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MoD Identifies Technology As Key Driver For UK Operating Future

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Government whitepaper offers up likely defence and security predictions in next 20 years

A UK Government whitepaper has offered a chilling glimpse into the future, and the likely security and defence threats the country will be facing in 2035.

The paper dubbed “Future Operating Environment 2035” was originally published in December but has only come to light three months later.

Uncertain Future

The whitepaper was written by an MoD thinktank called the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC).

Its role is to help decision makers prepare about future issues and trends over the next 20 years, mostly centred around defence matters, but also including cyber issues. It believes that technology will be the key driver for military change over the next 20 years.

The whitepaper itself aims to provide a “comprehensive picture of the future” and has predicted that the future British prime minister will have to confront “significant challenges resulting from population growth, migration, greater demand for energy, climate change, continuing globalisation, rapid urbanisation and the exponential rate of change in some readily-available technologies.”

eurofighter eads military aircraft plane defence © Graham Taylor ShutterstockIt predicted that because the UK will be more interconnected thanks to globalisation, “disruptive events” by 2035 will likely have global consequences. It predicts that the balance of power will continue to shift away from North America and Europe and towards Asia, and that the US, Europe, and China will be the three economic powers, with India rapidly rising.

It also warned that “non-state actors will also aim to exert influence (for example, through sponsoring terrorism or cyber attacks).”

Climate change will impact the world, with sea levels rising and extreme climatic events “resulting in loss of life, physical destruction, disease and famine.” It also predicted that there will be increasing demand for a range of natural resources including fossil fuels, rare earth elements and new ‘high tech’ materials.

Tech Influence

“Technology will be a key driver of change due to the rate of advance and growing accessibility in some fields,” predicted the paper.

“A novel approach to technology is also likely to provide opportunities to offset some sources of future tension.”

Scout SV Specialist VehicleGlobalisation of technology will lead to greater proliferation of lower-end equipment and a reduction in its cost, through economies of scale,” it said. “This will allow a wider range of actors access to comparatively sophisticated weapons. Actors may employ existing dual use or commercial technologies in highly innovative ways, which may be disruptive. The previous technological advantage enjoyed by Western militaries will continue to be reduced out to 2035, for a number of reasons.”

“Proliferation of technology means that a range of actors will have access to systems which used to be the sole preserve of developed countries,” it said (for example drone technology could become widespread.

“At the same time, Western countries are likely to be overtaken economically, meaning that they can be outspent on mass and capability. Furthermore, the West is unlikely to be able to rely entirely on high-end prime platforms to maintain its edge, as these look set to become considerably more expensive – making procurement of sufficient numbers unviable.”

The thinktank urged a ‘whole of UK Government’ approach, based on a concept of security that goes beyond military effect.”

And it found that “critical UK infrastructure may become increasingly vulnerable to remote attack, particularly from cyberspace,” in the years ahead.

It should be noted that the UK is already taking steps. For example GCHQ already runs a nationwide competition called Astute Explorer, designed to help discover people with much needed cyber defence talent.

And in October 2013, Lieutenant Colonel Michael White, the head of the military’s Joint Cyber Reserve Unit, said that if black hats (i.e. convicted hackers) could pass the background checks, they could join the British military.

The paper examines other technological changes that could affected the country.

It concludes that “cyberspace will be ubiquitous by 2035, pervading every aspect of the physical environments to a far higher degree than today.”
“Dominance of global cyberspace will be impossible: states will struggle to control cyberspace, because its infrastructure is so widely dispersed,” it found. “Cyber activity may offer a credible way to provide deterrent effect that complies with the principle of distinction, perhaps by threatening a state’s critical infrastructure, rendering that state open to coercion.”

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