Boost to UK army's power on land 'needed for modern warfare'

Ukraine war shows that close combat continues to play a central role in war, senior British military officer says

A British soldier beside armoured vehicles during a UN mission in Mali. AFP
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The British Army’s highest ranking female officer has underscored the need to invest in traditional military hardware, noting that the conflict in Ukraine shows close combat remains a critical element of modern warfare.

Sharon Nesmith, deputy chief of the general staff, said Russia’s invasion of its neighbour and the raging cost-of-living crisis means the UK government is faced with making salient decisions in a “profoundly challenging global fiscal environment”.

During a speech at the International Armoured Vehicles conference in Twickenham, in south-west London on Tuesday, she highlighted the “continued centrality of armoured vehicles to our war-fighting capability”.

Britain last week announced further military support for Kyiv which includes “hundreds more armoured and protective vehicles”.

Lt Gen Nesmith told the audience that Rishi Sunak is “very focused on our collective security” combined with “the need to bolster UK prosperity”.

She said the Prime Minister’s vision “places the UK’s reinvigorated land industry front and centre for investment”.

“Of course, the British Army needs it with 70 per cent of our current land platforms [military vehicles] reaching their out-of-service date in the next 10 years.

“So it’s about spending our money wisely, choosing what we decide to invest in and, importantly, what we choose not to invest it, and when.”

Rishi Sunak meets Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a visit to Kyiv. PA

Those who may question the relevance of such equipment in the 21st century should look to Ukraine for proof, she said.

Protected mobility vehicles make up a large proportion of the British Army’s land equipment, followed by armoured fighting vehicles (AFV) and armoured personnel carriers (APC).

The Bulldog (APC) and Warrior (AFV) are the most common types of combat equipment land platforms in the armed forces.

“The war in Ukraine has reminded us of the utility of land power,” she said. “It takes an army to hold and regain territory and defend the people who live there. It takes an army to deter.”

“Of course, new technologies present opportunities for significant advantage, but the modern battlefield is still characterised by visceral close combat that must be won decisively, and where a moral imperative and collective endurance all matter,” she added.

“Ukraine continues to demonstrate that armoured vehicles, although not without risk, underwrite mobility, survivability and lethality in the close battles of modern warfare, contributing to combat credibility and deterrence, offering politicians significant choice.

“No existing capability can match the tactical utility nor strategic influence of armoured forces, regardless of what YouTube may tell us.”

President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has shone a light on the stark truth “that if you want to avert conflict, in effect to deter, you'd better be prepared to fight,” she said.

Lt Gen Nesmith became the first woman to hold the role of deputy chief of the general staff when she was appointed last August.

At the time, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the mother-of-two would bring her “extensive experience and new ideas to drive the Army’s transformation and deal with emerging threats across the world.”

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The four-day International Armoured Vehicles event in Twickenham opened on Monday with dozens of protesters gathered nearby.

Supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign were among those holding banners outside Twickenham Stadium on Monday, as they criticised the venue for offering a platform for weapons manufacturers.

Updated: January 25, 2023, 6:50 AM