Rather than attempting to confront the west conventionally he argued Beijing and Moscow are using low level and cyber-warfare to undermine its capabilities. In comes ahead of the publication of an integrated defence and security review by Downing Street in late November.
Sir Nick delivered his warning about Russian and Chinese intentions to the Policy Exchange think-tank on Wednesday.
He claimed Moscow and Beijing are waging “political warfare” against the west aimed at “breaking its willpower” without requiring a full-scale war.
To achieve this the general alleged disinformation campaigns, cyber-attacks and mass surveillance are being utilised against western powers.
Sir Nick warned: “More of the same will not be enough. We must fundamentally change our thinking if we are not to be overwhelmed.
General Sir Nick Carter warned about Russian and Chinese plans
“We must fundamentally change our thinking if we are not to be overwhelmed”
“[Our rivals] goal is to win without going to war: to achieve their objectives by breaking our willpower, using attacks below the threshold that would prompt a war-fighting response.
“These attacks on our way of life from authoritarian rivals and extremist ideologies are remarkably difficult to defeat without undermining the very freedoms we want to protect.”
Russia has been accused of launching a sophisticated operation against the west involving election meddling and the spread of propaganda.
Sir Nick pointed to Russian cyber-attacks on Ukrainian energy companies and banks in 2017 as examples of the kind of threat the UK could face.
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Reports the UK’s main battle fleet could be scrapped have been denied
Such action could cause serious damage to Britain’s national infrastructure without constituting a formal declaration of war.
Sir Nick also drew attention at China’s development of anti-satellite weapons which could cripple parts of the UK’s communications system.
There is speculation some of the UK’s conventional military capabilities, such as warships and tanks, could be facing cuts to fund new cyber and space programmes.
Sir Nick commented: “Some industrial-age capabilities will increasingly have to meet their sunset to create the space for capabilities needed for sunrise.
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Russia was blamed for cyber-attacks on Ukraine in 2017
A computer generated image of a planned Russian hypersonic missile
“The trick is how you find a path through the night.”
Reports the Government is considering scrapping the UK’s entire fleet of main battle tanks have been denied.
General Mark Carleton-Smith, who heads the British army, has warned new equipment and techniques will be needed to fight a modern war.
He argued in the future the army will consist of “boots and bots”; combined forces of human soldiers and robots that will fight together.
They could be joined by “swarms of drones”, many very small, that would fly above to spot enemy targets.
According to General Carleton-Smith some robotic vehicles are being delivered to the Parachute Regiment this month.
Sir Nick’s speech was accompanied by the publication of a new strategy document on UK defence.
There are fears British aircraft carriers could be vulnerable to drone swarms or hypersonic missiles
It warned: “Expensive, crewed platforms that we cannot replace and can ill-afford to lose will be increasingly vulnerable to swarms of self-coordinating smart munitions — perhaps arriving at hypersonic speeds or ballistically from space — designed to swamp defences already weakened by pre-emptive cyber-attack.”
Some observers have suggested this would apply to the UK’s two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
Military experts have warned these ships could be vulnerable to attack from drone swarms or hypersonic missiles being developed by China and Russia.