Sunday, August 7, 2011

The triumph of Absurd

Let's start it all with a quote to put things into perspective: 

National Security Strategy: Priority Risks
Tier One: The National Security Council considered the following groups of risks to be those of highest priority for UK national security looking ahead, taking account of both likelihood and impact.

                    International terrorism affecting the UK or its interests, including a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack by terrorists; and/or a significant increase in the levels of terrorism relating to Northern Ireland.

National Security Strategy Document, October 2010, Part Three, page 27 

A CBRN terroristic attack on the UK appeared in the Risk Assessment as the FIRST threat listed in the TIER ONE likelihood/dangerousness list. And this is not the end, since a CBRN attack by a foreign state was judged to be low likelihood, but high impact, and thus appeared in TIER TWO, further reinforcing the concept. It also noted:

“…Al Qaeda and other groups have stated an aspiration to develop unconventional (chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear – CBRN) capabilities. Al Qaeda has a long-held desire to maximise the impact of its attacks through the use of such weapons. It has yet to develop such capability but will continue to seek all means to do so.

Once a threat is recognized, deemed Likely and High Impact, one would expect that existing capability to counter such threat, in such delicate, highly-specialized sector in which there’s no space for error, would be expanded, improved, and made ready to protect the nation, also because next year there will be the Olympic Games, which will be the dream of any terrorist with the visibility that they would ensure.

But of course, logic has no space in the UK defence budget.

And so the 1 Royal Tank Regiment announces:

"On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Defence agreed to the SDSR measure (subsumed by a PR11 option) to delete the Joint CBRN Regiment and transfer all of Defence's specialist CBRN capabilities to the RAF Regiment.
This brings to a close a protracted and difficult period for the Regiment. The debate has been intensive and impassioned, and the Regiment has punched well above it's weight in making the argument for CBRN to remain in the Land domain.
The Commanding Officer announced the decision to the Regiment at 1200 hrs yesterday. General Sir Nick Parker, C-in-C Land Forces, addressed the Regiment at 1545 hrs and then took questions from the Officers' and WOs' and Sergeants' Messes. Brigadier Simon Levey, Director Royal Armoured Corps, was also in attendance.
C-in-C assured the Regiment with 3 major points, as follows:

1. 1RTR would not be disbanded as a result of the Secretary of State's decision on CBRN. The long term future of 1RTR would be examined on equal terms with other Armoured Regiments in the Army re-structuring work being undertaken by Major General Carter. This work seeks to deliver an integrated force of 82,000 regular and 30,000 reservists by 2020, and will report for decision by ECAB in the Autumn.

2. There was no more likelihood of 1RTR soldiers being made redundant as a consequence of the decision than any other soldiers in the RAC.

3. 1RTR would retain a footprint in Honington until at least April 2013, giving stability to individuals and families for the next 18 months.
C-in-C explained that he saw 3 phases in going forwards:

1.  The handover of CBRN skills and equipment to the RAF Regiment and the Yeomanry.
2.  An interim phase of constructive and meaningful activity for the Regiment in a new role.
3. The implementation of the findings of the Carter Review, in a 3-5 year timescale.

C-in-C remarked that having been the Brigade Commander in Germany when 1RTR converted to the CBRN role, he understood the challenge this represented and the extraordinary professionalism that the Regiment has shown ever since.

DRAC then outlined some of his ideas for an interim role for 1RTR, including:

1. Generating a Squadron for deployment to Op HERRICK with the SCOTS DG and then QRH battlegroups, subject to future force levels in theatre.
2. Running the Crew Training School in Bovington.
3. Becoming the lead unit for experimentation and TTP development for the Army, in the AGILE WARRIOR workstream.

The Regiment takes great heart from the reassurance given personally by C-in-C and DRAC. Whilst the announcement was an undoubted shock to most, its implications are perhaps not as dire as first imagined. We have been impressed by and are very grateful for the support shown to the Regiment by the chains of command, both Army and RAF.

The Regiment will go on leave after duties tomorrow relieved that a decision on CBRN has finally been made and reassured over the implications. On return all ranks will be ready to take up the new challenges. We will conduct a professional and orderly handover of CBRN capability. We can look forward to formally standing up again as 1st Royal Tank Regiment, and a challenging interim role thereafter.

Fear Naught

One month ago or so, I had read rumors of this, I think it was a The Sun article. I didn’t even report it on this blog, as my reaction was, pretty simply: “No way. You gotta be kidding me. Here it is, the press going again at wild speculation”.

And now, it turns out being official. I’m severely awestruck at this announcement, which is, by far, the less coherent decision EVER in terms of military planning, as it is the most evident case of “Here it is the threat we deem potentially more dangerous and also likely to happen at some point” followed by the downsizing of the capability meant to answer to that threat.


At the moment, we can bet that the morale at 1 Royal Tank Regiment has fallen tragically. The regiment might not disband today nor tomorrow, but it is evident that, by far, 1 Royal Tank Regiment is the one RAC formation which is very, very, very exposed.

The SDSR (apparently) mandated 5 Tank Regiments and 5 RECCE regiments, and these all already exist. Without its role within the CBRN regiment, 1RTR is now in a very nasty position, and to survive the cuts it will take an epic struggle. One chance is for it to become a “Force Preparation” formation (It already is, in part) and get a structure on, say, a Challenger squadron (A Sqn, already now, active in training and demonstrative role), a Warrior squadron, a FRES Scout Squadron and perhaps another squadron with whatever vehicle will equip the Mechanized Infantry promised in the SDSR (Mastiff, Warthog, Ridgback? Bulldog? FRES UV?). The regiment would also develop tactics and trial new vehicles prior to entry in service.

My best wishes of good luck go to the 1RTR in this that is, undoubtedly, an harsh period, which will throw a lot of people into uncertainty for their long term future.

The RAF Regiment note says:

On Tue, 2 Aug 11, the Secretary of State for Defence agreed to the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) measure – subsumed by a Planning Round (PR)11 Option – to delete the Joint Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regt and transfer all of Defence’s specialist CBRN capabilities to the RAF Regt.

The key implications of this decision will be as follows: there will be no impact upon those capabilities currently provided by the RAF Regt (26 and 27 Sqns RAF Regt and 2623 Sqn RAuxAF Regt), and the RAF will remain the Lead Service for CBRN; the wide area CBRN reconnaissance and survey capabilities, based upon the Fuchs armoured vehicle, will be gapped; all other capabilities currently provided by the Army element of the Jt CBRN Regt (the Multipurpose Decontamination System, some of the Light Role Teams, and all command and control) will transfer to a wholly-RAF Regt manned Defence CBRN Wg, which will include 26 Sqn RAF Regt, 27 Sqn RAF Regt and 2623 Sqn RAuxAF Regt. Whilst there will be a modest increase to the RAF Regt establishment, there will be a net reduction of 319 Army posts in the current specialist CBRN force. The total saving to Defence will be £129 million over 10 years.

CINC LAND personally informed 1RTR yesterday of the decision to cease all Army involvement in specialist CBRN. No decisions have been made on the future of 1RTR; this will be considered as part of the wider requirement to restructure the Army in light of the recent outcome of the ’3 Month Exercise’, and is wholly a matter for the Army. 1 RTR will remain at RAF Honington for at least the medium term, whilst the transfer of capabilities takes place and their future is decided.

This decision brings to a conclusion a protracted period of intensive, sometimes understandably impassioned debate over the future provision of specialist CBRN capabilities for Defence. Detailed planning for the implementation of the measure will now commence. This will be the responsibility of the AOC 2 Gp, on whose behalf I will develop plans for the appropriately timely transfer of operational command and control and operational capabilities, the continued delivery of which remains the Defence priority. This will be done in close cooperation with HQ Land (specifically, Director Royal Armoured Corps) to ensure that Army personnel matters are addressed positively and sensitively.
1RTR have made a quite extraordinary (and often largely unsung) contribution to Defence over the past 12 years. They have done so with all the exemplary professionalism and commitment typical of their proud heritage. It has truly been an honour to serve alongside them, and I know that all members of the RAF Regt will wish them every success in whatever the future may hold.

As for the RAF Regt, this decision will leave the Corps as the UK’s sole provider of specialist CBRN capabilities for Defence. Clearly – given the circumstances of the MOD’s preparedness to take risk against the deletion of the Fuchs capability in the context of a parlous financial climate, this is the right decision for Defence and it is not the time for inter-Service triumphalism. Be under no illusion that the responsibility placed upon the RAF Regt will be enormous and expectations will be high – we must deliver, and I know that we will, no matter what the challenges that lie ahead.


The loss of the Fuchs is a very significant one. Manufactured by the German company Thyssen - Henschel as the Transporter Panzer 1, this is an amphibious vehicle with a water speed of 10kmh.
Fuchs can detect chemical, radiation, biological and nuclear (CRBN) elements that may have been used during an attack. 

The vehicle is equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) and provides the crew with integral collective protection.
They provide armor and mobility to the detection systems, and were by far the most sophisticate and powerful element of the regiment, capable to scout ahead of the forces, detect contaminated areas and mark them. They are manned by a crew of four, Commander, Driver and two Operators, and are in service in US, Germany, and many other countries. The Fuchs were the first British vehicles into Iraq of the main ground force during the first Gulf War, and they hadn’t even been paid: the 11 Fuchs were a “gift” of Germany in the opening phases of Operation Granby, since Saddam was well known for use of chemical weapons.

Are we hoping that, next time, someone else will gift the UK a new NBC recce vehicle, perhaps?

This demented decision is even more astonishing because it is not just in conflict with the National Security Strategy: it also clashes with a world in which most armies all but have a CBRN company in each of their deployable brigades. The US, for example, have a Stryker vehicle variant for NBC search, and a CBRN company in each brigade to ensure fightability even in presence of enemy chemical attacks and pollution.

I don’t doubt the professionalism of the RAF Regiment, but the loss of these vehicles and of the expertise of the 1RTR is, and will always be, a totally absurd decision. In a world with a bit of common sense, there would at least be a firm plan for buying a number of NBC-recce configured FRES SV Protected Mobility vehicles. But it does not appear to be the case. And this for saving a paltry 12.9 million pounds a year on the next 10 years.   

The only good news  is that the RAF Regiment will bring back a Squadron, the 26th  for taking over the role that men of 1RTR have so far covered. 26 RAF Squadron (earlier a Rapier missile squadron, until the Rapier became a Royal Artillery-only affair and went into 16 Regiment RA) deployed in Afghanistan for the last time as a Field Squadron, together with 15 RAF Squadron, in August 2007, before disbanding formally in March 2008. 

It now stands up again as CBRN formation, along with Sqn RAF Regt and 2623 Sqn RAuxAF Regt. Apparently, the TA Royal Yeomanry will continue to be part of the formation (very confusing, considering that the army is said to be getting out of the whole CBRN business…). As part of the Joint Regiment, A and W Squadrons Royal Yeomanry man each 6 Multi-Purpose Decontamination System kits.

The Joint CBRN Regiment

Previous to these announcements, the J-CBRN formation had this structure: 

It was formed on 1 April 1999 as the Joint NBC Regiment, from a stated recommendation in the Strategic Defence Review for an operational unit to support deployed forces of the British military in NBC defence and assistance. In 2005, following the addition of radiological weapons to its remit, the NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) designation changed to CBRN, with the result that the regiment's name was changed.

Elements of the Joint CBRN Regiment have since operated in this role in Kuwait, Iraq (on Operation Telic, in which the Royal Yeomanry squadrons combined into a single unit named Y Squadron) and Afghanistan.  It was the first mobilisation of a Territorial Army unit as a formed body (TA soldiers under TA command) for combat operations since the Suez Crisis in 1956. In recognition of its service in the liberation of Iraq, the Royal Yeomanry was presented with the battle honour ‘Iraq 2003’ on 11 November 2005, the first and only battle honour presented to a TA unit since the Second World War.

The regiment also participated in the domestic UK foot and mouth disease crisis of 2001. The regiment has contributed to operations world-wide every year since its formation.

The Joint CBRN Regiment is based in RAF Honington in Suffolk, England.


  1. Hi Gabriele,

    This is how I understand the current Armoured Corps orbat, and Roles;

    Household Cavlry, 2 sqns public duties. 2 sqns supporting 3 Cdo Brigade, and 16 AA Brigade.

    Formation Recce Role; 1st QDG, 9th/12th L, LD, QRL. total 4, requirment 5.

    MBT Role; RSDG, RDG, QRH, KRH, 2nd RTR. Total 5, requirment 5.

    CNBN role. 1st RTR.

    As the Household cavalry has only 2 operational sqns, I can't see them being used as a multi role brigade recce regt, and I think they will stay in there role as supporting 3 Cdo, and 16 AA Brigades?

    Levaing 1st RTR to re role, as either a Brigade MBT unit, and a cavalry unit re role as a recce unit?

    Then the above would make sense?


  2. As far as i'm aware, the Household Cavalry (which is considered a "Corps" and is not formally part of the Royal Armoured Corps, even though it acts as it was) is made up by:

    Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment - Ceremonial role. It has an HQ squadron and two squadrons of horsemen, with some 110 horses. One sqn is from the Blues and Royals and one from the Life Guards.

    Then there is the "Household Cavalry Regiment" that is a complete RECCE regiment in its own right, with the mandated Scimitar squadrons plus FAC teams and snipers and other specialized dismounts.
    It is the only Formation RECCE regiment with Four squadrons (peacetime strength is of 3, and all other RECCE regiments do have three), as D Squadron is permanently attached to 16 Air Assault Brigade.

    No such official and permanent link exists with 3rd Commando. Or, if it came into being, i never heard of it before, i guess. I think collaboration took place in Afghanistan, but normally does not apply: 3rd Commando Brigade is genuinely self contained and has its own Brigade Reconnaissance Force.

    In practice, the Household Cavalry is a Corp of two regiments which are:

    The Life Guards
    The Blues and Royals

    Both regiments provide 2 Frontline Squadrons (which form the Household Cavalry Regiment - RECCE) and a single ceremonial mounted sqn each, which together form the Mounted Regiment famous for its public role in London, but also provides some men for frontline deployments, for example for Afghanistan.

    So the RECCE Regiment requirement of 5 is actually met as it is, and that's why makes the 1RTR situation dire.
    My bet would be on an expanded Force Training and Preparation role.

    Even if my dream would be to see the 1RTR taking on the Warthog with three squadrons (the first would retain Challenger II as now for training and demonstration role) and create a "Warthog Group" providing armor and protected, air-portable mobility to 16AA.
    3rd Commando Brigade has its own "Viking Group", after all, so it would be a mere matter of expanding the concept to the PARA. (

    I will talk of my own particular vision of things in a post I hope to soon make. And in the meanwhile, of course, I’ll post all I read and notice about this and other matters, as always.

  3. Thanks Gabriele,

    I was under the impression that Household Cavalry Regt had only 2 operational sqns, but I guess I am ill informed.
    If, the household cavalry do form a Brigade Recce Regt for one of the Multi Role brigades.
    (I still doubt this, as you mentioned, one sqn is already allocatted to 16 Brigaede).
    I would assume 1 RTR and 2 RTR would merge to form The RTR. I really don't have a problem with that. I can see much worse happening to the infantry!



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