Sunday, October 10, 2021

Time for courage

 

The British Army is expected to reveal more details about its future plans sometime “in the autumn”, which in theory means sometime soon. The internal work to define the way forward is known as Project EMBANKMENT and is meant to put meat on the bones of the Future Soldier announcement that came together with the Defence Command Paper.

The Army’s Future Soldier position at the time was articulated as follows:

 

       An additional £3bn will be invested in new Army equipment over the next ten years on top of the £20bn already planned.

[NOTE: we have to assume it is part of this money that has been used to announce the GMLRS upgrade and new munitions, at 250 million, and the Mobile Fires Platform, replacement for AS90 and part of the L118s, at “over” 800 million. Both these projects already existed before, but clearly they didn’t have any funding line before the Review. The 120 million investment in the RANGER regiment, the planned 2023 purchases of new mini UAVs to replace Desert Hawk III and of new C-UAS weapons; plus plans for CAMM ER to beef up ground based air defence are probably all funded from this pot. “Over” 200 million have also been promised to beef up Electronic Warfare capabilities.]

 

       By 2025 the Army will be 72,500 regular and 30,100 reserve personnel.

       There will be no loss of cap badges and no redundancies of Regular soldiers.

       The Army will continue to recruit in large numbers the diverse talent that it needs to maintain a competitive advantage now and in the future.  

       1 MERCIAN and 2 MERCIAN will be merged.  In time they will form one of the new Boxer-mounted battalions in the new structure.

[NOTE: 1 MERCIAN was earlier planned to be a WARRIOR-mounted battalion. With WARRIOR going out of service and a lot of garage and barracks space, sometimes literally newly built, becoming available in Tidworth and Bulford, we have to assume earlier plans for BOXER battalions will be completely torn apart. There is little to no sense in putting BOXER in Catterick, as once planned, when Salisbury Plain is now “empty”.)

 

       A new Army Special Operations Brigade based around a new Ranger Regiment able to operate in high threat environments to train, advise and accompany partners.  This will be initially seeded from the current Specialised Infantry Battalions: 1 SCOTS, 2 PWRR, 2 LANCS and 4 RIFLES.

 

       A new Security Force Assistance Brigade to complement the Army Special Operations Brigade, operating in lower threat environments, routinely deployed across the globe to develop the capacity of partners and allies.

[NOTE: effectively this means turning another 4 battalions into Specialised Infantry. One of them will probably be 3 GURKHA RIFLES, which was being built up as 5th of the Specialised units when the new Army plan appeared]

 

       2 YORKS will become a new prototype warfighting and experimentation battalion. [This has now happened, with 2 YORKS, while based in Cyprus, busy testing new equipments including Dismounted Situational Awareness tablets; Robotic Platoon Vehicles and the new Assault Rifle In-line Low Light Sight, ARILLS]


Clipped on in front of the Day sight, the ARILLS "fuses" thermal imagery and image intensification for maximum performance at night and in all low light conditions. 

       The Infantry will be reorganised into four Divisions of Infantry with a more balanced number of battalions and offering a wider range of infantry roles. 

[Each infantry division will be aligned to one of the RANGER battalions and, presumably, one of the Specialised battalions as well. Each infantry division will probably get 1 mechanised battalion as well, so each division can offer a wide range of opportunities to new recruits]

 

       The Army will reorganise into Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), including permanently assigned supporting elements like artillery, engineers, electronic warfare, cyber and UAS.  

 

Plans to upgrade GMLRS, reactivate some of the ones in reserve (44 launchers will be upgraded, compared to 35 now in use) and acquire new, long range and more advanced munitions is extremely welcome, but much of this was supposed to be funded already before the Review. 

       A very-high-readiness Global Response Force of 16 Air Assault Brigade and the newly formed 1st Aviation Brigade, which will be ready to respond from humanitarian relief through to crisis response and warfighting.

[The British armed forces have a formidable array of capabilities needed to build and sustain an excellent air mobile brigade: 8 C-17, 22 A-400M, 60 Chinook, 50 Apache helicopters, a new Medium Lift Helicopter to come, plus Wildcat. It’s a shame it took years to notice. The formation of the Aviation brigade was a much welcome step and further refinement of the combined capabilities of the two brigades would deliver a truly excellent tool. On the other hand, the loss of C-130J is regrettable, as it reduces the airlift capability. It’s very much contradictory to cut cargo aircraft while expanding the role of the air mobile force, but coherence in UK defence planning has never been a factor...]

 

       The Land Industrial Strategy will strengthen our partnerships with industry to unlock and rapidly exploit the potential of innovation and spiral development, delivering the kit we need when we need it, as part of the Army’s contribution to UK prosperity.

 

In terms of timelines, the Future Soldier briefing noted:

 

       The Army will use spring and early summer 2021 to refine and test the designs, capabilities and structure below BCT-level. It will plan carefully to maximise the potential of limited resources, particularly key equipment.

        This work will be presented to the Army Board in late June 21.

       The MOD Reserve Forces 30 review will be published in May 21. 

       Detailed programming and balanced decisions about the optimum resourcing and sequencing of this institutional change will follow, enabling CGS to issue orders to the Army in early autumn.


In terms of Force Structure, the Future Soldier plan as published at the time of the Defence Command Paper was as unimaginative as they come. The "new" Army linearly fell from a planned 4 mechanized brigades (2 armoured, 2 STRIKE) to just 2 mechanized Brigade Combat Teams, ugly and inevitable hybrids pieced together with the surviving pieces of Armoured Bdes (Challenger 3) and STRIKE (AJAX, which was originally meant for Armour anyway; and BOXER).

1 Cavalry regiment with AJAX, 1 tank regiment, 2 infantry battalions on BOXER. If this plan will be confirmed, it couldn’t possibly be any more foregone than it already is. You lose WARRIOR, you end up here. That's literally it. I was writing about it back in February

The only "innovation" at the time was the attempt to turn 1st Artillery Brigade into a 3rd manoeuvre bde by putting the 2 "orphaned" AJAX regiments into it, alongside GMLRS but without infantry. The Army calls this formation Deep Recce Strike Brigade Combat Team. This is not new per se, but it's new to see it as an organic, permanent formation: the Deep Strike Recce BCT is, really, the comfortable choice that lets the British Army hang on a couple of Cavalry regiments otherwise at risk, while adopting a familiar, reassuring mix that was used in Op GRANBY in 1991, grouping 16/5 Lancers with 32 and 39 Heavy regts RA as Divisional Artillery Group. What is old is new again.

The other 2 manoeuvre brigades were inevitably downgraded to Light BCTs, with the assumption that one would be Lightly Mechanized thanks to the use of FOXHOUND. Apparently, even in the middle of this disaster, the Army remains uninterested in hanging on to MASTIFF and RIDGEBACK, and we really should ask ourselves why, especially since these vehicles have received a quick, painless, cheap but important mobility upgrade and have been sent to Mali where they have an important role.

 

At a macro level, the new organization is purely born out of despair and can’t have taken more than 5 minutes to design. Literally.

Where innovation is supposed to happen is at lower level, and we have to hope that the Army will be bold enough to truly change its ways, and go back to the drawing board in regard to the organization of the brigades. 

The british BCT is described as a formation which

 

“will be structured to integrate capabilities at the lowest appropriate level with supporting capabilities routinely assigned including artillery, Un-crewed Aerial Systems, cyber, air defence, engineers, signals and logistic support. This will create more self-sufficient tactical units with the capacity to work with partners across government, allies and industry.”

 

The internal brief insists: “A Land force structured to integrate capabilities at the lowest appropriate level creating more self-sufficient points of presence”.

 

 

This is perfectly in tune with assumptions about the future that have been in Army thinking for several years now. The Integrated Operating Concept 2025 has notoriously listed the necessary attributes of the future force as:

 

Have smaller and faster capabilities to avoid detection

Trade reduced physical protection for increased mobility

Rely more heavily on low-observable and stealth technologies

Depend increasingly on electronic warfare and passive deception measures to gain and maintain information advantage

Include a mix of crewed, uncrewed and autonomous platforms

Be integrated into ever more sophisticated networks of systems through a combat cloud that makes best use of data

Have an open systems architecture that enables the rapid incorporation of new capability

Be markedly less dependent on fossil fuels

Employ non-line-of-sight fires to exploit the advantages we gain from information advantage

Emphasize the non-lethal disabling of enemy capabilities, thereby increasing the range of political and strategic options

 

The Army’s own Conceptual Force 2035 doubles down on the same kind of design drivers. This study imagined an army of 3 smaller but capable divisions made of lighter, faster, more deployable, largely independent battlegroups, with dispersion being the norm. Conceptual Force 2035 specifies that the disaggregated fighting requires Combined Arms capabilities to be organic at lower level, to ensure the dispersed Battlegroups do not have to wait for a superior echelon to make supports available. This includes having more organic Indirect Fire capability and employing it alongside greater ATGW capability to offset the capability currently delivered by MBTs through “lighter” vehicles.

The BGs will be expected to carry out, and I quote, deeper, more risky and aggressive manoeuvre. Robotic, sacrificial systems will be used to press on reconnaissance, and I quote again, to the point of destruction, in order to enable the BG to use frenetic op-tempo to make up for the lack of mass.

The resulting BGs would be around 500-strong but are supposed to match the current mission set of a 1250-strong armoured BG though the use of robotics and higher op-tempo. The Conceptual Force imagined that, from the then objective force of around 82.000 regulars, the British Army would be able to form some 48 such Combined Arms battlegroups. The organization would work to the Rule of 4, with an Assault Force, Covering Force, Echelon Force and Reserve Force. These BGs would be grouped in Brigades with enough CS and CSS elements to fight, again, largely independently from the Division level.

 

Conceptual Force 2035's key points


We can agree or disagree with the assumptions above, but there is no denying that, at a conceptual and doctrinal level, the scenario has been set. This is the future force that the Army thinks is needed in the future.

Now the real question is whether the Army has any appetite to reorganize its Force Structure accordingly, and let go of some old, deeply ingrained tribalism that has been allowed to put up all sorts of avoidable problems.

The examples that could be made when referring to that “tribalism” are many, at all levels, but my favourites  are always the same because they perfectly illustrate the avoidable stupidity that permeates the British Army’s structure.

First example: when “battlegrouping”, Cavalry / Tank squadrons or demi-squadrons are mixed with companies of infantry. A battlegroup based on an Infantry Battalion comes with the very significant advantage of having a Fire Support Company with mortars, snipers and anti-tank platoons. A BG based on a tank formation does not get a Fire Support Coy, because Tank regiments don’t have them. The AJAX regiments organized as “Medium Armour” formations, mirroring Tank regiments, would also not have had one. The cavalry regiments have anti-tank capability in their Guided Weapons Troop, but normally have no mortars. One of the “innovations” that the Household Cavalry Regiment was (is?) pursuing as part of STRIKE and of its transition to AJAX, is the creation of a mortar troop.

This, for me, is tribalism. That in this age of warfare we are still looking at these baby steps is insanity.

The use of UAVs is also very stovepiped, with 32 Regiment Royal Artillery holding the Mini-UAS capability and parcelling it out upon battlegrouping. This frankly won’t do in the future. Capability must spread out across formations and go down the ladder of formation size; combined arms must be the norm, not the on-deployment mixing of today.

 

If the Army is to move in any way closer to its own Concept Force 2035 ambition, it needs to find the courage to gut its current, increasingly nonsensical structure, mix Infantry & Cavalry and redistribute capabilities with no deference to capbadges and outdated Corps separations, creating Permanent Combined Arms Battlegroups.

 

Such a radical reform is no longer avoidable, since the Army is trying to modernize in the context of a regular manpower cap moving down from a theoretical, never-achieved 82,000 to 72,500 by 2025.

The regular Army is going to be smaller, and positions will be lost, and units will need to change. In particular, the Infantry is bound to take a hit, simply because Combat Support and Combat Service Support formations have already been cut back so much that most of the Army’s brigades are make-believe formations comprising only infantry, with no artillery, communications, engineering or logistics.

1st Division's brigades, with the exception of one which gets some supports on rotation, are next to useless paper bags containing infantry battalions to parcel out in the never ending quest to rob Peter so that Paul can be outfitted in a decent way for deployment.

This has to change. The Army will continue to drown in its own chaos otherwise.

 

While BOXER is an excellent base vehicle, it is not a complete, coherent capability unless the right mix of variants is achieved, and the equipment fit is decent. At the moment, the British Army's equipment fit plans are dismal, with, for example, the mortar carrier being literally just an APC carrying a L16 81mm mortar that will only be able to fire once dismounted. Same for the Observation Post Vehicle, which at the moment is not planned to be equipped with its own sensors and target marker to enable target designation from under armour. Key variants are missing entirely; others could now be a duplication (Engineer Section Vehicle and the ARGUS vehicle of the Ajax family seem to be in open conflict now that only 2 brigades remain), the number of infantry carriers is ridiculously small, firepower on the vehicles is absysmal. Change is urgently needed. 


As the reveal date for Embankment draws nearer, the leaks to the press have begun, with the Daily Mail writing about incoming reductions to the Infantry, which is said to be destined to shrink from 16,500 to 11,000. Apparently, the Rifles regiment didn’t take well to the news and promptly leaked the internal memo to the press. Either the leaker or, more likely, the Daily Mail itself, have also immediately felt the need to point out that the plan will be “overseen by the new Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin. The evil Royal Navy is already out to get the Army’s scalp, seems to be the narrative that we will be force-fed over the coming months.

The fact that the Admiral is not yet in post, and that Embankment is the Army’s own plan formulated over the last several months is, naturally, a detail of no importance: never let facts get in the way of a good tale!

 

The reduction in the Infantry numbers is not and cannot possibly be a surprise to anyone who read the Defence Command Paper and Future Soldier brochure. Where did people think that the manpower reduction would hit? On the last few enablers left to ensure that the Army can scrape together 4 brigades somewhat deployable?

It was inevitably going to come to this.

And if the Army was to finally pursue its own imagined Future Combat Team, around 500 strong, it would again be inevitable that Infantry numbers would be further affected.

It was all always under our eyes.

 

The impact on the Infantry’s effectiveness is the only thing that isn’t yet clear. Some reductions will be pretty much automatic since mechanized battalions are larger than Light Role formations. As WARRIOR disappears and only 4 Mechanized battalions remain, a few hundred posts will disappear naturally. Several hundred more will vanish as 4 (or rather 3, assuming 3 GURKHA RIFLES carries on) battalions are cut down from 500/600 to 250-or so to form the new Security Force Assistance Brigade.

2 MERCIAN effectively disappears with the merging into 1 MERCIAN, accounting for several hundred more. And the rest will have to be shaved off with some other change to the structure of the remaining Battalions. 

Unfortunately the Army has once more tied its hands up by insisting that no capbadge will be lost and that no other battalions will disband, so this inexorably means every remaining battalion will get smaller.

How, and with what “capability compensation”, is the only question that remains on the table.

 

Army 2020, in 2011, attempted to absorb the manpower cut by removing a Platoon from every Rifle Company in every Light Role battalion. This proved unworkable, so a whole Company was removed instead, with the assumption that the hole would be filled by a formed company of reservists from the paired Reserve battalion.

This arrangement on paper makes a lot of sense in what is supposed to be a fully integrated force of Regulars and Reservists, but unfortunately proved unworkable because the availability of reservists is, understandably, not very good and not very predictable. 

The number of times the Reserve has been able to deploy a formed Company probably fits on the fingers of one hand. I can think of 4 PARA deploying one to the Falklands, and a case in Cyprus. 

Day to day efficiency of the regular battalions was badly impaired, as was their ability to train. It became normal to put together companies of two battalions to make one, which obviously defeats the point of keeping so many tiny battalions in the first place. 

Eventually, in 2015, the missing companies were rebuilt, redistributing the manpower obtained by inventing the Specialised Infantry battalions and downsizing them to just around 250 personnel.

But this time, manpower cannot just move around. It will be shed for good.

And there are just two ways in which this can happen:

-       The Stupid, Capbadge-driven way: insist in holding on to Infantry battalions more or less as they are, and go back to the (failed) Army 2020 model. This is unfortunately highly likely to happen, if recent Army history is any indication.

-       The Conceptual Force 2035 way: remove the artificial separations between Infantry, Cavalry, Armour, etcetera, and build up permanent, Combined Arms Battlegroups which will probably have the equivalent of just 2 Infantry companies, again, but will at least be designed from the ground up to include armour-support, UAVs, Robotic vehicles when they eventually happen, and beefed-up organic Fires. 

 

The most common counter-argument deployed against Permanent battlegrouping is that, supposedly, maintaining the separation of roles enables each component to pursue excellence in its field, and battlegrouping only for deployment safeguards “flexibility”.

Personally, I think this is an extraordinarily weak argument. It could be countered in all sorts of ways, but i once again will go back to the example made earlier: keeping the specialties separated results in incomplete battlegroups simply because, to make one example, the Cavalry absurdly does not have mortars.

The separation only enables and sometimes mandates the proliferation of capability gaps that require ever more “robbing Peter to pay Paul”: a stupefying number  of separate formations sending bits and pieces to one another to build something that actually works.

 

I don’t see a single genuinely good reason why we should continue to keep separate formations that will never deploy on operations without being broken apart and reassembled in combined arms battlegroups.

All too often, when looking back to operations, the post-action analysis contains the passage “the units in the battlegroup had only been together for a short time and didn’t know each other enough”, or similar remarks. Lieutenant M. Dewis, on TANK 2020 (volume 102, No 801) makes a series of recommendations to try and save the Regimental system while enabling the creation of effective Combined Arms Teams.

He stops short of advocating for permanent overarching formations, but he underlines the need for broader, more stable affiliations and more cross-training. At the same time he can’t help but note that Battlegroup level training is expensive and an increasingly rare commodity at a time in which it is more desperately needed than ever. It’s all good to insist on social networking and “forming and storming” by “intruding” in each other’s low level training events as much as possible, and simulation and tabletop wargames obviously help, but I don’t think half-measures are adequate. Certainly not in the context of a further shrinking Army.

The Army’s Conceptual Force 2035 is clear in its working assumption that the future is the combined arms Future Combat Team. It is time for the Army to move in that direction in a serious way, if it believes its own innovative thinking. There is absolutely no rational reason to claim that more self-sufficient formations wouldn’t be flexible and able to cooperate and re-ORBAT as necessary.

 

The Army insists that “the future battlefield will be different. It will be harder to hide and weapons will destroy with greater accuracy, range and precision. People will retain their centrality in the battle of wills, while robots and UAVs will increasingly reduce the number of people engaged in the front line. Legacy capabilities are becoming obsolete ever more rapidly”. 

To counter that, the Army says it needs faster, agile, well integrated, combined arms formations able to aggregate and disaggregate across a vast battlefield.

If this is the assumption, act on it.

 

The attributes of the Future Combat Team are the key to the whole concept: if you want to fight dispersed and be lighter but still capable, you must pack a serious punch and have far more capability pushed down the levels of command. This is something that in STRIKE was never done in any meaningful way. Firepower has been dead last in the list of priorities so far, and that made the whole thing not credible.

In fact, what is most striking about the Conceptual Force 2035 is that it is so entirely alien to what the British Army actually looks like today, in structure, “culture” and programmes. Permanent Combined Arms Battlegroups are anathema in today’s British Army and among the purists of capbadges and specialty separations. CS and CSS are a scarce resource completely out of balance with the number of infantry battalions. Indirect Fires and ATGWs are weaknesses, not strengths. The Rule of 4 is nowhere to be seen, and indeed resources in multiple areas are spread so thin than even the Rule of 3 is dubious, with infantry battalions that could literally shed a rifle company soon.

 

British Army armour leaving BATUS. The end of an era, happening largely behind curtains of shame-induced silence. 


Embankment is an opportunity for change. The reduction to regular manpower margins will be painful, there is no way to deny it will be. Trying to absorb the reduction while hanging on to 31 battalions will only make the pain worse and result in 31 ever more unusable formations.

It is time to be courageous, and end the tribalism and the excuses.

 

Change is desperately and urgently needed in equipment plans as well: AJAX and BOXER purchases as currently planned, in consequence of the disappearance of WARRIOR, no longer integrate each other. BOXER variants mix and equipment fit must change to lessen the devastating impact of losing WARRIOR. For a wider discussion about this aspect, see: http://ukarmedforcescommentary.blogspot.com/2021/06/the-good-bad-and-ugly-of-boxer-purchase.html

and

http://ukarmedforcescommentary.blogspot.com/2021/05/combined-arms-regiments-on-way-to.html

 

In the Global Response Force, investment is needed to ensure 16 Air Assault acquires organic vehicle mobility to complement the helicopter mobility. Light, Chinook-portable vehicles would enable the PARAs to manoeuvre quickly out of a landing zone, allowing the helicopter to drop troops off further away from a target and thus hopefully away from enemy air defences.

In terms of organisation, there is obvious scope for a greater integration of the all-important Chinook force into the Aviation Brigade. Since the Chinook is RAF-owned and operated, it is currently not an integral part of the brigade and, moreover, the Squadrons are not equipped with the same wealth of organic life support on the ground. At the moment, APACHE and Wildcat squadrons can operate on the battlefield in a way that Chinook cannot replicate, being more tied to well established airbases. This difference is unhelpful at best, and would need correcting.

There is also obvious scope for rationalising the current separated bits and pieces of ground support units: the current 7 REME, 132 Sqn Royal Logistic Corps, Tactical Supply Wing and Joint Helicopter Support Squadron could and should be re-organized to cut down duplication and maximize the number of complete task lines covering everything from ammunitioning, fueling, equipment maintenance and Landing Zone management.

It seems also obvious that 244 Signal Squadron, the one unit tasked with providing communications to the Joint Helicopter Command, really belongs organically into the Aviation Brigade.

They are not big changes, and in several cases they would probably generate efficiencies and savings, but they will require the cancellation of some redundant HQs and the removal of barriers between Army and RAF and between RLC, REME and Royal Signals.

 

The barrier between Royal Logistic Corps and REME might indeed be brought down more or less completely. There have been suggestions that the Army might be headed towards integrated Close Support Regiments, possibly including also the medical capability.

Defence already has one such integrated regiment, the Commando Logistic Regiment of 3 Commando Brigade, although this is admittedly a somewhat special case as the Royal Marines have the intimate support of ship-borne assets and stores. 

However, the STRIKE Brigades were also going to have a CSS battalion obtained by merging a RLC formation with a REME one. There’s a possibility that this integration will now become a target army-wide. There are resistances, but such integration is the norm in multiple allied armies, including the US, and it’s increasingly difficult to claim the British Army cannot adapt.

 

Change will also be needed in wider strategy and purpose as Forward Basing is finally embraced beyond the persistent presence of Specialised Infantry Companies.

Lieutenant General Chris Tickell, Deputy CGS, revealed at DSEI what the Army is doing to increase its responsiveness in key regions of the world. The BATUS training area in Canada has been quietly “robbed” of its large, permanent fleet of armoured vehicles, which have been brought back from February this year. Some 112 vehicles between Challenger tanks, AS90 guns, Warriors and “T2” (Titan bridgelayers and Trojan AVRE of the Royal Engineers) have been moved out and are heading towards Sennelager, in Germany, which will act both as the de-facto main training area for the mechanized force, and a Forward Base which will be better able to project heavy forces towards Eastern Europe.

The Omani-British Joint Training Area near Duqm, which we have been promised will be “tripled in size” with additional investment, will become the other main training ground for british mechanized forces. Units will deploy to Oman for “Khanjer Oman” exercises and will remain for a few months, rather than just for the duration of the exercise. In so doing, they will become a Forward Based force to complement the afloat Littoral Response Group (South) that the Royal Navy and Marines will base at Duqm from 2023.

The BATUK training area in Kenya, similarly, will see light / air assault battlegroups spending 2-3 months at a time in the area, rather than weeks as currently happen for the “Askari Storm” exercises.

BATUS, de facto, is no more. Although it is not closing down entirely, its era appears to have ended, and it would have deserved a more dignified goodbye, but the Army, MOD and Government presumably don’t like admitting that there just aren’t enough armoured vehicles left to sustain a training fleet based in Canada.

Training fleets in Sennelager and Oman can be realistically “double-hatted” as rapidly deployable, forward based forces. An armoured battlegroup stuck in the Canadian prairie cannot. At the end of the day, this is the one explanation for the move.

 

BATUS was notable for its absence in the graphics about Forward Presence. There was a reason for it, as has since become apparent. 

But given the premises, it is the right move, for once. I encourage the Army to insist on this path, and invest on it, and work closely together with the Royal Marines so that the Oman-based contingent is closely integrated with the LRG(S) and with its ships, that are the key element to enable the forward based force to move quickly across a theatre which is dominated by the sea.

 

What is still missing from the picture is an Army formation equipped and trained with the High North in mind. As the UK reinforces its strategic commitment to Norway and the wider Arctic, and makes the Littoral Response Group (North) one of the two main prongs of its international engagement strategy, there is obvious scope for the Army to provide a heavier force to back-up the afloat Royal Marines component.

 

It’s an obvious step to synchronize the Army with the Nation’s strategy.

But it will take courage.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Maritime Electronic Warfare Programme

The Maritime Electronic Warfare Programme (MEWP) has entered the Major Projects spreadsheet for the first time in the issue published earlier this month. This project has been in existence for multiple years already, but only now that various portions of it are about to progress it has started to be covered by the annual report. 

 MEWP is actually split into two Category A (which means their value is greater than 400 million) projects: MEW System Integrated Capability and EW Countermeasures Project. MEWP is described as a project intent on modernizing the Royal Navy’s Electronic Warfare capability through the adoption of open architectures with the potential to contribute to the development of shared Situational Awareness and Automated Cooperation in responding to missile attacks. 

Increment 1 of the Maritime Electronic Warfare System Integrated Capability (MEWSIC) should go under contract in the third quarter of this year, according to the report. Increment 2 is in its Concept Phase, while a 3rd Increment has not yet seen activities begin. We don’t know much about what these Increments involve, but we can assume that Increment 1 is likely to be the open architecture command and control element of the EW suite, to enable the later integration of new sensors and of the new countermeasures to come from the parallel project. 

Back between 2017 and 2018, two different industrial teams formed up to pursue MEWSIC and the wider MEWP opportunities: BAE Systems, CGI and Thales form one team; Lockheed Martin and Elbit form the other. Elbit UK is not too subtly offering its eM-e dominate system of systems for maritime EW. This is an adaptive, open architecture system split in its Command and Control element, sensors element and countermeasures element. 

The Royal Navy is unlikely to be giving maximum priority to the sensors at this stage since it has already completed some efforts in the previous decade to modernize these elements, mainly through adoption of the Thales VIGILE D fully digital Radar ESM system. 

On the other hand, a notice has been published calling for a new Communications ESM (CESM) capability for the Type 23s, under Project ARDENT WOLF. Invitation to negotiate is expected in September 2021 with contract signature penciled in for April 2022. The new CESM will be fitted to a minimum of 7 frigates (accounting for the fact that, while it will happen over more than a decade, the Type 23 fleet is on its sundown path) and will replace the HAMMERHEAD CESM, which is around one decade old. 

It will be very interesting to see exactly what Increment 1 will cover. It is obviously intriguing to see the Royal Navy hanging on to hopes to develop a better capability for automated cooperation against missile attacks. The Navy notoriously wanted the US Cooperative Engagement Capability on the Type 45 destroyers but was never able to fund its adoption. The requirement has not gone away, however, and the Navy probably wants to acquire the means to connect into today’s Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air architecture at the heart of the US Navy efforts. 
Cooperative engagement prominently features in the slides published a while ago by the Navy and highlighting its priorities on the way to 2030. 
In may and june, during exercise FORMIDABLE SHIELD in the Hebrides range, both SAMPSON and ARTISAN radars were put to the test tracking ballistic and supersonic sea skimming targets, but it was the dutch HNLMS De Zeven ProvinciĆ«n that was able to share tracking data from its upgraded SMART-L MM/N radar to enable the “launch on remote” of an SM-3 missile from the USS Paul Ignatius. It is important that the ability to cooperatively deploy countermeasures and fire interceptors timely is developed as soon as possible. 

Coming to the EW Countermeasures project, we are told that Increment 1A should see the competition start in September this year ahead of a full business case in August 2022. 

This first increment involves the acquisition of a “trainable launcher” for the decoys. Currently, the Royal Navy uses fixed, six-barrel launchers bolted on deck which cannot “aim” autonomously to launch a decoy in the most convenient direction to face an incoming threat. The ship thus has to manoevre to make best use of the cloaking effect generated by the deployed countermeasures, but this wastes precious time that, in particular against supersonic, and even more so hypersonic, threats is simply not available. The trainable launcher is a key upgrade to enable a quicker and more effective deployment of countermeasures. 

This is a requirement the Navy has felt for many years now and which generated response in the industry: Chemring notoriously developed the CENTURION system and SEA developed its own take. From France, Lacroix can offer its DAGAIE / New Generation Dagaie Systems (NGDS®), while Italy employs the SCLAR, marketed today in its ODLS incarnation by Leonardo. The Chemring and SEA products might be favorite in the Royal Navy contest because they are designed around the 130 mm decoy that is the standard caliber for the RN, US and multiple other countries, while the DAGAIE goes hand in hand with SEACLAD rounds also from Lacrois, and SCLAR / ODLS is mostly about 105 to 118 mm rockets, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see both producers offering a variant compatible with the 130 mm SeaGnat format.

The CENTURION launcher delivers a beneficial impact on Radar Cross Section. It has also been demonstrated as a missile launcher, firing JAVELIN back in 2013 as an anti-FIAC option. 


Increment 1B remains “subject to the outcome of a feasibility study”. 
A november 2020 tender gives us a pretty good idea of what Increment 1B might be about because it was split in two parts: a trainable launcher and a new Radio Frequency Active Decoy. For the Trainable Launcher, Invitation to Negotiate was expected in May 2021 with Contract Award in December 2022. The Major Projects spreadsheet suggests these timelines have slipped, but hopefully not by too much. 

For the Radio Frequency Active Decoy (which would effectively replace the current MK251 SIREN) the notice said 2021 would see a Feasibility study, with an Invitation To Negotiate target of April 2022 and Contract Award expected in August 2023. Overall, things match. 

Loading of a MK251 SIREN decoy in the current fixed launcher barrels. 



The Royal Navy has been working on a new active RF jammer decoy for multiple years. Under the ACCOLADE project, France and UK collaboratively designed a Manoeuvring Expendable Airborne Carrier round fitted with a Thales-developed RF ECM payload. The ACCOLADE round was test fired on Salisbury Plain, but the technology demonstrator phase ended in February 2016 and was not followed by adoption. The RF payload from ACCOLADE is still around, however, and in 2019 was actually demonstrated to the Royal Navy installed on the HALCYON Unmanned Surface Vehicle, the prototype of the USV that is the core of the MMCM counter-mines system. This was a demonstration of the concept of Recoverable Offboard Decoy System which might well bring results in the coming years, although, of course, an 11 meter USV is clearly oversized in comparison to this particular payload. The choice of boat was probably made out of sheer convenience; a much smaller one would be used in an operational system. Or, conversely, one could seek a much larger payload. 

ACCOLADE test firing on Salisbury Plain 


During 2019 the Royal Navy had also put up a notice for the replacement of the current Outfit DLF (3B) inflatable floating decoy. A Naval Passive Off-Board Decoy (N-POD) of similar concept is wanted from 2023. 






An airborne corner reflector decoy, of similar concept to the DLF (3B), has possibly entered service. A DSTL document mentions a MK217 “mini corner reflector” decoy round. In 2018 Chemring unveiled its TORERO 130 mm ammunition which, fired into the air, deploys a Fast-Inflating Airborne Corner Reflector to passively seduce missiles away from the ship. Airborne Systems and Rheinmetall offer their ADS 103 round, very similar in concept. The corner reflector begins its seduction in the air and floats on the surface of the sea after coming down.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the BOXER purchase

 

A Written Answer has finally provided interesting details about the british purchase of BOXER vehicles. Minister Jeremy Quin, on 9 June, said:

 

Details of the variants of Boxer currently on order by quantity can be found in the table below. The Department is looking to enhance and uplift the size of the total UK Boxer order as we work to implement the Integrated Review. This may include new variants and partnering opportunities with industry and our Allies.

 

First, the Good: the Minister gives up new hopes that an expansion of the order might still happen. For a while, MOD talk had pretty much killed off any hope in this sense, but the answer is pretty univocal in suggesting that there will be adjustments.





The list offers many surprises because so far we had been given very little reason to believe there would be such a wide range of sub-variants. An Engineer Section vehicle was expected, but nothing had so far been heard about a Mortar Carrying vehicle. A Repair sub-variant is also an interesting semi-surprise.

It is interesting to note that the “Command Post” is expected to come in a significant number of sub-variants as well, including OPV (a surprisingly old fashioned definition) for Fires direction; an Electronic Warfare & SIGINT sub-variant and a BLOS comms carrier.

The inclusion of these sub-variants is, for the most part, Good. How good, we will only know when the effective mission fit becomes known. The mortar carrying vehicle, for example: will it an APC giving mobility to a L16 81mm mortar team? Will it at least have a turntable and roof port for firing from inside the vehicle, or not even that…? Or maybe there is scope to finally adopt a turreted, heavy mortar…? Unlikely, but it would be a great capability boost and, for the moment, we just don’t know what might or might not happen.

The “Recce / Fire Support Vehicle” is probably the APC “up-gunned” with JAVELIN on the RWS. Around 50 such enhanced fits were expected, and the removal from service of WARRIOR has given new impetus to attempts to further improve the otherwise pretty dismal firepower of MIV.

A notable aspect is that several of these sub-variants will bring entirely new capabilities that the BOXER family, at present, does not offer. The development of the relevant modules should happen in the UK, according to know commercial agreements, and there could be some genuine export potential as well, if the resulting product is valid. 


While it remains dubious, at best, that BOXER's modularity will ever have a usefulness in terms of "on the battlefield re-roling", the possibility of developing mission modules in isolation from the base vehicle should greatly ease the creation of new variants and sub-variants 

The Bad is undoubtedly the tiny number of Infantry Carriers, an incomprehensible 85. Even assuming the Fire Support Vehicle is effectively an upgunned infantry carrier despite being counted in with the “Specialists”, the combined number of 147 vehicles is still insufficient to equip 4 infantry battalions.

They are numbers more appropriate to just 2 battalions… which is what Army 2020 Refine needed, since the plan specifically called for the ability to deploy only one of the 2 STRIKE brigades at a time. 1 Brigade, 2 battalions.

 Indeed, this might be the explanation for the tiny number of ICVs in the order.

The loss of WARRIOR means that such a plan no longer makes any sense, and adjustements are indispensable.

And this leads us straight to the Ugly side of this list: the overlap / confliction with AJAX.

Until a short time ago, the UK was of course planning to equip 2 armoured brigades and 2 STRIKE brigades on top. Although AJAX itself was going to be in the STRIKE Brigades for the most part, it appears clear that the support variants of the family (ARGUS for the engineers, ATHENA command posts, ARES, APOLLO, ATLAS) were primarily destined to units aligned with the tracked, armoured brigades.

ARGUS would work alongside TITAN and TROJAN in the two heavy engineer regiments, for example, with BOXER ESV working with the 2 engineer regiments of the STRIKE brigades instead.

Now, however, there will only be 2 heavy mechanized Brigade Combat Teams in total, with the other two BCTs being Light Role. Clearly, you are not going to put the engineers in BOXERs while the infantry of the brigade moves, at best, in FOXHOUND with JACKAL for fire support.

This means, effectively, that the 52 ARGUS and the 60 BOXER Engineer Section Vehicles are now virtually overlapping directly, as there are only 2 Engineer regiments of this weight class to re-equip, not 4. The OPV variant, similarly, is increasingly overlapping with the number of AJAX to be kitted for Joint Fires direction.

The sum of 112 ATHENA command posts and 123 between BOXER command posts and command-utility vehicles also leads to a frankly absurd situation in which the UK will have a Command Post vehicle virtually for every single Infantry Carrying vehicle in service army-wide (up to 147 BOXER, as discussed earlier, plus 93 ARES, vs 112 + 123 command posts). A 1:1 ratio is clearly insane.  

I think it unavoidable that this overlap will need correcting, somehow.

We have all been following with increasing despair and rage the embarrassing situation of AJAX and it is hard not to muse about the implications of these sub-variants. if there are only two “heavy” regiments to equip, you suddenly only need one of the two sub-fleets, not both. In practice, if AJAX was to be cancelled, the loss of ARGUS would not be an immediate issue.

This generates unpleasant thoughts.




A more optimistic way of looking at it is that, if AJAX survives and the BOXER sub-variants are acquired in these numbers,  the Army then “only” needs to procure more Infantry Carriers to get back in a position in which it can properly mechanize all 4 Brigade Combat Teams. The 2 armoured brigades would keep the AJAX-based support variants, for obvious reasons, while the “Light BCTs” could be progressively uplifted with BOXER to become fully-wheeled formations.

Third option: the current balance of variants and sub-variants is modified, drastically reducing the number of BOXERs to be used as “Command Posts” and Engineer Section Vehicles, in favor of more ICVs / FSVs.


One thing is clear: this is the Army's position in regards to BOXER at the moment 


Judging from the list, an increase in the number of ICVs is both urgent and unavoidable. What’s left to be discovered is what adjustments will be adopted to make that increase possible.

 


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Combined Arms Regiments on the way to the Future Combat Team

I’ve already written a first piece about the (limited) options available to the Army for the future in light of the cut of the whole WARRIOR fleet, but it’s time to go a bit more in detail about the topic. The reason to return on this topic is the fact that we have basically been told in no uncertain terms that there is no additional purchase of BOXERs on the way, and that out to at least 2030, AJAX and BOXER in the current numbers and shapes are all there is to work with.

As we try and think of where the Army might go from here, we cannot ignore what the minds of the Armed Forces have indicated, in the Integrated Operating Concept 2025, as the necessary attributes of the future force:

 

Have smaller and faster capabilities to avoid detection

Trade reduced physical protection for increased mobility

Rely more heavily on low-observable and stealth technologies

Depend increasingly on electronic warfare and passive deception measures to gain and maintain information advantage

Include a mix of crewed, uncrewed and autonomous platforms

Be integrated into ever more sophisticated networks of systems through a combat cloud that makes best use of data

Have an open systems architecture that enables the rapid incorporation of new capability

Be markedly less dependent on fossil fuels

Employ non-line-of-sight fires to exploit the advantages we gain from information advantage

Emphasize the non-lethal disabling of enemy capabilities, thereby increasing the range of political and strategic options

 

The Army’s “Conceptual Force 2035”, which very much doubles down on the same kind of design drivers. This study imagines an army of 3 smaller but capable divisions made of lighter, faster, more deployable, largely independent battlegroups, with dispersion being the norm. Conceptual Force 2035 specifies that the disaggregated fighting requires Combined Arms capabilities to be organic at lower level, to ensure the dispersed Battlegroups do not have to wait for a superior echelon to make supports available. This includes having more organic Indirect Fire capability and employing it alongside greater ATGW capability to offset the capability currently delivered by MBTs through “lighter” vehicles.




The BGs will be expected to carry out, and I quote, deeper, more risky and aggressive manoeuvre. Robotic, sacrificial systems will be used to press on reconnaissance, and I quote again, to the point of destruction, in order to enable the BG to use frenetic op-tempo to make up for the lack of mass.

The resulting BGs would be around 500-strong but are supposed to match the current mission set of a 1250-strong armoured BG though the use of robotics and higher op-tempo. The Conceptual Force imagines that, from around 82.000 regulars, the British Army would be able to form some 48 such Combined Arms battlegroups. The organization would work to the Rule of 4, with an Assault Force, Covering Force, Echelon Force and Reserve Force. These BGs would be grouped in Brigades with enough CS and CSS elements to fight, again, largely independently from the Division level.

The key attributes described above, for me, are the key to the whole concept: if you want to fight dispersed and be lighter but still capable, you must pack a serious punch and have far more capability pushed down the levels of command. This is something that in STRIKE we are just not seeing in any meaningful way. Firepower has been dead last in the list of priorities so far, and that makes the whole thing not credible.

In fact, what is most striking about the Conceptual Force 2035 is that it is so entirely alien to what the British Army actually looks like today, in structure, “culture” and programmes. For example, Permanent Combined Arms Battlegroups are anathema in today’s British Army and among the purists of capbadges and specialty separations. CS and CSS are a scarce resource completely out of balance with the number of infantry battalions. Indirect Fires and ATGWs are weaknesses, not strengths. The Rule of 4 is nowhere to be seen, and indeed resources in multiple areas are spread so thin than even the Rule of 3 is dubious.


Future Combat Team

2035 is not that far away, especially in terms of defence procurement timelines. The current BOXER procurement effort will end in 2030, for example (having been accelerated, as we know: it was 2032 until a short while back). It is not clear if the Integrated Review has actually done anything to accelerate the Mobile Fires Platform program to replace AS90, which had once aimed at 2026 but then had IOC moved to 2029. For all the hints dropped so far, the Review has not changed the 2029 target. CHALLENGER 3 itself starts going operational only in 2027, and so on.

The Conceptual Force 2035 is not a far flung future: is the immediate future that is being slowly built right now. The glacial pace of Defence procurement means that this decade plus equals to a virtual “tomorrow”.

We have to face one painful reality: BOXER and AJAX are what the Army must work with. Before 2030 there is little to no possibility of seeing any major addition, such as a second batch of BOXERs being ordered.  

Trying to reconcile the equipment available and the current army structure with the above described aims is thus the most urgent undertaking facing the Army.

The STRIKE brigade is dead, but many of the underlying concepts live. This is not a bad thing in itself: the British Army is small and does need to try and fight in a different, more “insurgent” way. So long as it doesn’t lie to itself about what is achievable, and the means it would take to fight in that different way, the drive for innovation is commendable.

My readers know that I’ve opposed the STRIKE brigades relentlessly over the years. I did it because, the more the project “progressed”, the clearer it became that it did not deliver a formation that matched the idea. Moreover, it was clear that it would bring about disaster in an already overheated modernization plan. And sadly, the cancellation of WCSP followed, as was entirely predictable.

My readers already know that I do not believe that wheels in themselves are key to adopting a more dispersed kind of fighting, and certainly I will never side with the British Army in pretending that having wheels is sufficient to change battle dynamics. Fighting dispersed is complex, dangerous and demanding. It requires more capability, not less. It requires capabilities currently relegated at higher command levels to be distributed far more widely, at far lower level. One such example is air defence: dispersion alone, in the age of the UAV and airpower in general, cannot possibly be a solution to anything if the dispersed groups have little to no ability to defend themselves from threats from the air.

I also do not agree with the Army’s latest apparent pretention that it can just decide to “fight the deep” with less care for the “close”. It started with STRIKE itself, of course: depending on the day and on who you talked to, STRIKE sounded exactly like a force pushing deep into a disorganized enemy rear line, but without an earlier phase of combat to punch a breach in the enemy’s positions. And as I’ve written many, many times, I just don’t see how you could do that: having BOXER riding on wheels is definitely not enough to think that, however fluid the battlespace might be, your battlegroups can just infiltrate unseen and always pick their targets at leisure in an imaginary rear area where you get to target A2AD platforms without the enemy picking you apart.

However dispersed notional Russian battlegroups might be in a region, after all, they have access to such amounts of artillery that they will have a much easier time closing up “gaps” than the British Army in trying to exploit them. Not to mention that most, if not all peers and near peers have wheeled formations of their own, invariably more heavily armed by far, which can at least match, if not exceed, any perceived mobility advantage given by BOXER.

Wheels, however, do have unquestioned merits in making a ground force element more readily capable to move independently over long distances without depending on semi-trailers and trucks. Wheeled armour also tends to be less thirsty, which means it can do with a smaller logistic train. For a small Army with a (relatively) small budget, wheels can represent a serious advantage.

I have not changed my mind: ideally, tracks go with tracks and wheels go with wheels, so that each formation can maximize its best characteristics. I’ve always criticized the STRIKE brigade’s half-track nature, and I continue to think it is a mistake.

Yet I’m about to call for the permanent, organic mixing of AJAX and BOXER.

I do it purely because I don’t think there is a better alternative possible with what the Army has and will have in the future. If there is no chance to get any significant new purchase of combat vehicles of either kind before 2030 at the earliest, then I don’t think there is a way to keep AJAX and BOXER apart, because taken in isolation they are both inadequate.

One could envisage an effort to maintain separate tracked, heavy formations, but not without tweaking and probably expanding the AJAX order. If AJAX was an IFV, it could replace Warrior. But AJAX has no room to carry infantry and there is no real way to change this fact. The structure of the vehicle and the vast turret ring (specified in part because there once was to also be a Medium Armour variant with 120mm smoothbore gun) prevent any conversion to an IFV. It is also probably next to impossible to pursue a “rewriting” of the contract that de-scopes some of the AJAX to make room for a new IFV variant, which General Dynamics is ready to offer and has tried (and failed) to sell to Australia.

However, the ARES APC already on order could easily be delivered with internal arrangements for carrying 7-8 dismounts. If more ARES were ordered and configured accordingly, it would be possible to create Combined Arms Battlegroups by mixing AJAX and ARES. Such BGs of AJAX and ARES carrying infantry could become a prototype for the Future Combat Team of 2035, adopting the Rule of 4 and beginning to develop true “Find, Fix and Strike” mechanisms by adding in organic Indirect Fires.

If more ARES could be squeezed in to make this happen, it would be possible to hang on to the superior all-terrain mobility of tracks and ensure that the remaining CHALLENGER 2s have appropriate intimate support. The two Heavy brigades could thus consist each of a single tank regiment and 2/3 AJAX/ARES BGs.



FRES SV could have been a true engine of evolution for the armoured component, but that ship has now sailed and the Army has jumped into the wheels camp 

But sadly every evidence at the moment suggest that this is not going to happen.

And even if that option was to materialize, it would be very difficult to create wheel-only battlegroups out of the current BOXER purchase because plenty of key variants are not included (above all, nobody seems to have thought about what happens with the mortars, for example). The Army has quickly killed off any hope that a significant change might be on the cards. While heavier weapons on some of the APCs are likely (alleluia!), we have been told in no uncertain terms that there will be no big turret and cannon retrofit.

The BOXER battalion will in other words continue to lack the means to support the infantry fight directly onto the target; and will also lack the superior sensors and communications fitted to the AJAX. While it is to be hoped that MORPHEUS and LeTacCIS will upgrade army comms and make it much easier to coordinate indirect fires from just about any combat vehicle, the BOXER battalion will continue to have limited capabilities in this sense.

I can’t imagine BOXER fighting “on its own”, organized in battalions of extremely lightly armed APCs. The resulting formation is way too weak, and BOXER takes the place of WARRIOR but does not replace it, as the Army insists it can’t be an equivalent IFV.

As for the tracked counterpart, the AJAX “cavalry” regiment with little to no dismounts is not a credible formation, in my mind. We have to face the truth: AJAX has been purchased as a like for like CRV(T) replacement, only much larger and heavier. ARES is just a supersized SPARTAN, with the same number of dismounts. The regiments have been planning to essentially keep the Sabre squadron structure unchanged, with a tiny number of dismounts in ARES/SPARTAN APCs supporting the Troops of AJAX/SCIMITAR. For all the talk of innovation, the AJAX project is one of the most conservative ones in history.

The difference with what the US Army is doing, to make just one example, is stark: the cavalry variant of the BRADLEY, the M3 with only 2 dismounts, has been progressively abandoned and the Squadrons are moving to the 6-36 model with 6 BRADLEY IFVs each with 6 dismounts in the back.

AJAX looks even more retrograde if compared with plans for Italian cavalry formations combining a squadron of CENTAURO 2 8x8 tank destroyers with 120/44 supported by a combination of FRECCIA 8x8 in Far and Close variants, the first equipped with battlefield surveillance radar and optics for use dismounted or on telescopic mast, the latter with UGV and SPIKE anti-tank missiles.

The STRIKE designers had already realized that, given the characteristics of the two purchases, AJAX and BOXER would have to operate together. Sadly, while this remains suboptimal in many ways, it remains in my opinion true. Neither of the two fleets can go far on its own.

Where I diverge from the Army on this point is on the belief that, once we have accepted this is the reality, we should not insist in keeping the units apart during “peacetime”. Especially since, as we have been told in no uncertain terms in the Review, there no longer is a peacetime. We are in the age of constant competition: if we accept this is true, then we need to adapt.

The increasingly artificial separation of “cavalry” and “infantry” in the British Army causes all sorts of historical limitations that really have no reason to exist. During the whole STRIKE brigade experience, to make but one example, it was tacitly understood that the Battlegroup to be formed on the base of the single Cavalry regiment on AJAX would have no Support company with mortars, snipers etcetera. Why? Because it is not needed? No, of course not. Because infantry battalions have those things; cavalry doesn’t.

The Household Cavalry regiment, truth be told, has been laboring for several years now to “experiment” with an added Sniper troop and, incredible innovation, a mortar troop that it was “trying” to stand up back in 2019. Reading of these “groundbreaking” innovation measures, year after year, has been frankly incredibly depressing. It gives a sense of an army that really, really struggled to move on past deeply ingrained but often utterly stupid habits.

I can already hear the many voices that will insist that we keep the infantry battalion and cavalry regiment well separated, and rely on battlegrouping to mix the pieces together only “in time of need”. But I personally insist on saying that this practice is no longer acceptable, as it seems to only ever perpetuate bad army habits and tribalism between capbadges.

I don’t see a single genuinely good reason why we should continue to keep separate formations that will never deploy on operations without being broken apart and reassembled in combined arms battlegroups.

All too often, when looking back to operations, the post-action analysis contains the passage “the units in the battlegroup had only been together for a short time and didn’t know each other enough”, or similar remarks. Lieutenant M. Dewis, on TANK 2020 (volume 102, No 801) makes a series of recommendations to try and save the Regimental system while enabling the creation of effective Combined Arms Teams.

He stops short of advocating for permanent overarching formations, but he underlines the need for broader, more stable affiliations and more cross-training. At the same time he can’t help but note that Battlegroup level training is expensive and an increasingly rare commodity at a time in which it is more desperately needed than ever. It’s all good to insist on social networking and “forming and storming” by “intruding” in each other’s low level training events as much as possible, and simulation and tabletop wargames obviously help, but I don’t think half-measures are adequate.

The Army’s Conceptual Force 2035 is clear in its working assumption that the future is the combined arms Future Combat Team. It is time for the Army to move in that direction in a serious way, if it believes its own innovative thinking.

 

Combined Arms Regiment: the stepping stone to the Future Combat Team

The main physical problem to overcome in creating a permanent Combined Arms Regiment is the fact that AJAX and BOXER will not be based in the same place.

Or will they…? BOXER was heading to Catterick until WARRIOR was supposed to carry on, but now I’m finding it hard to imagine that the plan won’t change. I’m expecting the WARRIOR barracks in and around Salisbury plain to become the BOXER barracks under the new plans.

If I’m right, the number one problem disappears as BOXER ends up living next door to the AJAX.

The rest is primarily a matter of Regimental tribalism and career management.

Does the Regiment need to vanish to allow the formation of the permanent Combined Arms Team? The US Army experience suggests that it is not necessary, as the Regiment could still connect together elements that are parceled out into the Combined Arms Teams.

Indeed, such parceled elements are smaller than a current, formed regiment/battalion, but not by too terribly much. There should be plenty of options to preserve career options, if not to improve them. The geographical proximity in basing should also alleviate any perceived damage to regimental unit and ethos.

The Combined Arms Regiment I propose bear resemblance to the Combined Arms Battalion of the US Army of a few years back, and are essentially permanent Square battlegroups, immediately familiar to the British Army as well. 2 Squadrons of AJAX supporting 2 infantry companies in BOXERs, with a third AJAX squadron for reconnaissance and screening (borne out of what would have once been the Recce platoons of WARRIOR battalions) and a Fire Support Company.

Since then, the US Army has taken the, debatable, decision to go from Square to Triangular organization in no small part in order to move one company of M1 MBTs into the Brigade’s cavalry Squadron, to beef up its ability to fight for information.

In practice, the Combined Arms Regiment would be composed by 2 closely integrated and aligned “battalions”, one of infantry, one of cavalry. Each battalion could maintain its ties to its own Regimental system, but on the battlefield it would of course be the CAR that would be in control.

JAVELIN missiles would be pushed down to the companies, with at least some of the BOXERs also equipped with the single launcher on the RS4 PROTECTOR RWS. Apparently some 50 such up-armed RWSs are planned, and their number might increase.

About 50% of the BOXER APCs should come equipped with the Grenade Machine Gun, and in Germany they have developed a system that couples the RWS with GMG to a Spexer 2000 3D Mk III AESA radar. Using air-bursting grenades, this combination is able to provide anti-UAV defence, and the British Army should urgently adopt it. It is a very basic solution, pretty limited, but it is at least a first step in the right direction and one that can be brought online with minimal expenditure and impact on the BOXER procurement.


The AESA radar, coupled with the GMG with airburst grenades, offers some protection from incoming drones / loitering munitions 

The Army hopes to “improve” firepower on some of the BOXERs in as-yet undecided ways. The adoption of the M230LF light 30x113 mm gun might be an option; if we are really lucky they will consider going with a Moog modular turret that would open up possibilities to boost not just anti-surface capability, but anti-air as well. The STRYKER for Manoeuvre SHORAD, the “MARAUDER” for the US Army, is an example of what can be achieved with such systems.

The Support Company will ensure that each CAR has its own mortars, snipers, UAVs / UGVs in good time, and missile Overwatch. With JAVELIN pushed forth into the infantry companies, the current anti-tank platoons would instead operate the Mounted Close Combat Overwatch capability which is to come from the Battlegroup Organic Anti-Armour programme.

To ensure the group has access to better organic Indirect Fire capability, the aim would be to acquire a turreted 120mm mortar as well, keeping pace with what is by now a standard pick for mechanized formations.

Like in the STRIKE brigades, the task for AJAX would be in no small part to intimately support the infantry. An IFV without ability to carry infantry, by all means. Its sensor suite, in addition, would have to be exploited to the max to ensure that Indirect Fires, organic and non-organic, can timely be brought to bear.

The “Cavalry battalion” would thus have up to 3 Squadrons, 2 of which aligned with the infantry companies and another “free” to scout ahead and provide screening and targeting.

The “infantry battalion” would have responsibility for the 2 infantry companies and the Support Company.

It should be possible, without acquiring any additional BOXER or AJAX, to form at least 6 such CARs. Not “cavalry”, not “infantry”. Permanent, combined arms BGs that will have to deliver that mix of “Find, Fix and Strike” capability by progressively integrating more indirect fire options, and the ability to target them from, if not any soldier, certainly from pretty much any squad and combat vehicle.

These BGs will have to progressively evolve towards those “Future Combat Teams” envisaged by the Conceptual Force 2035. A key capability to bring in as quickly as possible to enable that evolution is the Land Precision Fires system, which is meant to succeed EXACTOR MK2 and eventually expand striking range towards the 60 km mark. Land Precision Strike is an Artillery program, but this should not be allowed to stovepipe it away from the combined arms BGs. Land Precision Strike must become an Army-wide effort to give battlegroups a new and enhanced lethality.

Short Range Air Defence will also need to move forwards to become an organic component of the dispersed battlegroups, because UAVs are going to be everywhere. The SHORAD platform, ideally, must become a more multi-purpose system. Equipment-wise, STORMER HVM already is a multi-purpose system since LMM MARTLET missiles would be plenty good against surface targets as well, but there does not seem to be any real willingness to exploit this possibility. It is no good to claim that air defence is too complex and specialized and must remain stovepiped within specialist formations: if there is one thing we must squeeze out of digital technology and potentially AI is the ability to spread out “complex” mission capabilities across a wider user base. Otherwise there will never be enough to truly pursue dispersion.

The Army has lost mass and has lost many tanks as well; lethality cannot continue to be an afterthought. It is time to seriously approach the problem of how to increase it to compensate the other weaknesses. It is no good to only ever talk about compensating loss of armour with Indirect Fires while doing absolutely nothing to make it a reality. The Army needs to demonstrate that it is doable and that it is committed to a dramatic increase of firepower at lower command levels.

In order to ensure that as much money as possible goes towards the new capabilities, vehicle variants and additional vehicle purchases needed, the Army will have to get better at setting its priorities.

It remains foolish, in my opinion, that the British Army has prioritized ambulance and command post variants for the BOXER over more “fighty” frontline roles. I’ve already asked this question in the past, but I will formulate it again: does the ambulance vehicle really need to be a BOXER…? I fully understand it is desirable, but I don’t think it is necessary.




Again, a priority for me would also be to re-evaluate the variants of MIV to be procured, reducing to the bare minimum the number of ambulances and command posts in favor of instead pursuing, with maximum urgency, a 120mm mortar and an ATGW variants. With a wiser choice of priority on the variants to include in the order, the 508 BOXERs already on order could equip more than just a paltry 4 battalions. I’ve written about this in greater detail in a previous article.  

 The Ambulance role and, wherever possible, the C2 role should be “offloaded” onto much cheaper Multi Role Vehicle Protected (MRV-P) variants.

I understand the allure of having everything on the same vehicle base, and I realize that there is no safe rear echelon when fighting dispersed and dealing with enemies who can contest, if not win control of the air and dominate the Fires battle. But I still don’t see “BOXER-for-everything” being in any way a solution.

Moreover, it is painfully obvious that the money is not and will never be enough for such an approach. Surely it makes sense to be very selective when it comes to what should ride in an extremely expensive BOXER and what can make do with something else. In fact, this is exactly what already happens in other countries: France definitely does not have an ambulance variant for VBCI, but rather for the less expensive GRIFFON. Italy, similarly, has limited its FRECCIA 8x8 almost exclusively to combat, frontline roles, using the Iveco ORSO for the supporting roles.

BOXER and Multi Role Vehicle – Protected should, similarly, ensure they work together to cover all bases, so that the BOXER purchase can be laser-focused on the combat roles, maximizing the mechanization of the army while keeping costs as low as practicable.

In the previous article, already mentioned and linked, I offer a more detailed discussion of what France and Italy are doing, so I won’t repeat the same things here. I will note that, finally, the British Army has last year tested the Elbit RHINO armoured shelter / container kitted out as command post. I’d like to see a lot more effort going in this direction, rather than in hundreds of super-expensive BOXER and ATHENA vehicles.

What practical problem is solved by putting the command post into a BOXER, at the end of the day? The main enemies of the command post in a high intensity scenario are Fires and Air attacks, and BOXER is not really going to give you a relevant survivability boost against those.

Being able to command and communicate on the move by ensuring the new data-radio systems have the relevant capabilities is going to make much more of a difference than BOXER’s armour does.

If the Army truly believes in innovation, it must be ready to truly revolutionize the command post, exploiting modern comms on the move and the possibility to reach back for support. Last year, the Royal Marines had their experimental exercise in Cyprus and their command and control on the ground was both slimmed down and revolutionized, and enabled by reach-back all the way not just to the ships, but to the homeland. The 1st Sea Lord himself was able to connect directly from his own station.

There are increasingly effective ways to ensure that the command function can be disaggregated, dispersed, handled faster and on the move, and with the support of staff physically located far enough from the battlefield to be safe. Naturally, this opens up new vulnerabilities in broadband, communications, risk of jamming and cyber attacks, but the Army itself is saying they prefer to wrestle in this domain rather than in the physical one. They did so in the moment they wrote down their guidance for the future by claiming that disaggregate operations and indirect fires are to counter the lack of heavy armour. That approach will inexorably mean the ability to communicate and share data and targeting third-part weapons becomes even more crucial than it already is.

Like everything else in life, it’s a compromise, but perfect solutions don’t exist. There are just good and bad compromises.

Combined Arms Regiments are needed to truly drive on this revolution within the Army, by unifying the efforts and ensuring historical, unreasonable divisions are effectively removed.