Previous posts in this series
- FF2020: Considerations on Strategy
- FF2020: Considerations on NATO
Moving away from Divisions
The US Army moved from a Divisional structure with large brigades often not autonomously deployable to a modular, expeditionary army structure already in 2003. Divisions are still present, as are brigades, and both are still named and numbered as “conventional” units, but with the advent of the Brigade Combat Team concept, both kind of formations have changed deeply. The essence of this transformational design is a new force (the BCT) that can be deployed singularly or in groups – ready for employment in a variety of designs as self-contained modules over a dispersed area.
10 Divisions and 14 independent brigades in 2003 morphed into 33 Brigade Combat Teams, with a force variable from 3000 to around 4000 men. The Army Reserve and the National Guard were transformed as well, and all the BCTs of the same type (Infantry, Stryker or Heavy) are structured in exactly the same way. They all are identical modules, that can be pieced together to form a force adequate for the task at hand, in a much more flexible way than was ever possible before. In addition, the Army grew by more than 30.000 men, with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as main motivation.
|The new US Army, with Maneuver and Support brigades. Had the Future Combat Systems program not been cancelled, one day there would have been FCS BCTs.|
This model significantly reduces the stress on the force as well, because of a more predictable rotational cycle, coupled with much longer dwell times at home station. Units are prepared, deployed, drawn down, rested, and trained again, organically and according to a very precise plan.
Modularity does not apply only to the BCT, which is now the basic maneuver unit of a deployed US Army force: the Divisions themselves now are flexible “containers” of, nominally, 4 BCTs each. Again, supporting elements are organized in modular brigades as well: for example, each Division has 4 “Land” BCTs, one Combat Aviation Brigade, one Fires brigade, and there are Sustainment brigades, Combat Enhancement formations, Battlefield Surveillance brigades all the way up to Medical Brigades to be assigned depending on the needs of the moment.
The transformed Divisonal Headquarters (still 10) now operate as plug-and-play headquarters commands (similar to corps) instead of fixed formations with permanently assigned units. Any combination of brigades may be assigned to divisions for a particular mission up to a maximum of four combat brigades. The headquarters is designed to be able to operate as part of a joint force, command joint forces with augmentation, and command at the operational level of warfare (not just the tactical level). It will include organic security personnel and signal capability plus liaison elements on deployment.
When not deployed, the division will have responsibility for the training and readiness of a certain number of modular brigades units, but the tied with said brigades will be much weaker than in the past, and almost non-existent. The re-designed headquarters module comprises around 1,000 soldiers including over 200 officers. It includes:
- A Main Command Post where mission planning and analysis are conducted
- A mobile command group for commanding while on the move
- (2) Tactical Command Posts to exercise control of brigades
- Liaison elements
- A special troops battalion (NOTE: Special Troops Battalions have NOTHING to do with Special Forces, but are containers for specialized troops such as MPs and Signallers) with a security company and signal company
Divisions continue to be commanded by major generals, unless coalition requirements require otherwise during an operation.
In 2007, the US Army regular force had grown to 42 BCTs and 75 of the aforementioned Modular Support Brigades, of which 11 are Combat Aviation Brigades. But with Iraq and Afghanistan on the agenda, President Bush launched the “Grow the Army” initiative, announcing a further uplift of around 75.000 men for the army, and 20.000 for the USMC. By 2013, the Army would line 45 BCTs and 83 Modular Support Brigades, including 13 Combat Aviation Brigades. The Army reserve would add a further 59 Support Brigades of the various kinds, and the National Guard would supply 28 BCTs and 78 Support Brigades, for a final combined total of 73 BCTs and 212 Support brigades, with a requirement for fielding simultaneously up to 20 BCTs.
The US Army guidelines for deployment are more flexible than those of the British Army, and much heavier on personnel. A US Army regular serving in a BCT is expected to deploy once in every 3 years period, with a tour lasting 12 months, followed by 24 months R&R, even if said months include the “zeroing” of the brigade post-deployment and the successive reconstruction of skills and equipment, which prepares the formation for its successive deployment. And if 12 months in warzone feel like a lot, consider that in 2007 the US Army tour length was extended to 15 months, with as few as 12 months between a deployment and another, as the effort of Iraq and Afghanistan stretched the force almost to breaking point. Only last summer, with Iraq coming to an end and the Afghan drawdown beginning, the tour length has been brought back down to 12 months, going down to as “few” as 9 (with 18 months break) for a part of the personnel.
A British Army regular soldier is expected to serve 6 months in war zone, followed by 24 months at home, giving the Army a “1 in 5” rule, in which, to sustain a long-term, enduring deployment, it takes five soldiers/formations to keep 1 soldier/formation in theater.
The US Army works on a 1 in 3 rule, like the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. Tour guidelines are different, but the endgame result is the same: RN and RM personnel can be deployed for 660 days in each 36 months period, which means that they are available for tour of duties 60% of the time, and for each man deployed there’s 2/3 men resting and preparing to take his place.
US Marines normally deploy for 6/7 months and enjoy a 14 months break between tours.
The US Army “Tour of Duty” guidelines are:
One year deployed and two years at home station for the Active Component;
One year deployed and four years at home station for the Reserve Force;
One year deployed and five years at home station for the National Guard Force;
Within the Army Forces Generation (ARFORGEN) model, brigade combat teams (BCTs) move through a series of three force pools; they enter the model at its inception, the reset force pool, upon completion of a deployment cycle. There they reequip and remain while executing all individual predeployment training requirements, attaining readiness as quickly as possible. Reset or "R" day, will be marked by BCT changes of command, preceded or followed closely by other key leadership transitions. While in the reset pool, formations will be remanned, reaching 100% of mission required strength by the end of the phase, while also reorganizing and fielding new equipment, if appropriate. In addition, it is there that units will be confirmed against future missions, either as deployment expeditionary forces (DBFs-BCTs trained for known operational requirements), ready expeditionary forces (REFs-BCTs that form the pool of available forces for short-notice missions) or contingency expeditionary forces (CEFs-BCTs earmarked for contingency operations).
Based on their commanders' assessments, units move to the ready force pool, from which they can deploy should they be needed, and in which the unit training focus is at the higher collective levels. Units enter the available force pool when there is approximately one year left in the cycle, after validating their collective mission-essential task list proficiency (either core or theater-specific tasks) via battle-staff and dirt-mission rehearsal exercises. The available phase is the only phase with a specified time limit: one year. The other two phases take up flexible amounts of time in a 24 month timeframe. Not unlike the division-ready brigades of past decades, the formations in the Available Force pool deploy to fulfill specific requirements or stand ready to fulfill no-notice deployments within 30-days notice.
In the end, this means that, in any given year, the force of 73 BCTs (45 regular, 28 National Guard) can generate 15 deployable regular BCTs in the Available Force Pool, plus 4/5 National Guard BCTs, meaning that the US Army can deploy and sustain in the long term a force of 20 BCTs supported by an ample range of Modular Support Brigades, from Aviation to Engineer to Fires brigades.
A surge capability exists to deploy, in case of emergency, around 18 to 20 further brigades from the Ready Force Pool.
The cuts to the budget recently announced will reduce the Regular BCTs to around 38, which should be able to generate 12/13 deployable brigades per year. Expansion of BCTs to a 3-battalions force is being considered, in partial compensation.
For non-war deployments oversea, the US Army soldier can expect to spend 2 years away from home and family, posted in an oversea base. The deployment time grows to 3 years, instead, if family follows the soldier into the new base.
The recent announcement of the Pentagon which will see two of four BCTs based in Europe withdrawn and replaced by rotational presence is likely to mean that one or two BCTs will come to Europe for 2 years tours, as considerable savings are connected not so much with the withdrawal of brigades, but with the elimination of costs connected with housing for the families of personnel.
If the US Army shift to Brigade Combat Teams has probably reached most ears, less known is the fact that even the Russian Army recently broke away from divisions. Between 2008 and October 2009, an ambitious restructuring took place, trying to erase the legacy of the dissolved Red Army of the URSS, breaking away from an unsustainable and absolutely inefficient Army based on 203 Divisions (one, the 18°, remains, on the Kurili Islands. Of the others, less than 50 (!) were operational), often hollow containers heavy with officers but literally without troops to command, unless a major war started and mobilization kicked in to fill them up: and even in this case, due to the drop in population (and due to the fact that the URSS included a lot more nations and men than today’s Russia), many would have still been empty.
202 Divisions were replaced by 83 Brigades of 4500/5000 men each, which Russia plans to put on 24 hours permanent readiness by 2012. The overhead organization (Districts, Armies, Divisions, Regiments) has been effectively erased and replaced by a streamlined systems on four Commands (East, West, North, South): each Army command has its own brigades and controls, on its territory, all Air Force and Navy forces, but also non-military corps such as border guards, police and emergency services. The only forces that remain under Moscow direct control are the Strategic Missile forces (nuclear deterrence) and the Space assets. Each Command sector will have at least one Brigade configured for rapid reaction and airmobile.
This reform, on paper, is about to be completed. Reality is very different. The problem is that the Russian Army has been so far unable to break away from conscription. Despite reducing the duration of the conscription from 24 to 18 months (2006) and from 18 to 12 (2008), conscription remains the main way for the army to fill up its posts, since the drive for getting more volunteers signing in for a long-term military career has so far failed to generate the results hoped. Out of a force that is mandated at around 1 million, only 90.000 are long-term professionals. Consequently, most of these have taken up the role of officers and have had to spread out over all of the 83 brigades to try and give them all a minimum level of effectiveness. Not even a single brigade is fully manned with volunteer, professional soldiers. The Russian Army reform, as such, is still faced by real challenges, and if far from delivering the effects wanted. However, the Brigade drive remains.
Australia just released its new defence strategy, and the Multi Role Brigade is the new way for the Army, which will see the Reserves forming homogeneous MRBs, two per each regular brigade. The British Army should soon announce a restructuring that will have many points in common with the Australian structure. Indeed, it is hard to say who copied who: the Australians have made the (detailed) announcement first, but considering that the British Army has been preparing for adopting the Multi Role Brigade concept ever since 2008, they should still be (likely) the ones who copied. The Australian MRB will number 3685 men, coming with its HQ, Signal squadron, Armoured Recce Battalion inclusive of a MBT tank squadron, 2 Infantry Battalions, one Artillery regiment with two towed and one self-propelled/armored battery plus Observation Posts (again 2 and 1), Engineer Support regiment and Sustainment battalion. The 3 regular brigades (1st, 3rd and 7th Brigades) and 6 reserve brigades of the Australian Army will take on this structure, and each brigade will be supported by two reserve brigades. Adapting to a mission dependent formation, each brigade will be able to generate 7-10 subunits/battlegroups. Again, as with the US Army, the homogeneous, modular brigades are intended to enable enduring operations abroad within a 36 months force generation cycle. The reserve bridades will be structurally aligned with their regular counterparts and through the training cycles they will be involved in major exercises with their partnered Multi-role Maneuver Brigades. In addition, 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment will leave the 3rd Brigade to become the core of the new Australian amphibious force.
Australia identified its optimal force generation rule in “1 in 4” (four available for one deployed), but, like the UK, it realized that to properly sustain such an approach, it could not stitch formations together prior to deployment by removing battalions from armored or infantry, heavy or medium or light brigades. The Australian army, and the British one as well, are too small to afford the distinction in Heavy, Medium and Light Brigades: they could never sustain enough brigades of each kind to be able to face an enduring operation. To be able to sustain in the field one single brigade of any of the three types in the long term would take 5 brigades of the same kind. The solution, to avoid as much as possible the constant moving around of battalions from this to that role and formation and to allow each brigade to be as flexible and unitary as possible, is the Multi Role Brigade, including armour, artillery, communications, engineers, infantry and logistic elements. Self sustained as the BCT from which it takes inspiration, but not as rigidly classified.
The US can afford many BCTs of each kind. The UK cannot.
The US Brigades: a closer look
So, what’s a BCT like?
An Heavy Brigade Combat Team comes at around 3800 men, with two Combined Arms Battalions each on four companies: two tank and two armoured infantry. Each tank company lines 14 Abrams tanks, each Armoured Infantry coy has 14 Bradley IFVs. The two Battalions have 4 M1064 mortar carriers each. The vehicle carries a 120 mm mortar.
The reconnaissance squadron, 383-man strong, has 26 Bradley vehicles, of which 21 in the M3 Cavalry variant (carries 2 Scouts) in 3 Recon Troops which number 84 men each in total. Each recon troop also has 2 M1064 mortar carriers with 120 mm mortars.
Each recon troop lines, along with the Bradley M3s, long range sensors (Long Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System - LRAS3) and laser target designators (Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder - LLDR) on armored Hummers (2 + 3 in each RECCE Troop).
The Recce squadron uses the Scout UAV Raven used by teams mounted in Bradley. Note however that the LRAS3 sensor program has been terminated as part of cuts in the FY2013 budget, so here there will likely be some change.
The Brigade's Military Intelligence coy has an organic UAV formation with towed launch catapult and 4 Shadow drones.
There is also a brigade artillery regiment, with 16 Paladin self-propelled 155 mm howitzers in two batteries of 8, supported by 3 Joint Tactical Air Control Teams for the direction of artillery fire and air attacks and by one Joint Fires Coordination Cell. One JTAC team is present in each Combined Arms Battalion and the third is within the Armed Recon formation.
A Heavy BCT thus lines:
- 56 M1 Abrams MBTs
- 85 Bradley IFVs
- 14 120 mm Mortar Carriers
- 40 “Heavy Humvee”
- 16 Paladin howitzers (155 mm)
- 2 Sniper sections (10 men each, 3 sniper teams of 3 men – Sniper, Spotter, Security - )
- Some 870 vehicles of all classes in addition to around 180 armored vehicles from MBTs to M1114 Heavy Humvees
In addition there is an intelligence company, engineer support, NBC recce and the necessary logistic sustainment elements.
A Stryker Brigade Combat Team can count nearly 4000 men and (3850 indicatively), only one between all BCTs, it lines 3 Maneuver Units plus a Cavalry formation, making it the largest kind of BCT in the Army. A Stryker BCT is estimated to mean a load of over 13.300 short tons, and when volumes are kept in consideration, it is estimated that 288 C17 loads are required to transport the formation by air, a feat that the USAF counts to be able to accomplish in 96 hours if needed.
A Stryker brigade has 3 Mechanized Infantry Battalions, each on 3 Companies. Each company has a Direct Fire platoon with 3 Stryker M-1128 Mobile Gun System. The Recce/Cavalry regiment uses armored Humvees and Stryker Recce (variant M-1127, externally practically unrecognizable from the basic APC (M-1126). There is also the Radar troop for battlefield surveillance, drones, and all supporting elements that can be found in all BCTs.
A Stryker brigade comes with an artillery regiment with 3 Batteries, each on 8 M777A2 towed 155 mm howitzers.
In 2007, the mass-production of the Stryker was ongoing and the unitary price stabilized on an average of 1.42 million dollars each, a very competitive price. The hull offers protection against 14.5 mm rounds on the frontal arc and 12.7 mm rounds all around, and is resistant to 152 mm artillery shrapnel at distance of 10 meters. Add-on armor is available, and includes SRAT (Stryker Reactive Armor Tiles) against RPGs and HPK (Hull Protection Kit) against IEDs and EFPs. Underbelly anti-IED protections, including a V-shaped shield, are being applied. Commonality between the 10 variants is extremely high, and although Strykers are procured and delivered “as they are”, any vehicle of any variant can be converted into another. All Strykers come with a M151 Protector RWS as standard fit, and they normally have a manned ring mount in the back as fall-back option, normally mounting a 7.62 mm machine gun. The APC variant has a crew of 2 and carries 9 dismounts.
The Infantry Brigade Combat Team consists of approximately 3,242 soldiers and is composed of:
- One Brigade Troops Battalion including the UA staff, a military police (MP) platoon, a signal company, an intelligence company, an engineer company, and a fire support coordination cell.
- One Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA) Battalion with both motorized (2 Humvee-mounted Recce Troops) and dismounted (1 Recce Troop) reconnaissance units; a surveillance unit including ground radars, sensors, and unmanned aerial vehicles; and a forward support company.
- Two Infantry Battalions consisting of three rifle companies and one combat support company each; and a forward support company, capable of moving one company by truck.
- One Strike Battalion consisting of a target acquisition platoon, an unmanned aerial vehicle unit, a forward support company, and two batteries of towed artillery, normally each with 8 M119A2, the US variant of the british L118 Light Gun.
- One Support Battalion consisting of a transport platoon capable of moving almost an entire infantry battalion by truck.
All Infantry BCTs are fully airmobile and can be moved by helicopter. A list of the BCT equipment reports:
High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) (all variants)
Medium Tactical Vehicles (MTVs) (all variants)
2.5 Cubic yard bucket loader
M119A2 105 millimeter Howitzers
Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided missiles (TOW) (HMMWVs mounted)
M24 Sniper rifles
RQ-7A Shadow 200 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (TUAVs)
Prophet signals intelligence systems
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
Brigade Troops Battalion
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
Military Intelligence Company
Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA) Battalion
Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Troop
Reconnaissance Troop (Mounted)
Reconnaissance Troop (Mounted)
Reconnaissance Troop (Dismounted)
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
Infantry Rifle Troop (Company)
Infantry Rifle Troop (Company)
Infantry Rifle Troop (Company)
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
Infantry Rifle Troop (Company)
Infantry Rifle Troop (Company)
Infantry Rifle Troop (Company)
Brigade Support Battalion
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
Forward Support Company
Forward Support Company
Forward Support Company
Forward Support Company
Field Maintenance Company
Field Artillery Battalion
Headquarters and Headquarters Battery
According to the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Army had 40 infantry, 8 Stryker and 25 heavy brigade combat teams between Regular and Reserve. The Infantry BCTs include Airborne and Air Assault formations.
In a 2007 document is evidenced how the US Army planned for 48 Regular BCTs for a period. It is extremely hard to keep track of all changes in plans, effective structure and all the rest, so the actual data today is different, at least here and there, but for historic interest the 2007 plan called for:
|There have been changes to this plan in the meanwhile. Aviation Brigades have been given priority, and there are now 13 regular formations, confirmed even in the latest planning. None of the Aviation brigades will be cut.|
A Combat Aviation Brigade is assigned to each of the 10 Division, one is based in Europe (12th, in Germany), another in South Korea, and the 13th formation is assigned to 101 Air Assault Division which uniquely has 2 CABs. There are 12 Regular (the 13th will arrive by 2013) and 8 from the National Guard. This modular aviation formation is composed by General Support Aviation Battalions, Assault Battalions and Attack/Reconnaissance Battalions. The number of battalions of each kind can vary from brigade to brigade, but their structure is normally identical.
Indicatively, a General Support Aviation Battalion has:
- 12 Chinook
- 12 Black Hawk in MEDEVAC configuration
- 8 UH-60 Black Hawk flying command post
An Assault Battalion has 30 Utility Black Hawk helicopters in three companies of ten each.
An Attack/Reconnaissance Battalion has three companies each with 10 Kiowa Warrior scouts and Apache helicopters.
The sole National Guard Brigades have the Aviation Service and Support Battalions, each on three companies of UH72A Lakota light utility helicopters for MEDEVAC, homeland security and other supporting roles.
The elements within each aviation brigade are organized into, companies, and platoons or squads. The aircraft and aircrew composition of each of these brigade sub-elements can be adjusted to meet the specialty needs of each division, be it an airborne (parachute assault infantry), airmobile (helicopter assault infantry), heavy (armor-artillery- infantry), or light (infantry).
An example of Combat Aviation Brigade organization is the 12th Brigade, based in Germany: it has one General Support Battalion, one Assault Battalion and two Attack Battalions.
The limit case is the unique organization of the 101 Airborne Division (now, actually, the Screaming Eagles are an “Air Assault” Division, with the sole 82nd Division classed as airborne). This Division has been given not one but two Combat Aviation Brigades (101 and 159), each with 1 Attack Battalion (on deployment, normally, this doubles), one Medium Lift Battalion and one Assault Battalions.
The 82 Airborne Division only has one Combat Aviation Brigade, the 82nd. The “Screaming Eagles” of the 101 Division are thus unique, and represent the most deadly and well equipped air assault formation in the world.
A Fires Brigade is the modular, modern-day offspring of the old Divisional Artillery Group. Normally, a Fires brigade lines 1200/1300 men and has a Target Acquisition formation, HQ and support units, plus three “shooter” regiments. Normally, two of these regiments will be armed with GMLRS rockets (indicatively these will be mounted on HIMARS wheeled base for Stryker/Infantry divisions, on tracked M270 vehicles for Heavy brigades) and one will have guns (Paladin self-propelled howitzers for heavy divisions, towed M777A2 howitzers the others). Some Fires brigades have an Air Defence Regiment. Ground Based Air Defence in the US Army is in evolution and has experienced cancellation of several programmes in the years, but anyway today’s plan should be that of bringing together in AD regiments batteries of Avengers (stinger missiles on Humvee vehicles), Patriot and perhaps even THAAD.
In 2007 the plan was to have Air Defence brigades on call, supplying battalions to the deployed force as needed, with cessation of provision of organic AD formations to Divisions and consequent disbandment of a quite large number of AD battalions.
Indicatively, a Combat Support Brigade (Maneuver Enhancement) consists of 435 personnel, and has engineer, military police, nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) defense, and air defense units assigned to it. In addition, the brigade could also have explosive ordnance disposal and civil affairs units.
Again indicatively, a Battlefield Surveillance Brigade consists of some 997 personnel, with an intelligence battalion, support troops, and a long-range surveillance detachment.
In addition, the brigade can be augmented with special forces units as well as additional unmanned aerial vehicles.
A Sustainment Brigade has around 487 personnel, with medical, finance, human resources, ammunition, transportation, maintenance, and supply and service units.
In addition, the US Army still has Functional Support Brigades in the active and reserve components. These come in the following roles:
- Air Defense;
- Military Police;
- Military Intelligence;
- Explosive Ordnance Disposal;
- Logistics Regional Support Groups;
- Civil Affairs; and
- Psychological Operations.
The British Army post cuts: my vision
Now I’ll outline the first element of my long-due “SDSR 2015” series of posts, by explaining my vision for the future British Army. To do so, I’ll use the (little) information currently available on the Future Army Structure (Next Steps) process and add my own personal interpretation and ideas. It is a speculative exercise, but based on an as solid base as I could manage to form.
The Army is to be reduced to a single Deployable Divisional HQ (widely expected to be 1st UK Division), with 3rd UK Division’s HQ needing augmentation prior to any deployment. The Allied Rapid Reaction Corps HQ is also being reduced and made “static”, while kept for use in Multinational Operations as part of NATO and supporting units are being cut back (namely, for example, 7th Royal Signals Regiment).
The maximum level of ambition envisaged for future ops is the deployment, one-shot, of a force of 30.000 men in 3 brigades under a Division HQ, given “suitable warning”. The French, from an 88.000 men regular force ready for operations, have a 30.000 men deployment ambition at six months notice: the British Army will need at least as long a warning, if not longer, due to a regular army of 82/84.000 at most.
The main unit of the Army post SDSR is certainly the brigade, the new focal formation and the basic unit of action and dictates the level of ambition, exemplified by the defence planning assumptions, which mandate that the UK will be able to conduct the following kind of operations:
· An enduring stabilisation operation at around brigade level (possibly up to 6,500 personnel) with maritime and air support as required, while also conducting:
· One non-enduring complex intervention (up to 2,000 personnel), and
· One non-enduring simple intervention (up to 1,000 personnel)
· Three non-enduring operations if the UK Armed Forces are not already engaged in an enduring operation
The model has been, simplistically, described as “One Afghanistan and One Libya, at slightly smaller scale”.
The Army will work and plan, like the US Army, on three force-pools:
- The Deployed Force
- The High Readiness Force
- The Lower Readiness Force
The Deployed Force will consist of those forces that are actually engaged in operations. Therefore aircraft engaged in operations (including the defence of the UK’s airspace), forces involved in operations in the South Atlantic, forces operating in Afghanistan and other expeditionary operations plus the nuclear deterrent will all form elements of The Deployed Force.
The High Readiness Force will consist of a range of maritime, air and land based units capable of deploying at short notice to meet the requirements of the Defence Planning Assumptions. Such forces enable the UK to react quickly to a range of scenarios that might threaten the UK’s national security interests. These force elements would be capable of operating with allies or where necessary on ‘stand-alone’ UK operations.
The Lower Readiness Force would consist of elements that have either recently returned from operations or those that are preparing and training for inclusion in The High Readiness Force. Many Lower Readiness Force units would be involved in supporting The Deployed Force.
16 Air Assault Brigade will be permanently at High Readiness, and will generate on rotational basis from its units an Airborne Task Force of up to 1600 men. It will also be able to deploy as a brigade and self sustain for short periods.
From the Navy, 3rd Commando Brigade is described as 5200 strong in its entirety. With the reduction in amphibious fleet, however (one LPD put at very low readiness and one LSD sold) the Brigade is now asked to provide, on a rotational basis, a Lead Commando Battlegroup, 1800 strong, with vehicles and related support. This force can be landed and sustained from the sea and will be at Very High Readiness/Extremely High Readiness, with one Battlegroup taking to the sea each year. A RM battlegroup later this year will, for example, deploy into the Mediterranean and move East, along with a French marines battlegroup and the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
3rd Commando Brigade, despite the reductions, remains fundamental and it will be able to provide a 2-star HQ capable of operational level command in Maritime, Land, Joint or National Component Command Element (unique formation with this capability) as first alternative to the Joint Forces HQ (JFHQ).
The Regional Division HQs will also vanish this year, replaced by a single 2-star HQ UK Support Command, based in Aldershot. All ten the regional brigades (Territorial Army) are now expected to stay, and a few more TA units could be raised as part of the restructuring: in particular, some of the regular battalions being cut might become TA formations.
The five MRBs will be based: 2 in the Salisbury area, one in Catterick, one on the ex RAF base of Cottersmore and one up north, centered around Kirknewton, even if this last location is being reconsidered and the barracks in Edinburgh might be about to get a reprieve: the Army assessment of Kirknewton is said to be negative.
A new “Salisbury Plain of the north” will be created to partially remedy to the loss of the Germany training areas and to allow the units based in the north to train properly.
The Land Maneuver Elements
In my 82.000 strong Regular force there are a maximum of 29 and a minimum of 27 battalions of infantry, with the number dictated by some enduring commitments and planning assumptions that, until cancelled from the UK Defense Strategy, pretty much dictate the strength of the Army.
The infantry battalions include:
- 5 Armoured Infantry Battalions, Warrior-mounted (confirmed in the Army plan) plust a 6th Battalion working as Infantry Demonstration Battalion in training and force preparation. The Infantry Demonstration Battalion role is taken up, for 3-year rotations, by 3rd York and 2nd Welsh battalions. The role is certain to be kept rotational, with a battalion from the Armoured pool taking up the role for 3 years before returning in a frontline brigade to be replaced by another.
- 5 Mechanized Infantry Battalions (not yet confirmed, but expected to be part of the Multi Role Brigades and mounted in FRES UV, when it eventually arrives, with Mastiff and Bulldog used in the interim)
- 10 Light Role Infantry Battalions
- 5 Air Assault Infantry Battalions
- 2 Parachute Battalions (1st PARA is the nucleus of the Special Forces Support Battalion [2 PARA companies and F company Royal Marines, parachute-capable] and is not counted as Army battalion)
- 1 Amphibious battalion attached to 3rd Commando Brigade and under Navy command
The four battalions of the Footguards, (Coldstream, Grenadiers, Welsh and Irish Guards) operate a two-battalions rotation, which sees two of them serving into the frontline MRBs for 3 years with the other two battalions in London on public duty. Every three years, the battalions trade positions.
1st and 2nd Gurkha Rifles battalions also rotate every three years, with one battalion in Nepal and one in the UK. Under the FAS restructuring, the Gurkha battalion in the UK would fit into 16 Air Assault Brigade (for 2 years, with one year taken up by training for the Air Assault role). The Gurkha battalion would fit into a rather complex rotational mechanism that was meant to include 1st Irish and 5th SCOTS as well, with each of these two battalions spending 5 years in 16 Air Assault Brigade followed by 2 years inside 52 Infantry Brigade. A rather expensive and dispersive method that I think was changed already. In my future Army vision, there will be 5 Airmobile battalions in-role. They will not be rotated, trained and re-trained to waste time and money. To minimize the amount of refresh training needed by the Gurkha battalion returning to the UK, the UK-resident Gurkha formation will work as Light Role infantry within an MRB.
Two further Light Role infantry battalions will also rotate every 3 years, moving from MRBs to Cyprus and back. For a long time, 1st YORKS, 2nd LANCS and 2nd YORKS have rotated into Cyprus for 2,5 years postings, separated by 5 years in the Uk and 5 in Germany. The rotation to Germany will vanish as troops are brought back in the UK by 2020.
Each Multi Role Brigade will have this structure:
1 Signals Squadron and one Electronic Warfare Troop from 14 EW Signals Regiment.
1 Tank Regiment (likely Type 38)
1 Brigade Recce Regiment (2 Squadrons on FRES SV, one on Jackal)
1 Armoured Infantry Battalion on Warrior
1 Mechanized Infantry Battalion on FRES UV [eventually, one day. Until then, FV430 MK3 Bulldog and Mastiff will probably be used. Only 3 Mechanized Battalions exist today in the Army, on Bulldog. Two more could be mechanized retaining the Mastiff in best conditions at the end of the Afghan effort. This seems to be the current plan/wish]
1 Light Role Infantry Battalion with a share of Protected Mobility given by Foxhound vehicles
1 Brigade Artillery Regiment (2 AS90 batteries and 1 L118 battery)
1 Brigade Engineer Regiment [21, 22, 26, 32, 35 RE Regts, plus 23 Regt in 16 Air Assault and 24 Commando regiment in 3rd Commando Brigade]
Each MRB in my plan will be organized on a Land Maneuver Element and a Combat Support Element. The Support element will include a Medical Regiment and a Field Hospital assigned from 2nd Medical Brigade when needed, a Royal Military Police company, teams from the Military Intelligence Brigade, and RLC supporting formations. The Land Maneuver Element will include, of course, the already listed combat units, plus eventual additional attachments.
In addition, two Reserve Brigades will be assigned to each MRB as direct support. Ideally, the Reserve brigade would be structured to mirror the brigade it supports, to be able to provide all kinds of needed personnel and expansions, from Challenger II crews to Warrior IFV crews to, of course, gunners and infantry. However, it is unlikely that this will prove possible. Besides, it is not yet clear how effectively deployable the Reserve personnel will be.
From a force of 15 brigades (two reserve brigades originally were expected to be cut/amalgamated, [see SDSR document] but this plan was changed and all 10 Regional Brigades are to remain), to be able to sustain in the field only one is, frankly, obscene. A 1 in 15 rule has to be the worst availability in the whole world, and while the TA contribution is very respectable and relevant as it is now, it is also not all what we’d want, especially when the Regular force shrinks.
I’d want to be able to deploy at least a couple of brigades, either side by side in the same area or in two very different locations. I’ve tried to come up with a possible method for making it possible while:
- Keeping the Regular deployments guidelines at 6 months tours and 24 months of break between tours
- Ensure that Reserve personnel deploys only once every several years, as with the US reserve, to make the role of part-time soldiers as sustainable as possible in terms of impact on civilian work careers and families
- Not deploying a Brigade manned entirely or almost entirely by reserves, as I think that would increase risks, despite all my genuine trust in reserves.
I’ve very soon realized that it is not easy. Not at all.
In terms of equipment, I don’t think the Reserves will ever have their own heavy kit, at least not in sufficient numbers. The Whole Fleet Management approach, indeed, has made sure that not even regulars have all of their kit, not until they deploy or enter a major exercise. The kit used for training by regulars and twinned reserves will be the same, from a properly configured pool of vehicles, with a correspondent holding of units in storage that can be brought out of the garages for deployment.
It will be necessary to time and structure the exercises so to allow Reserves to train on all the kit, and, whenever possible, do it alongside regulars.
The idea is that, once the regular MRB goes in the field for deployment, the first reserve brigade supplies roughly half of the deployed manpower. In all formations of the brigade. The kit used is the same, requiring no additional buy of vehicles and weapons. But 50% of the infantry, of the gunners, of the tank crews, come from one of the two reserve brigades.
After six months, the personnel in the field changes, and again we have a roughly 50% mix of regulars and reserves: men continue to be out in the field for approximately six months (some flexibility will be in order, because the reserve brigade, as you can imagine, is asked to be at a very high level of readiness compared to today’s standards) but a single brigade is out in the field for one full year instead of half. (this will also require a larger Brigade HQ, but I expect the modular Divisional HQ to fill the posts)
For the next two years, the brigade won’t be deployed again, so the 24 months break is safe. When the brigade finally deploys again, is the second Reserve Brigade which provides the force, while the first is still resting and re-manning and re-training. Two more years of break follow before the first Reserve brigade is asked to deploy personnel again.
In other words, Reserve personnel will be asked to deploy at most for 6 months every 5 years. Currently, a TA volunteer who deploys does a 2-3 weeks training, 6 months in theatre and 7 weeks of rest and relaxation, for around 8.5 months in total, before going back to his work. This is likely to have to be increased because additional pre-deployment training is going to be requested for most roles due to the much greater use of reserves on the field that I envisage. It will challenge them more, and increase the risk they have to face, so additional training will likely be needed.
Assuming it works, in this way we cut the Rule of the 5 to a 1 in 3 posture, with three Modular regular MRBs capable to cover an enduring deployment for a virtually unlimited number of years. We’ve almost doubled the possibilities of the Army, while still cutting the regulars to 82.000: the overall force is smaller, but the deployed force now can count two brigades instead of one, and this is what matters the most.
The issue with this model are:
- The lack of a 6th Maneuver Brigade with supporting reserve brigades. To sustain two long-term deployments abroad with a 1 in 3 rule, it takes 6 MRBs. Still, we’ve potentially leaped forwards massively in terms of army availability. 16 Air Assault could fill part of the gap, but the brigade does not have dedicated reserve brigades and lacks many capabilities (MBTs, AS90, Warrior…) which likely couldn’t be sustained. If both theatres still required enduring, full-capability presence, lengthening the tours would be unavoidable. This is a bit of a limit-case, though, unlikely to ever materialize.
- More worrisome, the high readiness level requested to the Reserve Brigades remain a concern, particularly in roles that currently aren’t very represented in the TA (armoured infantry, tank squadrons, AS90 gunners…).
Perhaps more realistic in terms of reserves readiness, would be to have the Reserve brigade provide just around a third of the personnel deployed.
However this would require a part of the Regulars to stay in the field for 8 or even 12 months, like US soldiers, as rotating only a third of the force out, every 4 or 6 months, does not allow to do differently. Someone would have to do the long stay. Worse, some of the regulars might spend four months in theatre, 4 at home, and 4 more deployed. This is to be avoided absolutely, as spending 4 months at home this way, knowing that soon you go in again is destructive on a lot of fronts. Soldiers will perform less, their morale will suffer more, costs would go up due to the increase in rotations. Air transport resources would be heavily taxed.
The first method is the one with the greatest hopes of success. It will require the TA to give its best, but at least there are, thankfully, good signals in this direction: the uplift in funding for reserves have already brought forwards the re-instating of Overseas Training Exercises for the Regional Brigades, with 22 planned for 2012, mainly in Cyprus, Italy, Germany but also in Denmark and Norway.
My proposal, while very ambitious, tries to keep faith to the Army’s current indications and to the recommendations which stemmed from the Future Reserves 2020 study and gave us the 30.000-strong TA plan, inclusive of an indication of a 1:8 rule being an optimal target for Reserve Force Generation. On a 30.000 strong trained force (Phase 2 ready), this would mean deploying, at once, some 3750 men per tour, well over half of an indicatively 6000-strong MRB. If this target can be met, and the men spread on the many roles needed, my plan should be affordable in the long term, even if perhaps the TA will only enable the Army to deploy simultaneously not 2 MRBs, but an MRB and a makeshift “light” brigade, infantry-heavy, due to the difficulty (and cost) of having reserves trained for the armour roles in addition to regulars.
The pairing of 2 Reserve brigades to each Regular MRB has been hinted at by the Army chief speaking on SOLDIER magazine of January 2012. My proposal also builds on what Australia is planning for its own reserves. It remains, of course, a speculative proposal. To know more about the road that the British Army actually takes, we’ll have to wait at least until April 12, when the New Force Structure should be announced.
Moving onwards, 16 Air Assault Brigade is the formation that has given me the most issues. I can’t come up with a single scenario in which the brigade could realistically be used the way it is configured now. And the rest of the time its uses and configuration also puzzle me: effectively, parachute launches have happened only on small scale worldwide, and for the UK in particular, the last time that a sizeable army force (Special Forces excluded) launched with parachute in enemy territory was in 1956 during the operations against Suez. Even then, it was a small force, around 600 men, less than a full battalion, which was launched near Port Said, taking a considerable risk as they would have been exposed to full enemy reaction for at least 24 hours: success of the operation was assured by the constant presence of Fleet Air Arm aircrafts and French navy fighters from the carriers at sea. There were never less than twelve aircraft patrolling above the British troops, plus six Corsairs for the French force, even smaller, that had paradropped near the same town. Missions could be effectively planned, on a minute-by-minute basis. Wyvern airplanes from 830 NAS squadron, from HMS Eagle, bombed and destroyed a fortified egiptian position which blocked the progress of paratroopers, and it was only the constant air support offered by the near-by carriers that made the operation possible. By noon on the following day, 40 Commando, after landing on the beaches, advanced south to reach the paratroops.
Following the end of World War II, the largest parachute assaults have been carried out by the US, and again, we are looking mostly at small or very small launches, with only a few major airdrops to be remembered: two brigade-sized launches happened in Korea in 1951, three separate battalion-sized airdrops in Vietnam, one Ranger battalion launched in 1983 into Grenada, in 1989 a further two Ranger battalions made combat airdrops into Panama, with a Brigade-sized, 3-battalions launch being faced by the Ready Brigade of 82 Airborne Division into Panama on 20 December 1989. In 2001, 299 US Army Rangers parachuted into Southern Afghanistan for a 5 hours raid south of Kandahar.
The largest and most significant airborne operation worldwide in recent times has been the March 26, 2003 airborne insertion of US soldiers from 173 Airborne Brigade into Northern Iraq. It involved over 900 soldiers from the brigade and was the largest airborne assault since D-Day, but it was an insertion into an area controlled by friendly forces – Kurdish rebels – planned with expectations of little resistance and executed without any resistance actually being opposed. The operation was meant to open a Northern front for Iraq, drawing combat forces away from the main area of operations in the south: it was carried out since the original “North Iraq” attack option (which would have involved the UK division too) had to be cancelled when Turkey refused basing rights and support. Paratroopers came from Aviano air base in Italy aboard of C17 cargo planes, landing in the area of Bashur, where they secured the local airfield. It took 15 hours to regroup the force after landing, and 96 hours to airlift with C17 cargo planes the rest of the over 3000-strong brigade and, more importantly, the attached Armour units, including M113 and Abrams tanks, that were assigned to the brigade to allow it to maneuver out of the LZ. By the end of the month and into early April, the reinforced brigade was defeating the local Iraqi forces and capturing Kirkuk.
The March 26 launch was classified as “Combat” only in early 2004.
In many occasions, parachute insertion was ruled out, such as in the first Gulf War: 82 Airborne Division was part of the US force, but never parachuted into Iraq and its light equipment and lack of vehicles relegated the formation to a largely secondary role. One option said to circulate in the planning stage of the second gulf war would see 82 and 101 US divisions and the british 16 Air Assault brigade capture Baghdad’s international airport with a huge air assault. I don’t know if this is a wild voice which escaped control, or if an option like that was effectively considered, albeit briefly: for sure, it was soon discarded as the wet dream it is, in any case.
The US have resources infinitely greater than the UK, including 2 full airborne/air assault divisions (82 and 101), one Airborne brigade forward-stationed in Italy and an airforce lining more than 240 C17 and countless C130s and, significantly, a large number of huge strategic cargos, the C5. They have, in other words, such possibilities that they can realistically deploy a brigade force and above, and reinforce it in the field with heavy armor and firepower.
The UK lacks this level of capability.
16 Air Assault Brigade is used to provide the nation with an Airborne Task Force (ABTF) held at very high readiness, which can arrive to 1600 men, all-ranks, all roles, ready to be airlifted to a crisis zone, or inserted via “Entebbe-style” tactical landings (that is, the C130 touches down, and paras and Land Rover jeeps run out of the rear ramp in a hot area) or parachuted into the crisis zone.
The Airborne Task Force is actually made up by 2 components:
- A Lead Airborne Air Group for early entry, is the proper parachute-assault unit of the force, centered on either 2nd or 3rd PARA (they rotate in the role). It is kept at 2 – 5 days Notice To Move.
- A Lead Aviation Battle Group, brings forth the helicopters and is available at 5 – 10 days Notice To Move.
In order to provide the Lead Airborne Air Group, the force is built around the main core of one PARA battalion, with 2nd and 3rd rotating in the role. The other two air assault battalions provide reinforce elements, the Pathfinder platoon is involved, and the rest of the force is made up by supporting units, such as artillery from 7 Royal Horse Artillery regiment, Signalers from 216 Squadron, personnel from the parachute trained force of 16 Medical Regiment and 13 Air Assault Royal Logistic Corps and engineers from 23 Air Assault regiment, and so along. An absolutely incomplete list of the parachute requirements of 16 Air Assault brigade (NOTE: they are paper requirement, more often than not they are not met, at least not fully) includes also:
- One troop from D Squadron, Household Cavalry Regiment
- 89 Intelligence Company
- No2 Platoon, 156 Provost Company Royal Military Police
- One troop from 21 (Gibraltar) Air Defence battery, 47 Regiment Royal Artillery [this unit was assigned to 16 Air Assault for air defence role, with the Starstreak LML missile system. The parachute trained troop vanished soon, then the battery was re-roled on Desert Hawk drones for a tour in Afghanistan, and ultimately 47 Regiment as a whole ceased its air defence role, becoming a UAV regiment. 21 Bty has recently been closed down and put in suspended animation, leaving 16AA without an air defence formation at all]
- No1 troop from 43 Field Squadron, 33 EOD regiment
- 1 Light Electronic Warfare Team from 237 Sqn, 14 (Electronic Warfare) Signals Regiment
- 1 Joint NBCW team from the CBRN defence wing
- 1 company in each of the 2 non-PARA battalions in the brigade were to be trained for parachute, but I don’t think this was ever really done
Not considering 1 PARA and Special Forces-related units, the British Army has nearly 5000 men on the “Parachute” pay book, which means that each of these men gets a 180 pounds of additional ‘danger pay’ per month. In pay alone, over one year the parachute requirement costs nearly as much as running a Bay class LSD vessel. Still, save for Special Forces, british troops haven’t parachuted into battle since 1956, and for a wide range of factors they are unlikely to ever do it again, with the most evident factor being the lack of sufficient cargo aircrafts.
The lack of sufficient airlift means that the full-range of capabilities listed above (and full it really is, it intelligently covers every need, albeit at small scale) for parachute training is meaningless because not only there aren’t enough cargo planes to launch (and then support, more challenging still) such a force from the air, but there aren’t even enough airplanes and time to train said formations.
The case of 21 (Gibraltar) Bty is a grave example.
As to the lack of sufficient airlift, the latest example dates back to last November, when the Airborne Brigade Task Force centered on 3rd PARA was training to prepare for their Rapid Reaction role. A total of 2 C130s could be made available by the RAF, but on the chosen day weather was hostile and the launch was delayed… indefinitely, because the RAF couldn’t spare any of its C130s for even such an important exercise, due to the strain posed on the small fleet by Afghanistan and Libya.
Without said conflicts going on, sure, training would have probably taken place, but the effective possibilities of ever employing the airborne task force wouldn’t rise significantly. The MOD itself is aware of this: in Planning Round 2011, pushed by the need for savings, the MOD put forwards a plan for reductions in the (unrealistic) parachute requirements which would have seen:
- 1 PARA Special Forces Support Battalion, to retain full parachute training and the range of supporting formations, para-trained, that it has.
- 2nd PARA, parachute training to cease
- 3rd PARA, parachute training to be reduced in order to only have, rotationally, a Company trained for airborne insertion
- 4th PARA (TA), parachute training to cease
- Unspecified but substantial reductions to parachute requirements for RLC, Military Police, 7 RHA artillery, and all other support elements.
In pays alone, that was projected to save a minimum of 4 million a year. The full extent of savings was not specified: the suggestion was soon sunk by the concentrated fire volleys of outrage and protest that came from the PARA regiment and from the press.
Let’s be clear: such a cut would realize small savings, and erase a lot of capability. But on the other hand, that capability is mostly a paper tiger, and much more tangible (and much more frequently used) capabilities such as AS90, Challenger II and Largs Bay have been reduced or removed for obtaining savings that aren’t very sizeable either (near-cash savings of the 40% reduction in Challenger II fleet and related formations and training is estimated at 10 million per year, Largs Bay cost around 12 millions a year and the 35% reduction in AS90 holding is projected to save between 2011 and 2015, a ridiculous 2 million). Compared to other moves, the reduction of parachute strength would have been, indeed, by far the lesser evil.
Already in 2007 sources internal to the Army expressed skepticism about the consistence and realism of the ABTF, also reasoning on the disarming truth that the Army had managed only around 10.000 parachute descents in training (Special Forces excluded), which means that most 16AA personnel launched only once and many did not launch at all.
But the PARA are very strong politically and on the media, and so far they have been able to resist all attempts to cut back on them (there is ripe speculation and a widespread belief that the formation of the Special Forces Support Battalion was all but an astute move to save 1 PARA from cuts. I don’t know if it is true, obviously, but the voice continues to circulate in the Army and outside it, also because the reform was conceived by General Jackson, who himself had been a PARA for many years!).
As part of a 2-billion efficiency drive for Planning Round 2012, 250 million pounds are to be trimmed out of a per-year budget of 880 million pounds for special allowances in pay, and the “London Allowance” meant to balance the higher cost of life that soldiers posted to London have to face has been removed for the ranks above corporal. Will the option of cutting “danger pay” for parachute units be raised again?
We will see. Probably, no.
In all this, the result is that british brigades and even divisions no longer have their own helicopter formations (1st UK Division technically has the 1st AAC Regiment with 16 Lynx AH7 in 2 squadrons, but future of the regiment itself is not clear with the fleet of helos destined to shrink with the passage to the Wildcat) and 16 Air Assault ends up deploying as a normal brigade, only much more expensive. Helicopters also end up deploying with no firm relation to the brigade and in Afghanistan company-sized air assaults with helicopters are common, but are carried out by non-air specialized infantry unless 16 Air Assault is the on-task brigade in Helmand.
Personally, I do not like it. Personally, I also dislike how the Chinook helicopters and even the Puma and Merlin are into the air force, with all what it entails: to make things work, Joint Helicopter Command had to be formed, the Tactical Suppy Wing is 70% Army manned and 30% RAF manned, and there are all sorts of duplications. I’m a firm believer in the concept of Army Air Force, with the Army owning, manning and employing its helicopters. However, suggesting to transfer the utility helos to the AAC would call for such a huge and expensive shift that it would be anti-economic, even with the prospect of long-term savings.
Still, when Chinook will be eventually replaced, or a new utility/cargo helo is acquired, I would hope it is done under wholly Army management.
For the moment, what I suggest doing is forming 5 Combat Aviation Regiments within 16 Air Assault brigade, controlled by Joint Helicopter Command. Each CAR (no pun intended) would be structured around 1 Air Mobile infantry battalion with attached L118 gun battery and Fire Support Team. In addition, the Regiment would have a Combat Service Support battalion, with REME personnel from 7 Air Support Battalion, RLC detachment, 2/3 MAOTs [Mobile Air Operations Team: there’s 13 of them, from the RAF Support Helicopter branch. Each team includes 1 Team Leader (RAF officer), 1 Master Aircrew (RAF WO), 1 SNCO and 2 Signallers from 21 Signals Regiment (Air Support). These teams direct Landing Zone operations], a Tactical Supply Wing detachment for refueling and rearming of helicopters in the field.
This support battalion would be formed from units that already exist as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade and that shouldn’t need any (sizeable) increase in manpower even with the new approach.
The resulting Combat Aviation Regiment would line:
- A support element
- A land maneuver element (Air Mobile Infantry battalion with accompanying L118 battery on, indicatively, 4 guns)
- An Air Maneuver element
The Air Maneuver element itself would be made up by 1 Attack Helicopter Sqn (8 x Apache), 1 x Wildcat Sqn for scouting, light escort and light utility (6 helicopters, probably, seen fleet size) and one Chinook Sqn (with around 10 helicopters, enough to airlift half of the battalion in one go).
One Airmobile Infantry Battalion can be moved by air in 20 Chinook-equivalent lifts, so as it is proposed, the CAR could in theory launch a battalion-sized air assault in just 2 waves.
I leave out of this plan the Puma helicopter, because the Puma upgrade risks cancellation as of now. If it survives, the 22-strong available front line strength planned for the HC2 fleet would allow the formation of 6 Flights, 5 of which frontline and 1 OCU. In a long-term, enduring deployment requiring several tours, the deployed Flight would probably number some 4 airframes on average. For a one-shot non enduring deployment, more can be obviously managed in all trades.
Due to the small number of Puma airframes available on an average day, though, I’d ideally see them assigned more to specific roles, such as MEDEVAC/CASEVAC, than used for general battlefield mission. Sophisticated stretchers with trauma-support devices are available that are completely self-contained and can be carried by practically any helicopter: the Puma would be large enough for most, if not all MEDEVAC missions, but a Chinook could be made available if/when needed just by transferring the stretcher and team.
The point of the move is not so much that of providing a capability currently unavailable, but to restructure the force in a way that, in my opinion, simplifies the provision of said capability and makes it faster and more straightforward.
Now, the whole JHC command picks men and machines from its current regiments (3 and 4 Attack with all the Apaches, 7 REME with the technicians, Tactical Supply Wing personnel, MAOTs from the RAF, Lynx helos from 9 Regiment, and so along) to compose a force that, at the end of the day, ends up being similar to my CAR, only more-awkwardly pieced together each time (Afghanistan’s deployed helicopter force is practically identical to my proposed organization, but since mine is a plane for the future, I’m counting on a 60-strong fleet of Chinooks, which helps). The reasoning is not much different from the one behind the adoption of the Multi Role Brigade.
The Combat Aviation Regiments, 5 of them, become the new 16 Air Assault brigade, which gains an additional infantry battalion overall and remains a reaction brigade, on permanent Very High Readiness. On a rotational basis, one of the 5 CARs becomes the Lead Aviation Battle Group, and stays in Readiness for a 6 months period, keeping in contact with the Army’s MRB on readiness in the same timeframe, with which it would probably work if a deployment became necessary.
5 MRBs and 5 CARs, one of each available for deployment at a few days notice in every moment of the year. The advantages should include a better, more regular life for service personnel, easier planning for the Army top brass, and more efficient training and preparation, since each package, modular and identical to the others, has the time to prepare for its period at High Readiness, ideally training with the MRB on duty in the same period.
If a major deployment call ever arrived, 16 Air Assault Brigade would probably deploy 3 or 4 of its CARs at once, providing a formidable power. In the meanwhile, the new structure would have the advantage of being sized more comfortably around more “normal” deployments.
This plan assumes that the 14 new Chinooks on order are assigned to RAF Squadrons 28 and 78. These two currently use the Merlin HC3/3a, but the Merlin is to transfer to the Fleet Air Arm for Sea King HC4 replacement by 2016. The 60-strong fleet of Chinooks would thus be organized on 6 squadrons on the bases of Odiham and Benson (with Benson being the base with the Simulators and classrooms for training, besides). A sixth squadron would stand up, giving each squadron a probable complement of 10 airframes on deployment.
5 of the 6 Squadrons would be assigned to the CARs, while 7 Sqn RAF, which is assigned to Special Forces support role, would be linked to Commando Helicopter Force for amphibious operations, the rationale being that, in choosing one specific squadron as “expert” unit in at-sea ops, efficiency should increase. Using the squadron with the SF role will also be beneficial as it ensures that the squadron’s crews are ready to operate from ships as well as from any kind of land base.
Same reasoning for 664 Sqn Army Air Corps with the Apache attack helicopter: it would be paired with Commando Helicopter Force. 664 Sqn has a Special Forces support role from 28 July 2007, even if it is not namely assigned to the Special Forces Support Wing.
Commando Helicopter Force will be a large CAR assigned to 3rd Commando brigade, with a Wildcat Sqn, a Chinook Sqn, an Apache Sqn and 2 Merlin Sqn (plus one OCU). It will also be particularly suited for special operations.
This subject will be considered in deeper detail in the future posts on Navy and RAF issues, anyway.
Ideally, each CAR would be based together on an airfield, but this is obviously impossible, or at the very least more expensive than we can accept. Current basing arrangements will be maintained, including Wildcat based in Yeovilton and Apache in Wattisham. Dishfort will likely be closed as 9 Regiment transfers in Yeovilton: I don’t see any other use for the base, after all.
What about the Lead Airborne Air Group?
Well, on that one I’m full of doubts, for the reasons already explained in detail earlier. I’m reluctant to dispose with the parachute assault concept entirely, so in my “ideal” plan, 16 Air Assault expands to 7 battalions, 5 for the CARs, plus 2nd and 3rd PARA which continue to rotate in the parachute role. 4th PARA ceases parachute training, however, and the requirement is reduced in all other supporting units as well, for example retaining only two 2 small batteries para-trained inside 7 Royal Horse Artillery, since, even assuming we get around to parachute troops into battle, it will be as part of a larger operation, with ground forces, heavier and more equipped, close by and running to establish contact as soon as possible.
This assumes an Army force of 29 Infantry Battalions, a cut of 7 compared to now. If any additional cut is required, 2nd and 3rd PARA would become part of the CARs and 2 battalions would be cut, leaving 27, a cut of nine compared to now.
In any case, full parachute requirement would remain for 1 PARA in its Special Forces Support Role, for II Squadron RAF Regiment, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, the small but invaluable Pathfinder Platoon and for a range of supporting personnel from various trades. Detail on the Special Forces Support Group (1st PARA) are very few, as expected with everything related to SF work, but the establishment of the group should include:
- 2 Companies from 1st PARA
- The third Company is actually provided by the Royal Marines. F Coy is responsible for support to special operations in a sea-related scenario, but they can effectively be employed anywhere and are parachute trained as well.
- SFSG has its own Combat Support Company with assault engineers, mortar and anti-armour platoons, can call on the RAF Regiment Strike Flight to cover and protect extractions by helicopter, has a NBC detection/decontamination team, a Tactical Air Control Party, Royal Engineers, Signallers, Royal Logistic Corps and REME personnel, medical teams from the Army Medical Service and even support from the Adjutant General’s Corps, making it a rounded and supremely capable mini-army.
The restructuring I propose for 16 Air Assault would make the Brigade more “Commando-like”: a large force shaped to provide packages of self-sufficient forces, only with helicopter mobility instead of amphibious capability. The CAR will, anyway, be used most of the time in support of MRBs in the Field, acting as an “Air Maneuver Element” for the brigade.
Just like 3rd Commando Brigade, I make sure to give 16AA an Armoured Fire Support/Mobility capability, light and easily deployable by air and sea, by retaining at least part of the Warthog vehicles post-Afghanistan, to give them to the Squadrons of 1 Royal Tank Regiment that are just now leaving the CBRN role following the withdrawal of the Fuchs vehicles.
The Regiment will continue to have Challenger II and recce vehicles (today Scimitar, tomorrow FRES Scout) in it’s A Sqn, part of the Training fleet, while three squadrons will use the Warthog in support of 16AA.
A deployed CAR, in this way, could end up being able to move its whole force at once, over half of it by helicopter, the remaining under armour protection in the tracked vehicles.
The firepower available to a CAR thanks to the combination of artillery, armour and helicopters will make it a formidable maneuver unit.
In terms of Artillery, 7 Royal Horse Artillery regt would be marginally expanded in manpower from its current structure on 3 batteries of 8 guns each. The regiment would then provide small batteries of 4/6 guns each to the deploying CAR, while maintaining two more batteries Parachute Trained for use in the Airborne Task Force.
Each battery will have at least a couple of 6-man Fire Support Teams: these teams are in extremely high demand in modern operations, and can call and direct Mortar, Artillery fire and Air attacks onto the enemy positions.
In addition to the 5 CARs and to Commando Helicopter Force, there will still be the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing, based in RAF Odiham.
This wing will have:
- 657 AAC Sqn, with the famous 8 Wildcat Light Assault helicopters. Said helos are expected to have improved, secure communication fits, 4 seats for troops, a machine gun mount (normally for a M3M .50 HMG) fast roping kit and other special forces modifications.
- 651 AAC Sqn, flies with the Islander planes in light transport and ISTAR role
- 8 Flight AAC, flies 4 Dauphin helicopters in civilian colors for SAS anti-terrorism duty
It will also count on the services provided by
- 7 RAF Squadron, Chinook helicopters
- 47 RAF Squadron, C130 cargo aircrafts
Under 27 Battalions, we cannot go, unless we release the Army from some of its tasks and/or change its structure another time.
A 27-battalion infantry would count:
- 5 Armoured Infantry Battalions + 1 as Infantry Demonstration Battalion in training role. Rotation every 3 years. One battalion in each Multi Role Brigade.
- 5 Mechanized Infantry Battalions, one in each MRB
- 10 Light Role Infantry Battalions, two in each MRB. Actually, though, the 10 battalions will rotate to cover several tasks, so that each MRB will actually have 1 Light Role battalion available in the UK, and 5 will be busy in London, Cyprus, Brunei. These are likely to figure nominally inside one of the regional brigades, probably 52 Bde, as happens already today:
1) The 4 infantry battalions of the Guards (Welsh Guards, Irish Guards, Grenadiers and Coldstream) rotate at groups of two every 3 years. 2 of the 4 battalions are in fact busy in London on public role while the other two are in fighting role.
2) 1st and 2nd Royal Gurkha Rifles also rotate every 3 years, with one battalion being resident in Brunei at any one time
3) 2 Light Role Infantry battalions are kept in Cyprus, one in BSA West and one in BSA East. The two battalions take 6-month turns as Theatre Reserve Battalion in the Mediterranean. They rotate with 2 british based battalions every 3 years.
- 5 Airmobile Infantry Battalions, one in each CAR
- 1 Amphibious Infantry Battalion (1st RIFLES) assigned to 3rd Commando brigade
The Multi Role Brigades would take 6-month turns as formations at readiness, and the Light Role Infantry Battalion of the brigade at readiness would take on the role of Spearhead Battalion at 24 hours notice to move.
A Spearhead Battalion spends 3 months training for its role and then stays at readiness for 6 months, ready to deploy. If the call comes, the battalion is ready to move out, carrying with itself 10 days of spares and consumables organized in Priming Equipment Packs ready for shipment.
According to Army sources, a Spearhead battalion with all its supplies and vehicles can be deployed from the UK to Sierra Leone (it is their example) with 5 C17 sorties, 15 C130 C3 sorties, 15 C130 C4 sorties, 1 Tristar and 6 VC10 sorties. The C3 and C4 are the stretched, long fuselage variants of the C130K and C130J respectively: the C130K fleet will be entirely out of service by the end of this year, while the replacement of the C130J will begin in 2014 with the delivery of the first A400, and will be concluded by 2022.
The Tank regiment of the MRBs is still a mystery, but judging from the cuts I expect an ORBAT Type 38, with 38 MBTs in force and the possibility of eventually expanding it drawing squadrons from other regiments if necessary.
The Brigade Recce Regiment is pretty much officially expected to have two Armoured Squadrons on FRES Scout and one on a “wheeled, open-top UOR vehicle which will brought into core”, a description which pretty much frames the Jackal, unless the WMIK variant of Ocelot is ordered before Afghanistan ops come to an end.
The Artillery Regiment announced by the Director Royal Artillery will have 2 AS90 batteries and one L118 Battery (on six or eight guns?). 95 AS90 vehicles are being retained after the cuts, even if other sources mention 87.
The Combat Support Element of each Brigade will include:
- One Medical Regiment
- One Intelligence Company and eventual Psyops team from 2nd Military Intelligence Brigade
- One Royal Military Police Company
- One “Sustainment Regiment” from the Royal Logistic Corps, including Fuel, Transport, Supplies and Tank transport resources and integrating a REME battalion for field maintenance.
The REME Battalion and the Sustainment Regiment might combine to form a “Brigade Support Battalion” like in the US Brigade Combat Teams. This modular battalion contains stores, transport and fuel role, and lines ‘Forward Support Companies’, each with a Maintenance Platoon and a Distribution Platoon. There is a FSC for each Maneuver Battalion of the BCT, and each Forward Support Company is specialized in delivering the maintenance and supplies and spares needed by that specific battalion. A security section provides escort and protection to logistic convoys.
The argument is very complex, and people in the Army, with more direct experience than me, will no doubt be looking into this: however, the American experience in this sense is positive: the Brigade Support Battalion evolved on the field, during the Iraq war and occupation, and the Forward Support Companies were an evolution coming from the bottom and dictated from direct experience on the ground. I find the concept to have merit, and it is probably more than worth consideration.
Indicatively, the Sustainment Regiment for the british MRB could follow the example of the Brigade Support Battalion of the US BCT, so there would be:
- 1 HQ Company, ideally should include a Security Element (escorting force for convoys)
- 1 Distribution Company
- 1 Field Mainteinance (REME) Company
- 6 Forward Support Companies, each supporting a specific formation within the brigade: so there will be one FSC configured for support to the Tank Regiment, one will support the RECCE regiment, one the Armoured Infantry Battalion, all the way to one FSC which is Artillery-oriented.
Useful considerations on the Brigade Support Battalion are also contained in this document.
It is not yet entirely clear what will be the full impact of the new concept of Capability Directorates being adopted by the Army, but REME and Royal Logistic Corps are going to be under the same Combat Support directorate, which should be of help in the “semi-merge” necessary for the creation of effective Sustainment Regiments and for the restructuring of the Logistic Brigades.
It is not yet clear what organization the Brigade Engineer Regiment will have, either. The current regiments are organized on 4 Squadrons each (one HQ & Support Sqn, 3 Armoured Engineer Squadrons – this because 38 Regiment, the only non-armoured, is being disbanded along with the 19 Light Brigade it supports).
In 2008, for example, it was expected that the two Armoured Brigade’s regiments would each receive 6 Trojan and 6 Titan, with the 3 RE regiments attached to the Mechanized Brigades getting 4 of each (all regiments would have Troops of 2 Titan/Trojan each).
One more Trojan/Titan go to the RE Cross Capability troop in the Training fleet at Warminster, 2 vehicles of each kind are in BATUS, Canada, 1 of each is in the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (SEME) Regiment and 5 of each are in reserve/maintenance. Even though 50% of the vehicles of each kind will actually be resting in controlled Humidity storage under Whole Fleet Management anyway.
Now, with the brigades having less armour and being all based on the same structure, the distinction in Heavy and Mechanized RE formations will vanish entirely, and probably each regiment will have 4 Trojan and 4 Titan, with more being held in reserve and assigned if and when necessary.
Each regiment should receive 8 Terrier vehicles as well. The FV430 Mk3 Bulldog for the mobility of personnel and kit will probably be used for a long time still due to the difficulty of financing a sufficient number of FRES SV APCs. An Engineer variant of the FRES SV protected mobility vehicle is planned as part of RECCE Block 2, but it will be years, even in the best case, before we get to see them! At best, a number of FRES SV vehicles from the first order will replace the Spartan APCs used in the regiments.
There is also a requirement for Medium Armour Assault Bridging, once expected to be covered by 35 FRES Bridgelayers, now possibly going to be Warrior bridgelayers instead (4 per regiment? Will the order ever be finalized?).
Another possibility is that one of the three squadrons of each regiment reverts from an armoured ORBAT to a lighter one, targeted at supporting the Light Role Infantry component of the Brigade and better suited for air transport and helicopter mobility.
It is not clear what will happen to the Talisman counter-IED and route clearance kit for which several Engineers squadrons have re-trained and that is being exmployed in Afghanistan. In 2015 the system, which is a UOR, might be abandoned.
Ideally, I’d keep Talisman around as a specialized route-clearance capability, used by one Regiment of the reserve, if not by 36 Regiment RE (General Support). Talisman includes the Tarantula Hawk drone detachment (Royal Artillery manned and managed), the Talon UGV, the Buffalo vehicle, the Mastiff Protected Eyes with mast-mounted surveillance sensors, an unmanned reconnaissance asset developed by turning Land Rover Snatch into remotely-operated vehicles (not the best solution, but cheap and readily available), the High Mobility Engineer Excavator (UOR that also serves as interim gap-filler due to Terrier delays, this one I would still abandon when Terrier is available) and the latest addition, the mine clearance drone Mini MineWolf. Along with them I’ll also keep dear the Mastiff vehicles still in good conditions, in particular those in the EOD-team carrier configuration.
At Divisional Level there will be a General Support Engineer Regiment (28 and 36 RE regiments). 36 RE currently has taken up the role of IED High Assurance Search Group, and will continue to provide this service until 2015. 28 RE will retain the unique 23 Amphibious squadron with the M3 rigs. These two regiments will be able to provide support to the deployed forces.
8Th Force Engineer Brigade, Royal Engineers will continue to exist as part of Theatre Troops, but with changes to its parts, mainly to 12 Air Support Group:
- 39 Engineer Regiment (Air Support) will move from Waterbeach near Cambridge to Kinloss in the summer of 2012, and HQ 12 (Air Support) Engineer Group will move from Waterbeach to RAF Wittering in the summer of 2013.
- 25 Engineer Regiment (Air Support) will be disbanded within 31 May 2012, with the loss of 43 Headquarters and Support Squadron. Its two Field Squadrons, (34 and 53) will be passed to 39 Engineer Regiment (Air Support) and move into RAF Wittering.
Unless further changes are announced, this effectively reverses a 2007 decision, which saw 25 ER formed detaching 2 squadrons from 39 ER, funnily enough.
Unless further changes are announced, this effectively reverses a 2007 decision, which saw 25 ER formed detaching 2 squadrons from 39 ER, funnily enough.
39 Regiment should thus take on this look:
- 10 Field Squadron (Air Support) - RAF Kinloss
- 48 Field Squadron (Air Support) - RAF Kinloss
- 34 Field Squadron (Air Support) - RAF Wittering
- 53 Field Squadron (Air Support) - RAF Wittering
- 60 Headquarters and Support Squadron (Air Support).- RAF Kinloss
- REME Workshop. - RAF Kinloss
HQ 12 (Air Sp) Engr Gp should at that point (again, unless further reductions come) command the following force:
39 Engineer Regiment (Air Support)
71 Engineer Regiment (Volunteers)
73 Engineer Regiment (Volunteers)
Works Group Royal Engineers (Airfields)
Waterbeach Barracks will subsequently be closed by December 2013.
39 Engineer Regiment (Air Support)
71 Engineer Regiment (Volunteers)
73 Engineer Regiment (Volunteers)
Works Group Royal Engineers (Airfields)
Waterbeach Barracks will subsequently be closed by December 2013.
Under 8 Brigade control remains also the 29 (Land Support) Engineer Group, commanding the EOD regiments (39 and 101 RE, 11 RLC regiments]. The Group counts on some 11 Regular and 3 Volunteer squadrons. 17 Squadron, 33 Regiment is organized on 3 troops: No1 is Parachute trained and assigned to 16AA Brigade; No2 is assigned to 3rd Commando, No3 is available for the Joint Rapid Reaction Force and could, for example, go in with the Spearhead battalion.
Last element of the 8 Force Engineer Brigade is 170 (Infrastructure Support) Group, a joint regular-TA force highly specialized. It lines 62, 63, 64, 66 and 67 Works Groups (mixed) and 65(V) Group, the sole entirely TA-manned. The Group has responsibility for water infrastructure, power infrastructure, fuels infrastructure, rail infrastructure and ports infrastructure, making its service invaluable and high in demand.
In terms of Medical Support, the Royal Army Medical Corps offers:
· 1 Medical Regiment - 20th Armoured Brigade
· 2 Medical Regiment - 7th Armoured Brigade
· 3 Medical Regiment - 4th Mechanized Brigade (United Kingdom)
With 250 (Hull) Medical Squadron (Volunteers)
· 4 Medical Regiment - 12 Mechanised Brigade
· 5 Medical Regiment - 1st Mechanized Brigade (United Kingdom)
With 64 (Chorley) Medical Squadron (Volunteers)
· 16 Medical Regiment - 16 Air Assault Brigade
With 144 Parachute Medical Squadron (Volunteers)
· 225 Medical Regiment (Volunteers)
· 253 Medical Regiment (Volunteers)
· 254 Medical Regiment (Volunteers)
These regiments will continue to accompany the Brigades as they are restructured into MRBs. At “Theatre Troops” level remains 2nd Medical Brigade, holding the Field Hospitals, most of which are manned by TA volunteers and which will be assigned depending on the needs of the day.
· 2 Medical Brigade
- 22 Field Hospital
- 33 Field Hospital
- 34 Field Hospital
- 201 (Northern) Field Hospital (Volunteers)
- 202 (Midlands) Field Hospital (Volunteers)
- 203 (Welsh) Field Hospital (Volunteers)
- 204 (North Irish) Field Hospital (Volunteers)
- 205 (Scottish) Field Hospital (Volunteers)
- 207 (Manchester) Field Hospital (Volunteers)
- 208 (Merseyside) Field Hospital (Volunteers)
- 212 (Yorkshire) Field Hospital (Volunteers)
- 243 (Wessex) Field Hospital (Volunteers)
- 256 (City of London) Field Hospital (Volunteers)
- 306 (Nationally Recruited) Hospital Support Medical Regiment (Volunteers)
- 335 (Nationally Recruited) Medical Evacuation Regiment (Volunteers)
Field hospitals may be regular or TA and all are 200 bed facilities with a maximum of 8 surgical teams capable of carrying out life-saving operations on some of the most difficult surgical cases.
In terms of supporting formations, the current “Theatre Troops”, the British Army will continue to have a single “Fires” brigade, 1st Artillery bde, lining the following regular regiments:
- 39 Royal Artillery; HQ Bty plus 5 frontline batteries, each trained and equipped on both GMLRS and Fire Shadow loitering ammunition
- 5 Regiment, Surveillance and Target Acquisition; HQ Bty plus 5 STA Batteries, each with Radar Troop and Sound Ranging Troop for the detection of enemy fire, plus 4/73 Sphinx Special Observation Posts battery
- 32 and 47 Royal Artillery regiments; combined UAS regiments. Together, they are to field 5 Unmanned Air System Batteries, each with 6/10 Watchkeeper drones and 2 Ground Control Stations, 12 Desert Hawk III detachments and 3 Tarantula Hawk drone detachments. It is expected that, in a few years time, at least part of the Watchkeepers will be turned into ATUAS, Armed Tactical Unmanned Air System, with a couple of LMM missiles.
The Brigade will also draw from 3 reserve regiments:
- 104(Volunteers) RA; reserve UAS regiment
- 101(V) RA; reserve GMLRS/STA regiment, has 2 GMLRS batteries and 2 STA batteries
- Honourable Artillery Company; provides reinforcement Patrols to the Special Observation Post battery, 4/73.
This brigade will nominally be able to deploy whole or nearly whole for major, division-sized operations, but its most common task will be making available batteries of GMLRS, STA and UAS for deploying brigades. The recent reform of the Royal Artillery saw the adoption of the “rule of the five” in these vital formations, and now there’s 5 batteries in the STA role, 5 in UAS role and 5 in GMLRS/Fire Shadow role, making it possible to cover one enduring deployment.
I briefly considered rising a second Fires Brigade, so to attach one to 1st and one to 3rd Division (the Brigade attached to 3rd Division would have contained 47 Regiment with 2 UAS batteries, 101(V), 104(V) and Honourable Artillery Company) but I believe that the duplication would not be worth its cost.
It has also no economic or military sense dividing the “Fires” element from the UAS batteries (like the US do with Fires and Battlefield Surveillance brigades). If 3rd UK Division was deployable, I’d want two Fires brigades, but with the current army ambitions it is not the case.
In addition, my Army structure envisions a new brigade to keep under Theatre Troops command, the Force Protection bde. This formation will become a container of specific assets, such as C-RAM artillery and Cortez base-ISTAR sensors, but also direct the Military Working dog regiment and even the RAF Regiment, which will remain a RAF formation but will work within the Army and under an Army commander. The Force Protection brigade will be a unit useful for a whole range of situations, both in peacetime and during deployments. Being meant to provide specific surveillance and defence against terrorism and also against more conventional threats such as RAM (Rocket, Artillery, Mortar), the brigade would be the main player in events such as the Olympics, while also providing deployable defences and ISTAR to main and forward bases established above. It is meant to bring together the force protection expertise of the RAF regiment with the kit and experience of the Army.
Units assigned to the brigade would be:
- Defence CBRN Wing; following the latest reform, 1 Royal Tank Regiment is no longer part of the formation, which is now wholly RAF and made up by squadrons 26 and 27
- 22 Royal Artillery regiment; 22 RA used to be an air defence regiment until it was disbanded a good few years ago. I’d like to bring it back, as a mixed formation of Regulars and TA soldiers, to assign to it the Cortez base-ISTAR system, that I want to retain in service post-Afghanistan. In addition, the Regiment would operate a number of C-RAM batteries. A C-RAM system was indicated in the SDSR as well as a future investment. 22 RA would operate 5 batteries, each with C-RAM artillery and a full Cortez suite of sensors for base-ISTAR and surveillance.
- 1st Military Working Dog Regiment; formed in 2010 by bringing together the previous five independent Dog squadrons that were separated between 101 and 102 Logistic Brigades. The regiment supplies teams with Search and Guard dogs, including explosive-search.
- RAF Regiment; slightly reduced in size compared to now (it was expanded to face the Afghan needs), it would have 5 Field Squadrons (roughly 171 strong) plus a sixth, II Sqn, which is PARA trained and can be useful in support to Special Forces or CSAR missions, other than for its main mission that is capturing and securing airflieds, with an airborne assault if needs be.
The Force Protection Brigade is intended to be able to, at any one time, generate “FP packages” including Force Protection HQ, Cortez sensors and related C-RAM battery, a RAF Field Squadron and up to a Squadron worth of Military Working Dog teams. Each package will be in the High Readiness Pool for six months.
Air Defence is also moving out of Divisions. With the demise of the sSHORAD role of 47 Regiment RA, which is moving to UAS and out of 3rd Division to enter 1st Artillery Brigade, the remaining sSHORAD regiment, 12 RA, is likely to move out of 1st Division and into the Joint Ground Based Air Defence Command, which already directs 16 Regiment (with its Rapier batteries) and the reserve Air Defence element, 106(V) Regt.
Around 2018/2020, the Rapier will be replaced by truck-mounted CAMM missile, and by then I’d want 6 batteries to be raised, bring back from suspension animation 20 Commando Battery RA, to ensure that all the MRBs and 3rd Commando as well have an Air Defence formation on call.
The future of Starstreak is not as clear. A replacement missile is not yet on the horizon, but it is likely to be pursued along with the French in a collaboration of which some shy rumors have been heard. The missile is likely to live well into the 2020s, anyway.
Again, ideally, 12 Regiment should be able to generate a battery for all brigades, including 16 Air Assault. 3rd Commando Brigade has its own Starstreak-equipped missile troop embedded.
The current situation of 12 RA should be the following:
- T (Sha Sujah's Troop) Battery; HQ Bty
- 12 (Minden) Battery; uses the tripod LML launcher and provides highly deployable light AD troops available for tasking at short notice.
- 9 (Plassey) Battery; uses the Stormer HVM vehicle and works in support of 1st UK Division (24 vehicles in 3 Troops?)
- 58 (Eyre's) Battery; uses the Stormer HVM vehicle and works in support of 3rd UK Division (24 vehicles in 3 Troops?)
The Royal Signals brigade will go down from 3 to 2 by the end of this year, since 2nd (National Communications) brigade will be disbanded after its role in the Olympic games is over. The formation, mainly comprising TA units, will be broken down and its regiments assigned to the other Brigades (1st and 11). The 1st Brigade itself is being reduced and restructured (by closing 7th Regiment, a supporting element of ARRC HQ), while 11 Signals Brigade is pretty much untouchable in its role of support to Joint Rapid Reaction Force and because of its unique regiments: 14 Electronic Warfare Regiment, 30 Strategic Communications (satellites) Regiment and the 2nd Regiment with the CORMORANT wide area comms system.
1st Military Intelligence Brigade and 2nd Medical Brigade are unlikely to undergo changes, in my opinion. Pretty much untouchable is also the unique 104 Logistic Brigade, which is the key to the Army’s ability of deploying abroad, as it wholly commands Land Force's logistic enabling capabilities: Postal and Courier Services, Movement Control, Air Despatch, Port and Maritime (which includes a Vehicle Specialist and Railway capability) and many Pioneer effects. The Brigade operates both the Sea Mounting Centre (SMC) at the military port of Marchwood and the Joint Air Mounting Centre (JAMC) at South Cerney; ensuring that the UK end of deployments are fully enabled and effective at all times. With these capabilities, the Brigade activates strategic and operational Lines of Communications; mounting and deploying forces that provide specialist logistic support effects in support of joint expeditionary and enduring operations.
Changes could well happen in the 101 and 102 Logistic Brigades, which have already lost their medical regiments in recent years when the Army decided to reform the Medical Corps and assign a Medical Regiment to each brigade. The two logistic brigades also used to contain the Military Working Dog Sqns, but in 2010 all five the squadrons were finally centralized and put in the 1st MWD regiment under Royal Army Veterinary Corps. As seen earlier, I’d have said regiment into the Force Protection brigade.
Each Logistic Brigade has a Supply Regiment overseeing the delivery of supplies from the UK to theatre, one/two regiment with Transport, Fuel and Tank Transport sqns, one Military Police regiment and one REME battalion.
This is an area where changes could probably come. There might also be a restructuring and downsizing of the related Royal Military Police regiments, since it appears that a Brigade only needs a Company-sized RMP element, and these companies could come from just 2 regiments assigned to the two Divisional HQs.
Currently, 1st UK division has a Logistic Support Regiment (1st LSR), and 7th, 1th, 4th and 12th Brigades also have their own LSR. The rest of the logistics are provided via 101 and 102 Logistic brigades.
101 and 102 Logistic Brigades will be the British Army equivalent to the US Army Sustainment Brigades. They will plan, coordinate, synchronize, monitor, and control sustainment within an assigned Area of Operations. They will Conduct Host Nation Support (HNS) relations and contracting; and they will provide support to joint, interagency, and multinational agencies on order. They will sit above the Multi Role Brigade(s) in the area and oversee Theatre Logistics by ensuring that the Brigade(s) or Division in the field are reached by supplies coming in, by air or sea, possibly all the way from the UK, via 104 Logistic Brigade.
My vision for the future British Army is a vision of a smaller army, but with very complete capabilities, organized on the basis of a solid structure capable to ensure, as much as possible, the deployability and sustainability of full-spectrum force packages capable to successfully engage in any kind of operation.
As with US Marines and US Army units, the objective of the revised Force Structure is to be able to deploy an effective force with a Land Maneuver element, an Air Maneuver Element and a Combat Support element.
The Land Maneuver element is the Multi Role Brigade, with its balanced mix of capabilities.
The Air Maneuver element is the Combat Aviation Regiment and, eventually, the Airborne Task Force, which can provide a battalion/near-battalion sized screen of paratroops during an operation.
The Combat Support Element contains all the formations that enable the successful employment of the maneuver formations. Its core will be the Sustainment regiment, with Supplies, Fuel, Transport and Tank Transport resources.
Each CSE will work with the single Logistic Brigade, attached to the single deployable division, and with the assistance of the unique services of 104 Logistic Brigade will sustain the deployed brigade in its operations.
There will be a Medical Regiment, a Royal Military Police company, EW teams and an Intelligence Company as well, for each brigade.
A whole range of capabilities will be available on demand from the Supporting Brigades (8 Force Engineer, Force Protection Brigade, 1st Artillery Brigade, Joint Ground Based Air Defence…). In any moment, a deploying brigade will be able to access to:
- One RAF Field Squadron for Force Protection and defence of bases.
- One CBRN formation from the CBRN Wing
- One Royal Artillery battery equipped with C-RAM artillery and Cortez base-ISTAR sensors for ensuring safety within the Main Operating Base and, as much as possible, within FOBs.
- One Royal Artillery Depth Fire battery, with GMLRS and Loitering Ammunitions
- One Royal Artillery UAS battery, with Watchkeeper and Desert Hawk detachments (the latter being assigned, much as done today in Afghanistan, to the various maneuver formations. Today you can expect to find a Desert Hawk III det with the Warthog group and another with the Brigade Recce Force, with a couple detachments in reserve and the others assigned to the various FOBs). Once armed, Watchkeeper will offer hunter-killed capability.
- One Surveillance & Target Acquisition Battery with radars, sound ranging and Special Observation Posts patrols
- One very-short range air defence battery with Starstreak missiles
- One Rapier SHORAD missile battery
- Infrastructure support, including airfield repair
All of this, save perhaps for the Air Defence bits, which would be more than a tad stretched after years of downsizing, would be available on an enduring basis, with all capabilities spread so to meet the Rule of the 5. In addition there will be RAF and RN supporting units, from helicopters to drones, Typhoons and F35s, as will be explored in the future posts.
|My proposed Army Structure and its six-months force generation cycle, exposing the units available for deployment at any one time.|
While a larger force could of course do more, or at least do the same with less effort, the point is that, to deliver a significant expansion in the range of what can be done, the uplift in manpower and investment has to be massive.
Six MRBs, even 7 MRBs would still be insufficient for deploying more than one brigade in an enduring operation, and buying influence with the Army would require the ability of deploying a massive force that the UK simply can’t sustain nor finance.
It makes sense, in my opinion, to size down the Army, to a force that can be properly equipped, trained, deployed and sustained, even if smaller, and buy influence and effectiveness investing more in strategic enablers such as amphibiosity, maritime security and carrier strike.
In the next post I’ll try to explain my plan for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. But since the Army restructuring is probably the most confusing and complex sector of all (and writing this piece has further opened my eyes on just how complex running the British Army must be!), I’m even more open than usual to questions, debate and suggestions. I will add further posts if necessary.
The latest rumors on General Carter’s vision for the Army
Following the SDSR, General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the army, asked Major-General Nick Carter, a former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan and the director-general of land warfare, to carry out a review into the Army restructuring, to outline his visions. Ever since, we have heard suggestions that General Carter is going pretty everywhere but down the SDSR path of the MRBs.
In October 2011 general Carter was said to be suggesting an army structure on 2 Armored and 2 Light Brigades with other assets “on call” as needed. It felt weird and unlikely from the first moment (if nothing else, because I really can’t imagine the Army cutting another one maneuver brigade on top of the one already cut by the government, can you?) and it seems to have gone nowhere, thankfully. Was it wrong reporting on the press side? Possibly.
These days we are fed another, and possibly worse, vision of Carter’s plan.
Carter has returned to first principles and asked: what will the army be for?
His answer, intriguingly, is that it will not be for ‘everyday’ use. He does not believe that Iraq and Afghanistan – enduring operations – should shape the army of the future, for while those operations have both vindicated much and taught much, they are too specific to theatre, type of conflict and political conditions to be of general relevance. Carter believes the army must be an insurance policy for the most difficult operational challenges, not an organization configured for what at any one time appears to be the most likely. The army must give the government genuine options for contingencies it cannot foresee rather than trying to force the square pegs of old structures into the round holes of new operational demands.Carter believes that such an all-risks insurance policy would first require the army to have a potential ‘warfighting’ capability of such potency that it is a deterrent in itself [see Observation 1] – similar to the classical concept of ‘the fleet in being’. But rather than orderly structures reminiscent of the Cold War, which are neither affordable nor desirable, a looser arrangement of units is needed, trained to a common doctrine and able to combine in a more ad hoc fashion, with the ‘synergy’ created at divisional level and above.
This is a considerable departure from the previous aspirations for five strong, identically configured brigades, each comprising armoured (tank) and armoured reconnaissance regiments, infantry battalions, artillery and engineers, designed to sustain indefinitely a deployment at ‘medium scale’ (like Iraq or Afghanistan). Brigades have become just too big – mini-divisions – believes Carter, with brigade commanders unable to focus sufficiently on either the tactical employment of their troops or the external, ‘political’, aspects of an operation. His concept envisages at least twice as many smaller brigades of up to five major combat units (tank and infantry), with less organic combat support (such as artillery and engineers) than hitherto, or even none at all [see Observation 2]. This increase in ‘first-class’ brigades would be particularly welcome since the future senior command of the army, and the defence staff, would otherwise be built on a perilously narrow ‘one-star’ base [see Observation 3].
[…] Carter vision puts the ‘teeth’ arms – the infantry and the cavalry– firmly centre-stage. One of Napoleon’s generals said of the British infantry that they were the most dangerous in the world, “but fortunately there aren’t many of them”. Carter is determined to keep them at the expense of ‘enablers’ and support units, accepting that contractorization might have to be an option if a deployment runs on. Enablers and supporters could also be transferred to the TA, where the training regime is more suited to mastering complex but narrower tasks, but with perhaps a higher proportion of regulars in the unit than hitherto. [Observation 4]
With all due respect for General Carter, I cannot avoid saying that, in my eyes, this plan is total bull.
- Observation 1: the beauty of the Army so powerful to scare everyone is undeniable, but it is an illusion, particularly when the regulars are capped at 82.000, the 105 mm howitzers at around 120, the 155 mm self propelled howitzers at 95 and the Main Battle Tanks at just over 200, with perhaps 250 IFVs and perhaps 200 FRES Scout vehicles.
General Carter can suggest a different army concept and structure, but he cannot reverse the cuts nor obtain additional funding, nor buy additional vehicles or get more regulars. When looked at in the right perspective, his observation is nice, but out of reality. What he is going to scare with that force, especially if spread into tiny, unsustainable brigades weak on logistics and artillery?
- Observation 2: how is he going to form 10 5-elements brigades of tanks and infantry out of 82.000 regulars in 5 tank regiments and 30, if not less, infantry battalions? There are 5 Regiments of tanks (15 squadrons), 5 regiments of Armoured Infantry (15 companies) and only 10 Squadrons on FRES Scout (2 in each RECCE regiment). Is he going to call “brigade” a formation with a “regiment” made up by 1 Challenger II sqn and 1 FRES Scout squadron, plus one enlarged armoured infantry coy and a few battalions of Light Role Infantry? What would such a force ever be able to do?
How does a reduction in Artillery and Combat Support Elements ever justify itself? COIN or State-on-State, you still need artillery. Lots of it. And Logistics, lots of it.
- Observation 3: not to be offensive or provocative, but please tell me that we aren’t calling large regiments “brigades” and brigades “Divisions” just so we can retain more top brass and badges. PLEASE.
- Observation 4: again, it is outside reality. This army structure goes straight against the SDSR assumptions, including generally widespread belief that old style state-on-state warfare is not going to be likely nor common in the coming years. Is he really suggesting losing the Royal Engineers to contractors? Paid with which money? Combat Support Elements in the reserve, cut back savagely and pooled, together with artillery, at Divisional level…? Where is the sense of this suggestion? In the ambition of saying “yes, we still deploy divisions!”.
One has to hope that the press is getting it wrong.
Or that Carter’s review is ignored if the press report is correct. More than an insurance policy, Carter’s army structure feels like a paper tiger of regiment-sized brigades and Divisions with insufficient enablers to do their job.