It should be clear to everyone that we are far from having a clear picture of the true, full damage done by the "innovative" Army 2020 plan. The newspapers and public have been blinded by the evergreen issue of capbadges, historic regiments and other relatively meaningless issues, while a lot of true problems have gone unnoticed, and many more are still kept under wrap by the Army.
For example, the Army 2020 brochure didn't make much of an effort to explain how 14 Signals Regiment (Electronic Warfare) is losing a Squadron, down to 4, after standing up its 5th Squadron (needed to sustain enduring deployments abroad) literally only months ago, in June.
Again, the Army did not tell the public that all Light Role infantry battalions are seeing their Establishment much reduced, with the consequence, reportedly, that each Company in the Battalions will lose a Platoon. Formally, as the brochure says, the Battalions will still have 3 Rifle Companies and 1 Maneuver Support Company, but in reality they will lose the equivalent strenght of a Rifle Company by reducing Platoons from 3 per Coy to 2 per Coy.
Rumors (that i'm unable to confirm at the stage, however) say that the "largely unchanged" attack helicopter structure in the Army 2020 brochure actually means losing a Squadron of Apache helicopters (from 6 to 5) and seeing the Regimental HQs of 3rd and 4th Regiment AAC merge.
Again, the brochure will not be saying a false thing: there will be two Attack Helicopter regiments, formally, but the reality will be a lot more depressing if the voices are right.
See what the Army is doing...?
Again, few (me and...? Someone else?) reported that the Royal Signals are losing few regiments, but many Squadrons, with each Signal Squadron at brigade level being withdrawn, save for the Signal element of 16 Air Assault Brigade. It is possible that some squadrons will continue to live, as part of the restructured 5 Multi-Role Signal Regiments, which are merely the final evolution of 5 regiments already existing and already "multi-role" due to their focus on supporting, rotating in and out of theatre, the Afghan effort. But while it is possible, it is likely that most Squadrons will simply be lost.
Same goes for the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, largely: several Batteries and Squadrons will go, probably in the silence, because the focus is on "the historic regiment".
Lately, i've been following the still evolving situation of the supporting elements for 3rd Commando Brigade. As most readers will know, 3rd Commando is a Navy formation, largely composed of Royal Marines, in 30 IX, 40, 42 and 45 Commando battalions, plus the Commando Logistics Regiment.
However, the Brigade gets its Artillery and Engineer support from the Army, along with a fourth maneuver unit, the 1st Battalion The Rifles.
An example of successful joint work...? On the field, yes, behind the desks, no.
In 2008, to better face complex deployments in Afghanistan, 3rd Commando Brigade was given a major boost with the formation of the 24 Commando Engineer Regiment, meant to expand the engineer element of the brigade from an Independent Squadron (plus TA Squadron) to a Regiment with 2 Squadrons and HQ Squadron.
The force would expand from the sole 59 Commando Sqn to a Regiment comprising 56 Sqn, 59 Sqn and 24 HQ Sqn.
It was a welcome development, and an answer to real and obvious needs. Still, it did not deliver. 24 HQ Sqn stood up, but 56 Sqn ultimately never was.
And in the Army 2020 restructuring, all ambitions of going ahead with the Regiment were quickly abandoned, with the plan being that 24 Commando will revert to the sole 59 Commando Sqn.
This was a bad enough news on its own. A single regular squadron is insufficient to provide adequate support to a Brigade, and it is whoefully insufficient to provide a credible engineer element to the Commando Battlegroup at readiness, as for SDSR promise.
3rd Commando Brigade is now supposed to generate 1800-strong "Battlegroups" at readiness, centered on a Commando Battalion with support from the Commando Logistic Regiment, support from 29 Commando Royal Artillery (one Gun battery and observation posts, in line of principle), support from Commando Engineers and from 30 Commando IX and other formations and Corps as needed.
There are 3 Commando Battalions that rotate in and out of readiness, and the Commando Logistic Regiment is large enough to provide a Task Group to each Battlegroup at readiness. Similary, 29 Commando Royal Artillery has 3 Gun Batteries, so that it can rotate one at a time in readiness.
But it is evident that a single Squadron of engineers can only rotate its Platoons, at most, and a Platoon of engineers is little support for a 1800-strong battlegroup.
Now it is emerging that next in the line of fire is 29 Commando Royal Artillery, which is facing calls for a reduction of up to 30%, with the probable loss of one Gun Battery.
A Message from the Commanding Officer to the Soldiers, Officers and Families of 29 Commando Regiment.
You will have heard in the news late last week that the Secretary of State for Defence has announced the results of a major restructuring plan for the British Army. This will entail some significant changes and affects every Army unit, including those, like 29 Commando, which supports the other Services. The fundamental aim is to reduce the whole Army strength to 82,000, in line with the announcements last year by his predecessor that we would draw down from out present size of 102,000 (therefore a 20% reduction).
The headline is that these changes will affect us - the Army can't shrink by 20% without everyone getting smaller and leaner. Actually, 29 Cdo could end up being approximately 30% smaller. Quite how the changes will affect our structure is not yet confirmed but there will no doubt be changes to our footprint and our basing; getting smaller will allow us to consolidate better. Although there will be no immediate changes (we are told that nothing will happen before April 2013), I would suggest that we will have morphed into our new structure by the end of 2015 or 16.
Presently we are undermanned by some 20%, especially in the junior ranks. So, we can absorb much of the change without actual loss of manpower but I can't promise that there will not be further redundancies, particularly for more senior ranks. Phase 3 of the existing redundancy programme is now being worked up and there may be subsequent phases too. This may present some individuals with an opportunity. But, importantly, it means uncertainty for many, which is deeply regrettable. My intent is to support all our soldiers, officers and families through this extended period of turbulence.
Never forget that the commando seeks to identify and exploit advantage and opportunity in everything, regardless of how grim the situation might appear. We must not let this distarct us from our operational readiness and we must continue to support the Brigade at all times. Let us stay together - as one; the last remaining Army Commando Regiment - and step forward with purpose to build something that may be smaller but must be stronger.
Lt Colonel E Dawes RA
Fortunately, the loss of one Gun Battery is on the cards, but not set in stone, with time still there to battle such a prospect. Losing one Gun Battery would further dilute the firepower and effectiveness of 3rd Commando as a Brigade, and it would make it far harder, if not impossible, to deliver support to each Battlegroup at readiness, considering that the Army's Force Generation cycle is going to have 3 phases spread over 36 months, with only the last 12 spent "at readiness".
We should also consider that the Commando battlegroup is supposed to be at High Readiness, and at Very High Readiness when embarked and out at sea (for a scenario such as last year's Cougar exercise, which became a war operation due to the events in Libya), so that arguably even 3 batteries might not be quite enough. Certainly not two.
And it does not end here, because it appears that the Army wants to ditch 148 "Meiktila" Royal Artillery Battery as well. This unique formation provides 8 Fire Support Teams capable to direct all kinds of supporting artillery fire (from mortars to naval guns) and call in air support from helicopters and aircrafts. A couple of the teams also have additional, specialized training for underwater insertion from submarines, including via Chalfont (UK's name for the US Swimmers Delivery System: the Royal Navy has 3 such systems, purchased for the Special Boat Service, and the SDS can be fitted to any of the Astute submarines. The Trafalgar class submarines cannot employ it: this capability has been gapped for several years now, from when last SDS-compatible submarine, HMS Spartan, was decommissioned).
These highly trained Fire Support Teams are a precious national resource, not just a critical enabler element for 3rd Commando Brigade. Yet their future is in serious doubt.
Currently, the Royal Navy and the Army are battling for the future of 148 Bty and 29 Commando Royal Artillery. To put it simply, the Royal Navy is not amused by the moves made by Army 2020. The commanding officers of 3rd Commando Brigade are even less amused, and they rightfully are trying to get people to listen and realize that capabilities such as 148 Bty are critical for the future.
The Army seems to be saying that, if the Marines want certain capabilities, it is the Navy that has to supply and pay for them. If it does not, Reaction-role or not, 3rd Commando's army elements will be the first in line for cuts.
The Royal Marines in the past have already lost their wider area air defence in 2004, when 20 Bty Royal Artillery (with the Rapier missile) ceased to be a "Commando" unit.
Luckily, capabilities such as Electronic Warfare, communications, Very Short Range Air Defence (vSHORAD), medical support and logistics are owned directly by the Marines respectively in 30 IX Commando and in the Commando Logistics Regiment, otherwise they would have probably been lost or put at risk at one point or another.
It is sad and actually worrisome to note, but "jointery" has largely failed in the UK, at the top-brass level. The Joint Force Harrier being the greatest example of failure, with the RAF eager to always cut back on Harrier numbers first, doing all it could to save Tornado.
Already in 2008, the First Sea Lord had to threaten resignation to stop the RAF from retiring the Harrier from service, leaving the Royal Navy without any fixed wing air element. Unfortunately, as we know, the First Sea Lord only managed to buy some time.
The Nimrod, while formally not a joint force element, was crucial to the Navy's operations more than to RAF's tasks, and, unsurprisingly i'll dare saying, it was again offered for the chop.
Sentinel R1, flown by an "Army Cooperation" squadron with a big component of Army personnel in its ranks, was also put into the killing line with the infamous announcement that it would be scrapped at the end of Afghan operations. Casually, up to the SDSR it had been a system crucial to Army operations, but not very useful to the RAF... and, again casually, the RAF's attitude towards Sentinel changed radically after the airplane was used to detect targets for air strikes in Libya.
And now the Army is being especially nice to 16 Air Assault brigade (preserving its Signals, Engineer, Medical, Police and Logistic elements) while simultaneously putting forwards heavy cuts to the supporting elements of the other Reaction Brigade.
Because "the other" is not Army's business.
The last ten years have been dense of lessons, particularly for the Royal Navy: facts have shown that the Senior Service cannot trust anyone around capabilities that are critical for its operational effectiveness. Harrier is gone, Nimrod is gone, and 3rd Commando Brigade is under attack.
The future of the Naval Aviation with the F35B is still more of a question mark than a plan, and the Commando Helicopter Force is (barely) getting on to the Merlin HC3, with the RAF said to be still resisting the move, with a "Joint Force Merlin" having been proposed.
Gods, please NO.
The Royal Navy is learning about the failure of Joint Thinking in the UK's armed forces plagued by insufficient funding. In this climate, it does not surprise me to read that the Royal Navy is trying to go at it alone with a programme for a new Maritime Patrol Aircraft, to be controlled by the Fleet Air Arm. There is no problem at the soldier-level: RAF and RN personnel will collaborate to great results, i'm sure. But it is essential for the Navy to be in charge of all what is crucial to its future, because the last decade makes it real hard to believe in any form of real collaboration.
That's why a team directed by Commodore Simon Kings and made up of naval officers is working to try and ensure that a new MPA solution, Navy-owned, is pursued in the SDSR of 2015.
The issue, as always, will be the budget.
And now, unfortunately, the Navy is faced with another challenge: saving the support elements of 3rd Commando Brigade.
For now it is a political battle, but the only real chance the Royal Navy has to change things is to complete its control over the Commando brigade, taking over the funding and control of the Artillery and Engineer element, saving the first from the cuts and expanding the second. The men would still be trained alongside their Army comrades, but it is essential that the Navy pays and decides.
Not just Type 26s, in other words: one of the most important operational outputs of the Royal Navy, 3rd Commando Brigade, needs saving and improvement.
It is both a curse and a blessing: 3rd Commando Brigade is important. It delivers. It can ensure the Navy political weight like few other things ever could. Taking control of all its elements, making it even more effective, is only going to help the Royal Navy.
And the nation.