Gen Jim Hockenhull DSEI 2023 Keynote – Sharpening Defence’s Edge

Strategic Commander General Jim Hockenhull delivers DSEI 2023 keynote speech – Sharpening Defence’s Edge
 Commander addressing the audience

Good afternoon everyone. My name is Jim Hockenhull and I am the Commander of Strategic Command.

Strategic Command is a Defence Enterprise organisation. We are privileged to hold some of the Jewels in the Crown of UK Defence. We have world class intelligence, cyber and special forces – recognised by our most important allies as great strengths of UK Defence. But we also hold the driving forces for global operations – the Permanent Joint Headquarters, Defence Support, Defence Medical Services, our Overseas Bases and Defence Digital. Without these crucial capabilities our reach and impact would be severely restricted. We are also the intellectual engine for Defence, in generating new concepts and doctrine and delivering internationally admired Defence education. But the world does not stand still, and we must ensure that our forces are prepared for the challenges now, for what comes next and are planning for the future.

Now I believe I am an optimist, despite a lifetime as an intelligence officer. I push back against a narrative that suggests we are a hollow force, or that we don’t have enough money. Next year Defence will have an annual budget of over 50 Billion Pounds and we have a remarkable workforce, and we have a strong industrial and scientific base. What we need to be is better. We need to be much more effective and efficient. We need to do this because we owe it to our people and the nation. And the threats we face are greater than at any stage in my career.

The scale of complexity and challenge goes beyond anything I have seen in the last 40 years. We have a war in Europe, with Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and we have witnessed nuclear rhetoric reminiscent of earlier times. While this is the most evident threat, we need to recognise that some of the older threats like espionage have not gone away. We also have Iran acting as a destabilising force across the Middle East and North Korea continues its threatening behaviour. These actors are also working more closely together, even today we see Kim Jung Un crossing the border to visit Vladimir Putin, we see extensive use of Iranian equipment by Russia in Ukraine. These compound threats increasingly challenge our security. Violent extremism continues to pose threats in a range of locations. And we see democracy challenged, especially in West and Central Africa where there have been 8 coups in the last three years. China poses a systemic challenge to the United Kingdom in a variety of ways, including through its activities in the South China Sea, and we must uphold the International Rules Based Order. There is no longer the luxury of thinking about operations as Home and Away – it is a single continuum. These challenges and others will be super charged by the impact of climate change which will destabilise the situation within and between states.

And the UK armed forces play a vital role in keeping the UK safe. The so-called New Domains of Space and Cyber are areas of particular challenge. Whether it is to ramp up Information Operations in an attempt to destabilise our societies, or to directly attack our core capabilities. Indeed, our Cyber Operators are fighting our adversaries every day. Last year there were over 6 million attacks on MOD networks.

Our Cyber Warriors are the part of Defence that is most engaged with our adversaries on a consistent basis. And this is not an amateur sport – this is at an Olympic standard all day every day.

So how do we Sharpen Defence’s edge against this set of threats and challenges. There are three crucial areas – People, Partnerships and Productivity. And all of them are going to benefit from greater integration.

So firstly People. And indeed, People First.

In Strategic Command we are doing all we can to empower, enable, support and sustain our people. Innovating not just around high tech and what that offers, but also innovating our processes and ways of working. Changing policies and permissions to enable our workforce to make the maximum possible contribution. Some of the big Defence changes under the Haythornthwaite Review will help, but we need to view our workforce as a whole force – regular, reserve, civil servant, contractor, industry and academia. I believe our workforce is going to be much more fluid than in the past. And we need to be willing to adapt to our future workforce rather than expect it to adapt to us. In the Digital and Cyber areas of my business there is a second battle alongside the daily probing and attacks on our networks. And that is the battle for digital talent. This is a battle we must win and is going to require us to do things differently.

So today I am announcing the introduction of a Digital Bursary Scheme. We are aiming to inspire young people to study STEM subjects and/or Computer Science at sixth form and then come and be part of our effort to keep the UK safe and help it prosper. I want to attract a new type of military workforce. I want to offer the opportunity of fascinating work of national importance, an opportunity to continue education through an in-service degree. Now I fully expect that many of the people that I hope to attract will only serve in the military or civil service for a limited number of years. But when they leave, I hope they will continue to serve in the Reserves and may return to service through lateral entry later in their careers. I believe they will also make a significant contribution to the UK’s prosperity; with thousands of young people joining the UK’s wider workforce every year with high grade digital and cyber skills, first rate academic qualifications and the personal qualities that a military career fosters.

We are starting with 100 Bursaries this year in a pilot coordinated with the Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub. We have chosen this partner given the previously announced move of the National Cyber Force to Samlesbury near Preston. But that is just the start. We have ambitious plans to scale this effort into the thousands. All elements of the recruitment pipeline and career management of our digital workforce must ensure that we can attract and retain the best and brightest talent. So why announce this at DSEI? Because I need your help. I hope that Defence can work with the Cyber and Digital companies and wider Defence industry to integrate this approach. I need you to stand with me and help generate the digital force we need for today’s threats and tomorrow’s challenges.

This could be thought leadership in how we can do better, granting access to your digital learning and software, or through mentoring and development opportunities. Our partnership with you will be vital to our collective security and to winning the ongoing Cyber Olympics.

There are many lessons being drawn from the war in Ukraine. If you screw your eyes up tightly enough, you can learn almost any lesson. At a macro level I would highlight two significant themes. The first is the ability to learn and adapt quicker than your adversary. And the second is the crucial role of partnerships. We have seen an admirable alchemy of Ukrainian bravery and innovation and a willingness to operate differently. While the international coalition that came together to support Ukraine and its enduring unity is crucial, I think we can take pride in the leadership role that the UK has played at both the political and military levels, and you in the Defence industry can take pride in the decisive contribution industry has made in Ukraine. Indeed, it is these partnerships that mark out Western Democracies from the autocracies that are left with coalitions of convenience with other pariah states.

But in order to make partnerships effective we must find improved ways of operating together. This is true within Defence, across the 5 domains, with Partners Across Government, with international allies and with industry. Future military operations will certainly involve combat and we will ask remarkable people to do remarkable things. And those operations will also be about sensing and interpreting faster, deciding quicker and better, striking at ever greater ranges, and being challenged in every domain. And being better prepared for all of these challenges will help to deter adversaries from using force to realise their ends.

We must also integrate our Global Footprint. Bringing our people, places and technology into alignment to generate maximum return from an Integrated Global Defence Network. This network is a vital source of contextual understanding, both of threats and opportunities. We must generate the partnerships and permissions we need to operate across the world. Our international partnerships must be load-bearing and be underpinned by the ability to work together, proven through exercising and collaboration. As I said earlier the Ukraine conflict has proven the necessity of international partnerships, but we must not wait until conflict to build those relationships. You can’t surge trust!

This is another area where we need to collaborate with industry. Collaborating with industry and international partners on common problems binds us together and deepens mutual trust and understanding. Operating the same equipment makes partnership easier. This drives integrated training and logistic support. Our excellence in education and training can help to underpin the UK’s commercial offer. We need to work closely on campaigns to deliver on the second half of the Defence Purpose, to help the UK prosper. AUKUS and Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) are significant examples of such collaboration, but I contend that we need to work together to make partnership work on small and medium sized elements as well, including the ability to communicate and share data with partners.

The Defence Command Paper sets out an integrated approach to ensure that we are making the very best of all of our advantages. We must be integrated in our approach to data exploitation, in developing the digital backbone to enable a coherent system of systems for common-good capabilities such as Command and Control, Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Cyber Operations, Electronic Weapons warfare and Mission Data and Integrated Air and Missile Defence. And this will be equally applicable to logistic and support solutions and medical provision.

At Strategic Command we have created the Integration Design Authority. Rob Anderton-Brown, my Director of Capability, will explain this in greater detail tomorrow. But in essence this team will set out the blueprint for those common systems and services, setting information exchange requirements, establishing standards and protocols. This will drive coherence, improve outcomes and generate efficiency. The Integration Design Authority will work with our science and technology community industry and Defence Equipment and Support to ensure an integrated approach across UK Defence and with international allies. We are however, going to need industry to meet us halfway. Your support in creating an integrated force which is greater than the sum of its parts will be vital. Restrictive practices, vendor lock in, lack of assured support at time of conflict will all serve to undermine an integrated approach. I need you to break out of traditional domain silos and work in partnership to deliver integrated solutions across the supplier base. I need you to help us develop the technical architecture and standards to enhance our technical interoperability. Help us to help you think creatively about solutions you are already providing so they can scale across Defence.

Which brings me to my 3rd P. Productivity. Our ability to increase accuracy through data will increase the velocity of our decisions on and off the battlefield making us more ready, more lethal and more integrated. This is more than generating additional Defence Counters on a Geo-Strategic Chess Board. It is about making Defence more than the sum of its parts and generating greater value. We can do this by increasing availability, including through establishing a data-centric approach. Where we can make smarter decisions, based on live data, through running thousands or millions of simulations through data twins to ensure we are executing evidence-based decisions, rather than generating decision-based evidence! We can do this through harnessing and exploiting new technology. We need to transform our approach to training, where simulation offers enormous potential. Spiral development will be key. We must generate greater pace. Our future is going to be software defined – true value and differentiation comes from putting the right software on top of the right hardware. And all of this is underpinned by common access to our data. Much of this will require significant policy changes in order to ensure we can extract enterprise value from our data. And I need all of you to not lock down our data or indeed yours.

Moving to a Campaigning approach will be a critical element in increasing our impact and productivity. Linking together all Defence activity to achieve our ends. This includes activity to deter our adversaries, but needs to include sustaining our partnerships and reassuring our partners. Our campaigning approach needs to be consistent, sustained and integrated.

Again the Integration Design Authority will be important here. We have traditional institutions which bring essential capabilities to defence, but our power and productivity will be enhanced if we can strengthen those things which bind us together – seamlessly sharing data - linking sensors in one domain with effectors in another – increasing productivity through more efficient reinvestment.

Technology also offers opportunity to increase productivity. Artificial intelligence represents a fundamental change to so many aspects of our lives and offers significant opportunity for Defence, and not a little challenge too. We have established the Defence Artificial Intelligence Centre to provide us with the means to help deliver on the Defence Artificial Intelligence Strategy published in June last year. If we get this right I am certain that this can be an important element of increasing our productivity, moving our personnel up the value chain. We will also be more productive if we integrate our cross-cutting capabilities.

So in dangerous times we have a choice. Do we hunker down, do the things we have always done, and hope for a better outcome. Or do we embrace the challenge, get comfortable with the ambiguity and be ready to change. We need to focus on our people, our partnerships and our productivity – all underpinned by integration by design.

In Strategic Command, we seek to Sharpen Defence’s Edge – to keep the nation safe and help it prosper.

We are the capabilities you can’t or don’t usually see. Always ready to respond. Anywhere, anytime.

And we learn and adapt to make Defence more ready, more lethal and more integrated.

Strategic Command
Ministry of Defence
General Sir Jim Hockenhull KBE ADC Gen
Commander Strategic Command