13th Signal Regiment: British military launches first dedicated cyber unit

Its role is viewed as essential in an arena that has become of vital strategic importance

Kim Sengupta
Defence Editor
Thursday 04 June 2020 22:33
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A dedicated cyber regiment has been launched by the British military
A dedicated cyber regiment has been launched by the British military

The British military has launched its first dedicated cyber regiment for use against hostile states and terrorist groups at home and abroad, the Ministry of Defence has announced.

The 13th Signal Regiment, drawing personnel from across the forces, will be used to carry out offensive cyberspace operations as well as counter hacking and propaganda from adversaries.

The Regiment, based at Dorset, will be working alongside the Army’s information warfare arm, the 77th Brigade, under the command of 6th Division. Its role is viewed as essential in an arena that has become of vital strategic importance in 21st Century combat.

The unit, say the MoD, will provide “ digital armour” for missions overseas, while protecting infrastructure in this country. Officials stress that specialist forces such as these were essential with the rise of asymmetric warfare in which physical military operations can be jeopardised by communications being cut and power supplies sabotaged. At the same time, disinformation campaigns can put lives at risk.

Cyberattacks carried out by the UK and other western states in Iraq against Isis proved to be highly effective and tactics learnt in the operation may be used elsewhere in the future. But British officers also want to stress the effectiveness of the Islamists’ electronic armoury in a range of actions from disseminating violent images to recruitment drives and spreading the message of jihad.

The UK carried out a major cyberattack against Isis in 2017, disrupting its communications infrastructure for months, according to the director of GCHQ. Jeremy Fleming said his agency worked with the Ministry of Defence to make “a significant contribution to coalition efforts” against the Islamists that made it “almost impossible” for the group to spread its propaganda.

“This is the first time the UK has systematically and persistently degraded an adversary’s online efforts as part of a wider military campaign,” Mr Fleming told a cybersecurity conference in Manchester in April.“Did it work? I think it did.” The 6th Division has been set up as part of a “rebalancing” of the UK’s field army. Two other divisions will provide different strategic options; the 3rd providing the war fighting arm and the 1st training soldiers of states abroad and dealing with natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said of the new regiment: “This is a step-change in the modernisation of the UK Armed Forces for information warfare. Cyber-attacks are every bit as deadly as those faced on the physical battlefield, so we must prepare to defend ourselves from all those who would do us harm and 13th Signal Regiment is a vital addition to that defence.”

Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith added “13th Signal Regiment is the British Army’s brand new cyber regiment — matching cutting edge technology with cyber-fit soldiers to compete and win in the Information Age”.

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