World War e

News of a cut of 20,000 in UK troops seems to have settled in with begrudging acceptance though there has been plenty of comment about it. Personally I think it’s a good move, I’d rather the money saved was spent on keeping the remaining army equipped with the right tools for the job, and more often than not that means developing and deploying cutting edge technology, which the UK has traditionally excelled at.
If we look at the design of the Spitfire and our pioneering use of Radar, it’s clear that the UK has a habit of pulling technological rabbits out of hats, but there is a field outside plane design and radio detection which arguably equals or perhaps even outweighs the effect either had during World War II, and that will outweigh the strategic geopolitical effect that either will have in the coming decades of peacetime. That field is Computer Science.It’s true that in the past wars could be fought and won by ranging armies against each other and seeing who had the most brute force, but that’s the least likely threat that the UK faces today. We have allies across the globe with whom we have mutual defence treaties and ‘special relationships’ which ensures that the chances of a full-frontal attack against the UK by a sovereign State are very low. The real threat of a physical attack on the UK comes from non-state terrorist groups. We know that huge armies did not stop IRA attacks on the mainland of the UK, nor did they stop 9/11 or 7/7.

The conflicts of the future are likely to involve a virtual battleground, upon which crypto-boffins will engage in a battle for control of hardware and software system. The Stuxnet and Flame viruses – computer programs designed to infiltrate and render nuclear systems unusable or to harvest data and which many analysts agree could only have been developed and deployed with the funding and support of a State rather than a purely criminal enterprise are pointing the way to the intelligence gathering and wars of tommorrow.

In a world in which everything is controlled by computers, those who take control of computers take control of us all. The limited impact of the failure of IT systems at RBS was a huge inconvenience for RBS customers and those connected with them who did not receive payments or could not send payments. Imagine an attack that focused purely upon UK financial computer systems. Sent over the Internet or from a few agents deploying the right computer code in the right place at the right time. Imagine the effects of crippling our financial system, or even just a few key parts of it. The fallout could likely be as economically damaging as bombing major physical infrastructure.

The decision to reduce the number of physical personnel in our standing army is the right one overall, but it must be balanced with a drive to recruit people with an aptitude for IT systems who can shore up our technological defences against attacks written in software and not announced by the sending of soldiers and military hardware across national borders.

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