Digital culture now a top priority for the British Army

Credit: British Army, Royal Corps of Signals
Credit: British Army, Royal Corps of Signals

Management consultants and leading businesses worldwide have been espousing the importance of building a digital culture for many years and no one can claim that they didn’t know that this was coming for the armed forces! However, now the time has come, one does have to wonder how military organisations will be able to keep pace with the relentless speed of technology-driven change. At least, the British Army seems to have a good plan.

In April, the British Army launched its inaugural Army Digital and Data Plan (ADDP), setting out its vision for a data centric and digitally optimised army. One that needs to be able to out-think and out-pace its adversaries. It’s significant, because the plan crystalises how digital data, until not so long ago the domain of analysts and technicians, will now become the responsibility of the whole force, from its command structure right down to the soldier on the battlefield.

Speaking at the ADDP’s launch, Chief of the General Staff (CGS) General Sir Patrick Sanders admits that data has never been more critical: “to survive and ultimately win, an army must now process and share data faster than its opponent, and across all domains.” The army’s digital vision is to become a data-centric, digitally optimised army by 2030, improving warfighting, competitiveness and corporate effectiveness, delivering advantage across all domains.

As is commonplace these days, the army also looks at its digital plans through the lens of the Russia-Ukraine war, the world’s first full-scale drone war. The war provides a current example of the profound changes to the way that war is waged, brought about by new technologies.

General Sanders notes that this includes “a heavily contested electromagnetic spectrum, the centrality of data, the exponential increase in the speed and volume of targeting and the battlefield rendered virtually transparent.”

All this can be clearly seen in the Ukraine conflict. The battle for air supremacy has largely been fought with high numbers of drones, while drones have also contributed to a new level of battlefield transparency. Combining high resolution satellite data of the battlefield from military and commercial sources, together with real-time drone reconnaissance imagery, gives drone operators, infantry units and artillery extremely detailed intelligence with which to manoeuvre and select targets. The use of drones and high-quality data also brings a element of land-air integration right down to squad level.

In common with many government and private sector digital transformations, the British Army strategy identifies people as a key enabler. The army will have a keen focus on digital upskilling, hiring specialists and promoting a culture where digital and data skills are valued. It also aims to make digital and data priorities a pan-leadership responsibility, rather than the sole prerogative of a specialised digital teams. Meanwhile, it will drive ongoing training at both field and command levels to enable the use of data to support real-time decision-making and increase the army’s ability to embrace the latest developments in technology.

With an ambition for its commanders to routinely base their decision-making on live data taken from a multitude of sources, the army is setting their sights high, but so are the stakes.

by Carrington Malin