Modernising Defence update calls for ‘sustained momentum’

The MOD is under pressure to demonstrate progress against its objectives ahead of the 2019 Spending Review, following an £1.8 billion injection announced in the Autumn Budget. So the ‘Mobilising, modernising and transforming defence’ report describes the current priorities, that have matured since the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2015 (SDSR15). 

The Defence Secretary launched the Modernising Defence Programme in January 2018, a spin-off of the SDSR15 in response to evolved international threats. Following a period of consultation and planning, Gavin Williamson shared headline conclusions with government in July, and published this December update to show the pace of delivery must be upheld. 

Modernising Defence report December 2018 front coverThe report imparts some progress in key areas, of which the most notable for the RFCAs: 

“The Flexible Working Act comes into effect in 2019, and gives personnel the option to serve part-time for agreed periods. It provides more choice over the way they serve, making it easier to raise children, care for elderly relatives or look after an ill family member. These measures will help us to retain personnel who have been trained and have gained important experience, particularly on operations, rather than having them leave for civilian life.”

In regards to specialist skills that are not found in the Regular Forces, such as AI, data analytics, cyberspace and space, the latest tack has changed from relying primarily on the Reserve Forces. On this the report recognises that: “We need to attract more high-end skills into Defence by providing unique opportunities and a competitive employment offer. We need to work with industry to ensure key skills are more available.”

The Defence Cyber School at the Defence Academy, Shrivenham launched in March 2018, a joint investment by the MOD and the Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ to teach specialist skills and wider education in line with National Cyber Security Strategy objectives. The National Cyber Security Centre builds on current capabilities by training a new cyber warfare unit staffed by 2,000 cyber security experts with a view that cyber will become a core part of military training. Teams of specialist Incident Responders will even be available to deploy to locations around the UK and overseas, to tackle malicious cyber activity. These teams include reservists, experts from industry and academia recruited to put their high tech skills at the service of the nation by weeding out network vulnerabilities. 

There is no reference to the Cadet Forces in the report, which comprises 126,000 cadets and 28,000 instructors operating out of more than 2,300 sites nationwide. Despite this, Cyber skills development has begun to be incorporated into the Cadet Forces programmes. The Defence Secretary announced last year the CyberFirst programme where £1M/yr will teach 2,000 cadets each year how to tackle cyber security problems, prevent threats and stop attacks happening on small networks. (See example by the RAF Air Cadets

Gavin Williamson said. “Cyber threats to the UK are constantly evolving and this exciting initiative to train and develop ‘cyber cadets’ – the first of its kind in a NATO state – reaffirms our leading role in tackling security threats head on.”

Modernising defence - cyber skills for VeteransOrganisations like Immersive Labs and HacktheBox provide learning materials, competitions like Locked Shields and Cyber Security Challenge UK help identify and challenge existing talent, and the increasing popularity of ethical hackers on social media (example). Robert Hannigan, former Director of GCHQ; and Chairman of Immersive Labs’ Advisory Board, which runs the Veterans’ Digital Cyber Academy ™, said: “Major institutions cannot wait for the cyber skills education pipeline to right itself. The key is to identify and develop talent and aptitude amongst existing staff, using techniques that are appropriate to a new generation.”

The full report can be found here. 

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