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Investing wisely in Defence

August 2022 update.

In March this year, we started a research group looking into the issue of defence and where to invest. It meets every two weeks, for one hour. So far, it has spent about eleven hours exploring the topic together. The initial discussion was a scatter of ideas from sea drones to rocket artillery from space command to agile manufacturing from supranational bodies to ethics from propaganda to OSINT from AI to military doctrine from cybersecurity to multi domain co-ordination from asymmetric warfare to digital sovereignty. In total, 71 different areas were considered important enough to highlight. So, how do you work out what is important?

Well, you could ask the experts [1]. Defence technology predictions for 2022 included sustainability, corporate responsibility, cybersecurity, policy, open source, satellite communication, multi-domain frameworks, use of platforms, IoT and cloud computing. It’s not too untypical of many corporations and all sounds rather familiar and sensible. But then building home grown data lakes and investing in private cloud seemed “sensible” in 2012.

To help sort through this, the research group was asked to categorise the different areas and vote on what they thought mattered most. They settled on cybersecurity, intelligence, military doctrine and the “grey zone” of conflict. There was some overlap with the experts but a different slant. For each of the areas chosen, the group then started to map out the space.

In each example, one subject kept appearing — that of supply chains. To explain this issue, let us first talk about defence in general. From Map 1, the ultimate user of defence is Government (of whatever form that happens to be).

Map 1 — Defence

Governments require two things — a society to govern (which in turn requires people) and legitimacy to govern. There are several factors involved in legitimacy including trust, but we will concentrate on the application of legitimate control i.e., sovereignty. The use of the square box on the map denotes those multiple things which have the meaning of “sovereignty” but we will come to that later.

Sovereignty operates over a theatre (i.e., land) and it assumes there is some form of competition (with other Governments) and that you have the capability to operate in that space i.e., you can’t operate in space without spaceships. Capability is linked to our awareness of what is happening which itself is tied to competition because not all “wars” are visible. Awareness itself is tied to the landscape in which all this “sovereignty” is happening on.

As noted, I used boxes to denote something where multiple things share a common meaning. In Map 2, I’ve expanded this out. It might look at little complicated but let us step through it.

Map 2 — Expanded Defence

There are many different forms of sovereignty from territorial to political to cultural to technological and economic. Each of these operate over a theatre. Cultural sovereignty operates over the theatre of culture including art whether that is Hollywood films portraying US values or interactive video games such as Hezbollah’s first-person shooters [2]. Territorial sovereignty operates over land, sea, air and space.

Sovereignty assumes competition i.e., there is some need for groups to strive (petere) for something with others (com). That competition can take many forms i.e., fighting with each other (conflict), labouring with each other (collaboration) or working with each other (co-operation).

Sovereignty also assumes you have some capability to operate with that capability often tied to a specific theatre. Kinetic capability is tied to theatres such as land, sea etc. Infiltration is tied to the theatre of Cyber. Influence to culture. Of course, our ability to execute on a capability is tied to our awareness of the underlying landscape. Hence our ability to use kinetic means is tied to our situational awareness of geography, of the opponents. Fortunately, we have strongly developed territorial awareness with satellites, maps, radars and situational analysis despite geography being so varied. Unfortunately, our awareness of supply chains (both physical and digital) along with behavioural landscapes appears poor. Lastly the visibility of this conflict varies often with the capability. Whilst kinetic capability is very visible, the realms of influence and infiltration are less so.

Using this map, the group then concentrated on our lack of supply chain awareness (both physical and digital) along with cultural awareness as being the main areas where investment should be focused. This is a far cry from where we had started some eleven hours beforehand with a focus on drones, AI, agile manufacturing and rocket artillery or from the expert predictions of corporate responsibility, open source and satellite communication. That is not to say that such capabilities aren’t important but as Colonel Custer discovered in the Battle of the Little Bighorn — having access to advanced technology such as gatling guns does not recover you from poor situational awareness.

As the Pentagon recently noted “The US is heavily reliant on China and Russia for its ammo supply chain”[3] and stockpiles of a critical key element — antimony — has plummeted from $42bn (1952) to $888M (2021). The scale of potential problems was highlighted in a May 2022 exercise on graphing Hungary’s economy through VAT records [4] which showed that in this nation of 91,000 companies then 75% of the entire national production is tightly linked to 100 companies. As Sri Lanka has discovered, losing control of parts of the supply chain (in this case caused by policy decisions on fertiliser use and taxation) has brought the nation to collapse [5] as critical national infrastructure has failed. As a warning, industrial giants such as BASF are cutting ammonia production (essential in synthetic fertilisers) due to gas supply crunch created by Russia [6]. This is not to say that we are Sri Lanka but that we do not know because we lack the awareness of our supply chains.

However, supply chains are not only about defence and protection. As RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) highlighted there are “Western Electronics at the Heart of Russia’s War Machine”[7]. Over 20 Russian weapons systems from cruise missiles to communication systems are vulnerable to supply chain restrictions but, of course, the effectiveness of any such approach depends upon how substitutable those components are, the existing stocks and how effectively Russia can be excluded from the supply chain. This, of course, doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences as the West has its own potential weaknesses in the semiconductor space due to Helium, Neon supplies [8] and the supply of refined Silicon.

All these areas are matters of defence and of protection for critical national infrastructure. The future of defence has expanded into a landscape of supply chains where we lack maps, radars and situational awareness.












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