31 Jan 2015

British Army unveils ‘Twitter troops’ for social media fight

The British Army is to create a new unit for psychological and social media warfare to help Britain “fight in the information age” and control the “narrative” of warfare.

The new unit, the 77th Brigade, will come into being in April modelled on the “Chindits” – a specialist, innovative unit which fought in Burma during the Second World War.

The unit’s focus will be on “unconventional” non-lethal, non-military methods such as “shaping behaviours through the use of dynamic narratives”, an Army spokesman said.

The brigade will be 1,500 soldiers strong, drawn from all three services and based in Hermitage, Berkshire.

Its brand of “non-lethal warfare” will mirror efforts by the Israeli and US armies to practice psychological operations as a key part of military strategy.

Israel the pioneers

The unit will try to control the narrative of warfare as the UK and US struggle to combat the information methods used by Russia and the Islamic State group, to either conceal true military activities or give them publicity via social media.

This type of military engagement has been pioneered by the Israeli armed forces, which has been approached by several western companies for help in the field.

The Israeli Defence Force is active on 30 platforms including Twitter and Facebook, and in six languages.

The new British unit will comprise more than 40 per cent reserves as well as regulars to help defence forces “operate smarter”, the Army said.

The unit “is being created to draw together a host of existing and developing capabilities essential to meet the challenges of modern conflict and warfare,” it added.

‘Spirit of innovation’

The formation of the unit “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 amongst others”, the Army said.

The unit will train and work with other nations and across UK government departments, building on “the spirit of innovation and offensive spirit of the men and women” who served in the Chindits between 1942 and 1945.

In 1943, the elite guerilla Chindits unit deployed deep behind enemy lines to fight in Japanese-occupied Burma with a mission to disrupt communications and supply routes fuelling the Japanese war effort.

The Chindits were named after the Chinthe – fierce lion-like creatures that stood guard at every Burmese temple – and the 77th Brigade’s cap badge will feature the mythical animal, according to reports.