Defence Investment in a Changed World
The return of large-scale, inter-state war to Europe will have wide and deep impact. The most significant consequences will emerge from the decisions we take about our future foreign, security and defence policies, and military strategies. At a more tactical level, some of our existing defence and security capabilities will also need to be rethought.
One competence that we need to strengthen is our ability to recognise and use disruptive technologies. The exploitation of these technologies by our adversaries, combined with their application of hybrid doctrines, make our own strategic foresight, manoeuvrability, and speed of execution more critical than ever. The Ukrainian and Armenian conflicts have shown that the most important tools, those that can deliver the greatest effects, are not always the most expensive.
The Ukrainians, for example, have been able to penetrate Russia’s much-feared Anti Access/Area Denial regimes using relatively simple drones such as the Bayraktar TB2, whose cost has been estimated at just $2M. Operating as both surveillance drone and loitering weapon, the TB2 has brought tactical surprise to the Ukrainian side in the conflict as well as becoming an important asset in their information war.
Europe’s much-delayed Eurodrone programme will deliver a medium altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle—like the TB2—but at an estimated $100M apiece. For this price, the Eurodrone will naturally have a higher specification and better performance. But it will be an expensive asset that nations may be reluctant to risk losing in contested areas. Eurodrone partners might be well advised to think again about the type of aerial vehicles that would best suit the requirements of the modern battlefield.
Lessons from the war in Ukraine should also prompt rethinks of other major capability programmes. The Russian Air Force has – unexpectedly – played only a minor part in the war. This should also be a spur for reflection about the best type of platform, or mix of platforms, necessary to secure air dominance in future conflict. Europe’s large and expensive Future Combat Air System project needs more thought about – at least – the increased role of antimissile systems and light anti-aircraft systems such as ‘Stinger’ in contemporary conflict, as well as some reflection on the importance of interoperability across multiple domains and the relevance of nuclear capability.
In the maritime domain, meanwhile, the sinking of the Moskva, apparently by two relatively simple Neptune missiles (albeit with likely US intelligence support) should prompt us to think about the need for and role of major surface naval vessels in future conflict, and how they might be protected.
The war in Ukraine has also emphasised the need for reliable intelligence in warfare. With the rise of crowd sourcing and open-source collection and analysis, which can contribute to filtering data, looting and disinformation, and situation awareness, state intelligence agencies are no longer the only players. The war has seen a revolution in Western intelligence practice too: the massive declassification of intelligence to pressure foes, and allies.
Information must not only be collected, but also shared and used. Russia has suffered in Ukraine through a lack of integrated command and control systems capable of advanced data merging between observation, command, situation awareness, traditional intelligence and open-source intelligence. Ukraine, on the other hand, has demonstrated how constellations such as Starlink can add critical redundancy to communication networks, and has used strategic communication, in particular from its President, as an integral part of its warfare for hearts and minds and to secure weapons’ deliveries.
Finally, in addition to the technology itself, we should reconsider how we deliver capability and the way we use money. We need to go beyond the concept of ‘dual use’, as all technologies can be weaponised, and reinvent the way we conduct armament programmes, possibly by sponsoring non-recurring costs in order to avoid vendor-lock and keep systems updatable in the future.
Proper preparation, including through the wise application of technology, has a major role in deterring future conflict. We must learn from the tragedy of Ukraine to prepare for wars we hope not to fight.