The Internation Institute for Strategic Studies writes about the British Army structure under the Army 2020 restructuring and helps adding some more clarity on a few points. Their report is to be trusted, because they have been holding several meetings with figures such as general Carter, the architect of Army 2020, general Peter Wall, Chief General Staff, and Major-General Kevin Abraham, Director General, Army Reform. The IISS is among the most well informed about Army 2020. Videos of the meetings with Carter, Wall and Abraham have been made available, and i've linked them inside previous articles on Army 2020.
Their review of Army 2020 is, as a consequence, to be considered extremely reliable.
The article confirms what has been reported about the brigades mechanism, in which 3 of the 7 "Adaptable" brigades are intended to be 'privileged' and kept up in strenght, readiness and composition, as they are intended to combine to deliver 2 deployable brigades, to achieve the total of 5 (with the 3 Reaction armoured infantry brigades) deployable brigades necessary to support an enduring operation abroad.
These three brigades will be based one in Scotland, one in the Catterick area and one in and around Cottersmore (now Kendrew Barracks).
The other four adaptable brigades will
[...] will be held at a lower state of readiness. New thinking suggests that the Adaptable Force could be used as a primary tool for UK military assistance and training to other countries. Its units are likely to be aligned to particular regions of the world, such as the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia, to establish closer links and develop broader understanding and language skills. The adaptable force will also be the primary source of support to the UK civil authorities.
There is a passage in the report that does bring up questions, which is the following:
The overall size of the regular army will fall from 142 to 119 units, a reduction of 17%. The number of brigade headquarters will fall from 27 to 18. Four out of 36 infantry battalions are being disbanded. Two armoured regiments will merge and another will be disbanded. The number of regular artillery, engineer and logistics units will fall by 14%, 27% and 33% respectively.
As we know, a fifth battalion of infantry is not being disbanded (on paper) but will effectively cease to matter as a fighting unit as the 5th SCOTS are being reduced to a public duty company only.
The IISS, conversely, considers one of the two merges in the Royal Armoured Corps not as a merge but as the disbanding of one regiment. Presumably, they are thinking of 1st Royal Tank Regiment, which is formally to merge with 2nd Royal Tank, but is more than likely to pretty much vanish, as only A sqn has tanks, while the others have been left without a clear role when the Fuchs CBRN recce vehicle was retired and the CBRN role was given wholly to the RAF Regiment.
The truly controversial point in the passage is the "27 to 18" brigade HQs part. This figure is in conflict with the stated targets of Army 2020: the brochure released by the MOD is very clear about the number of 1-star (brigade level) HQs.
3 Armoured Infantry Brigades
1 Air Assault Brigade
7 Adaptable Infantry brigades
2 Logistic brigades (101 and 102)
1 Logistic Support brigade (104)
1 Artillery brigade
1 Intelligence and Surveillance brigade
2 Signal brigades
1 Medical brigade
1 Engineer brigade
In addition, the Military Police is commanded by a Brigadier and is indicated as grouped under a 1-star HQ. That gives a total of 21 brigade-level HQs.
|There are 21 1-star HQs according to the MOD|
As i said, the IISS has been speaking with very high level figures in the Army, so we have to assume they know what they are writing. But the difference here is very evident: there's three 1-star HQs missing from the IISS number, with no clarity on how this comes into being. In the article, they confirm the number of frontline brigades, mention the 2 deployable logistic brigades and most of the elements of the Force Troops, so it's hard to even guess which HQs are missing. Unless they are counting only 1 Signal Brigade, they effectively mention 19 of the HQs while putting that 18 figure that just doesn't fit.
This one point is tricky.
Moving on, an important passage seems to prove me right on the composition of the Intelligence and Surveillance Brigade:
Previously disparate surveillance, drone and intelligence units will be grouped into a single new intelligence and surveillance brigade.
This would suggest that 5th Regiment Royal Artillery and the UAV regiments 32 and 47 will transfer under the command of the "new" brigade (which actually is an evolution and replacement of the current non-deployable 1st Military Intelligence brigade HQ).
On the Royal Signals front, the IISS reports:
Signals units will be redesigned to deliver network and broadband access to battlefield units in new ways through deployed 'points of presence'.
As i had already explained in detail, the Signals will restructure to provide 5 "theatre" regiments, each capable to support a brigade-sized deployment providing network, close support communications and information services. The NAO Major Projects report provides an indirect confirmation of this, as it specifies how the Army has decided that the FALCON system will now be distributed to the various regiments, instead of being centralized in just two formations (30 and 22 regiments).
On the two specialist, high readiness brigades, 16 Air Assault and 3 Commando, the IISS reports:
[...] 16 Air Assault Brigade, which will retain a unique mixture of parachute battalions and Apache attack helicopters, although its ground element is set to get smaller, as will the army's contribution to the Royal Navy's amphibious force, 3 Commando Brigade.
16 Air Assault Brigade seems destined to see its ground element reduced to the two regular PARA battalions plus 4 PARA, the reserve battalion. Unfortunately, the number of Apache squadrons is also at risk, it has been reported, with the possibility of dropping from 6 to 4 deployable sqns.
As for 3rd Commando, reductions include the reversion of 24 Engineer Regiment to the sole 59 Independent Commando Sqn and reductions still not clearly set out to 29 Commando Royal Artillery. I also expect 1st RIFLES battalion to move out of the Commando brigade.
IISS also confirms that the infantry battalions (and the cavalry regiments too, i'll add) in the Adaptable Force will be deliberately undersized:
For example, strengths of regular infantry battalions in the Adaptable Force are being reduced on the assumption that they would be joined by reinforcements from their partnered TA battalion when mobilised for operations.
The IISS does not expand on the extent of the reduction, but reportedly we are talking of one platoon removed from each of the three Rifle Companies. The official figures for the total establishment of the army formations by type are as follows:
Armoured Infantry Battalions (6x): 729 men
Heavy Protected Mobility - Mechanized Infantry (3x): 709 men
Light Protected Mobility (6x): 581 men
Light Role Infantry (14x): 561 men
Gurkha (2x): 567
PARA (2x plus 1 PARA which however is likely to be a completely different matter): 660 men
Type 56 tank regiment (x3): 587
FRES SV-mounted Recce regiment: 528
Jackal-mounted Light Cavalry regiment: 404
Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment: 341
For the Royal Engineers, the relevant passage says:
The army's hard-won expertise in countering improvised explosive devices is to be merged into a single group of engineer search teams, bomb-disposal operators and search dogs.
Four High Assurance Search squadrons are to be part of the Reserves' contribution to the Royal Engineers, it has been revealed, but exactly how the already existing 29 EOD & Search Group will change has not yet been disclosed in detail.
On the Royal Artillery front, the IISS reports:
The Afghan war saw British troops making extensive use of close air support. So numbers of tactical air-control parties, which act as the essential interface between ground troops and attack aircraft, were increased accordingly. These are set to be retained at their current level. Army air-defence units are to fall under the operational command of the Royal Air Force.
The retention of JTACs (indeed, of the whole Fire Support Teams, able to direct any supporting fire from that of mortars up to air attacks) is important and welcome. For what has emerged so far, the idea is to have a battery of FSTs into each artillery regiment.
Hard to say how exactly the Ground Based Air Defence HQ, which is already a Joint structure bringing together Army and RAF, will change as the RAF takes operational command. 12 Regiment Royal Artillery, which used to be outside the control of JGBAD and under the direct command of 1st Division will now join 16 Regiment RA and the supporting 106 (Volunteer) Regiment inside the air defence formation.
On the Artillery front, and returning for a moment to the problem of the number of brigade HQs, i want to express my thought that the need for a separate Artillery brigade has in my opinion ceased to exist with Army 2020. If, as it seems, 5th Regiment and the UAV force are moving to the Surveillance brigade and considering that the only depth fire regiment in the Army (39 RA) is being disbanded, i don't see why a separate 1-star HQ would have to continue existing.
The IISS notes:
Close support communications, engineers and artillery were previously part of the armoured and mechanised brigades. But, driven by the need to partner both regular and reserve units, and to make the most cost-effective use of equipment, the majority of support units are to be centralised in specialist brigades.
And the centralisation of most combat support may make it more difficult to bring all combat and supporting arms together for all-arms training, an activity that has been essential preparation for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We are going towards a Royal Artillery which lines 5 regular regiments (excluding those assigned to PARA and Commandos, which are a different subject) of which 3 are going to each have:
1 GMLRS Battery (coming from the disbanded 39 Regiment.)
2 AS90 Battery
1 TAC Gp Battery (Fire Support Teams)
The composition gives away the fact that these regiments are destined to the 3 Reaction, armoured brigades. It is evident beyond any possibility of error. It has also already been made clear that these three regiments (1 RHA, 19 RA and 26 RA) will be based in the Salisbury Plain area (indeed, with the exception of 26 RA which is currently in Germany, the other two are already based in Tidworth).
The other two regular regiments are just as clearly destined to be the artillery element of the two deployable brigades to be formed from the three main Adaptable Brigades.
They are going to have:
2 L118 Light Gun batteries
1 TAC Gp Battery (Fire Support Teams)
In terms of basing, 4th Regiment should not move from its current home at Topcliff, which is right in the Catterick area, home to one of the famous 3 brigades.
The second regiment, 3 RHA, on return from Germany has been rumored to be heading for Albemarle Barracks, Newcastle, current home to the disbanding 39 RA. This is an acceptable basing solution for the regiment to be close enough to the Scotland-based brigade.
In alternative, 3 RHA could inherit St George's Barracks in North Luffenham [current home to 16 Regiment: the rumor is that 47 Regiment will move out of Thorney Island to reach 32 Regiment in Larkhill, to centralize the UAV force. 16 Regiment RA would then move to Thorney Island, where it would join 12 Regiment, centralizing Air Defence.] and be well positioned to be part of the Cottersmore-centered brigade.
In short, i don't see why the Artillery regiments have to be pulled out of brigades and "centralised" (in terms of command, but not physically) when they can be based exactly in the right areas to be part of the relevant brigades. It's simpler to just assign the regiments to the relevant brigades and, in future, was it to be necessary, deploy a regiment under a different brigade HQ. It has been done for years, and it can continue.
Much the same reasoning could be made regarding regular Engineer regiments, as well, with two of the intended "Heavy" regiments already well placed to support the Reaction Brigades in the Salisbury area, with the ambition to move a third in.
21 Royal Engineers, which is one of two regiments due to become "Adaptable" (read: reduce to just 2 squadrons, get light) is already well placed (Ripon) to be part of the Catterick-centered Adaptable brigade.
Anyway, if the basing review of the government gets delayed again, i might be in time to write about my own personal basing review proposal in greater detail, so i'll stop here for the moment.
Strategic Sealift downsized
A written answer from Mr Dunne on Friday 25 January 2013 seems to reveal that the UK has no longer assured access to the full fleet of 6 invaluable Point class RoRo transports.
Procured with a PFI approach, the Point RoRo were delivered 18 months early and on budget, just in time for the first four vessels to be used to ship heavy equipment for Operation Telic in 2003. Alone, four Point ships carried 11% of the equipment employed by the UK for the war.
4 Point class ships are permanently available to the MOD and crewed by british personnel, while two more used to be employed on the civil market, while being at 20 days notice (the first) and 30 days notice (the second) to move to serve the UK's military needs.
Dunne's answer suggests that the 2 "on call" Point ships have been dropped out of the contract, following a (demented) decision made in 2011:
The review of the Ministry of Defence's (MOD) strategic sealift requirement, conducted in 2011, concluded that for the movement of cargo by sea, strategic support is primarily provided through the private finance initiative (PFI) strategic sealift service, and that better value for money would be achieved if the number of vessels contracted as part of this PFI was reduced from six to four. The PFI strategic sealift service now comprises four British flagged roll-on/roll-off vessels used for MOD business, manned by British mercantile marine officers and crews. If required, additional sealift capacity is chartered by means of competitive tenders.
The better one system works, the more likely is that the MOD will cut it, it seems at times.