General Sir Patrick Sanders DSEI 2023 Keynote Speech

General Sir Patrick Sanders, Chief of the General Staff, delivered his keynote speech at Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) 2023

General Sir Patrick Sanders KCB CBE DSO ADC Gen

Good afternoon and thank you Neil for that introduction. I am delighted to see you all here at DSEI 2023.

The biggest DSEI in history, with 40,000 people visiting 1500 exhibitors through the week.

And the first since the invasion of Ukraine, and I am particularly pleased to welcome the delegation from Ukraine. Your time is especially precious, and I truly appreciate you joining us.

And what a fitting venue. Just as the Excel Centre stands as a centrepiece for the renewal of London’s historic Royal Docks, today the Army is undertaking the largest and most ambitious programme of modernisation of our time.

Today I’ll outline my plan for the renewal of the British Army. A renewal guided by a new Land Operating Concept and underpinned by a closer relationship with allies, partners and industry.

Together, we will seize the opportunity presented by the Defence Equipment plan which gives the Army £41 billion over 10 years. Our job is to responsibly commit this money and demonstrate a return on that investment, to generate credible warfighting capability, and contribute to an increasingly vibrant industrial base, skills, and exports. We have a tested and robust plan; and we are ready to implement it.

At DSEI in 2021, my predecessor suggested that rather than thinking of ourselves as the post-war generation, we should contemplate what it might feel like to be the 21st century pre-war generation.

As events show, we are now that pre-war generation.

And it comes with a responsibility that we cannot shirk.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s Russia is increasingly isolated, and the world is tiring of his disinformation narrative. The war has showcased Ukrainian defiance, NATO unity, and provided the most potent accelerant to the changes already evident in 2021.

We recognised this moment in the British Army and mobilised with a clear purpose; to protect the nation by being ready to fight and win wars on land. As I outlined at RUSI in June, the Army’s mobilisation was broad and deep, driven by a pitiless reflection on our situation. We mobilised our conceptual thinking, our equipment, our training, our productivity, and reaffirmed that Land matters.

And we mobilised our partnership with you, industry, which I will return to later.

Together, we are providing battle-winning equipment and support to the Ukrainians.

But there is no room for complacency or self-congratulation. The hard-fought Ukrainian counter-offensive continues, and we must ensure that Ukrainian bravery, sacrifice and skill are matched by our ongoing collective commitment. But with around a third of Russian government spending now flowing to defence, they are clearly in for the long haul. We have to be ready for what may follow.

Like many other nations and Defence industries, we have studied the war carefully, identifying and learning valuable lessons which are shaping our decisions for the future.

At RUSI, I trailed our initial response to these lessons and we have forged a credible plan for the British Army’s renewal. Renewal to make sure we can fight the war we must. A renewal founded in hard-won lessons of the past, orientated to the future to ensure that we emerge more lethal, agile, expeditionary and resilient, all underpinned by our digital framework.

This renewal is delivering now and gathering momentum.

First, we have renewed our thinking.

The Land Operating Concept is providing the capstone conceptual benchmark for the British Army - a single battle winning approach that anchors our design and capability decisions with a modular and adjustable framework.

Endorsed by Defence, widespread peer-review, and tested through 55 days of war-gaming, it is the most robustly evidenced and inclusive piece of conceptual thinking that the Army has produced in over three decades. This places the British Army at the intellectual edge of land warfare, able to lead in NATO and support our sister services across all domains.

And in the immediate term, recognising the risks of Russian recapitalisation and further aggression, The Field Army has a developed a robust practical answer to the challenge of ‘How We will Fight in 2026’ with the army we have and this will lead to adjustments in how the Field Army is configured, connected, manoeuvres and trains through the course of 2023-2025

Second ,we are renewing our training.

Modern warfare demands the renewal of leadership training but also the creation of digital training and the recognition that new capabilities require new skills. We are responding to the operating environment that we see in Ukraine.

For example, I am struck by the fact that in the evolving Ukraine drone campaign, 40% of losses are attributed to pilot error. When the electro-magnetic spectrum is so heavily contested, automation fails, and the skill of the pilot predominates. We need ‘war fighters’ – whether they are cyber specialist, drone pilots or infantry soldiers – to be stronger, faster, more intelligent and more resilient.

Marking the most significant step in professionalising military leadership since the Royal Military College was founded in 1801, we’re implementing the British Army Soldier Academy this year and the British Army NCO Academy next year to maximise the potential of every soldier and equip our NCOs with the skills they need to meet the demands of the modern battlefield.

And if you want a marker for our commitment, look no further than our record on apprenticeships. The British Army has retained the No.1 employer spot for apprentices nationally for an unprecedented third year in a row – with approximately 15,000 soldiers on programme at any time, delivering over 38 different apprenticeships in 10 of 15 trade sectors.

We are investing in our people and perhaps your future employees because it is not armies that win wars – nations do – and it is our combined strength that provides the UK’s deterrence.

We are also renewing our approach to people.

The Atherton and Haythornthwaite reviews hold us to account, helping us progress the high standards expected of the nation’s Army and ensuring we attract, recruit, and retain the very best of society. Op TEAMWORK is in its third year and at the end of this month we are launching a transformational, 5-year programme.

What is clear is that our people want more. Op TEAMWORK revealed that over 75% of those surveyed welcomed the opportunity to address issues that mattered to them, including the shift in focus from inappropriate behaviours to professionalism.

We are encouraging challenge, ownership of actions, continual learning, and inclusiveness to ensure our teams have the diversity of thought to innovate and win on the modern battlefield.

We are renewing our structure.

Guided by the Land Operating Concept, we are adapting our form to follow function. Our structural adaptation is ruthlessly aligned to purpose: being ready to fight and win wars on land.

1st (UK) Division will take 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team under command now and from 2024 will provide the land component command of a joint and multi-domain sovereign Global Response Force (GRF) – an agile tool of foreign policy able to deliver rapid global effects and be first to the fight. This is a return to fielding a second battle-winning divisional HQ.

We will enhance 3rd (UK) Division to warfight under the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) – the UK’s NATO Corps. And we will refine the ARRC to deliver a Corps level Strategic Response Force (SRF) by 2024 under the NATO Force Model (NFM), optimised for NATO’s deep battle.

This will be underpinned by our Army Special Operations Forces, offered to NATO for the first time, and the Army Reserve that the nation needs for warfighting and Homeland Defence.

By re-structuring 6th (UK) Division elements within the Field Army we can elevate Land Special Operations Forces and Info Ops outputs to component level. This enables smarter task-organisation - the power of combinations, and exploits the Field Army’s broad connectivity and access to multi-domain capabilities.

I spoke about the significance of UAS in Ukraine and by the end of this year, we will form a new UAS Group within a reorientated Joint Aviation Command. This expanded JAC remit, will bring deep expertise and the coherence that the new Defence Uncrewed Strategy requires and will provide a focal point for industry, around which we intend to develop the next generation of UAS platforms in ever closer partnership.

Finally, we are doubling our Cyber and Electronic Warfare Signals Intelligence (EWSI) workforce, feeding hundreds into the National Cyber Force. We already deliver Europe’s largest global cyber exercise (Ex CYBER MARVEL); and, with an investment of 1.3Bn into a full range of world-leading mounted EW, SIGINT, Cyber and ECM capability, we are accelerating the Army towards data centricity and digital transformation.

While warfighting must be our focus, and the NATO Euro-Atlantic theatre our geographic priority, the Army has a global deployed footprint and will remain an agile and adaptable tool of foreign policy. The Army already provides the UK’s largest permanent presence in the Indo-Pacific region through the Brunei Joint Task Force, deploying teams to 11 partner countries in the region, to demonstrate the UK’s commitment, and helping partner nations become more resilient and capable.

We will also maximise the impact of our existing network throughout Africa and the Middle East developing strategic partnerships that serve to protect the nation, and help it prosper.

We have renewed our approach to data.

Data is our second most valuable asset behind our people. The Army’s approach to data will define our ability to adopt Artificial Intelligence at pace and scale for whole force benefit, in a human-centric, trusted and responsible manner.

The Army AI centre is already-in-being, and there are over 25 projects underway across the Army with more starting each week. Just last month the ZODIAC programme prototype contract was awarded, enabling us to cut the sensor-to-effector loop by previously unimaginable timelines, with AI fuelling this game-changing capability.

The Army has the biggest software house and data analytics platform in Defence, and it is relentlessly tackling issues of data quality, consistency, and labelling. Another team just delivered the ability to print validated data sets and validate 3rd party models against ones that we have trained ourselves… this is like a Golden Key that will enable us to know truth in a world where our adversaries are making that harder to find. These are just some of the steps we are taking to drive the British Army towards becoming a software-defined and data-centric force.

Without data there can be no AI. We cannot achieve this alone so we are engaging broadly to work collaboratively to solve problems.  No one in this hall today is going to “win Army AI”.  On the contrary, we are going to seek out every opportunity to develop an ecosystem of companies and partners who can move with us towards greater capability across our Army.

We are renewing our relationship with industry and equipment.

DSEI 23 represents a “Back to the Future” moment, highlighting that the fragmented procurement associated with the 9/11 wars was not a sustainable approach. Our job is to grow credible warfighting capability, a vibrant industrial base, skills and exports.

As CGS, I have visited more industrial partners than I have Field Army units and my international visits have been ruthlessly focused on seeking opportunities for industrial collaboration and joint capability development with key strategic partner nations. And we have a good story to tell on modernisation.

Ajax, here in the hall today, is proving to be one of the most advanced family of AFVs in the world. It is in the hands of our soldiers now, trials are progressing well and they tell me that they are blown away by its capabilities. It’s been described to me as an AH64E on tracks, boasting a truly revolutionary ISTAR suite capable of fusing optical, thermal and acoustic feeds into a single display. Its stabilised 40mm cannon provides exceptional lethality. And it won’t stand still – spiral development will see frequent upgrades.

We will more than double our Medium Range Air Defence capability by 2027, as well as entering into a significant bilateral agreement with Poland worth £1.9Bn to the UK.

Additionally, UK Boxer is poised to set the new standard for armoured vehicles worldwide as we add 350 vehicles to our fleet over the next 5 years. It’s agility, protection and rapid modular adaptability provide truly formidable capability and make it a world-class solution for international partners seeking cutting-edge armoured vehicles.

Finally, we will have fielded all 50 AH64-E by the end of 2024 and are expecting the first challenger prototypes this year?

For international partners and fellow Chiefs, let me assure you that this is not a protectionist ‘buy British’ approach. We are stronger together and industrial collaboration is about an enduring relationship for mutual benefit. As outlined at the earlier plenary on the Land Industrial Strategy, we must ensure our allies and partners have access to the world leading defence suppliers that we have based in the UK.

It’s about achieving greater interoperability through the commonality of equipment, and shared costs of upgrades and R&D for the next generation of capabilities.  What I must also assure you, is that we are taking a very muscular look at the security of our supply chains, working closely with NATO to ensure that we are tackling logistic challenges through the Alliance rather than solely sovereign means.

In collaboration with the Department for Business and Trade we have established a Land Capability Campaigns Office and Army Industry and Exports Office that work closely with industry to put more muscle behind our efforts to increase our user clubs through land export sales.

Our strategy positions the UK as a global hub for cutting-edge land systems, capable of designing, delivering, and supporting capabilities for generations to come. I encourage you to engage with Head of UK Defence Business Development Mr Simon Levy and take a good look around the Land Zone. It will not disappoint.

We are the 21st century pre-war generation. This is our responsibility. And for the British Army, it demands renewal to assure enduring excellence. This isn’t a proposal or a rallying call, there’s no time for that. This renewal must flourish over the next 4-5 years, lasting well beyond my successor’s successor.

This renewal doesn’t need new money; indeed, it would be irresponsible to seek it. What this renewal needs is your partnership and commitment to the most ambitious programme of modernisation in our time. Together, we can renew both the British Army and our nation’s Land Industrial Base.

Thank you.

Ministry of Defence
General Sir Patrick Sanders KCB CBE DSO ADC Gen