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.