Broadband of brothers: citizen soldiers and cyber warriors

by Dan Fox

Dan Fox’s skills-focussed ‘Cyber Reserves’ proposal won the Pragmatic Radicalism Defence Top of The Policies, last month.

An active national security policy is an expensive business. So given how uncertain our world has become, in terms of both the economy and the threats we face, and how active our armed forces have been this last decade, it is not surprising that defence is permanently at the top of the political agenda. Last October’s Strategic Defence and Security Review has been followed by Labour’s own consultation.

But one of the most significant initiatives of recent times has received relatively little attention outside of military circles: Future Reserves 2020 (FR20).

With conscription and national service distant memories in the UK, the military reserve no longer occupies a place in the popular imagination similar to that in countries (such as America , Canada, Israel and some of our European partners) where citizen soldiering is more commonplace.

The citizen soldier is a complex concept, with a millennia-old tradition. It is grounded in the idea that the diversity, effort and volunteer commitment of all can be mobilised in defence of communities, societies and nations when required, or kept prepared in reserve.

To be sure, for many who have not chosen a regular military career in the first place, the commitment to training and then serving even part-time with the army, navy or air force to defend our land, sea and air, is problematic. There is, however, another environment where dealing with the dangers we face requires a range of experience and approaches.

Protecting cyberspace is not just a military responsibility, but a Cyber Reserve, based on the principles of civilian volunteers already entrenched in the current reserve forces, can have a crucial role to play.

Even the most diligent of military observers is unlikely to be familiar with the Special Works Teams of the Royal Engineers, covering railways, power, fuel, water, ports and construction. But, comprised of reservists with relevant civilian qualifications and careers, these units have, since the 1960s, contributed to the construction and protection of critical infrastructures.

Since 1998, they have been joined, in the Royal Signals, by the Land Information Assurance Group (LIAG). This is the basis on which FR20 seeks to expand reserve involvement in defending our cyber borders.

But how is a fully-fledged cyber reserve to be properly realised? The focus should be on skills. Not only does this dovetail neatly with the citizen-soldier ideal, a cyber reserve leading in ensuring the right investment in skills and collaboration with the private sector also has significant implications beyond defence policy and into the economic and education arenas. Any such initiative could include cyber apprenticeships, industrial fellowships with technology companies for lecturers (especially from the oft-neglected Further Education sectors), and even the ‘white-hatting’ of hackers, to turn their expertise to do good.

Our young people deserve the opportunity to gain this competitive advantage.  A national reputation and capability for cyber resilience – that is, not just securing us against attacks but exploiting the innovation that they inspire – will not just make us safer, but wealthier, too. To update Wilfred Owen, it is sweet and fitting to code for one’s country.

Dan Fox is a member of Walthamstow CLP, an Honorary Research Associate at UCL, a trustee of the New Engineering Foundation, and a JNCO in the TA. He blogs as Loose Red.

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2 Responses to “Broadband of brothers: citizen soldiers and cyber warriors”

  1. AnneJGP says:

    Really interesting, Dan – I’m surprised no-one has commented on this article. A cyber reserve seems to me to have a lot of potential.

    Maybe the start-up obstacles just appear too huge to overcome at reasonable cost. It would be an interesting project, though.

  2. Dan Fox says:

    Thanks, Anne.

    I’m guessing no one’s really commented because it’s either wholly agreeable or just too boring!

    On you point about start-up: we would be starting from a relatively low base but the basics are there with LIAG and a healthy (if neglected) FE sector. Getting all the necessary contributors coordinated would have to be the first obstacle, though.

    Thanks, again, for your comment.


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