Tomorrow’s Army, Today’s Challenges


On Thursday, General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, gave a speech at the latest RUSI Future Land Warfare Conference, a transcript of which is available here [PDF].

Among his prescriptions for the future of the British Army is the following:

So let me focus on our key conclusions – which is that the Army of tomorrow must retain the capability to fight MCO and Stability Ops, both simultaneously and sequentially. We have reached the point now where the most likely operations are amongst the most demanding. Our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have clearly demonstrated that even with integrated technology and systems, the mass and footprint given by numbers are an essential element of the future Army – in other words we cannot get any smaller and I would argue strongly that we need to be bigger and to fully integrate our Regular and Territorial manpower focussed on most likely tasks.

Although we must maintain our ability to be expeditionary, the Army is moving away from the short lived doctrine that all campaigns can be short in duration. “Go First, Go Fast, Go Home” had a very short shelf life as a policy aspiration. We must have an increasing capacity to endure, which implies not only greater mass of people, but enough depth in joint enablers to allow wider concurrency together with greater endurance. In order to do this, I need a structure that is capable of the wide range of tasks in great numbers, which means that we will not be going down the path of a two tier specialised Army. We might need 30,000 for an MCO operation, but equally Stabilisation might require even more in certain stages. And I think it is also important to consider the inescapable fact that some Stabilisation Operations could be greatly shortened if large numbers are deployed. I have taken a lesson of the past 5 years of conflict that if you have an economy of force operation it will take far longer to reach your endstate – it is therefore a false economy.

In his speech, Dannatt essentially develops the ideas he originally set out in last year’s conference, in which he spoke on the evolving nature of contemporary conflict, and the doctrine and force structure the British Army must adopt if it is to meet the challenges it faces. Entitled “Tomorrow’s Army; Today’s Challenges”, a full transcript of that speech is available here, and is well worth reading in full. Below is an edited version breaking down his key points.


On the contemporary environment and the origins of the current transnational threat:

“I note, but don’t share, Francis Fukuyama’s view that the end of the 20th Century marked the triumph of the West and that capitalism, liberalism and democracy had emerged victors of that century’s protracted ideological conflicts. If he felt that the crumbling of Soviet Communism marked the “end of history”, I suggest he had forgotten to look back over his shoulder, where he might have noticed a Crescent-shaped shadow – a shadow coming into focus when the Cold War still had a decade or so to run, and perhaps some two decades before that other apparently defining event – 9/11.

…. while there was no defining event in 1979 like the Twin Towers or the Berlin Wall, it was a year when many powerful forces began moving – the plates adjoining the fault lines became active….

“So I suggest that what began a decade before the Wall came down, eventually led to the end of the stability of the old bi-polar World, and sowed the seeds of Global Terrorism – essentially an asymmetric response to a single Superpower by the militarily dispossessed and the historically humiliated – and which was dramatically illustrated by the airliner attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

On the need for continuing adaptation within the British Army, in the context of meeting the critical ongoing challenges presented by Afghanistan and Iraq:

“But it all takes time to turn the tanker as in the Army’s case we move from being Continentally-based facing a single threat, to becoming a genuinely Expeditionary Army, increasingly home-based but widely committed on operations – and the world is not standing still.

“As General Pete Schoomaker observed while he was still Chief of the US Army, it is difficult enough to change an Army, let alone to do so when you are trying to fight and win at least two wars.

“And, of course, it is the two major operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that are both key drivers of change and the all-consuming focus of the British Army at present.

“And it is success today in these two theatres – however you define success – that, as far as I am concerned, is both the top and bottom line because if we fail in either campaign, then I submit that in the face of that strident Islamist shadow, then tomorrow will be a very uncertain place.

On the nature of contemporary conflict in a globalised operational space, and the evolving role of the ‘home front’:

“As I have already commented, the end of the Cold War has not brought the ‘New World Order’ that many anticipated. Instead the range and variety of threats and challenges to our security have multiplied. The Army is being used for different purposes, further afield than we might have expected a few years ago, and in very demanding operational circumstances. We live in an economically and socially globalized society and the threats and challenges to our security are also global and have sympathizers in many societies and countries, including at home.

“These threats cannot be defeated by conventional means alone, as they are principally a conflict of values and ideas – a battle for hearts and minds – now on a global scale. And these threats do not just face us abroad, but increasingly we have identified that we need to understand our own home front. It is not only a matter of society feeding us with the soldiers of the future, but also it provides us with the basic consent for us to conduct military operations.

“The public will not continue to support the use of force in their name, unless the Army is trusted and respected, and this may be increasingly difficult to gain. The British Army is currently held in high esteem by our nation, but this is fragile and under no circumstances must we take this for granted. It will only be maintained through sustained and effective communication with the public at large and through our continued adherence to our core values and standards.

“It is therefore vital that we, as an Army, know what we stand for – thus our core values and of selfless commitment, courage, discipline, integrity, loyalty and respect for others are increasingly important as the foundation on which success will be built. And our standards of behaviour must be above reproach. And here is the crux of the question – if we are engaged in a wider battle of ideas, how do we maintain our firm moral bearing within the Army, when our wider society’s own moral compass may be spinning?

On shaping Army doctrine and training around an understanding of the enemy, and the on need for doctrinal development to be an iterative and adaptive process in the context of a long war:

“But it is also vital that we understand our opponents, their environment and their culture. In the same way that we studied the Soviets intensely for half a century, we must apply the same intellectual rigour to today’s challenges. However, in my view, our Manoeuvrist doctrine is well suited to respond to these challenges, for it encourages lateral thought and the ability to defeat multi-faceted and asymmetric threats, underpinned by our war-fighting ethos.

“I am determined that we should maximize our people’s potential through a greater understanding of the Manoeuvrist Approach and Mission Command, recognizing also the importance of a Comprehensive Approach within the framework of coherent campaign plans. I would hope that there is nobody in the room who is not completely familiar with the tenets of the Comprehensive Approach, and yet we still struggle to implement a truly unified purpose and methodology to tackle operations. We are operating in an era in which campaigns are likely to require non-kinetic effects more often than kinetic.

“The enduring problem will be that when the security situation is fragile, military forces will still be required to adopt the flexibility of approach to step across a number of lines of operation to fill gaps and provide additional capability – the trick is going to be how we best educate our people for this very demanding task. We are developing an understanding of each other and slowly we are educating and training each other – but it is slow, probably too slow.

“Furthermore, we need to recognize that we are probably engaged in a wider conflict that may last for a generation and I think this has yet to be recognized widely. The heady appeal of “go first, go fast, go home” has to be balanced with a willingness and a structure “to go strong, and go long”. In these circumstances, I think the nature of the Military Covenant, the relationship between the Organisation and the Individual, between the Army and the soldier, is critical. Although the nature of service is inherently unequal and soldiers often have to put in more than they receive, at the very least British Soldiers should always expect the Nation, the Army and their commanders to treat them fairly, to value and respect them as individuals and to sustain and reward them and their families with appropriate conditions of service.


“Furthermore, a key Issue identified by our recent work is how to prepare our people to deal with the complexity of operations now and in the future. We often try to template our operations – warfighting operations linking to COIN or perhaps the Contemporary Operating Environment of the “three, now four Block War” model, but our recent experience has told us that templates only go so far. The enduring, transitional and extremely complex nature of modern operations demands an iterative refreshment of doctrine and our capability requirements. More fundamentally, we need to develop the methods by which we can train and educate our soldiers – at all ranks – to help them manage this complexity. This requirement to be adaptable, agile and dynamic will continue to introduce tension into our force structure and equipment capability debates.

On developing a force structure appropriate to the contemporary environment:

“But moving more briefly to the Physical component, we must also ensure that the Army is both prepared for future operations and provided with the right equipment. It is, therefore, my intention that the physical capabilities of the Army, including the Joint Helicopter Command, deliver a comprehensive Land Manoeuvre capability to Defence. This will comprise a balanced Ground Manoeuvre capability of heavy, medium and light force elements working in partnership with an integrated Air Manoeuvre capability itself comprising an effective mix of lift, reconnaissance, attack and utility capabilities. And this overall Land Manoeuvre capability will either be supported by, or be in support of the air, maritime or SF components.

“Appropriate joint command and control, fires, intelligence and logistics will underpin our overall ability to conduct combined and joint operations across the full spectrum, synchronizing the full suite of kinetic and non-kinetic effects. Increasingly, in the context of one Army, the manpower for all of this will be drawn from genuinely integrated Regular and Reserve elements.

• From a ground manoeuvre perspective, while combined Arms brigades will remain the key building block for the conduct of the most likely operations, the ability to conduct high intensity war fighting operations at Divisional level (with three national brigades) remains the most demanding and therefore represents the ‘gold standard’.
• At the same time, air manoeuvre, enabled by the addition of AH to existing air assault and rotary wing capabilities will increasingly provide a commander with greater operational flexibility.

In conclusion:

“It is a battle of ideas, and the battleground will be unpredictable. In any event, we need to be prepared for a very wide range of tasks from warfighting contingent operations to low level combat within a complex environment, whilst critically maintaining the support of the population, the consent of the nation and maintaining our own values and reputation.

“The only way that we can prepare for the challenges of the future is to be flexible and agile, and being willing to adapt, while remaining robust in the defence of the standards that set us apart from others.”


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3 Responses to “Tomorrow’s Army, Today’s Challenges”

  1. Ken Says:

    I wish people, Dannatt included, would stop misconstruing Fukuyama. I mean, you don’t even have to read much Fukuyama. Page 1 of the introduction will do you. Just don’t stop at the title…

    Spot the difference:

    Dannatt: ‘Francis Fukuyama’s view that the end of the 20th Century marked the triumph of the West and that capitalism, liberalism and democracy had emerged victors of that century’s protracted ideological conflicts. If he felt that the crumbling of Soviet Communism marked the “end of history”, I suggest he had forgotten to look back over his shoulder …’ etc etc…

    Fukuyama: ‘While some countries might fail to achieve stable liberal democracy, and others might lapse back into other more primitive forms of rule, like theocracy or military dictatorship, the ideal of liberal democracy could not be improved on.’

    If, as your opening gambit, you misrepresent or flatly misunderstand Fukuyama’s argument at that fundamental level (regardless of whether you agree with his take on Hegelian historical progression), what does that say about the rest of your argument?

  2. KeepNet 15 June 2008 « Says:

    […] Hartley breaks down General Sir Richard Dannatt’s speech earlier this week, Tomorrow’s Army, Today’s Challenges. Sounds like Dannatt’s been reading Generals Smith and Kiszely. Good thing […]

  3. Mac Gardner Says:

    Great Article – thanks for the info

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