Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 November 2019

British Army to mobilise cyber spies to combat ISIS and Russia threats

A new division will comprise troops working to counter the spread of disinformation

The British Army is restructuring with a new unit, which will combat cyber threats. Reuters
The British Army is restructuring with a new unit, which will combat cyber threats. Reuters

The British Army is launching a new division specialising in hybrid warfare to combat cyber threats from hostile states and extremist groups.

Troops in the Sixth Division, as the new unit has been titled, will be trained in intelligence gathering, counter-propaganda and electronic warfare to be used against groups such as ISIS, who have traditionally used the digital sphere - and in particular social media - to share its propaganda and attract new recruits.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) said the new division was part of plans to “rebalance the Field Army” and to “defeat adversaries both above and below the threshold of conventional conflict”.

“This change will be integrated within broader defence, national and alliance efforts and enable the Field Army to operate and fight more effectively above and below the threshold of conflict,” the MOD said in a statement.

The troops moved into the Sixth Division, the British Army’s first dedicated information warfare formation, will come from existing units within the military as well as a small number from the country’s Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

No additional resources are involved in the move and the overall military personnel numbers would remain the same after the restructure, the MOD said.

The move comes amid an increasing rush to use cyber platforms as an offensive tool to target hostile activity. The US agencies and Britain’s GCHQ intelligence operation used an information warfare campaign to undermine ISIS’s message in northern Iraq and Syria. The combined forces used a redirection technique to debunk ISIS’s ideology by sending a user to sites countering the extremist group’s propaganda. GCHQ said the effort had contributed to the coalition forces efforts to defeat ISIS in the region.

“The character of warfare continues to change as the boundaries between conventional and unconventional warfare become increasingly blurred,” Lieutenant General Ivan Jones, Commander of the Field Army, said.

“The army must remain adaptable and evolve as a fighting force.

“The three complementary British army divisions harness the wide range of British army capabilities, providing choice to the government in defence of the UK’s interests ... The speed of change is moving at a remarkable rate and it will only get faster and more complex.”

Britain and the West have come under criticism for being slow to react to cyber threats from hostile states such as Russia.

More recently bad actors linked to Russia were able to spread fake news stories about the poor conduct of British Army soldiers during a military exercise in Croatia.

Lt Gen Jones revealed the Sixth Division’s formal inauguration at a flag-raising ceremony would take place in Wiltshire, southern England on Wednesday.

He described the ceremony as “a low key affair that rather befits a formation that will operate discreetly to shape perception and behaviour”.

Updated: August 1, 2019 06:06 PM