Sunday, August 18, 2013

From the News

If it is true, the British Army is dead 

The Telegraph says that in October all the 31 remaining battalions of the army under Army 2020 will be cut back further, to 520-man establishments.

This is a completely new thing. The Army has been planning to reach the 82.000 regulars figure having only Light Role infantry battalions cut back to comparable levels, and even those actually higher: 561 men. Considering that this means removing one rifle platoon from each Company, hoping in a top-up coming from paired reserve battalion before deployment, i can't even begin to imagine what a battalion of 520 men would look like. It would probably be utterly useless.

The reduction to Light Role Infantry battalions and Gurkhas already can't be described as smart because the Reserves recruitment is, so far at least, going horribly, and there are three such downsized infantry battalions which do not have at all a paired reserve battalion from which to draw manpower: 1 SCOTS battalion and the two Gurkha battalions are left unpaired in the announced Army 2020 plan, because there are not enough reserve infantry battalions.

The figures released so far to Parliament and Defence Committee about the establishments of the major components of Army 2020 speak of:

729 armoured infantry battalion
709 mechanised infantry battalion
561 Light Role Infantry
581 Foxhound-mounted infantry
567 Gurkha battalion
660 PARA battalion
587 Challenger 2 tank regiment
528 FRES SV reconnaissance regiment
404 Jackal-mounted light cavalry regiment
370 Adaptable Artillery light gun regiment (apparently with only two gun batteries, a paltry 12 L118 guns. I'm unable to confirm this at 100% certainty at the moment)
around 600 Reaction Artillery regiment (18 AS90 in three batteries, 6 GMLRS in one battery)
around 600 Reaction Royal Engineer regiment
around 500 Adaptable Royal Engineer regiment

An armoured infantry battalion of 520 is frankly unthinkable of. It would probably be able to field a single company.

Since the above are Army 2020 figures, the new cut announced by the Telegraph is either:

- Not true
- Indication that the Army and MOD are total idiots which did not understand the extent of the manpower reduction and are back to square one
- Indication that the 82.000 regulars are to become even fewer already, while sticking to the absurd rule that no more goddamned capbadges must go

In any case but the first, the Army is about to become entirely useless. If the Telegraph is right, the mania of protecting capbadges has reached the level of absolute foolishness.

If the second point is true, serious questions must be asked about Army top brass, and about the Army itself, because if the target is still 82.000 regulars, they have to explain where all the manpower goes. 82.000 should be more than adequate to sustain the establishments announced so far. 

Assembly of the Ski Jump on HMS Queen Elizabeth: more complex than you think 

The 200-ft.-long ramp is the longest ever fitted to a carrier and, like the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers (QEC) themselves, is the first of its type to be purpose-designed from the outset for F-35 operations. Angled at 12.5 deg., the ramp wiii be 20-ft. high and is designed to reduce the required deck roll on takeoff by up to 50%, or allow an increased payload of up to 20%. The ramp achieves this by boosting vertical velocity, giving the aircraft a ballistic launch profile that provides it with additional time to accelerate to flying speed.

The assembly of the Ski Jump on HMS Queen Elizabeth has started, and it is not so straightforward a process. The ramp has been carefully designed by BAE in collaboration with Lochkeed Martin, to make sure that it is fully and safely compatible with the F35B.

You'll find the details on Aviation Week & Space Technology / 19 Aug 2013 pp.33-34, in the article: "RAMP UP - Deck-mounted ski-jump assembly marks key step toward U.K. carrier-based JSF operations", by Guy Norris.

The first section of Ski Jump is already on deck. Photo by
A spectacular diagram showing the current state of the assembly, by
Remember that an excellent place where to follow in almost real time the assembly of the new carriers is the huge thread up at

RAF pilot is the first non-US pilot to operate an F35B at sea

RAF Squadron Leader Jim Schofield, is the first international pilot to have conducted sea-based launch and landing in the F-35B.
Schofield made history while flying from USS Wasp, during the ongoing second period of sea trials for the F35B. A third test period is planned for the future, to lead to US Marines Initial Operating Capability in 2015. 



    I think it more likely they will just borrow a company or a platoon from a regular, rather than a reserve regiment, as happens now, but it does of course mean that we dont really have 3 battalions, we have 24 battalions, and 7 battalions of reinforcement companies.

    Its not surprising, its exactly what they did a few years ago when they cut all the supporting arms, they kept 31 infantry battalions, but only logistics, artillery and engineers for 20.

    Must keep posts for the regimental colonels!
    Future of the army, god help us.

    1. They will have to rob elements from other regular battalions for sure, if recruitment continues to go as it is going now.

      And since the regulars do not really believe the reserves will be there, for daily training they are permanently assigning to each understrenght company a Fire Support Group platoon coming from the Support Weapons Company, so that they can at least train decently, respecting the basic rule of having three platoons for manoeuvering.

      And to think that once the TA was about bringing the battalions to "war establishment" adding a fourth company...

  2. Hi Gabriele,

    I hope this news is not true.

    This taking saving cap badges to a new level!

    As I have said before, the infantry, including the Guards need to bit the bullet and sort themselves into a sensible number of regiments.

    In my humble opinion the Army and in particular the infantry are in a mess.


  3. This culture of trying to save cap badges at almost any expense is getting ridiculous!

    I recently had a discussion about it with Chris over on Defense with a C, he had the idea that if you're going to have to keep making reductions and re-organisations it's actually better to wipe the slate clean and have around 6 large regiments that have totally non-regional names such as the Fusiliers, Rifles, Duke of Wellingtons and do away with regimental/regional recruitment by allocating new recruits to whichever regiment needs them.

    It would certainly go a long way to ending the current cap badge mentality and could ensure that each regiment kept it's battalions at full strength, rather than having a mixed bag of over and under-strength units.

    Whatever the details I think a radical reorganization needs to occur. It's just a shame that no-one seems to have the bottle to follow through and tell the Guards, the Scots and various others that they have to do what they are told and stop whining about it.

    1. I'm all in favor of preserving history and badges whenever possible, but it can't be the main driver in the reorganisation. We can't have dozens of useless, disfunctional battalions to make it look like (only to those that truly do not understand anything about the military) there are no cuts. If cuts have to be, then they have at least to make sense, and leave a workable structure for what's left.

      To be fair, this time it is not the Army that's resisting. It is government that does not want to give the opposition such an easy and massive PR victory.
      The army is kind of stepping away, when it cans, from badges and historical names. For example, the Yorkshire regiment is doing away with the regimental identifies and titles assigned to its battalions, that will from now on carry the colors and name of 1st Yorks, 2nd Yorks etcetera, not old regimental titles such as Duke of Wellington's regiment.

  4. I think the media pressure and possible PR ramifications are valid concerns, but as you say cap badges and preserving history can only be accommodated as an afterthought, they can't be allowed to dictate the organisation of the Army or be the drivers of change.

    The non-regional regimental structure was 'Defence with a C' Chris's idea and I thought it was interesting.

    Personally though id be happy with an extension of what the Yorkshire regiment is doing by dropping it's battalion 'names'. Id have a smaller amount of large 4/5 battalion regiments with broad regional names such as the Wessex, Lancastrian and the already existing Anglian, Mercian and so on....but without any battalion cap badges or historical ties.

    The geographic and literal size of regiments would hopefully ease problems with recruitment and the uniformity of battalions would hopefully ease cap badge bickering.

    So the Wessex regiment would for instance as an overarching formation be responsible for honoring the lineage of the old regiments of the region, the Devon and Dorset's, Somerset and Cornwall Light's and so on but it could grow or contract in size according to the needs of the day without worrying about which battalions and names should stay or go.

    1. I've been thinking on different lines myself. I've been thinking about standardizing regiments on three battalions plus reserve (with the exception of Gurkha, Royal Irish and Guards), so to better spread opportunities and give each regiment better chances at recruiting, by being able to offer a place in the Reaction and Adaptable force both.

      It would be part of a larger plan to restructure Army 2020, reducing to 29 battalions of infantry in exchange for a bit more attention to combat support elements to make the Adaptable brigades more realistically viable and deployable.

      Personal thinking, though, nothing more.

      As for removing historical titles from battalions, i'm a bit torn, personally. It would be enough to use some common sense, and each battalion could continue to keep alive the traditions of a past regiment, without it being a problem.

    2. Gaby,

      I don't wish other readers to turn this into a "we must protect x,y,z, but building on this idea logically brings you to the 26 batallion organisation structure I referred to below -
      7 Regiments of 3 Regular and 2 TA Batallions
      1 Guards Brigade of 5 Regular Batallions (I would personally be happy to see this fall to 4, but makes it difficult to work re rotation with 2 of these batallions on Public Duty).
      You would cut/amalgamte both the Gurkhas and the Royal Irish into the 7 large regiments.

  5. Gaby

    If the report in the “Telegraph” is true, then what is about to happen to the British Army is appalling. I agree with you that the Army will be dead.

    It’s about time this Government started seriously scaling back the amount of money spent on foreign aid. The DFID should be docked a couple of billion a year, starting at the next budget and the money spent instead on Defence. The first duty of any government is defence of the realm and at the moment we are just not defended adequately.

    However, I also agree with your point in the last paragraph:

    “If the second point is true, serious questions must be asked about Army top brass, and about the Army itself, because if the target is still 82.000 regulars, they have to explain where all the manpower goes. 82.000 should be more than adequate to sustain the establishments announced so far.”

  6. Well RIFLES and SCOTS have already done this; it just needs the Army to stand up the King's, the Queens & the Prince of Wales' regiments for the rest...

    1. I couldn't agree more!

      How the Kings, Queens and Prince of Wales 'divisions'
      and the untouchable Guards have got away with not reforming I just don't know!
      If the Scots can do it anyone can.


  7. As Gabriele has either intimated in several of her very interesting posts on Future Army Structure, the problem here is two-fold -
    1. The ends which the Army is seeking to achieve are not at all clear (and indeed the Army appears extremely confused on this pont)
    2. The means of achieving those ends are being severely influenced by politics (and by that I do not mean resources - which is obviously a constraint, no matter what people may wish for)

    On the first point - the heart of the Army / Marines is the generation of fully deployable batallions and brigades of various sorts (to my mind Armoured, Mech Inf & Light Inf/Air Assault/Marine). Anything that does not lend itself to this goal is ultimately a dilution of goals. Given even the reduced pool of resources available there is no reason whatsoever that the UK should not be able to generate 8 fully deployable brigades each with 4 cavalry/infantry batallions.
    On the second point - the cap badge issue is clearly central here. By my calculations the UK be able to achieve the above with 26 Army & 3 Marine Batallions, together with 11 Cavalry Regiments and still have units left over for overseas, public and "homeland resilience" duties

    1. There's now too little in the way of Combat Support and Combat Service support to stand up eight deployable brigades.
      Five would be the maximum with the supports available, with a differently configured Army 2020 you could make that six, allowing the army to have two separate FORGEN cycles, with two brigades always at the ready for operations. Which does not necessarily mean that the second must be trained at the highest readiness levels, but adds a lot of flexibility and makes it more realistic to plan for meeting the stated defence planning assumptions.

      I firmly believe that Army 2020, even assuming it really is an Army idea, is a plan born out of some very complex politics requests which have distorted the structure and choices.

    2. Gaby - very conscious of the lack of supports in the current structure. It was my intention that the Army 2020 config would certainly be altered to achieve the 8 Brigades (in which I am including 16 Air Assault and 3 Commando Brigade, together with 3 Armoured and 3 Mech Inf), via both the deletion of a further 5 Infantry batallions, the London District and all but three of the Adaptable Brigades to free up manpower. I concur it would be very tight, but I think achieveable - if that was the single focus.

  8. Gaby, etc all

    This sounds very suspect to me, and itbwould not be the first time a paper was wrong !

    But if it's true, then it is truly diabolical !

    BUT blaming it on the regimental system is just bollocks. It doesn't matter if we have 31 battalions with 3 rifle Companies , or 22 Btln with 4 Coy, the bottom line is the reduction in Infantry numbers, not how they are organized !! We have robbed Peter to pay Paul on a regular basis for decades; which doesn't make it right of course, but organizational structures aren't the real issue at hand; the real problem is whether this constitutes further reduction below 82,000 OR if 82,000 was ever really enough to keep infantry levels where they where.

    Also I thought only adaptable force battalions were getting aligned reserve battalions, and that the armoured and mechanised battalions of the reaction force were not ? Hence the plan to reduce AF Light Role Battalions establishments was actually part of the plan to "fully integrate" the reserve element, and there was at least one comment by a general (can't remember which one) that a fully manned Regular / Reserve AF Light Role Battalion would actually have more manpower than currently !

    1. I do not agree with the way ORBATS are overlooked these days. While it is true that paper structures are adjusted all the time, i am absolutely convinced that the base structure of things is nothing short of fundamental. There must be a solid and realistic base to things. Battalions too small to be used for anything, too small even for any realistic, meaningful training and doctrine to be done, are a non sense. Better to have fewer but workable battalions.

      As for the article being suspect, yes, it is. It flies against all Army 2020 evidence seen so far, and i think i made it clear in the article. That said, i couldn't ignore the suggestion of such dramatic change without spending a word about it.

      But yes, only the Light and Light Protected mobility battalions of the Adaptable Force are paired to reserves. Nothing for Armoured and Mechanized infantry battalions.
      The only Reaction Force battalions to get a supporting reserve unit are the PARA battalions, with 4 PARA being part of the air assault brigade.

      And as i said, not even all of the light, adaptable battalions get a reserve counterpart, because 1 SCOTS and the Gurkha get downsized without getting any reserve unit in support.

      As for manpower being greater, i think it is on paper and dreams only. If the good general is counting the 400 strong TA battalion (on paper) added to 561 strong regular battalion (again on paper), that gives a combined manpower figure of 961.
      But frankly, if the reserves battalion manages to provide a company's worth of manpower for reaching a full three-coy ORBAT for deployment, i think we can already call ourselves lucky.

      I think the chance of seeing a 900 strong battalion of regulars and reservists ever being actually available and deployable in such format is zero, or very close to zero.

    2. Jed - apologies, but the "raw infantry numbers is all that counts" attitude is part of problem underlying why we are in this mess in the first place. What counts are deployable and internally coherent units - specifically Brigades and, to a lesser extent, Batallion Groups.
      For decades the Army has had a multitude of paper units which looked good to Press Offices but were pretty useless from a military standpoint. Army 2020 continues this trend and actually accelerates it. As case in point - 16 AA Brigade - the new structure announced for this unit, with only 2 regular "fighting" batallions has rendered it largely impotent as a formed unit. As a minimum an Infantry Brigade requires 3 batallions and preferable a 4th cavalry/armoured batallion as well.
      Nothwithstanding the point that Gaby makes earlier around complex politics distorting the structures, one has to question the culture (willingness to make do and bodge) of the senior officers overseeing this ORBAT.

    3. Hi Gabriele and guys.

      Couldn't agree more. I would also like to make the point that British infantry battalions are always understrength, except prior to operational deployment.
      You can't just throw together an infantry battalion.
      For men to eat, sleep, live, die and kill together takes lots of training, confidence and that special X factor.
      Bigger regiments work better, because they have more recruits passing out of training, so they can build a battalion up to strength before deployment.
      Its a complex subject, which as an ex infantryman I could rant on for ages!


  9. Any chance that the papers got the wrong end of the stick and the Infantry will be held at a common INFANTRY) establishment of 520 (so about right for light role)and that the Support (LAD etc) are being pulled out of the battalions and held as formation support regiments (Soviet style)
    In a way I would see logic to this as reservists could make up the bulk of the VMs etc not the fighting strength. Not ideal but more achievable than the previous plan perhaps


    1. Suggestive hypothesis, but i don't think so. I think even the soviets never tried to pull all of the tail support out of battalions.

      It does not feel right to me. Even if the Telegraph was reporting the sole figure relative to Infantry elements in a battalion, cutting out of the count all personnel coming from Signals, REME, RAMC and so along, i don't think the number would be correct, and i believe it would not be the same across all battalion types.

      I don't know at this point, it's just... weird.

  10. Just Google "Daily Telegraph" and Army 2020 and you'll see a dogs breakfast of bollocks and other sad stories that never came to pass.

    They're either flat out wrong (most likely), have read something and stupidly miss interpreted it (ie 520 infantrymen, everyone else is other arms - REME, Signals, RAMC etc) or the least likely option of all by far, the Daily Telegraph defence correspondent is bang on the money. It has to happen one day.

    Phil from TD.

  11. Hi Gabriele

    I am confident this is simply the Telegraph getting it wrong again.

    On the Reserves front, I recently had dinner with a Sergeant Major from the RAC in charge of recruitment in a certain area of the UK, he told me the expansion of the reserves is turning into a fiasco, recruitment is down very badly in his area of responsibility.

  12. I think its time to cut some infantry cap badges. Regardless of whether this story is true or not. There seems to be more infantry battalions than needed for the combat brigades. How many other modern armies have "spare" infantry battalions in so called "brigades". These are brigades in name only. If they don't have all the enablers they are pointless as brigades.

    I'm all for maintaining the history of the Army but maybe its time for some big consolidation of regiments to save the actual efficiency of the infantry. It could be done while maintain the history of the regiments in a small way by affiliating each company to a former regiment. The Royal Anglians have already done this.

    I suggest that each infantry division become a super regiment. The Royal Regiment of Scotland and the The Rifles have already done this. This is how I would propose such a consolidation:

    King's Division would consolidate its regiments into the King's Regiment and be reduced to 4 full-strength battalions. The regiment existed from 1958-2006.

    Queen's Division would consolidate into the Queen's Regiment and also reduced to 4 full-strength battalions. The regiment existed from 1966-1992.

    The Prince of Wales' Division would remain as is with 2 battalions of the Mercian Regiment, 1 battalion of the Royal Welch and 1 battalion of the Royal Irish.

    The Guards Division would also remain as is with 5 battalions of Guards.

    The Parachute Regiment would be reduced to 2 battalions, both in the Special Forces Support Group similar to US Army Ranger battalions.

    So the infantry would look end up with 25 full-strength infantry battalions plus 2 parachute (ranger-type) battalions.

    The Guards (5 battalions)
    The Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 battalions)
    The Rifles (4 battalions)
    The King's Regiment (4 battalions)
    The Queen's Regiment (4 battalions)
    The Mercian Regiment (2 battalions)
    The Royal Welch (1 battalion)
    The Royal Irish (1 battalion)
    The Parachute Regiment (2 battalions, SFSG)

    The Gurkhas could be kept or disbanded. That's a separate issue.

  13. Hi Gabriele and guys,

    I think the Telegraph article is rubbish.

    But, having said that, a agree with your article above.
    Except for the Guards. For the following reasons;
    Many more senior regiments than the Irish and Welsh guards have been lost.
    Public duties must reflect the size of the army. In my humble opinion, 3 public duties companies is all that the army can afford for public duties.
    The Guards should be a 3 battalion regiment, retaining the battalion names and cap badges of the Grenadiers, Coldstream and Scots, for each of the battalions. The 3 original guards regiments.
    I would increase the Welsh and Irish regiments from 1 to 2 battalions.One battalion regiments should be avoided.
    The infantry battalion is the basic building block of the army, (Not the warrior, as has been mentioned)and I would welcome a debate on its structure and size.



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