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Two years of all-out war in Ukraine shows size matters for the British Army

It has now been two years since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and UDSS co-chair General Sir Richard Barrons talks to Forces News about how the conflict is teaching the British Army valuable lessons about fighting a modern digital land war.

Two years after the onset of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the British Army finds itself at a pivotal learning curve, gleaning invaluable insights into the dynamics of modern digital warfare. General Sir Richard Barrons, sheds light on the crucial lessons being absorbed by the British forces amidst the ongoing conflict.


The Importance of Scale in Modern Conflict

General Barrons emphasises the critical role of scale in confronting a well-entrenched adversary like Russia. The conflict has starkly demonstrated that technology alone does not tip the scales; numerical strength is equally vital. "You need really big concentrations of forces to break through a really coherent defence,” Barrons notes, highlighting the daunting fortifications Russia has established in southern Ukraine.

The Significance of 'Mass'

UDSS’ co-chair further elaborates on the concept of 'mass' in military strategy. Achieving a favourable force ratio, ranging from three to one and ideally stretching to seven to one, is paramount for offensive success. 

"If you are going to do that sort of thing you are going to have to get bigger and get more stuff," Barrons asserts.

Endurance and the 'Dad's Army'

The endurance factor brings another dimension to the discussion, underscored by the average age of Ukrainian frontline soldiers being 43. This demographic detail underscores a broader narrative of resilience and mass mobilisation necessary for sustained military engagement.

"Ukraine has probably got something like 60,000 amputees from the war so far... the size of the British Army today is about 73,000, so you need mass."

The British Army: Rethinking Recruitment and Army Composition

Contrary to conventional recruitment strategies focused on increasing regular forces, General Barrons advocates for a composite approach. This strategy envisions an integrated force comprising regular soldiers, reserves, and volunteers, potentially tapping into civil society to bolster the army's ranks in times of crisis.

Preparing for Future Conflicts

The narrative extends beyond mere numbers. The British Army is closely analysing the conduct of the Ukraine war, which melds trench warfare's brutality with cutting-edge digital technologies. This dual nature of conflict demands a transformation in military operations, integrating unmanned systems, drones, and autonomous technologies with traditional combat tactics.

Precision and Transparency on the Battlefield

Another critical takeaway from the Ukraine conflict is precision weapons' role and battlefields' increased transparency. Advances in technology are expected to enhance the British Army's operational capabilities significantly, allowing for more effective long-range engagements.

A Call to Action

As the conflict in Ukraine continues to unfold, it serves as a stark reminder of the complexities of modern warfare. General Sir Richard Barrons' insights reflect on the immediate lessons learned and the broader implications for the future of the British Army. With the smallest army in 300 years, the UK faces the imperative to adapt and evolve, strengthening its ties with civil society and industry to ensure readiness for any potential European conflict.

The Ukraine war has thus become a catalyst for change within the British Army, signalling a shift towards a more versatile, resilient, and technologically adept force capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century. As we look ahead, the integration of lessons learned from the frontline into strategic military planning will be crucial for safeguarding the future.

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