The Ministry of Defence has launched yesterday the Consultation on the future of the armed forces reserves, aiming to collect the information needed to prepare a Report for publishing in Spring 2013. The target is to deliver the Whole Force concept, integrating Regulars and Reserves in a responsive, modern force. It is not an easy target. Much could go wrong. But i was pleased to see clarity of thought in the consultation paper, which is, at least, promising.
The Reserves are to be significantly grown in number and, even more complex, in trained strenght. The figures provided are particularly interesting and telling:
Maritime Reserves (Navy and Marines)
From 2526 All-Ranks now, the reserve is meant to expand to 4150 by 2020, with a trained strenght of 3100.
Royal Auxiliary Air Force
From 1335 All-Ranks now, to 2300 by 2020, 1800 of which trained.
From 25.430 now, to 38.000 by 2020, with a Phase 2 Trained Strenght of 30.000.
The expansion of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force includes the standing up of 5 new Squadrons:
No 502(Ulster) Squadron at JHC Station Aldergrove;
611(West Lancashire) Squadron in Liverpool
614(West Glamorgan) Squadron in South Wales, most likely at RAF St Athan.
These squadrons will be general service support squadrons representing various trades and branches from within the RAF.
At RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, 2624(County of Oxford) Squadron will re-form in the force protection role and 622 Squadron will stand-up as the Reserve unit for aircrew augmenting the RAF’s air mobility force.
It must be noted, however, that the RAF anticipates the disbandment of a couple of Field Squadrons from the RAF Regiment (from 8 to 6) after Afghanistan operations will be over, and this change might be accompanied by a reorganization of the Reserve Force Protection squadrons as well.
The most crucial and challenging development is that of the Territorial Army, which will see a lot of changes. It is indeed proposed that even its name will change, to Army Reserve, as "Territorial" is seen as a limiting, unfair description for a force destined to much more frequently train and operate abroad.
It is expected that the force structure and basing of the Reserves will change, as much as possible within a budget that remains tight, to enable the desidered "pairing" of regular and reserve formations, which will be crucial to the future of the Army.
In this sense, Philip Hammond said he hopes to deliver to the House the report on the full plan for the basing of the Regulars (a chapter of Army 2020 that has been left quite up into the air in the previous announcements) before Christmas, so that work can then start on the plan for the Reserves, with the hope of concluding the process in time for the Reserves Report publication in Spring 2013.
The Basing Plan, if delivered in one single go, will not be just about the Army, either, as there are still question marks over the future of RAF aircraft fleets and related bases. We might see confirmed the selection of Marham as future Main Operating Base for the F35 fleet, for example, and there have been rumors of a possible rethink about the transfer of Typhoon from Leuchars to Lossiemouth, especially if the Typhoon Tranche 1 fleet is retained and a 7-squadron force is adopted.
As part of the modernization of the Army reserves, the TA is being given more up-to-date equipment to train and operate with. Since last October (and out to December 2013), the Yeomanry regiments are being given a first tranche of 80 Land Rover RWIMIK. In fact, as you will remember from the Army 2020 plan, 3 of four Yeomanry regiments of the reserve are to become Light Cavalry formations, with the 4th regiment in Tank Crew Replacement role, supporting the Challenger II fleet.
Some 800 Land Rover Wolf and 900 MAN SV trucks of all types are being passed to the Reserves, with deliveries completed by December 2012 and March 2013 respectively.
By March 2013 the Reserves will be fully issued with the new MTP clothing and uniforms, and they will also be assigned stocks of Dismounted Close Combat equipment, including FIST STA weapon sights, night vision googles, body armour and other kit.
This is part of a 1.2 billion investment, including a first allocation of four million pounds for improving a selected net of Army Reserve Centres by April 2013.
Crucially, Oversea Training Exercises (OTX) have returned, with several having already taken place, such as Ex Roman Star, in Italy.
The Reserves Consultation Paper says that mandated training periods for the reserves will change for the TA, with an additional 5 days per year (from 35 to 40), following completition of initial training. 16 of these 40 days are delivered as a continuous period of training, while the others are delivered through weekend and evening training sessions, to minimise the burden on employers.
The Royal Navy Reserves are expected to continue with their 25 days training requirement, with 35 days for Marines Reserves and for Royal Auxiliary Air Force personnel.
Naval Reserves are quite frequently called into action as of now. The Maritime Reserve is, indeed, highlighted as example of integration, being considerably ahead of its counterparts.
Indicatively, Maritime Reservists can expect a minimum notice of 28 days when called out for a contingency operation, and a 60 days notice when they are called up for routine deployments.
Indicatively, they will be expected to have one 6-month long deployment every 5 years.
RAuxAF personnel could be called into action for up to six months every 3 years, but normally they are employed for much shorter periods, the report says.
The Army Reserves's deployment cycle will be particularly crucial, as it will be indispensable to use large numbers of Reserves to sustain future enduring operations. The report acknowledges that from a 10 to 15% share of Reservists in a brigade-sized deployment abroad, the Army will move to a 40% share of Reserves by the time of the 4th and 5th Brigade tournations in theatre.
To sustain this, it is envisaged that, one year every five, an Army reservist will be at a minimum readiness level of 3 months notice. Of these three months, up to 8 weeks could be taken up by pre-deployment training, so the effective notice might be as little as a month. A 6-month deployment would follow.
In practice, an Army reservist could expect to be mobilised for up to 1 year every five, with the 12 months including the pre-deployment training, the tour itself and a period of rest and recovery afterwards.
This 5-year availability cycle will cohexist with the Army's three year training and readiness cycle, as described in the Consultation Paper.
In Year 1 of this training cycle, a Reserve battalion will conduct a basic level of training, to get its soldiers used to working as a team under pressure. The training will culminate in a 16-day exercise held in the UK, where the soldiers will practice their individual skills and their ability to work together. This is mandated training and must be attended by the reservists. It will be planned well in advance and every effort will be made to stage it outside normal working hours to help reservists and employers absorb the impact.
Year 2, Platoon-level training will take place during weekend field exercises, some of which will involve working with regular soldiers. The year will see a large 16-days long oversea training exercise, possibly to Kenya, certainly along with the Paired Regular formation accompanying.
In Year 3, the reserve battalion might be asked to deploy on operations, possibly fielding formed
sub-units alongside the regular counterparts.
The pairing of Regular and Reserve battalions presents geographic challenges, hopefully to be tackled by the Basing reviews, but it might also mean that additional Reserve formations will be created, depending on how exactly the pairing will work. An interesting point was made in Parliament about the possibility of tapping into the large number of willing Gurkhas that would gladly join: Hammond said that he's not currently aware of a plan for a Reserve Gurkha battalion.
I, however, think it is actually a good idea, at least because Gurkhas willing to join are numerous, and it would be a good way to help with reaching the challenging manning targets.
Hammond however hints that Logistic, REME and Engineer reserve formations will get the most attention, saying that the army took a "deliberate decision has been taken to reduce manpower disproportionately in logistics, engineers and REME, which will require a disproportionate growth in the reserve strength in those three areas."
A previous Reserves paper also highlighted Light Gun artillery as a field good for increased use of Reservists.
There has also been talk about a new Army Air Corps reserve squadron, 666 Sqn, to stand up as a Wildcat reserve formation at Yeovilton as part of 6 Regiment.
We will see how the plan will or will not follow these indications.
the autumn issue of ARQ, the british army reserves magazine, includes a page spelling out the roles currently envisaged for the Reserve units in the new, integrated force.
It is not clear how "definitive" this is, but it is interesting to see it nonetheless. Contrarily to earlier indications, the number of Light Gun artillery regiments is seen decreasing (from 3 to 2), while the GMLRS and STA components are seen growing, from 2 batteries of each specialty in the same regiments (101(V) Regt) to two separate regiments, one with GMLRS and one in the Surveillance and Target Acquisition role.
Anyway, here is the graphic as appeared on ARQ:
|The ARQ page|
The Infantry is not seen changing, and i am a bit surprised by this, as in my opinion there is not enough battalions at the moment to enable proper "pairing". One battalion is seen in Air Assault role, and i think it will be 4 PARA, which has already been assigned to the Joint Helicopter Command.
2nd Royal Irish regiment was also moved under JHC control, but probably this second move is going to be reversed and the Royal Irish involvment in 16AA brigade will end.
The remaining 13 infantry battalions will have to be paired with, according to the Army 2020 document, up to 20 regular battalions (14 Light Role plus 6 Light Mechanized formations on Foxhound vehicles). Even if the 2 Gurkha battalions will have no reserve counterpart, the Reserve battalions look too few at the moment.
The Armour component also presents no surprises, sticking to what was announced by Army 2020: 3 Light Cavalry/RECCE regiments and one Tank Crew replacement regiment.
The Army Air Corps reserve component is also seen staying formed by one Regiment, the 6th, and there is no way for now to know if the additional Squadron will be there or not.
The Royal Artillery component, as noted earlier, is going to change.
The single Close Air Defence regiment (106(V) Regt, i don't think it'll change) will remain, but for what i've heard it will lose the Rapier component and only work with Starstreak.
The current 3 Light Gun regiments (100, 103, 105) will become only 2 despite earlier indications suggesting a growth.
101(V) Regiment will have one of its two roles assigned to another formation. It currently has 2x STA batteries and 2x MLRS battery, while under Army 2020 there will be 1x MLRS Regiment and 1x STA regiment. Probably the second regiment will be the missing Light Gun formation, re-roled.
The UAV regiment is staying. Even if ARQ doesn't say it, i'd assume there will be no change, and it'll be 104(V), as now.
In support of my expectations, i can report that 101, 104 and 106 regiments were moved under Theatre Troops in the past months.
The Royal Engineers reserves will provide 4 Close Support Squadrons, 3 Force Support Regiments, 4 Search Squadrons, 1 Works Group, 1 Geographic Squadron and 3 Specialist Team Royal Engineers.
The identity of two of the Force Support regiments is already pretty much certain: 71 and 73 Regiment have been moved in recent times under Theatre Troops.
The 4 Search Squadrons shoud be part of the "integrated" 101 and 33 EOD Regiments. I think there are only 3 reserve squadrons in the two regiments as of now, so there will be a growth here.
The 4 Close Support Squadrons should include 131 Indipendent Commando Squadron, perhaps 591 Indipendent Squadron, which is the only RE unit left in Northern Ireland, and 299 Squadron (Parachute). The other squadron will probably be the remaining part of a Regiment that will be lost, as the royal engineers reserve currently also lines the regiments 72, 75 and Royal Monmoutshire. For what we can understand from ARQ's presentation, it is likely that only one of these three regiments will survive, as the third Force Support regiment. There is no mention of other regiments, so that would imply the disbandment of two remaining formations. The Royal Monmoutshire identity is likely to be protected somehow, basing my reasoning on seniority.
The situation here is a bit murky still. It seems, however, that even in times of growth for the Reserves, there will be formations lost.
The Royal Signals will apparently lose a regiment as well, from 5 down to 4. I suppose, but cannot be sure for now, that the 3 squadrons remaining will be the same as now, with 43 Sqn specialized in aviation support, 81 Sqn in telecommunications support and 63 Sqn in support to SAS operations.
The Royal Logistic Corps are listed with 5x Transport Regiments (down from 9, a loss of 4!), 2x Supply Regiments (same), 1x Postal and Courier and Movement Regiment (apparently the result of merging the roles of the current 88 (P&C) and 162 (Movement Control) Regiments), 1x Fuel Support Regiment (a new creation which will probably include the current 383 Commando Petroleum Troop), 1x Port and Maritime Regiment (same) and 1x Catering Support Regiment (same).
Judging from the ARQ overview, the RLC reserve component is due to take a tremendous blow, regardless of the manning increase for the reserve. There is also no mention in ARQ of the single Pioneer Regiment, and since the only regular unit in the same role has been closed with the specialty no longer deemed necessary, i suspect its reserve will follow and be disbanded.
A loss of 5 regiments, it would appear.
In the medical field, ARQ reports: 1x Air Assault Medical Squadron (same), 4 Medical Squadrons in the Adaptive Force (1 should be new, while 3 squadrons are already part of the regular Medical Regiments), 10 Field Hospitals (same), 1 Hospital Support Regiment (same), 3 Medical Regiments (same) and 1 MEDEVAC Group (currently is a regiment, how will the change work?).
The REME component shows a total of 6 Force Support battalions (a growth of 2, but inclusive of 101 Battalion which is to lose its current regular component and pass wholly to the reserve).
The Royal Military Police component seems set to lose a Company: from 4 plus the Special Investigations company to 3 plus special.
Two Reserve Military Working Dog Squadrons are to be formed (unless it is two of the five regular squadrons that get transfered to the reserves...).
And the Military Intelligence battalions are to grow from 2 to 4, with a Specialist Military Intelligence Company in addition.
In general, it is not so much of an exciting plan. Looking at it and at the current force structure, you wouldn't exactly tell that the force is expanding.
Coupled with the fact that the ambitions in terms of trained strenght are very high, i'm more than a bit worried in front of this plan. I'll be looking forwards to the release of more details. And honestly, i expect some changes to the above scenario, personally.
It will be crucial to get this ample program of changes to the Reserves right. I will continue to follow with attention the developments.