Achieving global mobility for the UK Armed Forces

An SAC working in the General Engineering Flight hanger at RAF Akrotiri, photo by SAC Jodie Ireland RAF/UK MOD Crown Copyright Open Government License

SAC Jodie Ireland RAF/UK MOD Crown Copyright Open Government License

Researchers propose a range of options that could help the UK MOD meet its global mobility requirements between now and 2040 while offering the mobility fleet both effectiveness and resilience.

What is the issue?

To deliver on the UK’s ambition of being a ‘Global Britain’ and contribute to tackling a wide range of crises and operations both close to home and further afield, the UK Armed Forces will need the right force design and mix of military capabilities to enable them to be ‘in the right place at the right time’.

Understanding how future mobility requirements are likely to change will help Defence decision makers in making capability choices to meet the UK’s stated ambitions.

How did we help?

RAND Europe researchers helped to identify a range of options to help meet the UK’s global mobility requirements between now and 2040, on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre.

By employing a literature review and consulting experts from across the Armed Forces and academia, and partners in the Global Strategic Partnership, we examined the high-level core military requirements, any potential shortfalls and the influence of emerging and new technologies on the delivery of global mobility.

What did we find?

  • Requirements for global mobility will be shaped by different factors, including: the changing nature of the threat environment; an increasingly contested physical; cyber and electromagnetic environment; as well as climate-degraded areas and political obstacles from nations refusing access, basing and overflight.
  • Developments in the information environment, cyberspace and space hold the potential to seamlessly integrate data between various systems, for example through a ‘digital backbone’, and achieve better situational awareness. However, at the same time, security and operational risks are magnified as adversaries might compromise, disable or outright destroy such capabilities.
  • Wider political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental trends will also shape requirements for global mobility. These include urbanisation, climate change and net zero objectives, developments in the commercial sector, particularly in automation, autonomy and advanced manufacturing, or shifting alliances and partnerships – many of which Defence cannot influence alone but will need to help shape or mitigate.

What can be done?

A range of options should be considered which, when in combination, could offer both effectiveness and resilience to the UK’s mobility fleet and the systems which support them. These options consider both the ‘supply’ side of mobility and ways in which the ‘demand’ for mobility could be reduced and/or made more effective:

  • Multi-role platforms - promising greater adaptability, agility and interoperability but also bringing their own risks, such as potentially being seen as expensive targets and hence too valuable to deploy to high-end threat environments.
  • International collaboration - opening opportunities for more cost-effective access to mobility assets through pooling and sharing and increasing interoperability, but also posing challenges in terms of availability, reliability and achieving mutual benefit for all partners involved.
  • Commercial solutions - presenting cost-effective options for permissive environments and low risk transport and logistics as well as opportunities to achieve greater environmental sustainability; but also with fewer assurances on availability.
  • Uncrewed, optionally crewed, lightweight assets - holding potential for both cost reduction and reduction of the risk to life, as well as enabling operations in challenging environments but presenting regulatory challenges.
  • Data-driven and/or data-enabled mobility - presenting a necessary part of the overall digital integration of Defence systems but enhancing cyber risks and vulnerabilities.
  • Additive manufacturing - building on successes in the commercial sector in streamlining supplies management and logistics, though applicability to the unique defence context is likely to be different across domains.

To design an effective and resilient model for delivering global mobility, the MOD could focus on the following policy actions:

  1. Place more focus on resilience and redundancy and less on efficiency to better resource global mobility delivery, understanding the upfront costs as a necessary hedge against shocks.
  2. Approach mobility from a ‘Multi-Domain Integration’ perspective to increase synergies across the joint force, cutting across the traditional remit of individual Services or Top-Level Budget holders and pursuing multi-domain and multi-modal solutions to address demand for mobility.
  3. Strengthen multinational collaboration arrangements to extract greater value from them, whether in terms of military capability, industrial benefits or international influence.
  4. Work with partners and allies to improve access, basing and overflight, and the freedom to operate in key regions, including areas of increasing strategic relevance such as the Indo-Pacific.
  5. Invest in strategic bases and regional hubs to allow for forward basing of mobility assets and increased use of prepositioning to reduce deployment lead times and enhance deterrence.
  6. Map the vulnerabilities across Defence’s global mobility assets and infrastructure to help address potential areas of risk, including but not limited to the growing challenge posed by air and missile threats, cyber-attacks and environmental degradation.
  7. Increase the protection and survivability of global mobility assets and infrastructure to enable operations in a range of threat environments, given the proliferation of so-called A2AD capabilities.
  8. Approach global mobility from a sustainability and net carbon zero perspective to ensure alignment with broader government sustainability goals (so far as security imperatives allow).