My planning has been done building on a number of firm points:
Army 2020 is not just about manpower. It is about training and basing infrastructure as well. If i suggest a whole different army structure, like the original plan for five multirole brigades each comprising heavy armor, i must plan for fewer battalions, because i'll need to move money out from the personnel budget to spend it on infrastructure to prepare other bases around the country for the arrival of heavy armor. New training areas will be needed, and this will imply big expenditure.
I'm sticking to the basing plan released by the MOD as much as possible. I think the basing of the army brigades and units is one of very few things that have been done with real wisdom in these three years. Mind you, there are still challenges, but it is a very good basing layout overall.
Moreover, it reprensent a financially realistic plan. I could suggest different choices, but i could not realistically cost them and say that they would be achievable with the same budget.
I'm not going back to the multi-role brigades because they imply some real challenge in terms of training areas and infrastructure. It is a wise thing, overall, to have the "peacetime" brigades divided by role and by geographic considerations. Salisbury Plain is the right place for the heavy armour. Complementary capabilities, lighter in nature, will come from other brigades.
The above points explain what i'm not changing. But there are other considerations that have made me take several choices different from the ones made by general Carter's team.
The UK's first line of defence is represented by the two high readiness brigades: 3rd Commando and 16 Air Assault. These two brigades are planned to sustain a very challenging rhythm, generating, constantly, battlegroups to keep at very high readiness: the 1800-strong Commando Lead Battlegroup and the 1300-strong Air Assault Lead Battlegroup. This is an Army 2020 / SDSR firm point, which has been, in my opinion, badly betrayed by the choices made in terms of force structure.
I'm fine with the removal of 1st RIFLES battalion from the Commando brigade, but i'm absolutely opposing the reduction of the brigade's engineer capability to the sole 59 Independent Squadron plus Reserve Squadron. It is an insufficient level of engineering support to enable the brigade to deploy whole without being reinforced by other elements scraped up from some other formation, and, worse, it is too little to ensure that the constant formation of serious battlegroups at high readiness can be formed.
A battlegroup should comprise one Commando battalion, one artillery battery, one Commando Logistic Task Group comprising the medical capability and surgical group, C4I capability from 30 Commando IX and one squadron of Engineers.
All elements can be sustained, in general, save for the Engineer component: how can a single squadron, even with a reserve capability available, sustain a constant state of high readiness? It just won't be able to do it.
And the Commando battlegroup will end up weak on combat engineer support, despite the Agile Army studies saying that combat engineering will be high in demand in future ops.
My first move is to keep 24 Commando Engineer Regiment, with HQ Sqn and three regular squadrons. 59 Independent Sqn currently holds most of the capabilities of an HQ Sqn, being alone in the role, so the manpower impact mostly comes from the need for two more field squadrons.
16 Air Assault brigade, has no combat engineer problem, but has its own issues too. First of all, the reduction to just two regular battalions plus 4 PARA (Reserve). Again, this just doesn't do the job in my opinion.
In my army structure, i resurrect an old plan, dating back several years, and assign the british-based Gurkha battalion to 16AA Brigade. The battlegroup at High Readiness will have to be a mixed battalion, formed by two Aviation Companies, good for helicopter assaults and for running out of a C130 following a tactical landing, plus a parachute-current company, capable to airdrop if and when necessary. The Gurkha battalion will be tasked to provide Aviation Companies, obviously. No parachute training, there's no money (and arguably no need for additional capability other than the enduring ability to airdrop a single Company group at any one time).
The Gurkha battalion is chosen because it is based in an acceptable position, and because it is not a formation that has problems recruiting and staying fully manned.
This change is roughly manpower neutral.
I'm also proposing the formation of a new unit for the air assault brigade: an HQ Troops / Information Exploitation battalion on the model of 30 Commando IX.
This formation would be built up using the RMP element, the brigade HQ, 216 Signal Sqn and Pathfinder Platoon, and it would continue to draw from other army formations for additional capabilities: an air defence troop with Starstreak LML taken out of 12 Royal Artillery, EW teams from 14 Royal Signal regiment and so along.
The manpower increase would come from the re-formation of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance and Surveillance Squadron (which would build on the history of the WWII airborne reconnaissance sqn), which would include in its strenght the current Pathfinder platoon but would add a standing Brigade Recce Force dedicated to the particular needs of 16 AA Brigade. The Squadron would have Jackals as main vehicle.
Note that there is a possibility that this move would actually be manpower neutral: so far, the Household Cavalry regiment has had an additional squadron in its establishment in order to provide recce support to 16AA. It is not clear if this will continue, under the current planning.
These changes are meant to better and more realistically enable the High Readiness brigades to cover the roles they have been given.
Flexibility must be real, not a catchword. The current Army 2020 plan abuses, in my opinion, of virtual "centralisation" of support units under specialised brigade HQs. I think this arrangement adds no flexibility at all, especially when we consider that the regiments are configured very differently depending on wheter they are Reaction Force-oriented or Adaptable-oriented.
The basing plan has also made good, rational efforts to base regiments in the best possible locations depending on their configuration.
Why have the three Reaction Force's artillery regiments in Larkhill, near the manoeuvre brigades they are meant to support, only to subordinate them to an "Artillery Brigade" based in Tidworth which is also supposed to control regiments located as far away as Newcastle?
It just makes no sense to me. It adds nothing good to the army's capabilities. It possibly hinders them, in fact.
I can't think of another major NATO power even considering the same idea. Not the US, not France, not Germany, not Italy.
My opinion is that intimate combat support elements must remain an integral part of the manoeuvre brigade, especially when the basing plan makes it possible.
1) Disband 1st Artillery Brigade, re-subordinate artillery regiments to the relevant brigades.
2) Move Close Support Engineer regiments out of 8 Engineer Brigade back to the brigades.
3) Move Medical regiments back to the brigades' control.
4) Directly assign to the brigades their Close Support REME battalions.
The same could perhaps done to Logistic (RLC) regiments as well, but in their case it might make more sense to have them in two Logistic Brigades, assigned each to one of the two main deployable brigades.
The Logistic Brigades will include the Force Support REME battalions as well.
The Adaptable Force as currently envisaged in my opinion kind of forgets one of the main points of Carter's own assumptions: an Army is for warfighting, first and foremost. The structure of the Adaptable Brigades as of now is unnecessarily complicated and confused. There are, in the plan, three "main" Adaptable Brigades, but in the facts they are paper tigers, weakened by having their establishments hindered by the need to sustain Cyprus and Woolwish (Public Role) deployments.
Since it is possible to make sure that these brigades are properly configured at all times, with 3 manoeuvre battalions in force, i can't see why we shouldn't do that.
These three "main" brigades will be, as now, the Cottersmore-centered 7th, the Catterick-centered 4th and the Edinburgh-centered 51st.
Some Infantry battalions will need to be subordinated differently from what is now planned. The three mechanised battalions for the Reaction Force will now be the ones based in Aldershot. The change basically means removing from the role 4 SCOTS, which is based as far away as Catterick.
4 SCOTS will now be part of 4th Brigade instead, alongside with 2nd LANCS, which currently would respond to 42nd Brigade.
7th Brigade will assume command of the Guards battalion posted to Pirbright, while the battalion rotating into Public Role at Woolwich will fall, for the duration of its posting there, under the command of the Guards brigade.
In this way, it is possible to keep the strenght of the manoeuvre brigades up, even as battalions rotate in and out of Cyprus and Public Duty.
In an additional effort to make these brigades genuinely deployable, i'm giving them the combat support elements as well. The current Army 2020 plan includes two regular engineer and artillery regiments for the Adaptable brigades, because it privileged the achievement of the minimum number of five enabler formation per each role, so to support the capability for enduring brigade-sized deployments in the future.
I'd like to go a little bit further, and give all three brigades an artillery and engineer capability, so that the three main Adaptable Brigades can do their own 36-month readiness cycle complete of their enablers and thus ready to tackle deployments abroad in operations of some complexity. To do so, i'd backtrack from the plan to disband 40 Regiment Royal Artillery and 28 Regiment Royal Engineer, and use integration of regulars and reserves to keep these two formations at full strenght with minimal change to regular manpower figures.
From the current plan, which calls for 2 regular and 2 reserve Light Gun artillery regiments, i'd move to a plan with three mixed regiments, each with two regular and two reserve batteries.
My assumption (and the Army's one as well, it would appear) is that, to "equal" a regular sub-unit availability with a reserve sub-unit, you need to have two reserve sub-units. This is due both to manpower and training worries regarding the reserves, both to the fact that reservists can only deploy for a 6-month tour once in a 5 years period, while the regulars would do two tours in the same timeframe.
Having two reserve sub-units is meant to make it realistic to expect that the regiment could deploy with a mixed regular/reserve manpower delivering a full three batteries / squadrons /companies without exceding harmony guidelines.
|Guidelines for the employment of Reserves|
In the engineer field, it would appear that the plan already is for two integrated regiments, with 2 regular and 2 reserve squadrons each.
I would add a third regiment equally configured, at the expense of one of 3 currently planned Force Support engineer regiments (Reserve).
For the regulars, this means one additional RHQ and two additional engineer squadrons.
Two regular medical regiments are already planned. A third regiment could be provided via an adequately reinforced reserve regiment.
The REME situation is the same: 2 close support regular regiments can be completed by a reserve REME battalion, taken away from a currently planned 4 Force Support battalions for the Adaptable Force.
On the Logistics front, there are two regular Force Logistic regiments planned for the Adaptable Force. The Force Logistic regiment is described as a hybrid unit comprising Supply and Transport/Fuel capability.
While the Reaction Force brigades, logistically heavier, are each supported by a Close Support Logistic and a Thetre Logistic regiments, the lighter Adaptable Brigade are supported by a single hybrid formation.
The equivalent of a third Force Logistic regiment is already planned, under the shape of two Transport and two Supply regiments of reservists.
The above changes are roughly manpower neutral: the number of squadrons and batteries remains the same. The number of Regimental HQs reduces.
However, the barracks in Ripon, which are now home to an engineer regiment but are currently planned to close as the regiment moves to Catterick, in my plan would remain. The third reg/res engineer regiment would be housed in Ripon, in fact.
To balance the changes in manpower and basing that i've described, my alternative Army 2020 reduces the infantry by a further battalion. Difficult choice to make, but the only one possible in my opinion. My proposal would imply the disbandment of 2nd MERCIAN and the closure of barracks in Chester, instead of Ripon.
Agile Warrior studies have concluded that future deployments should see the brigade HQ helped by a Division HQ. The brigade staff must be able to focus on the tactical aspects of the operation, while the 2-star HQ covers the strategy and the theatre-wide issues including theatre logistics. Despite this, Army 2020 proposes a rather confused future of the Divions of the british army.
My plan would see the downgrading of the LONDON DISTRICT, a two-star post not really necessary, in exchange for a more readily deployable capability within 1st UK Division HQ. The division would command the three "main" Adaptable Brigades.
The currently planned 2-star HQ UK Support Command would also revert to being a more traditional Division HQ, not immediately deployable but nonetheless more outward looking.
This Division would command the remaining Adaptable Brigades plus the Guards brigade (result of the downgrading of LONDIST).
The Guards brigade, non-deployable, would act as a container for the units based in the London area for their public duty period. Nonetheless, the Falklands Roulement Companies will come out of the battalions of this brigade. For what i understand, this already happens, but not all the time. In future, i'd want it to be the rule, because the army is stretched and can't afford to lose so many resources to ceremonial roles.
Then there would be three Reserve brigades directly paired to the three "main" Adaptable Brigades.
11 Brigade, the South HQ, would be paired to 7th Brigade. 11th Brigade, for geographic reasons, would also control the reserve elements supporting the Reaction Force, namely the 100 RA regiment, which i propose as possible new GMLRS reserve formation (since the regular GMLRS are moving south, from Newcastle to the Salisbury Plain area) and the Royal Wessex Yeomanry which will continue to provide reinforcement/replacement crews for Challenger 2 MBT formations.
42 Brigade, the HQ North West, would be paired to 4th Brigade.
52 Brigade, which would be re-established, would be paired to 51st Brigade.
These brigades, as much as possible, mirror the regular formation they support and integrate, so there is a TA infantry battalion for each regular one, and a TA Cavalry regiment for each Regular one.
The shifting and re-subordination of squadrons from the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry regiment to reform a Scottish Yeomanry regimen is apparently already on the cards.
Lastly, there would be two mixed regular/reserve brigades, 38th and 160th, which would be the first choice for upstream defence engagement abroad.
The Force Troops element would be much the same as currently planned. Since Agile Warrior has confirmed the absolute, capital importance of Maneouvre, it is absolutely fundamental to preserve a number of specialised capabilities that make maneouvre possible. I'm speaking of the TALISMAN route clearance capability, and of the M3 rigs for rapid river crossing. These two capabilities would be preserved each into a Squadron of the Land Support regiment, 36 Engineer.
Summary of changes:
Regular 2-star HQs: -1 (LONDIST)
Regular 1-star HQs: -1 (Artillery Brigade)
Reserve brigade HQs: +2 (52 Bde, Guards Bde)
Regular regimental HQs: +3 (24 Commando Engineer, 28 Engineer, 40 Royal Artillery) NOTE: 24 Commando RHQ virtually manpower neutral change, due to HQ capabilities otherwise being part of the Independent Commando Sqn
Reserve regimental HQs: -3 (2 Light Gun artillery regiments, one Force Support Engineer regiment)
Regular Artillery Batteries: +1 TacGroup Bty (number of gun batteries unchanged, but spread over three regiments each with 2 gun batteries instead of 2 regiments of three batteries)
Reserve Artillery Batteries: Same (spread over three regiments instead of grouped up in two)
Regular Close Support Engineer Squadrons: +4 (?) (it depends on wheter the two currently planned Adaptable engineer regiments have 2 or three squadrons each, not yet clear) (2 Commando Engineer squadrons, 2 Adaptable Sqns)
Reserve Close Support Engineer Squadrons: +2
Reserve Force Support Engineer Squadrons: -2
Reserve Force Support REME battalions: -1
Hybrid Regular/Reserve Close Support REME battalion: +1
Regular Infantry Battalions: -1 (2nd Mercian)
Reserve Infantry Battalions: Same
Base closures: Ripon to stay, Chester to close
I believe my Army 2020 proposal delivers an army which is both more flexible and more realistically aligned to the Defence Planning Assumptions set by the SDSR. In addition, it makes efforts to try and adhere to the findings of the Agile Warrior studies.
In a way, my proposal returns to a concept of business that the Army has already experienced in the past, when three Armored and three Mechanised Brigades were meant to have their own 36 months cycle of force generation.
At any one time, in this way, one Armoured Infantry (Reaction Force) and one Light/Mechanised (Adaptable Force) brigades would be trained and ready for operations. The Adaptable brigade could be deployed on simpler interventions, or provide elements to be combined with regiments coming from the Reaction force to form a Multi Role Brigade with the correct mix of capabilities.
|How it used to be|
One problem, highlighted by Agile Warrior but harder to fix without a proper budget, is the fact that the British Army remains filled with Light Infantry, and is arguably the less mechanised army within the major forces in Europe. There is a very evident gap between Warrior and Foxhound, which FRES UV, currently planned for just 3 infantry battalions, is not going to close.
To improve the situation in this field, a complete rethink of FRES UV is in order, i think. One option would be to take a step back from the expensive, top class 8x8 AFV, and re-assess the possible "good enough" solutions. France is planning to buy hundreds (a thousand, possibly) of 6x6 VBMR vehicles for its medium weight, multirole brigades. Their requirements for the new vehicle are rather ambitious, and include excellent protection for a section of up to 9 soldiers, at a cost as little as 1 million euro per vehicle. My suggestion is to follow this interesting procurement effort with attention: it might be advantageous to go along with the french for once, with the hope to Mechanise at least a further three battalions, one for each "main" adaptable brigade.
It would be a step in the right direction, compliant with the Agile Warrior recommendation to re-mechanise the army.