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. 


  1. Good post Gabriel. As you say it is worrying that significant strategic decisions are being made based on finding a few million and cap politics.

    Also as defence capability is being used (maybe indirectly) in Brexit negotiations then this is not the message we want to give. The Navy and RMS are equally a message that the UK operates at a global level.

    I see the need for an urgent revision to the SDSR15. Namely:
    - Seeing UK defence needs focused on two strands UK/BOT defence and Global Expeditionary capability
    - UK defence should be focused on RAF QR / Air defence / maritime control, Army garrison units (with theach ability to generate a heavy division at notice) and naval patrol craft (with ASW capability).
    - Expeditionary Capability, should be based around SFs and 4 Maritime Task groups. These maritime task groups (2 CBGs and 2 ARGs) should be "Purple" with RN ships / subs with joint FAA / RAF / AAC air groups and joint RM Commando capability (capable upto a small division scale).

    Fact at the moment is that the RN does not have enough ships for 4 maritime groups - needs 24 FFs / DDs minimum.

    Funds need to be prioritised and extra money found if needed as this is key for our standing in the world.

  2. as ever your efforts are to be applauded ... few have your level of care for our defence posture, and the level of detail and knowledge you share with us coach corporals makes us a little wiser thank you...

    Can I ask, why not take one of these 'light role' regiments and in order to preserve 'cap badge' simply convert it to CS or CSS role that is needed ... Keeping the name 'Royal County' cap badge, with its golden thread, but now doing a task that is needed by the wider army, no one can complain of a loss of cap badge ... yes, I understand you cant make an infantryman into a gunner, signaller, et al over night, but in principle it would work...

    1. I am tempted to agree with you, but somehow i know that a thousand army voices would pick up arms to fight back such a proposal. Eventually, though, they'll either completely destroy the army or will have to see reason.

  3. I am sure everyone here knows this but Navy Command is in a very bad place budget wise; they are throwing everything out of the window to avoid a further cut in escort numbers. This is the just the latest desperate slash after the announced retirement of Harpoon and ditching of Diligence.

    1. That is indeed obvious, and it is why i'm saying that, if the matter isn't handled at Defence level, but left to burden on the Navy alone, it will go ahead for sure. It remains a tremendously stupid thing.

  4. From MikeW


    This article is very much on the ball, insightful and very much needed.

    I don’t know why the Royal Navy is even contemplating reducing the Royal Marines. They are among our very best troops: extremely fit, well-trained and with a tremendous ésprit de corps. An élite, in fact. They are absolutely essential as Arctic-trained fighters on the Northern flank. Moreover, if something larger were to develop out of, say something like the Gibralter situation (and deterrence were needed), they would be among the very first to be sent for.

    I must say that I wholeheartedly agree with Smithy when he says: “As you say it is worrying that significant strategic decisions are being made based on finding a few million and cap politics.” It is a strategic decision; there should be no argument about that. It is therefore quite wrong of Sir Michael Fallon to delegate responsibility down to the First Sea Lord on the basis that it is a purely Navy decision. It is not; it is one about what should be the balance between “boots on the ground” and vessels and weaponry at sea, taking into consideration all our forces.

    How often during the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns did we hear the cry: “ We need more boots on the ground” on the basis that only ground troops, and not aircraft, could hold ground. Do the RAF and Royal Navy really need all those F35s between them? For goodness’ sake, let’s get back to a balanced approach.

    Nice by the way that your suggestions concerning Air Assault and Air Manoeuver seemed to anticipate what is actually being tried out on Joint Warrior 17.

  5. A great Blog and one which as a professional defence reformer I can have little or no argument. When we started with Options for Change I said (then half in jest) in Army HQ that we should take the historic names and move them into areas like attack helicopter regiments, some Artillery and Engineers, CS and CSS and get rid of numbers where we can except those that have historic significance. Now we have taken history into an area it was never intended to go. We need Marines, not just for the navy but for the immediate flexibility of capability they bring to the defence and security menu. Their underpinning of SAS is also vital to the health of the force overall. Ho hum. We seem to be missing some serious defence planning thinking. What were they teaching in Staff College 20 years ago?

  6. Depressing news, but another excellent article.

    I recall at one time before A2020 1st Battalion Rifles were allocated to 3 Commando Brigade. They could resurrect this idea and have a 3rd non commando trained manoeuvre battalion to compensate for loss of numbers should this plan to remove 42 Commando go ahead?

    Considering Commachio Group ( 43 Cdo RM ) already do Final Denial to Nuclear, the SRT, and Convoy Escort, despite losing one squadron, another entire Commando would not be needed for these roles so maybe they will trim some manpower only and keep to Commando in place.

    It is obvious madness to remove specialized infantry like our Royal Marines at the expense of Line Infantry Battalions from the army.

    Interesting news re the Foxhounds. Welcome if they get off arses and give the Foxhound a proper role such as this alongside the RAF Regiment Squadron getting the vehicle.

  7. I'm interested to know whether or not the RM and the Army could sustain a one on one off cycle for the higher readiness formations. If that is the case then perhaps having 2 x RM Battalions focused on Amphibious Ops, 2 x Para Battalions focused on Air Assault and working with JHC and 2 x line battalions with foxhound in a 'demi-brigade' would work. I think there is scope to cut a couple of Light Bn's even under 2020 refine to provide the CSS for a demi-brigade and the UK would essentially have a Brigade's worth of troops with a decent mix of light equipment for rapid deployment

  8. Gab
    As usual a well thought out piece. But if I can be rude I would suggest that you are making the same mistake that the MOD are making about looking at this in silos. The fact is the Navy has no business providing light infantry troops to take part in land warfare. Same as the RAF having the RAF Regiment which is not normally deployed as force protection when the RAF deploys but is normaly part of a much larger force provided either by RM or Army personnel.
    So let’s share the pain people and do this properly. We all agree that the troops and organisation of 3 Cmd are worth keeping. They are some of the best and most highly trained Light Infantry we have. So 3 Cmde Brigade transfers to Army Control. It comes under the control of a “Reaction” Division along with 16 Air Assault Brigade, and 7th Infantry Brigade mounted on Mastiffs made up of the two Royal Anglian Battalions and RAF Regiment (Which is about a Battalion’s worth of Troops), the CBRN capability is used by the whole of the armed forces and is Land Based so should be part of the Reaction Force Support Function.
    Rolled in to this should be the 3 light Cavalry Units supplied with for 2 Regiments either Husky or Foxhound with 30mm Machine Guns Remote Weapons Stations. One with the Air Mobile Brigade equipped Jackal which should replace all Land Rover based fire support vehicles that should be replaced.
    Supporting this would be all the 105mm Artillery Regiments. 101 Logistics Brigade. All support arms would be merged between the 3 constituent parts to form one support function for the 3 Brigades.
    This reaction brigade will take over the role of the Army Battalion stationed in Cyprus as Theatre Response Force. I can not see the point of stationing a Brigade their when you can now fly direct from the UK. The old thinking that you need to be close to the middle east is old hat.
    How do you pay for this ? This is the pain for the army. The budget for the RM mostly goes with 3 Cdr Brigade, but the army has to cut regiments and brigades in the remaining Adaptable force. This would mean cutting to having a Brigade HQ for the North, South, London, Wales & Ireland and Scotland. These would be staffed with 320 man Battalions paired with reserve formations to increase their size with due notice (6 months). The “saved manpower” could then be redeployed to man the Division HQ for the Reaction Division, the other roles could be used in Signals, Logistics and Artillery, to move those arms to the correct level. This Home Division would be split as The Riffles Regiments for the Southern and Northern England Brigade, a Welsh and Irish Regiment, The Scottish Regiment, The London Brigade would be all the Guards Regiments. These formations would be light infantry using a Land Rover Replacement serviced by national lease agreement and have no support function. Their role would be the fast expansion of the Army in times of Crisis, Local Police Support, disaster Relief etc. The Army Reserve would report direct in to them.
    To solve the MIV problem. Then only buy 360 MIV but have that split as roughly 200 APC’s for 2 Battalions of Infantry, with a certain number equipped with the same Apache Sourced 30mm cannon and 100 odd for a 120 smooth bore Direct Gun Support/Tank Killer variant. This would be formed by 20th Armoured Division. Thus 3 Armoured Div becomes 2 Tracked Armoured with all CR2, Ajax, Upgraded Warrior, and support vehicles being tracked. Purchase of 12 Archer wheeled Self Propelled Guns (On sale from Sweden) to provide artillery support to the Strike Brigade. Saving a considerable amount from the plan to purchase a lot of wheeled 155mm brand new Artillery Pieces.
    The Navy retains 43 Commando which moves out of 3 Cde Brigade to support the Nuclear Fleet, Boarding Parties, SBS, Boat Handling etc. Thus you create the Army as the centre of all Land Based activity. The RAF Sales ships and the RAF fly’s planes. In the days of such a small armed forces the stupidity of the RN funding over 7,000 Land Based posts is ridiculous.

    1. If I reading you correct the RAF sails ships the Army controls all ground forces what does the RN become? A far less than glorified Coast Guard.

  9. Hi Gabriele and Guys.
    Thanks for another good article Gabriele.
    I will start with infantry battalions;
    The army has 32 infantry battalions, at the moment.
    11 are part of either 16 AA or the 3rd Division.
    1 Brunei, 2 Cyprus, 3 Public duties (including 5 SCOTS), 1 Falklands, 4 overseas training. Total 11.
    However, 2 of the other Guards Battalions will be committed to public duties, either post or pre.
    The Cyprus garrison will rotate, taking out another 2 battalions every cycle. (Post & pre embarkation).
    The Falklands battalion, once it’s finished its tour will be out for awhile.
    That’s a total of 27 battalions out of 32 with there calendar if not full, kept busy.
    Another factor is all the infantry battalions will be below operational strength, that means they will either have to rob other battalions from the same regiment of manpower, deploy under strength and rob another battalion of a company to make up the numbers.
    In my humble opinion cutting the number of battalions will make this impossible and after some pretty heavy cuts to the infantry already, it also adds to the loss of morale to these units that need it the most.
    Phil (the cynical ex pongo)

  10. Gabriele and guys, (Part 2)
    Moving on, Corps, divisions, brigades, now I think we have to think about battle groups.
    Sad as it is, the army has been cut back so much that battle groups are the formations that we will see deployed regularly. But we have 5 army and 1 RM deployable brigade HQ’s. In my opinion under used.
    Why can’t 16 AA be paired with 4 INF for instance? Giving 16 AA access to those units, thus having deployable brigade strength if needed. Maybe this could be applied to 3 CDO with 160 INF?
    Putting more battalions under deployable brigades must be better?
    The 2 armoured infantry brigades had a rear security battalion with MASTIFF, having 3rd battalion would make the brigade stronger and more versatile in my view. We all are now thinking of the Russian threat, but brigades must be versatile. I make it we have 5 battalions to play with, one for each brigade would make a whole lot of difference.
    Next, new equipment, I am really having doubts about some of the new stuff the army is hoping to get.
    Both the MIV and the new artillery gun look to me like a dream. I think the first strike (Cock up) brigade should be up and running by 2023? That’s only 6 years away. No ones even ordered a picture of one yet!
    We can all moan about cuts, crazy Carter and how the army works, but I would suggest we try and come up with amendments to what going on, rather than fantasy armies and with equipment that’s never going to be seen.
    On a personnel note, can I remind everyone, that its Light Role battalions, not Light Infantry.
    Sadly The Light Infantry is no more, I will be attending our reunion in June, of course, ever year there are fewer of us to remember the training and ideas of Sir John Moore and the gallant deeds of former Light Infantrymen.
    Phil (the cynical ex pongo)

  11. Hi gabby, ladies and gents
    Excellent article as always gabriele....
    First post on here but always long time lurker...
    Have posted on TD's website this before but will say again....
    Have never understood why public duties 2 guards batt, 4 incremental companies, household cavalry, kings troop RA, Red Arrows, BBMF from RAF, various public display teams et al are funded from MOD budget?
    I have suggested in past that these should be funded from Crown Estates revenue that is large and growing (see revenue from offshore wind licences and Regent st properties etc etc)
    similar to River class manning funded from outside of MOD by home office or enviroment dept(i think)
    This would enable army to fund extra CS and CSS regts/sqns to flesh out 16AA and 3CDO and perhaps even provide said support to a couple of adaptable force 'light role' bdes alonge lines of defunct 19 light bde
    Similarly DIFID to fund an extra MARS SSS ship to be used as a permanent RFA HADR ship (carribean in summer months SE Asia during winter )
    As a layman just my musings but perhaps a solution to the hollowing out of British Army and RN
    Thoughts ladies and gents please?

  12. Hi Gabriele, Wirralpete and guys
    I think its time to take a hard look at what the armed forces do in the way of none military work.
    I would like to know what the USMC does in the way of none combat stuff.
    (The USMC is about the same size as the UK’s armed forces).
    How many aircraft and pilots on display duties?
    How many units on public duties?
    Just to add to my earlier posts.
    The things I want to see for the army (that are do able);
    1. A 120mm gun version added to the Ajax family. (1 troop per SQN)
    2. Recce SQN added to the armoured brigades.
    3. A 30mm cannon added to some Jackal’s. (1 troop per SQN)
    4. A 3rd battalion (Maybe an Airmobile style?) added to the armoured brigades.
    5. A regional brigade supporting 16 AA. (1 airmobile style BN and 1 Jackal SQN, on rotation).
    6. The Ajax Recce regiment in the strike brigades replaced by jackal.
    The things I want to see for the army (nearly impossible);
    7. Public duties units reduced to 1 battalion, 1 squadron and 1 battery.
    8. Cyprus garrison reduced to 1 battalion (RGR). (No need for UK BNS to rotate).
    9. The old FV432 family replaced by Ajax family vehicles.
    10. Reform of the Infantry, giving full strength battalions to deployable units.
    I think all these things would improve the army.
    Phil (The cynical ex pongo)

  13. From MikeW:

    I cannot reply via Twitter as I have not joined it but from what I can glean from the exchanges on it, you have got it right again when you say: “The fact remains: the UK is deliberately handicapping another of its very few deployable brigades.”

    “The Telegraph” reports this morning that the cut to the Royal Marines is to be 200 rather than the feared 2,000. I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies. However, a senior Whitehall source added that half of the cuts would come from backroom functions such as drivers and administrative staff. The source also stated that there would be no redundancies, and that the overhaul would be carried out by the end of the decade through natural wastage. The announcement on the MOD site is all dressed up in the usual PR twaddle about “better balancing skills across the force” etc, etc. Surely, though, the loss of 200 men must have an effect in terms of a loss of flexibility and capacity, not a gain.

    Naval sources have apparently said they have enough sailors for the first carrier: HMS Queen Elizabeth but not enough for the second HMS Prince of Wales. The question, I suppose I want to pose here is: When will the two carriers be needed to go to sea together? The present plan seems to be to alternate them, rather like the two LPDs.

    What is of greater concern is the statement that the Navy is also considering cutting the number of amphibious landing craft. Do you think that might refer to larger vessels such as the Albion-class LPDs or is it more likely to refer to smaller landing craft like the LCUs and LCVPs? Either way, if it takes place it would be a further loss of capability and that’s what I really still cannot understand. On almost every occasion when an announcement is made about future investment in the armed Forces, the glaring truth is that there is actually a cut in capability.

    One final question. The statement by the MOD says: “Under this re-balancing, 42 Commando will become the specialised, go-to unit for maritime operations – meaning some of their posts, like heavy weapons specialists, can be reallocated across the Navy.”

    I would like to know which heavy weapons they are referring to and how this will result in a strengthening.

    1. Hi Mike

      I may well be wrong, but my guess that means 9 Assault Squadron RM for the chop, unless they plan to use LCVP from QE carriers? Do they have Davits for them?

      At the moment there are 4 Assault Squadrons RM equipped with a range of craft, excluding those used by SF and training and trials units.

      4 & 6 Squadrons RM have 4 LCVP and 4 LCU each, along with a Hippo BARV, and are assigned to the LPD's Albion and Bulwark, so I'd guess they are surely safe.

      9 Squadron RM have LCVP and operate from the LPH Ocean, which is going next year, so an ideal opportunity to disband them.

      539 Squadron RM operate a mix of LCVP, IRC, RRC, ORC, and 4 LCAC, and I cannot see that changing.

      My guess is the heavy weapons refer to Mortar, HMG, GPMG, Javelin and the like. If they are no longer a line unit as part of 3 Commando but are used in a specialist role much like Commachio Group RM then what is the need for them?

      Also, there is already 43 Commando FPGRM ( Commachio ) which undertakes a variety of specialist tasks, so maybe 43 will give some tasks to 42 leaving them to carry out the nuclear function, while 42 takes on this new SPTG role akin to the USMC and also provide detachments aboard deployed vessels like Gab has suggested.


    2. 6 Squadron does not exist anymore. Ever since one LPD went into mothballs, there is only 4, and it just moved from Bulwark to Albion recently.

      9 Squadron will off course go alongside Ocean, although elements will (hopefully) survive not just and not so much for the carriers, but to hopefully support routine LCU operations from within the Bay LSDs. This would be key.

      42 Commando, i'm guessing, will lose part of the heavy weaponry and, mainly, the vehicles to possibly provide smaller company group presence, unless S Sqn, 43 Commando, is chopped and its functions shift into 42 as part of a wider change of roles and restructuring. At the moment, it is very hard to tell.

      7 Bty Royal Artillery, at this point, i believe is a goner for sure. With one Commando less, it is either Tac Gp only, or complete disbandment.

    3. From MikeW:

      Hi Daniele and Gabiele

      Many thanks to both of you for the replies. They have clarified some matters but I am just as confused as even Gabriele himself seems to be about certain aspects of future RM capabilities.

      Daniele I thought I had read somewhere about “Prince of Wales” being adapted for amphibious/Royal Marines work and even read some discussion about the fitting of davits but nothing seems to have come of this. It rather makes me wonder about just how POW might be used in an amphibious assault. In the absence of davits would the Royal Marines on board have to be transferred to other vessels in order to carry out an assault or what?

      Re: heavy weaponry, which you think refers to Mortars, HMG, GPMG, Javelin and the like, are you suggesting that there will/should be no Heavy Weapons support groups in the RM Commandos at all or just that some will be withdrawn?

      Gaby I know that you have said that you will have to await more news but does the removal of 7 Bty Royal Artillery, which you think is a certainty, leave the Royal Marines without any Artillery support whatsoever? Doesn’t 29 Cdo Regt RA have one battery stationed at Arbroath with 45 Cdo? They used to. I don’t know whether 40 Cdo has a battery too.

    4. Prince of Wales, and later QE, are supposed to receive enhancements for the amphibious role, but this does not seem to include LCVP MK5, even though it would probably fit in the davits normally used by the ship's transfer boats. The carrier will be less like Ocean and more like America: it is all about helicopters, not landing craft. However, the boat boarding area at the stern might allow Marines to climb into landing crafts from other ships, in suitable weather.

      The heavy weapons to be removed from 42 Commando will depend on its exact role. If it is limited to boarding ships, providing heli-snipers and other purely shipboard roles, mortars and GMG and HMG and Javelin will have no space in it.
      If it will provide Special Purpose Task Groups at company group level, it might retain heavy weapons but in smaller numbers, according to the new role and to its nature of quick raiding force for small ops, mostly moving, one expects, with helicopters or small boats.
      40 and 45 Commando will not be affected and will keep all their firepower.

      7 Bty is the Scotland based unit of 29 Commando Royal Artillery, but the guns are also used by 8 and 79 Batteries. The regiment went down to just 12 guns as part of 2010 cuts, but tried hard to spread them in 3 batteries of 4 guns to have one battery with each Commando-based battlegroup.
      It is evident to me that, if the "frontline" Commandos go down to two, the regiment will restructure on 2 batteries of 6 guns each, like 7 RHA in 16 Air Assault brigade.

      3 Commando, without 42 Cdo in frontline tasks, will be down to two battlegroups (40 and 45) alternating yearly into readiness, with 42 filling the gaps.

      The exact nature of the new role of 42 Commando might also determine the future of S Sqn, 43 Commando, which provides boarding teams for the opposed ship assaults and maritime snipers. This role could shift into 42 Cdo, one assumes, if they become the sole provider of this kind of shipboard roles.

      A downsizing of 43 Cdo with related re-role of 42 would also confirm, although in gentler scale, what i was originally told. Back then, i was told to expect a cut of 600.
      The difference encourages me to think that 42 might provide SPTGs as well, but this is all to be discovered. Without these, its role over land will be curtailed almost completely.

    5. From MikeW:


      Many thanks for your very clear and detailed reply. It has certainly resolved much of my confusion.

      I still think the series of cuts that is taking place at the moment is both shabby and ill-thought-out. It is cheeseparing at its worst.

    6. Mike

      Nothing ever changes! It is all about money and lack of it, despite the bla bla bla 178 billion and 2% bullshit trotted out by every MoD spokesman almost Parrot like.

  14. With this 42 Commando change all but certain, I hope an army Light Role Battalion gets allocated to 3 Commando Brigade to bring the formation back to 3 Battalions. 1st Rifles was in this role. They need not have the specialist RM training no more than the Gurkha battalion in 16AA is P Company trained. It would be better than just 2 units.

    1. From MikeW:

      Hi Daniele

      Re: your comment: “With this 42 Commando change all but certain, I hope an army Light Role Battalion gets allocated to 3 Commando Brigade to bring the formation back to 3 Battalions. 1st Rifles was in this role.”, I think that that is an eminently sensible idea (which means that it probably won’t be carried out).

      Correct me if I’m wrong but I think that 1 Rifles are now back under the Adaptable Force as Light Role Infantry. Should not pose too much of a problem to give them a role supporting the Royal Marines.

      I think you are right when you say that it is all about money. I don’t think we’ll get much extra spending until that deficit is paid off. However, what gets me is all the PR spin that is churned out by the MOD and other ministries, as if they think all members of the public are idiots. Surely they must realize that most people see through the claptrap. (e.g. presenting cuts as if they were enhancements).

      This series of comments does not really need a reply, Daniele. Just thought I would agree with your suggestion and vent a little of my spleen about Government bodies at the same time!

    2. Mike, we have much in common!!
      Yes the rubbish that comes out from the MoD but also sadly from several CAS, CNS and CGS too, until they retire of course then moan.
      Yes 1st Rifles is with 160 ( Welsh ) Brigade I think. A totally pointless formation other than being a RPOC for Brecon and Sennybridge training! And their barracks at Chepstow is due for the chop too so maybe a chance to get them down to Devonport with the rest of 3 Commando Brigade.
      On the subject of bases with a RM bent, why they are closing Chivenor with an active runway is beyond me. They could base other units like 1 Rifles there and fly them direct to theatre!


  15. Dear Phil
    Looking at your list my thoughts would be
    1. Why put a 120mm gun on a lightly protected tracked vehicle. Especially when you have 100's of Challenger II lying about already with 120mm guns, transporting a 40tonne Ajax or a 66/70 tonne Challenger II makers little difference as to go any road distance you will need 1 HRT Vehicle per armoured vehicle.
    1B. Would it not be better to admit that if your only buying 360 MIV's that you buy 200 IFV/APC types for 2 Infantry Battalions, and 160 odd with a 120mm gun and form only 1 Strike Brigade instead of trying to pack it out with complete unsuitable Ajax Vehicles ?
    2. As originally envisaged Armoured Brigades retain 1 Recce Regiment each, other Ajax Recce vehicles that were to equip the 3rd Cavalry Regiment are assigned to replace CVRT and other FV432 vehicles in the Armoured Brigades.
    3. Agree. Jackal and other WMIK vehicles completely outgunned with only caring a 12.7mm machine gun and to be honest a bit pointless.
    4. Wouldn't agree, any extra manpower in infantry terms have to be usable. Light Infantry/Airmobile have a place but it is not going anywhere near an opposition you might send an Armoured Brigade against.
    5. Agreed and it makes sense to use the Jackals in the Airmobile role as they are orphans now, as the light cavalry regiments have no role in non deployable 320man infantry lead regional battalions. I would suggest 7 Brigade because it is close in East Anglia to 16 Air Assault. I would also suggest that 3 Commando comes under Army Control and is put in too a rapid response Division based on 16AA, 3Cdm, 7th Desert Rats Air Mobile using the discarded Mastiffs etc so that they can provide a Protected air deployable force. Since Mastiff is about 15 to 18tonnes and should be equipped with 30mm Cannon. 1 Jackal Light Cavalry Regiment equipped with 30mm cannon on all vehicles. So that all 3 Light Cavalry Regiments align with the 3 Brigades of the Response Brigade.
    7. Agree and that Brigade to be the regional brigade reduced in number to 320 per Battalion for London and the South East.
    9. Agree but by reducing the number of Warriors needed the change of role of that Vehicle to Replace all FV432's must be a priority.
    10. Agree and I would suggest that all regional Battalions are reduced to 320 men with a remit to work with the Army Reserve to come to full strength.

    This could all be paid by switching all regional brigades over to a normal vehicle manufacturers 4x4 pickup and trucks maintained on lease via the local dealership network. And by dropping JTLV for the deployable brigades which still weighs more than 3.5tonne so will need a truck license to drive it just the same as Husky/Panther etc, you save nothing by chucking away Mastiff/Cougar/Panther/Husky etc etc, put them all in the Deployable Div and save the money.
    All done very simple but instead we will see an undeployable army developed to keep the 3rd Womble Yeomanry Guard kept alive so that Ogalvy Ogalvy MP Doesn't complain in the House.

  16. Hi Anonymous, and Guys.
    I don’t agree with the strike brigades, as Carter has formed them, and I don’t agree with cutting the 3rd armoured brigade and being down to 2 MBT regiments, but that’s how things stand.
    As I said, we just have to amend rather than suggest fantasy stuff that’s never going to happen.
    Carter is hell bent on making the Ajax a medium armour element for the strike brigades,
    I am suggesting that some of these be upgraded to 120mm gun variant.
    Strike brides have nothing to take on a MBT at the moment, its not ideal, but it’s better than nothing in my opinion.
    I am glad someone likes my idea that 16 AA and maybe 3 CDO could be supported by a regional brigade, adding another unit if needed giving the option of a brigade deployment.
    As to the cut in the RM. Sad and painful as it is, as the RN can only put to sea one CDO group,
    And the alternative was to cut more ships; I think they have made the right choice.
    If you look at the MOD web site, RN page, you can see we have just one ship (escort class)
    Deployed (HMS Daring) at the moment. That’s sad enough isn’t it?
    I notice Fallon saying that the UK has the biggest navy in Europe, not sure how he defines this,
    The most admiral’s maybe? I am sure the French have more ships than us.
    If anyone says to you that defence is increasing, please put them right.
    I fear more bad news in the future, and I still think the MIV and new artillery gun are just a dream.
    Phil (The cynical ex pongo)

  17. In your recent tweet you include the first page only of a 10 April letter from the Royal Marines commandant general. Is that because you only have one page of the letter?

    1. That is the only page i've seen. I suppose a 2n page exists, since there is no real conclusion or anything, but i've not seen any. Do you have it?


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