The army is to be put on a “different trajectory” pursuing the threat posed by hostile state actors around the world, its head has said.
General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith hinted the SAS and SBS would undergo a major overhaul, which will be announced on Monday.
It could mean Special Forces soldiers working alongside MI6 to mount surveillance operations against Russian intelligence and military units, Gen Carleton-Smith said in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph.
He told the paper some traditional roles will be taken over by a new Ranger Regiment, announced on Friday ahead of the publication of the Defence Command Paper, which is expected to range from 2,000 to 4,000 soldiers.
“[The special forces] will be tracking the changing and accelerating nature of the threat,” Gen Carleton-Smith said.
“The most persistent and lethal threats are those associated with hostile state actors. So, they’re tracking a different trajectory and what they leave behind is a vacuum where they need to hand off tasks, missions and responsibilities to a second echelon force.”
The Telegraph reported it was likely that Special Forces units would be tasked alongside MI6 with uncovering the activities of Russian military intelligence – the GRU – thought to be responsible for the Salisbury nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Elite units could also be charged with countering the activities of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organisation widely thought to act as proxies for the Kremlin.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said in the paper that armed forces needed to adapt to counter threats which had “changed beyond recognition” in the past 30 years.
“We can no longer take for granted the superiority of Western capabilities. Our enemies have infinitely more options,” he wrote.
“Encryption, precision, and information operations complicate the threat picture. We find ourselves constantly confronted in the ‘grey zone’ – aggressive actions below the threshold of open conflict.”
He said there would be additional investment for “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” as well as for electronic warfare. He also revealed the new Ranger Regiment would get a share of £120m in funding.
Elsewhere, the National Cyber Force will be expanded, there will be a new Space Command to co-ordinate military and commercial operation, and the Royal Navy will get a new Multi Role Ocean Surveillance ship (MROSS) protect vital undersea cables.
The paper also said there would be cuts with a reduction of around 10,000 troops expected as well as cuts to armoured fighting vehicles and the last remaining C-130J Hercules transport aircraft.
It comes after after the government’s Integrated Review revealed China to be the biggest threat to UK economic security and Russia the greatest risk to defence.
Additional reporting by PA