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
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.
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