This post summarizes, in broad points, my proposal for the reworked structure of the British Army as the forces try to turn Joint Force 2025 into a reality.
So far, very little, if anything, is known about "Army 202 Refine", the internal British Army effort to try and make sense of the SDSR's "Strike Brigades" and other changes that were announced before being properly thought out.
My proposal attempts to close some capability gaps and bring a better balance to the force structure, correcting several weaknesses of Army 2020.
The main assumptions behind this proposal are:
- Regular Manpower capped at 82.000
- No real additional resources
As such, it can only be a case of shifting resources from an area to the other to achieve a better end result. Army 2020 is poor of supports and deployable brigades, with over half of its (understrength) infantry thrown messily into that big bag that is the current "Adaptable Force".
Army 2020 has a recognized shortage of Signal specialists, which have been sacrificed in 2010 to avoid cutting other infantry battalions. The shortage is making it complex to support brigade and division HQs, and the Multi Role Signal regiments rotation is already in crisis. Last year, after a brief experience of regiments rotating in and out of role, the army made a U-turn and 3rd Signal Regiment resumed its “Divisional” title, returning full time to division support.
Army 2020 and the other internal studies carried out by the Army have reaffirmed again and again the importance of having a 2-star HQ level to handle the “strategic” picture and allow the brigade(s) to focus on the tactical side. But for all the good intentions expressed, the British Army is nonetheless down to a single deployable division HQ (3rd UK Div) while 1st UK Div would first require augmentation and the generation of a supporting signal regiment from the little resources available.
On the other hand, the Army is working to generate a new “Standing Joint Task Force HQ”, and maintains support for the ARRC and two small “Early Entry HQs”.
As for brigade-level communications and ICS support, the Army has a single sqn in support of the Air Assault Task force generated from 16 Air Assault brigade and 4 Multi-Role signal regiments to cover for the three Reaction Force brigades and everything drawn from the Adaptable Force.
The shortage is real: the whole Adaptable Force, with its 7 “brigades” does not include a single assigned Royal Signal formation. Not one.
With the Army moving to a 4 reaction brigades structure (2 armoured and 2 “strike”), the Multi-Role Signal regiments will probably stop pretending to rotate in and out of role and will end up aligning permanently each to a particular brigade.
It is fundamental to rationalize the HQs and the (insufficient) resources that support them. The largest deficit is in Royal Signal regiments. Entire formations are needed yet inexistent, and there are obvious difficulties in trying to re-generate such specialized, training-intensive formations, even if Light Role infantry battalions were cut and manpower allocations shifted. It would still be complex, expensive and slow to recruit, train and organize the very many communication specialists needed.
So, how do we improve the current situation?
By cutting the ARRC. Or, at least, by removing the signal resources assigned to it.
Sometimes, when talking about defence, the infamous “vanity project” accusation comes up. I despise that kind of argument, but if there is one area where it is applicable, it is in the area of big, hulking NATO Corps level commands. Europe is crammed full of 3 Star land HQs, as everyone wants to get the chance to be the leader in a large NATO operation. The UK has the ARRC, France has its own 3 star HQ, Italy has another, Spain has one, Germany and Netherlands maintain another, one is in Greece, one in Poland, one in Turkey. And there is the Eurocorps too, which is not a NATO formation but is linked by an agreement that allows its employment.
There is a shortage of deployable Divisions to populate army Corps, but HQ-wise, we are well covered.
It is my opinion that the UK and NATO would both be better served by a more rationally structured and equipped British Army, better able to support enduring operations.
Re-roling and re-assigning the resources of 30 and 22 Signal Regiment would greatly ease the Royal Signal crisis, and reduce the amount of extra formations to be rebuilt. It would still be necessary to raise a number of squadrons to complete the force structure:
- The two Early Entry HQs would become aligned with the HQs of 16 Air Assault and 3 Commando brigades. Being the early entry formations, they are best placed to be the first Joint Forces command deployed in a theatre of operation. This will also restore both formations to “true” brigade status, from their current resourcing more adequate to just generating and supporting a battlegroup.
- The two Deployable Division HQs would become the frameworks of two Joint Task Forces HQs. They will have a “traditional” manoeuvre division HQ element and a more capable Joint Force main HQ element within the same organization, and will each have a Divisional Signal Regiment as enabler.
- 244 Sqn, 30 Signal Regiment is currently the only formation tasked with providing communication support to aviation elements. A second Av Sp Sqn would be required, and would have to be formed, in order to assign one formation to each Combat Aviation Brigade.
- 216 Signal Sqn should be expanded to a Multi Role Signal Regiment. This would require taking command of 250 Gurkha Signal Sqn (currently part of 30 Signal Regiment, but already tasked with support to the Air Assault Task Force) and of at least part of 258 Sqn (also from 30 Regiment), which is tasked with supporting and enabling the Early Entry HQs. 3 Commando brigade’s signal element will get a similar reinforcement.
- 30 Signal Regiment will need, effectively, 3 new squadrons to replace the existing ones, which will keep their specialization and will move towards the relevant supported HQs. 30 Signal Regiment will become a Multi Role Signal Regiment of the brigade type.
The end result should be:
- 6 Brigade-level Multi Role Signal Regiments (2, 21, 22, 30, 16 and another formed with 216 Parachute Signal Sqn as base). Two regiments in heavy armour role, two in mechanized role and 2 Light / Air Assault.
- 2 Divisional Signal Regiments (1, 3)
- 2 Aviation Support Squadrons
These resources are meant to enable the re-organization of the Field Army upon two identical Divisions, on the same general model followed by the French Armee de Terre, with each formation including one Light / Air Mobile formation (parachute role to stay focused within 16 Air Assault Bde only); one Medium (or Strike, if you prefer) bde and one Heavy bde. The Division will have its own Logistic Brigade, an Artillery Group and an attached “Combat Aviation Brigade.
The two divisions will alternate yearly into readiness.
HQ UK Support Command would control the remaining elements of the Army, with “London District” replaced by a Brigade-level HQ, the Guards Brigade.
Combined Arms Regiments
Resources available: 227 Challenger 2; 245 Warrior CSP in IFV configuration; FV432 Bulldog then ABSV
Army 2020 has 3 Type 56 tank regiments, each with 3 large squadrons of 18 tanks plus 2 for the RHQ. Exercises have shown that this arrangement (and in general the number of tanks available) is not sufficient to provide MBT support to all battlegroups generated from the brigade.
The Warrior CSP programme will retrofit 245 vehicles with the new turret and 40mm gun. This number appears insufficient to equip 6 armoured infantry battalions, especially considering a healthy number of vehicles is assigned to BATUS.
Each tank and armoured infantry regiment should enjoy a recce element with 8 Ajax vehicles, but this will become hard to accomplish now than a fourth cavalry regiment is required for the 2nd Strike Brigade.
One solution to these issues is the Combined Arms Regiment, already adopted years ago by the US Army and, in several variations, by Israel, Italy and others.
The existing 3 tank and 6 armoured infantry regiments / battalions would be integrated to generate six new units, named “regiments” and formally composed of two “battalions” (for capbadges preservation, mostly):
- 1 “battalion” with 2 tank companies, each with 14 Challenger 2. Ideally, 2 more tanks would be required for the HQ
- 1 “battalion” on 2 armoured infantry companies, each with 14 Warrior CSP
- 1 regimental HQ Coy
- 1 regimental Support Coy with mortars and ATGW
- 1 regimental Reconnaissance Coy with 3 recce troops (8 Ajax plus as many Ares APCs and/or Warrior CSP carrying dismounts) plus Sniper platoon and Pioneers (the snipers commonly end up working in close collaboration with the recce platoon anyway)
This extremely powerful formation is, in practice, a formed, stable battlegroup. Each of the two armoured brigades would have 3 of these, which could alternate regularly in the role of Lead Armoured Battlegroup at high readiness. Supplemented by one squadron from the brigade’s Cavalry regiment; one artillery element from the brigade’s Fires regiment and one logistic and support group, it would make for a very capable early entry heavy force.
Having three in each brigade could allow an 18 months readiness period, in which each battlegroup is at high readiness for 6 months.
This should enable a somewhat reduced pressure on personnel, which could otherwise end up facing a demanding schedule in the passage from a 3-brigades to a 2-brigades rotation model.
The centralization of supports that took place in the last few years will be, in good measure, reversed. Signal Regiments first of all: it has already become evident (arguably, it always was, if you ask me) that the “rotation” does not really work. My suggestion for the future army assumes that signal regiments will be closely related to a brigade or division HQ.
1 Signal Brigade would be disbanded as a consequence of the end of the ARRC mission as detailed earlier.
Artillery regiments will also return to a formal alignment with the respective brigades. 1st Artillery Brigade will be replaced by two smaller Artillery Group HQs attached each to a Division. This group will have much the same functions as the resurrected Div Arty commands in US Army divisions, ensuring both coherence in training, force structure and methods and a greater connection with the division’s commander and the maneuver forces.
The Div Arty group will also regularly control the assigned Air Defence Regiment generated from Joint Ground Based Air Defence, with 12 and 16 Regiments alternating in readiness and coming with a mix of Stormer HVM and FLAADS Land Ceptor batteries.
3 AS90 batteries will re-role on L118 as one Heavy brigade converts into a mechanized / Strike formation.
A 4th Precision Fires battery on GMLRS and Exactor should however be formed, so that each Heavy and Strike brigade have one.
Reserve Artillery regiments on L118 will be disbanded and the batteries assigned directly to the currently small and rather under-strength Adaptable and Air Assault artillery regiments on L118. These regiments currently have only 12 guns each (in two batteries of 6 in the case of 7 RHA, possibly in 3 batteries of 4 elsewhere, a final decision might not have been made yet).
They should be ideally uplifted each to 3 batteries of six guns, but it might only be possible to achieve a 3x4 structure due mainly to manpower problems. The two Light / Air Assault regiments should receive two reserve gun batteries each.
4 Royal Artillery Regiment is currently classed as “Adaptable Regiment – Large”, as it has 6 batteries, having an extra Tac Gp Bty in force. It is the obvious candidate to become the Fires element of the second Strike Brigade, converting its “extra” bty to GMLRS.
Some manpower will become available thanks to the downgrade of one of the regiments currently on AS90. It should be enough to make the extra GMLRS Bty possible.
7 RHA should also see V Parachute Battery brought out of Suspended Animation to return to a 3 gun batteries structure.
Close Support Engineer regiments will also be aligned to the brigades. The current two adaptable regiments only have two regular squadrons, plus 1 or two reserve squadrons. The Parachute and Commando regiments also have only 2 regular squadrons each, plus 1 reserve. An uplift would be required, but the manpower margin from “downgrading” one regiment from Heavy Armour to Mechanized will probably only suffice to fix one of the two Adaptable regiments, to cover the second Strike brigade. Additional manpower can only be obtained at the expense of infantry posts, if the total is to stay at just 82.000.
The uplift would be needed as currently 21 and 32 RE have each only two regular squadrons and one reserve sqn. 23 PARA and 24 Commando are in the same situation, and all would benefit from an extra regular sqn.
The logistic element requires a rethink. Army 2020 leaves the Army with the Reaction Brigades well supported each by a Close Support, a Theatre support and a Reserve transport regiments, while the support available to the Adaptable Brigades is made up by two bare-bones “Force Support” regiments.
A re-organization is needed, to create a modern “Brigade Support Regiment”, in Heavy, Medium and Light variants, thought to cover the needs of a maneuver brigade in the field, with the Theatre level of support held back at divisional level, within the Logistic Brigade.
It is important that the Brigade HQ is not detached from the logistic element of maneuver: the brigade commander must be very much involved in the logistical aspect, always. He cannot and should not attempt to maneuver without having a clear understanding and grip over logistics in his area.
At the same time, the commander must be relieved of theatre-wide considerations, which must be handled at a superior level.
Close Support Logistic is a brigade task, Theatre Support should be a Division task, handled through the Logistic Brigade.
Close Support Logistics must also include the maintenance of vehicles and equipment, so that the brigade’s REME battalion is also an important part of the restructuring. Closely related is also the medical aspect: the experience of brigade logistic support in other countries (but also, to stay within the UK, in 3 Commando Brigade) shows that Medical, Equipment Support, Fuel and general stores are so closely related to be pretty commonly reunited inside the very same regiment (It happens in 3 Commando but also in US BCTs and in Italian army brigades, to make a few examples).
Each Brigade should have its own “Support Group” comprising a capable Brigade Logistic Regiment, a REME Equipment Support battalion and the Medical Regiment.
Theatre-level support, movement of supplies, transport of heavy vehicles, reception staging and onwards movement (RSOM) and field hospitals are instead better left at the Divisional Level, via Logistic Brigade.
The relevant elements will be generated from Force Troops Command to compose the Vanguard Enabling Group.
The Brigade Logistic Regiments would be built from the existing Close Support Regiments (1, 3, 4 RLC) and from the Adaptable Force Logistic Regiments (6, 7 RLC). The latter will need expansion, as currently they are composed only of one supply sqn and a Fuel Sqn plus HQ.
13 Air Assault Regiment RLC would be restructured to accommodate a wider brigade role compared to its current structure, optimized for support to the sole Air Assault Task Force.
The three Theatre Support Regiments would redistribute part of their manpower and capability and would become two, held at Logistic Brigade level.
Currently the Army has a single Tank Transporter Sqn. It might make sense to recreate a second sqn, so each Division has its own. This will also depend on the future face of this capability, as the current PFI arrangement ends in 2024 and there is no info yet on what will be done next.
REME resources would also need to be redistributed and re-arranged. Each brigade should have a capable Equipment Support Battalion, which would be obviously larger in equipment-intensive Heavy Brigades and smaller in the Light Brigades. The current 3 armoured close support REME formations (3, 4 and 6) can cover the two Heavy Brigades and one Strike Brigade (one regiment will become a bit smaller as it is “downgraded” to mechanized). 1 and 2 REME battalions currently are 2-companies formations assigned to the Adaptable Force. Each would need uplift, with one being assigned to the second Strike Brigade and one to the Light Brigade.
16 Air Assault Brigade currently only has 8 Field Coy REME, under command of the RLC Regiment. This needs to be uplifted to a light role REME battalion by adding two extra coys and one HQ.
Finally, each Division should have its “Theatre-level” Force Support battalion. Currently, only one exists (5 REME). Another should be raised, with both becoming Hybrid formations with 2 regular and 2 reserve companies.
This substantial restructuring would be eased somewhat by the fact that at least 6 regimental Light Aid Detachments would become available for reassignment as the Tank regiments are incorporated into the Combined Arms Regiments and at least 3 Light Role infantry battalions are disbanded. The RLC restructuring could also possibly free up some resources.
Combat Aviation Brigades
Despite the efforts of Joint Helicopter Command, the integration between aviation and land forces is still cause of concerns, as evidenced in the Operation Herrick lessons learned report. To try and improve the alignment of precious helicopter resources with the readiness cycle of the land forces, my proposal is to form two deployable Combat Aviation Brigades. Their structure would make force structure of readiness mechanism that, in large part, already exist. Under Army 2020, for example, the two Attack Helicopter regiments alternate yearly into readiness, and align one squadron with the Air Assault Task Force and one with the Amphibious Task Force.
The Attack regiments are also tasked with generating a deployable Aviation HQ element, and another is generated by the RAF’s Support Helicopter Force.
The Aviation HQ, in my proposal, would be enhanced and removed from the regiments, to be concentrated at brigade level with the formation of the two CABs.
Each CAB would have:
- One HQ, structured to support 2 deployable elements alternating into readiness
- One Signal Sqn (the existing 244 and another)
- One Reconnaissance, Command Support and Light Utility regiment with two WILDCAT Sqns
- One Attack Regiment with two APACHE Sqns
- One Support Regiment with one CHINOOK and one PUMA Sqns
- One Aviation Support Battalion, composed of elements from the current Joint Helicopter Support Squadron (LZ management, underslung loads); logistic element from 132 RLC Sqn, Fuel element from the Tactical Supply Wing and Aviation Support Coy REME.
- One RAF Regiment Field Sqn for force protection and for MERT defence
- One Watchkeeper battery, in close contact with the ISR brigade
Joint Helicopter Command would maintain direct control of the Joint Special Forces Support Wing (including one CHINOOK Sqn) as well as of the training units, including 673 Sqn (APACHE OCU), 653 Sqn (APACHE Conversion to Role), 652 (WILDCAT OCU) and 28 Sqn (Puma and Chinook OCU). The two deployable brigades would be aligned each to an Army Division. The elements needed for the CABs are mostly already existent, although adjustements would be required.
Mechanized and Light brigades
Each mechanized brigade should have one Cavalry regiment on Ajax and three infantry battalions mounted on MIV vehicles. These infantry elements should be large and capable, and be built to the numbers of the Army 2020 Heavy Protected Mobility Battalions. This means being established for 709 men and women, and currently there are only 3 such battalions planned: 3 more will need to re-role and expand in order to form two brigades.
Obviously, the required manpower will have to come out of other battalions. The fourth and additional Armoured Cavalry regiment will also require a shift of resources within the cavalry. The formation of the Combined Arms Regiments in the Armoured Brigades should help in freeing up some personnel both in the Cavalry, Infantry and REME domains, but wider restructuring will be required.
Two Light Cavalry regiments would be assigned to the Light / Air Assault brigades. The third would give its Colours to the resurrected CBRN Regiment, and part of its manpower would shift towards 3 Commando Brigade to help form a Cavalry element within 30 Commando IX.
The Light Brigades would be structured on 4 regular infantry battalions each. 16 Air Assault Brigade would keep the 2 PARA battalions (and with them, the Parachute entry role and capability) and add two Light Protected Mobility battalions. 51 Brigade would have two Light Role / Air Mobile battalions and two Light Protected Mobility Battalions.
The Light role and Light Protected Mobility battalions should receive a manpower uplift to at least restore the lost rifle platoons that were sacrificed within Army 2020 planning.
16 Air Assault needs extra REME resources: it has been given 8 Field Company, removed from 7 Battalion REME, but needs to receive further resources to form a Lightweight Equipment Support Battalion commensurate to the task of supporting the enlarged brigade’s capability.
In order to make possible the restructuring of the Army, manpower margins have to be created, and the only way to do so while preserving wider capability is to cut a number of Light Role infantry battalions. At least 3 battalions would be removed from the ORBAT, resulting in over 1600 posts “recovered” and available for other uses. Of these, 450 would go to beef up three battalions for the second Strike Brigade, and another 600 to reinforce the Light Protected and Light Role battalions in the two Light brigades. The Royal Signals expansion would absorb much of what’s left, and any remaining margin would be useful in Royal Engineers, REME or Artillery figures.
28 battalions are enough to sustain the proposed force structure and continue with all other commitments (1 Special Forces Support Group, 2 Public Duty battalions, 2 battalions in Cyprus, 1 in Brunei), with a margin of 2 Light Role battalions (at Army 2020 establishment) for Defence Engagement and other tasks.
So I believe that, overall, this proposed structure delivers the best balance of capability and makes the best possible use of available manpower, vehicles and equipment. It closes some of the worst gaps that Army 2020 created, and does so at an overall acceptable cost for the infantry.