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New QinetiQ Report Flags Unconventional Threats & New Defence Priorities

Canada and Western allies need to accelerate the deployment of emerging technologies and use them to adapt conventional capabilities so they can mitigate the growing threat of “grey zone” conflict. That’s according to the new “Confidence in Chaos” report from global integrated defence and security company QinetiQ. Grey zone attacks exploit the widest range of social, political, economic and military instruments available to achieve maximum effect. They do not, however, usually provoke a conventional military response and are sometimes not recognized as formal acts of aggression.

Mike Sewart, Group CTO, QinetiQ said “Grey zone tactics are today’s reality and the West and its allies have no option but to adapt. Simply doing what we’ve always done is neither recommended nor possible, given broader budget challenges facing nations impacted by COVID and economic hardship. Policy makers need to drive an integrated approach, reassess defence budgets, and ensure allocated resource to new information and emerging technologies that can prepare them to manage in this new context.” The report, which looks at the shifts from traditional open warfare to “grey zone” or sub-threshold tactics, provides six strategic defence and security recommendations. This guidance aims to help governments significantly review defence spending and priorities if the West is to keep pace with the changing nature of warfare and the increase in grey zone attacks. These underpinning principles include:

  1. The integration of defence and security at a strategic level – grey zone conflicts don’t discriminate between these types of operations so an effective response shouldn’t either;
  2. Innovation must be mission-led, ensuring all new ideas are driven solely by mission outcomes;
  3. Practice ‘positive experimentation’ that stimulates a more systemic approach to introducing innovation – promoting a continuous cycle of learning development and adoption;
  4. Adopting a more dynamic process in testing and evaluation to relentlessly improve performance, safety and operational effect;
  5. Encourage open architecture to provide the ability to plug and play with new innovation, delivering quick adaptability and asset modification;
  6. Moving training on from a set piece activity to a process that continuously adapts to changes in the environment and the development of new skills.

By looking at the increasing access to emerging technologies, the advent of a new world system and the growth of novel domains, the report seeks to explore the practicalities of countering grey zone conflicts. The use of technology also makes it easier for adversaries to attack Western homelands, interfering in critical national infrastructure, or democratic processes like elections. To highlight the central role that technology plays in adapting to defend against grey zone attacks, the report provides 10 technology areas that QinetiQ sees as being crucial to helping the West adjust its capabilities and counter grey zone tactics. These include:

  1. AI, analytics and advanced computing – By drawing and fusing data from multiple sources, AI can deduce enemy locations and even model predicted behaviours.
  2. Cyber and electromagnetic activities – The cyber domain is vital front in grey zone competition, with a lot of discussion focusing on this topic. Less discussed is the vulnerability of the electromagnetic spectrum
  3. Power sources, energy storage and distribution – Some scenarios require highly specialized energy storage and power delivery systems, as opposed to focusing on grid energy.
  4. Robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) – in the grey zone, RAS could harness the collective power of multiple systems to provide more granular situational awareness, as well as helping to expand the user’s sphere of influence.

The report details a number of possible scenarios and how the technologies listed above can be used to counter these – from AI and machine learning to help monitor the information space to help reduce lone wolf attacks, to signals intelligence countering a hostile state’s reliance on foreign fighters. Sewart concludes: “With defence spending around the world coming under increasing public and government scrutiny, we are at cross-roads in how we evolve our defence and security infrastructure to be fit for purpose. The traditional supremacy of allied forces in conventional military conflicts currently doesn’t extend to grey zone tactics, so a new approach needs to be readily considered and deployed”.

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