British Army plans to develop a digital ecosystem across the force feed into wider UK multi-domain integration goals.
The British Army’s Digital and Data Plan 2023 – 2025 is an instructive document. The publication outlines how the force will exploit advances in digital and data technology. It is the first such publication of its kind but unlikely to be the last. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) is embracing the Multi-Domain Integration (MDI) philosophy. In the ministry’s own words, MDI is about “ensuring that every part of defence can work seamlessly together, and with other government departments and the UK’s allies, to deliver a desired outcome.”
This goal rests on improving the synergies between all parts of the UK’s defence enterprise. The defence enterprise is not only the MOD and the UK’s armed forces. The enterprise embraces all parts of government, industry, academia and the country at large involved in the UK’s defence and security posture. MDI is like the US Department of Defence’s Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) philosophy. Armada defines MDO as the total integration of all military capabilities across all domains and all levels of war to perform synchronous operations informed by better quality and faster-paced decision-making vis-à-vis one’s adversary.
Concepts and Strategies
The UK’s MDI vision rests on its Integrated Operating Concept and Defence Digital Strategy. The MOD says the Integrated Operating Concept “sets out a new approach to the utility of armed force in an era of strategic competition and a rapidly evolving character of warfare.” Integral to this is driving “the conditions and tempo of strategic activity, rather than responding to the actions of others from a static, home-based posture of contingent response.”
The Defence Digital Strategy outlines how the UK will “enable seamless access to … data by delivering a secure, singular modern Digital Backbone.” Essentially, the Digital Backbone is the secure data networking and exploitation facilities that will envelop the UK’s defence enterprise. The army will form part of the Digital Backbone. The Digital and Data Plan explains how “the army will deliver and meet the vision of a data centric and digitally optimised (force) to counter challenges in an everchanging and complex environment.”
Project Theia will ensure data sharing across all army capabilities within the force and outwards to the defence enterprise and UK allies. As the MOD makes clear, digitisation and deeper connectivity will be enhanced across the entirety of the army. Of interest to this article is how the digitisation and associated connectivity of the army’s manoeuvre force will be improved.
The army has a wider plan, known as Project Wavell, focusing on how the force will fight in a multi-domain context alongside the UK’s allies in the 2025 to 2035 timeframe. Key to the digitisation of the army is the Land Environment Tactical Communications and Information Systems (LETACCIS) programme. LETACCIS is an overarching term for several programmes enhancing army connectivity. These include the Bowman Combat Infrastructure and Platform (BCIP 5.6), Project MORPHEUS, Trinity, JCRVT (Joint Common Remote Viewing Terminal), Dismounted Soldier Awareness (DSA), Falcon and Niobe.
BCIP 5.6 covers the army’s existing tactical communications and battle management system. Morpheus represents the technologies that will replace BCIP 5.6. Trinity is providing a deployable wide area network to replace the existing Falcon operational/tactical level trunk communications network. Niobe delivers a multi-platform common, mission configurable communications information system. JCRVT is a modular remote viewing system receiving and transmitting real time video. DSA will provide dismounted troops with improved voice and data communications services at company level.
In a written statement supplied to Armada, the MOD said that several disparate army digital networks and capabilities covering logistics, medical services, ground-based air defence, human-machine teaming, robotics and autonomous systems, and artificial intelligence “will exist together within a digital ecosystem with common governance rules and standards.” The statement continued that the capabilities discussed above, alongside technologies like fifth-generation cellular networks will form the digital ecosystem’s networks.
The MOD’s statement continued that army digital networks will link outwards to other government organisations involved in defence and security, but which are not part of the MOD. An example given was the emergency services networks that are the responsibility of the UK’s Home Office interior ministry. Linking out to these networks chimes with the MOD’s multi-domain integration approach. Likewise, the digital ecosystem will link outwards to allies. LETACCIS has specific interoperability requirements to this end.
The MOD stresses that the digital ecosystem is a constantly evolving concept. As a result, it is difficult to give specific dates on when the concept will reach initial and full operational capability. The MOD’s statement emphasised that LETACCIS is funded and moving forward. The statement added that DSA and Trinity should reach initial operational capability in 2025 and 2026 respectively.
The Digital and Data Plan underscores the army’s commitment to digitisation, in turn forming a key part of the UK MOD’s wider multi-domain integration approach. This approach dovetails with US MDO efforts and similar initiatives by UK allies such as France. The work of the British Army and MOD in general shows that MDI is not just an aspiration but a tangible goal to which both are committed.
by Dr. Thomas Withington