Apparently, meeting the 82.000 regulars ceiling is proving ridiculously challenging, and will require a giant axe swing over the fighting formations and frontline support services.
How can it be so challenging to form 6 deployable brigades that aren't at all larger or more complex than continental ones, it is sometimes hard to understand.
I can accept that the Italian army misses several enablers (there is no comparing the Royal Engineers with the Italian equivalent, the difference is very serious) and has a rather small support component, but it is still an army who keeps a substantial force in Afghanistan and Lebanon, was in Iraq and until now has 11 maneuver brigades, highly mechanized, with some 108.000 men in force as of 2010.
Following the cuts announced recently, the brigades will go down to 9, but the number of regulars per deployable brigade is unlikely to change much: we are looking at around 9000 to 11.000 men in the army for each deployable brigade lined.
I'm fully aware that this is a very empiric and unprofessional way to look into the number of men required to support the force, but nonetheless i believe it is interesting.
With 11.000 men for each deployable brigade the British Army of 82.000 regulars should in theory be able to support 7.45 deployable brigades.
Instead it will struggle to man 6 and cover its roles, if the infantry battalions are really going down all the way from 36 to 25. 25 are just enough for 5 MRBs of 4 infantry battalions each (of which one should be Armoured and one Mechanized, if the SDSR's words are still worth something at all), plus 4 battalions in 16 Air Assault brigade, plus 1st RIFLES in 3rd Commando.
1st PARA is, as always, not counted (it would be the 37th battalion) because is listed as part of the Special Forces.
From the count goes missing the 6th Armoured Infantry battalion that was expected to be retained for rotating with the others in and out of Training & Demonstration role, unless 1st Rifles is cut, which would be another punch in the face of the SDSR and of everything said this far as 3rd Commando Brigade would, contrary to promises, reduced very significantly.
How Cyprus will be garrisoned, how public role will be covered, how will the Brunei presence be continued, is not yet known.
Unless these tasks are removed, on a normal day the MRBs will have 3, not 4, infantry battalions, because all the others will be assigned to other duties, other countries, possibly other continents.
Considering that an Infantry Battalion has on average 700 men [679, actually] (Mechanized 667, Armoured 741, Light 630); Artillery regiments can be short of 400, tank regiments hover at 550 and Recce regiments perhaps at 600 (wartime), as few as 25.000 men are the fighting teeth of an Army on 25 Infantry Battalions, 5 reduced tank regiments, 5 downsized "Fires" regiments of Artillery and 5 Recce regiments.
And this in an army that has outsourced even recruitment and training.
At 82.000 regulars and 6 deployable brigades, the British Army swallows 13.666 men for each brigade it has, compared to as few as 9850 for the Italian Army or 12.514 for France [2 Armoured brigades, 2 Mechanized brigades, 1 Light Armoured Brigade, 1 Light Armoured Brigade - Amphibious, 1 PARA brigade, 1 Mountain Infantry Brigade, 1 France-Germany joint brigade, 1 Special Forces Brigade for 125.141 regulars] or 9228 for Germany [little more than 73.000 regulars, but 3 Divisional HQs with 5 highly mechanized/armored brigades, 1 Mountain infantry brigade, 1 Airmobile brigade plus Special Forces and helicopter elements and the France-Germany joint brigade. However they have reduced the holdings of artillery, concentrating what's left at divisional level. We are still talking of a force with more PZH2000 than the British Army has AS90s, anyway].
The British Army seems to be the heaviest in Europe in terms of support and logistics, and there is most likely scope for reductions (even though, really, support is never too much in a war situation), but it must be a reduction carefully thought out, and that leaves the regiments and capabilities needed.
I think there are no real reasons why the British Army can't fit the units needed in the 82.000 regulars it has been assigned, but it is admittedly a tight fit if one tries to make his calculations basing himself on historical data.
Using the Telegraph's and historical figures for the main components of the british army we have:
Royal Artillery just 5000 men post cuts [down from 7512 in 2009]
Royal Engineers just 5500 post cuts [9367 in 2009]
Royal Logistics Corps 12000 post-cuts [over 15.000 previously, largest corp in the army]
REME 9895 in 2009
Royal Armoured Corps 5823 in 2009
Army Air Corps 2034 in 2009
Royal Signals 9000 in 2009
Army Medical Corps 3354 in 2009 + 1147 Queen's Alexandra nurses
Military Intelligence 1607 in 2009
Army Veterinary Branch 260 in 2009
Gurkha 3000 in 2009
I'm at 58.620 men, that become 75.851 with the addition of:
5+1 armoured infantry (741 x 5) = 4446
5 Mechanized infantry (667 x 5) = 3335
15 Light Role Infantry (630 x 15) = 9450
With the addition of over 8000 men (lawyers, dentists, Small Arms school, Adjutant General Corps, chaplains and everything else, counted at 2009 force levels) i'm at 84.745 men, a bit above the target (although 84.000 men has been mentioned more than once, and the final figure could be somewhere in between 82.000 and 84.000). Arguably, all of the 2009 figures should drop at least some, and i'd want the maximum reductions done in non frontline arms before the fighting units are touched, and in frontline i'm including artillery, signals and engineer and intelligence.
The REME are of course not going to stay at 9000 men when several LADs and posts cease to exist with the closure of battalions and the reduction in vehicle holdings. According to the Telegraph the Army Air Corps will also lose some posts as Lynx AH7 helicopters are retired earlier.
I personally expect 1st Regiment AAC to be victim of this cut.
The Telegraph of course reports that:
A special cadre will also be created to provide what has been called “upstream engagement” — where military trainers deploy to foreign countries in an attempt to prevent future conflicts.
What this special cadre will be like, what it will actually accomplish, and if it is meaningful at all, i can't say. Most worrisome of all is the eventual impact that it will have on the force structure. I will restrain from expressing my opinion because it would not be polite.
I've seen figures as high as 3000 men quoted for this in earlier rumors.
My opinion will be even less polite about this if the Army loses the sixth armoured infantry battalion for its own training, or the brigade engineer regiment, or the Artillery while going on with this. Forward engagement MIGHT be good and MIGHT prove useful, but not if it costs THIS much.
I'd very much prefer these 3000-some men to be used to retain 5 additional Light Role battalions, to better cover the various tasks that the British Infantry has to face daily.
What, in the name of all is holy, is happening here?
Is the Telegraph wrong, at least on some accounts? What do the cuts announced by the Telegraph imply?
For example: the Royal Engineers have already undergone some changes. One regiment is going (that of 19 Light Brigade, 38th Regiment), two have been merged (25 Regiment Air Support is closing, its two field squadrons going to 39 Regiment) while other restructuring has already been planned and announced, but with 5 brigade-support regiments to stay, along with 2 General Support regiments and 39 Regt supporting the AAC and RAF deployments by taking care of aviation-related infrastructure. The Telegraph suggestion however paints a quite different picture, i fear, suggesting that additional cuts, very substantial, are on the way. I can't see the announced changes amounting to a 30% manpower cut, after all.
If there are to be 5 MRBs, each of them must have a strong engineer regiment to make military sense, full stop. Perhaps the two General Support regiments can be brought down to just one, with a Squadron lining the M3 amphibious rigs and one ideally keeping Talisman in Route Clearance troops, ready for future usage when the need for a similar system re-emerges (and it is likely to, at some point), but that is about the maximum cut i can envisage before things truly begin to erode away all the capability.
The Royal Signals, not mentioned in the Telegraph article, are losing 7th Regt and will see the 2nd Signals brigade closed down at the end of the Olympics, with its units to be restructured and redistributed to 1st and 11th Signal Brigades. They also have lost the Signal element that was assigned to 19 Light Brigade.
They are reportedly expanding 14th Regiment (Electronic Warfare) to an establishment of 750 men, but their trained strenght overall value is no doubt going down. Hard to guess by how much, though.
The Royal Artillery so far had planned for a rather nice future as part of FAS: more Fire Support Teams, less big guns (-35% in holdings of AS90 howitzers, 1 regiment of L118 Light Guns to disband - 40 Regiment, 19 Light Brigade), more drones and less howitzers, but still with GMLRS and 5 brigade Fires regiments, each with 2 AS90 batteries and 1 L118 battery. 40 Regiment is gone, but its trained Fire Support Teams have been re-assigned to other regiment's Tac Groups.
95 howitzers are left post SDSR, but the Telegraph now says:
The 15 Royal Artillery regiments will be reduced by a third to 5,000 troops, with almost its entire fleet of AS90 self-propelled guns being mothballed or held at “readiness” by territorial units.
How should we read this? As a complete fuck-up, or as an indication that, say, the regulars will man the L118 battery and 1 AS90 Battery in the regiment, with the other manned by Reserves?
Or are we going to see the first Army in history without artillery? Clowning around for everyone, ladies and gentlemen.
There is little to no room for regiment closures anymore:
5 Fires regiments for each MRB
1 Commando artillery Regt for 3rd Commando Brigade
1 PARA artillery Regt for 16 Air Assault
1 Training regt
1 GMLRS/Fire Shadow regt on five batteries
1 Surveillance and Target Acquisition Regt on 5 batteries
The above are, in my view, untouchable. A brigade without artillery is not a brigade, it is a joke that does not amuse. The other elements in the list are just as indispensable.
The room for change is limited: the current 2 regiments working to provide, together, 5 UAV batteries, could be brought down to a single Regt to save on overhead, but cutting on the number of batteries planned would be utterly stupid and damaging.
Air defence has been cut to the bone already. Either it is abandoned entirely, or Starstreak is retired closing 12 Regt, or 12 Regt is folded back into 16 Regt, in a single, large composite formation with Rapier and Starstreak.
But this last solution is unlikely to lower that much the manpower requirement.
Can the reserve take over the Air Defence role? I have my doubts. There is much that can go wrong with the reserves plan.
The armour front will perhaps save its regiments, but lose a lot of manpower.
ArmedForces.co.uk has removed the Type 58 regiment from the British Army armor section, but i believe the Type 44 regiment will not last either. I've long anticipated that Type 38 regiments might be the most the Army gets.
But for the Telegraph it could well be worse still. Regiments whole could vanish (wave a bye bye to the SDSR promise of tanks in each MRB, just to confirm once more how much value that cursed PDF has) and/or the tanks could be manned by, you guess it, reserves.
Will they ever be worked up to genuine readiness level, or will the British Army never be able to deploy a tank again?
Can i be blamed for saying that i'd be more confident in having the reserves put in roles less complex and specialistic, such as RLC truck drivers? Contractors and reserve personnel, i believe, have better chances of meeting the requirements currently faced by as many as 15 Regular RLC regiments than becoming the Army's go-to specialists for heavy armour and air defence. Besides, RLC regiments are among the largest of the Army formations, so there might be scope to save a lot of regulars by having as many RLC posts as reasonably possible taken up by deployable reserves and, where appropriate, by contractors.
Again, in the REME field, the UK might want to consider doing away with the Light Aid Detachment system, centralizing the resources that are currently dispersed into each and every battalion and regiment into Sustainment Battalions to assign to each MRB, on the model of what the US have done in their BCTs, perhaps achieving some efficiencies.
The American Army has removed its LAD-equivalent formation from its battalions, and given each BCT a Sustainment Battalion which combines Logistics and Repair/Maintenance services and comes structured in specialized Companies. Each Company is shaped around the need of a battalion, so there is a Forward Support Company structured to support Artillery, one equipped to deal with the needs of a Tank battalion, and so along.
Centralization should allow efficiencies, but i suspect that, of course, basing concerns are one of the points that go against application of this concept to the British Army, as the units of the same brigade end up spread over a wide area, with the problems that this involves.
We've known for a long time that reductions were on the way, but the picture painted by the Telegraph article is a lot worse than expected.
If the Telegraph is right, the overall good planning done this far is likely to have gone entirely to hell. The information that had come out of official sources this far had been overall reassuring. Reductions, of course, but none this catastrophic. There was, indeed, something to be glad for, with rational decisions being implemented: more EW, more Fire Support Teams, an Engineer force perfectly sized for the Brigades it was called to support, etcetera.
The Telegraph instead puts forwards a picture of near doom, as the numbers it reports are likely to imply further reductions in regiments and capabilities.
It took me the night to get over the shock of reading the article and think straight again. But the more i look into the article's figures, the more i ask myself what the fuck is being done?