Agile Warrior and the Future of the British Army

MAN Tanker Vehicle at BATUS

The much vaunted Future Character of Conflict work by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre predicted a fragmented future with increasing conflicts and challenges to existing force compositions. It is an evolving work but whilst recognising that state threats to the UK mainland are more or less non-existent (except to sovereign territories The Falkland Islands and to some extent Gibraltar) it predicts a future where enemies are varied but generally will seek to exploit our weaknesses and the environments in which the armed forces are required to operate, equally varied.

Interestingly, it also recognises the likely diminishing purchasing power of the UK armed forces in comparison with other rising powers.

The Cold War is well and truly over and yet so is the post-Cold War fashion of Revolution in Military Affairs thinking. This should at least show us that overconfidence in our capabilities, old fashioned hubris and underestimating an adaptive enemy are the most serious challenges, not looking too far into the crystal ball and coming up with a set of predictions.

The fundamental nature of conflict will remain the same as it always has but the operating environment and influences will change.

One of the conclusions from the report and associated papers is that if we are to remain effective in the context of increasing costs and diminishing purchasing power the concept of building indigenous security capabilities must be at the core of how we operate.

The key thing to remember about building indigenous security capability is not that we should be helping them to help themselves but we should be helping them to help us, or put another way, it should not be a means unto itself but have a wider role in the security and interests of the UK.

If we are to retain the credibility, and therefore ability, to leverage indigenous forces to improve our wider security we must also retain the ability to actually offer something, i.e. expertise and capability.

Whilst the FCOC is quite well known and discussed one of the lesser-known but no less interesting associated papers is called the Future Land Operational Concept.  It is a 2008 document and much discussion is currently being had about which direction the development of the Army should go in.

It was clear that the Army needed a robust and empirical evidence base on which to make its predictions, even accepting fairly large dollops of uncertainty.

Skip forward a few years and we have the continuation of this work manifesting itself in Agile Warrior, Future Army Structure, Future Army Structure (Next Steps),  Multi-Role Brigades and the studies by General Nick Carter that are seeking to tie up all these competing loose ends.

These studies don’t exist in a vacuum though and the eponymous elephant in the room is the financial situation that sees options somewhat limited. Although the Army (obviously) has a larger personnel cost it has seemed to be at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to major equipment projects with significant quantities spent on aircraft, ships and submarines. This does not seem to be changing much except that after Afghanistan the Army will shrink to about 80,000 personnel despite not being likely to see much additional capital expenditure.

It is the financial situation as much as anything else that will dictate the future shape of the Army but with the obvious caveat of crystal balls and lottery tickets, I think whatever that shape becomes, operating in an urban environment will remain a relevant challenge.

So what is Agile Warrior?

Agile Warrior

Agile Warrior is the latest process that is being used to inform thinking on the shape of the Army, it is not a unitary field exercise but more of an annual evidenced-based process that uses a series of linked activities.

The 3* guidance on the embedded document below characterises Agile Warrior as

Series of activities designed to get the Army Thinking;

  • Deliver an authoritative evidence-based analysis of future land-force requirements within a JIIM context
  • Across all Lines of Development
  • FCOC era out to 2020
  • Policy aware not policy constrained
  • By the Army not to the Army
  • A Brand name

Agile Warrior 11 had a number of themed questions;

1. Test the ability of the TAS structure to transition to best-effort Divisional level operations in a hybrid conflict.

2. Test how a Multi-Role Bde will fight and operate in a hybrid conflict. Test how our sustainment and service support organisations will operate in hybrid conflict.

3. Evaluate and determine the Army’s future C2 requirements and associated models, for ISTAR and CIS.

4. Determine the ‘Understand’ demands of continuous modulated engagement and deployed brigade operations and recommend the optimum structures to meet them.

5. Determine the nature of future demand on commanders and soldiers.

6. In what ways will we need increased Army agility in the future and how should we look to promote it?

7. Test and evaluate the major constituent parts of our current doctrine and determine its necessary conceptual direction of travel in the next 10 years.

The final report highlighted 17 key insights and this year’s events will work on the following questions;

1. Urban Operations;

2. Cyber and Influence;

3. C2 at Div. and Bde;

4. Whole Force Concept; Contractors & Reserves

5. UORs into Core;

6 – National Interests;

7. Professional Development;

8. Force Support;

Separate but linked activities include Exercise Urban Warrior and Exercise Mad Scientist.

Continuous Modulated Engagement (CME)

A new buzzword perhaps, but it is used to describe the span of activities that the Army will need to undertake in support of the National Security Strategy, in so much as we actually have one.

Because the SDSR and NSS place an emphasis on addressing the root causes of instability that effects British interests (although this was a tenuous link) the Army, as one component of this strategy, must adapt and enable the achievement of objectives by influencing events.

Understanding the Environment

As identified by a RUSI paper on Agile Warrior one of the key challenges with CME is devoting sufficient resources over a sufficiently long time to enable a level of an adequate understanding to be developed before any operation. Managing the wider intelligence picture, horizon scanning and fusing disparate sources of information into a single, coherent picture is arguably the most significant of these challenges and it is compounded in an urban environment by a number of factors.

Whilst remote sensing prior to an operation is invaluable there is no substitute for in-depth understanding and empathy so this will need much more resources devoted to so-called Foreign Area Officers, a career structure that rewards specialisation and deployment model that sees them working largely in locations of strategic interest.

The role of the Army in understanding the environment prior to operations might not necessarily be exclusive; of course, it should be a multi-agency and these others might include local businesses, charities or civic leaders and we should not be afraid of engaging with religion or even Twitter and Facebook.

Information to develop understanding should be source independent but whether the Army is the best place for this information to reside or be collected is a point for debate.

Indigenous Capability Building

This area is one of the more interesting aspects of Agile Warrior is it discusses the notion of developing Foreign Area Officers with an appropriate career stream, deploying training teams at strategically important locations and ensuring that overseas training locations also have benefits to localised capability.

It places special focus on training these overseas training teams so that they can see the wider picture.

I am going to be looking into aspects of Agile Warrior in the future and specifically urban issues, here are a few documents to inform those discussions and prime the pump!

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