Saturday, October 22, 2016

Strike Brigades? Only if the price is right.

Let’s call things with their name, first of all. The “Strike Brigade” is a mechanized infantry brigade with a budget and planning-induced identity crisis. It is a manifestation of the famous “medium weight” force concept that has been doing the rounds for many years. The MIV, Mechanised Infantry Vehicle, is FRES Utility Vehicle given yet another acronym.

With the names corrected and put into context, we can move on to the real questions about this whole enterprise. Is the Medium Brigade a valid concept? Where does it fit in the force structure? Is the British Strike brigade worth the cuts the army is expected to take elsewhere in order to fund MIV?

The “Medium Weight”force

There is medium and medium. The US Medium Brigade is the Stryker brigade, originally born to employ 19-tons 8x8 vehicles designed within very demanding constraints in terms of volume and weight because the whole brigade had to be compatible with C-130 air transport. There was a price to pay for such an approach, and it was paid in protection and payload. The flat-bottomed Stryker proved to be too vulnerable to IEDs and mines, and it also suffered from limitations to its mobility on the difficult terrain of southern Afghanistan. To be fair, the terrain was atrocious for pretty much any vehicle and some restraints were not necessarily the Stryker’s fault, but the first deployment, in summer 2009, proved very controversial and very expensive. The vehicles were kept in use in Afghanistan under that, but when a second Stryker brigade was ordered into theatre, it was instructed to leave its vehicles behind and use MRAPs and M-ATVs instead.
Meanwhile, a programme was launched for developing a Double V Hull modification that increases underbelly protection. The dream of airlifting entire brigades of armoured vehicles using the Air Force’s C-130s was over, the reality of war had dawned.
In the meanwhile, though, a lot of money had been expended pursuing a concept of operations that was scarcely realistic, and the selection of such a light platform had introduced issues that could have easily been avoided. Among these, the failure of the Mobile Gun System variant, a Stryker with an automated 105mm gun on top, meant to provide intimate fire support to the Stryker infantry battalions. The production of this variant was eventually discontinued, leaving the Stryker brigades considerably weaker in terms of firepower.

More recently, the US Army has launched an emergency programme for partially fixing the firepower problem. With the IFV variant equipped just with a RWS with a .50 HMG, the Stryker brigade is too lightly armed to face a symmetric or hybrid fight against comparable vehicles, which in Russia and China tend to always come with a big gun on top. A new programme has been started to fit a large Remote Weapon Station with a 30mm gun on top of the IFV variant. C-130 compatibility is completely out of the window now, but at long last the heavier, much modified Stryker will have a wider usefulness. The original one had behaved well in Iraq, doing well on roads, in urban scenarios and in benign desert conditions, but it had performed badly in Afghanistan and would have been at a terrible disadvantage in any hybrid / symmetric warfare scenario.

Stryker, before and after coming to grip with the idea that the enemy will fire back. 

The US Stryker brigade is made up by 3 infantry battalions mounted on Stryker IFVs, supported by a Fires regiment with 155mm M777 towed howitzers and by a Recce Cavalry squadron also mounted in Strykers.
It is a wholly wheeled brigade structure, and with DVH and 30mm gun it is a potent formation, useful in a wide range of scenarios.
There is still a problem left to fix, however, which is the insufficient number of fault-prone Mobile Gun System vehicles. The US Army today is considering a new Mobile Protected Firepower requirement which calls for an armoured, light and highly deployable vehicle able to provide fire support to the infantry, destroying enemy tanks, bunkers and strongholds.
The requirements have not yet been fixed into stone, and the US Army is basically letting industry put its ideas forward: BAE is offering a modernized M8 Buford, which was originally developed years ago as a very light tank, capable of being air-dropped, to serve as a replacement for Sheridan. The programme eventually was killed off, leaving the American paratroopers without air-droppable armour and firepower, a gap that remains very much a concern for the airborne divisions.

Light and mean, the modernized M8 is a good candidate for MPF. Its ability to be airdropped is bound to awaken interest in the Airborne divisions 

The russians have never lost sight of the importance of firepower. All their units, including paratroopers, are heavily mechanized and supported by a lot of direct and indirect fires. The Sprut is an air-droppable light tank with a 125mm smoothbore punch. Airdroppable APCs, IFVs, mortar and SAM carriers also are part of the russian para's arsenal. 

While the current Mobile Protected Firepower is aimed first of all at the Infantry Brigades, BAE clearly believes that the “new” Buford could kill two birds with one stone by gaining the interest of the airborne commanders as well.
And the birds could become 3 if the US Army decided to replace the troubled Stryker Mobile Gun System with the new MPF.
Interestingly, General Dynamics’s own entry for the MPF contest is the Griffin, a vehicle in the 28 to 32 tons range, not air-droppable, armed with a light derivative of the M1 Abrams gun turret and with the british Ascod SV / Ajax chassis as hull.  

The very first appearance of the GD Griffin, a light tank based on the Ascod SV / Ajax hull armed with the american low-recoil force 120mm gun originally developed as part of the abortive Future Combat System programme, Armerica's own FRES nightmare. Photo courtesy of Army Recognition

The Italian medium brigade is in many ways the most impressive in the western world. It is meant to be equipped with 3 infantry battalions mounted on the Freccia IFV, which comes with a turret and a 25mm gun. In the 30 tons region, offering good protection and firepower, the Freccia is an excellent platform. The Italian army also wants to give the medium infantry battalions a lot of firepower, with medium-range vehicle mounted anti-tank missiles at the Company level and long-range missiles at Battalion level. Similarly, the battalion has vehicle-mounted 120mm mortars, while the companies are due to get 81mm mortars of their own. That’s a lot of firepower. Unfortunately for Italy, procurement of the Freccia is progressing relatively slowly, and while one brigade is mostly outfitted, the second one will only be ready years into the future, while a third brigade set, once planned, will almost certainly never be funded.

The Centauro 2 brings a 120/45 smoothbore gun to the fight. 

The strength of the Italian brigade is its Cavalry element, which includes a squadron of 105mm- armed Centauro 8x8 tank destroyers, with a new generation Centauro 2 in development, armed with a 120/45 smoothbore gun and much improved V-hull and protection. The other two squadrons of the Cavalry regiment are meant to be equipped with the Freccia Scout variant, in two sub-variants: Far and Close.
The “Far” sub-variant comes with the Horus mini-uav in launch tubes on the flanks of the turret. A mast-mounted Lyra radar and long range EO/IR sensor complete the variant’s equipment.
The “Close” variant is equipped with Spike anti-tank missiles in place of Horus UAVs, and is meant to carry an Unmanned Ground Vehicle in the back.
If all vehicles will be funded, procured and put into service, the resulting capability will be very complete and will set a new standard.

The Freccia Scout "Far". The Horus UAV is fitted, while the Lyra radar is shown dismounted. 

The Horus launcher is virtually identical to the Spike ATGW launch box that equips the Freccia Close, leaving the enemy wondering. 

A reconnaissance UGV is carried by the Freccia Close 

Currently, the Italian Army is struggling with the provision of artillery to the medium brigades. Industry has proposed an ambitious self-propelled 155mm howitzer on 8x8 chassis, but for now there is not a real plan because of lack of money. 
If this gap will be properly filled, the Italian medium brigade will be a truly potent force.

The French medium brigade, under the latest “Au Contact!” force structure plan, will be a large brigade with two cavalry and 3 infantry formations. Its primary platforms, however, will not be 8x8 but 6x6 vehicles: the new Jaguar cavalry scout and the Griffon APC.    
The French have of course the VBCI, a large 8x8 IFV, but unlike Italy, Germany and the UK, they have procured it first of all to replace their tracked IFVs, rather than as a complementary capability.

EBRC Jaguar


One lesson of Mali (and Afghanistan too) was that insurgents make a large use of high caliber russian weaponry, from 14.5mm machine guns to the ZSU-23 23mm guns. Having big guns to reply is important, and when tanks begin to be part of the scenario, the medium force needs the means to respond if it has to have real ability to move quickly, fight and win. 

Ironically, the French operations in Mali which are the main inspiration behind the British Army’s renewed craving of 8x8s were carried out in large part with 6x6 and 4x4 vehicles: the AMX-10RC with its 105mm gun; the Sagaie with its 90mm, and then the 4x4 VAB APC. The VBCI, of course, was also deployed and did well, but it was just a small component of the combined task groups fielded in the country.

The French Medium Brigade appears to me to be headed towards a Stryker-like firepower deficit. The Griffon comes with just a RWS, and the EBRC will be armed with a 40mm CTA gun and MMP anti-tank missiles. The 105 and 90 mm guns that so well did in Mali, being highly mobile and able to hit hard and at long range, will not be there once the AMX and the Sagaie have been replaced by the EBRC.
For a while, France has worked on a low-recoil 120 mm gun that was to be used as part of the effort to replace the AMX and Sagaie, but the plan seems to have been shelved, and this might one day prove to be a big issue.

Artillery-wise, the French brigades will be supported by the CAESAR autocannon, a 155mm howitzer mounted on the back of a truck. The CAESAR is not a proper self-propelled system (the gun crew has to dismount; the gun has a very limited traverse and can basically only fire forward over the truck’s cab), but it is a more than reasonable solution in most scenarios.

The British strike brigade is still, in many ways, a floating question mark. It will probably be January 2017 before the Army announces anything substantial about its new force structure decisions and its new doctrine, that general Carter named “Integrated Action”.
The chief of staff has however anticipated that they are looking at brigades including two infantry battalions mounted on MIV and two battalions equipped with Ajax, with the Ajax acting as the “medium armour” element.
This anticipation is very worrying and raises a number of points right away:

-          The Ajax fleet is now expected to form 4 rather than 3 regiments, without an increase to the number of vehicles purchased. This suggests that the two Armoured Brigades could lose their cavalry reconnaissance regiment.
-          Ajax is built as a Scout, with just a 40mm gun, because as soon as 2010 its role was reaffirmed as reconnaissance for armoured and mechanized formations. General Carter was Chief of Staff already.
-          A Medium Armour variant of the FRES SV / Ajax was originally part of the plan. It had to have a 120 mm gun. Remember the Griffin that GD is offering the US Army? Bingo. Of course, Medium Armour was cancelled from the british plan. Now the Scout variant looks set to be forced into Medium Armour role, without truly having the firepower for doing it.
-          Just two MIV-mounted infantry battalions per brigade, when the binary structure for combat formation has again and again proven to be a failure, being abandoned once more by the US Army in recent times after years of Brigade Combat Teams with just two battalions each.
-          4 battalions of MIV means just 1 more than was planned under Army 2020, when one Mechanized Infantry battalion mounted on Mastiff was included inside each of the armoured infantry brigades.
-          Is the British Army seriously going to deprive itself of one armoured brigade in order to gain just one “extra” mechanized battalion and slightly better vehicles for them? Seems like a spectacularly negative trade.
-          Reportedly, the MIV will be an APC with a RWS with a .50 HMG. Like the Stryker originally was. Like the French Griffon. Like the polish Rosomak APC variant. But we should not forget that the US Army is now correcting that decision, as is Poland which is retrofitting unmanned turrets with 30mm gun and Spike AT missiles to its Rosomak APC.

The british Strike Brigade, according to the little that has been revealed so far, sounds like a cut more than an upgrade. My fear is that the army is about to mutilate itself in order to, basically, make some 8x8 manufacturer happy by filling its pockets with cash.

In order to release some manpower for fixing some of the greatest problems with the Strike Brigades formation, the army is also going to turn five infantry battalions into “Defence Engagement” formations numbering as few as 350 men each. We might learn which battalions are chosen as early as next month.
But the real bad news haven’t yet emerged. Thinking about the lines Carter has given, it is clear to me that the conversion of one of the three armoured brigades into a Strike brigade is pretty much certainly going to entail further reductions to the number of AS90 artillery pieces, which are tracked, bulky and too heavy to fit into these wonderful “highly mobile” and “self deployable” Strike thingies.
One Challenger 2 regiment is also very much at risk. It could end up converted into the fourth Ajax-mounted formation, with the number of tanks in the british army dropping below 200 and with just two regular regiments of tanks left in total. There is a (unlikely, if you ask me) possibility that the cavalry regiments re-organization could instead re-role current Light formations, but it is hard not to fear a further Challenger 2 reduction. With no extra manpower on the way, either Jackals or Challenger 2s (or both) will have to take the hit in order to shift resources elsewhere.
As we said, it is hard to imagine how Ajax can be expected to provide 4 regiments for the Strike Brigades and still deliver recce to the two armoured brigades as well, so this could be yet another blow to the heavier portion of the army. If I were the optimist type, I’d dare suggesting that the Army might want to form two “hybrid” reconnaissance regiments using a few Ajax and the Challenger 2s from the regiment of the brigade that converts, but the MOD’s often completely absurd decisions have destroyed my optimism years ago.
The number of armoured infantry battalions also remain uncertain. Technically, there are six, but with just 245 Warrior IFVs expected to be upgraded that number could drop to four, or anyway generate two “virtual” battalions effectively devoid of vehicles.

All this, for mounting 2800 men into lightly armed wheeled APCs…?

General Carter says that he thinks of the “Strike Brigade” as a “new concept” based on greater “mobility and reach”. He is enamored of the French columns racing back and forth through Mali routing insurgents, but the Strike Brigades he is proposing are a mix and match of tracks (Ajax, Terrier) and wheels (MIV) and lack the tools the French had in Mali, firepower first of all. It is also highly questionable whether the Mali experience is applicable anywhere else. In the “2 Ajax, 2 MIV” structure that has been mentioned so far, these brigades are also quite pointless in any hybrid / symmetric scenario. Purchasing 300 MIVs will cost billions of pounds, partly funded through cuts to what the Army already has, and I really can’t see a single good reason for going down this path.
“Reach” has to include firepower, and this goes from the weapons installed on the MIV itself up to artillery, passing from the battalions’ mortars.
The Royal Artillery is aware of the need for firepower and has reportedly launched (more precisely, resurrected) a number of requirements meant to finally modernize the army’s Fires. But it is not clear how many (if any) of these programmes have any real funding line available.

How to make it even worse: selecting Boxer

The Times has written an article during last week saying that the British Army intends to purchase the german Boxer as MIV solution. Best way to make the whole thing even more painful. The Boxer is the end result of the Multirole Armoured Vehicle (MRAV) multi-national programme that the UK abandoned in the early 2000s, with the loss of 48 million pounds already expended, and selecting it now would look considerably stupid, especially since the world is full of viable alternatives, several of which also happen to be cheaper.
Boxer is very heavy and quite complex. The modules in the back can be swapped out, but this adds complexity and weight that are not really compensated by any real gain. It is an expensive beast, and while a turreted IFV variant has been proposed by industry, the first vehicle in such a configuration has yet to be built and tested, needlessly complicating the path to a true wheeled IFV purchase if the army ever decides to fix the firepower problem.
And finally, the UK is about to enter two years of complex negotiations with the EU to determine the terms of Brexit. The EU is already behaving with hostility and chancellor Merkel herself made sure to, basically, declare economic war on the UK, causing a sharp drop in the value of the pound. Does the army really wish to spend the next bunch of years pouring billions into the pockets of a country that can be expected to build obstacles on the UK’s way at each and every chance it gets?

British Army and the Boxer: a love-hate relationship...?

It would be immensely stupid. I’m still hoping that The Times got that one wrong.

Should the UK even procure a MIV at all?

Medium Brigades have their uses, and an army structure on two heavy and two medium brigades is not a mistake in itself. All depends on the cost. How much is the rest of the army going to suffer to make the MIV purchase possible? For all I can see so far, way too much.
I’d very much avoid those self-inflicted cuts, and spend the little money available on fixing what is already available. The Strike Brigades could still be formed, but equipped with the likes of Mastiff, Ridgback and Foxhound, at least for the near future. An 8x8 is clearly better, under many points of view, than Mastiff, but if the MIV turns out being just a lightly armed wheeled APC, it is too little of an upgrade to justify such cuts.

In my opinion, the British Army should certainly reorganize to correct some deficiencies of Army 2020 and to better reflect its own doctrine. For one, it should move back to a structure based on two deployable divisions, because it makes no sense to bang, in doctrine, on the need for a 2 star HQ handling the strategic situation in theatre if your force structure only has one such deployable element.

It should re-organize heavy armour in six Combined Arms Regiments and proceed with a Challenger 2 Capability Sustainment Programme that addresses the current two-piece ammunition problem.

It should re-organize its reconnaissance cavalry to give it the ability to fight for information, to screen the main force and deliver enhanced ISTAR. The cavalry regiments should be expanded, and the Ajax should be supported by an heavier hitting vehicle, with a 120 mm gun. In the armoured brigades, the Cavalry regiment should include a number of Challenger 2s, while the medium weight formation should introduce a Medium Armour variant of Ajax itself, to keep within the relevant weight limits.
The new cavalry structure would expand the Army 2020 regiments mounted on Ajax from 528 men to 652, with three large sabre squadrons each with two Scout Troops (4 Ajax, 2 Ares); two Tank troops (4 Challenger 2 / Medium Armour each); a Surveillance Troop with 2 Ajax Joint Fires for the direction of artillery and air strikes plus 2 Ajax Ground Based Surveillance variants with mast-mounted radar and EO/IR sensor, one ABSV ambulance and a Support Troop with 2 ABSV mortar carriers and 2 Ares Overwatch with anti-tank missiles.
Each squadron is a self-contained maneuver unit, ready to be assigned to a battlegroup, easing the force generation cycle.
This new structure would require the return to service of a number of Challenger 2s and a change to the Ajax production run: less Scout vehicles in exchange for a new variant (Medium Armour) and a slight increase to the number of Joint Fires and Ground Based Surveillance sub-variants. Four such cavalry regiments would require:

48 Challenger 2 (in two regiments)
48 Medium Armour (in two regiments)
96 Ajax
24 Ajax Joint Fires
24 Ajax Ground Based Surveillance
24 Ares Overwatch
24 ABSV mortar carriers

Obviously, more vehicles of each type would be required for training and back-up, but currently there are 245 Ajax and sub-variants on order, and I believe that number could be maintained.  

On the artillery front, my suggestion would be to prioritize the AS90 replacement over the quest for a wheeled artillery system for the Strike Brigades. I believe the benefit of a wheeled self-propelled howitzer would not really justify its cost, considering the budget difficulties the forces grapple with. A single programme could solve both problems at once: industry offers the DONAR, an highly automated artillery system, based on the Pzh2000, installed upon an Ascod SV / Ajax hull. Lighter and easier to deploy than the AS90, it offers logistical commonality with the Ajax and is in the same region in terms of mass. This makes it suitable for use in the strike brigades even if it does not ride on wheels.

A 155/52 self propelled howitzer on an Ajax chassis. Decent solution to two problems at once. 

As AS90 replacement, it offers decent protection, tracks for maximum mobility and, crucially, a 52 calibre gun with greater reach than the AS90’s 39 cal.

A wheeled GMLRS launcher shouldn’t even be considered, in my opinion, because it would, again, be a sub-optimal use of money. Yes, the M270B1 is tracked. But tracks are already part of the brigade anyway. Mass-wise, the M270B1 is lighter than both Ajax and any likely MIV candidate, so it fits the frame without problems. Being tracked it might be a bit trickier to move over long distances (the famous “self deploy” dream), but it would still be the last of the issues needing solution.

British mechanized infantry right now: is it wise to sacrifice so much to move from these to an 8x8? I don't think so. 

In the meanwhile, the mechanized infantry should ride on Mastiff, Ridgback and Foxhound. They are not faultless vehicles, but they are available and paid for, and they do their job pretty well. If replacing them with a more mobile 8x8 requires mutilating the rest of the army and still obtain such a poor result as the currently envisioned Strike Brigade, it is simply suicidal to pursue such replacement.  


  1. In defence of Boxer:

    One benefit of selecting Boxer is that the 155mm Artillery Gun Module for DONAR is also available as a Boxer module. This would give the British Army a common wheeled/tracked artillery system, which would be excellent in terms of commonality and logistics.

    Then, replace the L118 with a mix of M777s and 120mm mortars, and that would give the Royal Artillery some very good capabilities indeed.

    Boxer really would need a 40mm CTAS turret module though, it doesn't make sense to buy the MIV if it still needs the support of Ajax's 40mm turret.

    A self-propelled 120mm mortar and wheeled MLRS would both be good elements for the Strike Brigades. I wonder if the 120mm NEMO mortar turret from the Patria AMV could be adapted into a Boxer module? And how about an MLRS module for Boxer?

    It's areas like these which make Boxer make sense, in that it would enable the British Army to develop new capabilities, while still reducing the number of different vehicle types in service, which will reduce maintenance/logistics costs, and enable a Strike Brigade to be tailored with only the modules that are required for a specific mission, without needing a fixed number of vehicle chassis in order to provide that capability.

    What would be a really brilliant idea, is if somebody developed a common module that could be installed on both a tracked and wheeled chassis, similar in concept to Boxer. Just imagine it: A 40mm CTAS turret, a 120mm gun, 155mm artillery, a 120mm mortar, and an MLRS module, all swappable between a wheeled and tracked chassis as required, thus enabling a medium-weight brigade to be truly tailored between tracked/wheeled capabilities. Alas, that would be a huge and expensive development.

  2. Great writeup, although one little thing to note. The picture of a "Jaguar" is not a Jaguar, thats a Sphinx, which was Jaguar's competitor.

  3. This article lacks much detail about how an infantry brigade would be deployed to slow down a Russian invasion. Say a Russian division or brigade is advancing on some area defended by a medium infantry brigade. What tactics are used? Do the infantry take cover in trees or an urban area and shoot at the advancing enemy? Would the APCs, whatever their weapons load out, park behind the dismounted infantry and also shoot or do they drive off and fight separately?

    1. I believe the intent of the medium force is not to fight peer enemies, but rather be deployed in colonial style conflicts like Mali. That in and of itself should be a warning sign as to why going down this path of cutting heavy force capability is a foolish one.

    2. The main US medium infantry brigade in Europe is the 2nd Cavalry. It is the first brigade that will get the 30 mm cannon mentioned in the article. This suggests that they will have a role in a conflict with Russia. It would take a month or more for US based armored brigades to make it to any fight with Russia. If the strike brigades do not have a role in the defense of Europe, I agree that the MoD plan is bad news for NATO countries and other allies threatened by Russia.

    3. The role of the vehicle is, obviously, determined largely by its weapons fit and by the enemy firepower. If the MIV gets nothing better than a RWS with a .50 HMG, it clearly will be forced to stay back and will be limited in the support it can effectively provide. Just like Mastiff, it will be an armoured taxi which brings the infantry up to N hundred meters away from the target, and then lets the infantry get on with it.
      But more firepower is needed for it to have any sense: insurgents use large caliber weapons all the time, and it is ridiculous that vehicles costing millions of pounds have to keep back because their weight of fire is outmatched by ex-soviet 23mm guns on the back of a toyota pick-up. The great mobility of a column of wheeled armoured vehicles is pointless if they don't have the firepower to win the fight when they arrive.
      Similarly, the Europe-based Strykers are perfect for "racing" towards a sudden movement of russian troops, but if they get there with just .50 HMG when the russians put missiles and 30mm guns on nearly anything that moves in their army... well, they won't gain the heavy forces much time, let's say so.

  4. It strikes me that the strike brigade is intended as some sort of globally deployable formation to conduct operations in former colonies and the like.

    But the UK has already conducted such an operation in Afghanistan and purchased the Mastiff, Ridgeback and Foxhound to do so. And they performed quite well.

    So my question is. What does the Strike Brigade bring that the light formations can't already do aside from Ajax. Which will be stripped from the heavy formations.
    Might as well just send over the light formations and take the Ajax element from a heavy formation to attach to it in theatre. Sure it isn't a neat premade formation, but it offers virtually the same capability for no extra cost.

    1. That's my point as well. The MIV is an upgrade compared to the Mastiff, but if i have to cut back everything else to procure it, then i wouldn't even think about it.

  5. Gaby

    Good article. I am just wondering whether there is something in what the first Anonymous says about Boxer. You remember that news item that appeared in “The Times" a fortnight or so ago (the one about the UK MOD intending to push through an order for no fewer than eight hundred Boxer vehicles from Germany)?

    Now Anonymous mentions that the DONAR 155mm gun is available as a module for BOXER. I had thoughts when I saw the “Times” article that possibly, just possibly, the MOD and British Army might be attempting to solve most of their problems concerning the Strike Brigades by purchasing a very large number indeed of the BOXER vehicles, in many different variants.

    The Strike Brigades will certainly not be a success unless they are very well-equipped with a wide range of variants: e.g. Personnel carrier, Reconnaissance, Command, Ambulance, Repair and Recovery, Fire support, ATGW , Mortar carrier , etc. They will almost certainly need a bridgelayer too. Given the DONAR version, the BOXER can obviously carry a SP Gun as well. Many, many birds could be killed with one stone by such an order. The solution would obviously be superior to the mish-mash of a brigade cobbled together from wheeled and tracked vehicles (MIV and AJAX, for instance), which, in my honest opinion, would not work.

    1. Conceptually, that would be a good approach. The fact is: i do not really believe in the reports of 600 or 800 vehicles. I will be very, very surprised if the army suddenly orders so many hundreds of vehicles, and in so many variants. Very surprised.

  6. I enjoy reading these article but always struggle to understand why a simple Motor Rifle Brigade is so hard to produce for the UK, your defence budget is quite big. To much politics


  7. Gabi
    If I were very cynical I'd suggest these "strike" brigades are designed to not deploy. The army has done a lot of fighting in the last few years and people need a rest.

    And commanding one of the "defence engagement " battalions sounds like a nice gig, embedded with a friendly government somewhere moderately sunny.
    When I was at BAE a little while back the joke was that uk defence procurement is driven by frequent flyer points, hence the eclectic mix of vehicles, to be fair to Boxer it cannot be worse than Panther CLV

  8. Agree on all points Gabriele makes.

    You could not make up the stupidity of the MoD/HMG, and the army.

    We had 3 Armoured and Mechanized Brigades. We then changed 1 Armoured Brigade to Mechanized ( a defence cut, as it got rid of some tanks in forming "Medium Armoured Squadrons" and some Warriors ) and changed a Mechanized Brigade to a Light Brigade.
    Then we got rid of the Light Brigade, for sod all. Then we reduce 3 Mechanized and 2 Armoured Brigades to 3 "Armoured Infantry Brigades" Why these bloody name changes!
    Now, with only these 3 Armoured Infantry Brigades left, we mutilate what we have left to form some Mechanized Brigades with a fancy name! By losing more of the few AS90, Tanks and Warrior we have left!
    When all along, we have Foxhound which could be grouped into 2 brigades of the Adaptable Force, for me 7th and 51st with their illustrious history, of 3 Battalions each, and spend a little on the enablers like an extra Artillery and Signal Regiment, and Signals, as Gabriele has banged on about for years, and quite rightly.
    Instead? The Foxhounds are spread like Confetti around the 7 "Infantry" brigades of the adaptable force, as sad collection of mutilated formations with no real defined role.

    Makes me mad. Shame on you HMG. Shame on you.

    Rant over.

  9. Hi Gabriele,
    Thank you for another good article.
    I agree with you, what is this strike brigade for?
    A Mali style or CI operation or peer fighting?
    I have to point out the difference in the military dictionary between the US and French armies, and the British.
    Strike brigade in the US and French armies, who our strike brigade is meant to work with means;
    Self deploying, medium armour equipped with a family of wheeled armoured vehicles.
    The British entry reads:
    A botched up brigade of a mix of vehicles and a stealthy way to cut the armies deployable units.
    800 Boxer vehicles?!!! As I understand the budget situation in the army at the moment, you have to have an operational reason to get a paper clip.
    Lets not forget, just a couple of months ago Carter said in front of the defence committee, the strike brigade would consist of 2 Ajax regiments and 2 maybe 1 infantry battalions. I assume the maybe about the infantry battalions in because he only has 3 Mastiff battalions at the moment, divided by 2 means 1.5 between the 2 brigades. My own feeling is that this will be reduced down to 2 Mastiff battalions, so one for each brigade.
    So unless Carter has found a pot of spare cash and some common sense, I doubt very much the rumour about 800 Boxers.
    Phil (the cynical ex pongo)

  10. Building on Gabby's post, can I suggest a further development -
    1. We keep and update the 3 "Heavy Brigades", populated by 3 combined arms regiments and a heavy recon regiment (with Chall 2). The 3 "mechanised" infantry battalions would be removed.
    2. We delete 16 Air Assault (shock!!!)
    3. We develop 3 Infantry Brigades, each with 1 para/air assault battalion; 2 motorised infantry battalions (mounted on Mastiff / Ridgeback / Foxhound); 1 Light Recon Regiment (with direct fire - Centauro 2 if possible).
    I realise that it will be anathema to many to delete 16 Air Assault, but the days of a Brigade level para or air assault are gone, the most that can be expected is by battalion groups (of which we will have three + SFSG) under the above scheme.
    The above would be combined with 2 identical divisional headquarters and divisional troops (engineer, artillery, logistics, aviation etc), with the Brigades being assigned as required. 6 operational headquarters (7 with 3 Commando) is certainly achievable with current resources.

  11. Gabriel
    Another good article and one that I hope brings the toes of certain senior people including Generals, Politicians and MOD Mandarins to the fire. It should make them take a long hard look at what drives their desires on this “Strike” Brigade Concept and if they are being truly honest with the public, but more importantly their own staff. To try and recover the moral of the British Army which is pretty low at the moment with little support for the Strategy the Senior Army ranks are taking. If we look at what is driving these decisions it becomes clear why the Generals are where they are:
    1. Wheels can’t follow tracks. It was shown with a number of training deployments over Salisbury Plain in 2012/13 that Mastiffs can’t keep up and provide support to CR2, CVRT and Warrior equipped troops. The fact is that any wheeled vehicle cannot follow to provide the follow on support Infantry, they just cannot keep close enough, the distance troops then had to march to get in to the battle was to far.
    2. We Couldn’t Take Tracks to Afghanistan. The scars left by using Snatch Land Rovers runs deep. The Army wanted Warriors, politicians who sold it to the public as a piece keeping operation (remember Mr Reid’s famous “we hope to not shoot a single bullet in Southern Iraq” well he was only over a million rounds out after the first year) which it most definitely wasn’t. So the army wants the most heavily armoured thing it can get on wheels, that ain’t a tank. We don’t need to look like a tank (hence no Gun Support Version) we don’t want it to have the fire power of an Ajax as that would beg the question why are we buying that. So you end up with an over armoured box for fighting the Taliban but under gunned because it cannot have anything bigger than what a Mastiff has mounted on it.
    3. We’re planning for fighting the last war. No critical thinking or criticism of Politicians has happened. Read and digest the Chilcott report which clearly shows the very poor ability of Senior Army members to change doctrinal thinking when it is clearly shown to be failing in practice. Secondly the Army is not being honest with either the politicians or the public on what it can and can’t do. Too many Generals and Admirals wait until they are sitting in the House of Lords before they state the bleeding obvious that we don’t have enough equipment or man power to do all of what is asked of them.
    4. Nobody wants to face up to what Russia and China can Do. Too many times Generals, think tanks and other supposed informed commentators play down the ability of our main opponents. Just look at the many reports that have come out of the Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia. Russia learnt its lessons in Georgia we need to learn also. That means that 8x8 APC’s get munched by Russian Rocketry and Artillery. That active defence requires modern armoured Anti-Tank Missiles. Area Denial Weapons mean Air Superiority is not guaranteed. We need heavily armoured vehicles to fight on the modern battlefield, with modern defensive systems. We need to look at friendly nations such as Israel that are engaged in open hostilities and look at the way they are developing in the heat of battle. None of this is being done, a concept that 20yrs ago had merit, has been shown not to work so well and been modified is now being copied by British Generals because they are playing catch up with the me too attitude. If an 8x8 had been purchased 20yrs ago when the USA bought Strykers then maybe, but now the threat has changed the thinking has not.
    5. We have not spent enough money on armour, artillery, signals or logistics for years. So we are only buying an upgrade to 245 Warriors this is not enough to equip more than 2 Armoured Infantry Brigades plus training/replacement vehicles etc. We are only providing a limited slep to CR2. We need to extend the range of both GMLRS and AS90 to deal with the issue of being outgunned by Russia. We still haven’t worked out what we do with all the old 1970’s armour being used in support roles. We have no armoured anti air or anti- tank vehicles.

    1. That's a good summary, unfortunately. I share your feelings about how this thing is going.

  12. @Anonymous

    "Too many Generals and Admirals wait until they are sitting in the House of Lords before they state the bleeding obvious that we don’t have enough equipment or man power to do all of what is asked of them."

    The whole post/article is first-rate in its analysis but the sentence that really struck me was the one above. You can say that again and again and again.

    Do you know that when the manpower of the Army came down from 102,000 to 82,000 as a result of SDSR 2010, there were still people arguing that we cold operate efficiently with an even smaller Army. Beyond belief!

  13. So we know where we are, the question is how do we get what we want within the means of what we have. If we take the constraints of a 82,000 Army and Budget as is. So I suggest :
    1. The Armoured Division. The simple fact is that we need to have an Armoured Div, to my mind that is 3rd Division as is, but as we’re short of manpower and equipment. To square that circle we lose 1 Brigade. This will be made up of 1st & 12th Armoured Battalions based on a regiment each of 84 split in HQ Squadron of 3 x CR2, Squadrons A, B, C will also have a 3 x CR2 HQ attachment and 24 x CR2 to each Battlegroup based on each Armoured Infantry Battalion. So each Battlegroup will have 27 CR2s. Each Brigade will have 1 Reconnaissance Brigade using Ajax in the existing Regimental Structure. These will be the Household Cavalry and the Royal Lancers (Royal Lancers moving to Tidworth taking the space of the Queens Royal Hussars (more of them later)) so that all armour is in and around Salisbury Plain. You will have 4 Armoured Infantry Regiments Mounted on Turreted or non-Turreted Warrior (i.e. don’t throw out the other 250 odd Warriors when you do the slep) plus extra Ajax and other variants of Scout SV being purchased by saving 1 armoured cavalry unit. To remove all FV series vehicles from the armoured Division. This is where it now gets a little difficult, we know from experience in Israel and Ukraine that heavy Armoured Infantry are essential. So 2 Infantry Battalions would be equipped on rebuilt CR2 chassis as IFV with a modified Turret to carry a Driver, Gunner/Commander in the Front of the vehicle (30mm Remote weapon system), plus 8 Dismounts, with Rear dismount location. Yes it’s a bodge, but we are losing 1 whole Tank Regiment if not the vehicles, let’s reuse the vehicles we have in storage. CR2 and CR2 IFV to get a full slep, including updated smooth bore Gun System. That is about 400 CR2’s so a budget saving has to come from somewhere. So that is 6 Battle Groups. I would like to see a 3rd “Reserve” Battalion formed using FV Series armour based reserve infantry and the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, plus CRT raised reserve Armoured infantry. Not ideal again but in times of all out war can be activated. An encouragement to take the reserves away from the deployed every 5yrs disaster of Army 2020, return it to the deployed only in times of must that the Reserve always was and which people can work around civilian life.
    2. How does that look like. So that would be 1st Armoured Brigade of Household Cav Ajax Mounted, 84 CR2’s in Royal Tank Regiment, 1st Batt PWRR CR2 IFV mounted, 1st Batt Mercians Warrior, 1st Batt Fusiliers Warrior Mounted. 12th Armoured on the same basis with The Royal Lancers Ajax, The Kings Royal Hussars CR2, 1st Batt Scotts Guards Reg CR2 IFV, 1st Batt Royal Welsh Warrior, 1st Battalion Yorks Warrior.
    3. What Support Elements. You have 101 Logistics Brigade made up of 2 active elements argmented where necessary to replace the recent losses. You make sure all the heavy transported and tracked bridge layers etc with personnel are in those regiments. IE you give enough support to the 2 active Armoured Brigades from all of the support command. Artillery. You keep the same number of AS90’s & GMLS but they are brought over in 2 regimental blocks to support and be attached to each Armoured Brigade. The reserve AS90’s and Reserve GMLS are then assigned to 20 Brigade Reserve Armoured Brigade. You upgrade both systems to extend range to out gun or be comparable with Russian Artillery and Rockets.
    4. Eat some Humble Pie. In view of the increased risk in Europe you reverse the SDR2010 idea and either keep 1 Brigade in Germany or Poland/Baltics so as to concentrate your heavy transport facilities in the UK. A 3 year rotation between 1 & 12 Brigades. The simplicity is you keep everybody where they are now, apart from 1 move. Where’s the money coming from? Well that’s part two the Strike Division.

  14. So the so called Strike Brigades. Why do we need them ? The fact is the Army has realised that getting heavy armour from the UK to Europe is going to be a nightmare, secondly that they are not going to allowed to take tracks to places like Afghanistan or UK equivalent of Malawi. So what we need is a road deployable over 1,000 miles, can fight either insurgents (Taliban, Isis etc) as well as provide a meaningful counter to a Peer to Peer enemy. Since this is going to be a light force it will rely on firepower from Anti-Tank and Anti-Armour Missiles based on vehicles. The first rule has to be wheels go with wheels, Ajax and variants have no place in this force. Neither does any tracked support vehicles.
    So how is this to be formed? Well the first question is do we need now a new 8x8, which is lightly armed and with light protection. My answer is no, we have Mastiff, Couger, Ridgeback, Wolfhound and Foxhound, Husky, Panther. They should all be grouped together to form the core vehicles for the strike brigades as they are all wheeled. At the moment we have 3 Battalions in mastiffs, 4 in various 4x4 armoured trucks as Light Protected Infantry. That is more than enough to form 2 brigades based on the following
    1x Wheel Based 120mm smooth bore gunned tank killer regiment.
    1x Wheel Based Reconnaissance Regiment based on a Husky etc 4x4 with a 30mm (As per the USA using Apache Remote Gun Stations).
    2x Mastiff Based Mechanised Infantry, with a proportion of Mastiffs provided with the 30mm Gun System.
    3x Light Protected Infantry Battalion
    These would be formed from the following existing Battalions.
    51st Div would be formed from
    Wheeled Tank Regiment The Royal Scots Dragon Guards returning to a tank role based in Leuchars (no Move)
    Cavalry Regiment Light Dragon Guards based in Caterick (no move) swapping from Jackal to protected Panther/Husky etc mounting 30mm weapons.
    4th Batt The Royal Regiment of Scotland using there existing Mastiffs based in Caterick.
    The Royal Highland Fusiliers moving to a new Mastiff base.
    3rd Riffles and 3rd Batt Royal Reg of Scotland & 2nd Batt Yorks as Light Protected 4x4 vehicles. These regiments would be augmented by Missiles, Milan Systems, Anti Air mounted on Trailers etc embedded within them. IE a true hard hitting mobile protected infantry.
    The same structure would then be for the 7th Brigade which would have
    Wheeled Tank Regiment The Queens Royal Hussars in Tidworth (no Move) transiting from CR2.
    1st The Queens Dragoon Guards based in Swanton Morely Based on 30mm Mounted 4x4.
    The 1st Batt Royal Anglians moving from light infantry to Mastiff Based.
    4th Riffles Mastiff based staying at Aldershot.
    Light Protected of 2nd Batt Royal Anglians, 1st Batt Royal Irish and 1st Batt Welsh Guards all in existing locations.
    This would be supported by 51st getting 102 Logistics brigade etc and 7th using the resources of the 3rd support element from 20 Armoured Brigade moved to wheeled vehicles.
    This leaves the 1st The Light Dragoons to inherit all the jackals to provide 3 squadrons to support the Marines, Para’s and a 3rd light Brigade in a true purple Division to provide expeditionary forces. More of that latter in part 3. The non purchase of the 8x8 should have £5bn, to provide for upgrades to existing Armour and any other vehicle costs including about 120 8x8 / 6x6 120mm wheeled direct fire support vehicle. The only “new” vehicle but I would suggest looking at a working moving vehicle to reduce purchase risk.

  15. So now we have the structure of 2 armoured Brigades and 2 Strike Brigades what do we need "new" using the £5bn earmarked for the MIV 8x8. Well as I have said we need
    1, Upgrade properly CR2 we own them, lets keep them current.
    2, Reuse the CR2's in storage as CR2 IFV for 2 Battalions.
    3, 120 ish 8x8 / 6x6 Wheeled anti tank, direct gun fire vehicle.
    4, We need to purchase armoured boxed anti Tank and Anti Air Missiles. These can be fitted to existing Vehicles such as non turreted Warriors, Mastiffs, flatbed Husky etc etc. We are also buying some over watch SV vehicles as well. With the reduction of only 2 Armoured Reconnaissance Regiments we could tweek the Ajax purchase to fit.
    5. Artillery. We urgently need to upgrade the AS90's/GMLRS. We also need to truck mount the 105mm light gun for the 2 Strike Brigades and look at some fancy ammunition (rocket assisted etc) to make those things useful. They are not heavy and would fit on a Husky type chassis, using remote hydraulic spades to be self deployable providing the crews with some light armour protection rather than towing them in no protection 6x6's as we do now.
    6. Finally we have to put the Jackals were they are needed in the expeditionary formation with the Marines and Para's etc. They are no use and are under gunned to operate in Europe. They are OK in hot dusty places, but a 12.5mm machine gun does not cut it against troops at least equipped with 30mm IFV/APC's in Europe even old Russian ones. Size matters. They are good at replacing WMIK Land Rovers etc.
    So that's how I would square the circle. That leaves a light expeditionary force to come up with and the rest of the Army Structure. Maybe for tomorrow.
    The Ginge

  16. At last there's some movement on the Challenger Life Extension Programme with two groups shortlisted for the assessment phase - one lead by BAE and one by Rheinmetall. See [url][/url] for more.

    Most intriguing are the comments from Rheinmetall that their proposal could include the 120mm L55 smooth bore developed very successfully for the Leopard 2 MBT which would open up a marked improvement in lethality and effectively lead to a Challenger 3 standard.

  17. You may already be aware of this, but mentioned on PPruNe:

    A cost (Future carrier including costs) is the redistribution of Naval Service manpower away from RM to RN by approx 600. 43 Cdo to reduce to core Scottish and special escort roles and 42 Cdo to 'rerole' (i.e. no longer to be a full Cdo like 40 or 45) to undertake Fleet protection. So 3 Cdo Bde down to 2 x manoeuvre units.


Everybody can comment on this blog without needing a Blogger account. It is meant to keep the discussion free and open to everyone. Unfortunately, anonymous accounts keep the door open for spammers and trolls, so i'm forced to moderate comments and approve them before they appear. Apologies for the inconvenience.