Achieving integration: (inter)connecting the British Army

Speaking prior to DSEI 2023 in London, the British Army’s Assistant Chief of the General Staff discussed the force’s focus on integration and innovation. Harry McNeil reports.

A key tenet of the British Army at recent events, such as the DSEI exhibition in London, has been its work towards achieving an ‘integrated force’. Source: Shutterstock/breakermaximus

As the British Army aligned with the theme of ‘Achieving an Integrated Force’ at the recent DSEI 2023 event in London, Global Defence Technology spoke with the Assistant Chief of the General Staff, Major General Charlie Collins, ahead of the show on the Army’s priorities, collaboration with industry, training for the digital age, and the significance of DSEI in showcasing the Army’s capabilities and innovations on the global stage.

The theme of DSEI 2023, ‘Achieving an Integrated Force,’ was at the forefront of discussions, reflecting the British Army’s role in UK defence’s pursuit of multi-domain integration.

Harry McNeil: Can you give us an overview of DSEI 2023 and its theme of ‘Achieving an Integrated Force’? How does this theme reflect the British Army’s current priorities and future goals?

Major General Charlie Collins: As part of the wider integrated force, the British Army has a critical role in UK defence’s drive towards achieving multi-domain Integration.

Indeed, integration is at the heart of the Army’s new Land Operating Concept. It defines the Army’s role in winning the land battle on behalf of the joint force, delivering as a net contributor of capability able to support all domains – both on and from the land.

Harry McNeil, GlobalData trainee reporter

But that isn’t the end of the story, and this is the crucial element for DSEI. It’s also about the Army delivering political choice through constant readiness and agility. This can only be through a closer relationship with our partners in industry. Without them, we simply couldn’t deliver.

This resonates with the sentiment that ‘defences don’t fight wars, nations do’. The war in Ukraine has brought this once again into sharp focus. It has highlighted the importance of being able to maintain and scale the production capacity of our defence industry and necessity of assured supply chains at times of need.

Harry McNeil: Could you share insights into how the Army is adapting its training methods to prepare soldiers for the challenges of the digital era?

Major General Charlie Collins: It’s clear that our soldiers are already living and breathing in the digital age. Our specialists are increasingly comfortable with and adept at using emerging digital technologies such as AI, and both physical and synthetic training environments are being used now, from initial trade training all the way up to complex combined arms manoeuvre training.

To professionalise this capability beyond our technical specialists, we are creating a skills framework that captures all the skills that our personnel currently have, including digital skills, and are conducting a gap analysis of where we are falling short on future demand.

This iterating framework will help us identify training gaps to allow a constant evolution and adaption in our training, so our people are upskilled appropriately. To specifically develop digital skills, we have created an information and intelligence profession with responsibility for defining the relevant knowledge, skills, experience and behaviours requirements for the Army of today and into the future.

Foundation digital skills training is now available for all Army personnel regardless of specialism. For our technical specialists, digital systems principles are now embedded in all technical training courses, which include civilian industry modules and are mapped to relevant apprenticeships. We are also reinvigorating placements with industry to upskill and collaborate in critical skills areas, including digital.

All of this will ensure that our training remains transformational and will continue to equip our people to meet the challenges of tomorrow. The next step is to put these emergent digital technologies in the hands of our soldiers more quickly and more widely so they can experiment to inform and shape future capability development.

After all, that is a much better way of utilising our people’s skills than having senior officers judge how nascent technology should be best employed at the tactical level.

Gold exploration in Scotland. Credit: Peter Summers via Getty Images

Harry McNeil: The International Congress on Soldiers’ Physical Performance (ICSPP) is set to take place alongside DSEI. How does the theme “Future Soldier: Delivering Human Advantage” align with the British Army’s approach to enhancing soldiers’ physical and cognitive capabilities?

Major General Charlie Collins: I consider the Army’s people to be our competitive edge, but to sustain and develop that advantage, defence will need to optimise the human component across the whole force.

As we cease to rely on mass, it will become ever more important to maximise the impact of fewer people throughout the operating spectrum, and soldiers will have to be prepared to transition rapidly between training, operations and warfighting.

It’s a challenge, but human advantage will be realised, therefore, by optimising and enhancing the performance and protection of our people as individuals, as teams and as human-machine teams.

We need a motivated, integrated Land force optimised across the physical, cognitive, psychological, social and behavioural spectrum of performance, and Army are putting in place the evidence-based policies, procedures, ethics frameworks and the underpinning science and technology needed to achieve this.

ICSPP London, with its focus on human advantage, comes at a good time, enabling us to capitalise on a vast, global expertise to support – and hopefully challenge! – our concept of the Future Soldier and our work on the ground to support our soldiers.

Harry McNeil: As the Assistant Chief of the General Staff, what message would you convey to the participants and attendees at DSEI 2023 regarding the British Army’s commitment to innovation and meeting integrated defence requirements?

Major General Charlie Collins: As a long-standing commitment to innovation, the Land Warfare Centre established the Experimentation and Trials Group (ETG) based on 2 YORKS Battle Group following the Integrated Review in 2021.

‘ETG’ work with the Futures and Programmes Directorates in Army Headquarters to take experimental military and commercial partner capabilities and trialling them force-on-force within major collective training exercises. This sharing of expertise ultimately helps us deliver the correct solutions into the hands of soldiers quicker than we have done in the past.

A typical experiment might see Artificial Intelligence used to reduce the sensor-to-shooter targeting process from minutes to seconds. We are also taking a blended learning approach across the live, constructive and virtual domains, including the use of next-generation simulators and tactical engagement systems.

All of this, in conjunction with rapid procurement and our lessons-learned process, including our insights into Ukraine, drives a real change at the pace of relevance such that we stay ahead of and counter how our adversaries fight.

The Defence BattleLab in Dorset gives defence and the Army a physical and virtual network to collaborate with industry and academia to deliver the most innovative technology and outputs to meet defence problem sets. Programme MERCURY aims to solve the Army’s 2035 challenges with industry today.

MERCURY will see the Army collaborating with industry at the earliest stage of the procurement process, supercharging technological innovation through this decade to deliver revolutionary capability in the next epoch. 

ARIEL (Army Rapid Innovation Exploitation Laboratory) provides the Army’s innovation accelerator, supporting the delivery of novel ideas into the hands of the user, whether they be related to People, Process or Technology. All of this work links to the Land Industrial Strategy, emphasising true partnerships as opposed to a more traditional transactional engagement with industry.