The Integrated Review was paused in the first half of the year and restarted in July.
Members will be aware that senior officers need Ministerial permission to give policy related speeches in public, so the talk by the Chief of Defence Intelligence, Lieutenant General Hockenhull, at Wyton this September is an important update on the potential threats faced by the UK. Below is the readout
Today is the anniversary of 9/11 and while we remember the victims of terrorism, it makes our work to understand threats all the more important. I hope you have enjoyed your time here at Defence Intelligence Wyton today. You have seen some of what Defence intelligence is achieving and I hope you understand the vital role that Defence Intelligence plays for Defence, government and for partners nationally and internationally.
Since I joined the Intelligence Corps in 1986, the world has advanced significantly, and so have the threats we face. They have challenged us to be innovative, adaptable and collaborative; all behaviours that you will see embodied in my staff.
For the Ministry of Defence everything must start with the threats we face from our adversaries. Defence Intelligence’s primary mission is to gain insight into these threats to enable the Government, MOD and the Armed Forces to generate the capabilities and plans to confront and counter those threats. Through our detailed understanding we aim to provide advantage to decision makers and military commanders at all levels.
Both the capability and intent of our adversaries are considered when we assess the threat. These actors, both state and non-state, seek to undermine our cohesion and resilience to challenge our strategic position. To achieve this, they have adopted a potent combination of activity designed to confront us below the threshold of conflict while simultaneously developing skilled military forces armed with advanced equipment.
A traditional binary view of peace and war is challenged by adversaries that don’t recognise such a distinction. They are engaged in a continual struggle where they will apply any and all means necessary to achieve their objectives. Much of this activity is in a ‘greyzone’, below the threshold of conflict where we are challenged by hostile states and violent extremist groups deliberately seeking to exploit our vulnerabilities. These threats will apply both to the UK homeland as well as our global interests; our previous distinction of threats focused at ‘home’ and ‘away’ is no longer appropriate. This threat is not just military, it will challenge all areas of government and civil society. While some of this is not new, such as espionage, propaganda and assassination) it has been supercharged by advanced technology and through new vectors. We now see increasing use of offensive cyber capabilities, advanced information operations (sometimes characterised as ‘fake news’) and the use of proxies and deniable paramilitary forces (however thin the veneer). Fusing together artificial intelligence and autonomous systems creates new challenges. We are also seeing an increasing range of capabilities that pose threats in space and in the deep oceans. These hold at risk many of the digital capabilities upon which our modern world depends and in a time of conflict or increased tension they could be denied to us. Russia poses a significant threat to submarine fibre optic cables.
The nexus of hostile states, violent extremist groups and serious and organised crime is particularly worrying. This can generate simultaneous challenges designed to exploit our seams and vulnerabilities. Global interconnectivity and economic integration has enabled positive change, but opens a new flank by increasing our exposure to dependency risks that we don’t yet fully understand. Climate change will also drive changes that will be exploited by hostile states: increasing urbanisation will provide more opportunities for radicalisation; there will be a growth in migration, competition for resources will drive conflicts and new frontiers for competition will open up, such as in the Arctic. These changes will also be exploited by Violent Extremist Groups.
Great power competition has returned with increased diversity of means and opportunity. This competition is taking place across the globe and challenges our allies and our interests. Russia poses the greatest military, sub-threshold and geopolitical threat to European Security. China is increasingly authoritarian and assertive. It poses the greatest threat to world order, seeking to impose Chinese standards and norms and using its economic power to influence and subvert, backed up by massive investment in modernising its armed forces. Iran and North Korea continue to pose regional challenges and their nuclear programmes threaten global stability; and violent extremist groups continue to proliferate, expand and threaten.
The future context is likely to be far more challenging. While we will routinely face threats below the threshold of war, violent conflict has been increasing in the 21st Century. In 2020 there are 33 significant armed conflicts; over 60% of which have lasted for more than 10 years. In the past twelve years Russia has used its military to intervene in Georgia, the Ukraine and in Syria.
Our position is further threatened by the proliferation of advanced conventional weapons into the hands of a wider range of nation states and even violent extremist groups. This both enhances their capabilities and increases the risk of miscalculation. Proliferation of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons creates even greater risk and uncertainty.
I would like to explore some of these capabilities in more detail. Given the time available I will focus on Russia and China, but we continue to monitor closely the activities of Iran, North Korea and a wide range of Violent Extremist Groups.
The cyber threat is generated by a mix of state actors, state sponsored groups and cyber criminals. Often individuals work across these groups to leverage capability and to make attribution more difficult. Our Critical National Infrastructure, our military supply chains, our data networks, weapon systems and platforms all need to be resilient against the cyber threat. We have seen Russian cyber attacks from the GRU against the Kyiv metro (2017), Ukraine’s financial and energy sectors (2017) WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) (2016), the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) (2018) and the US Democratic National Committee in 2016. Our dependency on digital systems opens a new range of vulnerabilities which must be addressed. We work very closely with the National Cyber Security Centre and within the MOD we have an active programme to enhance our cyber resilience.
As long ago as 2007 China destroyed a weather satellite using a ground launched missile. Since then there has been an increasing threat. We depend on space for
precision navigation and timing, for communication and for observation. As space-based capabilities proliferate, nations such as Russia, China and India have invested in more sophisticated ground based anti-satellite weapons. We are now seeing the deployment of space-based anti-satellite weapons, on 15 July this year Russia’s satellite Kosmos 2543 released an object at high velocity that was assessed as a non-destructive test of an anti-satellite weapon.
In more conventional weapons we are seeing:
Russia pushing the boundaries of science, and international treaties, in developing:
o A Hypersonic Glide Vehicle capable of delivering a nuclear warhead at high Mach numbers and with an unpredictable flight path in or just above the atmosphere, which would be very difficult for defensive missile systems to counter
o ground-launched intermediate range cruise missiles which led to the collapse of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty last year …
o and even an unmanned underwater vehicle capable of delivering a nuclear payload to coastal targets or even carrier groups at sea.
o Moscow is testing a sub-sonic nuclear-powered cruise missile system which, has global reach. and would allow attack from unexpected directions and provide a near indefinite loiter time in a crisis
o Major investment in Russian submarines and deep ocean capabilities to threaten undersea cables.
o These capabilities together allow the Russians to hold the UK and its allies’ civilian and military infrastructure at risk of direct attack both with conventional explosives and nuclear weapons, limiting options or raising the stakes during times of crisis
o And for the past few years, it has used its intervention in Syria as a test bed for long-range precision strike.
o Syria has demonstrated the challenges of conducting military operations in a contested and defended environment with an integrated air defence system of large numbers of diverse surface to air missiles, fighter aircraft and airborne and ground based early warning radar systems and unmanned air systems operating in concert to deny Western freedom of action in the air.
Since 2013, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has undergone extensive reorganisation and its military modernisation programme has accelerated.
o Over the next two decades China will continue its rise as a global, rather than just a regional military power, with an expeditionary capability, and it is developing and deploying an array of leading-edge weapons systems that are fast eroding western military advantage
o China now has two aircraft carriers and is forecast to have as many as five by 2030. It will also have between two and four ‘light’ aircraft/helicopter carriers, protected by its growing fleet of Renhai-class destroyers - the most capable of any navy.
o The modernisation programme also already includes the production of J-20 fifth generation fighters, Y-20 heavy transport aircraft, armed stealth UAVs, and the world’s most modern surface to air missiles.
o China is also already deploying the most modern, road mobile ballistic missiles, including anti-ship ballistic missiles, as well as hypersonic missiles and Manoeuvrable Re-entry Vehicles (or MaRVs), capable of attacking moving maritime targets and evading missile defence systems.
o These capabilities are both conventional and nuclear. China currently has a similar number of nuclear warheads as the UK - a number that will almost certainly continue to grow - but it already has a greater diversity of delivery systems - currently on land and at sea, and is likely to have a triad, adding airborne nuclear weapons, within 10 years.
o These are all indigenous capabilities, demonstrating the prowess of China’s military industrial base.
So, we face a myriad of threats above and below the threshold of conflict; across all domains, at home and overseas. We are confronted by hostile states that do not recognise the legal and ethical frameworks that we cherish, as evidenced by brazen and reckless use of chemical weapons. But we hold a significant advantage, Defence Intelligence has close, integrated and fused working relationships with the UK’s Intelligence Agencies and international partners. It is through sharing our understanding and insights that we can collectively be better to compete below the threshold of conflict and to be prepared to fight and win above it.
And finally, the threats I have described to you, whilst strategic, will continue to evolve. The threat landscape is not set. Foresight is not definitive, and we will have to adapt to new challenges. Just as my Medical Intelligence team responded to the COVID crisis and my Innovation Centre is leveraging new technology, Defence Intelligence’s agility will continue to be vital and I am confident that I, and all of my staff, are prepared to understand, adapt to, and challenge, the threats that the UK will face in future.Image: General Jim Hockenhull OBE -
Licensed under the Open Government Licence version 1.0 (OGL v1.0).