​Military ‘mask’: British Army gets ‘information warfare’ focus, says top general

Reuters / Omar Sobhani
The British Army is adopting a new mode of psychological warfare for the information age, inspired by the Russian concept of ‘maskirovka’, meaning military deception, according to a top UK general.

Under its new doctrine, dubbed “integrated action,” hard power would feature much less, while strategists and tacticians conceive of allies and enemies as “audiences” to be influenced by other means.

Speaking at Chatham House on Monday, General Sir Nicholas Carter gave the example of the 77th Brigade, a new unit formed in January with the purpose of fighting psychological warfare through communication channels such as social media.

Carter, who is head of the British Army, said the new doctrine was part of a wider shift toward a policy of “persistent engagement overseas,” where British troops are continuously engaged in military operations abroad.

Integrated action recognizes that the “character of conflict” has changed in the information age, he said.

Maneuver is now multidimensional. It started being two-dimensional with fire and movement. We introduced a third dimension with air and artillery. We moved through maneuver in the electromagnetic spectrum and we now find ourselves in an era of information maneuver.”

Carter said he views global affairs as being in a state of “constant competition,” adding that the new doctrine plays into this.

He pointed to his Russian counterpart General Valery Gerasimov’s espousal of ‘maskirovka’ as a pattern for future conflict.

Joergen Oerstroem Moeller, a Danish academic and foreign policy expert, defined maskirovka as: “Deliberately misleading the enemy with regard to [one’s] own intentions causing the opponent to make wrong decisions, thereby playing into your own hand.”

It was successfully employed by the Soviet Union to confuse the German high command in the later stages of World War II.

Writing in the Huffington Post last year, Moeller said today maskirovka is “mainly done through cunning use of networks to shape perceptions blurring the picture and opening up for world opinion to see your view as the correct one legitimizing policy steps you intend to take.

Carter said the British Army’s new doctrine of warfare will combine hard power with soft power, with an emphasis on communications and new media. At the tactical level, it will also involve thinking “laterally” about how to engage adversaries, he said.

The newly-formed 77th Brigade was cited as an example of the direction the British Army will go.

READ MORE:New British army elite unit to hone social media and psychological warfare

Due to be formally created in April, the new brigade is named in tribute to the Chindits, a Second World War British guerrilla force which used unorthodox tactics to confuse the Japanese army in Burma.

Soldiers with journalism and social media skills are among those being sought, as the new unit will be tasked with engaging in psychological warfare via Facebook, Twitter and other online media.

Colonel Richard Kemp criticized the move, warning the new operation should not mean fewer troops on the frontline at a time when the British armed forces have already been cut back.

My view is that this should not be done at the expense of combat troops,” he said.

Carter said the new doctrine of integrated engagement comes within a wider shift towards a policy of “persistent engagement overseas.”

READ MORE:NATO will be harmed by UK defense cuts, Obama tells Cameron

He cited the fact the British Army deployed 93,000 troops to 300 commitments in 50 countries last year as an example of the new policy.

This business of being persistently engaged overseas provides you with the basis that you can then operate with agility and with precision,” he said.

It also provides you with the ability to strengthen alliances and build partner capacity. It provides you, I think, with the opportunity to enhance security, stability and prosperity.”