This Means War

By Peter Roberts

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Conversations about contemporary warfare and what it means for the future of fighting. Each episode will look at how wars are being fought around the world today, whether (and why) this is important, and what it all might mean for militaries and national security in the coming decades.

Episode Date
We Live in Radical Times

According to some we are living in both a Post Islamist Age, as well as a Post Liberalist one. And if you read the media, terrorism doesn’t appear any more. But it hasn’t disappeared. How can we better understand Islamist and Islamic violent extremism better, giving us a better chance to successfully build strategies and policies to combat radicalisation and counter terrorism? Peter talks to Dr Adil Rasheed to understand some of this better. Expect theology, philosophy and some spiritual references as they try to divine some I+W about global terrosit trends for the next decade.

Feb 02, 2023
Turkey, Erdogan and 2023

This year Turkey celebrates its 100th anniversary; 2023 will also bring a summer with elections that could see (according to some polls) President Recep Erdogan replaced. Yet, according to Ziya Meral, don't expect to see a huge change in foreign policies no matter who takes power. Like other Western states, Turkey has been balancing interests and values since the creation of the republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Since that founding Turkey has been rarely from the headlines – most recently in relation to migrants to Europe, shooting down foreign war planes that intrude into their airspace, buying Russian surface to air missile systems, or manufacturing drones for militaries round the world, Turkey remains is fiercely independent in its actions. The country’s leaders have, over generations, sought to walk a tightrope between placating Western demands and acknowledging the differences it has as a state, a culture and a people from those in Europe. Nor have they been afraid to make difficult decisions that upset the balance, and the expectations of Western diplomats – as well as those from further abroad. So what will 2023 bring? 


Jan 26, 2023
The First Commercial Space War

Since 1991 space has become an intrinsic part of warfare: from the liberation of Kuwait to Allied experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, militaries have become increasingly reliant on access to space systems for navigation, communication, surveillance, and the use of sophisticated weapons. Facing a leading space power, and without a sovereign space capability of their own, Ukraine has turned to a commercial platform to even the scales as part of combat operations against Russia’s invaders. But outside of war, societies have also become reliant on space for day-to-day functions. Peter talks to Juliana Suess, a leading researcher into space and warfare (and host of the excellent ‘War in Space’ podcast) about what this all means for societies, governments, militaries, industry, and alliances.

Jan 19, 2023
Ukrainian observations on combat and command

What did the Ukrainian forces learned from their experiences fighting the Russian military during 2022? Peter talks to Dr Jack Watling about how the Ukrainian military have been learning lessons, and what they have learned. As well as a wider discussion on combat in the rest of the world during 2022.

Jan 11, 2023
Defence Policy watersheds - again?

The shock and surprise expressed by Western politicians after Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine heralded reviews of defence policies across Europe. The UK was amongst those states that committed to refresh their policies in light of Russian actions – a process that is underway and due to produce recommendations sometime in early 2023. Ben Barry talks to Peter about some of the inconvenient truths that have got to be addressed, and what needs to change. While the discussion is largely UK centric, the same considerations are valid in many European capitals.

Dec 29, 2022
The Russia-China military relationship

The Chinese military has come a long way since 2008. In size, professionalism, deployability, operational experience, and capability development. One might be awe struck with the rapidity of their growth and capacity for production but Beijing will be observing the Russian and Ukrainian experiences from that war in 2022 with a view to overcoming some of their own core issues. Understanding the history of Chinese military evolution through the prism of the Russo-China military relationship provides some interesting insights. Dr Sarah Kirchberger talks to Peter about unrestricted warfare, Chinese views on military conventions, corruption, equipment and industrial capacity.

Dec 22, 2022
The future of air power

Big contracts are being let for new aviation systems. From the B21 and FLAA in the US, to FCAS and Tempest in Europe, 6th generation air platforms are all the rage in government investment decisions at the moment. Dr Justin Bronk wonders whether these can make a difference to a much more challenging environment than has been assumed in Western capitals. The airspace over Ukraine is a deadly environment. The air defence capabilities on both sides makes flying a precarious proposition for anyone who enters the realm of mutual denied airspace. This has significant implications for everyone from force designers and military planners, to infantry companies and cartographers. If stealth, penetration, and survivability have become the key facets to air power in high intensity conflict then – according to Justin – we can do more with older platforms provided we start to buy back some of the risk that has accumulated in air forces across Europe since the peace dividend was taken.

Dec 15, 2022
War in a Fishbowl

A really capable combined arms force can have a disproportionate impact on a small war. It can have much less effect in a large one. Discussing his article on Wars in a Fishbowl, Amos Fox talks to Peter about why Battalion Tactical Groups from the Russian army have had little success in Ukraine when all their experiences over the previous two decades had told them that BTGs were the sure-fire route to success. How you learn lessons, and understanding that rarely do lessons have permanent residence across every conflict, seems to be as important as identifying them in the first place if you want to design a force with greatest utilty across conflicts. It's not just evident in how Russia learns lessons though.

Dec 07, 2022
The Operational Level of War Does Not Exist

When Svechen and Hamley were writing about the operational level of war, it is doubtful they envisaged the number of staff and headquarters that would result from their musings. Their reason to exist is often purported to be scale, complexity, or pace in war today but this might all be just hype from academics and their acolytes. Remove the operational level staffs and processes, says Wilf Owen, and militaries can become leaner, smarter and less bureaucratic. He might just have a point.

Dec 01, 2022
Missile Wars with Tom Karako

The use of missiles – of every variety – around the world has been increasing over the past 5 years. Whether targeting critical national critical infrastructure, economic targets, military bases and units, capital ships, or for signalling intent, missiles seem to be playing a greater role than previously (and not just in Ukraine). Peter talks to Tom Karako, Director of the Missile Defence Project and a senior fellow at CSIS, about the latest trends, lessons, policy and challenges in all things missile related. The whole thing seems to hinge on production rates – and increasing those isn’t just as easy as turning the handle. More to come on this topic in future episodes.

Nov 24, 2022
China’s dark coercion in the Indo-Pacific

Peter is joined by Dr John Hemmings, a Senior Director at the Pacific Forum in Hawaii, to talk about what might have been missed in the Indo-Pacific while we have been busy watching Russia get whooped in Ukraine. It looks and feels more like a Cold War in the Pacific (between China and the USA), than simply a state of non-peace. Beyond the furious diplomatic negotiations to prevent sway states from aligning with either side, there is a darker side to China's attempts at alliance building and covert coercion happening on Pacific Islands and around the parliaments of smaller states. Building a coalition to contain China’s interpretation of their ‘manifest destiny’ may no longer be possible, but deterring Chairman Xi still might be. So, with an inability for American to fight two major campaigns on different sides of the world simultaneously before 2040, others will have to step up if they want their societies to continue to operate in a way their populations have become used to.

Nov 17, 2022
Fire ships, maritime economics and balanced fleets

Peter talks to Professor Alessio Patalano about whether the naval aspects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine offer anything new to navies as lessons or tactics for the future. Given the experiences of Pacific navies with PLA(N) coercive activities in the past 20 years, the different interpretations of Maritime Security to Europeans and their counterparts elsewhere in the world have become rather stark. Indeed, even in force design terms non-European maritime forces have tended to retain a Balanced Fleet (of capabilities) whereas those in Europe have cut and divested themselves of military capabilities viewed as having no utility today. It could be a decision they come to regret.

Nov 10, 2022
Future War in 2035 and Deterrence

According to the report of a conference of great strategic brains during October 2022, the world will look pretty ugly in 2035 - in national security terms, let alone across societal evolution. Between Chinese exceptionalism, what-remains-of-Russia’s military and Moscow's unbridled imperialist ambition, a North Korea with strategic reach, a meddling and strategically important Iran, and the extraordinary climate change effects across Africa and South Asia, military forces are likely to broken by the sheer scale of commitments they face - certainly in their predicted forms. Between now and then, there might be just enough time to make some critical corrections and place democracies in a state where they can at least face the tasks yet - as Professor Julian Lindley French explains – an absence of political leadership, ambition, strategy and vision will be our undoing. In having to decide between health security, economic security, and national security far too few political leaders across Europe, America and like-minded democracies seem to ready to make the difficult decisions.

Nov 03, 2022
Operational Art, Russia and Ukraine with Mick Ryan

Whilst the battles in Ukraine have evidenced the tenacity and stamina of Ukrainian forces, their success in defence and offense is determined by the Ukrainian General Staff. As a team steeped in Soviet fighting doctrine, they have executed the whole spectrum of military planning and execution (termed ‘operational art’) that few could replicate: certainly not the Russian generals who seem to have forgotten their own way of war and how to fight well. Underpinned by a trust in Ukrainian tactical leaders, their soldiers, as well as a deep insight of their adversary, how this team have commanded should be a salutary reminder to other commanders about what it takes to fight, and to win. Peter talks to soldier-scholar Mick Ryan about what will be worrying them next, and what observations we can make now about operational art for the future.

Oct 27, 2022
We know who wears the trousers - The China Russia No Limits relationship.

Despite a shared ideology loosely based around communism, and perhaps a similarly hopeful interpretation of Mackinder’s Rimland theory, China and Russia don’t have much in common. Even their equal desire to see the USA undermined by weakening the linkages to Europe comes apart in vying for control of Central Asia. As Theresa Fallon explains to Peter, the reality of a ‘No Limits’ relationship is starting to hit home in Beijing as the invasion of Ukraine becomes a much more drawn out affair than was promised by Vladimir Putin. From rewriting history, to a death by numbers, the conversation covers elite capture and the competition for influence that each of the parties is trying to gain. Fascinating, if a little confusing!

Oct 20, 2022
Global disaster in the wings: the vulnerabilities of the West at sea

Ships being sunk by sea mines, undersea pipelines blown up, and a fragile maritime infrastructure are all underplayed risks to the Wests' daily business: yet they are also very contemporary events. Peter talks to Rob Wilson about who is responsible, how they did it, and how this might all play out in the longer term. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that these vulnerabilities are clear attack vectors for adversaries but the question is whether governments will make the necessary decisions to mitigate the implications of such threats, or will they continue to ignore the risks and leave their states open to catastrophic failures in our supply, communications, and data exchange protocols? The era of Sea Denial may be returning: it doesn't feel like we are prepared for the consequences.

Oct 13, 2022
A China Primer - Fear, Honour and Self-Interest

Is China preparing to invade Taiwan? It is certainly a matter of CCP policy that Taiwan will be reintegrated into mainland China – by diplomacy or force – at some stage before the centenary of the People’s Republic of China in 2049. Peter talks to Dr Peter Layton, Visiting fellow at Griffin Asia Institute, about this, as well as the most recent Taiwan crisis, PLA doctrine and fighting capability, and the Chinese need to be respected. As a primer to forthcoming episodes on China’s military ambitions, preparations for war, and the evolution of their military, this episode also examines what lessons Beijing, Nanjing and Hainan might be learning from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: turns out these might not be so different from the lessons that Allied nations might also want to learn (spoiler: reinforcement of their own latest doctrine might not be real lessons however).

Oct 06, 2022
What’s happening in Afghanistan?

It has only taken one year from the Western withdrawal out of Afghanistan for that country to descend once more into a fractured society – 90% of who live below the poverty line – with a plethora of factions fighting for power, and an equally numerous set of foreign states vying for influence and resources in an all too familiar game of one-upmanship. Violence has also returned with frightening predictability. What is actually going on in Afghanistan today, specifically with regard to India, China, Pakistan, and Iran? Peter is joined by Indian soldier-scholar Anant Mishra to try and make sense of it all. Don’t expect simplicity or clarity.

Sep 29, 2022
War and modern politics with Rory Stewart

Deciding to go to war, to support a war, or even which war to engage with should not be an easy decision. It should be complex: informed and debated. That wasn’t the case for the majority of countries which have been overtly supporting Ukraine in 2022, but it might well have been in the Kremlin. That doesn't make either party right. Peter talks to veteran diplomat, soldier, politician, traveller, adventurer and aid worker Rory Stewart about why some wars garner political interest (and others don’t); about why chance, narratives and strong voices in the Cabinet room culminate in moments that make investment in conflict happen; about why strategy, signalling and diplomacy are absent in preventing wars from starting in the first place; and, about how ending wars is such a difficult conversation to have.

Sep 23, 2022
Working the OSINT opportunity

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) has matured considerably since the early 2000s. More data sources, better data bases, lower costs, increasing automation and processing all provide a wealth of data for analysts to get hold of. But exploiting all those sources requires a skilled team of tenacious people to provide the answers that are being sought, but also in checking that the veracity of the data. Peter talks to James Byrne, Director of the Open Source Intelligence and Analysis (OSIA) Research Group about constructing teams for OSINT work, the technicalities of OSINT, dealing with data overload, spoofing and fooling OSINT systems, and the future of Open Source Intelligence.

Sep 15, 2022
The Ukrainian Counter Offensive with Prof Mike Clarke

Professor Michael Clarke joins Peter to talk about the 10 day old Ukrainian counter offensives against Russia. In proving they can do more than "just not losing a war slowly", the Ukrainian actions in Kherson (a strategic counter offensive), Kharkiv and Izyum (both smaller but important tactical pushes) are posing significant challenges for the Russian military and their political leadership. And this means that the deployment of the Russian Third Army Corps sometime early in 2023 might have to look very different from what Moscow had been planning.

Sep 08, 2022
Sniping, land mines and trench warfare

Nick Reynolds has just returned from Ukraine again and talks to Peter about his experiences and insights after 6 months of war with Russia. From the implications of electronic warfare, the training for combined arms manoeuvre (in order to conduct the politically-necessary but militarily-viable offensive), to kill chains, passive drone operations, and information operations, the lessons from this war also cover more traditional – but critically important – facets of conventional combat power: sniping, dismounted close combat skills, and land mine usage. Predictions on the use of biological and chemical weapons by Russian forces in this theatre round out a wide ranging conversation on the trajectory of the war.

Sep 01, 2022
Strategic objectives, tough choices, and risk in Ukraine

Supporting a war conducted by others shouldn’t be measured on financial aid committed. A better metric would actually be the percentage of the requirement actually fulfilled; on that measure, the report card for Western leaders supporting Ukraine is not good. As Ukraine talks up the idea of offensive operations against Russia, Peter talks to Lt Gen (rtd) Ben Hodges about what a counter offensive might look like, whether Western support will endure, and what lessons we should start to be thinking about from the on-going war in Ukraine.

Aug 24, 2022
Relishing Duality - flexibility in Russian National Security calculations

If you look at Russian actions in different regions of the world, their strategies differ considerably. This covers economic policies as well as foreign policy activities and military ones. From Africa to the Rimland, Moscow signals their intentions clearly, watches for reactions and then executes pretty nuanced plans. Nowhere is this clearer than in the different approaches Russia has been taking in the Arctic and Ukraine over the past 15 years. In this episode Peter is joined by Professor Katarzyna Zysk, from Norway’s Institute for Defense Studies in Oslo, to talk about duality, rationality, logic, and pragmatism in Russia’s national security decision-making. While there is an idea of muddling through in the Kremlin there is more depth at the organisational level than Western analysts give credit for. This has significant implications for discussions on things like regime change and ceasefires. Don’t expect Moscow to stop behaving like Russia anytime soon; with or without Vladimir Putin at the helm.

Aug 18, 2022
Learning to fight again – realigning Special Forces

Between 2004 and 2014, NATO armies coerced the militaries and special forces of Georgia and Ukraine into a doctrine and design built around Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorist operations. When this met the Russians in 2008 and 2014 respectively, these forces failed. Dramatically. Today, Ukraine’s special forces are performing with dogged determination and expertise – in spite of what the West taught them. Dr Sandor Fabian argues that if today’s special forces want to learn about how to conduct successful operations against a larger conventional military power, they need to look to the Taliban, ISIS, Hezbollah, North Korea and Iran for inspiration: Western militaries have been teaching SF from smaller states the wrong stuff, and forcing them into a shape and form that simply won’t work for them. He and Peter discuss the differences in force design that states require, in everything from equipment and training, to education and doctrine.

Aug 11, 2022
Fear and Loathing in Tbilisi

A now frozen but forgotten conflict in Georgia dating from 2008 was the result of a Russian invasion and occupation of two large regions: it was a stark warning of Moscow’s imperial plans that went ignored by Western leaders. Fourteen years after the ceasefire was established, Russia continues to wage war on Georgia with tools other than uniformed troops and high explosives. Peter talks to Natia Suskuria from the RISS in Tbilisi about what it feels like to live under the threat of renewed invasion from Russian military forces, and what lessons Georgia has learned from recent events in Ukraine. The greatest risk seems to be not from Russia but rather, once again, by Western powers failing to recognise the opportunities and risks of their own actions.

Aug 04, 2022
Ammo, railroads, tyres and logistics are driving military operations in Ukraine

Even though Western militaries systemically underinvest in their own logistics and engineering capabilities, it is incredible that the Russian army is still operating on processes and with equipment from almost a century ago. Their reliance on people as the key to logistical resupply has hamstrung their ability to advance and win ground in Ukraine. Peter talks to Trent Telenko about how long-range, precision rocket systems being delivered to Ukrainian forces are now shaping military planning by both sets of combatants. From railroads to truck tyres, and the differences in Chinese military logistics machines, the lessons from Ukraine since February 2022 are beguiling.

Jul 28, 2022
Facing A Callous Adversary

As the Iranian proxy in Yemen, the Houthi’s have evolved from a guerrilla organisation to one capable of facing down a first-world military and becoming adept with ballistic missiles, maritime warfare, and influence operations in Western capitals. In this episode, Peter talks to Dr Michael Knights about what an effective – if morally dubious – ‘train and assist’ mission looks like when conducted by an adversary. It’s not just about what you weapons you fight with, it’s about how you fight and who (and how) they support you, ending with the lesson that military power is no absolute; it is only relative to the enemy.

Jul 21, 2022
Fighting in Urban Ukraine

Peter talks to Prof John Spencer, doyen of Urban Warfare at West Point, after his recent trip to Ukraine. They cover the Battle of Kyiv, urban terrain as a warfare discipline, the peri-urban, phone-a-friend intelligence, the precision paradox, the failures of John Boyd's theories, and the admirable ability of the Russian army to break contact and retreat under fire. As both parties in this Ukrainian-Russian war prepare for the next phase of violent action, Peter and John try to deternmine what will be critical in the outcome of the campaign: momentum and resistance being key facets to any material capability.

Jul 14, 2022
A Turning Point in Ukraine?

Dr Jack Watling talks to Peter as he returns from his most recent trip to Ukraine. As both Ukrainian and Russian forces reorganise for the next phase, the conflict is poised at a critical moment: one dependent on stockpiles, logistics, resupply, people, leadership and styles of fighting. Whilst Jack brings his latest insights to the listeners, he and Peter have a discussion over the information war and debunk some of the myths and fallacies around the public face of the war. Jack also highlights some of the lessons emerging from the conflict that are likely to endure and apply across other wars. Sobering stuff.

Jun 30, 2022
Analysing wars for lessons: Context is everything

Peter talks to Ewan Lawson, a Senior Associate Fellow at RUSI, about the context of wars and why this is important in drawing lessons from them. Analysis of contemporary wars has led to some knee-jerk reactions in terms of force designing Western militaries for the future: think about the hype over 'hybrid' or 'grey-zone' warfare and how European militaries tilted towards this as the pace-setting threat for the future, only to be surprised by the visibility of conventional warfare in Ukraine in 2022. Is this all a broader failure to appreciate context - of the war, each states own situation (political, economic as well as military), and - perhaps most importantly - the adversary?

Jun 23, 2022
An introduction to the podcast

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has stimulated a considerable outpouring of emotion, passion and commentary – not to mention the death and destruction that always accompanies war. The same level of interest by the general publics of Europe, America and Australasia was not present for wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, across sub Saharan Africa or during the bloody civil wars and engagements fought elsewhere around the globe in the last decade or so. And whilst the border clashes between China and India could have started something much more catasophic than what started in Ukraine earlier this year, it received little attention in terms of debate and discussion in diplomatic, economic, political or military circles. Let alone failing to capture the imagination of the international public. I want to explore why this is – and talking to people in the profession of arms and wider community – I understand they are curious too.

Jun 13, 2022