The British Army is looking at ditching its tank regiments and spending the money on keyboard warriors instead, according to reports.
Although the proposal to scrap the Army’s 200-odd Challenger 2 main battle tanks is clearly a public talking point intended to rally support ahead of long-predicted cuts to defence spending, The Times reported today that “the changing character of warfare demands more investment in cybercapabilities, space and other cutting-edge technologies.”
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been ploughing ever more time and effort into all things cyber, most recently raising a dedicated Security Operations Centre regiment after a previous Chief of the Defence Staff called for fat and wheezy techies to join up as cyber-squaddies.
Current Army thinking is that “digital”, “cyber” and “autonomous” capabilities will be more valuable in future wars than battalions of riflemen or regiments of heavy armoured vehicles. They’re not alone: earlier this year the Royal Navy issued a tender for robot submarines capable of withstanding depth charges.
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Rob Pritchard of the Cyber Security Expert consulting firm, an associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, opined: “This pervasive idea that investing in vague ‘cyber capabilities’ can somehow replace actual defence spending on things that are useful for defence has gone on way too long. When Putin sends tanks rolling across the eastern European border I’ll be interested to see how much effect the 101st Hacking Division has against the heavy artillery.”
Another recent MoD tech innovation is its jHub unit, which somehow inserted itself into the national conversation about fighting coronavirus. Military enthusiasts for blockchain, AI and behavioural science convinced themselves the Great British Public would be delighted if personally identifying health data was passed to jHub as part of an opaque data sanitisation exercise. This plan sank without trace along with the first iteration of the UK’s COVID-19 contact-tracing app.
Britain is not alone in thinking cyber weaponry is becoming more important: last year French defence minister Florence Parly declared “cyber war has begun”, saying that the Fifth Republic would attack its foes using cyber techniques as well as traditional methods of warfare. ®
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