Saturday, January 9, 2016

Of Signals and Headquarters

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?

Full Size at the link

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.

Full Size at the link

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.


  1. Thanks for that article Gabriele.
    Having enough Brigade HQ's is a problem.
    Now the army is to have another deployable brigade,
    we are short of a brigade HQ.
    As your article points out. I can't see the army finding enough manpower to raise another signals regiment, even with cutting 5 infantry battalions down to 500.
    I would also like to mention that in my view, we don't use 16 brigade's assets to the full.
    It really needs more infantry to be able to deploy as a brigade. Even at the expense of an adaptable brigade. In my day airmobile infantry battalions was a way the MOD got away with having infantry battalions with next to nothing and calling them something fancy.

  2. Gaby

    A very interesting article. Looking at some of your comments: e.g.

    “Notoriously, the combination of increased network requirements and cuts to manpower and resources have forced an extensive restructuring of the Royal Signals,” and

    “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.” and

    “There is an obvious shortage of resources”

    and so on. There appears to be a lack of manpower right across the Army and awkward and even dangerous compromises are being made. It seems to me quite obvious that the cuts in 2010 went far too far and that we are now realizing that we need thousands more personnel in order to restore a truly efficient fighting Army. I can’t see any other way around the problems.

    The Royal Signals also provide an Electronic Warfare capability in the form of 14 Signal Regiment (EW). I was also wondering about what is happening in that area. Have you heard anything more about the Landseeker programme, for instance? Will that have a dedicated vehicle such as was planned for the now cancelled Soothsayer?

    1. No real info on Landseeker, unfortunately. The Royal Signals are trying to get the MOD to recognize the EW lesson of Ukraine and get some funding, but for now i heard nothing significant.

  3. Gaby

    Many thanks for that information.

    As you say “Replacing (finally) Bulldog is also going to be a key passage, and here both the Ajax family and the ABSV family will be involved.” It is, I suppose, very important that older vehicles are eventually replaced. I believe, though, that there is a Mastiff communications variant. Is this an area where perhaps a longer-lasting role could be found for some UOR vehicles? They would not have to be quite as fast or agile as armoured vehicles placed right up near the firing line (and I do know that some Signals personnel are among the first in in some operations). However, some of the UOR vehicles (e.g. Mastiff) are quite capacious and could perhaps be employed in greater numbers in the communications role. Or would they be too cumbersome, do you think?

    1. In theory, i suppose it might be possible to take the Mastiff and realize a command post and communications conversion that meets the requirement. The curret comms variant is used at lower command levels, but the vehicles offer space, so it could be an option, i suppose. Whether it would be good enough on the balance of capability and cost, i can't quite say.

  4. Hi Gabriele,
    What other 'brigade' units will have to be raised, for the new 4th deployable brigade?
    Looking at the locations of units, could you point the army in the right direction for which units to include in the 5 brigades?
    I know they should be able to work that out for themselves, but you never know!
    I see the heavy protected battalion theme is still going in the soldier magazine.
    Reading the article, it seemed to me as the Mastiff is going to be the vehicle for the short to medium term. What do you think? Hence I am not expecting an order for a new 8x8 anytime soon.
    Phil (Still pretty cynical)

  5. @Phil

    Yes, I read the article in “Soldier” magazine too and found it very interesting.

    It would seem that the emphasis on the heavy protected battalion “theme”, as you put it, is/was because the Army is/was still trying out formations with Army 2020 in mind As you know, the formation structure for the Armoured Infantry Brigades in Army 2020 included one Heavy Protected Mobility Battalion in each brigade. This will of course almost certainly change when Army 2025 comes to be configured.

    The point, I think, of “Exercise Wessex Storm”, described in the “Soldier” article, was to prove a concept of employment for the UOR wheeled fleet (Mastiffs, Ridgbacks, Huskys, Jackals, etc.). It involved, apparently, a battlegroup based on 4th Battalion, the Rifles and, as you know, 4 Rifles are the Heavy Protected Mobility Infantry for the 1st Armoured Infantry Brigade in the planned Army 2020 structure.

    What I did not know was that the Jackal is being used in the Recce platoons and the Panther and Ridgback in the Signals platoons in such formations. As an aside, the Husky has, it seems, been experiencing some problems with its electrics in the wet conditions but I suppose that one of the points of such an exercise is to throw up such problems so that solutions may be found.

    I think that you are probably wrong to be quite so cynical. If the British Army 2025 is to have two Strike Brigades equipped with wheeled 8 x 8 vehicles (and 300 would seem to be in the pipeline), then decisions are going to have to be taken before long as to the choice of vehicle and its procurement. I think Gaby has already mentioned such a point previously but I can’t find the exact reference at the moment.

  6. Hi MikeW.
    I think I heard mention that one strike brigade would be 'formed' by 2018?
    I think we are all still in the dark (even Gabriele!), on what the new structure of the army is going to look like.
    I also think Gabriele mentioned that maybe the army will extend its deployment times for units. Going for 4 brigades seems to fit with that. Maybe that's something else we will have to factor in?
    That would give 4 deployable brigades plus 16 AA.
    The rest either ceremonial, regular commitments (Falklands etc), or the new army cooperation units.
    Phil (sorry getting cynical in my old age)

  7. Signal regiment aside, no new unit is needed for the 4th Strike Brigade: but one of each of the 2 existing REME, Medical, Logistic and Engineer and Artillery regiments/battalions that Army 2020 assigned to the adaptable force will have to be uplifted to properly support the new, heavier and more complex brigade.

    That leaves the mystery of the 5th tour. Will the infantry brigades deliver one deployable brigade to keep a 1 in 5 rule of ops? Will we see a drop to 1 in 4? Nobody seems to know. The professors heard by the defence committee highlighted this and other black holes: they know nothing more than us.

    Mastiff is definitely going to stay for a while. It'll be the first and main vehicle for the Strike Brigades, we have to assume. However, the MIV programme should begin to take a shape during this year.
    The Strike Brigades plan is for 2018 as start of the reconfiguration, 2021 for the IOC and 2025 for the FOC.

    1. Thanks Gabriele,
      I guess there is still a lot of units and equipment to return from Germany yet.
      There seems to be a black hole on information.
      That worries me.
      Cynical Phil

  8. Gaby

    I have put some comments about the Defense News article concerning the proposed upgrade to the Challenger in the comments on "British Army 2025: a proposed concept and structure". If you have the time could you have a look at it sometime?

  9. Hi Gabriele,
    Just been reading your tweets.
    Has 'be able to deploy a division of 2 armoured and one strike brigades gone already?
    I assume that UK strike brigades, from what I have read, will be able to 'fit in with' and able to deploy with, US and French strike brigade forces.
    The US strike brigades have 3 infantry and one cavalry units? I assume that's how the UK with organize there's?
    But as I understand things, the US and French forces don't have any tracked vehicles in there strike brigades?
    I would love to know what readiness these 2 brigades are going to be at? 24 hours, 2 days, 1 week, 2 weeks or 1 month? My guess is 1 month.
    Cynical Phil

  10. Phil et al.,

    Some thoughts that I will try to make organized:

    - The resultant system could (and should if it's to be at all rational) look quite a lot like the current French model (2x armd bdes, 2x wheeled-mech intervention bdes, 2x light bdes in their case one para and one alpine.) Now, with the Frogs, it would honestly make more sense if they rationalised directly rather than having one of each type in their restored divisions. La Grande Muette really has two jobs, put a heavy force into NATO or Mideast ops, and put a reaction force into the Patrimonie. So they could go with the exiting base geography and put *both* 2eme BB and 7e BB plus 27e BCA into 1er Division (again "Blindee" its historic role), and 6e DLB, 9e BMM, and 11e BP into the 3eme Division (which has colonial -- Algerian -- roots anyway.) With the British Army a more generic architecture would make more sense.

    - The support regiments will rationalise, I'm sure, starting with sorting the two Adaptable RLC regiments into a close- and theatre-support role respectively, for the second "strike" (eesh) bde. You'll get the same with the others.

    - What I'd really like to see is a similar approach to the rapid-reaction bdes, ie make them identical too. I've sketched my model elsewhere:
    - One Para bn
    - One RM Commando (so you could cut 45 Cdo from the regulars and start shifting Naval Service personnel back towards the ships, and rationalise the RM Reserves around providing a third Commando a la 4 PARA)
    - Two Para-sized (not "light role" the full 660) all-terrain air assault battalions. Ideally just slice The Rifles by a battalion (make the old Rifle units of RGJ amalgamate), shift them into this role (they all recruit well enough to maintain at least that establishment) and assign them.

    Then each (let an RM 1* keep running 3 Cdo for historic reasons) would have a truly amphibious/littoral-focused RM unit, a truly air-droppable para battlegroup, and a couple of bns trained to fight in terrain who could be brought out to the task force and delivered ship-to-shore by helis (or airland for an inland op.)

    End Pt 1...


  11. Part 2

    - At that point you follow the "thirds" approach of the French and (nearly, if they'll do something about the semi-useless political hot potato of 10th ID) American armies. UK would have two armoured brigades, two lighter-mechanised brigades with a naff designation, and two rapid-reaction bdes.

    - The trick then is what's Adaptable Force for? Really, for now, *my* inner cynic says it's a waiting game being played by various people in the service and the Defence Staff (including Houghton) against Carter and his institutional coup on behalf of Infantry OF-5-and-aboves. With the 2-2-2 structure in place the Adaptable Force should be scrapped: more of its Home duties should be given over to more muscular and better trained/supported Reserves as in the Anglophone Dominions/US, and command/support structures in the Regulars should focus on the by-then six fighting bdes.

    - At that point it seems to me it's worth having more, not less, ambition, and really stripping down the Army, Regular and Reserves, around the mission of supplying up to *two* divisional forces, one geared for heavy combat and one for "Mali writ large" sorts of ops. Two *tasks*, of different but important sorts, would be a hell of an improvement over two *tiers* (Reaction plus the Potemkin Adaptable that exists to give colonelcies and brigadierships to the boys.)

    I would guess the two-year cycle will in fact be four-tier as well, or at least could easily be. Six months apiece. You have two bdes in each "track" (armour, "strike," reaction) and readiness cycles 1-4. So the two bdes are simultaneously in Stage 2 and 4, and then Stage 1 and 3. Seems the likeliest outcome. And, yes, it would do away permanently with generating long-deployment forces. Because unless you're willing to do conscription and a wartime economy, occupying other nation-states (or, worse, foreign mega-cities) for the long haul is the 21st century equivalent of old-school Total War. If you can't make the commitment at a truly national level, all of the people in on the effort, it's not worth trying.


  12. Hi Gabrielle,
    Off topic question:

    There are always a lot of negative comments (especially on US defence websites/blogs) about the QEC's lack of fixed-wing AEW capability, the implication being that the QE's will only be useful for Sierra Leone/Libya/Iraq type operations.

    So, I just wondered how a QEC CSG would fare against a high-end opponent like the Chinese or Russians (as unlikely as that scenario is).

    QEC CSG?

    1 x QEC carrier - air group of 24 F-35Bs & 14 AEW/ASW Merlins.
    2 Astute-class SSNs
    2 Type 45s
    3-4 Type 23s
    1 Tide-class tanker
    1 FSS ship

    The UK govt have said they would deploy forces in support of the FPDA nations

    If a QEC CSG were deployed to the South China Sea in the event of Chinese aggression against Malaysia or Singapore,
    would it be capable of defending it's self against the PLAN and Chinese land based aircraft? Also, how useful an addition would the CSG be to a larger US-led allied force?

    Sorry, long question.

    I have tried Google fu, but I did not find much on the subject.


    1. Apologies for misspelling your name, no edit button.

    2. It is not so easy to provide an answer. In war anything can happen. But for sure, no one would find it easy to take on that kind of task group. It would be the most powerful surface group after a US CVN battlegroup, so it could cover plenty of roles, whether supporting CVN groups from close distance or carrying out tasks on the flanks of the main frontline, so to speak.

    3. OK thanks Gabriele.

      There is speculation that the UK maybe interested in the V-22

      I suppose an AEW version of the Osprey would make the CSG even more formidable.



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