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Cove Talk – UK Conceptual Force (Land) 2035 – Colonel James Cook

The Cove is delighted to present the recording of a #CoveTalk webinar – ‘Conceptual Force (Land) 2035′ with Colonel James Cook, UK Army.  Colonel Cook and his team are tasked to look at the future and how the British Army might prepare for it.  Here he offers his thoughts about what the future is going to bring, and how we might go about shaping it.  This presentation also looks at the important question of ‘what if we’re wrong?’ when it comes to the way we think about the future.

The Cove has been developing a webinar capability over the last few months.  The aim, is to help Army evolve its intellectual edge through giving serving soldiers and officers access to top-quality material.  The Cove also hopes to provide an opportunity to facilitate unit PME and foster mess culture by hosting international guest speakers at no cost to members across Army.

As this session was not broadcasted live, Colonel Cook and his team have generously offered to answer your questions via the Cove website.  Please leave your questions in the discussion field below this post, and they will follow up in due course.


James Cook commissioned in to the Royal Artillery in December 1995 having captained the RMAS Rugby XV and been appointed Junior Under Officer. Post YOs training he was assigned to 14 Regiment Royal Artillery where he cut his teeth on Armoured Artillery for two years, after which he moved to be a troop commander at Phase Two soldier training at Larkhill.

After a sojourn as an ADC to a visiting America General he was assigned to 29 Commando Regiment, and took over a Fire Support Team (FST) within 148 Commando Battery Royal Artillery. After three years as a FST he undertook staff training at JSCSC, completing the Combat Arms Fighting Systems (CAFS) course and Gunnery Instructors (IG) course in 2000.

In 2001 he started his IG2 appointment as SO2 FIRES in the Navy HQ, Portsmouth.  This placed him well to assume command of 148 Cdo Bty RA in early 2003.  In 2005 he deployed with the Battery to OP HERRICK 5, before returning to his SG2 appointment as the Tactics & Doctrine officer for the Royal Artillery.  His tertiary appointment took him to HQ 11 Lt Bde as the SO2 ISTAR and involved the Bde PDT prior to OP HERRICK 11.  Sadly, the deployment was forfeited for a place on the Advanced Command and Staff Course 13.

Post Staff College he undertook two years at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as a Company Commander, training Officer Cadets.  Post Sandhurst he moved to take command of 105th Regiment Royal Artillery, based in Edinburgh.   Command took him to the Army Personnel Centre in 2014 from where he was selected for promotion to Colonel in May 2016.  In October 2016 he assumed the role of AH Concepts in the Army HQ. In November 2016 he was appointed OBE for services to Army sport.

Colonel James is Director of the Army Rugby Union (ARU) Community Rugby and the ARU member to the RFU Council.  He is also the Chairman of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust.  He is in his final year of study for a PhD with Kings College London considering Doctrinal and Learning development in the B.E.F. in WW1.

4 thoughts on “Cove Talk – UK Conceptual Force (Land) 2035 – Colonel James Cook

  1. Thankyou for a very interesting and thought-provoking presentation. While there is no doubt that equipment modernisation will be important, what are your thoughts on personnel modernisation? Will success in the future operating environment need a different approach to training and educating our people?

    1. My personal view, not corroborated with my chain of command, is that personnel modernisation is key to success. We must react to the changing nature of population who will join our Army. We must understand their motivations and aims and that they may be more transactional in approach than those of yesteryear.

      Education (done with you) and training (done to you) will be key. It should be more challenging and realistic and move away from classroom-based courses and into more practical scenario based delivery so that our people become more accustomed to being challenged, uncomfortable and understand what it is to take a risk, fail and develop new ideas.

      We struggle in most military agencies as we currently mix training and assessment too often and hence compromise our outputs, as students wish to pass exams rather than develop new ideas. This is seen in the lessons of WW1 (see Brig Solly-Flood and Maj Gen Ivor Maxse) and hence we shouldn’t think that we are any worse position now than then.

      We must also realise that our training may act as a deterrent to our adversaries if carried out in relevant world locations (surrogacy) and that when done well, a force with less overall equipment and “mass” can defeat a bigger and better-equipped force.

      In short – yes – a new approach to training and education will be required, but I am aware that both the UK and Australian Army are working on this now.

      Thank you for your question. Colonel James Cook OBE

  2. The proposed future combat team will represent a lower level of integration across arms and services. How will the operational employment of an all arms combat affect the force generation base of the army at formation and unit level? Will régiments and battalions continue to be relevant as an institutional base for generating combat power?

    1. Andy,

      Thank you for your excellent question. Again I caveat that my personal opinion, not corroborated with my CoC is;

      I believe that the FCTs would be more efficient if they lived in barracks as they fought on operations, which would be at the expense of the current unit laydown, but this could be a price worth paying for improved operational capability.

      However, since capability based units (Gunners, Infantry, Medics etc) will have utility for some lower level skills training there would still be room for single cap-badge unit identities.

      But, if you truly wish to train as you mean to fight and make efficiencies then the current force generation format is an element of an Army that could be reconsidered.

      However, if I look at your question more literally, I would say that FCTs in the 2035 timeframe would exist as all arms capabilities, trained at cap badge schools individually but harnessed collectively under the banner of a Regimental Identity that exists today, but now of a permanent all arms capability.

      It’s not easy slaying “metaphorical sacred cows” but regiments and battalions as we know them today may not have the same utility in 2035 for force generation.

      Col James Cook OBE

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