David Richards: Every army is struggling with the pace of technological change

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The Independent Online

Successful armed forces adapt and transform at a pace faster than their potential enemies. Cromwell, as an example, unlocked the synergy of discipline, training, new equipment and new tactics in a manner that left the Royalists looking like barely gifted amateurs. This process can be found throughout history although rarely is it accelerated with the vision and drive of a Cromwell.

In the 1920s, Basil Liddell Hart and Boney Fuller struggled to persuade soldiers everywhere that the era of the horse had been replaced by that of the tank and aircraft, even though both had been in service for a number of years. It was during this period that Liddell Hart noted ruefully that "there is only one thing harder then getting a new idea into the military's mind and that is getting an old one out!" We must not be accused of having fallen into this trap by the soldiers of 2109.

Self-evidently, although not yet culturally internalised, there has been a radical change in the way wars are fought. We cannot go back to operating as we might have done even 10 years ago when it was still tanks, fast jets and fleet escorts that dominated the doctrine of our three services. The lexicon of today is non-kinetic effects teams, Counter-IED, information dominance, counter-piracy, and cyber attack and defence, to give you just a feel for the changes. Our people are used to operating in a complex combat, joint, interagency and multinational environment in which success is measured in terms of securing people's confidence instead of how many tanks, ships or aircraft are destroyed.

The pace of technological change is bewildering. It has left every nation's mainstream procurement process struggling to deliver equipment that will remain relevant against more agile opponents satisfied with cheap and ever evolving 80 per cent solutions. Too often, we still strive for hugely expensive 100 per cent solutions – "exquisite solutions" as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates calls them.

In sum, tactical, operational and strategic level success in today's environment is beyond that of a military that draws its inspiration from visions of traditional state on state war, however hi-tech in nature.

Taken from a speech by General Sir David Richards, Chief of the General Staff, at Chatham House; www.chathamhouse.org.uk