 26 May, Sanders stressed the importance of MDI as a means of successfully competing below the threshold of war.

'Innovation and developing a competitive edge with emerging disruptive technology will be fundamental,' Sanders explained, before calling for the combination of effects from across all operational domains.

However, he warned: 'There is no template for multi-domain integration. Hardware won’t change from now to 2025 but software will, which will allow us to push the boundary of multi-domain integration and agility.'

Sanders highlighted how the most valuable lessons learned regarding MDI were already being generated during ongoing operations, particularly those conducted by Special Forces and Carrier Strike Group 21. They implement MDI by combining effects across air, land and sea to achieve overt and covert cognitive and physical effects.

'We must change how we develop and field capability,' he added while referring to sensor networks, processing, exploitation and dissemination of data and effects across the kill chain.

Sanders also explained how the COVID-19 pandemic had illustrated a reliance upon cyberspace as a domain, highlighting how recent cyberattacks by China and Russia risked undermining the working of democracies.

He called for the recruitment of cyber talent from across the UK in part-time and full-time roles, describing these as being as strategically important as an F-35 pilot and Special Forces operator.

In terms of S&T, Sanders warned of a 'tech tsunami' and consequences associated with falling behind adversaries in terms of disruptive technologies such as biotech, quantum technology, robotics and 5G.

In his opinion, AI is the 'most significant' emerging technology as the foundation to every other emerging capability which must be successfully exploited by STRATCOM.

'AI will become a pervasive and decisive technology which will compress decision-making timeframes from minutes to seconds,' Sanders argued before warning that human operators without AI-enabled machines will not be able to defend against a multitude of threats, including swarms of drones and missile attacks.

STRATCOM is set to publish its AI Strategy later in 2021 as a roadmap for the MoD to adopt and exploit AI at scale; strengthen ...

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