One army in the world that is adopting the british model of Multi Role Brigades and organic, deployable reserve forces if the Australian army. The analogies in the plan are (for what we know, considering that the new British Army structure is not expected to be announced before June 11 at the earliest) very relevant, and since the Australian "Beersheba" plan has been explained in good detail, it is very interesting to give it a look and try to reason on what aspects also could apply to the british army.
Plan Beersheba reorganizes the Regular and Reserve components of the australian army. The regular brigades are being reorganized as follows:
1st Brigade, Darwin - Currently Mechanized, to become Multi Role Brigade
3rd Brigade, Townsville - Currently Light Role, to become Multi Role Brigade
7th Brigade, Brisbane - Currently Motorized, to become Multi Role Brigade
Other than the fact that the australians call them Multi-role Maneuver Brigades (MMBs) and regardless of the fact that they are much smaller than the planned british formations, the concept behind the restructuring is the same.
Each MMB is to have two infantry battalions and one Armoured Cavalry regiment, for the Recce role and with an embedded Tank Squadron of 14 vehicles. Australia has just 59 tanks, M1A1 refurbished and sold by the US in 2006 for 500 millions, and all of them support a single tank regiment, which is however set to lose a further 14/15 vehicles which are going into mothball in the latest announced cuts, and there are doubts on the effective chances of the Army of keeping the 3 squadrons needed for the MMBs viable and effective.
Here we already have an interesting consideration to make: is the british army possibly going down this very same path as part of the cuts? With the rumors of substantial reductions to the Royal Armoured Corps and the words of the SDSR in mind ("The multi-role brigades will include: reconnaissance forces to gain information even in high-threat situations; tanks, which continue to provide a unique combination of protection, mobility and firepower; and infantry operating from a range of protected vehicles. The brigades will be self-supporting, having their own artillery, engineer, communications, intelligence, logistics and medical support.") the only observation possible is that each brigade should have either a Recce Regiment and a Tank Regiment (now considered unlikely) or a single armour regiment combining the two roles.
Add to this the rumor that many of the remaining tanks are to be given to the Reserves, and a possible explanation is the rationalization of the RAC with the reduction to five or six Regular regiments and N Reserve regiments, with the regular regiments having 2 FRES SV Squadrons, 1 squadron on a 4x4, wheeled vehicle (Jackal?) and one tank squadron.
At least one tank regiment and one Formation Recce regiments have been mentioned by the press as at risk, so the above hypothesis might well be correct, with the two trades losing a number of regiments each, with the other ones merging together in the new hybrid. However, at the moment this is, it is worth reminding it, speculation based on the incomplete information so far available.
The sixth regiment would cover the training and demonstration roles and would act as a "regular reserve" of manpower for enduring operations: exactly what 1st Royal Tank Regiment is doing already, after losing the CBRN role, given wholly to the RAF Regiment following the demise of the Fuchs vehicles.
The rationale for the move to MMBs is explained in very clear way by this statement of Major General Caligari:
"...we have been struggling for almost 10 years to rotate forces overseas. We have taken Mechanised units out of Darwin and turned them into Motorised units and we send them to Afghanistan, we have brought them back after eight months and said (to them) you haven’t done any thing (operations) mechanised for a year and you are no longer qualified in Mech and you have got to re-train. We put them back into their mechanised vehicles and we start to retrain them and them we start to re-assign them to another operation. You have got to be able to rotate like forces behind everyone else. It makes logistics easier, it makes the force preparation for mission specific training, makes a whole raft of other things far simpler. And from my perspective it makes what the Army does (to Navy and Air Force) far easier to describe, rather than trying to describe what the difference is between a Mechanised Brigade and a Motorized Brigade and a Light Brigade because they are all fundamentally different. Now we will have the same structures across the three.""When I was a Brigade commander I trained soldiers for deployment to Afghanistan but I was drawing soldiers from all over Australia. I was calling on 7 BDE in Darwin and putting them in Townsville. They were spending 3 months in addition to their 6 or 8 month deployment just training to get there. That is not family friendly. And then we moved into let's do it by Brigades. Let's make sure that the whole Brigade, the whole effort that goes overseas comes from a single Brigade. At the same time we have got 2 DIV dealing with its own operations. Well let's put those two (elements) together.I have got a Multi-Role Manoeuvre Brigade that will now be on reset, (that we will be the one that has just come home from operations on contingency), I have got one that is readying to go and I have got a third one that is ready to got or is actually deployed."
It is an explanation of the main reason behind the MRB concept that works perfectly well for the UK as well: the British Army has long been facing the same issues, and already in 2008 the solution had been identified in the MRB structure.
In terms of support and strategic enablers, the Australian Army fields the brigades 6, 17 and 16, with the first being responsible for Command Support and Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare (CSISTAREW). 17th Brigade is a Combat Service Support Brigade, while the 16th Brigade is the Army Aviation formation, with a regiment on the Tiger attack helicopter and two regiments on on MRH90, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters.
The enablers have seen changes inspired by operational experience and by the need for savings: on the plus side there are plans for 5 new Chinook helicopters, a third EOD troop to be raised, a third Shadow UAV system to be rolled into service, and the restructuring of air defence onto 6 troops in 2 batteries; on the bad side the Army is losing its water transport capability, which probably will go out to a civilian contractor, perhaps something on the lines of the British Army arrangement for Heavy Equipment Transporter trucks, and it is also seeing a heavy restructuring in Bulk supplies logistics capability.
Combat Engineer regiments are to be expanded, as are Special Forces and Intelligence Battalion.
Note that the Australian army has determined that a "1 in 4" rule for deployment would be the most desirable, but they have had to accept the impossibility of the proposition: to sustain a 1 in 4 rule would take a fourth regular brigade that the Army just won't get.
The aspiration is to have a 1 in 4 rule at least in the Enablers, by using the reserves to stand up, in the next future, a fourth unit for each crucial capability. Much will depend on funding, though, especially considering that the defence budget in Australia has just been quite dramatically cut.
The combat elements, 3 regular brigades and 6 reserve ones, are to work on a 36 months Force Generation cycle with three stages: Readying, Ready/Deployed, Reset. A brigade will be "ready" for a period of 12 months, but it is not clear if a deployment in war zone would also last so long. In the US Army, it does.
Notoriously, the British Army works to a 1 in 5 rule, also on 36 months FORGEN, with 6 months in readyness/deployment. The notional phases of the british FORGEN are:
Mission Specific Training
Unit and Battlegroup-level hybrid training
High Readyness / pre-deployment training
The British Army has been expanding some of its enablers in order to meet the Rule of the 5 and make enduring deployments possible (5 Regiment RA, 39 Regiment RA, UAV batteries of the combined 32 and 47 Regiments RA) but it is to be seen if the additional batteries can be retained despite the budget and manpower cuts.
If they cannot be maintained, it is crucial that the Territorial Army is built up and organized to provide the Army with the missing battery. While this is apparently already the case (the example being 101 Regiment (V) Royal Artillery, which has 2 batteries on GMLRS and 2 STA batteries, which should enable 39 and 5 Regiments to meet the 1 in 5 rule), the reality is that only the creation of additional regular batteries solved the problem for Herrick ops.
The most interesting element in Beersheba is the improved use of Reserves under "Whole Force" concept. Since this is what the British Army is trying to do as well, it is helpful to look at what the Australians are doing.
Their 6 reserve brigades, under 2nd Division HQ, are being restructured and assigned in number of 2 to each regular brigade. Their role is pretty well specified, and their contribution is to provide a battlegroup-sized reinforcement to their supported regular brigade.
In practice, a regular australian brigade with 2 infantry battalions will be able to deploy as a 3-battlegroup formation, with the third being from the Reserve, with training focused on Stabilization Operations.
The combined force of the Army (regular and reserve) will total 50.000 men.
In order to use reserves in the most efficient way, a number of measures have been adopted: the reserve artillery regiments are being made into Mortar batteries and given to the infantry battalions, while the names and colours of the historical regiments remain. Units affected are 7 Field Regiment, 23 Field Regiment and 2/10 Field Regiment. Changes also involve 21and 22 Construction Regiments, which are being broken down into Squadrons and incorporated into Combat Engineer Regiments.
The M777 guns are going into the Regular artillery batteries instead, along with the Self Propelled Howitzers (which might actually not arrive due to cuts to the budget) are into the regular artillery formations.
Similarly, all Reserve elements of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps are being re-roled to operate as squadrons of Protected Mobility Vehicles, receiving Bushmaster vehicles.
Rumors from the UK instead seem to suggest that the Reserves will be assigned the AS90 self propelled howitzers and, possibly, most of the tanks. It is hard not to have doubts and hesitations in front of such a proposition. It is not normal to give the most complex and training-intensive equipment to the reserve: it is illogical.
It would almost certainly be better to have the reserves providing mortar batteries to the infantry, L118 batteries, and other capabilities.
On Soldier, the magazine of the british army, the Chief Land Forces announced that the plan is to have two Territorial Army brigades assigned to each regular MRB, and in fact the cut of "at least 2" regional brigade HQs, announced in the SDSR, has been abandoned and all 10 brigades are staying. It is also expected that a number of formations cut from the regular force will become TA units.
The most logical, and most likely to succeed, use of this sizeable force would be something on the lines of what Australia is doing: a deployable battlegroup centered on at least one infantry battalion, perhaps including a L118 gun battery and other elements, of logistic support, of engineers, perhaps even of armor. The Australian model, of having reserves providing crews of protected mobility vehicles, that in the British Army could well be Mastiff 3s for the Mechanized Infantry, appears the most sensible.
The australian model is interesting, and probably the British Army has looked at it with great attention. We will see how many points of contact are confirmed when the long awaited announcement from Philip Hammond finally arrives. The utilization of reserves, the destiny of Challenger II, AS90 and Combat Engineering capabilities are all dark corners in need of a ray of light and clarity.
In general, the utilization of the Territorial Army will be crucial to the future of the British Army, so we have to hope that the right decisions are made.
And, to me, this implies proving the press speculation largely wrong, because what they reported so far, i'm afraid, is a solution that most likely would not work.