Thursday, April 17, 2014

ARMY 2020 in detail: Royal Signals

Previous parts:

1 - Force Troops Command and Royal Engineers

The Royal Signals have completed their planning work for the changes to the corps stemming from the Army 2020 cuts. I had written already months ago about much of the major changes, at regiment and brigade level, but much was still uncertain back then, including the fate of the many, many squadrons re-subordinating to different regiments, re-roling, disbanding etcetera. Now a far greater level of detail is available.

The structure of the Royal Signals is based on the two signal brigades, but several elements sit under different HQs
The entire Corps is on this slide, including signal troops assigned to NATO and to the EOD Group. Yellow text denotes Reserve element 

The document produced by the MOD months ago about the restructuring of the Reserves had provided a good overview of the changes to reserve sub-units, but many regular squadrons have moved and are moving around between formations.
For example, all the brigade signal squadrons are being removed from the brigades and brought into the five multirole signals regiments (MRSRs). The tables that follow show the fate of the regular squadrons.

Multi Role Signal Regiments and 216 Signal Squadron

216 Signal Squadron is the only brigade squadron which does not leave its supported unit. It continues to be a part of 16 Air Assault brigade, and it stays unders its direct OPCON. It is also the only signal formation retaining a Life Support role for a deployable HQ.
3rd Commando Brigade has its own ICS and Life Support elements, provided by 30 Commando IX, and so sits outside of this analysis. 

The Multi Role Signal Regiments are born out of the experience of the Campaign Signal Regiments deploying in support of operation Herrick. Communications and information management have grown in size and in importance in recent times, and the diverse range of needs of a brigade engaged in complex operations means that the old signal squadron is definitely insufficient to cover all requirements. The MRSRs are all taking up on systems such as FALCON, to be able to build up the necessary network of communications and information systems needed to run combat operations in theatre.
The reduction in manpower, however, has constrained the restructuring effort, and has forced a number of decisions. Most notably, the removal of the brigade HQ signals squadrons, and the dropping of the life support role for said HQs. While it makes sense to observe that ICS specialists, precious and expensively trained and much needed in their core roles should not be wasted on life support tasks, but this is nonetheless a requirement that is not going away. It will have to be met somehow with the restructuring of brigade and division level deployable HQs, and it works to demonstrate the pressure the army has to deal with.

Worth of note is that the Air Support Signal Regiment (21 Sig Regt) is definitively losing its AS role. Communications support for Joint Helicopter Command will now be delivered by the lone 244 Signal Squadron (AS), which is being transferred to 30 Sig Regt.

The key weak point in the whole construction is the complete absence of signal regiments aligned with the Adaptable Force. In the words of the Corps' Colonel:

ICS and EW support to the Adaptive Force. No dedicated ICS or EW assets reside within the Adaptive Force to support the maintenance of Institutional Resilience; however, capacity within the MRSRs should allow for some support to be made available if Collective Training to maintain Institutional Resilience is properly programmed. The force generation mechanism for an enduring operation will need to take account of the lean availability of expeditionary ICS and EW force elements. Support to the AF, in homeland roles, will be found principally from the R SIGNALS Reserve.

The Adaptable Force risks being very short on Signals elements to support training, and the key problem is that it will be short of ICS and EW support when the time comes to eventually deploy, as well. As i pointed out multiple times in the past, the ability of the Adaptable Force to provide, as planned, two brigades for two out of the five tours needed on rotational basis to support an enduring operation while respecting harmony guidelines is questionable. The supports are the key, and the supports have suffered cuts that put the target very much at risk.
The MRSRs will have to somehow squeeze out of their resources a package of ICS services for the deploying adaptable brigades, and this might prove to be a real problem. This is a huge weakeness of the whole Army 2020 construct.
I find it surprising, and yet depressingly normal, that the (most likely hopeless) calls for more defence investment following the wake up call of events in Ukraine have focused on "more brigades". Cap badges are, as always, the obsession of the day. Supports rarely, if ever, get mentioned, and yet they are the real, critical weakness of Army 2020.
The Army already has more brigades than it can support, and arguably more brigades than it needs. The problem is that most of these brigades are paper tigers, simple containers of (very small) infantry battalions.
If there's one weakness that needs fixing, is in the supporting area.

Support to ARRC and JRRF

 As said earlier, 30 Regiment is to assume responsibility for the Air Support Signal Squadron as well.

Training, EW, 3rd level Support

Other critical areas include the availability of ECM and Electronic Warfare. Both have proven invaluable and indispensable on operations, and are most definitely going to have crucial importance in the future. Even so, they can't escape cutbacks. Most notably, 14 Signal Regiment, Electronic Warfare, is to lose its fifth squadron, stood up in 2012 (better late than never...) to support the enduring deployment in Afghanistan. Again, this cut represents a serious limitation to the army's effective capability of facing a complex enduring deployment in the future.
As a little item of good news, 14 Regiment has resumed preparing airborne-capable Light EW Teams (LEWT) for the high readiness airborne task force. The Royal Marines have their own EW capability in Y Sqn, 30 Commando IX.

Special Forces 

The regiment should survive with no squadrons lost. I've added the list of squadrons as lat publicly known.

Reserve Signal Regiments and pairing arrangement

The four reserve regiments to remain after the cuts and restructuring provide support to the five regular MRSRs, and retain the Strategic Communications role in 2nd Signal Squadron.
The pairing works as follows:

37 Regiment (R) is asked to support two regular regiments at once.

As already evidenced by decisions made in other areas (es. Engineering), the key weakness of the Adaptable Force is the shortage of supporting units. It remains my belief, as i've been saying for a long time now, that if the Army high officers had been given a truly free hand, they would have taken different decisions, cutting back further on the infantry to ensure a more balanced final output.
Some of these weaknesses are the result of the somersaults that defence chiefs have had to make to obey Dave's order of seeing no more than five infantry battalions losses, and no regiment badge loss.

The result is an army which, despite claims of the contrary, is most evidently not balanced across its parts. The final capability output, to be measured in truly deployable brigades (infantry battalions are awesomely flexible and useful, but on their own they mean relatively little) is disappointing. It is probably the best that could be done given the political limits posed to the plan, but it is most likely not the best use of a given force of 82.000 regulars.
Politics and the need to have a significant number of "spare" infantry battalions to rotationally cover a huge public role liability and a large presence in Cyprus pose a significant challenge to the building up of an army that would otherwise have the chance to genuinely adapt to battlefield considerations and probably express six full deployable brigades (3 Heavy, 3 medium / light role) plus the air assault brigade at high readiness.

Sources: Royal Signals Journal - March 2014

Royal Signals "The Wire" magazine - December 2013


  1. Very good piece of work as usual. Now hope for similar information on Royal Logistic Corps. Do have full RA details but don't know how to get them to you.

    1. Would love to see RA new orbat. Can you send to my mail box?

  2. Are these doc on the army website? Where did you get your info from?

    1. All here

      The Wire is the RSigs magazine

  3. Another great post.

    Cyprus is probably our most important strategic location overseas given its intelligence roles ( JSSU's ) though I do wonder whether it is really necessary to have 2 Battalions there.

    Will have a good study now, thanks again for this Gabriele. We need all Corps detailed orbats eventually.

    1. I'd love to get the details of all Corps. I'll keep my eyes well open, as always.

  4. Gaby,

    I wonder whether you could help. It is all explained very clearly to someone who has just a little bit of previous knowledge of Royal Signals formations/units etc. Unfortunately I don’t!

    I seem to remember that years ago each Brigade (whether Armoured, Mechanised or Light) had a Signals Squadron attached to the Brigade HQ. From what you are saying:

    “ ... all the brigade signal squadrons are being removed from the brigades and brought into the five multirole signals regiments (MRSRs).”

    these Brigade HQ Squadrons will now be a part of the new MRSRs. If they are not to be an integral part of the Brigades, unquestionably that will mean a loss of cohesion in the Brigades themselves. There will be far less opportunity to carry out collective training and the fighting efficiency of the Brigades will be adversely affected. Or am I completely I wrong on this?

    I would also like to know whether you know anything about which vehicles will be used by the Royal Signals in Army 2020. For instance, will the Duro still be used for the Reacher satellite ground terminals? MAN SV for Falcon etc.

    Lastly, like you I would be more than interested to know the full Royal Artillery details. Did you receive them from “Anonymous”?

    1. Yes, i have received the tables about the Royal Artillery, and will write a post as soon as i can.

      And yes, the brigades definitely have their HQ signal squadron. But these are all disbanding and leaving the brigades to go into MRSRs. Is it bad? Probably, it is. It is not casual that the two very high readiness brigades (PARA and Commando) are keeping their own ICS element under OPCON.
      But it is no so bad for the reaction force brigades, as they each get an aligned signal regiment whole, even if not under direct OPCON. There will be challenges, there will be some adjusting to, but they will have excellent support.

      For the adaptable force brigades, instead, it definitely is a problem. As the Royal Signals themselves explain, the problem is very serious as they have not a single assigned regular signal unit, and the reserves are mostly good for homeland roles. They can't provide the full range of capabilities a deployed brigade needs: they could reinforce an MRSR, sure, but not replace it. This is a serious shortage of ICS support for the Adaptable Force, including the supposedly deployable brigades in this "poor army".

      And yes, i think REACHER will stay put on DURO. FALCON systems are installed on MAN 6-tonne trucks. Then there are FV-430 series communications vehicles, but also a Mastiff comms variant, land rovers and other assorted vehicles, all the way down to radio relay nodes moved on the trailers of quad bikes (notably in the air assault signal squadron).

    2. Gabriele, Thanks for another good article.

      MikeW. On the fact that the 3 deployable reaction brigades no longer have an assigned Signals unit, I am with you. In my opinion, (I know that doesn't count for anything) we are heading for a single deployable army force, of about brigade plus size.
      I don't count 3 CDO and 16 AA brigades as deployable brigades in there own right.
      3 CDO could at best muster 2 commando battalions for a quick deployment. More a multi battle group force.
      16 AA, with only 2 battalions would be lucky to deploy a full battle group.
      I am not against having a smaller army in favour of a better RN but again in my humble opinion, post SDSR 2015 is going to leave us with a poorly organized army, with to many infantry battalions that we can not support in the field.


    3. Phil

      "in my humble opinion, post SDSR 2015 is going to leave us with a poorly organized army,"

      With you every inch of the way, Phil. I think that all sorts of people and organizations are becoming aware of the deficiencies of the "Army 2020" plan. A House of Commons committee criticized it heavily only the other day. Russia's actions in the Ukraine should be a wake-up call but here we are deciding to spend yet more money on foreign aid and neglecting our own armed forces. They have borne more than enough cuts and we need much more of our money spent on defence of the realm, the first duty of any government. For a start we need an Army of 100,000 again in order to stand any chance of taking effective action in foreign parts.

    4. Mike W, Phil,
      You have both read Gaby's article and noted how much you enjoyed it and yet some of your comments are reflections of many of the underlying problems Britain's armed forces face. The key point here is to make the best of 82,000 in the Army, not to wish for an Army of "100,000" or a reallocation of resources from the Navy - neither are going to happen without a very significant change in geo-politics.
      As Gaby notes, there is no reason whatsoever that the Army alone should not be able to generate 6-7 fully deployable Brigades (and the Marines another 1), given the resources available. The key issue here is the manner in which those resources are currently being used and the combination of political interference, combined with a continuation of the long tradition of questionable "transformations" periodically undertaken by the Army, which appear to have resulted in an extremely sub-optimal organisation.
      Perhaps we should ask the question another way - with a force strength (including the Royal Marines) of 88,000, how would you go about generating the maximum amount of truly deployable and supportable Brigades?

    5. Anonymous,

      In my humble opinion, I don't think the Army could generate 6 to 7 deployable brigades. Is has enough Infantry battalions but not enough support units.
      Again in my view, the Army is now a lost cause. If this is by design, accident or more likely Incompetence is open for argument. As an ex pongo, I regret having to say that.
      As you rightly say, to focus on the RN and switch funds from the Army would take some doing. But I would argue that would be the sensible thing to do.

    6. What i mean in the article is that the army could generate 6 brigades plus 16 Air Assault IF Army 2020 had cut manpower by further hitting infantry battalions instead of opening gaps in supporting units, leaving an unbalanced force. But cap badges have won the day once more...

  5. Gaby

    What an excellent reply! Thanks very much.

  6. Does that mean 1 x MRSR per Bde?

    Are they all in organic Sigs? I suppose what I mean will have have all the organic sigs assets necessary to support a deployed Bde? ie SATCOM, FALCON, EW, ICS etc in 1 Regt

    Definitely the way forward


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