Monday, September 26, 2016

The Royal Artillery tries again


Jane's is reporting that the Royal Artillery is considering a series of new equipment programmes to update its regiments and adapt itself to better support the "strike brigades". 

There is no shortage of good requirements. A "new" one is "Strike 155", for the purchase of a wheeled or towed 155mm howitzer for the Strike Brigades. 
It can't be defined as a truly "new" requirement, of course, because it comes after LIMAWS(Gun) was cancelled years ago. 
If there was the funding, purchasing perfectly good off the shelf guns would not be particularly problematic. Sweden will put 12 Archer on the market soon; France would be all too happy to sell CAESAR, and Royal Artillery troops have already trialed it in the field in several occasions. 

The BAE-Bofors Archer. 48 were produced, 24 each for Sweden and Norway, but the latter eventually pulled out of the programme. Sweden has announced the intention to take all 48 but put 12 up for sale. 12 are not enough for the UK's requirement of two regimental sets, but would be a beginning. 
The Royal Artillery has already trialed the french CAESAR in the field 


In the photos by Army Recognition from Eurosatory 2016, the Nexter CAESAR 8x8, a more capable development with autoloader, better protection and mobility. Another obvious candidate. 

There is Project Congreve, for introducing new capabilities and eventually looking at the replacement of GMLRS and Exactor. 
GMLRS could really do with a purchase of some Alternative Warhead rounds, to restore the area-annihillation capability that was once the pride and reason d'etrè of the system. 

The two GMLRS launchers as used by the US Army. The british variant is known as B1 rather than A1. Arguably, the british army does not really need to rush into procuring a wheeled launcher: while its strategic mobility would be better, it would not change the equation by much. The Strike Brigades will use vehicles no lighter than 30 tons and will have tracks in it (Ajax, Terrier) regardless of what happens to the artillery element. A wheeled launcher will not realize the dream of an air transportable brigade, so its procurement is arguably at the bottom of the priorities list. The actual problem is that the British Army has no more than 35 - 36 operational M270B1. Ideally, there should be 4 Precision Fires batteries in the army (one in each armoured and strike brigade). There are currently 3, with only 6 launchers each. A fourth should be formed for the second Strike Brigade, and ideally the number of launchers should grow to 8 or 9. There is also a reserve GMLRS regiment (101 RA).  

The Alternative Warhead seeks to generate area-destruction effects similar to those offered by the old submunition-laden rockets, without generating an UneXploded Ordnance (UXO) hazard on the ground. The ban on submunitions left the British Army with only the unitary warhead rocket: excellent for many things, but insufficient, alone, to cover all needs. 

GMLRS and ATACMS family tree 

Up to 2010 the Royal Artillery was also planning an ATACMS purchase. Of course, that, as well as everything else, did not progress. But now they might just be in time to buy into its successor, if there is real money for it, and not just dreams. 


Long Range Precision Fires will deliver ATACMS-like range and effect, within a thinner body allowing carriage of two missiles in each standard pod. 
Long Range Precision Fires will give the US Army a tool to fight back against the vast arsenal of Iskander missiles that would have to be faced in a clash versus Russian forces. It will complement, at lower cost, the deep strike capability of aviation. 

If they are looking for a lighter, wheeled replacement for the tracked M270B1, there is of course the US HIMARS readily available. Even this requirement would not be new: the british army years ago had attempted to get a GMLRS launcher that could be slung under a Chinook, no less, the LIMAWS (Rocket). 

LIMAWS - Rocket (LIghtweight Mobile Artillery Weapon System) was the british answer to the US HIMARS. Even lighter and easier to deploy, it could be carried under slung by a Chinook. LIMAWS R was cancelled. It employed a single, standard GMLRS 6-rocket pod, just like HIMARS. 

The M777 Portee combined a Supacat high mobility vehicle carrying the gun crew and the ammunition and an M777 howitzer. The gun could be towed or carried and deployed in the field rapidly. The gun cannot fire when mounted on the truck, but the hybrid vehicle resulting could be carried (vehicle and gun separately) under slung by Chinook. LIMAWS - Gun was cancelled.  


Another project is the purchase of a new weapon locating radar, to succeed to MAMBA, which has a 2026 OSD. The weapon locating radar requirement is also nothing new. In its earlier incarnation, the Common Weapon Locating Radar was once to enter service by 2012 to replace COBRA, and lately MAMBA too, with a single type covering both the High (COBRA) and Low (MAMBA) spectrum of the mission. The British Army evaluated the SAAB Arthur C for the requirement, a perfectly sensible candidate. But of course, that project fell apart too, with nothing purchased and COBRA removed from service with only MAMBA left. More luck this time...?

Then there is an equally long-running ambition to purchase guided, long range ammunition (Excalibur, Vulcano, SGP all good choices readily available) and a requirement for a course-correcting fuze to improve the accuracy of the normal shells and reduce CEP. Requirements that have all been around since before 2010 and that have a tentative delivery date of 2018. 

AS90 could really, really do with a 52 calibre barrel, putting it at least on par with other contemporary artillery systems. The longer barrel was part of the Braveheart upgrade which, you have surely guessed it already, fell apart years ago. 

The Braveheart long barrel would remove the current range disadvantage of AS90

The US Army suffers from the same weakness: 39 caliber barrels in a world of 52 calibers. A 24 km reach versus 30 and more. There can be no doubt about it being a significant disadvantage. 
The US Army is upgrading its Paladin self propelled guns but hasn't changed their barrels yet. It is, however, working on creating a long-barrel M777. The british army has done nothing about this disadvantage ever since Braveheart was cancelled. 

M777 ER in front, and standard M777 behind. 1000 pounds and 6 feet of difference. 

Eventually, the L118 Light Gun will need a replacement as well, of course, and the Royal Artillery is also aware that if MORPHEUS progresses and replaces the Bowman radio and data infrastructure it will have to develop a new artillery-specific fire control application to replace the current one. 

The Royal Artillery modernization programme used to be called "Indirect Fire Precision Attack Capability", but it produced little more than nothing. The procurement of the SMART 155 mm round carrying guided anti-tank submunitions was cancelled soon after the contract was signed, LIMAWS went nowhere, Braveheart was cancelled, Fire Shadow is lost in some unknown dimension of the universe and everything else is changing name and waiting for tomorrow. 

Let's see if under new names it goes any better...


Saturday, September 10, 2016

F-35 and Carrier Enabled Power Projection update


The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force exploited RIAT 2016 to deliver a couple of interesting about the F-35 and the fabled Carrier Enabled Power Projection (AKA: you are losing HMS Ocean without replacement, make do somehow).

Beginning with the F-35B, we get an update about the build-up plan. As is to be expected from the MOD, nothing really new is revealed and plans for LRIP 11 and beyond purchases are not detailed at all. Currently, the MOD has placed a long-lead items order for a single F-35B to be delivered as part of LRIP 11, the last of the famous 14 jets authorized to enable the formation of the first frontline squadron.
Following purchases are meant to be planned out as part of Main Gate 5, scheduled for the 2017 budget cycle, so we'll have to wait until next year to learn anything substantial about what follows BK-18.
The LRIP 11 production contract will be let by the Pentagon later during 2017, so the MOD has time to add a few more airframes to the currently lonely BK-18. Moreover, LRIP 12 should be the opening lot of the proposed "Block Buy", making next year's decision very important.

We have been told that 42 F-35B should be in british hands by the end of 2023, including 24 in two frontline squadrons, and to achieve that number, considering a two-year timeframe between order and delivery, the UK needs to purchase a further 24 F-35 over a maximum of five production lots (11 to 15; 2017 to 2021). That works out at around 5 aircraft per lot, which is far from ambitious yet not without challenges for the MOD's budget.


The various milestones remain unchanged: it is still planned to have the british OCU operational in 2019, for example. According to an earlier Written Answer to the House of Lords about the matter, the OCU will have 5 F-35B when it begins training british personnel in July 2019. The last courses for british personnel in US Marine Corps Air Base Beaufort will be completed in 2018.

617 Sqn will fly to RAF Marham during summer 2018. For a while, it will be understrength as aircraft move out to fill the OCU. Then it will, for a while, grow into a "super squadron" before splitting, by December 2023, into two as 809 NAS stands up.


Thankfully, integration of key british weapons is confirmed as a Block 4 event. Between 2020 and 2026, the british F-35B will receive the new build (Block 6) ASRAAM; the Paveway IV with bunker-buster warhead; SPEAR 3 and Meteor.
SPEAR 3 is, according to Jane's, a Block 4.2 candidate. This contradicts an earlier slide, released in february 2015 by LM, showing SPEAR 3 towards the final 4.4 software release. Development of SPEAR 3 is progressing well and MBDA believes it can offer a complete weapon, ready for integration, within the next two years or so.
Meteor in the slide was a 4.3 candidate and there are reasons to believe that it will be the last to be integrated, being the most complex.
The decision to retain the Typhoon Tranche 1 into service into the 2020s is probably connected to this timeframe, in the sense that it provides further reason to extend the AMRAAM into RAF service beyond 2020.
While there is no official confirmation that i know of, logic and facts suggest that the two Typhoon Tranche 1 squadrons will live on in british service just as long as AMRAAM does (otherwise they'll have very little to employ...), and AMRAAM is needed as long as Meteor isn't integrated on F-35. Moreover, the second pair of F-35B squadrons planned are the obvious replacement of the two Tranche 1 squadrons.
Typhoon T1 is merely a useful placeholder, that will be exploited to the best of the little it can offer, bridging the gap between Tornado and F-35, avoiding a ruinous fall in the number of squadrons which would have probably never been reversed.




In practice, we can assume that the RAF is thinking roughly on this line:

Now: 5 Typhoon + 3 Tornado GR4 squadrons
2019+: Tornado GR4 bows out, personnel sent in Typhoon stream to build up to 7 Typhoon Sqns and 1 F-35B
2023 and beyond: Typhoon Tranche 1 bows out, but two more squadrons of F-35B are built up. 7 + 2 become 5 + 4. Meteor finally completely replaces AMRAAM.

On the infrastructure front, RAF Marham will see a lot of work in the coming years.




Runway 01 will become a STOL strip, and 3 vertical landing pads have been funded. The main runway will be resurfaced by June 2024.
Hangar 3 has been demolished to make room for the Maintenance and Finish Hangar. Hangar No 1 will be demolished later this year to be replaced by another engineering facility.
The South HAS area will be refurbished to become 617 Sqn's home, and the offices for the OCU will be built nearby, close to the Integrated Training Centre which will host the simulators.
Work on the Lightning Force HQ and National Operating Centre has also started. The building is being built as a secure facility, because this is where the british ALIS main node will be located. Office space for 125 is planned.


On the ship side, things are moving too. Not always in the most encouraging of ways: for whatever reason, the Navy seems to be expecting a long capability gap between the loss of HMS Ocean and the maturity of plans for using Queen Elizabeth class as an assault ship.



CEPP IOC is given as September 2023, and this might have to do with the stated intention of modifying parts of HMS Prince of Wales to give her better Embarked Force spaces and amphibious bits, which have never been detailed so far.

In full "amphibious" configuration, the target for a Queen Elizabeth class carrier is given as two companies, which should mean something in the region of 500 men, plus a good 300 more in support of the embarked group of helicopters.

It is to be assumed and hoped that HMS Queen Elizabeth will get the "amphibious mods" applied during her first refit, considering that the ships will often operate alone, not as a couple, requiring, more than a pure carrier strike or pure amphibious loadouts, an hybrid "assault" configuration.


The USMC is now officially expected to be part of the air wing on the first operational deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth, expected in 2021, as announced by secretary of state for defence Fallon. Their F-35Bs and MV-22 will complement the british elements of the air wing.
This is really not a surprise, and there had been very clear hints dropped in multiple occasions, all the way up to the USMC including the QE class between the platforms considered in its annual Aviation Strategy document.
Their MV-22 could end up being especially valuable if they came with the tanker kit for air refuelling. They will also provide a long-range, quick CSAR platform. Jane's is reporting that the Royal Marines are pushing for greater effort in this area, and that a Personnel Recovery cell has already been created within 3 Commando Brigade.
The MOD has been attempting to set up a proper Joint Personnel Recovery capability for a long time, and last year it had begun looking around for vehicles compatible with internal carriage on Chinook and with usefulness in scenarions including evacuation of downed personnel and recovery and/or destruction of classified equipment fallen in enemy territory.
It will be interesting to see if, how and when this project progresses. It would most likely be closely connected with the SDSR-sanctioned wish of the Special Forces director for longer-range air mobility.
The options on the table, essentially, are two: a V-22 Osprey purchase; or the procurement of air refueling probes for a number of Chinook helicopters, plus a couple of tanker kits for two of the retained C-130J.
In the case of the Chinook, the HC3 (soon to be HC5) machines are excellent candidates: they already come with longer legs thanks to their fat tanks; and they will exit from their ongoing JULIUS modification fitted also with the same digital flight controls introduced by the HC6, The addition of the probes would make them very capable.


The V-22 appears not once but twice in this slide, shown both as part of the embarked force and as an element of Maritime Intra-Theatre Lift (MITL). This doesn't necessarily mean anything, but it is still worth noting.

Regarding the Fleet Carrier / Carrier Strike end of the business, the Royal Navy is doing what it can to restore a proper air wing beginning with the helicopter side.
Last year's Deep Blue exercise saw, for the first time in years, a major carrier ASW deployment with a standard complement of 9 Merlin helicopters working to keep the task force safe from enemy submarine action.
This year's Deep Blue did not include quite as many Merlin HM2 but on the other hand it introduced the other key bit: AEW coverage and Anti-Air Warfare. Sea King ASaC Mk7 were embarked and employed to protect the task forces from the attacks of the Hawk jets of 736 NAS playing as aggressors.

The Royal Navy wants the carrier air wing to include a 9-helos ASW squadron and a 4/5 helos strong AEW force. To achieve that, it is planning to restructure the Merlin force over the next two years:

820 NAS will become a permanently carrier-roled ASW squadron.

814 NAS and 829 NAS will be merged together to provide Small Ship Flights for the Type 23 frigates; a flight at high readiness for the Fleet Ready Escort / Towed Array Patrol Ship and a few extra flights for reinforcement of the carriers.

849 NAS will continue being the AEW squadron, moving from Sea King ASaC Mk7 to Merlin HM2.

824 NAS will be the training unit.

The loss of one of the current squadrons in order to accommodate the indispensable AEW-roled unit might, unfortunately, signal the final surrender of the Royal Navy in the quest for getting the 8 remaining Merlin HM1 upgraded and kept in service.
It seems reasonable to assume that, had those helicopters been funded, 814 and 829 would not be merging.


The large number of helicopters will tipically mean fewer F-35B. A large air wing will tend to have 24, rather than 36, F-35B on board. This would mean embarking half the squadrons (2 out of 4 once the intended Lightning Force is fully built up), which is not unrealistic. More should be achievable, but not routinely.

Finally, the brief suggests that Type 45 and F-35 could work together very closely to take down air threats. This is absolutely doable and should be an objective for the future, but the reality is that, as of today, the Royal Navy does not have the kind of Cooperative Engagement Capability equipment in use in the US Navy.
While US F-35s will be trialed as nodes within a Naval Integrated Fire Control - Counter Air (NIFC-CA) network as soon as this month, british F-35Bs do not currently have a clear path to follow to reach the same capability. The Royal Navy had hoped to fit the US CEC system to the Type 45 destroyers, but funding never materialized.


It would be a major upgrade and a big step in the right direction to join the NIFC-CA project sometime in the future.

The two complete documents can be seen below:


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Light Mechanised Infantry and Light Cavalry: the next orphans?


The British Army seems to have dropped the unwieldy "Light Protected Mobility Infantry" definition for the more immediate Light Mechanised Infantry title. But this is the minor of the changes that affect the 6 infantry battalions mounted on Foxhound.
A much greater change of plans regards the structure of these dramatically undersized units: they now have only two Rifle Companies each. The army apparently calls these "Strike Companies", but i'm not really ready to care for general Carter's questionable obsessions.

Notoriously, Army 2020 got around the political imperative of not cutting more than 5 infantry battalions by making all other Light Role and Light Mechanised battalions a lot smaller. The establishment of these units, all  ranks - all trades, is 561 and 581.
A big part of the cut comes from eliminating three rifle platoons: initially, the structure was on three companies of two platoons plus a GPMG Section, but in more recent times the Army has chosen instead to keep the GPMGs grouped up into a traditional Machine Gun platoon and put all 6 remaining rifle platoons in two companies.

The current structure of a Light Mechanised Infantry unit is as follows, exemplified here by 3 SCOTS, The Black Watch:


Alpha (Grenadier) Coy     
1, 2, 3 rifle platoons

Bravo Coy
4, 5, 6 rifle platoons

Charlie Coy (Manoeuvre Support Coy)
Mortar platoon
Machine Gun Platoon
Assault Pioneers / Pipes and Drums

Delta (Light) Coy – Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR)
Recce Platoon / Sniper Platoon (when combined, they make up the "Patrols" platoon)
Anti-Tank Platoon 
Intelligence Section

Signals Platoon 


As can be observed, the other bit of novelty is the conversion of the third Rifle Coy into an ISR Company grouping signals, the intelligence cell, snipers, recce and Javelin missiles. 
The Javelin has probably been included in the ISR company because of the value its aiming unit has when used as a battlefield surveillance sensor. 



The Husky recovery is the current interim solution


The Foxhound Logistics and WMIK variants would have an obvious role to play within the Light Mechanised Infantry

The recce platoons in Army 2020 have been slimmed down, to 24 men. The number of sniper pairs should still be 8. There was the ambition to train all recce infantrymen on the L129A1 to add long range precision firepower, but it is hard to say if this is being done for real or not. 
The reconnaissance patrols are usually composed of a 6-man team from Recce platoon plus a Sniper Pair, and four such patrols are generated. 
The Anti-Tank platoon has four detachments, led by corporals. 



Vehicles 

In terms of vehicles, the battalion is currently a mix of many different platforms: the Rifle Companies are mounted in Foxhound vehicles, while Anti-Tank, Machine Gun and Recce ride in RWIMIK +. 
The battalion probably employs some Panther too, meaning that, from a logistic point of view, the whole formation is a bit of a mess. 
The Mortar Platoon uses the Husky, which is also employed by the REME Light Aid Detachment. 
It has to be assumed that the REME are still using the few Husky Recovery vehicles that they created when still deployed in Afghanistan: the army has a requirement for an actual Light Mechanised Recovery Vehicle but so far hasn't yet selected the platform. 
Supacat is showcasing at DVD 2016 a Recovery vehicle developed on the Coyote 6x6 chassis, which could be a good solution for the needs of PARA, Marines, Light Cavalry and Light Mechanised Infantry. 
Other offers have been made, one of which based on a DURO chassis. 

Supacat's offer for the Lightweight Protected Recovery Vehicle requirement. 

The Army has a Multi Role Vehicle - Protected requirement that should move on in the near future to deliver a few hundred general purpose, protected vehicles and a new protected battlefield ambulance, and this could end up adding yet another vehicle to the roster. According to recent news reports, the Army has been seriously considering the opportunity of selecting the american Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, which, being due for a massive production run of well over 50.000, might be the only contender with a chance to fit the small budget. 
I remain personally concerned by the way the MRV-P programme seems to lack a true long-term plan, and clarity about how MRV-P fits within the other fleets and how the number of different vehicles can be cut down to achieve logistic simplification over the coming years. If MRV-P is to be successful, the Army must be prepared to build up its numbers with regular purchases over the years, and make it part of a coherent programme for replacement of old platforms. 
The first MRV-P purchases seem destined to replace shares of unprotected support vehicles (Land Rover, Pinzgauer, DURO) in a number of roles and positions across the army, but this must only be a beginning, not a one-off. The army has already started and then abandoned too many programmes, ending up with an endless list of different vehicle types. This time, it must do things differently. 

The planning gap: the Army quite clearly does not know what it wants going ahead. The confusion is made even more evident by Foxhound OSD being given as 2024: frankly, an absurd proposition. 

MRV-P variants duplicate, in a way or another, a variety of vehicles including Panther, Foxhound and Husky. It is imperative to formulate an actual long term plan to move from multiple vehicle types down to one or two. Foxhound's uniqueness is given by its high protection level, which is two NATO STANAG levels higher than what is requested out of MRV-P. The level of protection requested should determine which proportion of the fleet needs to be made up of Foxhound variants and which can be covered with MRV-P. 

From a Light Mechanised Infantry point of view, the priorities beyond proper, protected Recovery vehicles and ambulance should arguably be the replacement of the RWIMIK +. It is hard to accept that the firepower of the battalion should ride into battle in a platform offering less protection and, probably, somewhat inferior mobility than that of the troop carrier within the rifle companies. 
The Foxhound WMIK variant should be brought in to solve the problem, and General Dynamics has been offering other variants of the base Foxhound: this year it is showcasing a SF variant and a C2 command and communications variant that could be a perfect long-term replacement for Panther and beyond. 
The Army needs to formulate a plan which, i suggest, would need to capitalize on Foxhound on one side and on MRV-P on the other. The main differences between the two will be protection and cost, with the Foxhound being much better armoured and much more expensive. Over the coming years, the Foxhound, in all its variants, should equip the light units closer to the line of fire, with MRV-P in its variants covering the rest of the requirement, leaving completely unprotected vehicles to the non-frontline jobs. 



Light Cavalry 

Light Cavalry regiments, currently 3, are 404 strong and are mounted on Jackal and Coyote. They currently suffer the lack of an adequate light recovery vehicle able to follow the formation and support it right up to the line of fire. Apart from a few Husky "Recovery" created directly by the REME in Afghanistan, they currently have nothing but the gigantic MAN wrecker trucks. 
This problem should, however, be solved relatetively soon. 

Another problem facing the Light Cavalry is a serious firepower deficit. Javelin aside, the Light Cavalry does not field anything more than Grenade Machine guns (in theory, one in each Troop of four vehicles) and .50 HMGs (on the other three vehicles in the Troop). 
This firepower is insufficient to stand up to the threats likely to be encountered, and i'm not talking necessarily about russian reconnaissance formations here, but even of the ubiquitous toyota pick-ups loaded up with heavy weaponry by terrorists and insurgents all around the world. 
As the french discovered in Mali, the .50 is at a disadvantage against enemies often armed with the russian 14.5mm gun, not to mention against pick ups armed with the ZSU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun. 

Accuracy is questionable, but this kind of combination would put a Jackal with a .50 HMG at a disadvantage in terms of range and lethality. 
The Light Cavalry needs a greater reach and greater lethality in order to be credible. The French in Mali had the Sagaie and AMX-10 to fall back on, and where these were not available they have resurrected old 20mm guns and installed them on the back of trucks, to fight fire with fire. 
The US Army, facing much the same considerations, intends to equip its lightweight recce formations with a JLTV variant armed with a 30mm gun derived from the Apache's one. 
The russian army is working on an impressive unmanned, enclosed turret with a 30mm gun, installed on top of the Tigr 4x4 protected vehicle. 

Tigr with 30mm gun turret
The M230LF trialed on top of an M-ATV of the US Army. 

The Jackal needs to follow the same path if the Light Cavalry is to be credible, otherwise it will be badly outgunned in each and every scenario. 



An orphaned capability? 

There is a big question mark floating over the british army light forces, however, due to the new Army 2025 plan. At the moment, there is little to no information available about the kind of structure that the six Infantry Brigades will assume. Moreover, there are no details regarding how these brigades will be employed and what kind of capability they will be able to generate. 
Light Mechanised Infantry and Light Cavalry were key components of Army 2020, as two "Adaptable" brigades formed around these units were part of the 5-formations cycle needed to support an enduring operation: 

Armoured Infantry Brigade x3 
Adaptable Brigade x2    (the 7 Adaptable Brigades would be used to generate two deployable force packages, to cover two successive tours in theatre) 

Under Army 2025, however, there will be a "greater focus" on one-shot, short duration, Division-level warfighting, and the SDSR 2015 document and successive (few) words offered by general Carter accurately fail to detail whether the army will still be able to support a 5-brigade cycle, making a future enduring operation possible. 
When listed: 

Armoured Brigades x2
Strike Brigades x2
Infantry Brigades x6 

the elements of Army 2025 seem impressive and more than capable to support a future enduring operation. However, this is actually far from certain, as the Army intends to keep two rather than one brigade at readiness each year (1 armoured and 1 strike). 
In addition, 5 infantry battalions will be further maimed to create "Defence Engagement" formations numbering a mere 350 men each. The re-organization of the cavalry regiments might also take away one or two Light Cavalry regiments, depending on the decisions that will be made (four rather than 3 Ajax regiments are envisaged now, and a Cavalry unit might be ordered to change role to CBRN reconnaissance as the capability is given back to the Army). 

Husky in Mortar carrier role 
The insufficient number and consistence of supporting regiments (Signal, Logistic, Artillery, Engineer) makes it unthinkable that more than 5 brigades can be adequately resourced for deployment, which means having, at best, one deployable Infantry Brigade out of the six planned. Maybe not even that. 
This risks turning the Light Cavalry and Light Mechanised Infantry into orphaned capabilities, lost somewhere within a force structure that makes little sense and that seems unable to properly, fully exploit the resources already paid for. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

British Heavy Armour for the future: Combined Arms Regiment

In detail: the Combined Arms Regiment

In this post I provide a graphic which helps in visualizing the Combined Arms Regiment I’ve been proposing as a solution to the British Army’s current heavy brigade headache. How do you square three brigades into two, and how do you deal with the insufficient number of Warrior vehicles to be upgraded under the Capability Sustainment Programme, while also delivering a workable, credible force structure?

My reply is: with the Combined Arms Regiment. This mirrors, in some ways, what the US Army has been doing for years in its Heavy Brigade Combat Teams, which were composed of two such regiments (then grown to three in exchange for a reduction in the number of brigades).
Israel also combines infantry and tanks within the same armoured regiments, albeit in a different way. Italy used to, in better days for its army.
The British Army does it regularly… but only on deployment and during training. The Combined Arms Regiment is, in the end, a formalization of the “2+2” square battlegroup that the British Army knows all too well. 2 tank squadrons supporting 2 armoured infantry companies.



The graphic uses vehicle profile drawings from ShipBucket.com. Credits for their realization to users Darth Panda, Glorfindel and Sgtsammac. Click on the link to see in full size at Pintrest.com

I feel confident in saying that it is time to make this structure permanent. The one good thing of Army 2020 is that armoured infantry and tank units are now all based in the same place, on Salisbury Plain, which virtually removes any remaining logistic / infrastructure reason against such an approach.
The two Heavy Brigades in Army 2025 would restructure each on 3 such permanent battlegroups, and rotate them into readiness, one by one, making the force generation cycle quite straightforward and greatly reducing the need to pull pieces from this regiment, that battalion and that other company over there, which is the current norm.

With the CAR, the British Army:

-          Maintains the same number of MBTs it had in Army 2020, replacing 3 “Type 56” regiments with 6 binary “battalions” (a handy trick to avoid capbadge issues!) of 28 tanks each. The number of frontline tanks is unchanged, at 168.
-          Has more tanks per brigade, 84 versus 56.
-          Has an even balance of tank squadrons and armoured infantry companies. One problem of the Army 2020 armoured brigade is lack of tanks: only 3 squadrons to support as many as 9 companies of infantry (6 armoured, 3 mechanized).

The CAR also “avoids” an otherwise unavoidable cut from 6 armoured infantry battalions to 4: with 245 “turreted” Warriors expected to be upgraded, there simply isn’t enough of them for six battalions. Make the count by yourself: 6x3 companies, and 14 Warrior per company, would require 252 vehicles. And that’s without counting any in the Fire Support Companies, and without any in reserve and in the training fleet. Simply unworkable.
The CARs reduce the number of infantry companies on Warrior to 12, for a total of 168 vehicles. More are used within the six Fire Support Infantry companies, leaving an uncomfortably small margin for the training fleet and for attrition, but at least fitting within the 245 figure. A much needed injection of realism.

The CARs also require 135 men less than the Army 2020 structure (6 infantry battalions of 729 and 3 tank regiments of 587 versus 6 battlegroups of 1000 each).

The graphic shows the distribution of manpower and vehicles. One important piece of the puzzle is the Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle, the replacement for the ancient FV432 family of vehicles. The ABSV programme hasn’t been launched yet, but remains on the army list for the next future.
In my CAR assumptions, I’ve inserted the hope for a firepower boost in the form of 120mm mortars and, finally, a vehicle-mounted anti-tank missile capability (complementing, not replacing, the dismounted Javelin teams carried in the back).


ABSV, also known as "turretless Warrior", is a programme that is attempting to take off from well over 10 years. It is fundamental to get it on the move, because FV432s aren't getting any younger. 
ABSV: it was around when Alvis was still kicking... 

The CAR makes up for the relative weakness in infantry numbers by fielding an exceptionally large and capable Fire Support Company, shaped to attach mortar and ATGW sections not only to the infantry companies, but also to the tank squadrons. Mortars, after all, can be extremely useful in setting up smoke curtains and suppressing enemy ATGW firing positions, thus helping and protecting the tank’s ability to manoeuvre.

One relatively unique feature of the proposal is the reconnaissance element. Armoured Infantry and tank formations have so far enjoyed the support of recce troops equipped with 8 Scimitar vehicles, and it was assumed that these would be replaced with an equal number of Ajax. However, the British Army is now looking at forming 4 regiments on Ajax, but all destined to the two Strike Brigades (an approach I do not personally support, but so it is).
Even a more reasonable scenario based on an Ajax regiment in each Heavy and each Strike brigade would still require forming a fourth regiment, out of the same number of vehicles to be purchased. So, the vehicles have to come from somewhere.
My CAR proposal thus does recce with Warriors carrying dismounts, and with the support of the sniper pairs. This collaboration is, again, nothing really new. The sniper pair’s use of quad bikes for independent battlefield mobility is also something that already happens.
The Assault Pioneers, 4 sections mounted each in a Warrior (3 crew + 6 dismounts following the upgrade), stand ready to offer their support.

The REME Light Aid Detachment is expanded to account for the big fleet of vehicles, including tanks. Its structure is a hybrid formation built from the REME elements found in the current armoured infantry battalions and tank regiments.

The HQ Coy is also considerably larger, to account for a bigger echelon with the greater number of trucks needed to support the battlegroup. The HQ Coy is composed of HQ element, Signal Platoon, Quartermaster platoon, Motor Transport platoon, catering and other supporting elements.  

Supported by a capable artillery battery from the brigade’s Fires regiment; a logistic group and an armoured engineer squadron, a CAR is a ready-made battlegroup.
In a future post I will explore the difficult topic represented by the fourth battlegroup, the cavalry one, tasked with reconnaissance and screening. The Army’s need to put some flesh on the bones of the mythological “strike brigades” has given birth to the questionable idea of moving Ajax into those, leaving a big question mark floating on the future scouting element within the armoured brigades.

What the Strike Brigade really needs, but isn’t getting, is the cancelled FRES SV Direct Fire variant, also known as “Medium Armour”. The army had plans for procuring this medium tank variant, armed probably with a 120mm smoothbore gun, but the plan was cancelled years ago as part of the infinite wave of cuts.
Now, Ajax is being asked to play the part of “medium armour” within the Strike Brigades, but armed only with a 40mm gun, and at the cost of leaving the armoured brigades short of recce support. A failure from one end to the other. 
This also signals a further move towards recce by force rather than by stealth, and it would as a consequence require additional firepower to enable the cavalry to manoeuvre, scout ahead and act as an effective screen even in presence of enemy armour. 
The US Army cavalry squadron within armoured brigade combat teams is swapping out all 4x4 in favor of more Bradleys and is also being given a tank company (although, for now at least, this is robbed from one of the combined arms regiments rather than being additional). 
The italian reconnaissance cavalry is also an interesting example. It is wheeled, not tracked, but nonetheless includes a tank-destroyer squadron to be equipped with 8x8 Centauro 2 vehicles armed with a 120mm smoothbore. 
If the British Army wants to be able to manoeuvre against a capable enemy, a regiment of sole Ajax with 40mm will not do: the heavy brigade reconnaissance regiments should have a Challenger 2 presence; while the Strike Brigades should include the Medium Armour variant of Ajax. (or, better still, use a wheeled tank destroyer and recce vehicles, to better match the rest of the brigade that is to be mounted on 8x8). 

Meanwhile, the bids are in for the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme, an enterprise which now faces a couple of years of Assessment Phase, hopefully with two rival industry teams selected for the demonstration programme as “soon” as this October.
The widest possible range of budget figures have been quoted for this programme, going anywhere from 250 to 1200 million pounds. Hard to say what kind of room for manoeuvre Army HQ might have in funding the obsolescence removal from Challenger 2. After years of false starts, the consensus is (or maybe was…?) that the gun and powerpack would not be replaced, despite being the two biggest weaknesses of the tank. But there was a most impressive and interesting development when Rheinmetall filed its bid and boldly promised that their “innovative solution” will enable the switch from the rifled L30 to the smoothbore L55.


A new turret bustle? The image from Rheinmetall does not provide a definitive answer, but suggests so. 

To understand the Challenger 2’s gun problem it is important to underline that the heart of the matter is not so much the fact that it has a rifled barrel, but the fact that it uses two-piece ammunition. This unique feature means that the current ammunition storage spaces are far too short to take the long one-piece shells used by everyone else in NATO; and it also means that the Challenger 2 crews can store the explosive rounds and the launch charges beneath the turret ring, where they are generally safer. In exchange for this, the Challenger 2 does not have the extensively protected and blast-venting ammunition storage compartments found, for example, on the M1 Abrams.
Switching the gun is very easy, and has been trialed and validated already years ago: the problem is that the ammunition storage needs to be completely re-thought, and vast internal modifications become necessary.
Rheinmetall does not elaborate, for now, on how their proposal work. Extensive rebuilding of the turret seems inevitable, and the one CGI image they have published might provide clues to it: the Challenger 2 in the picture seems to have a new turret bustle, which also houses a new independent thermal sensor for the commander (compare the position in the picture with that of the current system to see the difference). Rheinmetall might be suggesting, effectively, a complete reconstruction of the rear of the turret.
There is no telling how much it could cost, and whether the army could face that cost, but I think the Army will be very interested in hearing what Rheinmetall has to say on the matter.

The Challenger 2’s gun is fundamentally handicapped by its use of two-piece ammunition, which makes it pretty much impossible to adopt new, longer armor-piercing darts, putting a hard roof to lethality that is already assessed as problematic and will only get worse over time. In addition, while in the past the HESH round for the L30 added a flexibility that smoothbore tanks did not match, now the situation is fundamentally reversed. There is now a whole variety of ammunition available for smoothbore guns, including novel tri-mode HE shells with airburst and anti-structure capability, and the Challenger 2 is locked out, lost in its own little sea of aging shells with their own exquisitely unique logistic tail. An oddity in NATO, with all what descends from it.

On the engine front, the current powerpack is not powerful enough, especially with how much heavier the Challenger 2 add-on armour kit have become, pushing combat weight as far upwards as to 75 tons. It is also not commendable in terms of reliability.


An army slide about CR2 LEP from last year. The Army has wanted to replace the gun for many years now, but eventually lost hope in front of the ammunition storage problem. Can Rheinmetall's proposal change this, and can the MOD buy?

It is my opinion that if these critical weaknesses can’t be solved, the whole LEP expenditure might become questionable at best. Alternative approaches would have to be considered, with the LEP cancelled and all the money moved across towards the Ajax family, to restore the Medium Armour variant.


FRES SV variants that will never (?) be: ambulance, medium bridgelayer, and Medium Armour / Direct Fire


Being lighter, the new tank would never be able to match the formidable survivability of the Challenger 2 and would inexorably have less passive protection, but it could at least be rolled into service with a smoothbore gun, up-to-date electronics and a powerful powerpack. And if a suitable number of them was procured over time, both Heavy and Strike brigades could have their hitting power secured.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The ministry of stealth budgeting and stealthier cuts



Thanks to the MOD’s sales service, we have just discovered that the Royal Navy has been robbed of yet another precious capability, with the untimely demise of RFA Diligence, the Forward Repair Ship. She is now on sale, ready for further use in the hands of a new owner.

She is in good conditions despite the many years of age, having received constant updates and adjustments over the years, which have included an improved ballast water treatment plant purchased in 2014. She completed her last refit in March 2015… and left service, according to the sales brochure, in May 2015.
Congratulations, MOD! It is not the first time that money is wasted to refit a ship which is then immediately after removed from service. In recent times, it has been the fate of RFA Orangeleaf as well. But this does not mean that the practice is any less demented and offensive.



The cut of RFA Diligence is probably the stealthiest in many years. Sthealtier still than the cut of 2 of the Point class RoRo transports, which took place merely months after the SDSR 2010 had specifically said that all 6 would stay in service. There have been no messages, no ceremonies, no news, no explanations. Only silence.
Nobody knew that RFA Diligence had gone out of service. It was known that she was in port since may 2015, but the assumption was that the RFA had put her “in pause” due to the well known shortage of manpower.
Even the MOD itself seems to have missed the cutting of RFA Diligence, since they replied to a FOI in December 2015 saying that her Out of Service Date was 2020.


The following is a very interesting article about RFA Diligence, her capabilities and her role, from Marine Maintenance Technology International, September 2015 issue.



Yet, she is gone. And a replacement is nowhere to be seen. Considering the capability she offered, it is a big loss.



In the meanwhile, another interesting FOI offers actual numbers to back up the coloured but un-detailed graphics of the 10 year Equipment Programme. This, together with the annual publication on the MOD Major Projects status, makes it possible to play a little bit of math. Open all three documents, and follow me in this puzzle-solving game. 

The FOI’s table offers a more readable breakdown of the Equipment Budget, showing:

-          Money reserved for the launch of new procurement (it does not break down the share destined to support of said new equipment); separating between committed and uncommitted funds. Uncommitted funds are not yet tied down by a contract.
-          Money for In Service Equipment (so, basically, the cost of supporting what is already in service), again in Committed and Uncommitted form.
-          Money for procurement, which is the expenditure on ongoing programmes

Taken alone, these numbers are interesting and impressive, but do not tell the story. What is this money paying for? What margin exists for procuring new kit? Is the situation so desperate that it requires losing a ship as cost-effective and capable as Diligence?
The MOD does not provide the information required. Compare the “10 Year Programme” and all other sparse documents published by the MOD or about the MOD (NAO reports, namely) to the defence budget documentation produced by France, USA and even Italy, and you’ll see that the MOD is as transparent as a thick plate of steel painted solid black.

We only have indications about costs and performance of a handful of selected programmes, and always one year after the budget is determined. The MOD publishes an Excel spreadsheet, annually, detailing the status of the major programmes in the previous Annual Budget Cycle.
The document published this July, in fact, is composed of data from September 2015.
The NAO report works in similar fashion.
Other programmes never get detailed: we are not told what is their in-year cost, nor we are told how much kit is ordered in a set year, and how much kit is taken in charge in the year.
France and US are particularly good at reporting these information. Italy is a bit less detailed, but each year it is possible to read a good document saying how much money is going to go on programme X during the year. The MOD gives no comparable information.

Joining the FOI data with the Excel spreadsheet, though, it is possible to compose a decent picture of the Royal Navy’s equipment budget situation for the year 2015 / 16.
In 2015/16, the Royal Navy has been given, for Surface Ships:

54 million for (eventually) starting new procurement processes for new kit (money uncommitted)

529 million, committed, for supporting equipment in service
302 million, uncommitted, for support to equipment in service

1009 million, committed, for ongoing procurement
310 million, uncommitted, for ongoing procurement

The Excel spreadsheet offers information on in-year expenditure for several programmes. Specifically:

Queen Elizabeth class procurement, 712,93 million
Carrier Enabled Power Projection studies, 1,44 million
Tide class tankers, 194,98 million
Type 26, 222,3 million

The budget allocated in year can be underspent or overspent, depending on how things go. The Excel document contains also the forecasted actual expenditure, most of the time slightly smaller than the allocation.

Adding up the budgets above, however, the total goes well above the Committed 1009 million. The Uncommitted money is not money available for procuring additional kit, but merely money that isn’t yet tied to a specific contract.
If we consider Committed and Uncommitted money together, we reach a 1319 million total. There is in theory a 187,35 million margin, but of course there are programmes we aren’t given details about. For example, the procurement of the River Batch 2. Its cost is 348 million spread over N years, where N is pretty certainly not less than 4. However, the spread of expenditure is not equal, so 348/4 is only a wild estimate.
Again, the Royal Navy also committed 12,6 million (over how many years?) to the ATLAS combined sweep demonstration programme; and a further 17 million (over how many years, again?) for the MMCM system being developed jointly with France.

All things considered, the margin, at the end of the day, is nonexistent. It would be very interesting, instead, to learn what happened to the 54 million for wholly new procurement. It is a small sum, but a non insignificant one. And this year the amount is 80 million, yet, the Royal Navy is reportedly going to lose Scan Eagle, because there is no money to buy the currently contractor-operated systems; nor to renew the current deal; nor to launch the new Flexible Deployable UAS the Royal Navy had hoped to start. This is puzzling, but we simply do not have the information needed to paint a better picture.

The Submarines budget is another interesting area. The FOI gives:

77 uncommitted millions for new procurement, and 15 committed

194 uncommitted and 1663 committed for support to existing equipment

684 uncommitted and 1628 committed for ongoing procurement.

Detectable expenditure in-year in the Submarines budget is given as:

638,65 million for Astute

170,5 for the Nuclear Core Production Capability

770,41 for Successor SSBN

37 million for the Spearfish torpedo upgrade (might actually fall in the Complex Weapons budget line, though)

1085,43 million in costs for AWE Aldermaston, its new infrastructure developments and the Nuclear Warhead Capability Sustainment Programme which is replacing the non-nuclear components of the MK4 warheads to turn them into MK4A.


Again, the total go well above the committed procurement funding, and above the total obtained adding the uncommitted money, too. The most likely explanation is that a big share of the AWE costs actually fall into the Support to in service equipment voice, considering that it is expenditure connected to kit and infrastructure already in use.



It gets more complex with the other services, as the data is even more fragmented and incomplete. The Excel sheet does not provide info on in-year Typhoon expenditure, so Combat Air calculations could only be incomplete.
The simple fact that it takes this kind of research, guessing, reasoning and puzzle-solving to compose a picture of the situation is a sign of just how badly the MOD works, and how much is done to make cuts such as RFA Diligence’s unfortunate departure invisible, or almost so.
The detail about requirements and future purchases is inexistent, and even when the SDSR documents say something, you can expect something else entirely to happen (see the Point class event, or the fact that the “up to six OPVs” in the SDSR 2015 is already turning into “5”, with only of the River Batch 2s replacing HMS Clyde even though the ship is still very much young).


My first plea to the new government is to clear up this mess, and make MOD plans less stealthy. This constant scamming and book-cooking is unhelpful when it is not offensive. This absolute lack of transparency is a shame that needs to be ended.