Lesson from Ukraine is UK needs more drones, military chief says

Head of the armed forces suggests commanders abandon outdated projects and focus more on drone warfare

Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin has called on Britain's armed forces to rapidly learn the lessons from the Ukraine war. PA
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Lessons learnt from warfare in Ukraine, such as the importance of drones, have not been enacted and outdated projects should be “ditched”, the head of Britain's armed forces has said.

During a talk at the DSEI defence exhibition, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin has called on forces to rapidly adapt their fighting capabilities, suggesting they build a fleet of 500 warships but with “400 of them drones”, or an air force of 2,000 fighters but three quarters of them unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Chief of the Defence Staff also questioned if Britain’s £53 billion ($66 billion) defence budget was being spent “as wisely as possible”.

“What do we need to change? What do we need to actually ditch? What do we need to reprioritise to bring in extraordinary technology that's on offer?” he asked.

He also questioned why the military had to “live with some of our ridiculous hierarchy and processes to do things differently in order to deliver more”.

Ukraine was also demonstrating that long-range missiles and attack drones were having a real impact on the ability to penetrate a country’s defences, with both Moscow and Kyiv suffering strikes.

“Do we need to have a conversation about integrated air missile defence?” he asked. “Do we need to work even more closely with GCHQ and our intelligence partners in order to better protect not only the department of defence but our nation?”

It was now key for Britain’s military leaders to enact the lessons learnt from the war, the admiral said.

“If we're providing literally hundreds of one-way attack drones to Ukraine, then when we look at our own army where are our one-way attack drone regiments?”

Similarly, with Ukraine’s advances in naval attack drones, that have severely damaged two Russia ships, Sir Tony questioned why the Royal Navy was not developing a “coastal raiding squadron”.

He urged military commanders to think differently, using their budgets for better procurement.

“What would it look like to have 500 ships in the navy, but 400 of those are drones? What would it look like to have an air force of 2,000 aircraft but 1,500 of them drones?” he asked.

“That feels to me that that's the journey that we're on, how we make that a more mainstream part of our armed forces.”

The admiral also praised the “extraordinary statecraft” to address global threats that was currently happening among world leaders, with US President Joe Biden inviting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington and the “relationship that you're seeing with the UK and Saudi Arabia”.

Updated: September 14, 2023, 4:35 PM