Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas... and dig in, because a tough year is coming.

Just a quick line to wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year. My best wishes to all of you.

Now, because i'm a bastard at heart, i will share some of my depression with those who want to read further.

It will be an important and tough year for defence, this one is for sure. There are two events on the horizon that will be of absolute relevance and that will have the potential to slam the death blow on defence, already agonizing after the cuts of 2010 and 2011. These two events are the referendum for the Independence of Scotland and, obviously, the SDSR 2015.
An independent Scotland, make no mistake, would be a gigantic pain in the ass for defence, which would be faced with new, enormous and very expensive challenges, right at a time when the budget is tighter than ever. The SNP's fantasy plans for defence in an independent Scotland are as credible as unicorns gallopping over rainbows. What would be very real in case of a separation would be the cuts, the losses, the dismemberment of the Army and the further emasculation of the other two services.

The road to the next SDSR promises to be painful, as well. The MOD has been underspending since the SDSR, but much of the underspend, instead of being moved into later years to support the needs of defence, has been clawed back by the Treasury with cuts in the Autumn Statements of 2012 and 2013, and in the 2013 budget. The suspect, for a cynic like me, is that the MOD is underspending as a mean to cut even further without having to admit it plainly.

A part of the underspend has been spent on things such as additional Litening III pods (how many?) and the tiny successive orders of Foxhound vehicles that we have seen in the last while. Hammond said that some money will be used to start CROWSNEST next year instead of in 2017, and we shall see if the promise is kept. I very much hope so, because this would at least cut short the AEW gap.
But still, the last two Autumn Statements both raided away hundreds of millions of pounds each. The Autumn Statement 2012 clawed away £245 million in 2013-14 and £490 million in 2014-15.
The Autumn Statement 2013 added another 277 million cut for 2014-15 and announced a 272 million cut for 2015-16.


Multiple voices agree that even the Future Force 2020 structure, already depressingly incapable in several areas, is not going to be affordable unless there's an increase in the defence budget, over and above the promised 1% uplift in the sole Equipment Budget. These voices include RUSI in its overview of the coming year and the Chief of Defence Staff himself, who launched his warning in the traditional, annual lecture.

Depression rules supreme within the force, along with cynism. Scratching beneath the surface, it emerges that things are even worse than they look from the outside. Even relatively inexpensive projects are often unfunded and some did not even make it into the White Board of the "unfunded but with a hope come 2015" projects. Apparently, among these projects, there's the Force Protection Craft for the Royal Marines. This follows the killing, already in 2011, of the Fast Landing Craft project (it'll be 2020 at least before the Marines can try again at replacing the LCU MK10), and earlier still (2008) the killing of the replacement for the venerable BV-206 vehicles.

From the outside, the picture for the Royal Marines is unpleasant to say the least: all their main projects appear to have been killed; one Bay LSD has been sold off; one LPD is in mothball and HMS Ocean is to be withdrawn from service in 2019 without a replacement. 
848 NAS will disband at the end of the year, having concluded the last training course for Sea King HC4 crews on December 19. 846 NAS has been disbanded already in March, leaving the sole 845 with just 11 Sea Kings. 846 NAS will reform on Merlin HC3/3A in September 2014, with 845 NAS following in August 2015.
It is not expected to reform 848 NAS: 845 will instead include an Operational Conversion Flight. The whole force will include 37 crews and 25 helicopters, unless there are further reductions.This is a reduction from 43 crews and a force which once lined over 30 helicopters.
Actually adapting the Merlin for shipboard operations will be a slow affair. The first navalised Merlin is not expected before 2017, and the last won't be around before 2022. For several years, the amphibious force will be extraordinarily poor in dedicate helicopter support.

The fate of 24 Commando Engineer Regiment is somewhat uncertain. The Royal Marines and Navy HQ are locked in a fight against the Army for its survival, trying to reverse the plan for its disbandment. Stood up in 2008 to respond to a chronic shortage of engineer capability in the amphibious brigade, 24 Cdo Eng hasn't even had the time to stand up the planned second field squadron (56 Sqn) before being sacrificed by the Army to the reductions required by Army 2020.
The assignment of 131 Cdo Eng (Reserve) Squadron to a command within the Army, other than to the Cdo Enr Regiment itself is also source of many questions and doubts. 
The Army also wanted to axe 148 (Meiktila) Bty Royal Artillery, but this was thankfully avoided. 29 Cdo Royal Artillery, however has suffered its own reductions, and is down to just 12 Light Guns. Hopefully, it'll at least maintain its batteries.

Lastly, P Squadron, 43 Cdo, a force protection squadron made up by RN personnel, stood up in 2010 to provide "Blue" teams for the force protection of navy and RFA ships at sea, is also disbanding, and this role will fall on the shoulders of the line commando battalions. 40, 42 and 45 Commando are, as a consequence, being asked to generate, more or less constantly, 1.7 units at readiness out of 3, Jane's estimates. A new record.

Next year the Royal Marines will be 350 years old. They have much to be proud off, and much to celebrate. But behind the curtain, the picture is unpleasant. Since 2010, years of effort to build up the most complete and credible amphibious capability in Europe have been squandered and crumbled by reductions in shipping, in supports, in vehicles and landing craft projects. Having recently re-read "3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands No PicNic", by Major General Julian Thompson RM, it is very much alarming to see how the last three years have brought back the Marines on the same dangerous edge of destruction they faced in the early 80s.
The brigade today would have much the same problems it had in 1982, which means, to my cynic mind, that 31 years have been largely wasted and no lesson has actually been learned firmly enough to avoid falling back into the same old pits. The brigade was desperately short of helicopters back then, and would have even less today: 847 NAS is going to have just four Wildcat helicopters, and the Sea King HC4s (which was new in 1982, and is very old today) are far less than back then.
Save for the introduction of Viking and some other kit, the brigade has less of everything: less light guns, less helicopters. The loss of HMS Ocean and the incoherent, messy plans for embarked fixed wing aviation would put the brigade back in the same position as in 1982: no air superiority, no adequate air reconnaissance, little in the ways of air support, and no appropriate helicopter support ship for amphibious operations.

The Royal Navy is probably not without its faults. Thompson in his book remembers how the Navy already in 1970, pressed by cuts and budget problems, tried to halve the number of Commandos from the then 4 down to 2. Ironically, back then it was the Army's opposition that prevented that from happening.
In 1980, the Navy tried again, because faced by the cost of the submarine-borne nuclear deterrent (see the similarities? There's the Successor SSBN on the horizon...) and by a very limited and precise sets of roles assigned in the Cold War scenarios by a MOD 100% focused on Germany and convinced that out of area operations would never happen again. Instead of directly proposing the disbandment of Commando units, the Navy focused then on axing the amphibious shipping (again, see the similarities...). Thompson was told so in December 1981 by First Sea Lord Henry Leach. Not without sadness, of course, but that was the direction the Navy was inclined to follow to preserve other parts of its "body". Argentina's hurried, foolish move came a few months early: had they let the winter pass, and acted later, the carriers and amphibious ships would have all vanished, victims of cuts, and the islands today would be named Malvinas.

The Royal Marines of today are precious to the Navy. Their involvment in Afghanistan has made the whole navy proud and has kept the admirals at the table. For not the first time, the contribution of the commandos has been much greater than their numbers suggest.
Moreover, the flexibility of the RN Response Force Task Group has been proven multiple times since the SDSR came out, with the quick response to events in Libya and, to a lesser degree, to Sirya, and then this year to the Philippines natural disaster.
The Navy HQ is, this time, on their side, i believe. The involvment of Navy HQ in the fight to save 148 Meiktila and 24 Cdo Eng is telling, in this sense.
However, the Army, faced with its own painful cuts, is rowing against them. The parts have inverted, but the Royal Marines still sit in the middle, in an uncomfortable position. Let 2014 be a year of celebration, but never let down the guard! The Royal Navy, stretched far too thin in manpower and budget terms, is accepting tough reductions in amphibious shipping capability despite its support for the Marines, and the Army will be trying to redirect cuts away from itself as well. I fear this is a defining moment: may the 350th birthday not be the last of the Royal Marines as we know them.

The problem, basically, comes down to an alarming lack of strategic cohrence. The rushed and completely financial nature of the SDSR 2010 certainly has a good part of the fault, but the way the decisions made drift completely away from the slogans and strategic narrative is too evident and too disturbing to be excused only on those grounds.
The other half of the High Readiness reaction element, the Air Assault brigade, is in a messy situation of its own. Cut down to just two para battalions (plus reserve battalion) and with supports similarly scaled down, the brigade is no longer effective as a brigade and appears just as hard pressed as the Commandos in sustaining the generation of a battalion-strong task force every year. Binary brigades have been proven ineffective again and again and again. The US Army has just reversed its own try: the Brigade Combat Teams, save for those mounted on Strykers, have two manoeuvre battalions but are now to be enlarged to three, with corresponding uplift in artillery and engineer capability.

In practice, the strategic narrative and the reality of the brigade's capabilities are on diverging paths: having assigned to these two formations key and very demanding roles, with a very tight force generation cycle, the Army has then swiftly moved to weaken both brigades, making them at once busier than ever and weaker than ever, in CS and CSS elements in particular. The battalions in the two High Readiness brigades will constantly rotate in and out of very high readiness, putting the men, the kit and the organisation under severe strain. 
Rushed SDSR or not, i simply can't understand how this is even possible, frankly. It screams wrong in your face from whatever angle you look at it.

Army 2020 strategic narrative, shaped by the Agile Warrior trials and exercises and by doctrinal studies, says that the future will require more littoral manoeuvre capability and more riverine capability. Decisions made: scrap the RLC's landing crafts without replacement, move wide wet gap crossing entirely into the Reserve, reduce amphibious shipping, scrap the Force Protection Craft project which would have given the armed forces an excellent riverine capability, in conformity to the lessons learned in Iraq using LCPV MK5s up rivers.
Again, say one thing, do exactly the opposite.

The aircraft carriers, which should be the cornerstone of the defence strategy which is, in the words, shaped around "small but powerful expeditionary forces", remain bogged down in uncertainty and alarming trial-and-error. It all seems to slowly move ahead, entirely shaped by funding considerations, without a clear cut role and case made for them, when the impending loss of HMS Ocean without a dedicate replacement and the need for air power at sea make the case perfectly clear.

In the air force, the Sentinel R1 hasn't yet a certain future despite proving itself again and again. The Shadow R1 will stay, and it is widely anticipated that the Reaper will eventually be brought into core budget, although there's no certainty yet. The Rivet Joint force will slowly build up to achieve FOC in 2017, while the purchase of a 9th C-17 aircraft is a persistent rumour which for now fails to become a solid reality.
The fast jet combat fleet, in the meanwhile, falls down to alarmingly low numbers. The Tornado GR4 is on its path to retirement: 12(B) Squadron disbands on March 31, 2014, followed the day after by 617 Squadron.
31 March 2015 will see II(AC) Squadron disbanding as well, to reform the day after in Lossiemouth, on Typhoon. In the same month, XV(R) Squadron, the Tornado GR4 OCU, will move from Lossiemouth to Marham, along with the Tornado Engineering Flight. Lossiemouth will bid its final farewell to Tornado GR4, which will only survive for a few more years in Marham, with a mere 2 squadrons. The OCU itself, at some point, will disband and go down to a mere Operational Conversion Flight as the Tornado force approaches its end.
And this is before the SDSR 2015: the pessimist expect the OSD for Tornado to be moved even closer than the currently planned 2019.
Even if the 2019 OSD stands, the RAF will be down to as few as 6 frontline fast jet squadrons by then, hopefully growing back to seven when the second F-35B squadron stands up. That's a tiny airforce, which compares badly to others in the same theorical league: see France, or even Italy.

The hope to see the Typhoon tranche 1 retained and used for something in the long term is all but dead, making the Typhoon program a fearsome waste of money, with 160 expensive aircraft purchased to never employ, effectively, more than around 100 in just five squadrons. A waste of colossal proportions.
Only two squadrons are planned for the F-35B force, and the second (809 NAS) will probably only stand up in the early 2020s. In 2020 the RAF is likely to have only 6 frontline squadrons, five on Typhoon and one on F-35B.
And this is before anything new and nasty happens.

According to Lochkeed Martin, as of October 2013, the F-35B plan for the UK sees 617 Sqn moving to Marham in 2018 with 9 aircraft to work up to Land-based IOC and to begin carrier trials. Five more will be based in the US for training, in the US Marines base Beaufort. 3 more aircraft will be with XVII Sqn, the OEU, on the Edwards AFB.
Of these 18 airplanes, only 4 have been delivered/are on order so far, but the MOD is said to be approving the plan for the purchase of some 14 more. If they are to be delivered by 2018, however, the time is very tight, as roughly two years pass from order to delivery. With just one lone F-35B in LRIP 7 and 4 anticipated in the LRIP 8, we are a long way away from the target. Either the MOD revises these orders upwards, or there will not be 18 aircraft in 2018. Even if there are, the UK, only Level 1 partner in the JSF program, will actually have less airplanes than most other partecipants. Not entirely bad, since the later aircraft will of course be more technically mature and also hopefully less expensive, but this is due to a reduction to just 48 planned purchases, and this is no good.
In any case, this is nonetheless telling of what downsizing the british armed forces actually are going through.

9 aircraft in the UK, 3 in Edwards and 5 in Beaufort. That's all.

The SDSR 2015 is also supposed to fill the bleeding gap in Maritime Aircraft Patrol capability, starting a new programme, but keeping in mind how many other problems there are at hand, it is quite hard to be upbeat.
One little, tiny ray of hope comes from the CBRN real, where the demented decision to withdraw the Fuchs is apparently being reversed, with 8 such vehicles, modernized, being assigned to FALCON Squadron, Royal Tank Regiment, to form a Wide Area CBRN recce and surveillance asset which will be part of the division-level supports (probably will come under Force Troops HQ). FALCON Sqn will be based in Harman Lines in Warminster. FALCON squadron will be a sixth sub-unit, independent from the main role of the regiment as Type 56 tank formation. There isn't yet an official confirmation i can quote, but it seems to be a done deal. In 1982, the Royal Navy saw stupid decisions reversed by the strategic shock of the argentine invasion. In 2011, Libya exposed the stupidity of losing capabilities such as Nimrod (both the maritime patrol and ELINT/SIGINT variants) and the aircraft carriers. But the shock wasn't big enough, and the UK got away with it, sending a few Apaches on HMS Ocean (just five in the moment of greatest effort!) and adding a little bit of extra life on Type 22 frigates and Nimrod R1.
In 2013, the Army was given back its CBRN capability following another strategic shock, the use of gas in Syria.

Royal Tank Regiment post-merger will have: 

Armd Sqn (AJAX): SHQ (2 x CR2); 4 x Armd Tps (each of 4 x CR2).
Armd Sqn (BADGER).
Armd Sqn (CYCLOPS).
Comd & Recce Sqn (DREADNAUGHT). 2 x CR2; and 8 x CVR(T) SCIMITAR.



The question is: what happens when, finally, a big strategic shock comes too late, instead of just in time to cause a hasty reversion of the worst mistakes?
Soon or later, it is bound to happen.

In conclusion, the Armed Forces are far from being healthy. They are, in many ways, exhausted and squeezed to death by immense pressure coming from all sides. In the way ahead, the SDSR 2015 marks a no-return point. And the Scottish issue, coming before that, can represent another such crisis point. Don't believe what SNP says: it would be foolish to expect anything other than sweat and tears in the armed forces if Independence happens.

Merry Christmas, and good luck for the new year, proud warriors. It seems good luck will be very much needed. May some kind of wisdom spirit descend in the minds of those who will write the fate of the armed forces in the coming year.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

The evolving budget situation: reversing bad decisions

In the previous article, about Force Structure, i've noticed the apparent change in the plan for the formationg of Hybrid Engineer Regiments, and documented the ongoing war for the survival of 24 Commando Engineer Regiment.  
Another bad decision of the rounds of cuts of the year 2011 might be reversed soon, according to what Colonel Commandant Royal Tank Regiment has written to the RTR community: the wide area, under-armor CBRN reconnaissance capability of the Army, sacrificed with the early withdrawal of the FUCHS vehicle and the net loss of 319 Army posts in the CBRN specialisation, as all residual capability in this area was moved out of the green army and into the RAF Regiment. In total, the loss of the 9 armored vehicles and of all the army personnel in the role was only estimate to save £129 million over a period of 10 years.
The Fuchs was hurried into service for Operation Granby in 1991
As often happened in the modern history of the british armed forces, a strategic shock came soon afterwards, reminding everyone of just how stupid the decision just took was. The crisis in Syria, with the use of chemical weapons, accelerated the rethink already going on within the MOD, and added new urgency to the restoration of the wide area CBRN surveillance capability. I talked about it at lenght in June.   

Lieutenant-General Christopher Michael Deverell MBE wrote last month about the ongoing planning for the resurrection of such capability, while providing an update on the plans for the merging of 1st and 2nd Royal Tank Regiments into a single Type 56 tank formation as part of the Army 2020 restructuring: 
A message from the Colonel Commandant Royal Tank Regiment 
My main purpose in writing this message is to cover a number of issues that arise as a result of the amalgamation of our two Regiments. The RTR Council has been looking at these issues, significantly assisted by members of all ranks from both Regiments.   
The amalgamation issue that will affect serving members of the Regiment in the most immediate way is dress. So I am pleased to be able to say that the Commanding Officers and Regimental Colonel have agreed on the key aspects of the new Dress Regulations to be adopted on amalgamation, the details of which will be promulgated separately. Suffice to say that black will continue to feature highly.     
The Council has determined that there are a number of amalgamation issues on which it is not yet possible to reach decisions, in which the status quo will therefore continue for the time being. For example, we have not yet been engaged by the Army or the RAC in substantive discussions about Recruiting Areas – so for the time being we would expect to continue to recruit from the same areas of the country that 1 and 2 RTR recruited from. In similar vein, we have not yet formed a view on the distribution of tasks between Regimental Headquarters in Bovington, and the new Regiment in Tidworth. I will report back on these, and other important issues such as the future of the Tank magazine, and of the Association, when I am in a position so to do. But I am now able to let you know what the Council has decided on Squadron names, and on the degree of Scottishness we should seek to maintain, topics that I know will mean a good deal to many of you.

The Council accepts that some of our antecedent Regiments have a tradition of using letters, rather than names, to describe sub-units. However, with the benefit of our considerable experience, and time served in both Regiments, we believe that Squadron names strengthen sub-unit identity in a positive way and that the ability to name our Squadrons offers the Regiment a significant brand advantage over others. We conclude that the advantages of using names, rather than letters, for all our sub-units outweigh the loss of some historical precedent. 
We have therefore decided that, upon amalgamation, the three armoured squadrons in the Royal Tank Regiment will be known as AJAX, BADGER, and CYCLOPS. Command and Reconnaissance Squadron will be known as DREADNAUGHT, and Headquarters Squadron will be known as EGYPT. Should there be a future CBRN Area Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AS&R) Squadron, it will be known as FALCON. These particular names have been chosen because they represent a connection all the way back to the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps in World War 1, as well as to more recent regimental history.  As far as our Scottish heritage is concerned, the Council is proud of this tradition and recognises the benefit it confers in helping us to differentiate ourselves from others. We would not wish it to dominate, but we see it as a net contributor to recruitment. For so long as it is practicable so to do, we would wish to maintain this historical association. We will achieve this by retaining the Pipes and Drums, by painting ‘Chinese Eyes’ on our tanks, and by applying whatever other aspects of Scottishness that the Commanding Officer of the day so authorises. The practicality of this approach will next be reviewed after the referendum on Scottish independence.   

Finally, I should take this opportunity to say something about the formation of the CBRN AS&R squadron. As I write this message, there is a strong possibility that the RTR will be invited to generate an additional squadron to meet this task, over and above our Type 56 Armoured Regiment role. But the Defence Board has not yet made a final decision, so the task may yet fail to materialise, or (less likely) could be given to some other unit to perform. I have been involved in a host of high levels discussions about this task, both as your Colonel Commandant and as a member of the Army Command Group. My position throughout has been that the Army and Defence need an AS&R capability, that the RTR has demonstrated the ability to provide it, and that we stand ready to do so again. My one proviso has been to say that it would not be sensible to double-hat this capability with that of an armoured sub-unit: it needs to be a squadron in its own right. Hopefully, we will know the outcome on this issue within the next few months. 
Fear Naught.  
Lt Gen C M Deverell MBE                                                                       15 November 2013
Restoring the AS&R capability of the armed forces would be a massively welcome move, which would remedy to one of many very questionable, hurried decisions that were taken in 2010 and 2011. Let's hope in good news, for once. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

The evolving budget situation: force structure - UPDATE

Big and small changes have taken place in the structure of regular units, and more changes will happen in the coming months and years. Unfortunately, tracing all of them is complex, as we don’t have a published sub-unit level scheme announcing the changes that will take place. One was printed for the Reserves (which incidentally gave us some information on a few interested regular units which got directly touched by the changes) but none for the regulars, so keeping track of each change is a matter of keeping up with each little hint dropped in MOD publications, as well as the news about disbandment parades on websites and social media connected to the forces.

Air Assault

Serious change has been underway within 16 Air Assault Brigade with its reduction to just two regular army manoeuvre units (2nd and 3rd PARA) plus the reserve PARA battalion (4th PARA). The supporting formations within the brigade have morphed to adapt to this new structure and to the needs of delivering, on rotation, a air assault battlegroup at high readiness.

7 Royal Horse Artillery has lost two batteries, with V Bty disbanding and going into suspended animation and with H Bty (Ramsay’s Troop) moving to 1 Royal Horse Artillery to become a Precision Strike battery (with GMLRS and Exactor).

The regiment retains a total of three batteries, with I Bty (Bull’s Troop) as HQ Bty and F (Sphinx) Bty and G (Mercer’s Troop) batteries in the Light Gun role, each with 6 guns plus Fire Support Teams. The two gun batteries have been reinforced in their support and command elements so to be better able to deploy autonomously in support of the battlegroup at readiness.

The brigade’s logistic regiment is growing in establishment fro 500 to some 650 men by gaining command of 47 Air Despatch squadron (in Brize Norton) and 65 Logistic Support Squadron, which is moving into Colchester. On the other hand, one of the air assault close support squadrons is disbanded (15 Sqn), leaving 24 HQ & Sp Squadron plus two close support squadrons, one for each regular battalion (63 Sqn and 82 Sqn).

23 Air Assault Engineer regiment is also restructuring and shrinking by some 130 posts. 12 (Nova Scotia) HQ Squadron has been disbanded, and its relevant capabilities have been redistributed to the remaining 51 and 9 Squadrons, which are becoming larger and more independent, so that they can best support the formation, on rotation, of the battlegroup at high readiness.

7 REME battalion has also undergone some changes and adjustements, being more closely integrated with 132 RLC Aviation Supply Squadron: the Motor Transport platoon of 7 REME has been absorbed by 132 Sqn. 7 REME retains its three Aviation Companies (71, 72 and 73).

It remains very disappointing how the brigade has been run down in strength. The reduction to just two manoeuvre units plus one reserve battalion for reinforcements is highly questionable: not only does it greatly reduce the effectiveness of 16AA as a deployable brigade, but it seems to be a source of strain and difficulty even in the stated plan for the generation, on rotational basis, of a battlegroup at readiness, as there are effectively only two battalions, two artillery batteries, two logistic squadrons and two engineer squadrons which will take turn, in and out of high readiness. This seems very likely to put the brigade through some serious operational stress.

To make things worse, 299 (Parachute) Engineer squadron, the Reserve squadron tasked with support to 23 AA Regiment, is being removed from the control of 23 Rgt to be instead re-subordinated to 21 Royal Engineer regiment, no later than December 2016. This seems to make no sense at all, as the squadron will be assigned to a line engineer regiment: it is not clear if the idea is to have the squadron having “double loyalty” to two regiments and two rather different roles at the same time, or if the squadron will eventually cease to support the Parachute engineers. In both cases, the change makes very little sense as it further reduces the effective resources available to the air assault brigade to sustain its demanding force generation cycle.

The reserve artillery battery which used to support the Air Assault Brigade, 201 Bty, 100 Royal Artillery regiment, is to be disbanded and put into suspended animation “not before April 2014”, weakening the artillery resources of the brigade as well.

Finally, this new, unwise “rule of the two” is rumored to be on the cards for the Apache helicopter fleet as well, which is widely expected to reduce from 6 to 4 squadrons, in two “binary” regiments. After all, if the regiment stays, all is fine, isn’t it? Much easier to hide sub-units disbandment to the general public. One day, if things continue down this path, all that will be left will be “regiments” with the consistency of companies.


Support to 3rd Commando brigade has been, and very possibly still is, a battlefield over which Land Forces HQ and Navy HQ are fighting an underground war. The Navy has had some success in this war: while 1st RIFLES was moved out of the Commando brigade, the Navy successfully resisted the plan for disbandment of 148 (Meiktila) Battery, plan which was put forwards by the Army but shot down in the later negotiations.

The Army 2020 plan however contains the announcement that 24 Commando Engineer Regiment is to disband. The regiment was stood up in 2008 in order to give the brigade much needed organic engineer capability, indispensable for brigade-level deployments, with the Army keen to continue using 3rd Commando in Afghanistan. The regiment was to expand over time, forming a second field squadron (56 Cdo Sqn) in addition to 59 Cdo Sqn and 54 HQ & Sp squadron.

56 Squadron actually never managed to stand up, and in the Army 2020 plan, the regiment is to be lost, with 59 Squadron returning to be “independent”, complete with some of the capabilities currently provided by 54 HQ & Sp Sqn.   

In practice, the regiment would shrink from an establishment of 360 / 380 down to around 270 by the summer of 2014

54 HQ & Sp Sqn includes a reconnaissance troop, a support troop, a signals troop a motor transport section, a resource cell, a training team and a construction supervision cell. 59 Commando Engineer Squadron is made up of 3 field troops and a support troop.

With the disbandment of the regiment, 59 Cdo Engineer Squadron would have to expand to inherit at least a part of the capabilities of 54 HQ & Sp.

However, the last word might have yet to be said regarding 24 Engineer Regiment. Lieutenant Colonel Leigh Tingey, commanding officer of the regiment, wrote on 1st November 2012 that the decision to disband the regiment has not been accepted by the CO 3rd Commando Brigade, nor by the Commander General Royal Marines (CGRM) nor by Navy HQ, signaling that the war was still on within the MOD and offering a ray of hope for the future of the formation. I’ve not been able to find any indication of the state of this war, but it is worth remembering that the Army 2020 document as published said that 24 Cdo Engr would be removed by the ORBAT “not before April 2013”. Of course, that indication is vague enough that it could happen any time in the future, but nonetheless we are in December and the regiment is still in place.  

The commando battalions are planned to rotate into high readiness (5 days notice to move) to form the Lead Commando Battlegroup, which also has to include artillery, logistic and engineer resources. It is evident to any observer that a single engineer squadron won’t be able to generate more than a troop of 30 men or so for the support of a 1800-strong battlegroup. This is ridiculous, and it is only logical that the Royal Marines and Navy HQ revolt against such a plan. The Army, on the other hand, is likely to require that the Royal Marines and Navy provide the manpower and funding to keep the regiment going (and hopefully actually standing up 56 Squadron as well). And this will be very challenging for a navy that already struggles to fit inside a (ridiculous) mandated manpower total of 30.000.

The Royal Marines will also have to face an increased workload as P Squadron, 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group, disbands by the end of the year. The 167-strong squadron, manned by Navy personnel and not by Marines, stood up in 2010 to provide Force Protection teams to embark on RN and RFA ships, especially in a counter-piracy perspective. The disbandment of this squadron means that the commando battalion in its “standing tasks” period will be asked to provide such teams for use on ships, making the Marines even busier. The force generation cycle was meant to see one Commando at High Readiness, one training for its turn in high readiness, and the third “resting” after its own turn at high readiness. The disbandment of P Squadron changes this substantially. In the words of Jane’s in the special report on the future of the Royal Marines:

In developing the new rotation, it was originally envisaged that the third Commando unit - the one 'out' of the role - would be engaged in low level training and would take on the numerous support tasks that continually arise, including support to training courses and ceremonial duties. In reality, however, a much greater number of functions has had to be absorbed. A significant one of these is the ship protection task previously undertaken by a predominantly naval squadron within 43 (FP) Cdo RM, a squadron that is being disbanded. This task covers the provision of security for naval vessels when alongside, and some boarding tasks in low threat environments.
The net result of the accumulation of these tasks is that the third unit is now classified as the 'standing tasks Commando' rather than the 'out of role' one. As this unit is also heavily committed, the overall effect is the need to generate about 1.7 units of tasks from the three units.

To make things worse still, like with the PARA, the reserve artillery battery assigned to the Commandos is change role completely, moving into 104 Regiment to work with mini UAVs, and 131 Independent Commando Engineer Squadron is to resubordinate under 32 Engineer Regiment, creating the same contradictory situation as with 299 (Parachute) Squadron.

In practice, the high-readiness brigades, despite the high demands placed on them in terms of readiness and force generation cycles, are being, in a way or another, weakened and deprived of important supports which will make it challenging to achieve all what is asked out of the formations. Both brigades, in addition, have been severely weakened and their viability as deployable brigades is questionable. Both would need consistent reinforcement from other formations (a third manoeuvre battalion for 16AA, with associated supports; appropriate engineer resources for 3rd Commando) in order to properly deploy in the field as 1-star formations. The rationale of these changes is, to say the least, questionable.

Royal Signals

The Signals are undergoing significant change as most of the surviving regular regiments become Multi Role Signal Regiments (MRSR)  as the brigade and division-organic signal formations are removed, with the exception of 216 Signal Squadron in 16 Air Assault brigade, which will stay.

In practice, the Royal Signals resources are being centralized in the two signal brigades, and will be assigned only for training and deployment.

The MRSR build upon the experience of the “campaigning” regimental organization developed to support Operation Herrick with a constant rotation of Signal units to the rule of the 1 in 5. The regiments becoming MRSR are:

1 Signal Regiment
2 Signal Regiment (including one Queen’s Gurkha Signal Sqn)
3 Signal Regiment
16 Signal Regiment
21 Signal Regiment

Each of these regiments, once the restructuring is completed, will have 3 Field Squadrons and 1 Support Sqn. Each MRSR is being equipped with the FALCON system, with at least 11 FALCON detachments being assigned to each regiment. Once deployed in the field, the MRSR will be tasked to provide the whole spectrum of communications needed by the manoeuvre force and its HQs. How exactly Real Life Support will be delivered to brigade and division HQs is still being worked out.

216 Signal Squadron has undergone a restructuring to better support the force generation cycle required for the formation of the Air Assault Battlegroup. Curiously, 216 has been restructured on 3 Comms Troops, from 2 previously, with the re-instatement of Charlie Tp. The squadron also has its training wing and Motor Transport / Light Aid Detachment troop.

1 Signal Regiment [ex-Signal regiment organic to 1st (UK) Division HQ) will see the squadrons 201 and 212 merging to form a single squadron the identity of which is not yet know. 200 Signal Sqn (ex organic squadron of 20 Brigade HQ) will come into the regiment, providing the second Field Sqn, with 211 Sqn being the third. The HQ & Sp squadron completes the new-look MRSR. The regiment will transfer from Germany into Beacon Barracks, Stafford, under PROJECT BORONA.

21 Signal Regiment is losing its special role of Air Support regiment, and two squadrons: 244 Sqn transferred under command of 30 Signal Regiment, while 43 (Wessex) Signal Squadron (Reserve) transferred to 39 (Reserve) Signal Regiment.

21 retains the HQ & Sp squadron, plus 214 and 220 Sqn. The third Field Squadron will be 204 Sqn (ex organic squadron of 4 Brigade HQ) which has disbanded in its current form and will stand up in its new format by 2015.

2 Signal Regiment has the support sqn plus 219 and 246 Gurkha Sqn. A third squadron will be added, possibly another of the squadrons that so far had been organic to manoeuvre brigade HQs.

16 Signal Regiment is in the same situation, with Support Sqn, plus 230 and 255 Sqn. The regiment is also moving to Beacon Barracks, Stafford, under PROJECT BORONA.

3 Signal Regiment has the squadrons 202, 206 and 258 plus Support Squadron.

The 5 Regiments will come under the direct command of 7 Signal Group itself part of 11 Signal Brigade.

Specialist ICS enablers will be one of two functions commanded by 2 Signal Group also part of 11 Signal Brigade and include:

10 Signal Regiment (ECM(FP)/ICS Infrastructure) comprising 225, 241, 243, 251 and 81(V) Sqns.

15 Signal Regiment (IS) comprising 233 (Global Comms Network), 259 (Global Information Support) and 262 (Logistic System Support) Sqns.

299 Signal Squadron (Special Communications)

The support to UK and National resilience will be commanded and delivered as the second function from within 2 Signal Group.

It will include:

R SIGNALS TA Regiments
251 Signal Squadron, 10 Signal Regiment

1 Signal Brigade will command the support to both HQ ARRC and the JRRF comprising

22 Signal Regiment (comprising Sp Sqn + 4 Fd Sqns ( one QGS Sqn)). The Squadrons are:

-          217

-          222

-          248 Gurkha

-          252

-          Sp Sqn

30 Signal Regiment (comprising Sp Sqn + 4 Fd Sqns ( one QGS Sqn)). The Squadrons are:

-          244 (coming from 21 Regiment)

-          250 Gurkha

-          256

-          A new squadron to be determined

-          Sp Sqn

ARRC Support Battalion.

Other EW and ICS Support. Outside of our Signal Brigade Structure R SIGNALS will retain support to EW/SI and ICS support other specialist areas.

These include:

11 (Royal School of Signals) Signal Regiment – under command of Defence College of Communications and Information Systems (DCCIS).

-          1 (Ouston) Squadron – Disbanded 6 May 2013

-          2 (Catterick) Squadron

-          3 (Harrogate) Squadron

-          4 (Military Training) Squadron

-          5 (Maresfield) Squadron

Elements of 5 Sqn are being redistributed with subunits in the other squadrons. The long term goal of the internal reorganization is to provide a through-career view of both operator and technician training within one sub-unit remit.

14 Signal Regiment (EW) – part of 1st Intelligence and Surveillance Brigade (Sp Sqn + 4 Fd Sqns).

-          223

-          224

-          226

-          237

-          245

-          Sp Sqn

The regiment, which is high in demand, formed a fifth field squadron (224) in 2004 to better meet the need of constant deployments at squadron level in Afghanistan. In another very questionable decision of the Army 2020 plan, one of the five squadrons will be lost. Not clear yet which one is to go.

The regiment will find a new home in MOD St Athan base.

18 (UKSF) Signal Regiment (no change in structure).

-          SBS Signal Squadron

-          264 (SAS) Signal Squadron

-          267 (SRR) Signal Squadron

-          268 (SFSG) Signal Squadron
     63 (SAS) Signal Squadron (R)

216 (Para) Signal Squadron.
628 Signal Troop. British contribution to 1st NATO Signal Battalion (1 NSB).
660 (EOD) Signal Troop.
DE&S – Continued support to various parts within DE&S.

The Signal Troops (661 and 662) organic to the HQs of 101 and 102 Logistic Brigades are disbanded.

Royal Artillery

Judging from the restructuring going on at 3 Royal Horse Artillery regiment, the Adaptable Force artillery units will only have 2 gun batteries as they reduce to an establishment of just around 370 men.

3 RHA is keeping all its batteries, but J (Sidi Rezegh) Bty is losing its guns, presumably to remain as a second Tac Group battery of sole Fire Support Teams.

Expect 4 Royal Artillery to suffer the same fate.


-          J (Sidi Rezegh) Bty. Becomes Tac Group Bty as it loses its guns?

-          C Bty. Light gun.

-          D Bty. Light gun.

-          M Bty. Headquarters.

-          N (The Eagle Troop) Bty. Tac Group Bty.

4 Royal Artillery currently has six batteries. How the regiment will transform is not yet clear.

    6/36 (Arcot 1751) Bty, (was resubordinated to 4 RA from the disbanded 40 RA regiment) Tac   Group Bty
    3/29 (Corunna) Bty,
    129 (Dragon) Bty, (was resubordinated to 4 RA from the disbanded 40 RA regiment)
    88 (Arracan) Bty,
    94 Headquarters (New Zealand) Bty
    94 Bty (Lawson’s Company).

On disbandment, 40 Royal Artillery had its batteries re-roled and re-subordinated to other regiments.

6/36 (Arcot) Battery - subordinate to 4 RA as Tac Group Bty
38 (Seringapatam) Battery - subordinate to 19th RA as Tac Group Bty
49 (Inkerman) Battery - under Joint Ground-Based Air Defence, armed with Land Environment Air Picture Provision (LEAPP)
129 (Dragon) Battery - subordinate to 4 RA
137 (Java) Battery - subordinate to 26th RA as Tac Group Bty

On 22nd of June 2012, 49 (Inkerman) Battery became an independent battery with both RAF and RA troops in the orbat. The battery now uses the Land Enviroment Air Picture Provision (LEAPP) used to deliver a significant improvement to battlespace management for the British Army, LEAPP operates 5 SAAB G-AMB radars to detect, track and identify air contacts and produce a complete local air picture. 

Royal Engineers

The regiments 21 and 32 will lose a regular squadron each as they become Hybrid regular-reserve regiments. 

21 Regiment currently has: 

7 Headquarters and Support Squadron
1 Armoured Engineer Squadron
4 Armoured Engineer Squadron
73 Armoured Engineer Squadron
Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Light Aid Detachment 

As it becomes an Hybrid regiment, 1 and 4 Squadrons become Field Squadrons, and 73 Sqn is due to disband. Two reserve squadrons come under command: 103 Field Squadron (located in Newcastle) and 106 Field Squadron (located in Sheffield). NOTE: the reserve squadrons given by the british army website are different from those announced in the Reserves plan. Under the Reserves plan, 21 Regiment was to get 103 Field Squadron and 299 (Parachute) Squadron.
There might have been a plan change inspired by common sense, for once.

32 Regiment currently has:

2 HQ & Support Squadron
26 Armoured Engineer Squadron
31 Armoured Engineer Squadron
39 Armoured Engineer Squadron
Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Light Aid Detachment

As it becomes an Hybrid regiment, the armour will be lost and one squadron will disband, but we aren't yet told which one. According to the Reserves plan, 32 Regiment was to take command of 131 Commando Engineer Squadron and 106 Field Squadron. Now 106 Squadron is instead assigned to 21 Regiment, apparently. 
We will have to wait and see how the plan has changed. 

The Air Support regiment, 39 Royal Engineers, in Kinloss, has had 10 Squadron disbanded in Leeming, but will gain command of 65 Squadron in Kinloss in summer 2014. 65 Squadron used to be part of 28 Royal Engineer regiment, which is however disbanding. The final structure should thus be:

34 Field Squadron (Air Support).
48 Field Squadron (Air Support).
53 Field Squadron (Air Support).

65 Field Squadron (Air Support).
60 Headquarters and Support Squadron (Air Support).

REME Workshop.   

The two EOD regiments are restructuring to become hybrid as well, both lining 2 regular and 2 reserve EOD squadrons. The new structure is as follows:

101 (EOD) Regiment

-          22 HQ & Sp sqn

-          17 (EOD) Sqn

-          21 (EOD) Sqn

-          221 (Reserve) Sqn

-          579 (Reserve) Sqn

33 (EOD) Regiment

-          EOC Group Explosive Ordnance Clearance

-          821 (EOD) Sqn – this squadron has two Commando and two PARA EOD troops

-          51 (EOD) Sqn

-          217 (Reserve) Sqn

-          350 (Reserve) Sqn

The restructuring of the EOD force is meant to take good note of the lessons learned in the vicious fight against IEDs in Afghanistan. Much better integration, even in peacetime training and structures, of RE and RLC EOD, Search specialists, ECM operators and Search Dog Teams from the Military Working Dogs Regiment is the final objective.

One question yet to answer in this area is the future of TALISMAN. Will this route clearance system be brought into core? How, if it is, will it be distributed and employed in training?

Hopes for the long-term future of TALISMAN come from a slide of the June 2013 presentation given by Lt Gen Chris Deverell, Chief of Materiel (Land) and Quartermaster General during the RUSI Land Warfare conference.

The slide shows a variety of UOR material that the Army is bringing into core (simulation training, Mastiff, Ridgback, Warthog, Wolfhoud, Husky, Jackal, Desert Hawk III, Geo Intelligence solutions, portable radio SATCOM and, in the Force Troops mix, the photo of Mastiff Protected Eyes with mine-roller (an important component of MASTIFF) can be seen. Hopefully, it signals the intention to retain TALISMAN as a whole package.

Also worth noticing is the presence of the photo of the REBS (Rapidly Emplaced Bridge System). Around a dozen such systems have been procured urgently for use in Afghanistan, mounted on HX-77 EPLS trucks. At least 10 were available on the eve of Herrick 14, with 5 systems used for training and five more deploying to Afghanistan.

Bringing REBS into core is likely to be a way to (partially) answer to the requirement for a Medium Weight bridgelayer for the support of FRES SV. The REBS has a military load class (MLC) of 50, so it can support a fully laden FRES Scout. It can only, however, bridge 14 meters gaps, and it is installed on trucks which of course aren’t the same thing as a tracked armored vehicle.

Anyway, much better this way than having nothing. However, on the eve of the publication of the SDSR, the Royal Engineers quantified in 77 tracked vehicles their Medium Weight, FRES-related manoeuvre support requirement for bridging, mine breaching, digging and battlefield shaping. It is not clear if Terrier was considered part of the solution to this requirement, as, save for bridging, it can cover all other roles.


Many changes are yet to come and be detailed, but this update wants to track, as much as possible, the changes at sub-unit level within the regular army. It also wants to highlight the massive reductions in Combat Support and Combat Service Support capabilities available to the army, to make more people aware that, while understandable, the fury for the loss of historical infantry battalions has no real sense. The uncomfortable reality is that political considerations have messed up Army 2020 even more than it could be expected from such a massive cut, exactly for limiting the loss of capbadges, containing in “just” five the number of infantry battalions to be lost. I’m fully convinced that, given freedom of choice, the army would have cut more infantry battalions in order to deliver a better balanced force: as it stands, the army has more infantry battalions and more brigade HQs than it can actually deploy and support in the field. The tragicomic situation of the two High Readiness brigades is an example. The removal of signal elements from 1 and 2 star headquarters, with new solutions for Real Life Support having to be literally invented somehow is another stark reminder.

The many Infantry battalions of the Adaptable Force have also been cut down in establishment to cut manpower while retaining a non realistic number of separate formations. The british infantry battalions, of all types, are becoming some of the lightest (in terms of both manpower and firepower) in NATO and perhaps in the world.

In other words: if the situation of CS and CSS units is not fixed, the last thing the army needs is more infantry battalions. The Chief of General Staff, general Sir Peter Wall, has (very carefully and mildly) admitted that there is a problem in this area, speaking to thedefence committee in early November 2013:

Q343 Derek Twigg: You mentioned in one of your answers a few minutes ago that obviously this is putting pressure on certain areas in terms of resilience, but you have to find contingency for that. Could you expand on where those pressure points will be on resilience, and are you absolutely confident that they can be dealt with?

General Sir Peter Wall: Yes, I think that in our force structure we are conscious that we have made certain assumptions about the balance between Regular, reserve and contractor logistics, and if those assumptions turn out to be incorrect, then we may find that the dependence on Regulars-because of the threat situation or the tempo of operations, or some other unforeseen sort of delta-is greater than we would like. In that situation, we might have to enrol people from other parts of the Army to do transport functions and things like that.

We can see increasing pressure on the demand for communications bandwidth in the tactical space. We have taken account of that in our design by pro rata reducing the Royal Signals by considerably less than the 20% average, but even so, I can see that demand growing as a consequence of the changing nature of the way that business is done in the future, which is not so much a function of size, but of the changing character of the way we do things, with an increasing dependence on high-resolution imagery for targeting and things like that. I can see that happening. I think in the gunners and the sappers we also might find that they are running a little bit faster than we would like and some of their other cap badge counterparts, but that has often been the case in the previous structures of the Army, depending on the nature of the specific operation and where the emphasis lies.

It will appear extraordinarily mild an admission, and it is, but keeping in mind how rare it is these days for the top brass to acknowledge any specific problem caused by cuts imposed by government, and considering that Philip Hammond was sitting at the general’s side, it becomes a very significant admission.  

I would expect army officers (retired and non retired, to moan about THIS problem, not about the loss of infantry battalions, as painful as those are.

We should all be aiming for a powerful and capable army, not for capbadges.