LONDON — Britain needs to up its game on counterespionage in order to protect its industrial defense secrets, the head of the armed forces in the UK has warned.
"We have to pay more attention to counterespionage and counterintelligence to protect our hard-won research, protect our industry and protect our competitive advantage," said Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach, Britain's chief of the defense staff.
Peach, who became the head of the armed forces last July, told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute think tank on Wednesday that it was no secret that Russia is using cyber as part of its state power in direct competition to Britain and its allies' approach to sustain a rules-based order.
The remarks follow growing concerns in the US intelligence community that the recent presidential election could have been influenced by Russian hacking of emails.
In November MI5, Britain's internal intelligence agency, warned of cyber and other espionage attempts by the Russians were on the increase.
China is also thought to be attempting to hoover up Western defense and commercial secrets using cyberattacks.
Earlier this year, the head BAE Systems' cybersecurity business estimated the company was on average fending off more than 100 attempted cyberattacks a year by state players.
According to Peach, Britain has entered an era of "strategic state-on-state competition, which I do not see ending soon."
Britain unveiled a new national cybersecurity strategy earlier this year, which included the creation of an offensive program by the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ signals intelligence agency, in part, to help counter cyber-espionage attempts.
Peach said that it was also necessary to pay close attention to intelligence in building up a broader picture of potential adversaries' military capabilities.
"I'd like to emphasis we really need to accept that military intelligence is a valid form of activity. Now more than ever we need to understand other people's military capabilities," he said. "We really need to make sure defense intelligence is strong enough to understand the world we are in. Even more importantly it needs to complement the work of the other services, [MI5,MI6 and GCHQ]."
Britain recently launched a national cybersecurity center to act as a fusion point for information from its intelligence services.
Peach said the military is playing its part in the new center.