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Der Nachrichtendienst Defence iQ bringt seine Lagebeurteilung zur Entwicklung der Panzerwaffe. Autorin ist Hannah Croft.

Reflections on International Armoured Vehicles

The 20th anniversary of Defence iQ’s International Armoured Vehicles conference began with a tour de force of the global challenges and threats the Defence community are facing today.

General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, former DSACEUR and chairman of the event, reminded us that we face myriad and complex challenges that are reshaping the way that we operate in the land domain: state and non-state aggression, energy and climate crises, fragile states, global terrorism and degraded deterrence frameworks were just a handful of examples. Importantly, he stressed, these global challenges also blur the boundaries between the physical and the digital, and Defence must consider national security in this new reality.

What does this mean for the Armoured community? General Bradshaw put to us all that it only serves to underline the importance of the armoured vehicle industry, because we still need conventional capabilities to confront conventional, and, in many cases, unconventional or hybrid threats.

This challenge of physical/digital threat matrixes and the need to grapple with new, complex global challenges was also emphasised by Lieutenant General Theodore Martin, Deputy Commanding General of U.S. Army TRADOC.

Space and Cyber, for example, have impacted the manoeuvre soldier in myriad ways, and will reshape the way the Land Component operates and will operate in the future. Moreover, “the dichotomy between war and peace,” he argued, “is no longer a useful construct for thinking about national security”. These changes, as was highlighted throughout the first day of the conference, therefore require us to think differently; about doctrine, concepts, training, personnel, and indeed acquisition.

Commander NATO Land Command spoke at length about Artificial Intelligence as one example of a technology that will “force us to operate in a completely different way” and, alongside, “change the way we do business”. In a memorable turn of phrase, Lieutenant General Cripwell opined that this might mean “more C-3PO than Terminator”.

In practice, this means more effective, rapid decision-making, cross-domain and cross-classification information-sharing, and enhanced training capability via blended virtual and physical elements, to name a few. The issue, General Cripwell concluded with, is less about the viability of the technology, but rather “how it is deployed and employed”. Certainly a question for us to consider during the rest of the event, I’m sure.

The British Army are also focused on innovation and adaptation. Major General Jez Bennett, Director Capability, opened his keynote with the assertion that industry must be involved earlier in requirements setting and the Army needs to take new approaches to technological development, testing, evaluation and delivery.

There are a number of projects underway that demonstrate this new innovation focus – the Collective Training Transformation Programmeand Programme Castleare but two examples – but, regarding the Army’s armoured modernisation plan, General Bennett spoke of the critical “digital and data backbone” that places interoperability at its heart. This “backbone” and willingness to work more closely with external partners underpins Army planning and policy, from the annual Warfighting Experiment to the Industrial Engagement Framework.

Indeed, this enthusiasm for engagement and innovation was also reflected in General Dynamics Land Systems UKpresentation about the Army’s digital fighting vehicle, the AJAX. Exciting work is being done to source and collaborate with “high potential SMEs” using social media platforms and Dragons Den-style workshops alongside Army HQ.

AJAX in action: The British Army’s Digital Armoured Fighting Vehicle.

Reflecting on the event’s 20 year history, this week may be perceived as more of a watershed moment. Not necessarily because the armoured community’s priorities for an agile, lethal and protected manoeuvre force have changed (they haven’t).

But, rather, because there is a common recognition of a required seachange in the way that we think about technology design, delivery and deployment, about the relationships between the military and industry, and the opportunities and of course challenges ahead as we march forward into the Digital Age.

But, those enduring questions remain: how do we become more interoperable, more integrated, and more sustainable?

Two sessions that really encapsulated this theme were that of the Italian Army’s, led by Major General Maurizio Riccio, Chief of the Logistics Division, and the annual Industry Panel, with participants from General Dynamics Land Systems UK, Patria, Nexter, BAE Systems and Hanwha. Both offered a great deal of insight into how both the military and industry mind-set is shifting to allow for more innovation in a digitized future.

The Italian Army’s digitization programme, Forza NEC, is designed to create a “multi-purpose defence capability” via a system of interconnected nodes in a single, complex architecture configuration. This system of systems will enable the Army to improve their decision-making, situational awareness and lethality, and General Riccio emphasised how the programme as a whole has enabled them to “reshape” the way they think and “reengineer” programme management and design processes for the future.

Forza Nec will impact the whole force, from the individual soldier (the Army’s ‘Future Soldier’ initiative, for example, will give them new software-defined radios, NVGs and boy armour) up to the armoured brigade level. Of course the audience’s ears pricked up when their digitized armoured vehicles were mentioned, each one a showcase of technological evolution and adaptation: the Lince 2 NEC, the Freccia 8×8 IFV and the Centauro 2. “Interoperability,” argued General Riccio, “was the main driver” behind the vehicle design and system upgrade – the vehicles themselves becoming part of the Army’s enhanced common operating picture from platoon level and upwards.

The Italian Army carries out its first firings with the Freccia Armoured Mortar Carrier.

Via “new experimental framework”, Italian General Riccio described, the Army were able to test and integrate complex systems quicker and more effectively. They now have plans to stand up a new Experimentation Centre to support industry and incubate new technologies.

Such an approach to programme management was praised at the conference, and again it demonstrated this ‘sea change’ in terms of armoured capability design, acquisition, and operational deployment.

The Industry Panel was also cautiously optimistic about the opportunities for “doing things differently” in the name of innovation and transformation. Cooperation – between industry and military, between traditional and non-traditional defence companies, and between primes and SMEs – was underlined as a vital component to innovation.

Each of the panellists, too, acknowledged that they needed to guide and support the customer more as we transition into a new era of software-based, rather than hardware-based, system design and upgrade. That said, there was a common grievance regarding government procurement programmes: too slow, too derivative, too many requirements. We were reminded that the more open the requirement and the less specified, means more proposals, more ‘out of box’ thinking when it comes to problem solving and capability design.

Taking all that into account, when our Chairman General Bradshaw asked what future technologies we should be looking to invest in, one answer was particularly poignant: we are investing in our future now, via digital architectures. Whatever apps or system upgrades come next are next to impossible to predict; the key is to invest and maintain the architecture that enables innovative capabilities to be integrated.