British Army exploring autonomous warfare, new breed of soldier
british army looking into drones and autonomous vehicles

British Army exploring autonomous warfare, new breed of soldier

The British Army is set to “push the limits of innovative warfare”, following a new approach outlined by its chief of general staff, General Mark Carleton-Smith.

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute’s Land Warfare conference in London, General Carleton-Smith addressed the topic of emerging technologies and the role they have to play in the future of warfare.

Carleton-Smith said that “the nature of warfare is broadening beyond the traditional physical domains”, and the UK’s armed forces need to develop soldiers with skill sets beyond those traditionally associated with soldiering.

Earlier this month, imaging company FLIR revealed that it is providing the US Army with miniature reconnaissance drones, while armed forces on both sides of the Atlantic have been exploring the potential of autonomous vehicles to supply troops and move cargo around in combat zones.

“We need a more proactive, threat-based approach to our capability planning,” continued the general, “including placing some big bets on those technologies that we judge may offer exponential advantage because, given the pace of the race, to fall behind today is to cede an almost unquantifiable advantage from which it might be impossible to recover.”

For Carleton-Smith, advances in the technology deployed by the British Army can’t come soon enough. Amid what he describes as a “darkening geopolitical picture”, the need to have adaptable battlefield solutions is pressing. “We live in exceptionally unstable times and the world has never been more unpredictable”, he said.

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The challenge faced by the Army’s senior officer is that the nation’s cash-strapped defence policy is unlikely to move too far beyond proven aspects of conventional warfare – in the short term, at least.

One problem is that, although lives could be saved by automating intelligence gathering and logistics operations, untested technology could also put them at risk. It’s also likely that there will be a pushback from Army veterans and traditionalists about too deep an advance into autonomous territory.

However, during a large-scale training exercise this November – known as Autonomous Warrior – the British Army will work alongside the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, US Army, Ministry of Defence, and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory to explore how the latest in technology could provide advantages in combat.

UK defence Minister Mark Lancaster said, “Our Armed Forces continue to push the limits of innovative warfare to ensure that we stay ahead of any adversaries or threats faced on the battlefield.

Autonomous Warrior sets an ambitious vision for Army operations in the 21st Century as we integrate drones, unmanned vehicles, and personnel into a world-class force for decades to come.”

General Carleton-Smith will doubtless be hoping that ministers and the Treasury will see the advantage of a leaner, smarter, more agile fighting force, rather than an overstretched, under-funded, traditional one.