UK military underfunded and vulnerable to cyber-attacks, say MPs

The Ministry of Defence is “too focused on identifying cyber risks” instead of “neutralising them” according to a wide-ranging report that calls for a significant budget boost for Britain’s armed forces.

The report from the Commons Defence Committee said the Government should start the process of raising the level of defence spending from 2 to 3 per cent of total GDP.

A cash injection on this scale would equate to additional funding of around £20bn a year and bring investment in defence to levels similar to those seen between the end of the Cold War and the mid-1990s.

The report followed a consultation period where it asked for comments from key stakeholders on how to improve Britain’s defence capabilities.

One submission called for a greater focus on deployable cyber capabilities and investment in electronic warfare (EW) capabilities to defend against more sophisticated threats.

Last year Russia used EW in Ukraine to direct artillery bombardment, and to distort GPS signals across much of Scandinavia during its ‘Zapad’ exercise.

Justin Bronk from independent think tank Royal United Services Institute said that Russia possesses “very strong jamming capabilities – broad-brush jamming – across the whole electromagnetic spectrum”.

He also noted that “Russian forces can’t compete with Western command-and-control-heavy, network-centric warfare, if Western systems are working as intended. Therefore, they do not intend to fight us with our systems operational.”

Russian forces down to the tactical level are trained to be able to continue operating even with modern command, communications and navigation systems disabled. The UK needs to develop similar flexibility to counter over-reliance on technology in operations the report recommends.

Sir Gordon Messenger, Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, recently said in an interview: “assume that your networks are going to be taken down and have a different way of doing things.”

The report also warns that Russia and China have been developing anti-satellite missile technology and are believed to be investing in a wider range of counter-space capabilities.

The UK military is heavily reliant on space-based technology for communications, navigation and surveillance purposes and the new challenges in space must be reflected in the next generation of capability, including the design of the Skynet 6 military communications satellite.

Use of low-cost microsatellites, such as the recently launched Carbonite-2 should also continue to be pursued, the report says.

Other suggestions include the possibility of deploying “cyber payloads” from space while the MoD’s Cyber Vulnerability Investigations programme said that UK Defence is “too focused on identifying cyber risks” when they should “be more focus on neutralising them”.

“The UK needs to be in a position to deter and challenge peer adversaries equipped with a full range of modern military technologies who seek to use them in ways that confuse our traditional conceptions of warfare,” the report concludes. “The likelihood of operating in contested environments across all five domains—maritime, land, air, cyber and space – should be reflected in this force structure.”

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