Army revives Chindits as ‘Facebook warriors’ for smart battle
Sam Jones, Defence and Security Editor
The British Army will revive one of the most contentious special forces units of the second world war, the Chindits, as a new generation of “Facebook” warriors who will wage complex and covert information and subversion campaigns.
As many as 1,500 troops will make up the reincarnated 77th Brigade, which is due to come into active service in April, the army said.
Like their predecessors, they will wear an image of the mythical Burmese Chinthe, a lion-like guardian of Buddhist temples, on their cap badges.
The original Chindits were a guerrilla unit led by the swashbuckling British commander Major General Orde Wingate, one of the pioneers of modern unconventional warfare. They operated deep behind Japanese lines in Burma between 1942 and 1945 and their missions were often of questionable success.
The revived unit will have a significantly altered focus. Though they will undertake special forces-type operations, the modern Chindits will mainly aim to achieve their objectives without violence, using a range of activities to make adversaries do what they want them to do — a technique known as reflexive control.
Among their weapons will be social media campaigns on Twitter and Facebook, spreading disinformation or exposing truths in war zones, “false flag” incidents — which are designed to fool people into thinking they were carried out by someone else — and intelligence gathering. They will also support other army units in their day-to-day activities, according to senior figures in the military.
“The brigade consists of more than just traditional capabilities. It is an organisation that sits at the heart of trying to operate smarter,” said Sir Nicholas Carter, chief of the general staff.
The brigade is designed to help Britain’s troops “fight in an information age”, a senior army officer added.
Soldiers for the Chindits will be drawn from the formation currently known as the Security Assistance Group. It is hoped that more than a third of the unit will be made up of reserves. The Chindits will be based in Berkshire.
The crisis in Ukraine, in particular, has highlighted the need for new approaches to warfare. The undercover activities of Russia’s “little green men” in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, as well as the Kremlin’s extensive cyber and information warfare campaign in the country, have prompted worry throughout Nato’s military commands over how to combat such tactics.
The brigade consists of more than just traditional capabilities. It is an organisation that sits at the heart of trying to operate smarter– Sir Nicholas Carter, chief of the general staff
Strategists have come to the conclusion that the wars of the future will not necessarily be declared but will occur on a sliding scale of aggression and violence.
The growing importance of so-called “hybrid” warfare has dominated the discussions of national security officials in recent months.
In a speech in December, the UK’s most senior military officer, chief of the defence staff Sir Nicholas Houghton, warned that “we are increasingly in a state of permanent international competition”. The armed forces were in the process of taking steps to “escape the binary mindset of peace or war; operations or training”, he added.
The formation of the 77th Brigade “recognises that the actions of others in a modern battlefield can be affected in ways that are not necessarily violent and it draws heavily on important lessons from our commitments to operations in Afghanistan among others”, the army said.
“It will draw together a host of existing and developing capabilities essential to meet the challenges of modern conflict and warfare.”
Wingate’s critics see Burma missions as costly distraction
The army chose to revive the Chindits as warriors for the information age because of the unorthodox creative thinking that lay behind the original unit’s formation and which was the hallmark of many of its senior officers, including Brigadier Michael Calvert, pictured top, left, in Burma in 1944.
Though pioneering in its time, the original 77th brigade was also divisive. Many viewed its missions as costly distractions with little genuine impact. The Chindits suffered huge casualties on almost all of their deep-penetration jungle operations, losing as many as a third of their soldiers to disease, wounds and exhaustion.