Dstl launches report on the future of cities

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has launched a report that looks into how cities will evolve in the coming years as a means to support the decision-making of the UK military.

Global trends in city development are analysed in the research, based on factors such as the influence of technology in cities, as well as climate and demographic changes, economic integration and infrastructure developments.

The report aims to “bridge the gap” between predictions and the current understanding of cities and build on work on future trends carried out by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre’s (DCDC). The previous reports highlight urbanisation as a key future challenge, with situations like urban warfare and “grey-zone conflicts” becoming priority areas for defence.

“As the future operating environment is going to be increasingly urbanised, the UK military must consider this environment as a primary driver of capabilities,” the report stated.

“The military will likely have to change its roles and structure to reflect the growing prominence and changing nature of the urban environment,” it added, with environmental factors among the drivers of potential urban conflict, such as a rise in pollution levels and rising water inequality.

In the context of smart cities, the report noted that routine online usage “will no longer be confined to computers and phones” and other devices will be linked through the internet of things.

“Increasing verticality and the ‘urban canyon’ (as well as subterranean) will impose severe constraints on UK intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR), fire and manoeuvre capabilities,” the report said.

“Verticality also concentrates the population, making them more accessible to both the UK and adversaries posing both opportunities and challenges,” it added.

Changes in how people view authority are also considered in the report. It noted that this shift will introduce a model where national, international, city, district, neighbourhood, street and even sections of buildings having their own leaders with varying authorities and, potentially, conflicting roles.

These changes, according to the research, will introduce complexity in terms of different forms of governance the UK will have to interact with.

As well as future-looking research, Dstl noted that it is also working on other projects looking at technology-based innovation to answer some of the challenges presented by urban warfare, such as mini-drones and prototypes in areas such as remote sensing.

The report from Dstl follows the news that the Ministry of Defence is struggling with its £196bn defence capabilities programme, as 10 of 32 projects – including several technology ones – are in trouble, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

One of the main issues noted by the NAO is funding, which has affected the capability to deliver the systems on time.

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