The former head of Strategic Command, General Sir Richard Barrons, has made an astonishing admission about the UK’s lack of resilience in the face of a hybrid attack by a determined and capable foe.
Speaking to the Grey Zone – a podcast produced by Sky News journalists – General Barrons admitted the UK is weaker than some of its main state adversaries in hybrid warfare, which involves a combination of conventional missile strikes, cyber and social media offensives.
General Barrons said the use of “long-range precision conventional high explosive missiles targeted at critical national infrastructure” combined with cyber attacks on the same targets and “amplified through social media to cause mass concern amongst the civil population” could quickly break the UK’s will.
He went on to claim that just two weeks of missile and cyber attacks combined with “social media messaging saying it [the attacks] will get worse” could “deplete” the UK’s will to resist.
General Barrons was speaking to the eighth episode of the Grey Zone entitled: “When the Grey Zone Becomes a War Zone”.
UK Strategic Command – formerly known as Joint Forces Command – is effectively the strategic brain of the British armed forces and to that end it is at the forefront of overseeing the development of new military technologies in the cyber and space domains.
General Barrons’ successor as head of Strategic Command, General Sir Patrick Sanders, claimed last September that the UK has developed cyber weapons to “degrade, disrupt and even destroy” the critical national infrastructure and capabilities of nation-states opposed to British foreign policy.
At around the same time, the Chief of the General Staff (the professional head of the army), General Mark Carleton-Smith, claimed that in the “near future” British soldiers will be operating alongside “robots” as part of a broader transformation of army capabilities and priorities.
These statements came on the heels of a request by the head of British military intelligence, General Jim Hockenhull, for the government to direct more funding toward emerging specialist areas, notably “artificial intelligence”, “machine learning” and “ground-breaking technologies”.
Set against the backdrop of these bullish statements, General Barron’s frank presentation centered on severe UK weakness in the face of a well-executed and sustained hybrid attack comes as a surprise and begs the question as to what motives drove him to make that admission.
The answer may lie in the nature of the Grey Zone podcast which purports to investigate hostile actions that lie just below the threshold of war, notably “assassinations”, “cyber hacks” and “disinformation”.
But in reality the podcast – which is 10 episodes long – is a form of British disinformation – if not outright propaganda – insofar as it focuses purely on the alleged activities and capabilities of the UK’s foes and rivals.
Furthermore, the podcast is produced by Sky News journalists who are openly sympathetic to the world view and activities of the British secret state and on that basis they have gained remarkable, if not unprecedented, access to the highest echelons of the military as well as the intelligence services.
General Barrons , who styles himself as an expert on the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, which according to the Grey Zone can involve anything involving technology such as “artificial intelligence” and “quantum computing”, may well be trying to reinforce his colleagues’ plea for even more financial support from the government.
Whatever his motivation, a noteworthy omission was the failure to discuss how and to what extent the UK’s intensifying centrifugal forces – notably the Scottish independence movement and the broader constitutional crisis – will hamper the UK’s efforts at fighting back in a hybrid warfare scenario.