As we wait to finally discover something about the fabled Joint Force 2025 and its actual impact on the army's capabilities, plans and structure, it is time to bring once more communications and headquarters into the spotlight, as this area is a particularly critical one, and there's a recognized shortage of resources, which is due to become even more evident with the coming of the "Strike Brigades".
The graphic below, which i've created, depicts (as accurately as possible) the current structure of the Royal Signals in all its main components. It also contains some indications about sub-unit composition and role in this Army 2020-driven structure.
A few changes from the last major public update have become evident: for example, two Reserve squadrons were authorized to change their name, as requested back in 2012. 69th Sqn, 32th Regiment, became 40th (North Irish Horse) Squadron; while 47 Sqn, 71st Regiment became 31st (Middlesex Yeomanry).
Far more important, there seems to be a change or role for a couple of regiments: 2nd Signal Regiment was expected to become a Multi Role Signal Regiment of the "Divisional" type, providing support to 3 UK Division. However, 2nd Signal Regiment has actually become a "Brigade" MRSR, with the task of supporting 12th Armoured Infantry Brigade.
It was once planned that 12th Brigade would be supported by 16th Signal Regiment instead: the fact that 16th Regiment has moved back to the UK only in the last year might have caused a rethink, using 2nd Regiment to provide the brigade with the capability earlier.
Unfortunately, there is no solid information at this stage about what comes next for 16th Signal Regiment: will it become the second "Divisional" regiment once planned (adding to 3rd Signal Regiment) or will it become a fourth brigade-type formation?
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The configuration of the Signal regiments is closely related to the work that the British Army has been doing (and is continuing to do) on formation headquarters. As part of Army 2020, a series of experiments have been carried out under the auspices of Project URQUHART and Project HORROCKS: the objective is the evolution of 1 and 2 star HQs and the determination of the associated Information & Communication Solutions (CIS).
Notoriously, the combination of increased network requirements and cuts to manpower and resources have forced an extensive restructuring of the Royal Signals, which has seen all Divisions and Brigades (with the exception of 16th Air Assault and 3rd Commando) lose their signal elements, which have been centralized within the Multi Role Signal Regiments.
At the end of the day, though, operational realities mean that the brigades still have a signal element attached: not a squadron, but a whole regiment. Although all MRSR sit under 7 Signal Group, 11th Signal Brigade, they have clear roles and clear associations to specific formations.
The problem is that there are only 5 MRSRs, enough for the 3 armoured infantry brigades and the two division HQs (two MRSR were planned to be of the "divisional" type, both associated primarily to 3rd UK Division).
As said earlier, the plan has changed somewhat and it is hard to say if there will effectively be a second "divisional" regiment. With the Reaction Force moving to 4 brigades under Joint Force 2025, sheer necessity might suggest making do with a single "divisional" regiment in exchange for an additional "brigade" regiment.
The "Brigade" regiments have one squadron tasked primarily with FALCON and associated Wide-Area network systems. They create the area-wide communications network in favor of the brigade and of its battlegroups.
One squadron provides Close Support communications to the brigade's components: primarily, to the Vanguard Enabling Group, which includes the Combat Support and Combat Service Support elements.
Finally, one squadron continues to be tasked with much the same task as the old brigade squadrons: providing the tactical HQ for the brigade. For this task, the squadron is equipped with Bulldog armored vehicles and Panther.
The establishment is around 530, including 8 reserve and 4 civil servants posts.
The "Division" regiment is shaped by the "evolved" 2 Star HQ concept which came out of Project HORROCKS. The regiment has one squadron tasked primarily with providing the Main HQ installation. This is a very large and pretty hard to move complex: it takes 17 ISO containers or more to carry all the equipment associated, which includes 50 DRASH shelters, in various sizes, recently procured by the British Army to replace the old tents.
It will be erected a great distance away from the firing line, for obvious reasons: technology is expected to compensate for the distance.
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It remains a very vast and vulnerable complex, which in any high-end warfare scenario will need to be properly protected at least against air attack. And it is unsettling to think how good a target such HQ makes for a ballistic missile (Scud or Iskander), against which the British Army can't field anything. Even with CAMM / Land Ceptor on the way as replacement for Rapier, the ground-based anti-air capability remains limited, and Anti-Ballistic capability is pretty much non existent.
A smaller HQ, meant to move more frequently to stay closer to the frontline, is also provided.
Finally, a squadron is tasked with providing an armoured, fully mobile tactical HQ. The HQ itself is formed up by 8 Bulldog 436 vehicles and tents, and is supported by a number of Radio Re-Broadcast points on Bulldog and Panther vehicles. The squadron is established for 12 Bulldog.
This HQ is highly mobile and far easier to conceal, but a limitation comes from technology: the HQ needs to stop in order to communicate fully. Only Voice channels are available on the move.
The US Army has been investing heavily in improving communications and achieving command capability on the move, but it is not clear if the british army will attempt to obtain similar capabilities anytime soon. Beginning the replacement of BOWMAN (project LE TAcCIS / Morpheus) in the next few years is on the cards, but it will be a very long and gradual process, and an On-The-Move capability might or might not be included in the early phases.
The "Divisional" regiment also needs to deliver Close Support CIS to the units associated to the division, and in particular to the Logistic Brigade and its components. The Logistic Brigades used to have their very own Signal Troop, but this is no longer the case and, anyway, a Troop would probably not suffice anyway.
There is an obvious shortage of resources: 5 brigades are needed to support a single enduring deployment; 4 brigades are planned for 3rd UK Division in Joint Force 2025; the renewed focus on the 2 star HQ even in brigade-sized operations calls for a better ability to maintain a Divisional HQ in the field.
When all these factors are considered, the shortage can be quantified in whole regiments. It is not clear if Joint Force 2025 will have any real chance to do something about this shortage.
The roles of 22nd and 30th Signal Regiments have also been cleared somewhat: 22nd is meant to support the ARRC, while 30th is more focused on providing support to british high readiness units, including the Vanguard aviation element (support and attack helicopters - 244 Sqn is the last aviation support signal unit, down from the whole 21 Regiment before the SDSR 2010). 250 Sqn is tasked with delivering support also the 16 Air Assault brigade HQ and has an air assault troop for the task.
Communications are a key component of the army's capability, and Joint Force 2025, if it is to deliver real improvements, will have to find new ways to match requirements and means. Project HORROCKS continues, and according to earlier documents it will work out to 2018 to refine the new HQ concepts.
The advent of Joint Force 2025, replacing Army 2020, will obviously have an impact, and it is still hard to guess how far reaching it will be.
HORROCKS was expected to be followed by CALVERT, with the target of designing headquarters for the longer term, towards 2030. The replacement of BOWMAN will be a key component of this process. Replacing (finally) Bulldog is also going to be a key passage, and here both the Ajax family and the ABSV family will be involved.
There seems to be little doubt, in any case, that network requirements will continue to grow, and while technology can help, manpower requirements for the Corps of Royal Signals will continue to stay high.