Defence review set to bring fleets of drones and high-tech Whitehall ‘situation room’

Written by Jim Dunton on 10 March 2021 in News

Reports indicate emerging tech will be favoured over traditional military capabilities

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A £9m “situation room” staffed by the National Security Secretariat and featuring wall-to-wall flatscreens to brief ministers is set to be constructed at the Cabinet Office as the Whitehall centrepiece of the integrated review of defence, security and foreign policy.

Inspired by the White House situation room, the facility will be known as the Situation Centre – or “SitCen” for short – and will serve as the government's command bunker for emergencies such as terrorist strikes and pandemics.

The facility will be located next to Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, known as Cobra, where ministers currently meet for emergency briefings at 70 Whitehall and is expected to be ready for use this summer.

SitCen will be the central-government face of the integrated review, titled Global Britain in a Competitive Age, which is due to be published on 16 March.

A briefing given to the Sunday Times said the situation room would feature “hi-tech stuff” such as heatmaps, geostationary visualisations, and interactive dashboards to combine secret intelligence and "open source" information to monitor risks up to six months ahead. 

Permanent staff from the National Security Secretariat will use the facility to “horizon scan" for threats to national security, pulling together information from the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Joint Terrorism Assessment Centre and other expert Whitehall analysts. 

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One unnamed official quoted by the paper said the time taken to collate data, brief ministers, understand situations and act on them would be “reduced from weeks to minutes”. 

Another added that the coronavirus pandemic had shown the need to move on from “analogue government with no maps and PowerPoint presentations”.

The Sunday Times’ integrated review briefing suggested that the price for transforming the military with plans including a new RAF Space Command to launch rockets from Scotland, a National Cyber Force and research facilities for artificial intelligence, would see cuts in “traditional capabilities”.

The paper said that the Ministry of Defence would set out plans to reduce the number of troops in the army by 12,500 over the course of the next eight and a half years a few days after Global Britain in a Competitive Age is published.

It said ministers were targeting a 70,000-strong army, with numbers cut by 10,000 by 2024 and another 2,500 by 2030 – to be achieved by cuts in recruitment rather than redundancies.

Droning on
The Sunday Times said the government’s proposals would see “whole fleets of aircraft” taken out of service as drones became “ever more common”.

It said an order for 90 additional US-built F-35 Lightning combat jets would be cancelled and Lancashire-made Tempest fighters bought instead, delivering a “levelling-up” boost to the north-west economy in the process.

The paper said that the RAF would lose 11 manned spy planes, in a move that represented a 45% cut in numbers. Fourteen C-130J Hercules transport planes used by the SAS will also be scrapped.

A government spokesperson told CSW that full details of ministers’ plans would be published in the integrated review on 16 March.

“The review will emphasise the importance of an integrated approach to foreign and national security policy, bringing together all our expertise and powers to ensure the UK is match-fit for a more competitive world,” they said. “It will also champion a science and data-led approach to tackling the challenges of the future.”


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