Saturday, April 15, 2017

Building on strengths: what happens to the amphibious force?

1- Introduction and Air Manoeuver 
2 - Amphibious force and the Royal Marines cut
3 - what happens to the amphibious force?

What happens to the Royal Marines, exacty? The honest answer is that we don’t yet really know. Very few details have been provided about Commando Force 2030 and the exact shape that 42 Commando will take as it loses its amphibious assault role.

The Royal Marines provide force protection for the fleet as well as “green” boarding teams, trained to undertake complex assaults on ships that oppose resistance. In 2010, these roles were grouped within 43 Commando, in addition to the main role of this unit which remains protection of the nuclear deterrent and related installations. Two squadrons within 43 Commando initially delivered the fleet roles: P Squadron and S Squadron. P was actually largely manned by the Navy, and used to be around 167 strong. It provided force protection teams for deploying RN and RFA vessels, but it did not last long: formed in April 2010, it disbanded 31 December 2013 when the manpower crisis within the Navy made it indispensable to recoup all posts for other needs. At that point, the Force Protection task was given to the Commando in its “Standing Tasks” year. 45 Commando was the first to be given this responsibility.

40, 42 and 45 Commando have so far operated to a 3-year Force Generation Cycle: one year in “Standing Tasks” position; one year in “Generate” position, training for high readiness; and the third year in “Operate” condition, with responsibility to deliver the Lead Commando Group at 5 days notice to move, with vanguard elements at 48 hours notice.
Standing tasks include defence engagement abroad, training and assistance, and, since 2013, ships Force Protection.

Ex Black Aligator, 2015 

S Sqn, still part of 43 Commando, provides the Fleet Stand-By Rifle Troop (FSRT), the Fleet Contingent Troop (FCT) and the Maritime Sniper Teams (MST). The Fleet Stand-By Rifle Troop provides 16 “green” boarding teams, complete of sniper pair from MST, which are cleared for boarding Non-Compliant ships. The Contingent Troop provides four teams, supported normally by two sniper pairs, trained for Opposed boarding. They are called upon in the most complex situations.

Where does 42 Commando fit in? It is pretty likely that S Squadron will move across from 43 Cdo. The rumor that has started to circulate says S Sqn joins, Juliet Company disbands, Lima and Mike companies re-role for ships force protection. Kilo company’s fate is not mentioned.
Manpower reductions can be expected especially in the HQ and Logistic companies, as the unit, in this new role, will not need its 81mm mortars, Javelin missiles, HMG and GMG and medium machine gun troop with GPMG. It might retain some machine guns, but certainly in reworked structures. Logistic support in the new role will also be very different and will probably require a lot fewer men.

43 Commando, if S Sqn moved out, would remain with just O and R squadrons, in the nuclear deterrent protection and Faslane / Coulport recapture roles. What impact on politics, if men move out of Scotland, though? 

The Lead Commando Group responsibility will fall on 40 and 45 Commando alone, in a two-year force generation cycle. The ambitions for the LCG are unchanged: 5 days notice to move and ability to insert two company groups (one by helicopter, one by landing craft) within a 6 hour window of night darkness. The Commandos, unless the new 2030 plan changes their structure, have 4 combat companies each, plus Logistic and HQ coy, the latter incorporating the fire support role with Mortars, AT Platoon and GPMG SF.

It seems that the Special Purpose Task Group, a company-group unit of up to 200 personnel, will actually come out of the Lead Commando Group and serve as its forward-based vanguard, with the shortest reaction time (provided it is close to the right area of operations, obviously). It is planned  that a SPTG will always be embarked on the aircraft carrier out at sea, along with at least one “Unit of Action” comprising 4 Merlin HC4 helicopters.

According to what Jane’s report, the Commando Helicopter Force will assign 12 Merlin to 845 NAS, which will form three “Units of Action”. 846 NAS will have nine helicopters, mainly tied to training and operational conversion plus the provision of a couple of helicopters at high readiness for the Maritime Counter Terrorism reaction force. Four helicopters at any one time will be in the sustainment fleet.
847 NAS, with 6 Wildcat, will provide two 3-strong units of action.

The first Merlin refurhished to HC4 standard, with FLIR not yet installed. The carriers are an opportunity; the loss of Ocean a big issue; but focusing too much on "lighter, by helicopter" would be a huge and painful mistake. 

The Lead Commando Group, yearly formed upon 40 or 45 Cdo, will include either 59 or 54 Commando Engineer squadrons, rotating yearly into readiness, plus a Logistic Task Group from the Commando Logistic Regiment; a formation from 30 Commando IX providing air defence, police, reconnaissance and communications plus EW teams from 14 Royal Signal Regiment.
29 Commando Royal Artillery provides a gun battery with L118 and Fire Support Teams from 148 Meitkila Bty. As yet unannounced, but pretty much certain, is the disbandment of one battery within the regiment, between 7, 8 and 79. With one Commando less to support, the 12 guns can be expected to concentrate within two 6-guns batteries, exactly as happens in 7 Royal Horse Artillery within 16 Air Assault Brigade.
7 Bty, based in Scotland, has hung in the balance since 2010, but with 45 Cdo, also Scotland based, staying in the amphibious role and with the know political implications of any manpower shift in the area, the pain might suddenly shift on someone else. 

The Royal Marines have a long-standing requirement for UAS support and would probably kill to have a dedicate UAS battery, but the decisions about 29 Commando Royal Artillery are in army hands and Land Command will want to shift as much manpower as it can into other areas.
The Royal Marines have resorted to double-hatting their Air Defence troop, training it on Desert Hawk III mini-UAS, plus a little reserve element as 289 Commando Troop, 266 Battery, 104 Royal Artillery regiment. However, 104 Regiment will cease to be a UAS unit as part of Army 2020 Refine, converting to close support with L118 and AS90.
The Marines have also tried to work with the army to launch a Joint Mini UAS programme for procuring a replacement, but the programme was denied funding several times in a row and to this day no one knows what will deliver Battlegroup-and-below ISTAR after Desert Hawk III goes out of service in 2021. The Army already plans to disband 32 Royal Artillery regiment, the main DH III user, and give its spaces over to 5 Royal Artillery regiment as part of the Defence Estate reduction.

News reports have included news of a possible reduction in the landing craft inventory as well, and it is probably a certainty. For a start, the Royal Marines disbanded 6 Assault Squadron in 2010 when one of the LPDs was mothballed. Only 4 Squadron remains, moving from Albion to Bulwark when the ships alternate into the operational phase.
When next year HMS Ocean leaves service, its 9 Assault Squadron and its four LCVP MK5s will also go. A number of the 21 LCVPs are almost certainly going to go out of active service as the number of active davits shrinks. Hopefully, an Assault Squadron will be formed to provide LCUs and LCVPs for the Bay class LSDs, at least.

The Royal Marines have for years attempted to replace part of the LCVP fleet with a flotilla of combat boats for force protection, surf zone and riverine operations. Swedish CB90 boats were loaned and extensively trialed, but no visible progress has been made towards procuring any hull. A squadron of these boats would provide a lot of capability in a range of roles, including counter-piracy, extending the reach of a Bay class acting as mothership by hundreds of miles in every direction. Money, however, is just not there for anything.

Another important requirement that has run aground is that for a fast landing craft to replace the very slow LCU MK10. A faster craft is an absolutely key requirement for the future as it would enable the amphibious ships to stay further away from the beach, keeping out of harm as much as possible. Unfortunately, despite a rather successful test campaign with the PACSCAT prototype LCU, more than 3 times faster than the MK10 when laden, no purchase has materialized.

On the vehicle front, the Marines have a requirement for replacing the old and unprotected BV206s in their many supporting roles within the brigade. The All Terrain Vehicle Support ATV(S) or Future ATV calls for up to 233 vehicles in a range of variants including troop carrier, mortar carrier, ambulance, command, repair and logistic flatbed. The vehicle would replace the BV206 and serve alongside the Viking, with the latter being more protected and combat-oriented.  The Support vehicle should come with a max protection to Level 2 standard. The first attempt at launching the programme dates all the way back to 2008, yet no progress can be reported to this day, almost a decade later.

The Viking itself has had a bit more luck, securing funding for a substantial upgrade and refurbishment, worth more than 37 million pounds. 99 vehicles have been refurbished, and two new variants introduced: 19 vehicles in Crew Served Weapon carrier configuration and 9 in Mortar Carrier configuration.
The British Viking vehicles originally came only in Troop Carrier, Command and Recovery variants, but in 2008 field conversions of some troop carriers into ambulances were carried out in Afghanistan. They might not have been retained into long term service, however.

The Royal Marines originally ordered 108 Viking vehicles in the early 2000s, as part of the Commando 21 reorganization. The Viking All-Terrain Vehicle (Protected) was meant to provide armoured, amphibious mobility to the Commando groups, and it hit its IOC in 2005, with deliveries completed by 2006.
The Royal Marines took 33 of the new vehicles with them in Afghanistan during their tour in October 2006, and the all terrain mobility of the Viking proved incredibly precious during operations, so much so that the British Army asked to retain a Viking presence in theatre in the long term as Herrick 6 began. The Army obviously had no Viking-trained personnel, so the new big mission of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group became the support of the Afghan effort, in parallel to the deployment of the vehicle at sea on amphibious operations, including a raid inland in Somalia last year.
Further orders for Viking vehicles were made during the years of service in Afghanistan: in June 2008, for example, 14 new vehicles were ordered.
Eventually, 24 Viking of the much improved MK2 type were also ordered during 2009, with deliveries completed in 2010: these were 22 troop transports and 2 command vehicles.
In 2007 a separate order was placed, for 21 Vikings which will be part of the Watchkeeper UAS system , carrying the Tactical Party that will enable ground forces and HQs to access the data from the unmanned aircrafts and assign missions to it.
In total, more than 160 Vikings have been ordered by the UK, but at least 27 were lost during operations. 21 are Army systems within the Watchkeeper batteries, and 99 remain in Royal Marines service.

The 9 Mortar Carriers should be at the same standard as that showcased at DSEI 2011 by BAE Systems, including a turntable for mounting the 81mm L16 mortar and space for the stowage of 140 rounds.
The 19 crew-served weapon variants come with a protected mount for an additional weapon on the rear car, in addition to the MR555 weapon mounts already present on all front cars. These shielded mounts can take any weapon, from a 5.56 Minimi to the HMG .50 and the GMG. The mount weights some 380 kg complete with the .50 HMG and offers STANAG Level 2 ballistic protection to the gunner.
The Viking Crew Served Weapon variant showcased by BAE Systems as a very impressive, all-inclusive mobile fortress meant to provide fire support and ISTAR to the forces on the ground: it was in fact shown fitted with a Remote Weapon Station with a .50 HMG mounted over the front car, a shielded ring mount mounted on top of the rear car, Boomerang III acoustical shooter detection system and retractable, mast-mounted EO/IR sensor payload. It is not clear if the 19 CSW vehicles for the Royal Marines will any of the more advanced features.  

The upgrade improved protection on the older Vikings bringing them in line with the latest MK2 standard. The gross weight grew up to 14 tons, and front and rear hulls were rebuilt to integrate the latest generation V-shaped mine-resistant protection (with the exception of the rear cars of Repair and Mortar variants). Modifications to brakes and suspensions and to all other affected components were part of the overhaul. Unfortunately, not enough money was available to replace the powerpack of the older Vikings to fully match the MK2, but wiring and mount modifications were carried out to simplify later adoption of the more powerful engine. The MK1 and 1A employ a 5.9 litre Cummins engine, while the MK2s use a 6.7 litre one. The MK2 has greater electrical power output, increased to 260 amperes.
The vehicles are equipped with blast-protected seats, hung on rails, and come with four-point seat belts.
The vehicles can take add-on armour kits and can be fitted with a cage armor to resist to RPGs, but with these additions they are no longer amphibious. Extra protection kits were procured as part of the refurbishment.
The Full Operational Capability of the renewed Viking fleet was announced in April 2016. At the time, the upgrade was said to secure the Viking’s future out to 2024, at which point another upgrade would extend that possibly to 2034.

It is not clear exactly how the 99 vehicles are distributed and employed. A recent news report says that the “Viking Squadron” is a 167-strong formation, formally under control of the Commando Logistic Regiment. Based in Bovington, where work started in 2013 to build a permanent Royal Marines facility, the unit has a trials and training cell plus supports and is structured on 3 Troops of 16 Vikings each, plus mortar section with 4 vehicles.
Two Troops are kept at 5 days notice to move and can provide lift to half of the Lead Commando Group, while the third Troop is kept at 28 days notice. Under Commando 21, half of the strength of a Commando unit was meant to be tracked, and half wheeled. Jackals are also part of the Royal Marines inventory. In general, 19 Crew Served vehicles and 9 Mortar carriers suggest that the objective of the Viking refurbishment programme was to provide protected mobility essentially to the sole Lead Commando Group.

Despite the hard work done in the field, the Royal Marines have not had a good time at home and in the budget battles of the last decade and more. Their priorities for the future remain almost completely unaddressed and the amphibious shipping has, since 2010, taken some savage hits. It is not a good time for the amphibious force, and there is no telling when things could look up.
In my opinion, the Marines need to try and position themselves differently: the Special Purpose Task Group is not a bad idea, but it is a dangerous example of shrinkage of what amphibious forces are good for. Fighting light and inserting by helicopter is just a tiny percentage of what makes amphibious forces important, and it is the least “special” bit of their job. There are already Light Role infantry and Parachute troops for that.

What makes the amphibious force unique is the ability to carry out a forcible entry carrying a lot of heavy equipment. If the amphibious force loses its ability to kick down the door and go ashore with vehicles and stores in quantities adequate to support maneuver even against well equipped enemies, their purpose is lost. If the Marines become nothing more than Light, airmobile infantry, the next cut will be a lot more painful, because they will no longer be unique, but just another infantry formation in the pile, just more expensive.

Arguably, instead of procuring yet another articulated, light, all-terrain BV-X vehicle, the Royal Marines should seek to become heavier. The Commandos never operated a combat vehicle like the US AAV-7 or the LAV, but it is probably high time for them to begin doing that. Arguably, Viking is the All Terrain Support vehicle and the actual gap is in the combat role, where a new, amphibious 8x8 vehicle would give a lot more bite and purpose. Money is of course the problem, but the Corps should begin to consider its future in new ways. They could have, and perhaps should have, positioned themselves as a true Strike Brigade candidate, even if that meant accepting greater army control. Because the truth is that 3 Commando Brigade already depends heavily on Army’s decisions through its Logistic, Engineer and Artillery component. It risked to lose a lot of those in 2010, and next time might not be able to parry the blow, especially because it cannot expect financial and even less manpower help from Navy Command, which is by now the image of despair, trying hard not to fall off the knife’s edge.

BAE - Iveco ACV swims ashore from an italian LPD during trials for the USMC ACV programme. The ACV can be equipped with an unmanned turret with 30mm gun; or carry a 120mm mortar, as well as come in Troop Carrier configuration. This is the field the Marines should aim towards. 

Going lighter is not going to help. The british armed forces are already overloaded with light and poorly supported formations. The Air Assault task force experimented in Joint Warrior with air-inserted light armour in the form of Foxhound, and this is a very welcome development.
The Royal Marines, however, need to reconsider with attention what makes them special, which is their ability to deploy a significant, well equipped force, much heavier than any force that can move in by air. The Corps should work to go heavier, not to go lighter. The field of “light” is already overcrowded. The “Medium” field should have been the Marines’s realm. Trials have begun with the Ares variant of the Ajax family to prove that it can go ashore from LCU MK10, but this is not enough, and might be too little, too late.

Ares goes to the beach 

In my opinion, the top priority for the Corps is to procure a faster, large landing craft, indispensable for littoral maneuver as part of a wider effort to build itself a role in the Medium weight arena, working together with the Army. 

More of this work alongside the army is what really sets the amphibious force apart. Air Assault is someone else's job, and going there means losing capability... as well as the Corps, in the long run. 

The UK does not need the Marines for helicopter-borne raids; it needs them for littoral maneuver and for opening doors for the Army. And the Corps, if it wants to survive in the age of constant cuts, needs to realize this. It is not an easy position to hold, between an Army short of manpower but needed for key supports; and a Navy even more desperate for manpower but that has the amphibious ships that make it all possible. 
It'll take courage and wisdom to hold that ground. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Building on strengths - Amphibious Force and the Royal Marines cut

1 - Introduction and Air Manoeuver 
2 - Amphibious Force and the Royal Marines cut 

This second chapter of the "building on strengths" series has been urged on and changed in shape by the emergence on national news of a problem that has been brewing in the background for a while. Amid enduring tightness of budgets, the Navy Command is very seriously considering cutting back on the Royal Marines in the desperate attempt of saving money.

The idea of permanently removing 42 Commando from frontline work has been lurking in the background for months. The fact that it has now appeared on the press means that it is very close to turning to reality. This leak to The Times might well be the last ditch effort to prevent it from going ahead, but it could very well not suffice.

Delegation of budget responsibilities to the frontline Commands is generally a very good thing, but when it comes to funding crises of this kind, it can turn into a monstrosity. Fallon has already clearly shrugged off the blame and appointed it like a medal on the chest of the 1st Sea Lord, and this might serve to make the cut all but unavoidable, simply because, from a Royal Navy-only point of view, the alternatives are probably even worse as they probably involve the loss of ships.

It is a fact, however, that removing 42 Commando from frontline duty will dramatically weaken the amphibious force, even in its routine battlegroup strength. The three Commandos alternate yearly into high readiness to serve as the core of the up to 1800-strong amphibious battlegroup, which includes an engineer squadron from 24 Regiment, an artillery battery from 29 Royal Artillery, logistic group from the Commando Logistic Regiment and reconnaissance, command support, police and air defence from 30 Commando IX.

It is a fact that 16 Air Assault brigade delivers the Air Assault battlegroup at readiness mostly from just 2 units (2 and 3 PARA). But it is equally a fact that they have been reinforced with the Royal Gurkha Rifles when it became clear that two battalions on their own struggled. It is also a fact that the Royal Marines have an additional task to take care of, which is provision of “Green” boarding teams to the fleet, for the more dangerous operations. This task used to be the remit of a squadron within 43 Commando, but that squadron was disbanded and the responsibility given to the Commando group in its “Other Tasks” year.

The idea for 42 Commando, I guess, might be to turn it into the permanent provider of Green teams and other supporting capabilities at lower-than-full-Commando scale. Recently, 3 Commando Brigade developed a Personnel Recovery capability for saving downed pilots in enemy territory and negate sensitive material to the enemy. A C-SAR capability that has long been needed and that the return of Carrier Strike, as well as the sensitive nature of F-35 technology and the value of its pilots, have made more urgent than ever.

The Royal Marines are also following the USMC lead on Special Purpose Task Groups, smaller forces (roughly company-group sized, in what has been seen so far on Mounts Bay in her solo deployment in the Mediterranean) adequate for raids, quasi-SF operations and rapid reaction. It might be that 42 Commando would be permanently tasked with delivery of a number of these groups. 
At a minimum, a SPTG with 4 Merlin HC4 is expected to always feature on board of the active aircraft carrier in the future, as well. 

However, even this "soft cut" would still deprive 3 Commando Brigade of mass, something it cannot afford to lose. In his end of year letter to the Royal Marines association, Major General Rob Magowan, commander general Royal Marines, wrote that the Corps was not in the condition of losing mass. At the time, the rumors about the push towards cuts to the RM were already alive and had already reached my ears and, no doubt, those of many others. The letter does not mention it directly, but the hints are clear: the fight was already on.

Unfortunately, the Royal Marines appear to be losing it, and going public now is probably the last bullet left to fire. If it misses, it is probably over. 3 Commando Brigade has been under constant assault since 2010: the Army, faced with its own great share of cuts, wanted to take manpower and pieces out of green Commando units. Initially, it looked like 24 Commando Engineer regiment would vanish, as well as 148 Battery Meiktila. In the end, both those cuts were successfully fought back and cancelled. 24 Commando Engineer has since had some actual success, growing 54 Squadron into a deployable engineer unit supporting the historic 59 Sqn. 131 (Reserve) Squadron has also been formally absorbed, with the regiment effectively mirroring the efforts and general organization of 23 Parachute Engineer regiment, with two deployable squadrons alternating into readiness.

7 Battery, 29 Commando Royal Artillery has had more of a struggle, between starts and stops: move south from Arbroath; stay in Arbroath; lose the guns and become Tac Gp only; keep the guns; wait for more announcements; repeat. Since 2010, the Arbroath-based battery, in theory support for 45 Commando in RM Condor, has faced a very uncertain future made of orders and counter-orders. 
Tthe last info I had suggested that its future was more than ever hanging by a thread as the loss of the Citadel and the need to relocate most of the brigade’s units as part of the “Better Defence Estate” project added to the shortage of guns, tight manpower margins and insufficient REME support. "Wait for further communications" seemed to be the thing. The artillery regiment is down to 12 guns in 3 tiny fires batteries, and could well end up having only two batteries, like 7 Royal Horse Artillery in the Air Assault role. In other words: the bare minimum needed to support a single battlegroup at readiness. The loss of 42 Commando as frontline unit is pretty much assured to come together with the loss of 7 Bty as well: no Commando to support, no artillery battery required. 

3 Commando brigade is one of just 6 brigades in the whole of the British Forces which will have any Combat Support and Combat Service Support units. In simpler terms, it is one of only 6 brigades that are actually deployable (in full or in part), in connection with the effects of Army 2020 Refine. To further damage this already pitifully small force is a crime, and is not a decision that should fall on the shoulders of the 1st Sea Lord alone. The whole british armed forces would come out weaker from the ordeal, even before considering the precious specialized nature of Marines units (from amphibiosity to Cold Weather and Mountain specialization) and the fact that they traditionally are a privileged recruiting ground for the Special Forces.

42 Commando is in line for the shrinking and change of role 

Dismantling this area of excellence makes zero sense when observed from a whole force point of view. The Navy budget might well be the one in most immediate trouble, but this “fix” is worse than the illness. There are other areas that could be hit with cuts without the damage being anywhere near as serious, and the primary one is the “Adaptable Force” of six “infantry brigades” in Army 2020 Refine. This container of Light Role infantry battalions will have zero CS and CSS elements at its disposal as the few it had as part of Army 2020 get either dismantled or moved to 3rd Division as part of Refine, meaning that its brigades are not deployable at all. The government needs to drop its absurd and horrendously damaging diktat that “no more than 5 infantry battalions should be lost, in order to preserve all capbadges”. This requirement, dropped on the Army’s top brass in 2010, has warped the army out of shape in an horrendous way, and now will be partially responsible of the cuts to 3 Commando Brigade as well.
The Royal Marines capability needs to be nurtured, not dismantled. They deliver unique capabilities within defence and, together with Royal Navy amphibious shipping and RFA strategic sealift (themselves already very unwisely run down dramatically beginning in 2010), they represent a huge share of the amphibious capability within NATO. The UK does itself no favor at all by depriving itself of this capability, and NATO as a whole. It is not the right way to approach Brexit negotiations either: threatening to retreat from Europe’s defence is not a very serious proposition if the forces get dismantled either way, and one of the unique or semi-unique contributions get lost before the debate even starts.

Army and Royal Marines must be looked at from the same table. 3 Commando Brigade is both a precious deployable brigade (one of far too few) and the custodian of the ability to maneuver on the sea flank and in the littoral. I cannot emphasize enough how urgent it is to fix the ridiculous imbalance of “Light Role infantry” to “everything else”. The manpower and money that go into those six undeployable, unfinished, paper-tiger infantry brigades is a treasure that the Forces cannot possibly do without in this climate. Manpower and money that should go into rebuilding lost supports, and with them lost deployable brigades. Some capbadges will be lost, but this is far, far better than the current path of self-destruction that is dismantling CS, CSS and now even the amphibious force in order to preserve more infantry regiments than the army can possibly support. That Army 2020 Refine dismantles yet another set of brigade-level supports (artillery, engineer, logistic, medical) is a act of self-harm absolutely unjustifiable, and this Royal Marines cut will add to that disaster.

Going back to my original plan for a moment, I intended to write that the UK should invest on its amphibious force. The news of the incoming cut only add urgency to the statement. The UK possesses a very large share of all of Europe’s amphibious shipping, as well as a very capable permanent strategic sealift component (the Point class RoRo vessels). It has a capable, proven, respected amphibious brigade that only needs a small investment in supports to rebuild muscle.

Moreover, the UK will have a capable carrier strike force to support and protect amphibious maneuver with. To sacrifice one to fund the other is an act of strategic blindness hard to even describe with words. The two things go hand in hand, and the 1st Sea Lord repeatedly tried to make the point clear and understood; in several speeches he explained that the Royal Navy must be defined by three macro areas being: Nuclear Deterrent (and we should also add, the all-important SSNs), Carrier Air (not strike. Air, in general, because a key contribution of the air wing is protection of the task force in a heavily contested environment) and Amphibious capability.

The big pieces are in place, and the United Kingdom, in a rare moment of sanity and awareness of its potentiality, had actually taken leadership of a NATO “Smart Defence” initiative to develop a strategic Port Opening capability to enable theatre entry. Unfortunately, nothing has been heard since, even though this is a capability that would be simply invaluable both in war (Think Defence wrote an excellent report about the efforts, back in 2003, to reopen the port of Umm Qasr in Iraq)  and peace (think about disaster relief, such as after the Haiti earthquake, when establishing a point of easy access from the sea is vital).

One bit of good news…

… related to the previous chapter of this series.
Interestingly, images coming in from Joint Warrior 17_1 suggest that someone in the army either reads me (just kidding) or has ideas similar to mine for investment on Air Assault and Air Manoeuver. The 2nd Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles seems to be playing with Foxhounds air-landed at Keevil with C-17. 

Other deliveries have included artillery and Pinzgauers towing the guns and even Apache, with rotors folded and all bits in place for rapid entry into action. 

The brigadier commanding 16 Air Assault brigade has added a photo in tweet, showing a Tactical HQ element mounted in Foxhounds for mobility, part of an “airmobile armour” experiment.
I was not aware of it coming when I wrote my recent article, I can assure you all of it. But obviously it is pretty pleasing to see some positive development, and one that goes in the very same direction I argued for.

The Tac HQ in the Airmobile Armour experiment 

Elements of Joint Helicopter Command deployed on Salisbury Plain with Joint Helicopter Force - 1 (HQ element coming from the Attack Helicopter Force. JHF-2 is amphibious-focused and comes from the Commando Helicopter Force) along with 4 Chinook, 3 Puma and 5 Apache from 664 Sqn in its new permanent attachment to the Air Assault task force. The exercise has included refuelings from fuel bladders carried inside Chinooks adding as relocatable Forward Refueling Points.

Meanwhile, in Exercise Una Triangle, the RAF A4 force and Royal Engineer's 529 Specialist Team RE (STRE) from Wittering deployed to Cottersmore to turn the ex-airfied (now the Army's Kendrew Barracks) back into an active air hub. Tents, catering, logistics, bulk fuel installation were all exercised to create a small deployed air base. Hopefully this will be further exercised and developed in the future, to include austere basing for the F-35B in good time. According to Scott Williams, RAF pilot within the F-35 programme, Royal Engineers will renew their stock of matting panels for runway repair and construction in order to support F-35 austere operations. 
Coming to a future Joint Warrior in a non too distant future, hopefully. 
Meanwhile, you can see photos and video reports from Una Triangle on RAF Wittering's facebook page. It is nice to see that some things are still moving. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Building on strengths

 In this series of short posts I pursue two key objectives:

-          Argue that the British Armed Forces, in times of severe budget difficulties, should not pursue “ham tomorrow” at all costs, but focus instead on a number of areas in which they still have the seeds of excellence.
-          Provide a more detailed background to my “Alternative Army 2020” proposal, showing the reasoning behind certain approaches.

The approach behind my reasoning is simple: building on what is available, to secure and improve a number of key capabilities that make the UK a major player in defence within NATO.
Rather than dismantling mass and capability even further to pursue new “Strike Brigades”, or seek savings by cutting back on the more “exotic” specialties, I argue that it makes more sense to move back a step and watch the picture from a slightly different angle.

It is by now constantly repeated that the British Armed forces will always operate in Coalition and that this or that gap are not worrisome because allies will help plug the hole. However, unless the “ally” is invariably Uncle Sam, certain decisions make no sense as they are not at all aligned to what the European allies could effectively provide in a joint operation. The result is that certain cuts and proposals only exacerbate weaknesses that already exist within NATO and sacrifice precious specialism.

Does it make sense to cut back on Heavy Armour when, even with all the well known obsolescence issues of Challenger 2, the british heavy contingents are the only ones with true, recent wartime mileage in Europe?
Does it make sense to cut back on the ability to project power from the sea through amphibious operations when 3rd Commando Brigade and the shipping available for it remain a very large percentage of Europe’s capability in this specialist area?
Does it make sense to weaken the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and pretend that there is no manpower problem, when the RFA represents the vast majority of complex logistic shipping in Europe, making it a truly invaluable component not just for the UK, but for its allies as well?
Does it make sense to cut back on air-ground manoeuvre when there are 60 Chinooks, 50 Apache and 8 C-17 in service, giving the UK the best mix of tools for air manoeuvre in all of Europe?
Does it make sense to still tinker with the idea of cutting Sentinel, when the air ISTAR elements the UK can field are without rival in Europe?

Certain suggestions and, worse still, certain MOD moves appear to me to be absolutely misguided. Dismantling capability in areas in which the UK is the major European player is not going to make any favor to Her Majesty’s Government political weight. Being leaders in a number of specialist areas is more valuable than being able to field half-formed, half-tracked “Strike Brigades” able to respond “quickly” to… no one really knows what.
Not to mention that if the specialist capabilities are retained and nurtured, the potential for independent action, albeit on a small scale, remains more realistic. And the ability to take action independently is a key differentiator in the weight of a country at the table. An independent nuclear deterrent on its own will lose value if the rest of the armed forces turn into handicapped forces, plagued by capability gaps, pursuing political clout by being always the first to deploy in any new crisis. The UK still has a budget large enough and capabilities good enough to be a leader within NATO, a framework nation to which smaller players can contribute reinforcements. The UK should be, first of all, a Strategic Enabler: a military power lacking in mass, for obvious reason, but with the most complete range of capabilities possible. Even more so because it already possesses much of what it takes to do so. It is actually cheaper, or at least more cost-effective, to build upon what there already is.

Air Manoeuvre

While large-scale airborne operations are of questionable, at best, likelihood and of uncertain wisdom in this day and age, and anyway outside of the UK’s material possibilities; smaller scale parachute operations and, above all, manoeuvre by the air at battlegroup level, remain absolutely valid and useful. Air manoeuvre has been extremely effective and very widely used in Afghanistan and in Mali. In Mali, the French had some success with company-group parachute assaults as well, showing that there is still merit to having this kind of rapid insertion capability.

It is my belief that the British Army absolutely needs to maintain parachute assault as a capability, albeit at relatively small scale. Even more important is maintaining a significant ability to manoeuvre significant forces by air, both for securing key points ahead of the ground forces and for flank operations.
This is a complex, demanding and expensive proposition but, among the good reasons for insisting on this capability, is the fact that the UK is actually relatively well positioned to maintain and expand its know-how in this area. It is not my intention to produce here an history of the various SDSRs and of the procurement decisions they have generated, because it would take several pages at best, but the important thing is that the various decisions taken in the past have generated:

-          A fleet of 8 C-17 strategic cargo aircrafts, which provide a lift capability with no match elsewhere in NATO
-          A fleet of 22 A400M Atlas; not as numerous as desirable but certainly significant
-          A fleet of 14 C-130J to be retained in the long term thanks to a sudden dawn of wisdom in the SDSR 2015
-          A large and very capable helicopter fleet, composed of, crucially, 60 Chinooks providing a lift capacity that only Germany, having the CH-53, could hope to match.

Add the 50 Apache E with their proven firepower and sensors; 23 Puma HC2 and the Wildcats, and the resulting pool of resources is actually very considerable. It is easy to lose heart in front of the constant downpour of cuts and capability gaps, but there are actually still areas of excellence which could and should be better exploited.  

Arguably, the UK has better resources in this area than anyone else (always excluding the US, obviously) within NATO, yet 16 Air Assault brigade hasn’t fared too well in the last decade. Its organic supports (Artillery, Logistic, Signal…) have been eroded down to such a degree that the brigade today cannot be considered a “true” brigade. It has three regular infantry battalions thanks to the recent addition of the Gurkha rifles, but for lack of supports it would not be able to convert all three into battlegroups and deploy en masse. It has also lost the little bit of semi-organic cavalry support it had, and the Patrols platoons within the PARA battalions cannot be considered an adequate replacement.

In my opinion, this amounts to wasting a fine unit and a great opportunity. Those who have read my alternative proposal for Army 2020 Refine know that I called for a reinforcement of 16 Air Assault Brigade in its supporting parts as well as, if at all possible, the expansion to a four-battalions structure. What is needed is an “air-mechanized” brigade composed of two air mobile battalions and two light mechanized battalions (on Foxhound and Jackal). The whole brigade remains relatively light and easily deployed, but comes with everything it needs to be a true Strike force, tactically as well as strategically agile and able, from within its constituent units, to replicate the kind of combined air and ground manoeuvre that the army has most recently carried out during operation Herrick.
It is worth mentioning Operation Panther’s Claw (Panchai Palang) in the summer of 2009: 3rd SCOTS, then deployed as Aviation Assault Battlegroup, saw 350 soldiers of A and B companies (the Aviation Strike Coys in the group) airlifted in a single large wave to secure key crossing points in the Luy Mandeh wadi, north of Babaji. The reinforcements came in the form of a 64-vehicles convoy, with Mastiff, Jackal, Vikings and trucks from Camp Bastion, led by Task Force Thor, an American C-IED route clearance unit. The single-wave assault was made with 12 Chinooks, both british and American, supported by 4 Apache and 2 US Black Hawks.
2 weeks later, after holding the ground, B company carried out another aviation assault to secure another key passage ahead of the advancing Light Dragoons battlegroup. In July, during the third phase of the operation, Alpha coy was inserted using 5 Chinook and the support of 2 Apache. This operation included link-up with an armoured thrust by Charlie Company, 2 Royal Welsh in Warriors. The Fire Support Group operated on the ground, mounted in Jackals.

Air manoeuvre remains an essential capability, and the Army and RAF own the most expensive pieces already: there is no reason not to expand on them to put meat on the bones of 16 Air Assault Brigade.
As 3rd SCOTS example proves, in addition, air mobility is not necessarily a job for PARA troops, provided that the necessary expertise and procedures are well rehersed and understood within the army. In my alternative Army 2020 proposal, 51 Brigade has the same structure: 2 Light Role Battalions replace 2 and 3 PARA, and are meant to provide the air mobile element, while two light mechanized infantry battalions provide the ground mobility element. Each brigade also has a Light Cavalry regiment on Jackal.  

Several equipment problems are immediately evident:

-          The army currently lacks the capability to parachute Jackal into battle, and this means that the first Fire Support elements are forced to enter the fight as dismounts.
-          The Jackal is a good vehicle, but it was not engineered to be a rapid air landing assault platform. As amazing as it might sound, the Jackal cannot charge out, combat-ready, from a C-130 since the machine gun on top has to be removed in order to fit. So, even as an air-landed follow on reinforcement, it needs some time to make ready before it can move into the fight.

The latter problem is possibly going to go away thanks to the A400 Atlas. The first can only be solved by procuring a strong enough parachute platform system for use on the Atlas. The British Army has decided to entirely gap Heavy and Vehicle airdrops by withdrawing from service the old Medium Stressed Platform, which was compatible with the old C-130K cargo floor but not with the J’s. After seeking a modification to integrate the platform on the C-130J, the army decided that it was too expensive and accepted the gap. In the last few years, 16 Air Assault brigade has been able to parachute its artillery and other heavy loads into action only by exploiting US help and kit.
A new platform and the A400M are supposed to fix the problem.

The light cavalry mounted on Jackal has a firepower deficit, as the .50 HMG and 40mm GMG alone can’t give the reach and the heavy punch required to stand up to more threatening adversaries. Without even needing to go all the way up to Russian or Russian-style light armoured vehicles, the Jackals could end up being severely outgunned by “technicals” such as those seen in Syria. While the accuracy of fire coming from a ZSU-23 mounted on a Toyota pick-up might be questionable at best, it is not acceptable to step into a fight knowing that the enemy already has a range and firepower advantage almost every time (14.5mm machine guns, ZSU-23s and even old BMP turrets are easily found around in every theatre of war). Syria and Iraq are also showing how dangerous hastily and crudely armoured vehicle-born IEDs are: having a 30mm gun to decisively hit and stop them at a safe distance would make the difference.
The cheapest and easiest solution is to fit a number of Jackal vehicles with a remote turret armed with the same 30mm gun employed by the Apache. It is a weapon the army already has and supports, limiting its impact on logistics, and it would help the Light Cavalry a great deal. It does not weight much and it is getting a boost thanks to US Army plans to have it on top of JLTV in the reconnaissance role.

In this photo by Army recognition, a particularly capable RWS, my Moog Inc., integrating 7.62 coax, Javelin missile and M230 30mm gun. 

A simpler, lighter M230LF installation on M-ATV. The US Army is probably going to require this weapon on top of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicles used in recce role. 

From heavily armed technicals to russian Tigr with 30mm guns. The Light Cavalry is not good for much unless it has the firepower to at least compete with this range of threats. 

Another issue, until recently, was the non exploitation of the C-17’s tactical capabilities. Thankfully, in the last couple of years the Army and RAF have begun to open up airdrops, rapid air landing and austere runways capability latent in the Globemaster fleet. Hopefully, it is only a matter of time before the C-17 can be fully exploited.

Heavy Air Drop capability needs to be rebuilt; it cannot be delegated entirely to US help

Relatively small investments can have a major impact on the British Army’s capability to manoeuvre from and through the air. Much of the required equipment exists. Central to my alternative Army 2020 proposal, air mobility is a key attribute of light brigades. Two such brigades, one of which based on 16 Air Assault; would provide the army with a sustainable and quickly deployable core of Aviation Assault battle groups supported by light mechanized formations ensuring post-landing mobility and lethality.
Parachute capability, normally at company group-level, continues to come on rotation from within the 2 PARA battalions, while air assault is more widely delivered by Light Role battalions.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Army 2020 Refine detailed


HQ 102 Logistic Brigade, 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery, 35 Engineer Regiment, Headquarters 64 Works Group Royal Engineers, 2 Medical Regiment, Headquarters 4th Regiment Royal Military Police, 33 Field Hospital and 104,105 and 106 Battalions of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers reserve will be rationalised, with all manpower in those units being redeployed to other areas of the Army.

Armoured Infantry Brigades

The armoured brigades of Army 2020 Refine will be 20th and 12th Brigades. 1st Brigade will convert into a Strike Brigade.
The armoured brigades will have two armoured infantry battalions and a tank regiment each. The transfer of Ajax into the Strike Brigades apparently leaves the armoured infantry brigades without a cavalry element, with an obvious negative impact on the overall capability of the formations.
The loss of a tank regiment (King’s Royal Hussars, to convert into a “Medium Armour” regiment mounted on Ajax) is also a particularly negative development.
To this day it is not clear whether anything will be done to expand the surviving tank regiments and/or remedy somewhat to the loss of organic recce cavalry.
The heavy brigades of the French army do not have a dedicate cavalry regiment for reconnaissance, but they have two tank regiments and each formation includes a couple of 117-strong reconnaissance squadrons. The British Army might or might not attempt a similar mitigation of the problem.

The MOD says that the Challenger 2 LEP programme has a 700 million budget, which is, depending from where you look at it, both small and gigantic, since on the other side of the Channel, France is paying a third of that sum for a very substantial update to as many as 225 Leclerc. The extent of LEP modifications isn’t clear yet, and the MOD is of course not saying how many tanks will be life extended. Army 2020 downsized the active fleet to 227, and a further shrinkage seems assured.

At the same time, the Army is giving vague hopes by dropping messages such as:

“The Army has conducted initial planning to understand how a further armoured or medium armoured regiment (equipped with Challenger 2 or Ajax) may be generated from both the Regular and Reserve component. This work will inform the final decision on the future Challenger 2 Life Extension Project fleet size.”

A number that has circulated is 160 to 170 tanks retained, one of the smallest fleets in the world. As for the LEP, although everyone knows that the rifled gun and the powerpack are big weaknesses, there are currently little hopes to see big changes.

Strike Brigades

The Strike Brigades will be 1st Brigade, converted from the armoured role, and a "new" brigade. 
This year will see the Scots Guards and the Household Cavalry move into a "Strike Experimentation Group. In 2019 they will be joined by King's Royal Hussars and 4 SCOTS, and at that point the Group will become a brigade, picking a badge. To me, 4th Infantry Brigade, being based in Catterick, continues to seem the best positioned candidate, but it seems the deal is not quite sealed. 
The planned structure of the two brigades is as follows: 

Specialised Infantry Group

The newly formed Specialised Infantry Group will take command of 4 RIFLES and 1 SCOTS in April this year, to achieve an IOC hopefully by the autumn. The Specialised Infantry Battalions are expected to take a permanent regional focus. 4 RIFLES has been assigned to the Middle East.
1 SCOTS will move from Belfast to Aldershot in 2019, to be co-located with the Specialised Infantry Group and its other constituent units.
There is uncertainty still about how large these “specialized” infantry units will be in the end, with figures having given as 200, 270 or 300. There is much still to do to actually build these units and their very peculiar role.

In 2019, two more battalions will join the group: 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (currently Light Role) and 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (currently Light Role). The requirement for a fifth battalion hasn’t yet been ruled out.

Royal Armoured Corps

The Queen’s Royal Hussars and the Royal Tank Regiment will continue to employ Challenger 2. As said before, there is no telling at the moment if they will see any expansion to compensate somewhat for the loss of a tank regiment and the absence of dedicate recce cavalry in the armoured brigades.

The King’s Royal Hussars will convert from Challenger 2 to Ajax during 2019 and are now expected to be the first operational formation on the new vehicle. Their new role will be “Medium Armour”, which the MOD describes by saying that “specific tasks are expected to be similar to those conducted by Challenger 2, albeit against a different threat”. They’ll have, in other words, to play tanks with Scout vehicles.
This is one of the most extraordinary blunders of all times in British Army history, and a spectacular example of utter confusion on the future of the force, because a specific “Medium Armour” variant of FRES SV, then Scout, then Ajax, used to exist. It was part of the requirement, and the base hull was specifically given a very wide turret ring to support a variant armed with large guns, up to 120mm smoothbore.

The Medium Armour Segment was however sacrificed to pursue a large purchase of vehicles in Recce configuration and Recce support only. The contract was signed in September 2014, and the vehicles aren’t even in production yet, but already the army has managed to completely change the requirement that shaped said contract, and now the Scout will be rammed into a completely different role, for which it is ill suited. That the Army could, from within, mess up its biggest contract in decades in about two years is the demonstration that not all problems in the UK armed forces are due to politicians. The services sure know how to create chaos in their own plans.

Four, rather than three, regiments will be mounted on Ajax: Household Cavalry, King’s Royal Hussars, Royal Lancers and Royal Dragoon Guards. Two regiments will be tasked with reconnaissance, and two with “Medium Armour”. One between RL and RDG will join KRH in the Medium Armour role.

In theory, with Ajax not having entered production yet, as I said, it would be possible to procure a true medium armour variant, which General Dynamics is offering to the US Army for their Mobile Protected Firepower requirement. However, there is no sign of willingness on the MOD part to try and renegotiate the contracts and change the number of variants. In addition, 245 CTA 40mm guns have already been ordered for the Ajax programme.
In the land of dreams, a part of those guns would be directed to a turreted MIV variant and a part of the Ajax vehicles would get the 120mm smoothbore, but in the land of harsh reality MIV will have nothing more than a Protector RWS and Ajax will be a Scout out of role.

FRES SV when it was a much larger programme. In 2013 it became evident that the Medium Armour and Manoeuvre Support segments had been abandoned, as well as Recce Block 3. Recce Block 1 and Block 2 were then merged together, and a Ground Based Surveillance sub-variant of Ajax added, to be purchased in very little numbers in the September 2014 contract. To this day it is not clear what kind of sensors the GBS will come equipped with. Curiously, both the GBS and Joint Fires sub-variants, once expected to be variant of the turretless APC variant (now known as ARES), are now sub-variants of the turreted Ajax.  
General Dynamics, and maybe the Army itself, continued for a while to hope that bridgelaying, ambulance and direct fire / Medium Armour variants of Ajax would one day follow.

General Dynamics is now capitalizing on work done initially for the British Army to propose the Griffin, a medium tank with 120mm gun, on Ajax hull base, for the US Army's Mobile Protected Firepower requirement. 

Nothing has emerged about the remaining regiments, currently in the Light Cavalry role with Jackal: Royal Scots Dragoon Guards; The Queen’s Dragoon Guards and the Light Dragoons. They will probably stay more or less as they are, lost in those six highly questionable, support-less  infantry brigades that will be part of 1st Division. However, there have been reports in the past of CBRN returning from the RAF Regiment entirely to the green army, while the future of the Protected Mobility fleets (from Foxhound to Mastiff) is still up in the air. Among possible outcomes, it cannot be ruled out that one regiment becomes a "protected mobility provider", driving Foxhounds and Ridgback and Mastiff in order to provide lift, mobility and protection to supported infantry formations. 


The introduction of the Specialised Infantry capability will be accompanied by a restructuring of the infantry divisional structure, within which infantry regiments are administered, from seven to six divisions. The Scottish and The Prince of Wales’s Administrative Divisions of Infantry will merge, incorporating The Royal Regiment of Scotland, The Royal Welsh Regiment and The Royal Irish Regiment. This administrative division will be called The Scottish, Welsh and Irish Division. The Mercian Regiment from the Prince of Wales’s Division will join with the King’s Division. Army administrative divisions of infantry are the groupings within which the Army manages its infantry soldiers and officers to give them the necessary broad spread of relevant career experience from across a number of different units and activities. They have no operational role. There will be no changes to the names or regimental construct of The Royal Regiment of Scotland, The Mercian Regiment, The Royal Welsh Regiment, or The Royal Irish Regiment as a result of these administrative changes. 

1st Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment) will re-role from Warrior-equipped Armoured Infantry to become a Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV)-equipped battalion. The change is expected to happen in 2020 and will also see the relocation of the battalion from Warminster to Catterick.

1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment will re-role from Warrior-equipped Armoured Infantry to become a Light Role infantry battalion.

The MOD says that: “A2020 Refine force structure will have sufficient Warrior platforms to field two armoured infantry brigades each containing, amongst other capabilities, two armoured infantry battalions. Should the Army require additional personnel capable of operating Warrior, they would be trained as individual battle casualty replacements to be employed within these battalions and might initially be drawn from their paired Reserve battalions.

At the same time, the MOD refuses to provide numbers for the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme. 245 guns have been ordered for it, and 245 IFV and IFV-command variants are more or less what is needed to support the four battalions planned, plus a margin for training and support.
The remaining uncertainty is almost certainly not on the number of “turreted variants”, but on the number of the supporting variants: Repair, Recovery, Artillery Observation Post, and, hopefully, Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle.
The Warrior CSP programme is part of a wider “Armoured Infantry 2026” programme, which should modernize the capability as a whole. Clearly, the replacement of the FV432 in its sub-variants (command and communications, APC, mortar carrier, ambulance) is necessary but the status of this workstream, as always, is mysterious. The Army has allocated designations for an APC and an Ambulance variant of the Warrior, however; the FV525 and FV526, in a confirmation of what, for well over 12 years, has been the general direction of travel for the Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle. Turretless conversions of surplus Warrior hulls, in addition to the supporting variants of Ajax (Athena and Argus, mostly), should eventually replace FV432 and CRV(T) vehicles (Spartan, Sultan, Samaritan).
Considerable uncertainty surrounds the FV514 variant as well, the Artillery Observation Post. The Royal Artillery wants to transform the vehicle in a modern Joint Fires direction platform able to direct mortar, artillery and air attacks, and was experimenting for a suitable mission kit already back in 2010 and before. Funding and timelines, however, were up in the air: the Royal Artillery needs to find the money for its own specific upgrades and additions, and hopefully have them included in the final manufacture contract.
Warrior CSP and ABSV are key elements of the future armoured infantry brigade, which will only work if the programme is brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

FV510 Warrior Section Vehicle ----- FV520 after CSP
FV511 Warrior Infantry command  ----- FV521
FV512 Warrior Repair   ------ FV522
FV513 Warrior Recovery   ------- FV523
FV514 Warrior Artillery Observation Post  ------ FV524
FV515 Warrior Battery Command Post  ------ no longer employed
Conversion of surplus hulls  ------  FV525 Warrior Ambulance
Conversion of surprlus hulls ------ FV526  Warrior APC (and sub-variants such as mortar carrier)

245 between FV520 and FV521 are expected. The FV514 has the turret as well, but the gun is a dummy. 
Warrior bridgelayer. It is tracked, but so is Ajax: can it be the Strike Brigade's close support gap crossing capability? FRES once called for several medium weight bridgelayers.  
From FV514 to FV524. One of the most complex and uncertain elements of Armoured Infantry 2026. But the ability to direct supporting fires from under armor is absolutely crucial. 

Light Protected Mobility battalions seem to entirely vanish from the ORBAT, reverting to Light Role infantry. The future role and employment of Foxhound has yet to be determined.  

Light Role battalions will rebuild the 3 rifle platoons they lost in the original Army 2020, thanks largely to manpower released with the creation of the tiny Specialised Infantry Battalions. The establishment for Light Role battalions grows from 561 (580 for those currently on Foxhound) to around 630.

In connection to the “Better Defence Estate” review, a good number of battalions will have to move to new bases over the next decade and beyond.

Royal Engineers

Royal Engineers are working on their own restructuring plan for Army 2020. What is already decided is that 35 Engineer Regiment, on return from Germany, will re-role to EOD & Search. As part of the process it will lose 29 Sqn, re-subordinated to 21 Engineer Regiment; and 37 Squadron, which will go to 32 Engineer Regiment. This will bring the future Strike Brigade engineer regiments up to strength. Currently, as part of the earlier Army 2020, both 21 and 32 are severely understrength, missing a whole regular sub-unit, although they control a reserve squadron each. 
At the moment they are under control of 12 Force Support Engineer Group, but they continue to support the brigades in the Adaptable Force.

The enlarged EOD & Search group will be reorganized, but details are still being worked out. However, the hybrid Regular – Reserve regiments created by the original Army 2020 plan are already coming to an end. The four reserve squadrons (217, 221, 350, 579) will re-subordinate under a newly formed Reserve regiment HQ, which will take the already existing 101 Regt title.
35 Engineer Regiment will take the place of the current 101 and will apparently be composed of regulars, not reserves as it initially appeared from the announcement made by the secretary of state for defence. At the moment, the EOD regiments are structured as follows:

33 EOD & Search Regiment

-       58 Field Sqn
-       821 Sqn (Very High Readiness, contains two PARA and two Commando elements that support 16 Air Assault and 3 Commando Brigades)
-       217 Sqn (R)
-       350 Sqn (R)

101 EOD & Search Regiment

-       22 Sp Sqn
-       17 Field Sqn
-       21 Field Sqn
-       221 Field Sqn (R)
-       579 Field Sqn (R)

29 EOD & Search Group as of now. 35 Regiment coming in and all reserve EOD going into a new 101 (Reserve) Regt. 

The transfer of the Reserve squadrons will, I assume, be compensated by increasing the regular component. 35 Regiment currently includes, in addition to the already mentioned squadrons headed for re-subordination, 44 HQ & Sp Sqn and 77 Armoured Engineer Squadrons, and their fate hasn’t yet been detailed: they might convert to an EOD role.
While waiting for details to emerge, my comment to this restructuring is that the Strike Brigades, if they are to be anywhere near as independent and highly mobile as Carter seems to expect, will need greater availability of crucial Route Proving and Clearance capabilities, because mines and EODs are not going away.

This EOD restructuring might be connected to this need. If this is the case, 20 Squadron, currently part of 36 Engineer Regiment, Force Support, and in charge of the TALISMAN equipment and Route Proving & Clearance know-how, might be involved in the reshuffle. If it depended on me, I would want a TALISMAN squadron for each Strike Brigade.

Growth is expected in Wide Wet Gap Crossing, which might be a way to say that some regulars will get back in the M3 rig business, after it was offloaded to 75 Engineer Regiment (Reserve) in the earlier version of Army 2020. Another effect of the "return to East Europe"?
Again, no details have been released yet.

Another requirement that the Strike Brigades re-introduce is one that was once part of FRES: the need for a medium weight close support gap crossing capability. TITAN is tracked and Challenger-sized, so is obviously not an option, while REBS and ABLE are too vulnerable on their current truck bases. Will a MIV, Ajax or perhaps Warrior-based bridgelayer emerge? The Warrior bridgelayer has already been demonstrated to the army, but did not receive funding. This is one of the areas in which 21 and 32 Engineer regiment will have to try and find solutions.

Works Groups will also face yet a new reorganization as HQ 64 Works Group disbands.

170 Engineer Group, the changes it was undergoing as part of Army 2020. Now it will have to reorganize again as 64 Works Group disbands and Better Defence Estate measures hit home. 

Royal Engineer Reserve units will be realigned to better support the new structure and new aims. An unknown number of reserve squadrons will be aligned, for the first time, with the Heavy Armour regiments. At the moment, however, the Royal Engineers have very little in the way of reserve field squadrons: 131 supporting the Commando regiment; 299 supporting the PARA regiment; 103 and 106 in the Field Army. 71 Engineer Regiment is part of Force Supports (Air) and 75 Regiment is currently in the Wide Wet Gap Crossing and Land Force support role, so there aren’t many squadrons to re-role or move around unless new ones are formed or the reserve regiments get re-focused.

Royal Artillery

The Royal Artillery of Army 2020 Refine will have:

2 “Heavy” Close Support regiments on AS90: 1 Royal Horse Artillery and 19 Royal Artillery. Their structure is planned as follows:

- HQ Battery
- 3x AS90 batteries of six guns; 3 Fire Support Teams and 1 Tactical Air Control Party. Each FST will include 1 JTAC.

The current Tac Group batteries will be re-absorbed and the manpower used elsewhere.
1 Royal Horse Artillery will leave Tidworth for Larkhill in the Easter period of 2019.

2 “STRIKE” Close Support regiments, initially with L118 and then with a future Medium Wheeled Gun. 3 Royal Horse Artillery and 4 Royal Artillery. Their structure includes:

-       HQ Battery
-       2x Gun batteries of six guns; 3 Fire Support Teams with 2 JTAC each; and 1 TACP.
-       3x Tac Group Batteries with 3 FSTs each, including 2 JTACs each, and 1 TACP

The Reserve gunners in support will be expected to man a third battery of six guns and an expanded echelon during operations. Probably each regular regiment will continue to be paired to a reserve regiment (103. 105, 104).

4 Royal Artillery will joint 3 RHA in Newcastle during 2026.

1 “Division Fires” regiment, obtained by removing AS90 from 26 Royal Artillery in exchange for a re-centralization of GMLRS and Exactor. 26 Regiment will have 3 batteries of GMLRS each, plus two Exactor batteries. This replaces the earlier Army 2020 de-centralization that had attached one Precision Fires battery of GMLRS and Exactor to each of 19 RA, 26 RA and 1 RHA regiments. I assume the regiment will employ 18 GMLRS in batteries of 6.
The regiment will be paired with 101 RA, in the Reserve, also on GMLRS, but with a smaller manpower count than currently. The structure should remain on HQ plus four batteries, however.
26 Royal Artillery will arrive in Larkhill from Gutersloh during 2019.

32 Royal Artillery will have 1 HQ Battery and 4 Batteries of Desert Hawk III mini UAS, but, and it was one of the most surprising decisions of Army 2020 Refine for me, the regiment has no future beyond 2021, the expected Out of Service Date for DH III. There will no longer be a dedicate UAS regiment, and currently the plans for the replacement of DH III in the Find role at Battlegroup and Brigade level are completely up in the air.
The current infrastructure used by 32 RA will be taken over by 5 Royal Artillery, which will so be able to move out of Catterick in favor of Larkhill.
It seems unthinkable that in 2021 the Army will want to be without a mini-UAS for battlegroup level FIND functions. The Royal Marines were trying to kick start a Desert Hawk III replacement already last year, and while that failed to progress due to lack of money, new attempts can be expected as time progresses. 
Could the mini-UAS mission end up in the Cavalry, as part of reconnaissance tasking? 

47 Royal Artillery will continue its Watchkeeper build-up to deliver 1 HQ Battery and 4 UAV batteries.

5 Royal Artillery will deliver an HQ Battery, a “General Support” Surveillance and Target Acquisition bty, 3 Close Support STA batteries and 4/73 Sphinx special observation post battery. This is more or less today’s composition, but one battery today (53 Louisburg Bty) is aligned with 16 Air Assault brigade, while Refine seems to do away with that in favor of a “Divisional” approach with a battery in the General Service role.
The Honorable Artillery Company, in the reserve, will provide support with three surveillance squadrons and it will also continue to provide an Air Assault gun group in support of 7 Royal Horse Artillery.

7 Royal Horse Artillery and 29 Commando are not formally touched by Army 2020 Refine and remain “unchanged”. In reality, the structure of the latter is under pressure and the loss of an artillery battery cannot be ruled out, amid uncertainty that lasts since the SDSR 2010. 29 Commando is also in search of a new base as part of the Better Defence Estate review, that decided to sell their current home but hasn’t yet shaped an actual plan for providing new infrastructure.

Bittersweet news come from the air defence regiments: 12 Regiment and 16 Regiment will return to be fully independent and deployable regiments by splitting the currently shared Support Battery (42 Alem Hamza Bty). However, one Stormer HVM battery in 12 Regiment will convert to LML.
12 Regiment will have 2 Stormer HVM batteries, one for each armoured brigade, and 3 LML batteries, presumably one for each Strike Brigade plus 12 Bty in the Air Assault role that it already covers in support of 16 AA Brigade.

16 Regiment will have 1 HQ Bty, 49 Inkerman Bty with LEAPP and 4 batteries with Rapier (then Land Ceptor) and the new Sky Sabre air defence C4Inode.

The precise role and composition of 106 Royal Artillery, the reserve Air Defence regiment, has yet to be determined.

Royal Logistic Corps and REME

The Strike Brigades will, for whatever reason, be supported by a "super" CSS regiment formed by merging one RLC and one REME battalions.
One such regiment will be formed by 2 REME and 27 RLC. 2 REME will become part of a regiment in combination with 27 RLC in 2021, but it'll be 2030 before the REME element leaves Leuchars to join the rest of the unit in Catterick.

The other CSS regiment will be born out of 1 RLC and 1 REME. The ministerial statements names both units as parts of the 1st Strike Brigade but fails to mention the merging.

The merging of RLC and REME does not seem to extend to the rest of the Army. Support to the armoured brigades seem set to stay "in traditional format".
7 RLC and 6 RLC will transit into 101 Logistic Brigade, presumably to become Force Support elements for 3rd UK Division:
7 Regt RLC will remain in Cottesmore until 2029, when it is due to move to Topcliffe. The Regt will come under command of 101 Log Bde in 2019. The detailed structure and role are still being worked on.

6 Regt RLC will also come under command of 101 Log Bde in 2019. The Regt will remain in Dishforth until 2030 when it will move to Topcliffe along with 7 Regt RLC.

I've seen suggestions that 9 RLC will move to 104 Logistic Brigade instead, but i have no way to confirm this as of now. Much has yet to be announced.

Army Reserve

According to MOD written evidence, changes to reservist roles include the following:

- Reserves will be paired for the first time with the Armoured Infantry (Warrior)
- Reserves will be paired for the first time with the Armoured Artillery (AS90)
- Reserves will re-role to support the Armoured Engineers.
- The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers will re-role to form an Off Platform Repair Battalion. This will provide essential capability to the Army and will be vital for the deployment of the Division.
- Removing Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) from the Reserve Artillery and re-rolling 104 Regt RA to light gun.

The new Reserve organization has yet to be announced in full, but 7 RIFLES has been paired with 5 RIFLES, which is an Armoured Infantry battalion. 
5 FUSILIERS is being paired with its parent battalion, 1st FUSILIERS, also in the Armoured Infantry role. 

Other pairing changes are to be expected. The artillery regiment to pair with the AS90 formations has yet to be chosen.

The infantry component of the Reserve undergoes the changes detailed below: 

The Royal Wessex Yeomanry, the reserve tank regiment, is being expanded with an extra crew in each tank troop and has seen its role expanded: it now supplies both Armoured Reinforcements and Armoured Replacements.
105 Battalion REME will change its name to 101 Theatre Support Battalion in 2019 (the name 105 will cease to be used, as will 104 and 106). It’s new role will be to support 5 Theatre Support Battalion REME in the regeneration of theatre-level equipment during a time of war.

It will consist of Bn HQ and four sub-unit locations as follows:

· HQ 101 Bn REME will be in KEYNSHAM
· Sub-unit 2: SWINDON & BRISTOL