Thursday, March 17, 2016

British Army "reviewing" whether to lose some more firepower

The British Army’s infantry has one particularly demanding aspiration in mind:

Project Payne
The aim is achieving a reduction in carried load to as low as 25 kg in marching order (interim target is 40 Kg, apparently) and 20 kg in assault order.

Compare those values with an average for “patrol order” in Afghanistan, and you realize how difficult it is to go down in weight without simply cancelling key bits of equipment from the list. VIRTUS, of course, is working to make the body armour and load carriage equipment both lighter and more comfortable, but it is only one part of the story.
One key part of the story that never seems to get much mention is:

Project Atlas
A Combat Load Carrier was rapidly identified as a necessity if the infantry is to achieve the desired load reduction while ensuring the platoon still has the kit it needs. Pack animals and vehicles both considered, according to the papers. The solution would be assigned at Coy and/or Platoon level.  

The current, interim solution is the Yamaha Grizzly 450 Quad Bike with trailer; grouped at Coy level.  

Tomorrow’s solution is…?
Apparently, in the minds of some in the top brass, it is leaving the Section without LMG and the Platoon without mortar, rather than procuring a load carrier / mobility platform.
The official version is that a light tactical mobility platform to replace the Quad Bike could come in 2020, and pack animals might return as well.

But in the meanwhile Jane’s reports that the British Army is considering whether to remove the 60mm platoon mortar from service, and even the Minimi LMG could be removed from the arsenal.
The justification? The 40mm underslung grenade launcher makes the mortar redundant and the LMG really is no good, better to depend on Battlegroup assets and/or GPMGs passed down by Company, if luck assists.
I mean, the enemy will be suppressed in some way, whatever it is, and the sharpshooter will pick them apart with precision, the new magic word of the day. Honest.  

Nobody in the world thinks any of the two is a good idea? Hey, this is the British Army, we don’t care.

The sorry story of the British Army’s firepower goes back many years. Possibly decades. But I will only summarize the most recent episodes of the saga. To fully grasp the "funny" side of the story, you must consider that the Sharpshooter, the current key piece on the chessboard, did not really exist in the british army until a few years ago and has been on the point of vanishing again as soon as combat operations in Afghanistan winded down and his weapon, the L129A1, procured as UOR, became an immediate candidate for disposal.

But the L129A1 was popular enough not to be thrown away, and the uncertainty about its worth, role and future became just one part of a more complex story, going from "it isn't that good" to the "it makes the LMG redundant" within less than 3 years of magic. Enter the: 

Platoon Combat Experiment (PCE)

PCE was a 3-year study (it should be complete now) meant to examine the full combat effectiveness of the dismounted Infantry Platoon. The focus of the study was Platoon lethality and Dismounted Situational Awareness (DSA). Experiments were run yearly through a 6-week programme broken down into 3 weeks on Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) using Tactical Engagement Simulation (TES, the laser-based training system) and 3 weeks in Sennybridge Training Area (SENTA) conducting live firing. The results of the experiments were meant to inform the ORBAT and equipment requirements of Army 2020’s infantry platoons. As of May 2014, the three phases of PCE were described as:

Year 1 (2013) baseline experiment to gather the data on current configuration of weapons, equipment, DSA and lethal capability.

Year 2 (2014) Intervention year. Having examined the data from year 1, areas found to require change were targeted to determine the way forwards. Two main targets were selected:

-          Load reduction, with the aim to drop from a “Patrol Order” (Op Herrick) of 42 kg average to an Assault Order of 27 kg or less.
-          Rule of 4; evaluating the merits of a return to a Platoon on 4 Sections. Manpower being fixed, this is only achievable by reducing the Section from 8 to 6 men.

Year 3 (2015) Final intervention and confirmation year. Having studied the data from years 1 & 2 the final year was meant to be used to conduct further interventions, in different areas or adjustments in those from year 2. The selected ORBAT and equipment configuration coming out of year 2 would be used. Finally, the results would be studied and compared to determine the way ahead.

As of May 2014:

-          L129A1 and L86A2 LSW: uncertainty on the way ahead, despite decision to take L129 into Core after earlier suggestions of scrapping it. PCE Year 1 results showed, surprisingly, that the LSW, adjusted and put in the hands of a private having received adequate progression training and Small Arms Corps guidance, was the best performing weapon in Live Fire events over the 4-500 meters range.
The results on ranges between 500 and 800 meters again saw the LSW performing as well as the L129A1, with the 5.56 bullet having greater speed at the same range. However, the L129A1 and the ACOG 6x sight were found to be not adequately ballistically matched. A new sight graticule for the ACOG was funded, and the trials were to be repeated. The L129A1 was also rejected as Sniper No 2 weapon, with the intention of launching a new procurement effort after firming up the requirements.

In May 2015, courtesy of the 1st Princess of Wales regiment which provided the information, I learned that:

-          1 PWRR had just been scaled to receive the L129A1 in Sniper No 2 role; but there were some logistic issues still to be tackled and LSW was being used in the interim within the sniper pair. The LSW was described as “performing very well in sharpshooter role” but most pairs continued to call for the 7.62 of the L129A1. A change of heart on the Sniper No 2 decision? No money to procure a dedicate sniper support weapon as hoped in 2014? Who knows.

-          For Section-level sharpshooter role a definitive answer could not be provided, but I was told that Armoured Infantry battalions probably would not be given the L129A1 on the assumption that long range fire support would come from the Warrior’s coaxial 7.62 MG. Not quite the same as a sharpshooter and there is a point to be made that infantry and IFV aren’t glued and the IFV might not be able to follow everywhere, all the time. But there are not enough L129, that much is known, and AI Coys are those which would suffer the less if deprived of the sharpshooter. At least they do have the Warrior.

-          As of now, L129 is in use both in Sharpshooter and Sniper No 2 role. But LSW is also being re-issued in numbers after having pretty much vanished for a few years.

Even so, as of August 2015, more trials were planned with the L129A1 fitted with the adjusted ACOG sight. After testing it with standard ammo, the plan was to employ high performance ammunition to determine if the new combination would give the desired 800 meters effective reach. The 16’’ barrel is probably a limiting factor: a longer one would solve the effective reach issue, but would affect bulk and weight (and cost...).  

On top, the L86A2 LSW in normal configuration, then an LSW in "A3" configuration, proposed to improve its performance, with the same bipod as the L129A1 (bottom)
L129A1 in Sniper No 2 configuration, with suppressor and 12x sight. The ACOG 6x is used in Sharpshooter role instead.

Small Arms Suppressors: initially considered as part of efforts to reduce the number of troops sustaining noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), they were found to potentially have other merits on the battlefield and a full experimentation was ordered. The army procured bespoke suppressors for every platoon weapon, including the LMG Minimi and the GPMG. As of 2015, there was no definitive conclusion, with both pros and cons having surfaced, and more time required to make any choice.

BURMA Coy, 1st LANCS, was given the suppressors for a fact-finding ride. They performed well on SA80 and L129A1, greatly reducing the noise and even the recoil, while they performed horribly on the belt-fed weapons, somehow causing the recoil to get much stronger and, not so surprisingly, becoming white hot during sustained fire, both with LMG and GPMG.

UGL Fire Control System: the FCS for the underslung grenade launcher is not popular with the troops, who feel it is too heavy and cumbersome. SASC’s answer is that it should not be kept attached to the rifle all the time, as removing and attaching it is a 15 seconds (on average during the trials) operation.
“Some work” was put into developing the UGL into a stand-alone weapon rather than a rifle attachment, apparently with the blessing of the Special Forces community. In February 2014 the MOD put out a tender notice asking for a lightweight, battery-powered Mounted Ballistic Sight to replace the ladder sight of the UGL both underslung and stand-alone.
Not sure if a procurement actually followed, but it sounds a lot like the Vectronix-Wilcox RAAM FCS, procured in 2011, is a designated victim of the efforts to shed weight and will likely not live long. The MOD 2014 notice calls for something weighting less than 450 g, rather than the around 790 of the FCS. 

As of 2016, the UGL itself might be dropped in favor of a standalone version, ideally a multi-shot grenade launcher if it can be procured. We'll see.

L128A1 Combat Shotgun: ingloriously removed from service, without much of a word.  

PCE Experiment. The reportage from the field: BURMA Company, 1st LANCS, was tasked with the Year 2 trials. The 4 sections of 6 men were armed with “a mix of platoon weapons including the LMG Long Barrel and the L129A1 Sharpshooter”. The inclusion of the Minimi is important in light of the latest news, and the fact that it had the long barrel is also very interesting as currently all LMGs in british army service are short barreled, which impacts their effective reach. The possibility of procuring and retrofitting the longer barrel has been on the cards for a while. A “Reconfigured LMG” was a future requirement within the Infantry Lethality project as far back as 2011. 
Nowhere had I ever read before about the possibility of dropping the LMG from the army’s equipment being even considered. It popped entirely out of the blue, for me.

In the 1st LANCS regimental journal for the year 2014, Lieutenant Graeme Cleave, BURMA Coy, writes about the Platoon experiment. The very first technical observation he makes is that they found the best tool in the platoon’s arsenal is the 60mm platoon mortar.
The same that could now be dropped from the equipment table.  

“We learnt very quickly that effective use of the mortar not only defeats the enemy at long range it also gives you freedom of movement on the battlefield”.

The Kingsman yearbook 2014 – Page 27

In combination with the Sharpshooter, the platoon mortar allowed the Sections to clear out enemy positions from over 600 meters away.
I find this in no way surprising. It also tallies with the post Op Herrick reports which specify that the great majority of enemies killed were taken down by sharpshooter / sniper fire or by HE, with everything else mostly only providing suppressive fire to fix the enemy in place.
It should be noted that in Afghanistan the Minimi was snubbed at times… but not in favor of a no-belt fed approach. Rather, the infantry patrols preferred to shoulder more weight but carry the firepower and reach of the GPMG Light Role.
How do we get from here to the possibility of losing both the mortar and the belt-feds, I have no idea.
There is a massive hole in the train of thought, that transits through abortive attempts to make the GPMG lighter to arrive to this proposal of only having belt-feds in the Support Coy, with the GPMG SF.

There is one single major force in the world which has removed belt-feds from the Section / Squad. That is the USMC, which has replaced its own Minimi, the M249 SAW, with the M-27 IAR, an automatic rifle with integrated bipod, which can deliver semi-automatic “sharpshooter” precision or full auto suppressive fire. 

However, it should be remembered that the USMC squad is 13 men strong and the Platoon includes a Weapons squad with M240s belt-fed 7,62 mm guns. The british platoon has no weapons squad and no organic GPMGs and is a smaller force in general.
The US Army platoon is 39 strong, with 3 sections of 9 and a weapons section. The French use a platoon of 40 men, which also includes support weaponry.

The British Army briefly worked on putting a platoon of GPMGs within Rifle Companies in Light Role regiments as part of Army 2020, also to mitigate the problem of only having 2 Rifle platoons now. The paired reserve battalion is supposed to provide the missing platoon in each Coy, but whether this is realistic is still all to be seen. In peacetime, it seems that more often than not, it is not actually doable as troops have been repeatedly borrowed from other regular battalions.
The Rifle Coy's Machine Gun Platoon was formed in some battalions, but then quickly dismantled: it seems to have lasted a year at most, before the GPMGs were sent back to the Support Coy from which they had been “stolen”.  No resource in the British Army is ever additional these days: robbing Peter to pay Paul is the rule.
An attempt to adopt the Fire Support Group as peacetime structure, forming three multi-weapon groups comprising machine guns, GMG and anti-tank missiles was also short lived, and everything seems to have reverted to Machine Gun Platoon, AT Platoon, Mortar Platoon, Sniper Platoon, Recce Platoon, Pioneer (mini-) Platoon. There is just less of everything.  
The firepower deficit that the British Army already has when compared with any other army, at all levels from platoon to battalion, would only get worse under this new mortar and belt-feds “review”.

The few positives from the PCE trial were the top marks reserved for the Laser Light Module LLM MK3, which seems to have gained everyone’s favor as one of the best bits of kit the army has procured in recent times. 
One definitely good point of the whole exercise was the lot of work done at night, including platoon attacks in IR light only. “Mastery of the night” rhetoric abounded when the FIST sights and NVGs were procured, but the Op Herrick campaign report warns that, for a whole series of reasons, the army did not actually press the pedal on night fighting, probably missing a lot of good tactical advantages over the Taliban.

On the “rule of 4” side, there were both good and bad things to note: the commander likes the flexibility that a fourth maneuver unit gives him (and who wouldn’t) but notes that a 6 man squad becomes combat ineffective very quickly as soon as the first casualties are suffered.
It should be noted that when the British Army worked with 4 sections in the past, those numbered 10 men each…

Finally, a related point. Note that, due to Warrior CSP having room for just 6 dismounts, the Armoured Infantry Coys seem destined to have 6 men Sections regardless of whatever they might think of them, since I don’t think we can expect an additional Warrior in each Platoon, or even an APC addition.
As we saw before, the AI Coy section probably won’t have a Sharpshooter (at a minimum not one with L129, maybe LSW could still be included within the 6) and the LMG might well be the other bit that goes.

Lightweight mortar: it was reported already back in 2013 that the British Army would shelve the 60mm mortars it had procured as UOR for Afghanistan. Back then, it was said that the platoon mortar, or “commando” mortar, would remain in use only with PARA and Royal Marines. That was not (entirely) correct. The handheld M640 ended up being taken into Core as replacement for the 51mm platoon mortar, and remains in Army-wide use (for now at least).
The 60mm mortars which have been shelved are the M6895 and M6-895C, which are heavier, have a longer barrel and are used with a bipod, with a much greater range (around 4 km). These were procured to give the maneuver forces in Afghanistan more mobile mortar platoons. The 81mm L16, too heavy for the kind of foot patrol work required in Afghanistan, more often than not would not go outside the FOBs.
These two mortars are the ones which have been left available only to PARAs and Royal Marines. 

But now, once more, the Army is considering removing the platoon mortar from service, with the same justification used back when the 51mm was withdrawn without direct replacement: the underslung grenade launcher made it redundant. With the difference that the 51mm ammunition production had ended and it made no sense spending big money to try and restart it. 60mm ammunition is readily available worldwide.
Never mind the fact that the handheld mortar can hit out to 1000 meters and beyond, while 40mm grenades only reach 400 meters. Never mind the larger payload of the mortar’s bomb and their greater lethality. Nor the fact that the mortar can fire IR illumination shells, cold smoke, white phosphorous smoke, colored smoke. The Multi Role Fuze permits the selection of Low or High burst detonation for area effects.
It is a lot of firepower and flexibility available at platoon level, and there is no reason to throw it away, especially without procuring any kind of replacement whatsoever.

The British Army in Afghanistan has used MITHRAL hand-fired rockets for creating smoke curtains and putting up colored smoke signals at ranges of up to 1000 meters without depending on the mortar, and maybe these will continue to be used, but even they are no replacement.  

There are alternatives to the platoon mortar? Not really, at the moment. No one else is throwing the platoon mortar away, even if it weights 6+ kg.
The US Marines and US Army have been working on weapons which might at some point provide a full alternative, but none of the two is so far mature enough to replace the mortar. The XM-25 is extremely interesting, but not yet mature and individually not lighter than the 60mm mortar. The ammunition, though, weights less.
The M-32 revolver grenade launcher is another interesting system already in use in the USMC and now to be purchased by the Australian army as well, but it still doesn’t give you the reach of the platoon mortar.
Medium Velocity 40mm grenades, expected to reach as far as 800 meters, are becoming more mature as time passes, but we are not there yet. 

Lt.Col. Iain Moodie, SO1, Dismounted Close Combat, Capability Directorate Combat, speaking at the Soldier Equipment and Technology Advancement Forum (SETAF) in London on 14th March, suggested that the Army might look at the Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle as a possible replacement due to the flexibility it offers thanks to the wide range of ammunition available.
The US Army has seen a resurgence of interest in the Carl Gustav already years ago, putting many back in the field in Afghanistan to give long-range firepower options to its infantry. The US Army calls it the Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon System (MAAWS) M3. It weighs approximately 22 pounds with each round of ammunition weighing less than 10 pounds, but already back in 2012 there were ongoing attempts to make it at least 5 pounds lighter. Ammunition available include the High Explosive and High Explosive Dual Purpose Rounds, HEAT, illumination, anti-structure, multi-target and smoke. 

M3 Carl Gustav with the US Army
It is not any lighter than the platoon mortar, but is possibly even more flexible, and if provided with suitable anti-structure ammunition it could remove the need to carry the heavy MATADOR Anti Structure Munition  rocket launcher, compensating somewhat. 

On the ground, the Matador ASM, one of the less frequently observed weapons of the British Army. Money wasted? Maybe. For sure, it isn't light.
The user can usually load and fire four rounds within one minute.
The blast radius stemming from a High Explosive round is anywhere from 50 to 75 meters. The user sets the firing distance on the MAAWS by simply rotating a labeled meter at the top of the round.
The Carl Gustav is an interesting option, but until it is on the way to the Platoon, I really would not want to see the mortar go.

According to Moodie, the 40 mm UGL could be removed from the rifle and be replaced by a standalone, multiple (if there is money) grenade launcher.
This might also be a consequence of the fact that year 1 PCE firing trials showed the L85A2 with UGL lagging behind the L85A2 without UGL in terms of effective rounds landed on target.

The L16 mortar is supposedly going to be given an upgrade to extend its reach, but it is still delusional to think it’ll be where you need it, when you need it, all the time. And anyway, for the moment, there are actually restrictions imposed on the use of the maximum charge due to excessive noise. Noise, together with weight, is the big no-no of today’s army.
The November 2013 report about the 60mm mortar going out of the window said the L16 would be given new barrels to extend its service life. The new barrels would possibly be longer as the army hopes to obtain a longer reach from the L16A2 and could incorporate the “baffle” (Blast Attenuation Device) as fitted on the US version of the L16, to help reduce the noise and hide the flash.
There is however no evidence of any progress on this front since 2013, for all I know. 

Light Protected Mobility battalion mortar post during a recent exercise. No upgrade or change to the L16 is evident.

Hearing protection: The Army has spent years wrestling with technology to provide troops with an effective wearable Hearing Protection System. A new series of plugs, fitted with a device that automatically reduce the intensity of pulse, intense sounds, has been ordered during 2015.

VIRTUS, DSA, camouflage: Lt.Col. Iain Moodie painted a rather bleak picture by saying that jungle garments and camouflage are not funded and new Arctic equipment hasn’t even begun to be considered.

DSA developments should now be included in VIRTUS Pulse 2, for delivery between 2019 – 2022. Previously, Pulse 2 was expected to only cover the introduction of new, lighter ballistic armor plates. It now apparently will deal with DSA as well, and as a consequence presumably of power generation and distribution, previously the domain of Pulse 3.

Pulse 3 now apparently focuses on renewed small arms Lethality and on Close Combat Unmanned Aerial System (replacement for Black Hornet?). It is confusing, however, as these developments would appear to be only marginally connected to body armour and load carriage.

Some 40 million pounds are expected to be committed in 2017 to a new phase of the Future Soldier System. The I of “integrated” seems to have been dropped, meaning that we probably won’t hear about FIST anymore. 

The frankly embarrassing "concept" the MOD showed last year. The fake pad, the fake visor and the fake sight, rifle add-ons and sensors on top of the helmet truly give it an aura of seriousness. The long history of previous concepts and the latest news don't inspire any optimism.

The DSA situation within the British Army is rather dramatic in comparison to what is happening in France, US and elsewhere. It is an area of the Future Soldier programmes and even of Afghan UORs where progress has been scarce (with the exception of Black Hornet, a great addition).
A combat identification solution to prevent Blue on Blue is the absolute priority, with fielding hopefully from 2019.
Other DSA advances will probably depend in no small measure on the ongoing development of Bowman and then on Project MORPHEUS, Bowman’s replacement.

Did I already say there are too many infantry battalions increasingly becoming pointless and unusable due to lack of not just supports, but now even personnel kit? Lt.Col. Iain Moodie also said that the Army does not have the budget to equip everyone at the same way. VIRTUS and DSA releases will only happen in Tiers, and the total holdings are expected to be insufficient, requiring handing down of equipment when battalions swap in theatre.
The Adaptable / Infantry Brigades in particular can be expected to lag behind in equipment scales, but even Reaction brigades not in their Readiness year could experience shortages as equipment is prioritized for the brigades at readiness (one Armoured and one Strike, if we are to believe in the SDSR, and it is becoming harder by the day to do so).

Once more, the Army appears to be keeping battalions and brigades alive on a precarious life support, by spreading jam incredibly thin, ending up with holes all over the place.

In conclusion

Is it money, is it weight? Is it noise? Is it a bit of everything? Why would the British Army consider throwing away two important pieces like the LMG and the platoon mortar, without having procured anything that actually makes them redundant in any way?
Why so many army efforts go nowhere, lost in indecisive and contradictory approaches, U-turns, half-arsings, even when the cost is relatively minor (a few millions perhaps, hardly game changing within the budget)?

I can find no good answer. 


  1. Gabby,

    Your final conclusion sums up a major element of what is wrong with the armed forces in general, not just the Army - why so many efforts go nowhere, why so many u-turns and half-arsings. It happens in virtually every procurement in every branch, no matter the size. The army announces changes to its structure time, after time, after time, either for fashion, or budgetary or political reasons, or indeed no real reason at all... One observation I would make is that none of this is new - in the 2001 book The Cold War: A Military History, the section on the British Army commenced with a statement along the lines of "Over the course of the Cold War no army undertook more changes and reorganisations. Sometimes this was for reasons of economy, sometimes for reasons of new operational concepts and sometimes the reasons simply baffled friend and foe alike. This would suggest that there are fundamental institutional issues in the Services, in the MOD and in the British political system and culture which is driving all of this....

  2. Gabby, I don't think the picture is as bleak as you suggest. The 5.56 mm Minimi LMG acquired as a UOR proved to be ineffective beyond 200 metres. The L86A2 LSW is no better than the L85A2, despite having a longer barrel. And it is so difficult to get rounds accurately on target with the 60 mm mortar that it just isn't worth the weight penalty that having this weapon at platoon level incurs. Behind the decision to axe them are future equipment investments that have yet to be made. There is some very interesting stuff is on the horizon including 40 mm MV grenades which can easily and accurately deliver HE to 900 metres. Other new an exotic multi-round 40 mm grenade launchers that make the XM25 look redundant are in development. Most important of all, the British Army will soon begin its future small arms programme. A lot will hinge on the US Army's future small arms strategy which will be published by year end 2016. The Americans believe that 5.56 mm x 45 mm has reached the limit of its development potential and much work is being done to evaluate slightly larger calibres that offer 7.62 mm range and terminal effectiveness in a 5.56 mm package. LSAT is one technology. Polymer ammunition is another. If for instance, a 6.5 mm round was adopted at platoon level, all soldiers could be equipped with a common assault rifle platform with standard role, carbine, LMG and DMR versions . Platoon HQ would be equipped with a belt-fed MG and MV GL which would cancel the need for separate machine gun platoons. A lot will happen to ensure that the British infantry soldier has an overmatch capability.

    1. Losing real capability now, hoping to procure, who knows when, new capability still mostly indeterminate, betting on stuff that has been on Power Point slides for 20 years but is no closer to reality...?

      Put a longer barrel on the Minimi or go with the lightweight GPMG LR and keep the mortar until there actually is something on the way. Dreams and power point slides don't suppress the enemy.

  3. "Sometimes this was for reasons of economy, sometimes for reasons of new operational concepts and sometimes the reasons simply baffled friend and foe alike."

    If your job is to reorganise, you will reorganise, and once you have reorganised, you will reorganise again or be made redundant.

    Additionally, its quite cheap to run a trial and an exercise and a power point, its very expensive to actually implement any of the results, so, with the best of intentions, people run a trial, and being unable to afford (either cash, or political will) to implement the changes, simply cherry pick a few harmless points, and then run another trial.

    Add to that a strategic muddle as different services, arms and egos argue about whats needed, is the British Army a force for slugging it out with Soviet Armoured fists, Smacking Iraqi armoured fists or blundering through mine fields in the arse end of no where peace keeping and capacity building.

    Or something else entirely

    There are just too many unknowns.
    A 6 man dismount section from a refurbed Warrior armed with 40mm CTA and equipped with all new sensors and comms has vastly different needs than a 7 man dismount in a 20mm cannon equipped warrior.

    But will there be a full fleet of 40mm equipped warrior, will there be a mix of 40mm and 20mm, will just "command" warriors get new sensors and comms

    "PCE Year 1 results showed, surprisingly, that the LSW, adjusted and put in the hands of a private having received adequate progression training and Small Arms Corps guidance, was the best performing weapon in Live Fire events over the 4-500 meters range."
    I'm not sure if this is sarcasm or not, but the LSW was designed for, well, supressing fire at 400-500m, now, that its won the contest it was designed to win *IS* remarkable given this is the British Army we are talking about....

    1. Glad you have rejoined us!

    2. "I'm not sure if this is sarcasm or not, but the LSW was designed for, well, supressing fire at 400-500m, now, that its won the contest it was designed to win *IS* remarkable given this is the British Army we are talking about...."

      It was trialed as an alternative to Sharpshooter, not in suppressive fire role. Surprising that it performed as well (at least, so we are told) as the L129.

      Also surprising because the L86 was previously basically thrown away for not being able to do its job.

      Now magically it is awesome, and this inexorably means the army made all the wrong assessment and decisions in the previous years; decided to throw it away; decided to procure a new weapon instead (L129); managed to procure it without a ballistically matched sight and without making sure it could do what it was being procured for.
      Or the army can't make sense now of the earlier decisions.
      Someone must be wrong, either one or the other.

      In general, there is just so much incoherence along the path of this story that it is stunning.

  4. according to Janes the 60mm mortar only achieved 3% accuracy on first round hits, obviously due to the way its operated (handheld). some words for thought...

    1. Some questions:

      - How it does in the hands of other armies? Can training improve that?

      - If not training, some kind of sight?

      - What about after the first round?

      - How can losing it without any replacement capability be any better now than it was last time, when a UOR purchase ended up being required urgently?

  5. What happened to plans for MV grenades? Nothing, that's what. I'm not aware of any progress on that front.

    The UGL is not unpopular in itself (not that i know of), it is the Fire Control System module that nobody seems to like.
    As for how a standalone launcher would be carried, yes, i guess it would be in addition to the rifle, making him the least envied man in the platoon (weight-wise at least).

    As for the Minimi, no, i refer to the 5.56 Minimi, just with a longer barrel. The British Army chose the short one, but the shorter barrel the shorter the useful range.

  6. Gaby

    Thanks very much for your reply. I don’t know what’s happened to my original comments, by the way. They seem to have disappeared from the screen.

    “The official version is that a light tactical mobility platform to replace the Quad Bike could come in 2020”

    Any idea yet what that might look like? Perhaps something like the Supacat ATMP 6-wheeled vehicle? The American have been trialling something that looks rather like that.

    The conclusion reached in the Burma coy, 1st LANCS, Platoon Combat Experiment report that "60mm mortar was best tool ..." seems to me logical, given the facts about its performance (range, payload and lethality of the bomb etc.). It should certainly be retained until something better comes along.

    I have more to write about Carl Gustav etc. but have just seen this on Shephard Defence site and thought I would pass it on. There is a note in their Twitter column to the effect that the US is finalising the sale of some Flyer 72 vehicles to a European NATO country for €5 million via Foreign Military Sales. It questions whether the receiver country could be the UK.

    1. No idea why it is no longer visible. I don't know if i can do anything to bring it back, but i'll try.

      And no, i'm afraid i don't have any idea about the Light Mobility Platform. The ATMP looks like a good solution for load carrying to me, but knowing the army we'll see a hundred or so abortive studies before any choice is eventually made...

      As for the Flyer, as i've said to Shephard itself, is almost certainly for Italy. The italian MOD approved a Flyer purchase already last year, so it is most likely that, finally reaching FMS approval. The plan had been to purchase 9 last year, with options for 9 more this year and another 9 in 2017. Probably the buying profile has now changed due to delays with FMS approval.

      A while ago a guy from Jane's told me that the MOD hadn't selected an internally transportable vehicle yet.

  7. Gaby

    Many thanks for your reply. It s, as you say, almost certainly the Italian purchase.

    I just wanted to ask one or two more questions:

    i) The Carl Gustav concept is an interesting one and, if a lighter version can be found, perhaps it could eventually replace the 60mm Mortar. However, despite the flexibility of the weapon, I would not really like to see it replace the platoon mortar. By the way, what a history that Carl Gustav weapon has had, hasn’t it?

    Incidentally, you mention that its introduction, if it were provided with suitable anti-structure ammunition, could remove the need to carry the heavy MATADOR Anti Structure Munition. I have not seen much of the latter weapon (apart from being allowed to handle one belonging to the Royal Marines at Plymouth several years ago – didn’t seem amazingly heavy to me actually). Is it really going to prove a white elephant? A damned expensive one, if it does!

    ii) I just wanted to ask a question about the development stage certain weapons are at. First, despite the fact that Monty (who is usually on the ball with his views and I suspect, is still serving) is enthusiastic about future developments: “Other new and exotic multi-round 40 mm grenade launchers that make the XM25 look redundant are in development.” Well, that may be the case but XM 25 has not even entered US service yet. Do you know how its development is going and whether it is likely to enter service before long and whether the UK is interested in acquiring it. It certainly promises to transform many aspects of infantry warfare.

    And secondly, the lightweight version of the GPMG. You recommend in one of your replies that we could go with that weapon, (as an alternative to the longer barrel Minimi). And yet earlier you refer to “abortive attempts to make the GPMG lighter”. What stage has the development of the lightweight version actually reached?

    Many thanks if you can answer these questions.

    1. I don't know what will happen with the ASM, but it does not seem to get much consideration, and that does not promise well.
      It weights several kg, and for a single-purpose bit of kit, it is a lot. You sure you got to handle an ASM and not a LASM, the interim system obtained by converting old LAW rocket launchers...? I believe the LASM weights a lot less than the ASM.

      The XM-25 was used operationally in Afghanistan, actually, with excellent reviews. But then there was a nasty accident, and it was recalled. At the end of 2015 the improved and fixed version was about to get into acceptance testing, which should continue during this spring. Entry in service should come next year. The US Army is calling it a high priority programme and the FY17 budget puts some serious money in the enterprise.
      Sadly, no UK interest that i know of.

      The Lightweight GPMG is something the MOD worked on, and industry worked on. H&K put some work into making the L7A2 lighter as well as designing its own lightweight medium machine gun proposal, but i don't think the MOD went ahead with anything in the end.

  8. I do find it fascinating both in some of the comments to Gabby's post and also in the general behaviour of the UK's armed forces, how they manage to combine an excitement and faith that "new structures and stuff will sort it all out" rather than focusing on solid delivery now and also a willingness to look at what any other armed forces are doing but only to validate decisions and views already made rather than to genuinely learn from them and/or copy them.
    It is sad to say that the British Army has hit a new low versus other countries forces - and this is not about resources, since other forces other than the US have even lower budgets per head than the UK. This is about leadership, organisation, decision making and implementation, all of which are poor in the UK. Yes elements of the force are "good" and I am sure people will trumpet the "training" as being far superior to everyone (is it really)? But overall, compared to the budget it receives, the Army is ill equipped and poorly structured

    1. Anonymous,
      "It is sad to say that the British Army has hit a new low versus other countries forces - and this is not about resources, since other forces other than the US have even lower budgets per head than the UK. This is about leadership, organisation, decision making and implementation, all of which are poor in the UK. Yes elements of the force are "good" and I am sure people will trumpet the "training" as being far superior to everyone (is it really)? But overall, compared to the budget it receives, the Army is ill equipped and poorly structured"
      You have hit the nail right on the head!
      Phil (the cynical ex pongo)

  9. Thanks for the last set of answers, Gaby.

    The post has led to some interesting discussion. Must agree with Anonymous that "new structures and stuff will sort it all out" can be very fallacious. We do need to concentrate on solid delivery now and, indeed, on keeping the best of what we have as well as looking at how we can weave in the best of the new.

  10. Its the Wimmin for the new model army, I wouldn't be surprised!

  11. what I don't understand is the fact that the british army seems so bad at procurement. the government of the day seem to get the blame but surely the army itself must take some of the responsibility. look at the army's overall equipment age? the royal navy and air force seem (with some hickups) have been transformed in the last 30 years, why are not the army? it still uses vehicles from the 60s and 70s the same eras as phantoms and type12 Leander frigates. why is this?

    1. Because the army absolutely has quite a good bit of responsibility. As i said, it starts two thousands programmes and never seem to bring one to conclusion. Now we'll see if MIV finally progresses, after well over 15 years of abortions, some of which particularly expensive.

  12. @Anonymous

    I agree with you about the age of the Army's equipment, which is disgraceful.

    However, I don't think that the Army is entirely to blame. For instance, it is much easier to cancel a programme of armoured vehicles rather than a programme involving, say, a new frigate or a new aircraft. The latter are usually larger, much more expensive programmes and, once committed to, not so easy to terminate. It is far easier to scale back on an armoured vehicle programme or, indeed, cancel it altogether, something which has happened all too often in the recent past. The Treasury, I feel sure, is often behind the pressure on the Army to do this. Otherwise, why the decision not to proceed with the FRES UV programme, even though a winner of the competition had been decided. The Army has had a pretty rough deal over the last couple of decades and the Government must bear its share of responsibility. Gaby would probably disagree with this!

    Incidentally, it is not just equipment. We need more manpower too.

    1. We do not need more manpower, we need the manpower already funded to be organised effectively and to be equipped in a more coherent fashion. More manpower will simply result in less equipment, since the budget overall will not change and wages / training form by far the largest element of the overall budget. As regards Treasury / programmes, I take the point, however I would also observe that the critical armoured vehicle programmes are / were planned to be just as large as the vast majority of the RAF and Navy programmes - only Typhoon, F-35 and Carrier CV are bigger they were all multinational and/or had huge political backing. Most others have had just as many problems as Army programmes. Perhaps a couple of key observations -
      1. Army programmes have tended not to be multinational, meaning it has been easier to pull out of them (Boxer aside)
      2. The Treasury tends to simply look at funding full stop, rather than Capital and Operations (when it suits them at least) - hence they would argue that the Army has had billions of funding over the last decade for urgent operational requirements.... which have then been quickly discarded
      3. The armoured vehicle industry (and supporting gun and artillery elements) in the UK have been split across many small sites - this made it easier to just let them close without orders (a few hundred jobs losses here and there) and once they closed there was no major lobbying constituency in the UK to push for new programmes (or a design capability to tell the MOD to F-off when it came up with mad ideas)
      4. The army appears to have been uniquely unable to work out in its mind what it wants to be and how to achieve that. There has been no focus on a few simple core concepts and pieces of equipment, but instead "transformative" concepts which had little relation to reality. For example, the fetish with "airportable" for armoured vehicles, when the RAF didn't have, and never would have, anything like the number of aircraft which would have been required to make it happen. Surely to take an example - the armoured vehicle - the army needs to get back to a few core equipment concepts -
      1. I need a heavy tank
      2. I need a tracked IFV with lots of variants (so no separation of Warrior versus Ajax)
      3. I need an 8-wheeled APC, with lots of variants
      4. I need a towed (and maybe SP) 155mm howitzer

      I can imagine the immediate reaction to this on this blog would be identical to that from the army - ie complete disagreement - "o I don't need a tank, yes I do, no I don't want tracks I want wheels. Artillery is obsolete etc etc". This is one of the critical things - institutionally the Army is riven with disagreement and a lack of clear strategy, far more than most other equivalents (except, perhaps, the US Army, but they can afford it!) and a total unwillingness to compromise and focus on a simply set of core priorities.

    2. After Versailles the German Army was limited to 100,000 men.

  13. Hi,

    This is obviously a far fetched scenario, but I was reading a thread about a possible Russian attack on the Nordic Countries and/or Baltic States, and I just wondered how rapidly the UK could deploy the Lead Armoured Task Force, followed by a full Armoured Infantry Brigade? Assuming that the SPOD to reinforce the Nordics would be Malmo.

    The deployment of the LATF was apparently rehearsed in Exercise Tractable?

    I understand that 60 Challenger 2s have been brought out of storage, so the Army now has 287 in operational service? (Plus 22 driver training tanks).


    1. Exercise Tractable is now a yearly event, meant to test the readiness of the LATF of the day.
      The LATF is supposedly at 5 days notice to move, followed by the time to physically move to the threatre. The brigade would take longer.

      I'm not aware of any extra tank having been brought back. Even if they had kept more than 227, the number of regiments / crews is not changing, so at most it would help in keeping the fleet going even as vehicles break down.

    2. Thanks for the info.

      The 60 MBTs being brought out of storage was mentioned in this Forces TV newscast


    3. They are in no way additional, if that's it. Most british army vehicles come out of "storage" whenever there is an exercise. On a normal day, a regiment has no more than 18 tanks. The others are all stored away in hangars, and only activated for major exercises or deployment.

  14. @Anonymous

    “More manpower will simply result in less equipment” Yes, agreed (given the present budget) and I would not like that one bit. What I was arguing for (and, admittedly, almost certainly will not get, given the present cost of manpower) is an increase in the overall budget. With an army of only 82,000, we have already had to scale back considerably our ambitions to deploy a credible force almost anywhere. For instance, one of the plans for Force 2020 (now abandoned post the recent SDSR, of course) read as follows:

    “The Army would be able to deploy, simultaneously, a brigade of up to 6,500 personnel (together with maritime and air support as required), shaped to conduct an enduring stabilisation operation; a formation of 2,000 personnel formed to carry out a non-enduring but complex intervention and a 1,000-strong force created to conduct a non-enduring, simple operation.”

    Hardly earth-shattering, is it?

    What I meant about the differing nature of equipment between the Army and other services was that the Army’s kit usually consists of numbers of individual units of equipment: fighting vehicles, guns, trucks, (each unit being comparatively cheap, compared with a ship or plane). So that it is easy to pare back on such orders (e.g. reduce the original intention to procure over 3,000 FRES vehicles (SV and UV combined) to a much reduced number (we shall now be lucky to get more than, say, a thousand such vehicles (the 600 Ajax and perhaps three or four hundred wheeled MIVs). You try doing the same kind of reduction to a naval vessel (ordering it without a main weapon system or a good radar and you would be in trouble in next to no time). The Army lends itself to salami slicing of kit much more than the other services.

    On your numbered points, I take points 1, 2 and 3. They are valid, well argued arguments and contain a lot of truth. On point 4, I have some reservations. The Army has wanted some programmes to go ahead and suddenly the plug has been pulled on them (witness the example of FRES UV that I gave). Trials (rather pretentiously called “Trials of Truth") were held, a winner was declared (the Piranha) and suddenly the whole thing was kicked into the long grass. Why? That was hardly the failure to focus on a simply set of core priorities. I could also mention the desire on the part of the Army to obtain lightweight SP guns and multiple rocket launchers. They did not materialize either.

    Overall, yours was a very thought-provoking post. Thanks very much. Incidentally, are you the same Anonymous to whom I was replying? The style seems somewhat different.

    1. Nope - I am the one from the very first comment above. With regards to the 4th point, FRES probably isn't the best example to quote since that programme was easy to pull the plug on given the army jumping from a replacement for the CVRT series, to a new 8x8 vehicle, to both to neither, to "I don't really know, but it has to fit in the back of a Hercules.....". The Artillery is the one I don't understand either - buying the M777, both in towed and "portee" variants was a no-brainer and would have covered so much. I can only assume it was sacrificed for want of funding rather than from any mess up on the part of the Army.... nevertheless it has disappeared and the portee was such a good solution with real export possibilities.

  15. Hi Guys,

    Sorry for another cynical comment. But I have to agree with so many of the recent comments.
    I find it sad that the army can put more soldiers on public duties then in the field.
    I would also prepare for worse news, we are all hoping for 300 protected vehicles to replace the Mastiff, and I think we will be lucky to get a hundred. Everything I hear about the Mod budget seems to point towards a reduction rather than any increase in actual spending. The reduction in the UK’s GDP forecast it not going to help. They seem to be trying to claim everything than can on the NATO 2% spending target and I fear an increase in cost of the Trident replacement programme which will squeeze things even further.
    Phil (the cynical ex pongo)

    1. Absolutely, which is why that anything beyond the current budget is fantasy fleets time and we need to be dismissing any chance of an increase in troop numbers. Indeed we need to be ruthless in culling pointless infantry battalions - every battalion not in a fully deployable and part of a fully deployable brigade needs to be questioned and cut if possible. Obviously we would hope this action would be coupled with an increase in the number of actually deployable battalions and brigades (to 7 re the former, including 3 Commando). As far as I am concerned we are at critical decision point re the armed forces and it is time for senior officers to stand up for the forces as a coherent whole and state what they are for - if the objective is the maximum amount of jointly deployable combat power then anything that dilutes from this needs to be rejected and if political push back is received, then there need to be public resignations by senior officers, including statements as to why. That is the only way you are going to get change from politicians.

  16. Hi Gabriele and guys,

    I would just like to mention my memory of load carrying.

    In my day, the standard webbing was the type 58. It was not light, even when empty and dry.
    The personnel weapon was the SLR, if you were unlucky you got a night sight.
    Not to forget the helmet that dug into your head and an entrenching tool, if you was unlucky you got the pick axe!
    Platoon weapons and equipment, 3 GPMG’s, a 2 inch mortar, an 84mm and 66mm anti tank weapons, and A40/41 platoon and section radio’s and spare batteries.
    I have to also mention that we also had the pleasure some days of wearing an NBC suit and gas mask for a special treat.
    Our role was airmobile. The army code for mode of transport the mark 1 boot.
    I don’t know how much weight that all adds up to, of course we didn’t have any body armour apart from our olive green string vest and pants, but I think it would be about the same as today’s infantry soldier as today they have better webbing for a start and radio’s that don’t require a car battery to work them!
    Being moved by helicopter was a luxury and rare. We moved we moved by foot, then we dug, that’s how it was.
    I would suggest that anyone who wants to be an infantry soldier that can’t carry the required equipment of the day, didn’t apply.
    Phil (The cynical ex pongo)

  17. Mike W has been having troubles with Blogger's comment system. But he mailed me his comment:


    " . . .we are all hoping for 300 protected vehicles to replace the Mastiff, and I think we will be lucky to get a hundred."

    Actually, Phil, I don't think you're being all that cynical! Healthily sceptical would better describe your attitude, which is that of most of us, I think.

    Yes, I have seen photos of the 2 inch mortar but you are talking about a fair time ago. That was before the days of the 51mm mortar, wasn't it? 1960s/70s?

    Actually, I think it was the advent of body armour which made the load the infantryman had to carry so heavy that it became very difficult indeed, especially in hot climates.


    Many thanks for your last reply re: the M777. I agree with your comment: “buying the M777, both in towed and "portee" variants was a no-brainer and would have covered so much.” I think there was a suspicion at the time that the carrier vehicle for the rocket equivalent (LIMAWS (Rocket) was perhaps not man enough for the job but the carrier vehicle for the M777 (LIMAWS (Gun) was a much sturdier vehicle altogether.

    1. Hi Gabriele,
      Yes, I served in the 70's.
      I don't doubt that an infantry mans load carry is a heavy one. Body armour is an addition.
      But an A41 radio battery was at least 2 house bricks! Overall I bet its not much of a change since my day, or since the Light Division marched from one end of Spain to France.
      Deal with it.
      As to today, there's not enough money to pay for so much, lets forget about mule's etc.
      Come on, we have vehicles in the army that are older than me! and I am old!
      Phil (Still the cynical ex pongo)

  18. No reason why the 5.56 Minimi can't be effective to 500m - its the same calibre as the LSW. The full-sized barrel with a 4x sight will do the job fine.

    Also, maybe the semi-auto L129 in its current configuration is the wrong choice for infantry. Most 7.62 DMR (HK417 and SCAR) can be had with full-auto select fire. Leave the Sniper no.2 rifle for a more specialised rifle rather compromising.

  19. How is the 66mm rocket being used? The newer M72s can reach out to 1000m

    1. The LAW? Don't think there is any left in service at this point, having been replaced by the NLAW in the AT role and (supposedly) by the MATADOR ASM in the anti-structure role.

  20. Interesting and relevant post Gabby, have you seen the recent Forces TV uploads about light role Infantry on exercise in Jordan?, surely the British Army must have more than just guys firing GPMG's out of top of Foxhounds?. I realize it is just an exercise and the Foxhound is very heavily protected but what if the enemy / opposing force has something heavier to fire back with, which is very likely. Would these type of vehicles be replaced by the wheeled IFV you have talked about?. Again excellent blog

    1. If the enemy has heavy equipment, in future you'd send the mechanized battalions with the 8x8 first, or even the armoured battalions with Warrior.
      But there is a real firepower deficit in the Light Role and Light Protected Mobility battalions, and there does not seem to be a solution on the way.

  21. Mike writes:


    I have been looking at the picture you posted on Twitter earlier containing some CBRN vehicles, presumably from Falcon Squadron.

    I could identify (I think) some Fuchs, some DROPS and some Panthers. I don't know what the fourth kind was(Ridgback?). No sign, though, of the MEP version of the Coyote. Do you think that is still to come?

    Lovely to see the unit back, though, and take everything you have said about the 2010 Review.

    1. Fuchs in the photo are flanked by Husky and then Panthers. Can't see the Coyote MEP in this image, but they should be in the equipment of the squadron, if they haven't been removed. They were issued, for what i know.
      In the middle of the image is a DROPS carrying the decontamination unit. Lots of DROPS still around, despite the fleet having "gone out of service" in december 2014, supposedly...

    2. Gaby

      Many thanks for the reply. You're right about DROPS. Plenty of them still around and they might still be "run on", I believe.

  22. What I don't get is why they went with only a 16" barrel for the L19A1 DMR when a longer barrel is better for accurate fire over longer distances, which is why you have a designated marksman in the first place...
    From what I remember the 16" barrel was mandatory in the UOR too.
    Using 7.62 round isn't enough.

    The US Army and USMC use 20"+ barrels on all their DMR rifles, like the M39 EMR and upgraded M-14s


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