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Mar 2 2022

studying the changing character of war at oxford

The Allied Rapid Reaction Corps staff worked with leading academics from across the United Kingdom to develop an understanding of warfighting in the modern era during a symposium at the University of Oxford, 2 March 2022. Organised alongside the renowned Changing Character of Warfare Centre, the event provided an intellectual exploration of relevant themes, including the prominence of information superiority in future wars and how information warfare will be prosecuted.

It is rare that we take time to think deeply about 'left of bang' activity," highlighted U.S. Army Colonel Arnel David, one of the organisers from the ARRC. "This is the competitive and confrontational space before large scale armed conflict, but endures throughout all phases of war.


Other topics discussed with scholars from multiple disciplines included psychological operations, influence, hybrid warfare, special operations and the importance of the human domain in conflict, and the need for warfighters to maintain flexibility and adapt to changing circumstances.

Dr David Kilcullen, an author, professor and strategist, provided the top-ten lessons from the first week of fighting in Ukraine.

Dr Christopher Tripodi, from King's College in London, illuminated the human dynamics at play in Ukraine and warned of the difficulties of trying to wage a counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign. Much of his research is playing out in myriad ways, with state actors and military organisations underestimating the hyper-local complexity of the people on the ground.


In cyberspace, presenters from Zignal Labs and academia demonstrated the depth of adversarial campaigns to manipulate and influence pertinent populations. "On the surface, it appears the West is behind," said Alex del Castillo, former information operations specialist, "but in some respect, there are leading technologies being employed by numerous military headquarters with great effect."

There was a strong desire by several information specialists in the ARRC to explore these tools further to conduct target audience analysis and information environment assessments.

The Russian Army's actions require a fundamental re-examination of our assumptions, said British Army Major Graham Jackson, another lead organiser for the week of academics.

A Royal Air Force member of the ARRC pointed out the value of taking a day to invest in "more thinking time" where proper reflection and lessons can be captured, analysed and shared across the whole staff.

"It is important that we maintain a strong bridge between academia and the military," stated Dr Rob Johnson, director of the Oxford Changing Character of Warfare Centre. "Academics have the freedom to speak their mind and challenge conventional thinking." Johnson, who was sought out by the ARRC two years ago to provide academic expertise, was instrumental in synthesising each presentation and explaining the relevance of numerous topics as they impact modern warfare today.

The location and atmosphere at St. Hilda's College at Oxford allowed for academic experts to convene on a location regarded as a centre of intellectual excellence in the world.

Royal Marines Major Julian Apps from the ARRC Plans Branch summarised the day by warning, "it is essential that we capture the many lessons of the last twenty years of COIN and integrate them with what we are learning about in Ukraine. The character of war changes and it's vital we understand the type of fight we are in, to always ensure that we prevail and win."


Story by Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. Photos by WO2 Jamie Peters, Public Affairs Office

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