Armed Forces must hire specialists for hi-tech future wars, says Defence Secretary

The Armed Forces must recruit "specialists" in fields such as cyber technology rather than concentrating on personnel numbers if they are to win future wars, the Defence Secretary has said.

Ben Wallace said Britain must also become a world-beater in military satellites, lasers and drones as well as on traditional battlefields as he detailed how the Government would use a £24 billion increase in defence spending which is expected to create 40,000 jobs.

Boris Johnson announced that GCHQ, MI6 and the Ministry of Defence would pool their resources to create a new National Cyber Force to protect the UK from online attacks. 

It would be tasked with protecting military hardware from being hacked by hostile states, as well as disrupting terrorist cells or destroying servers hosting material threatening national security.

Announcing the new military spending to Parliament, the Prime Minister said the money was needed because "the international situation is now more perilous and intensely competitive than at any time since the Cold War".

Ahead of the publication of an integrated review of defence, security and foreign policy next year, Mr Johnson hinted at a future cut in Armed Forces manpower, saying: "The latest advances will multiply the fighting power of every warship, aircraft and infantry unit many times over, and the prizes will go to the swiftest and most agile nations, not necessarily the biggest."

Mr Wallace confirmed to The Telegraph that personnel numbers were likely to decline as priorities partly shifted to new theatres of war including space and cyberspace, saying: "Do I think the Armed Forces will be as big in five years time as they are now? No, I don’t. But what will drive that scale is going to be our equipment requirements and our threat."

He pledged that there would be no redundancies, but said numbers were likely to fall through natural wastage.

The Armed Forces will need to recruit specialists to work on new technologies such as anti-drone weapons, while more traditional roles could become more specialised, such as Royal Navy Commandos having "capabilities that 20 years ago would have been identified as Special Forces". 

Mr Wallace also cited the National Cyber Force – half of which will be made up of military personnel – as a key area for recruitment to meet future threats.

The Defence Secretary said a similar approach was needed for military equipment, pointing out that capability would trump sheer numbers in future. He added: "If we reduce this to a numbers game, we will end up in the First World War."

Mr Johnson told MPs: "We will need to act speedily to remove or reduce less relevant capabilities – and this will allow our new investment to be focused on the technologies that will revolutionise warfare, forging our military assets into a single network designed to overcome the enemy."

He described how in future a soldier in hostile territory "will be alerted to a distant ambush by sensors on satellites or drones, instantly transmitting a warning using artificial intelligence to devise the optimal response and offering an array of options, from summoning an air strike to ordering a swarm attack by drones or paralysing the enemy with cyber weapons".

Mr Wallace said military medics and personnel were standing by to help vaccinate the population as and when a Covid-19 vaccine comes on stream, meaning "there’s nothing to hold us back" once the jabs are available.

Ben Wallace said the military was standing by to help with the process of vaccinating the UK against Covid

Credit: Geoff Pugh

In a swipe at his Tory and Labour predecessors, Mr Johnson told MPs that "for decades, British governments have trimmed and cheese-pared our defence budget" and that if he took up the "scalpel" like them "we risk waking up to discover that our Armed Forces – the pride of Britain – have fallen below the minimum threshold of viability, and once lost, they could never be regained".

He said such an outcome "would not only be craven, it would jeopardise the security of the British people, amounting to a dereliction of duty for any Prime Minister", adding: "The era of cutting our defence budget must end – and it ends now". 

The Prime Minister said the Covid pandemic had "offered a taste" of what happened when normal life was disrupted and that "everything we do in this country – every job, every business, even how we shop and what we eat – depends on a basic minimum of global security".

He added: "We could take all this for granted, ignore the threat of terrorism and the ambitions of hostile states, and hope for the best … or we could accept that our lifelines must be protected, but we are content to leave the task to our friends. 

"My starting point is that either of those options would be an abdication of the first duty of government to defend our people."

General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, welcomed the cash injection and predicted that AI would help "speed up" decision-making time on the ground and allow British forces to "outmanoeuvre" their opponents.

He also said it would be "madness" if the UK did not make further ventures into the "space domain". The Government has said an RAF Space Command will launch British satellites and the UK’s first rocket from Scotland in 2022. 

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