DSEi makes me feel cheated

DSEi makes me feel cheated

DSEi makes me feel cheated

By Philip Ingram MBE

An audio/Podcast version of this Blog can be accessed here:

It is September 11th and I am at DSEi in London, however, another 11thSeptember and I’m in another conflict zone, this time on a reconnaissance a few weeks before deploying for over half a year. Sitting on the back of a Chinook helicopter flying into see the Italian Brigade in Multi-National Division South East (MDN SE) area of responsibility in SE Iraq. It is 2005.

There is a very distinctive feeling when the forward movement of the Chinook transitions into a hover for landing, the engine note, pitch of the rotor blades all signal a coming to the objective, the smell of burnt aviation fuel, the heat from the desert sands the quick check, rifle, helmet, day sack all secure, ready for another interesting and vital day of learning the operational area.

Then, from nowhere, a shiver, right down my spine, the hairs on the back of my neck stood out, I had one thought, phone back to Basra, the location for the Headquarters of MND (SE), phone quickly, something has happened. What a weird yet powerful feeling, I remember thinking, but I had to do it. Excusing myself to the general and chief of staff I followed the crew to the operations room to get to a phone.

Answered on its second ring, strange Andy, the officer I was replacing, was never in his office as his, my, daily routine was too busy. “Andy, this is a bit strange, but I have just had the urge to phone you, what has happened?” His reply was brief, “I can’t tell you Phil!” It was then I knew, my second day in Iraq, that it was serious.

“I’m with the new GOC and have just left him to make this phone call, I can’t tell him I’m not allowed to know, what the fuck has happened Andy!”  My tone made it very clear that he was going to have to answer, “Its Matt, he’s dead, there has been an IED, multiple casualties, the incident is still ongoing but Matt is dead,” my heart sank, my old company second in command, my Human Intelligence Officer, who I was looking forward to working with again, my mate, who was due to meet me early that evening had just been killed in a roadside bomb in Basra.

Fourteen years later to the day, and I am at the huge defence and security exhibition, DSEi, in London. Armoured vehicles, weapon systems, helicopters, warships, missiles and so many situational awareness capabilities are on display and I feel cheated.

Matt was traveling out of Basra in one of the British Army’s Snatch Landrover’s, lightly armoured, only good to protect against limited small arms fire, no good against sophisticated improvised explosive devices, designed to penetrate armour through the use of an explosively formed projectile, he was traveling because his helicopter had broken down twice and he had operational meetings to prepare for and he wanted to “get his shit together” for briefing me, his diligence was one of his strengths.

At subsequent inquests, the Snatch Landrover came in for huge criticism and blame for so many of the losses and injuries suffered in Iraq and subsequently in the early days of Afghanistan. I have no doubt they were partially to blame as their protection was inadequate for the threat.

However, if you are only relying on the armour of a vehicle for protection, then you have failed. Protection starts with the intelligence process, identifying threats from groups, on routes, to convoys. Identifying what weapons may be used and against what targets so modes of transport like “air movement only” or “Tracked vehicle escort required,” putting routes out of bounds until checked by search teams, all part of what should and must be a layered protection framework.

My first week of my full deployment in Iraq saw the operation to arrest the team that had carried out the attack on Matt’s convoy planned and executed, we got them, we disrupted an active cell, targeting British soldiers in Iraq but instead of being pleased with a successful operation, I was disturbed, very, very disturbed.

The targeting pack that was put together for the arrest operation, contained all of the relevant intelligence with associated reports, those reports were numerous, but the disturbing fact came from many that were pre 11 Sep.

With the focus provided by the incident, it was easy to see in the weeks leading up to the attack, a pattern of activity with a certain group, they had got IEDs, that pattern was around one or two locations, we had information where they were, that pattern showed their intent to attack a convoy on the route out of Basra, we had information about what they intended to do, that pattern showed the likely routes they were targeting, the road Matt used was the most likely, that pattern gave indications in the days just before 11thSeptember they were ready to carry out the attack.

We could see all of this because we had a fixed point, the attack, to work back from and piece together what happened. The information had been with the thousands and thousands of reports that were unintentionally buried in the volume of information that was coming into the intelligence cell.

It was buried as there were no tools to help the human analyst look for the very subtle patterns, that in dealing with an insurgency are vital indicators, those patterns only stood out with hindsight.

The trouble is hindsight is history and we were J2, the intelligence organisation, charged with predicting what was going to happen, to see into the future, to provide, amongst other things, that vital layer of protection outside the armour of vulnerable, lightly armoured vehicles.

The analysts were working to breaking point and beyond trying to deal with it. For every successful attack they had predicted and stopped 5, 10, 15 other attacks, the analysis were doing an amazing job under impossible circumstances.

I had a top “Tour De France” team trying to compete with a child’s bicycles and on the most part they remained competitive, a measure of the team’s human ability, but from time to time something fell off and when that happened people died and were maimed.

I didn’t have coherent databases, I didn’t have linked pattern analysis tools, I didn’t have the basic tools that enabled an intelligence operation, reliant on spotting subtleties, reliant on quickly identifying patterns, reliant on the ability to process multiple sources of information and enable the analysts to handle the volume of information, I didn’t have the tools that had existed in Northern Ireland from the early 1980, that had helped the security forces predict terrorist activity with real accuracy and disrupt them successfully, in 2005 I didn’t have those tools on operations where lives were being lost.

As I left Iraq in 2006 after a harrowing tour, with too many incidents my intelligence team had failed to predict, failed through no fault of their effort, diligence or training, failed because we were in an international race with a child’s bike level of equipment – I wrote to the Permanent Joint Headquarters in my post operational report that, “The lack of an integrated intelligence database and associated analysis tools has resulted in the deaths and injury of British and Allied service personnel and Iraqi Civilians.”  I confirmed by phone the report had been received and read and the only comment back was “Phil, you are right.”

So, as I look at all of the analysis tools available at DSEI and talk their history through with the companies displaying them, knowing we had similar capabilities in Northern Ireland in the 1980’s I feel cheated. I feel cheated for Matt, for Cpl C and the 2 Fusiliers seriously injured in the attack, for the medic who attended them, Fusilier S who I wrote up for the George Medal for is efforts that day, it was a serious incident, he got the award but is now suffering after leaving the Army, for every one of the 13 others killed and 40+ physically injured on my tour I feel cheated, they were cheated.RIP Matt.

DSEi – looking an INFO OPS gift horse in the mouth

DSEi – looking an INFO OPS gift horse in the mouth

DSEi – looking an INFO OPS gift horse in the mouth

by Philip Ingram MBE

The bi-annual defence exhibition in London DSEi kicks off in a few days’ time and preparations have been under way at Excel in London for quite some time as the event is huge. It is recognised as one of the world’s leading defence showcases and this is its 20thyear.

For ‘UK PLC’, DSEi is an opportunity to showcase UK defence exports which according to the government’s own website, “On a rolling 10-year basis, UK remains the second largest global defence exporter. In 2017, the UK won defence orders worth £9 billion, up on the previous year’s (£5.9 billion) and further illustrative of the ‘volatile’ nature of the global export market.

The UK share of the global defence export market was estimated at 12% in 2017. The UK’s largest defence export markets were the Middle East, North America and Europe. In 2017, the value of UK security export sales was £4.8 billion, an increase from 2016 (£4.3 billion) moving the UK upwards from fifth to fourth largest exporter.”

In the DSEi official event preview, Air Chief Marshall Mike Wigston CBE, the Chief of the Air Staff says, “For the Royal Air Force, DSEi is a superb opportunity to develop our relationships with allies and industry partners. In the face of an increasingly unpredictable global security environment, our international relationships are as important today as they have ever been.” He talks of collaboration, challenges, improving relationships, but doesn’t mention military effect

General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith KCB, CBE, ADC Gen, the Chief of the General Staff does talk about effects when he says, “Armies must be able to think and adapt faster than the adversary to gain a position of relative advantage.” He emphasises the importance of the information environment when he says, “This physical activity is complemented by our burgeoning Information Manoeuvre capabilities,” and talks of “non-lethal engagement.”

Admiral Tony Radkin CB ADC, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff discusses the arrival of the Navy’s two new aircraft carriers and impending re-capitalisation of the Frigate force as he hopes the Type 31e announcement will be made at the show. He adds, “We will be looking to exploit the adaptability of our future fleet, to deliver increased global presence and lethality through the rapid adoption of new and novel technologies.”

General Patrick Sanders CBE DSO ADC Gen, Commander Joint Forces Command, reiterates the sentiments of the other officers; complex environment, international relationships and says, “The recent review into JFC gave us a strengthened mandate to be the defence lead for the cyber domain and the information environment.” (As an aside, why do so many put cyber and information in the same sentence? – a subject for another article.)

As these grand words come out in print there is a reality developing.  RT.com, the Russian state sponsored television outlet has put together a documentary which they say will give a balanced view of the anti-war campaign and the pro event benefits. They have been preparing this for weeks. How balanced it will be has yet to be seen.

In recent months we have seen the Russians laud their newhypersonic cruise missile, Avangard, which they said is able to get through all Western defences. We have been told about the Zirkon missile, a hypersonic ship killer with a 250-mile range.  The T-14 Armata tank featured upgraded armour, computerised systems, a new 125mm smoothbore gun designed to take on the latest in western armour, and a range of over 500 kilometres. With a multipurpose chassis, unmanned turret and crew of two, a wow in any tank world.

All of these capabilities have been pushed out as part of a sustained Russian Information Operation campaign. Closer to home the anti-war brigade has been demonstrating outside Excel trying to disrupt equipment being delivered and according to the Morning Star, by Thursday 5thSeptember at least 53 had been arrested.  In interviews they suggest people will be buying weapons at the event like you would buy computer games at a gaming expo.

Why are they not being told that these Russian claims are merely part of a wider game of Maskirovka.Then telling the anti-war campaigners that this isn’t how expos work and the reality of what defence does, the good it does, of how, as they use the internet, the GPS on their phones and more, they are being hypocritical as these are all originally defence projects that now benefit society as a whole?

Meanwhile around the globe, as well as helping defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, prop up the Afghan Government, stop terror devastating communities in Africa, pre-position disaster relief capability and then help save lives and begin to rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. As well as intercept and escort Russian aircraft and ships probing the boundaries of NATO, ensuring freedom of navigation in the disputed South China seas, escort shipping though the Straits of Hormuz to counter Iran’s increased aggression, and continue to support UN, EU and other coalition operations. All of these activities give huge potential for fact based, focused information operations to take the sting out of the protesters, set the record straight with Russian aggression and technological claims and send a message to the world about Britain’s global military capability.

Many don’t realise that our services are not just there to fight wars. Every day they are helping communities at home, providing assistance with other Government departments overseas. Saving lives, rebuilding disaster hit communities, doing good! Many don’t realise it, as they are not being told about it.

UK Defence is showing the world that cross government cooperation in the UK is making a difference despite the Brexit chaos whilst many EU and G7 allies who are much more politically stable do very little. It clearly demonstrates government working justifying what ministers describe as the UK’s tier one status.  Why is this not being lauded from the highest vantage points?

All of these points are what should be part of a well planned and centrally executed preparation of the information space, operations within the information space to achieve an effect, and that effect should be righting the wrongs above and then exploiting the success to show the UK, despite political speedbumps, can and does still meet its P5 responsibilities and is, now, today, saving lives.

At the DSEi pre event Press Briefing, talking to Jonathan Beale the BBC Defence Correspondent, he said “I might not even go to the show.” Many were left underwhelmed. Defence’s use of this event to take a “lead in the information environment” and properly utilise “our burgeoning Information Manoeuvre capabilities” has simply not materialised. Politicians need to understand the importance of the information environment today, enable operational freedom in the information environment and allow Generals, Air Marshals and Admirals to properly understand it and exploit it for the defence of our global position. Generals, Air Marshals and Admirals need to stop being scared of the information environment and properly manoeuvre within it for clearly defined effects and run operations in it like any other military operation.  DSEi as a platform for this is lost for another 2 years.