Soldiers must know how to read maps because satellites could be lost, Commander Field Army says

Soldiers must not forget how to read maps because satellites are at risk of being lost or attacked, the Commander of the Field Army has said, amid wider concerns cadets lack the basic skill.

Lieutenant General Ivan Jones hailed “the edge” technology provides the Armed Forces but warned that it “also presents a threat and we’ve got to protect ourselves”.

Lt Gen Jones told The Telegraph: “The big ‘what if’ is, if we lose that satellite, lose that geolocating device, if we lose our communication system, how do we operate?” 

Other senior commanders are understood to be worried that some cadets are turning up for military training without “basic skills”, such as map reading.

Tobias Ellwood, Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said: “A senior commander at Sandhurst confirmed that the cadets of today are arriving with a very different skill set than his generation. 

“The creature comforts that surround the mobile phone has changed what your typical recruit looks like and is inspired by.” 

He said although that was positive “as the character of conflict tilts to the cyber world”, it was imperative the “skills of independence” were not lost as graduates prepare for the future of warfighting. 

Mr Ellwood called on the current “military curriculum” to reflect today’s partnership with the online world, whilst not forgetting lessons learnt by predecessors.

He added that “the prelude to any future military conflict is likely to begin with an aggressive cyber attack” which would ultimately challenge “much of our modern arsenal, from UAVs to smart missiles, useless and navigation, for the footsoldier to the F35”.

Lt Gen Jones added:  “I think we have, as with many, been seduced by the benefits of technology but having been so wonderfully seduced one realises that that reliance does present a vulnerability and if you are overly reliant that can be really exploited.”

He said the military was actively looking at “how we start to balance out those traditional skills – map reading – with modern techniques that don’t require you to use a map”.

The Field Army, of which Lt Gen Ivan Jones is head of, funds the exercise which tests the Army's capability in the cyber field. 

Credit:  Corporal Cameron Whatmore RLC

However Lt Gen Jones, who was speaking at the annual exercise Cyber Spartan, which challenges personnel from across Defence in various cyber scenarios, cautioned that it was a delicate balancing act and that the Army could not “remain stuck in the past”.

“We’ve got to continue to move forward but understand that those key vulnerabilities are protected,” he said. 

General Sir Patrick Sanders, Commander of Strategic Command, also told The Telegraph that operations like Exercise Cyber Spartan prepare for such eventualities.

The exercise, which is in its fourth year, simulates potential cyber attacks in order to test the military’s responses. 

It is also beneficial for personnel who show a flare for cyber, as Sir Patrick revealed that “a lot of the talent we have in cyber is because of the talent spotting we have done here”. 

“Cyber space has an effect in every single one of the other domains,” he said.

Sir Patrick added that he had to ensure Lt Gen Jones’ “people are capable of defending their own networks”.

Over 400 UK and international defence cyber specialists and novices took part in the UK's biggest cyber competition centred at Blandford Camp, Dorset

Credit: Corporal Cameron Whatmore RLC

Lt Gen Jones agreed that “an army fit for the 21st century has to be more than tanks and soldiers with bayonets”.

“Actually a soldier behind a keyboard could potentially have, indeed is more likely to have, a more profound effect on the activities on the land environment than you could with the bayonet,” he said. 

“In the Field Army we are driving a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.

“That sitting back and accepting the status quo, that what we have today is fit for tomorrow is an acceptance that we will probably find ourselves struggling. We have to continue to look forward at how we can improve in all areas and all domains. Cyber Spartan has provided a fantastic opportunity for that.”

General Sir Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, said he “would not be surprised” if training of cadets had “changed so that there is a greater reliance on technology”.

Lord Dannatt said that while it was “right and proper” that there has been a pivot towards technology in training it was important cadets were still able to “take a bearing with a compass which might just come in useful if your iPhone gives up”.

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