Grant is a serving officer in the British Army. This article is an individual submission as the content is not endorsed by Army Division or the Defence Academy. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: During the COVID19 pandemic, the United Kingdom’s (UK) Intermediate Command and Staff Course (Land) (ICSC(L)) was modified in several ways which, if made permanent, could improve the output leading to an overall increase in combat capability.
Date Originally Written: July 20, 2021.
Date Originally Published: October 11, 2021.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author has a technical background, recently attended ICSC(L), and believes in contributing to a wider discussion regarding COVID19 lessons learned.
Background: The options below present a reasonable challenge on how the ICSC(L) is delivered, support the Army’s Digital Transformation, and avoid unintentionally stepping back to pre-COVID19 delivery and content. These options set the conditions for enabling future Integrated Operations by improving decision making.
Significance: The aim of ICSC(L) “is to train and educate majors for grade 1 and 2 staff appointments, and commands as majors by developing their leadership, analytical and communication skills, productivity, professionalism and mental agility, …. to develop the intellectual edge needed for success on operations and leadership in government”. ICSC(L) is traditionally a seven month residential course, but during the past three courses a large portion was delivered online due to COVID19. This online delivery could continue with no training deficiency identified in previous courses.
Option #1: Embrace technology. One of the key benefits of ICSC(L), per the instructor cadre there, is developing a “professional network,” as the students are in the “people business, that requires face to face” content delivery. Hence on April 19, 2021, during a national lockdown, the course of over 200 students formed up for face to face learning delivered in part socially distanced with everyone sitting in a lecture hall, listening to speakers briefing using the Microsoft Teams application on a large screen at the front.
By the autumn of 2021, a project called “MyMOD Laptop” expects to have delivered 150,000 laptops enabling personnel to work effectively and collaboratively across the world. If these laptops were issued at the start of ICSC(L), and best practices training on the new tools e.g. Microsoft Teams provided, students could embrace new ways of working regarding collaborative planning and management.
Risk: The benefits of face to face lessons are clear. For example, it is very challenging attempting a modeling exercise on Microsoft Teams.
Gain: University courses are delivered in part by online work. Training as you fight using the same information technology gives students a chance to experiment and develop new styles of working and sets conditions for success as a digital army rather than using labelled up paper handbooks. As U.S. Army General Stanley McCrystal said in 2011, “instead of being able to get all the key leaders for a decision together in a single room and look them in the eye ……I’ve got to use other techniques. I’ve got to use VTC, I’ve got to use chat, I’ve got to use email ….. not just for communication, but for leadership”.
Option #2: Reduce duplicative instruction.
The post-Cold War era saw UK forces based in Germany lacking the understanding and technical communications to practice a joint approach. The Army today is much more than ‘The Armored Brigade’ and arguably ceding to ‘Jointery,’ in the information age. On the last ICSC(L), approximately a quarter of the course’s duration was dedicated to Combat Estimate Planning at Brigade and Division Headquarters. Students at ICSC(L) saw Combat Estimate Planning as repeating what they had already learned at Junior Officer Tactical Awareness Course (4 weeks) and Junior Command Staff Course (6 weeks). During COVID19, elements of the Combat Estimate delivery were condensed into a 14-day modular block. This shortened block suffices as less than a tenth of students are posted into a Division or Brigade Headquarters roles that utilize the Combat Estimate with slightly more than a tenth assigned to roles that use the Tactical Estimate that is briefed just once one the course. This option leaves four fifths of the course where any estimate is beneficial but not essential.
Risk: Some students may, based on their learning style or career focus, need to be refreshed and / or re-taught certain subjects. Removing duplicative instruction may put them at risk for not learning / retaining the material.
Gain: Reducing the overall course duration by shortening repetitive content would reduce the demands on both students and staff.
Option #3: Update course content.
ICSC(L) lacked any instruction related to considerations for mitigation of COVID19 in future units nor how, from a Ministry of Defense (MoD) point of view, a pandemic could effect national security operations. Secondly, while the 2021 Integrated Review mentions the word “Cyber” 156 times, ICSC(L) only allocated a single afternoon lesson for cyber. Future iterations of ICSC(L) could teach students how to plan for continued operations during a pandemic, and the integration of cyber operations at all levels. This instruction would utilize local knowledge of recent planning and mitigations that the ICSC(L) staff had to implement.
Risk: COVID19 and the reported major cyber incident experiences may be too new and too localized and curriculum developed too fast could teach students the wrong things.
Gain: Though localized, the cyber incident vignette or war story is just as relevant to future operations as Falklands or Iraq briefs and would boost MoD resilience. “Chatham house rules, on this day on camp we discovered, how it unfolded, what we did and with hindsight, what we wished we had done or known, ideally supported by a subject matter expert.” Additionally, graduates of ICSC(L) are more likely to have to plan around COVID19 and cyber incidents then develop a major war plan.
Option #4: Integrate and cohere outside the Army.
Historically, two weeks of ICSC(L) is spent on a U.S. overseas visit. Due to COVID19 this overseas visit has not happened for the last three ICSC(L) iterations and this time was replaced with two weeks of student research. With a quarter of each of the ICSC(L) students posted out of the Army and into UK Strategic Command, these two weeks would be better spent learning about the command. Strategic Command leads with billions of pounds of capabilities that are key to the digital Army of the future. However, ICSC(L) students only receive a couple of days high-level familiarization. Prioritizing learning about the wider Defence Organization would benefit the students posted into Strategic Command and provide a long term improvement in capabilities provided to the Army.
Risk: Permanently removing the overseas trip would hinder UK/U.S. understanding, but could be mitigated by distributed collaboration.
Gain: In this option students would achieve a greater understanding of Strategic Command’s capability development and how to influence efforts at inception. Students would also get to interact with other services speakers, former government personnel, subject matter experts, and conference speakers and learn how they think. All of the preceding would enable Multi Domain Integration and diversify outlooks from the current Land-centric view.
Option #5: Modular course delivery over an extended timeframe.
COVID 19 has proven that elements of ICSC(L) can be delivered in a modular format. The current seven month residential course is for many the last formal and externally assessed training they receive prior to promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. This option envisions implementing modular content delivery over six years, with completion being a pre-requisite for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.
Risk: The current in-person, seven month focused ICSC(L) provides the opportunity for students to develop their professional network and receive individual attention.
Gain: This option follows Royal Air Force and Royal Navy equivalents with a condensed period of mandatory training with career managers and future employers selecting relevant additional modular elements. This modular package exploits industry training (such as AGILE / DevSecOps,) relevant to roughly a third of the students being posed to capability and acquisition roles. This option allows students to work around family commitments such as maternity leave. Rather than the force losing 400 newly promoted Majors to the traditional seven month long residential ICSC(L) course, a modular option would enable students to remain in situ and, in theory, fills 50 currently gapped jobs in the army. This option would improve wider defense output, reduce the churn of postings while opening up options for attendance from the whole force, leading to enhanced networking and diversity of thought.
Other Comments: None.
 “The Good Operation,” Ministry of Defense, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/674545/TheGoodOperation_WEB.PDF
 “Army Digitalisation: the THEIA programme,”
 Overview of ICSC(L), https://www.da.mod.uk/colleges-and-schools/joint-services-command-and-staff-college/army-division/.
 ICSC 17 Army Division Welcome Letter.
 International students would need to have limited system permissions similar to how international exchange officers are given limited access to headquarters.
 Such as the Cyber Operations MSc offered by Cranfield University, which is available at Shrivenham, a secure military site in partnership with the Defence Academy.
 Quote from one of the ICSC(L) course instruction videos where success of a staff officer is judged by how well labelled up their Staff Officers HandBook is.
 Stanley McChrystal, TED Talk, “Listen, learn… then lead,” March 2011, https://www.ted.com/talks/stanley_mcchrystal_listen_learn_then_lead.
 Such as the Permanent Joint Headquarters and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Allied Rapid Reaction Corps
 The Sun Newspaper, 21 Mar 21, Ministry of Defence academy hit by major cyber attack by ‘foreign power, https://www.the-sun.com/news/2555777/mod-defence-academy-cyber-attack-foreign-power/
 STRATCOM & DES
 Online attendance of the Royal United Service Institute Land Warfare Conference
 It is unlikely that the National Health Service would send a student for the 7-month courses but a two-week military planning-focused event may be appealing.