A view from the Lieutenant General RW Wooddisse CBE MC, Commander Field Army.
The UK-India 10-year road map as part of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership is underpinned by a shared commitment to democracy, fundamental freedoms, multilateralism and a rule based international order with defence and security being an integral part of the shared vision.
Throughout the pandemic, our respective staffs and advisers in London and Delhi have continued to work towards strengthening and deepening an already excellent relationship. We have sought to capitalise on the step change in outlook and approach, in the wake of both the United Kingdom’s Integrated Review and the announcement of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The frustrations of continuing, but justified, postponed or ‘virtualised’ engagements did little to deter us from forging ahead. It was welcome news that, finally, we were able to host and engage with a venerated leader of the Indian Armed Forces.
On 5 July 2021 General MM Naravane PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, ADC, the Indian Chief of Army Staff (COAS), visited the British Field Army in Larkhill on the Salisbury Plain Training Area. Following on from the strategic roundtable held between COAS and the Chief of the General Staff (CGS), General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith KCB, CBE, ADC Gen on 4 July, COAS and his delegation discussed changes in the strategic environment with Commander Field Army (CFA), Lieutenant General Ralph Wooddisse CBE, MC. The COAS was briefed on the British Army’s changing approach to warfighting, spearheaded by the 3rd (UK) Division, ‘the Iron Division’, and on the British approach to hybrid and unconventional warfare, in the form of the 6th (UK) Division.
There was a shared appreciation that Covid-19 had invoked an acceleration of strategic time, exposing acute global issues. It had shaken up the balance between strategic autonomy, domestic resilience and the importance of international consensus. Forward looking agreements and partnerships, like the new CSP, will be vital to the maintenance of a rules based international order.
In this context, the United Kingdom’s Integrated Review has set the British Army on course for its most radical transformation in living memory. This transformation aimed at setting the British Army for the challenges of the 21st Century is arguably the most fundamental since whole scale experimentation led to the mechanisation of military force in the 1930s/1940s. What will emerge now is a more productive, capable and competitive British Army, suited to the challenges of the digital era, aspiring to be the most modernised force in the world, integrated for global operations today and ready to fight tomorrow.
The 6th (UK) Division was brought back onto the order of battle in August 2019 to support the Army’s operations in the ‘Grey Zone’. In that zone, the levers of national power are co-ordinated to modify a competitor’s behaviour without using lethal force, whilst concurrently setting the conditions for one’s own success in a time of crisis. Complementing the warfighting punch of the 3rd (UK) Division, 6th (UK) Division is optimised to constrain competitors through unconventional activity.
In its revised structure the 6th (UK) Division will comprise the Army Special Operations Brigade, with the newly formed Ranger Regiment at its heart. The Rangers will be a specially assessed, trained and equipped force optimised to operate alongside partners in high threat environments. Alongside them will be an enhanced 77th Brigade. The brigade is already an engine for novel information effects, sitting under an ‘always-on’ divisional operations centre, continuously scanning for threat and advantage.
The 6th (UK) Division will seek advantage through psyops, intelligence operations, electronic warfare, cyber and through partnering specialist forces overseas. Leveraging the opportunities afforded by the information landscape, data tools, and connectivity, the Division derives much of its competitiveness from the effects that it can apply at stand-off from the UK. The Division’s deployed Rangers will operate within its cutting-edge digital and information wrap, providing the UK and its partners with a range of prized and catalytic capabilities optimised for the contemporary tactical environment.
The 3rd (UK) Division is about to enter an exciting period of development and recapitalisation. It will be the recipient of three major land equipment programmes, fielding Challenger 3 as its new main battle tank, BOXER as its infantry fighting vehicle and AJAX as a transformational ground-crewed reconnaissance platform. These fighting platforms will be supported by upgraded manoeuvre support and offensive support capabilities. The Division will be fully integrated with an enhanced communications information system to enable command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance across the modern battlefield. Combined, these capabilities will provide a potent, lethal and rapidly deployable force.
The British Army has been presented with a generational opportunity to transform its equipment and force structures. The Government’s decision to expand on the UK’s operating bases in the Indo-Pacific could provide interesting opportunities for the UK and India to work more ambitiously on shared security challenges. A first and major step on that path will come when both Armies get the chance to train together in a fully joint setting when the UK’s Carrier Strike Group operates with India in October.
Our historic bonds and heritage must only be further strengthed. Both Armies are seeking and undergoing modernisation programmes, we share values, challenges and threats. We may differ in size, but our structures are not too dissimilar. There is much to learn from each other whether through our conceptual journeys, developmental processes or physical experiences. This is the start of something fresh and invigorating but based on a longstanding bond of respect and friendship. We are excited about the immediate future in the form of Exercise AJEYA WARRIOR in India; how we will learn from it, what we can impart, and how we will jointly develop its complexity and scale for the future.
The challenges that we face are growing in complexity, breadth and potency but the opportunities are exciting; our armies must seize them and make sure that we are leading the way.
About the author: Lieutenant General Ralph Wooddisse assumed command of 1st (United Kingdom) Division in May 2017 and was appointed as Assistant Chief of the General Staff in November 2018. He was appointed Commander Field Army in April 2021.