Saturday, August 19, 2017

Building on strengths


Shortage of resources require coherence and joined up thinking at the budgeting table. Pursuing vague “revolutionary” concepts such as Land Strike while knowing full well that there is no chance to ever be able to afford the equipment needed to make it remotely workable is simply suicidal, particularly while the SDSR 2015 is already under a new review, exquisitely money-driven. Nobody in their sane minds can believe this new review has actually anything to do with supposedly changed geopolitics due to Brexit. It is about money, and they might as well admit it and show some honesty for once.
It is urgently time to go back to basics and set out a coherent way forwards that builds on the strengths the british forces already posses, rather than continuing to disorderly knock pieces off them in order to fit into the annual budgeting circle while pursuing two hundred different programmes, most of which end in nothing but sunk costs (FRES, LIMAWS, Soothsayer, FRES UV, SMART, FIST, Fire Shadow etcetera, I’m looking at you). The modern day army, although of course not entirely for faults of its own, has been particularly guilty of this sin.
Budget delegation is in many ways a welcome development, but asking each service to generate “savings” from within their budget without considering the wider implications is a recipe for further disasters.
A general direction of travel needs to be decided and then defended. It must be coherent and joined up: all services need to be working according to the same strategic guidelines. At the moment, this is not the case, as the talk of split buy for the F-35 or the dismantling of littoral and amphibious capability demonstrate.

Aim of the UK’s defence policy should be to preserve, as much as possible, the ability of the country to take independent action where absolutely necessary and within a realistic scale. Second, the equipment and force structure choices should be oriented towards making the UK a Leader within NATO, by making it a perfect candidate framework nation for the construction of multinational forces for more complex operations. UK policy makers in recent times like to remind us that future operations are likely to be coalition efforts, but the actions do not quite match the rhetoric as cuts and corner-cutting have far too often hit areas which were of great importance alliance-wide.
It is the case, notably, of the maritime patrol aircraft cut, thankfully eventually corrected, but also of Sentinel R1 (a unique capability in Europe), amphibious shipping and logistic shipping.

What does the UK bring to the table that is unique, or particularly valuable; and how can it get the most from what it has? This should be the question at the base of an honest review.
Excluding the nuclear deterrent and the SSNs (by far the biggest influence buyers, as well as areas with a rather solid plan already in place), the UK’s areas of excellence include:


Special Forces. Highly respected and valued, the british special forces are a powerful strategic asset and an influence buyer. Repeatedly, government has promised to boost them, but progress cannot be measured from the outside for lack of information.
What can be seen is, however, not actually encouraging: as will be discussed further below, the SDSR commitment to providing long-range vertical mobility (air refuel-able) to the Special Forces seem to have died in early stealth cuts. Another problem without an evident solution is 657 AAC, which is part of the Joint Special Forces Support Wing and provides support in the form of light assault helicopters (Lynx AH9A at the moment). 657 AAC is planned to move into Yeovilton, which suggests that it will probably convert to Wildcat when the last 8 AH9A are withdrawn from service as soon as April 2018.
Director Special Forces was almost saddled with 8 “Light Assault” Wildcat in 2011, of which 4 would have been additional new buys and 4 conversions of airframes from the 34 purchased for Army and Royal Marines. That project was announced, costed, and then killed without explanation. Reportedly, Special Forces were not happy with the helicopter.
Now, however, 657 AAC might end up being not an additional Wildcat LAH Sqn, but just one of 4 (?) Army sqns, equipped with the Battlefield Reconnaissance variant, with little or no mods. In other words, Director Special Forces is getting a far worse solution than the one it reportedly turned down in 2011.
The UK Special Forces Support Group (1 PARA) also recently disbanded one of its companies, removing a platoon from all Strike Coys and redistributing the Fire Support Groups to partially compensate.
21 and 23 SAS, the reserve formations, underwent a change of role as well, towards Human Environment Reconnaissance and Analysis. An important role, but the impact that this change had on availability of personnel for more “traditionally defined” tasks is unclear.
In addition, Special Forces are still waiting for the full range of mods and additions to the C-130Js under Project HERMES. Ever since the C-130Ks configured for SF work went out of service, there has been a gap in capability.
Not a reassuring picture. We have to hope that the "black" programmes, the ones we don't hear about, are doing better, because for the rest, facts do not match rhetoric. 


Air Mobility. The UK has a very valuable C-17 fleet which is unique in Europe. There is a NATO mini-fleet of 3 C-17, but as helpful as that can be, it is clearly not enough. The combination of 8 C-17, 22 A400M, 14 stretched C-130Js and 9 (14 as max effort) Voyagers is a powerful one, and one of the most valuable assets that the UK can offer to its allies. A capability valued by allies means influence.
France and Germany will have much greater numbers of A400M, but no C-17s, and there are things that only the latter can do. France experienced in full the difficulties caused by lack of strategic airlift while transferring forces into Mali for Op SERVAL. 8 C-17s are too few to solve the problem entirely, but they certainly mean the UK is better positioned.

The UK also is going to have a capable, large fleet of 60 Chinook, which represent a lot of lift capability for Air Manoeuvre of land forces. 23 Puma HC2 and 34 Wildcat also help, although a greater number of more capable medium helicopters would be desirable.
It also possesses a capable fleet of 50 Apache which, considering the Tiger’s constant woes, are arguably by far the most capable attack helicopter force in Europe.

Heavy airdrop has been gapped 
16 Air Assault has much reduced access to light armour these days

A lot of money has been expended to build up this air mobility fleet, yet a succession of corners have been cut, denying the full exploitation of this sizeable investment.
In particular:

-          16 Air Assault Brigade has been cut back in capability as well as size. The gapping of Heavy Airdrop capability and the failure to progress with the adoption of precision airdrop mean that the brigade’s already limited parachute capability is essentially virtual unless the Americans drop the heavy bits (vehicles, L118 Light Guns etcetera).
-          The acquisition of long-range vertical manoeuvre assets seem to have been quietly cancelled once more. Although the SDSR was deliberately vague about providing longer reach to Special Forces, it was pretty clear that two options were on the table: MV-22 Osprey, which could refuel in flight from Voyager KC3s; or the retrofit of air refueling probes to at least part of the Chinooks and the fitting out of a couple of short C-130Js to serve as tankers. None of the two options seem destined to materialize.
-          The failure of efforts to purchase internally transportable vehicles that would give air mobile troops far greater mobility after reaching the LZ inside Chinooks.
-          The Voyager’s lack of a boom as well as the choice not to invest in a reconfigurable top-deck, which would have made it far more capable by opening up huge cargo possibilities.

Foxhounds of 2 Gurkha Rifles are air landed in support of 16 Air Assault during ex Joint Warrior

Air mobility, including air manoeuvre of ground troops via Chinook and Puma lift, is a partial excellence. The UK is an extremely good position under some points of view and in an extremely poor one under others. At the moment, it is an unfinished work.
In recent times there have been some welcome developments thanks to the end (op TORAL requirements aside) of the very demanding Afghanistan air bridge. In particular, the RAF has finally started to employ the tactical capabilities of the C-17instead of employing it just to lift heavy / high volume cargo from A to B. Airdrops and tactical air landing have been opened up, and 16 Air Assault brigade has experimented with “air-mechanized” operations by inserting small “packs” of Foxhounds (apologies for the pun) in support of the air assault task force during the last Joint Warrior.

This is an area of excellence which:

-          Enables UK long-range operations, not just as part of a coalition, but, at limited scale, in substantial independence
-          Is valuable to allies and, in its C-17 part, unique in Europe (which is a bonus in light of the need for influence during the Brexit process)
-          Is valuable to the main ally, the US, and can be a vector for further integration

As such, it is a battle-winning and influence-gaining asset which deserves greater attention, instead of being repeatedly run into the ground by small money-savings measures that add up to huge losses of capability.

A more detailed look into the Air Mobility area is here and here.



ISTAR. The UK has the most complete air-breathing ISTAR force outside of the US Air Force. This asset is highly valued by the US, as evidenced by the extremely close relationship in operating the Rivet Joint element. The 3 UK aircraft complement a fleet of just 17 in US service, making it an important contribution in terms of mass as well.
Protector, if “at least 20” are effectively put into service as promised by the SDSR, will represent the largest MALE fleet in Europe and the most capable, at least until the European MALE 2020 project delivers results. Something that it might or might not do.
The 9 P-8 Poseidon are a critical asset for the safety of the UK, which remains as exposed as ever to submarine warfare in the, perhaps unlikely but certainly catastrophic, eventuality of conflict against Russia. The new MPA fleet will also represent a large portion of Europe’s capability in the MPA sector, which is suffering NATO-wide and was officially listed already a few years ago as one of the critical weaknesses to correct.
And Sentinel R1 is as precious and unique as it is unlucky and constantly targeted by cuts guided by short-termism of the worst kind. The reduction of the fleet to just 4 aircraft and, more importantly, the marked reduction in the number of crews have already determined, or at least undoubtedly played a part in the gapping of this capability in Operation SHADER.
The UK is extraordinarily weak in terms of satellites. It has no radar, optical or SIGINT satellites of its own, relaying on the data supplied by US constellations instead. Even a good portion of the communications capacity comes via participation in the US AEHF constellation.


Sentinel R1: a unique, praised capability facing a never ending struggle for funding 

The ISTAR fleet is another key excellence. Cutting back on the number of Sentinel R1 and crews is an example of damaging short-termism determined by lack of joined-up thinking. The RAF budget holder had to save money somehow, and I’m willing to believe this was the least damaging options among those at his disposal, but it remains, overall, a disproportionately negative outcome.
It is also very worrying and disappointing that there is still complete uncertainty about how to preserve this unique battlefield surveillance and targeting capability post 2021. It is true that, by then, capable SAR radars with Moving Target capability will be widely available (on Protector, Watchkeeper, F-35 and on Typhoon once it is retrofitted with the CAPTOR E AESA radar), but none of these is a full Sentinel R1 replacement all the same. 

ISTAR ticks all the boxes again:

-          It enables UK operations, in coalitions and in independence
-          Is valuable to allies and, in several ways, unique in Europe
-          Is valuable to the main ally, the US, and can facilitate further collaborations (with Norway and beyond, particularly thanks to P-8)


Long range strike. A multi-pronged capability made up by:

-          Tomahawk
-          Land-based aviation with Storm Shadow
-          Carrier based aviation
-          Stealth

The UK will be the only country in the European side of NATO to tick all boxes at once / in significant numbers, thanks to the F-35. This area of absolute excellence is not without its own problems, with the main one being the tiny stock of Tomahawk and the relative poverty of platforms able to fire it. The Type 26 will introduce the ability to fire long-range missiles from surface vessels for the first time, but Tomahawk by then will be out of production unless US plans change or the UK lodges in an order before it is too late.

In the future, Tomahawk and Storm Shadow (and Harpoon) could be replaced by the same weapon, the new SPEAR 5 / Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon to be jointly developed with France. Entry into service is not expected until the 2030s, however, with the Storm Shadow OSD being 2032.
Much too late to avoid a lot of problems for the Navy, forced to lose Harpoon already next year and facing the dilemma of how to arm the Type 26 in the meanwhile.
Long range strike capability could be expanded by putting cruise missiles on P-8 Poseidon or even by resurrecting the idea of ramp-dropping Storm Shadows from the back of cargo aircraft.
Future long-range strike should also be able to relay on the FCAS unmanned aircraft in development in collaboration with France.
This area is in relative health, despite the cancellation of Storm Shadow integration on F-35B. Unfortunately, the integration would only become effective much too close to the missile’s OSD to truly make sense, so spending money on it is not, in any scenario, wise. SPEAR 5, however, should definitely find its way on F-35B and Type 26.
The worst problem in sight is the dramatic firepower gap on Royal Navy warships with the loss of Harpoon.


Carrier Enabled Power Projection

For a long time, the UK has talked of the new carriers in terms of Strike, as that was the fashion of the moment. The truth is that “Carrier Strike” understates what carriers are for, reducing them to one mission when in reality they have many. The “Strike” capability of the new carriers come from their size: they can carry enough fuel, stores, weapons and aircraft to generate enough sorties to be a true power projection tool, unlike the Invincibles, which arguably achieved all they could and then some, but could never go past the limits imposed by their size.
Carrier Enabled Power Projection better summarizes what the carriers really are about: they ensure the fleet has the air support it needs to operate in the congested, cluttered, contested, connected and constrained environment of current and future warfare. Without organic air power, a fleet cannot venture far from the air cover coming from land. Without a fleet capable to go into a contested environment, far from home and potentially far from friendly land bases. there can be no power projection at any serious  scale.
With the Navy planning to have one carrier at Very High Readiness (5 days notice to move) and the other at 20 to 30 days notice to move, continuous carrier capability is a realistic aim.
The programme for the first two squadrons of F-35B and for Crowsnest is now firm. The biggest risk for the realization of the CEPP’s promises regards the formation of the F-35B squadrons number 3 and 4. These are threatened by the “split buy” idea which could see the RAF go for the F-35A, in what would a sublime example of single service reasoning.
Unfortunately, to the F-35 budget holder (the RAF), the F-35A is alluring because it is cheaper than the B, and has (potentially) a larger internal, stealth payload and a bit more range. If joined-up thinking doesn’t win the day, there is every possibility that CEPP will be compromised for little to zero actual gain: the RAF does not own or plan a weapon for which the larger weapon bays of the A are both necessary and sufficient. SPEAR 5 will almost certainly be too large for internal carriage regardless, while all other weapons in service or planned do not need a larger bay.
The split buy must be avoided at all costs, at least until the B fleet doesn’t comprise a fleet of 4 frontline squadrons, which represent the threshold for a realistic, self-supporting force.



A more detailed explanation of the dangers of the split buy idea is here.

The Royal Navy’s effort should be focused on its Joint Expeditionary Force – Maritime, centered on the carriers and including the amphibious group. The UK has the tools needed to put to sea an “Expeditionary Strike Group +” , more capable than those fielded by the US Navy, which are centered on a LHA / LHD, a LPD, a LSD and some 3 escorts. The UK group can buy substantial influence:

-          Its global deployment is a statement of intention that is not matched by any other short-term deployment form
-          It is valued by the US as it helps cover all stations, enabling the progressive shift of US attention to the Pacific
-          It represents a capability that, in Europe, only France can, in part, replicate


Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Too often overlooked, the RFA is an extremely valuable tool and one that truly sets the Royal Navy apart from other European navies. The capability and capacity of the RFA is unmatched in the European side of NATO. It is the tool that enables the Royal Navy to have blue water and expeditionary possibilities.
Unfortunately, some of its most valuable assets have been lost or risk being lost without replacement: RFA Diligence had no equal in Europe, yet it was sacrificed to short-termism in the hunt for savings. RFA Argus risks suffering the same fate in a few years time.
Two Point-class Ro-Ro sealift vessels and one Bay-class LSD were also lost to cuts, and the loss in capability far exceeds the savings.


A design proposed for the Solid Support Ship, including a well dock for landing craft for increased amphibious support capability 

Particularly important to the RFA’s future is the nascent Solid Support Ship programme, which aims to build 3 ships that will replace Fort Austin, Fort Rosalie and Fort Victoria around the middle of the 2020s. Critical enablers for complex CEPP operations, these vessels should represent a priority in planning and their design should include Joint considerations, primarily through the provision of support to forces ashore, to the greatest possible scale.
The RFA is a key enabler for independent and coalition operations. It allows the UK to support multi-national efforts at reach and thus represents an influence-buying asset.


Amphibious capability

Amphibious capability is a key element within Carrier Enabled Power Projection, but it deserves to be detailed further.  
The future of this capability is particularly concerning as it is being squeezed to death by lack of joined up thinking and budgetary short-termism. With the budget holder (Navy HQ) forced to slice the salami to somehow fit into the annual budget cycle, the Royal Marines have taken a long series of hits, most recently the removal of 42 Commando from the traditional assault role in favor of “maritime force protection” task.
Equipment-wise, the amphibious force is about to lose Ocean after losing one LPD (in mothball) and 1 LSD plus 2 Ro-Ro sealift vessels.
Modernization efforts have been almost entirely frustrated by killing off:

-          Force Protection Craft
-          Fast Landing Craft
-          BV206 replacement
-          Joint Mini UAS (a proposed Royal Marines / Army replacement for Desert Hawk III)

The picture is currently very depressing and the future is full of worries, despite the Royal Navy correctly listing amphibious capability as one of its three defining capabilities (together with Continuous At Sea Deterrence and Continuous Carrier availability).
The dramatic reduction in amphibious capability extends to the Royal Logistic Corps losing its own large landing craft without replacement.
3 Commando Brigade, just like 16 Air Assault, has been partially dismantled and turned into a “demi-brigade” on two battlegroups alternating yearly into readiness.
And all this has happened in open contradiction with doctrinal studies that have reaffirmed, year after year, that the future of global geo-demographics is Littoral. This requires UK forces that are able to mount substantial littoral and riverine manoeuvre, as joint and Army papers, including the Agile Warrior experiment, constantly reaffirmed.
The Royal Marines are also historically connected to Norway and are one of the formations tasked with reinforcement of the Northern Flank in case of a “Russia scenario”. Consequently, they are defence’s sole specialists in Arctic and Mountain warfare. Even this aspect of their capability is under threat, with arctic training for 2018 reportedly entirely cancelled due to Navy HQ simply not knowing how else to fit into next year’s budget. In a triumph of bitter, humiliating irony, days before the news emerged, UK officers were saying, at the Air Power Conference, that the next theatre of operation will be the frozen north.
As too often happens in british defence, words tell one story, actions paint another one entirely.



The UK’s amphibious capability is a key asset for future independent and coalition operations; it is valued by the US and by other allies, in particular Norway; and represents much of the amphibious capability available to the European side of NATO.
The trend of reductions and capability losses should be immediately reversed. Royal Marines and Army integrations should increase, if this is what it takes to encourage more joint thinking and a common response to correctly identified trends. The current situation of agreeing on the key and growing importance of littoral and amphibious manoeuvre while cutting back on all elements of said capability is ridiculous and must end.

The UK also took the leading role in a NATO initiative to develop solutions for the opening of sea ports for deployment abroad. Considering that all UK operations, considering geography, will inexorably deal with multiple seaports every time, and that entry into a theatre of operations might well be complicated by damaged / poorly kitted out / contested and semi-demolished ports, this capability is a key national requirement as well as an influence-buyer within the alliance. It also has peacetime value as a disaster relief instrument.
Literally nothing has apparently move since the launch of the initiative, and it would be really important to revitalize the effort and invest in this area.

A more detailed look into the state of the amphibious force can be found here and here.


ASW

Anti-submarine warfare is back on the list of priorities as tensions in Europe remind NATO that the basic scenario has never changed: if things ever go seriously wrong, the fate of the conflict in central Europe completely depends on the ability of the navies to escort convoys loaded with American tanks and supplies across the Atlantic.
The UK’s vulnerability to submarine warfare is unchanged as well. There are less submarines these days, but there are far fewer escorts as well, and today supplies and fuel travel on a far, far smaller number of far larger tankers, container ships and other vessels.
The loss of a few large merchant vessels today would have catastrophic consequences comparable to the complete annihilation of a few convoys back in the old days, a fact not always appreciated.
During expeditionary operations, the presence of a few diesel submarines is enough to put the task force in grave danger and tie down a lot of resources for defensive action. Undervaluing the threat is very risky: there is no certainty that the next torpedo fired at a Royal Navy warship will fail like those fired by the argies' ARA San Luis in 1982.

The Royal Navy remains a champion and an authority in the field of ASW operations, and its Type 23 frigates, Merlins and, tomorrow, Type 26s and MPAs will be particularly precious. Gaps do exist, however, including the absence of a long-range anti-submarine weapon for warships. The Navy also has just 8 ASW escorts these days, and there is worrying talk of Type 31 being a non-ASW vessel as well. A rethink is urgently needed.


Survey and MCM

The Royal Navy has great survey and MCM capabilities, and both will remain precious in the future, since mines remain a huge danger.
The Royal Navy’s MCM capability is particularly valuable in part for the US Navy’s relative weakness in this area. From an European point of view, the RN’s MCM force is less valuable, only because pretty much all countries in Europe have maintained capable flotillas of their own.
The ability to survey the seabed and clear it from mines remain crucial for the safety of the UK and for the conduit of operations abroad.
The MHC programme that should eventually define the replacement of the survey vessels Echo and Enterprise as well as of the current MCM ships is particularly important.


The deployable Division

The ability of the UK to field a capable Division for operations at range is a key element in determining the country’s power and influence. Division-level deployment gives the UK a more realistic “independent” option and keeps the country in the top tier of contributors within the alliance. Deploying a division far from home remains a major undertaking and one that is beyond the possibilities of many states: as such, there can be no doubt about the influence brought by this capability.

The ability to deploy a Division should not, however, come at the cost of a force structure adequately thought out to sustain brigade-sized enduring operations, which are more frequent and just as important. Army 2020 Refine pursues a vague concept of “Joint Land Strike” at the cost of making the Army a one-shot only organization, with little to no staying power. It is a completely illusory target, built upon shaky, vague doctrine. The myth of merry, quick land wars is well and truly debunked, yet the British Army is effectively pursuing a structure that embodies that myth. General Carter made mentions of Operation SERVAL, the French operation in Mali in early 2013, as being an example of rapid, decisive action as that envisaged for the Strike brigades. However quick and decisive the combat ops of January 2013 were, SERVAL eventually lasted 1 year and 6 months, between January 2013 and July 2014, equating to 3 successive tours if the 6 months deployments are to stay true. And its conclusion became nothing other than the beginning of operation BARKHANE, which endures to this day. I will also remark that the particularities of Operation SERVAL make it hardly useful as an inspiration for British Army future operations: in particular, the French were able to move so rapidly because much of the troops employed in the first phase were already forward based in Africa. Again, the rapid movement overland of wheeled formations was enabled by the presence of allied forces that secured the rear (not just Mali forces, but allied contingents from Niger and Chad which were more numerous than the French contingent itself). I hope to write a more in depth analysis of what Mali can and cannot say about the utility of “Medium Weight” forces in the context of the STRIKE infatuation in the British Army.

As I’ve already done several times, I suggest the British Army abandons the current, suicidal course and thinks about using its resources, beginning with manpower and existing equipment, in smarter ways. Joint Land Strike is a wobbly concept, based on dreams more than on realistic assessment of historical operations. Its implementation is essentially limited, due to budget and manpower shortages, to four battalions worth of wheeled APCs and, maybe, a wheeled 155mm howitzer in the future, all paid for by severe mutilation of other areas of the force structure. It is not just a flawed concept, it is a flawed concept that the Army will attempt to pursue while knowing from the start that it does not have the necessary equipment pieces.
The Army should rethink its force structure and make good use of what it has, instead, ensuring that the current “fake” brigades are used to deliver true deployable formations instead, grouped in two deployable divisions, albeit lighter. That will give the army a more realistic and sustainable balance of forces. Army 2020 Refine reportedly aims to be able to deliver a “best effort” division of 2 armoured and 1 strike brigade.
There is every reason to be skeptical about the feasibility of such a deployment in the first place, which would require 100% of the Army’s heavy armour and 50% of its medium armour, right from the get go. Who was in the army at the time remembers what a struggle it was, for a much larger army than today’s, to deliver 1st UK Division in Iraq in 2003. That division had only one armoured brigade, 7th Bde, plus 3 Commando and 16 Air Assault Brigades plus divisional assets.
In terms of equipment, Army 2020 Refine’s stated ambition matches or exceeds the Operation TELIC numbers: a division of 2 armoured and 1 strike brigade would deploy, in theory, with 112 Challenger 2 (vs 116 at the time); more than 200 Warriors in all sub-variants (versus 140 IFVs plus sub-variants), 36 AS90 (same) and 12 to 18 L118 or their future replacement (vs 39), plus one hundred or more Ajax and probably one hundred MIVs.
Talk about doing more with less. 1st Division’s deployment had a long-lasting ripple effect that dragged on for years in the daily running of the army and in the allocation of spares, and one can only imagine what kind of impact would come from trying to deploy 3rd Division today, from a much smaller army.

Modernization should continue in the heavy armour sector, which is actually the one, together with light infantry, where the British Army has the best spread of experience. Substantial armoured forces were deployed in two Iraqi wars, and heavy armour is now once more in high demand with defence of East Europe now at the forefront of NATO tasks.
Going back to the Air Mobility point, seen earlier in this article, air-mechanized manoeuvre can and arguably should be the true “Land Strike” focus for the British Army.

While there are undoubtedly merits and attractions in wheeled armour, the British Army should not pursue them at all costs by turning itself in a “make it or break it” silver bullet that would leave behind little more than a smoldering empty case once fired. It has a number of ongoing programmes already competing for shares of an ever tight budget and a longer list still of capability gaps, weaknesses and new requirements coming up in the next few years. There is no real urgency to pursue the STRIKE myth: in Europe it would be of limited and questionable utility against far more capable Russian formations, hybrid or not; while in Africa and the Middle East it would be helpful but far from decisive. As currently envisioned, a Strike Brigade with MIV would not be too much of a step up from a deployment of infantry mounted in Mastiff. The MIV comes with far better off-road mobility, but with same (or indeed less, as the new 8x8 will definitely be in the 30+ tons region) strategic mobility and same (insufficient) firepower.
The whole thing costs too much for what it actually adds. The “8x8 revolution” has been announced many times but has never really materialized. While wheeled armour does work, undoubtedly, it has not and will not change warfare anytime soon.
The US are still trying to make their Stryker brigades work, and their latest attempt to make them more useful is the addition of 30mm guns and Javelin under-armour launch capability; both things that MIV is almost certainly not going to enjoy. France is building on its experience of wheeled armour by investing on vehicles substantially lighter and simpler than the 8x8 and Ajax envisaged for the Strike Brigades: the Griffon 6x6 APC and the Jaguar 6x6 armoured car. French brigades enjoy more firepower, more and far larger infantry regiments than the two battalions of the british strike brigades, and self-escorting logistic formations.
Italy is (slowly) building up the most complete 8x8 force in NATO, thanks to the combination of Freccia and Centauro, with Centauro 2 on the way. None of the 8x8 available have made any kind of game-changing difference to the operations we have seen in modern times.

In terms of availability of the capability, it should be noted that 8x8s have been chosen by smaller European armies which have had to renounce to their tanks for budgetary considerations. Denmark is investing in them, Belgium has them (and will in future stay wheeled but downgrade even further by going Griffon 6x6 after announcing recently the purchase of the new French vehicle) and Spain wants a large number to replace the wheeled vehicles already in use.
There is no shortage of 8x8s in NATO. There is, instead, a shortage of heavy armour and artillery, which is becoming more evident by the day as Russian forces modernization progresses. France is rebuilding a fourth tank regiment; Germany is bringing back more than 100 MBTs, the US are rebuilding at least two armoured brigades over the next three years.
The UK, conversely, is looking at dismantling one of its three tank regiments and cut back on what is a proven, battle-hardened capability, albeit weakened by the obsolescence of Challenger 2, delays in Warrior CSP and weakness in artillery.
Instead of fixing well known issues, the army is looking at making them worse, just to mount four infantry battalions on 8x8 APCs. It remains, in my opinion, the dumbest possible course of action. There really isn’t a gentle way to put it: it is just a suicidal direction.
Heavy armour is still the measure of an army’s combat power as well as the main asset for high intensity warfare, the only one which has existential implications and thus should be the priority.
That is not to say that the Strike Brigade could or would not be deployed in Europe for reassurance initiatives. I’m sure the british army would gladly copy the US 2 ACR’s road march with Strykers across Europe if it already had MIV. It would be certainly impressive and appreciated in East Europe, but if push ever came to shove, the MIV as currently envisaged (without turret and cannon) would be maybe able to race to the front but it would be crushed once there.
Peacetime shows do not strictly require MIV. The British Army attached Jackals to the 2 ACR’s road show, and as a political statement, it suffices. For operations, MIV is not enough.
The Strike Brigade, as of now, is just not a wise use of money, manpower and kit.

An in-depth examination of all the gaps in the British Army force structure and a proposal to close them is here.


Combat engineering

You don’t often read this, but the British Army has excellent combat engineering regiments, well equipped and capable. They have a great spread of bridging capability, which is not easily found elsewhere, and they have great breaching equipment in the form of Trojan.
They are extremely valuable assets, which remain fundamental to any operation and which are likely to be more important than ever in future, heavily urbanized scenarios.
There are weaknesses too, though: the demise of SHIELDER exemplifies a dramatic decay of Counter-Mobility capability, which absolutely needs to be reversed as it would be key in any European war scenario, however unlikely.
Urban battlefields arguably suggest that re-introduction of a short-barrel, high-calibre demolition cannon such as the old 165mm is also highly desirable.
Project TYRO is (slowly) working on life-extending and upgrading or replacing the bridging equipment.
The M3 rigs are still operational and, in one of few good news contained in Army 2020 Refine, the regiment utilizing them. 75 RE; is due for considerable expansion as a renewed focus goes into wide wet gap crossing.



At the same time, Army 2020 Refine would remove 35 RE from the Close Support role, if not from the ORBAT altogether. This is part of the reductions that compromise the ability of the army to keep a brigade in the field for enduring operations, and should be reversed.


Battlefield recovery and repair

Despite the cuts suffered by REME in 2010 and an unfortunate and substantially failed re-organization of REME resources into battalions, the british army still enjoys a considerable richness of Recovery and Repair assets and expertise. A look at the equipment available in other European armies will rapidly show that the other countries tend to cut this corner a lot.
What is in short supply elsewhere becomes automatically valuable when the time to mount an operation comes.


Training

The level of training and expertise that can be found in the british armed forces remains considerable. Training delivered by british forces is respected and valued, and the UK can buy security and influence through provision of training and assistance to friendly countries all over the world. Training deals also play a substantial role in supporting british defence industry in the export market: Typhoon jets can result a lot more attractive, for example, if british training comes along with them.
While there are good reasons to be skeptical about the “Defence Engagement Battalions” being created within the army, the general idea of having units permanently tasked with defence cooperation abroad is good under many points of view. Substantial uncertainty remains about the nature of these battalions, their effective capabilities and their employment. Several press reports have suggested that these battalions will be similar to American Green Berets, acting as Special Operations Forces where necessary, supplying covert or overt assistance directly on the battlefield. If true, this would make them particularly valuable but also particularly expensive to set up, man and maintain.
The area of foreign engagement, albeit unglamorous in many ways, does deserve attention and further work.
Delivery of naval and air training can be just as valuable. One problem in the Air domain is the puny size of the new training fleets. These are modern and capable, but truly minuscule. The SDSR 2015, by reverting some of the cuts of 2010, massively increased the requirement for trained aircrew, but did not adequately expand the training fleets to account for it. The number of instructors was expanded considerably compared to pre-2015 expectations, but the number of training aircraft was not corrected. There is already talk of adding an extra 2 Phenom and of doubling the T-6C Texan II line, from 10 to 20 or more aircraft, but well known budget issues have to be overcome for this to happen.
The reduced size of the training fleet means that there is little to no room for foreign pilots training, but cutting back on this kind of engagement is damaging.

Another important aspect of UK capability is the availability of a capable Red Air element to train against. Hawk aggressor squadrons, backed by EW and in-flight simulation deliver high-value  preparation for warships and aircrew. In the post-2020 era, the fate of this capability rests on the ASDOT (Air Support to Defence Operational Training) programme.

Further to the training aspect, the UK is investing a lot of money into building an Integrated Training Center for F-35 training at RAF Marham. So far, this ITC is the only one planned in Europe, with the other countries planning to have their personnel trained in the US.
Substantial opportunities for collaboration exist due to the Marham ITC, and every effort should be made to valorize it.



In conclusion

The above list of considerations is a “back to basics” assessment of what elements of the armed forces have a clear, special value and a defined role in current and future operations. All of them are backed by the two true game-changing attributes that the UK has:

-          The nuclear deterrent, with the freedom of action and the political clout it buys.
-          The willingness to engage and use force where required.

Other countries have impressive armies but never really employ them for their unwillingness to engage in unpleasant, dangerous business.

The capabilities listed in this article have particular relevance and the range of possibilities they open up should drive the UK’s strategic thinking. These areas of excellence should be developed and valorized with the aim of buying influence in peacetime and delivering decisive effect in wartime.
The measure of their usefulness comes from evaluating their importance to the UK’s conduit of war operations as well as their relevance within NATO.
Is it a capability matched by other allies? Is it unique? If other allies have it, is it important enough to deserve investment all the same? Can I afford to disinvest in it, with the reasonable certainty that I will still have access to it through allies?
Even with the UK determined to stay out of any future “European army” (arguably even more so because of it, in fact), the UK must be very careful in assessing its capabilities and that of its allies, including a realistic assessment of how easy it would be to obtain access to said allied capabilities in times of need. Just saying that future operations will be a coalition affair is not enough: if the UK had been counting on France’s equipment to retake the Falklands, today the islands would be the Malvinas.
A capability that adds something to the overall roster is particularly valuable, and should be accorded priority. Overall, the most complete and balanced spectrum of capabilities possible should be pursued, to preserve the UK’s ability to act alone when truly necessary.


The UK retains many areas of excellence, but has badly damaged all of them in repeated salami slicing exercises that have fixed the short-term budget while opening large capability gaps all over the place. Coherent, joint thinking is required to preserve those excellences and build on them to deliver a capable force. It might well mean not having medium, pardon “Strike” brigades, but that is someone else’s area of excellence. 4 MIV battalions will not improve the UK’s world stance; this still impressive roster of military capabilities, if maintained and well resourced, will.  



16 comments:

  1. From MikeW:

    Hi Gaby,

    Another very penetrating post. Agree with you that we should develop areas of excellence “with the aim of buying influence in peacetime and delivering decisive effect in wartime.” I hope to write on some of the wider problems you have examined in a later comment but just a more specific post to start with.

    I was rather intrigued by your comments on the Royal Engineers and their kit. Now I don’t know whether I am barking up the wrong tree entirely here but here goes. A report in a serious newspaper the other day mentioned the outstanding quality of many Army officers today but might it not be the case that the Royal Engineers decision makers are exceptional even among these. The certainly seem, over the years, to have decided on what they require by way of kit , to have pursued their aims determinedly and to have ended up with what they want. To acquire a line-up of Trojan, Titan, Terrier, Talisman,with Argus to come, together with upgraded or replacement bridges, is quite an achievement. Perhaps there is something in the Sappers’ engineering disciplines or training that makes them more able in their pursuit of equipment goals, I don’t know but it is highly impressive. Maybe all this is highly fanciful and critics of my view will say that Engineering equipment is highly specialized and would be less expensive to procure overall, (with lower numbers of vehicles involved) than say, in the case of Armour or Infantry or Artillery. However, I do wonder why they have been so successful.

    There are gaps in the inventory, of course. You mention the decline in Counter-Mobility capability and that is certainly something that should be rectified as soon as possible.

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  2. According to Jane's Defence there is a pre-concept study underway into replacing Argus, Diligence, Albion and Bulwark with Multi-Role Support Ships (MRSS). It is due to report by the end of 2018. Maybe linked to the Fleet Solid Support ship (FSS) project in that it could use the same basic hull form? So we would get possibly 3xFSS plus 2xMRSS to replace all 3 Forts, Argus, Diligence (already gone, I know) and the 2 LPDs? Seems to make sense.

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    1. Why would you not also seek to replace the 3 LPD(A) with the same vessel type and boost the numbers to say 7?

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    2. I would, and this may eventually happen. Perhaps a smaller and/or more basic variant to replace the Bays.

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  3. What source says 657 ACC is moviing to Yeovilton?

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  4. With regards to the 14 C-130Js. Obviously the current decision is to keep the 14 remaining "stretched" versions. All of the tankers and spec ops versions of the C-130J are based on the short fuselage version.
    1. Is it not possible to include hose and drogues on the stretched versions?
    2. If not, would it not make more sense to maintain the smaller fleet of the 10 short fuselage all upgrade to KC version?

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  5. Regarding the Type 26 GCS wouldn't it be good if the Canadians, Australians and New Zealand all became operators a sort of "Commonwealth" Frigate.

    It would be nice to see the following force levels:

    1. UK - 8 + 8 (dispense with the Type 31 which requires another production line/spares etc).
    2. Canada - their requirement was like for like so a unit buy of 15.
    3. Australia - SEA 5000 - 9 units required.
    4. NZ - 3 units (currently we operate 2 ANZAC MEKO but this limits flexibility).

    This would see 43 units across the four Navies.

    For the UK I would see the missions as:
    1. 1 dedicated for a year to the Deterrent Mission - it would then act as a western coast responder.
    2. 1 unit for Anti Piracy
    3. 1 unit for the Carrier Group
    4. 1 unit to Nato Group 1
    5. 1 unit patrolling the North
    6. 1 unit patrolling south.

    10 further hulls provide rotation between tasks 2-6 (3 units for every task).

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  6. Gabriel
    As usual a well thought out piece. If I could make a comment.
    The problem you have is the senior Army personnel are all scarred by Iraq & Afghan. Of having to use not of their own choosing Snatch Land Rovers etc and in their formative years sending young men out to die with no other option. Hence the obsession with a Wheeled 8x8 that they saw other nations willing to deploy whilst they were denied by UK Politicians the use of Warrior and other tracked vehicles that could have saved lives. This was purely because Tony Blair/Gordon Brown's Government wanted the public to see a "Police Action" not tanks on the streets in both locations. Until this mentality is overcome then the British Army will continue to suffer.

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  7. Gabrial
    A few suggestions
    1. 3 Commando and 16 Air Assault should be enhanced by Army units. With all RM Commando units, apart from 42 Commando and Beach Assault troops moved in to the Army. The Para’s already have the Ghurka Battalion to make up 3 Infantry Battalions and the Marines should get a Riffles Regiment Battalion which recruits nationally as a 3rd Army commando Battalion. 42 Commando stays with the RN to provide Specialist Combat Teams and Combat Rescue Teams on QE/PoW etc.
    2. 16 Air Assault, 3 Commando and a 3rd Brigade (Probably 7th) use the resources they already have and transfer all the support services from the Adaptable Brigade to bring numbers up to acceptable levels in terms of Artillery etc.
    3. That 3rd Brigade should look to be mounted on Mastiff and Foxhound and be air deployable. These become General Carters 2,000 mile deployable forces.
    4. 2 of these Brigades should get an upgraded Jackal with a fully enclosed armoured cab (as the marines already have their own Bronco Armoured element), mounting something like an Apache 30mm cannon remoter control weapons station. Having the 3 light Cavalry units stuck in the Adaptable Force is a waste of money and resources.
    5. Pay for it by stopping MIV, 155mm Wheeled Artillery, and JTLV. We have Husky/Foxhound/Panther already we do not need another plus 3.5tonne (so LGV Licences only) Patrol 4x4 we have 1547 armoured mine resistant vehicles between Jackal/Husky/Foxhound/Panther.
    6. The 3rd Light Cavalry Regiment to specialise in convoy protection for Logistic, artillery trains etc.
    7. Look to mount he 105mm Guns on to vehicles to speed up transport and critically the ability to fire from the vehicle and to shoot and scoot to avoid counter battery fire.
    8. Retain the 3 armoured brigades mounted on 3 Challenger 2 Regiments, 3 Cavalry Regiments on Ajax (rest of Ajax in the Armoured Scout Roll in the Armoured Infantry Brigades), 6 Mounted Infantry Brigades on Warrior (paid for from MIV savings above), and 3 Armoured Infantry Brigades Heavy Mounted on remanufactured Challenger 2 bodies redeveloped as IFV. (Every other Army in the world seems to repurpose surplus Tank Chassis’ this way and if anything, both Israeli and Ukraine have shown the need for Heavy Protection of Troops operating with Tanks.)
    9. All FV430 series vehicles replaced by Turretless Warriors.
    10. The remaining adaptable force to reduce to light infantry supplied with dealer maintained Pick Up Trucks. To cover standing ops in Cyprus
    For the Navy,

    The message is simple use what you’ve got and become good at it and don’t go chasing mythical silver bullets.

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    1. From MikeW:

      Hi Anonymous (posted 23rd August 2.36pm)

      I thought I would reply to your comment because it is quite an interesting one.

      First of all let me say that I am largely in agreement with your basic premise: “use what you’ve got and become good at it and don’t go chasing mythical silver bullets”. Mind you I don’t think it necessarily applies in all economic circumstances but in these straitened times, it is certainly the sensible course to take. If we had an Exchequer with more money to spend, then yes, fund an (experimental?) Strike Brigade, see how the concept works and then perhaps spend funding on two brigades (8 x8s, wheeled artillery and all) but while austerity reigns, then yours seems the only rational course.
      My reply then is mainly about some of the detail. I certainly feel that 3 Commando should get a third infantry battalion, especially as they are losing 42 Commando to a different role (Specialist Combat teams etc.). 1 Rifles has filled the suggested role previously and would seem to be an ideal choice. I’m not so sure about the idea of moving “all RM Commando units, apart from 42 Commando and Beach Assault troops, in to the Army. The beach assault units seem inextricably linked to their support units and would you not lose some of that organisational solidity through making more of them Army? The Marines’ ethos is strongly Navy-based. Having said that, I believe that their Artillery and Engineer units are already Army. I don’t know exactly where that leaves us.
      Re: your suggestion that “the third brigade should look to be mounted on Mastiff and Foxhound and be air deployable”, thereby becoming “General Carter’s 2,000 mile deployable forces.”. I think you might very well end up with a rather lumbering, unwieldy formation. Air portable forces should be fast-moving and agile. Foxhound is a possibility and has already been experimented with, but somehow I don’t think you would be choosing an ideal vehicle in the hulking Mastiff, given its weight and well-known shortcomings across country.

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    2. From MikeW (continues)

      Rather like the idea of an upgraded Jackal with an armoured cab, (if it can be done). It might help the crew in severe winters too. By the way, did you men to say that the Royal Marines have their own Bronco element.? Surely it is the Viking vehicle, not Bronco, which forms their armoured element? The Warthogs (Broncos) are now being flogged off. (See info on DSEI 2017).
      Also like the concept of mounting the 105mm guns on vehicles “to speed up transport and critically the ability to fire from the vehicle and to shoot and scoot to avoid counter battery fire.” It’s an idea which has been mooted many times but the problem is that the weapon is getting rather long in the tooth. If a wheeled gun does come in eventually I think it will be something heavier like the M777.
      Like too your ideas on the shape the three armoured regiments should take. Also, the concept of heavy Armoured Infantry (in the UKs case, mounted on remanufactured Challenger 2 bodies redeveloped as IFV) is a very interesting one and, as you say, the idea has been been developed pretty effectively by the Israelis with their Merkavas. However, you have to consider both the availability of spare Challengers and the cost of such a programme. I think just under 400 Challenger 2s were originally procured. The number of fightable tanks left must, I think, be nearer 200 (apparently many have been cannibalised for parts, etc.). If your Armoured regiment component of a brigade were to follow the Type 56 model, then three Brigades full would leave you very few spare tanks at all. Moreover, I think I have read that in order to create a Merkava-type vehicle, the Challenger’s engine would have to be moved forward in order to create an infantry compartment towards the rear of the hull. Expensive!

      And lastly, the alternative to “dealer maintained Pick Up Trucks” for light infantry might be 6-tonne trucks, fitted with something like protection pods on the rear, to create a kind of motorized infantry.

      Sorry this is so long! However, I did find your ideas very interesting.

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  8. Having a pure fleet of most capable up-armored 4x4s has merit. Streamlined logistics and spare parts translate to cheaper operation and maintain.

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  9. Dear MikeW
    Thanks for the comments. Just clarify it’s probably me getting terms mixed up. Firstly with regards to “people issues” to coin a phrase.
    Firstly, I would agree about the RM attitude being pro Navy and how that makes them a step apart from the Army. What I wanted to do was take that elitism (which is justified having seen close friends pass the Commando course something which I would never attempt since I am sane) and use that across an organisation that would be the UK’s pointy end of the spear, in a Co-Ordinated way. Because now both the RM and the Paras are getting sliced and diced in to an ineffective for despite the best efforts of all the personnel and senior commanders of 3 Commando Brigade and 16 Air Assault. Both in their own way are orphans in their own organisation by bringing them together under one unified Reaction Division organisation it might give them a greater voice. Since both organisations by definition are the UK’s Reaction forces it makes sense to bring them together.
    Secondly, sorry about some of my terminology. Interested amateur from the Political side of the fence rather than a dyed in the wool military background. My use of the term “beach assault” I was using that term rather loosely. What I meant was the part of the RM that deals exclusively with the assault phase and operate form Albion/Bulwark, mans assault craft etc. You are quite right in your comments.
    As to the “Third” brigade. My theory was this. After 2020 programme, we will have a large number of Mastiffs and Foxhounds that are surplus to requirement since either we accept for mobility reasons they have no place in Armoured Tracked Infantry and are either jettisoned as in my example from 3rd Div or replaced by an 8x8 in 2020 Refine. My idea was to use that equipment to provide a Brigade that could provide a vehicle fast reaction group. As you say Mastiffs are big old beasts. They may in ideal circumstances be deployed by Road and Sea, whilst the Foxhounds would make more sense for Strategic Air Deployment. The point being is that this “3rd Brigade” would be a wheeled vehicular version of RM/Para’s but able to bring more fire power and hopefully more anti-tank missiles, bigger calliper support etc to a fight. In that both the RM and Paras in their helicopter/Parachute form are light infantry, very good light infantry but as repeated campaigns have shown their comes a point where light infantry just cannot carry enough equipment to be lethal enough to win an engagement. So, the idea is to effectively bring together all the elements of the UK reaction forces in one organised place, so that they train and work together (let’s be honest both the Marines and Para’s have shown high levels of professionalism in working together in places such as Afghanistan/Iraq and going back further in the Falklands.) to increase operational success and decrease the problems of lack of cooperation or duplication in many areas. I agree 1 Riffles should be added to 3rd Commando Brigade and I think if troops from that brigade pass the Commando course they should be Army Commando’s and get recognition for such.
    I would suggest across the board each of these individual brigades kept their traditions, if the Marines wanted to keep saluting differently etc they can or still class themselves as Sailors, the same with the Para’s and hence why I suggested the “3rd Brigade” selected in this organisation would be 7th Brigade (The Desert Rats) as they have an identifiable “Tradition” themselves especially with the public (which is important for recruiting purposes). Thus, you have 3 Brigades of highly trained troops on a rotating readiness cycle providing 1 Air Assault Specialist, 1 Marine Specialist and 1 Wheeled Fast Air/Sea/Road Movable Specialist Intervention Brigade.

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  10. That is not to say that the Marines might not take their armour and the Para’s might not be mounted on spare Foxhounds with drivers/gunners etc supplied by one of the light cavalry units. But it allows you to a have an adaptable, deployable force bolstered in the support arms by what would transfer over from the Adaptable Forces Artillery/Logistics etc. This would then be the UK Rapid Reactions Div, Intervention Div, call it what you want, but it allows General Carter to have troops (especially if heavy on vehicle mounted Missile Technology both Anti-Tank and Air Defence) that could immediately respond to any crisis be it in Africa, Asia, Middle East or even having to make a 2,000-mile dash across Europe if Russia threatened Eastern Europe to be a holding force until the Heavy Armoured Div could be moved. It fulfils all these roles using men, training and equipment you already possess.
    The Ginge

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    1. From MikeW:

      Hi to The Ginge

      Did not realize it was you. Thanks for taking the trouble to reply to my mammoth effort. At one point it seemed to me that I was writing a modern “War and Peace”! Will try to keep it much shorter this time!

      Again you raise some very relevant points. You are of course absolutely right in asserting that both the Royal Marines and the Paras are “getting sliced and diced”, all part of the more general and hugely dangerous salami slicing across the Armed Forces.

      I have seen mention of the idea of bringing the RM Commandos and16 Air Assault Bde together on several occasions recently. However, I had failed to think of the very valid point that you come with, namely, that bringing them together in one unified Division might give them a greater voice. I think you are right, in that in these days when so much emphasis is placed on public relations, it might just lend extra weight to their arguments against further reductions and even help to restore some of them.

      There is no denying that both organizations have been severely diluted in strength recently. Of particular note is the disappearance of D Squadron, the Household Cavalry, which provided reconnaissance, fire support, etc. for 16 AA Bde. The Marines are not so badly off, because, as you say, they have their own armoured support element. Both formations, though, do seem short on such matters as fire support, air defence etc. I think you have hit the nail on the head when you state: “ . . . both the RM and Paras in their helicopter/Parachute form are light infantry, very good light infantry but as repeated campaigns have shown their comes a point where light infantry just cannot carry enough equipment to be lethal enough to win an engagement.” Does Arnhem spring to mind?

      Your solution of beefing up such light reaction forces by giving them more fire power, anti-tank capability etc., using wheeled vehicles etc, seems admirable. It is just that equipment such as Mastiff seems to me inappropriate for the reasons I gave. Such vehicles are essentially MRAPs and lack the mobility/agility necessary to provide an effective vehicle fast reaction group. In many respect your argument for a wheeled armoured fast reaction group is somewhat akin to that for a form of Strike Brigade. It could then be argued, and here I am sure that Gabriele would agree, that unless you are going to introduce such a concept then you have to do it by going the whole hog: i.e. having a whole spectrum of excellent, purpose-designed 8 x 8s with the full range variants: personnel carrier, fire support gun/cannon, command, ATGW, ambulance, bridgelayer, recovery, repair etc. etc. Anything short of that and I don’t think the idea would succeed. It is perhaps where your (our) argument of using equipment you already possess, rather falls down.

      As for your idea of Paras and RMs working and training together, yes, I think it could work. They have different traditions, ethos, etc. but they have worked successfully together before, as you say. There was a comment the other day on one of the blogsites to the effect that it would be “handbags at dawn” but I don’t think it would be anything like that like that. They, could , as you suggest, keep their traditions, if necessary. I think your idea of using the “Desert Rats” as a name for the fast wheeled brigade is an excellent one.

      So, a qualified yes to the idea of a rapid reaction “division, if you like, as “the UK’s pointy end of the spear” but a no to the idea of a wheeled "vehicle fast reaction group”, unless we get the necessary new vehicles. Hope this makes sense.

      Cheers, Mike.

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