Friday, October 31, 2014

Experimenting to shape the future?

Interesting news from the Royal Navy today: for the first time ever, a River OPV of the Fishery Protection Squadron is about to sail across the Atlantic to take up the Caribbean standing task role from the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll.
HMS Severn is preparing to sail from Portsmouth later this autumn to make the long transit to the North Atlantic station, Navy News reports. It came as a total surprise when i read of it, and while it smells of overstretch from far, far away, it also comes with a seed of opportunity for the future in itself, because the optimistic way to read this news is that the Navy might very much be starting to warm up seriously to the idea of making wider use of OPVs in constabulary tasks. With three new OPVs being built, and a decision to be made next year on whether it is worth (and possible) to keep them in addition to the current Rivers or not, this deployment takes on a whole new level of meaning.
As my regular readers know, i'm a big fan of the idea of keeping the River batch 2s in addition to the current ones, to help plug the gaps. Indeed, i'm quite a believer in the two-tier fleet, to a degree, as i think it is the only realistic option to keep filling standing tasks while having a true capability to respond to a crisis popping up, which is what the Navy is there for.
My earlier discussion on the River Batch 2 and its possible uses is here. I'll warn you, it is long. But i think it is genuinely worth reading, if you have an interest in this matter. 

Navy News photo of HMS Severn and HMS Tyne training together

Before anyone says it in the comments, yes, i am very much aware that, in the worst case, the Royal Navy will have to replace the current Rivers and eventually try to cover both Fishery Protection in home waters and some standing tasks abroad with the same 3 batch 2 hulls. It is a possibility, and in a way the most disappointing one, as, like a too short blanked, it can be pulled to cover the feet or the face, but not both at once, and would effectively be a cut to Home Waters coverage, pure and simple. 

It is worth noticing, about this very considerations, that barely months ago the government published its National Strategy for Maritime Security document which repeatedly quotes a joint RUSI/DSTL study (Future Coastal and Offshore Maritime Enforcement, Surveillance and Interdiction Study, RUSI & DSTL, 26 July 2013) which evidenced that the law enforcement in UK waters is already being done with fewer assets than elsewhere, and that no further reduction should take place. Release dated May 2014.
Now the same assets are being asked to cross the Atlantic as well, and it is clear that, when one of three ships is on the other side of the ocean, capability in home waters is reduced.
The Strategy also notes that the relevance of shipping is growing steadily, and implies that, as the demand for security increases, capability will have to be reviewed in light of the greater task. No, of course they won't say it has to catch up, that would be a too clear call for action.  But the meaning is, in the end, the same.

It is government policy.

So it basically has little actual value, yes, since they will of course do the opposite of what they say, as always.
But still, one has to try and hope that the SDSR 2015 will have some room for common sense.

In the meanwhile, fair winds and following seas to ship and crew for this unusually long deployment!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Air Assault Task Force in ARMY 2020

16 Air Assault brigade has been losing several pieces over the past months, and some others will be formally lost by year's end, completing an impressive exodus of units from the brigade, which is restructuring on a smaller ORBAT laser focused on the high readiness intervention role. Some press reports have denounced the big reductions, but they did not make a real good job of detailing how the brigade is actually restructuring. To be fair, as always, the MOD and the Army aren't really helpful in keeping the public informed in a timely and complete way. Information, as often happens in these cases, has to be pieced together from separate mentions in different publications.

16 Air Assault brigade has been losing:

- 5 SCOTS battalion, disbanded with the exception of the sole Balaclava Company, on public duty in Edinburgh from July 2014
- 9 Regiment Army Air Corps, left the brigade in December 2013 to prepare for the merge with 1st Regiment AAC and the transfer to Yeovilton to become Aviation Reconnaissance Force with the new Wildcat helicopter.
- 1st and 2nd battalion Royal Irish, to formally leave the brigade by the end of the year to assume their role in the Adaptable Force
- Household Cavalry Regiment, and in particular D Sqn, have lost their affiliation to the brigade as the regiment focuses on the pure Armoured Cavalry role

The reduction in the number of infantry battalions is connected to the return to contingency: 16 Air Assault brigade is meant to be removed from the normal deployment cycle and to be instead used to constantly provide the Air Assault Task Force at high readiness for independent action and/or for Air Manoeuvre support to ground brigades withing larger operations.
As a consequence of the reduction in the number of infantry battalions, cuts have been imposed on the support elements within the brigade:

- 7 Royal Horse Artillery has lost V Bty (disbanded) and H (Ramsay's Troop) Bty (transferred to 1st Royal Horse Artillery and transformed into a Precision Fires Battery with M270B1 GMLRS). The artillery regiment has restructured on two gun batteries completed with air control teams and Fire Support Teams, plus HQ Battery:

i Parachute Bty (Bull’s Tp) HQ Bty
F(Sphinx) Bty
G (Mercer’s Troop) Bty

- 13 Air Assault Support Regiment Royal Logistic Corps has grown from around 500 to 650 men, but in large part due to taking under command 47 Air Despatch Squadron in Brize Norton.
The regiment lost one Air Assault Squadron (15 Sqn, disbanded) but took command of 65 Sqn. The final structure is:

24 HQ Sqn
63 Air Assault Sqn   [supported 2 PARA in high readiness up to May 2014]
82 Air Assault Sqn   [took up readiness role alongside 3 PARA in May 2014]
47 Air Despatch Sqn (Brize Norton)
65 Air Assault Support Sqn 

63 and 82 Air Assault squadrons rotate together with the two regular PARA battalions to form the High Readiness battlegroup. 

- 23 Air Assault Regiment Royal Engineers lost its HQ squadron (12 (Nova Scotia) Sqn), and concentrated command and command support elements directly into the two remaining deployable squadrons, which rotate into readiness for one year at a time. 

9 Parachute Squadron
51 Parachute Squadron
299 Parachute Squadron (Reserve) [initially thought to pass under command of 21 Regiment Royal Engineers while continuing to support the PARA, it should now stay under direct command of 23 Regt] 

Indicatively, a squadron of some 135 men, plus reserves and attachments, is rotated constantly into readiness as part of the Air Assault Task Force. 

- 156 Provost Company Royal Military Police is being restructured as part of the wider reorganization of the military police. As explained in an earlier article, the company will remain as part of 16 Air Assault brigade but will be taken into 4 Regiment RMP. Once organized on two platoons, with No 2 parachute trained, it is now formed into three platoons which alternate in training, policing and high readiness PARA role. The platoon is some 28 strong. 

- 16 Close Support Medical Regiment is formed by two Air Manoeuvre Medical Squadrons, each providing a ROLE 2 Medical Surgical Group. Each Squadron has around 60 men, and a Surgical Group indicatively provides a 4-table resuscitation facility, a 2-table field surgical team, a 2-bed intensive care ward and 2 high dependency beds plus supporting elements and personnel (X Ray and CT scanners etcetera). Air and truck mobile, these surgical groups are also employed in support to Special Forces. 

An Air Assault Medical Support Squadron with around 90 men provides

Quartermaster's dept, Motor Transport, REME Light Aid Detachment, communications troop, Chefs and catering, the AGC(SPS) RAO det (clerks), the Regimental Training Wing and the administration of Regimental Headquarters.

The regiment also has 144 Parachute Squadron (Reserve) in support. 

19 Air Manoeuvre Medical Squadron
23 Air Manoeuvre Medical Squadron
181 Air Assault Medical Support Squadron 
144 Parachute Medical Squadron (Reserve)  

19 and 23 Squadrons, with the support of 181 and 144, rotate into readiness to supply the Air Manoeuvre Medical Group within the Air Assault Task Force. 

- 216 (Parachute) Squadron Royal Signals with an Army 2020 establishment of 166 All Ranks, the squadron has reorganized on 3 Troops during 2013, reforming the previously cadreised Charlie Troop. 216 is the only Brigade Signal Squadron left after the Army 2020 restructuring which centralized all other signal squadrons into regiments. It is also the only signal squadron left in the army with a direct Life Support role for the brigade HQ.

Alpha and Bravo troops supply communications and set up the HQs and provide them life support. Charlie Troop provides Out Dets and Rebroadcasting Detachments, mobile thanks to parachutable quad-bikes and other light vehicles. The Squadron deploys Tactical Network Gateways which enable Bowman to SICF (France's own system) communications and deliver Share Point, Chat, Email and share situational awareness via Bowman's ComBAT application. 

Alpha and Bravo, with Charlie elements plus supports (Motor Transport, REME LAD detachment etcetera) alternate into high readiness within the Air Assault Task Force, some 75 men at a time. 

Alpha Troop
Bravo Troop
A and B Troops alternate in the Ops and Mission Specific Training (MST) roles.
Charlie Troop – Reformed in 2013
Delivers Out Dets and Rebroadcasting Dets
Support Troop
MT/LAD Troop 

- Joint Helicopter Force (Contingency) is the main aviation element in the Air Assault Task Force, and basically is one of the two Attack Helicopter Regiments. 
3rd AAC and 4th AAC regiments rotate into readiness one year at a time. The regimental HQ provides a field-deployable tactical aviation command, while one Apache squadron delivers the firepower.

Each of the two AAC regiments is reorganizing on two deployable Apache squadrons (down from 3), one of which will be at readiness in connection with the AATF, and the other with the Royal Navy's Response Force Task Group, to support the amphibious battlegroup of the Royal Marines Commando.  

654 Squadron AAC has disbanded in July, leaving 4th Regiment with the sole 656 and 664 Squadrons. 
3rd Regiment is covering the last Afghan deployment while beginning to restructure for Army 2020: next year it will be down to 2 deployable squadrons itself. However, the third squadron will not be disbanded, but instead re-roled to Operational Training Squadron, delivering Conversion To Role training and support to exercises. 

Apache FARP operations simulation

Waiting to see the exact impact in terms of manpower and, in the future, the impact in terms of Apache numbers, since there's a Capability Sustainment Programme incoming and normally this is funded reducing numbers (from 66 to 50 pretty much for sure, hopefully not further down), note that in terms of deployable squadrons this is a reduction of only one, since, effectively, one squadron has been tied down with CTR training already for years. 

Apache Conversion To Role training to achieve Limited Combat Ready status for the crews is a complex and lenghty business. Conversion To Type training lasts some 6 months in Middle Wallop, with simulators and flights with 673 Sqn, but CTR lasts 7,5 months and includes a series of demanding exercises which have always required the selection of a "framework" squadron supplying the machines and tools for the activities. 
In late 2009 a review of training methods decided to permanently attach the Air Manoeuvre Training and Advisory Team (AMTAT) to 656 Squadron and remove it from the deployable rotation to use it for training. 

The CTR phase includes patrol drills, a period of theatre specific tactics training, an Electronic Warfare phase called Lightning Force, flown at RAF Spadeadam, and the final 8-weeks test, in the US ranges, under the banner of exercise Crimson Eagle. 
Lightning Force comprises a minimum of 3 sorties on the electronic range of Spadeadam: on the first sortie, crews are faced by the MALINA IR missile simulator, which gives them a taste of war by "exciting" the Apache's IR defensive system and giving them smoke plumes simulating a SAM launch, so that evasion manoeuvres can be trialed. 
The second sortie exposes the crews to radar threats, and the third is a complex scenario including both. 
Crimson Eagle is the final big test, which sees the squadron basing in austere field conditions normally on Gila Bend Auxiliary Field, an USAF emergency landing strip for aircraft using the nearby massive Barry M. Goldwater range, Arizona. This hot area of desert sees the Apache put to the test for weeks of complex, all out training. 
It is obvious that the CTR phase requires very substantial resources to be available, so an Operational Training Squadron focusing on this part of the job makes sense. 
656 Sqn has been in the role since 2009, and it also took up the role of shipboard operations authority for the Apache, as well as the role for providing a handful of helicopters at readiness for contingency operations while the rest of the Apache community tackled the enduring committment to Afghanistan. This is why 656 deployed with 4 and later 5 Apache helicopters on HMS Ocean in 2011 for operations over Libya. 

653 Squadron, from 3rd Regiment AAC, will take up the role of Operational Training Squadron during 2015. 
Other changes in the Apache Force include the decentralization of REME and Aircraft resources. In recent times, again to sustain the strain of constant operations in Afghanistan, the Apache force, like the Chinook and Lynx forces, had ended up pooling the helicopters and giving up the squadron's own REME sections to form centralized pools of resources from which the various squadrons would draw to cover the needs of the day. 

Over 2015, however, the Apache squadrons will take back ownership of their own Apache helicopters, and will reform their own Close Support Sections REME as the force transitions to the new cycle of readiness of Army 2020. 
A Close Support Section will have over 30 REME technicians plus some RLC personnel from 132 Aviation Support Sqn RLC, and other supporting personnel, including from the RAF and/or from the Navy, typically from the Fleet Air Arm's 1710 Squadron (earlier known as Mobile Aircraft Support Unit, MASU) which is specialized in helicopter combat damage repair, modification and forensic support for all three services.
7 Battalion REME supplies a further 10 men, forming a Forward Repair Group with specialist in 2nd Line Equipment Support and Maintenance (more details later). 
The Close Support Section REME deploys with a number of trucks carrying a Deployable Spares Package for the squadron, plus one truck carrying tooling and another with an "office" module with secure, ruggedised computers containing all aircraft's manuals and technical documentations.  

3rd Regiment AAC
662 Sqn
663 Sqn

4th Regiment AAC
656 Sqn
664 Sqn 

673 Sqn (Middle Wallop) CTT training
653 Sqn (Wattisham) Operational Training Squadron (CTR) 

More details and information on the Apache regiments and on the whole of the Army Air Corps is available in this earlier article.

 - Other aviation support will come from the RAF's Support Helicopter Force, comprising Puma HC2 and Chinook squadrons. The Support Helicopter Force can also express its own field deployable tactical HQ when needed. The force comprises 33 and 230 Sqns with the Puma HC2 with a forward fleet of 22 helicopters, and the squadrons 7, 18 and 27 with the Chinook. 

The Chinook squadrons are organized on three flights each (A, B, C) wiht C Flight, 18 Sqn being the Operational Conversion Flight doing the crew training for the type. However, with the fleet expanding as the 14 new HC6 helicopters enter service, there is an ambition to stand up a fourth squadron in RAF Benson, and move the training there. Benson already has the simulators and classrooms, and with the Merlin HC3 to progressively leave for Yeovilton to serve in the Navy, Benson has free infrastructure that in Odiham simply isn't available to properly support the HC6 arrival. 
Unconfirmed reports suggest Chinooks will move into Benson in mid 2015 and over 2016. One of the two Merlin HC3 squadrons (78, already disbanded and 28 expected to disband next year), which are disbanding, might resurrect as a Chinook unit. 

Even at the peak of activity in Afghanistan (11 helicopters constantly in theatre), 1 Chinook was always maintained on very high readiness for emergency tasking within the UK, while 4 more are ready to deploy at 2 days notice to move. With the end of the Afghan marathon, the readiness cycle can expect to be restructured to better align with 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3rd Commando brigades' own cycles. 

When the HC6 are all active, the RAF will have around 60 operational Chinooks and 86 crews. Good thing, because the Chinook is always high in demand, and at least 20 Chinook loads equivalents are needed to move even a single airmobile battalion.

Maintenance, differently from what happens with the Apache, seems set to remain centralized in what is known as Expeditionary Chinook Engineering Squadron (ExCES). This formation, some 300 strong and formed into 3 Maintenance Flights of 70 men, has been obtained by merging together the maintenance sections of the frontline squadrons. 

The Army Air Corps Aviation Reconnaissance Force, made up by 1st and 5th Regiments, will provide Wildcat helicopters and Defender fixed-wing aircraft task lines. One Defender task-line is kept at readiness to deploy around the world where necessary, and these aircraft are also used extensively in support to training. 

The 1st Regiment, once the merge of 1st and 9th regts is completed (by October 2015, barring delays) and the Wildcat operational (IOC declared in August 2014 but work up still ongoing), is supposed to have four deployable squadrons, plus one training squadron. Closely connected to the regiment there will also be the Royal Marines's own Wildcat AH1 squadron, 847 NAS. 

1st Regiment is expected to maintain all of the squadrons of the current 1st and 9th regiments. If there aren't changes to the plan, the result would so be: 

652 Sqn - the first AAC unit to field Wildcat, will be the training squadron 

661 Sqn
659 Sqn
669 Sqn
672 Sqn  

The Wildcat might also be used by 671 Sqn in Middle Wallop depending on how training will be organized. 671 currently delivers Conversion To Type training for the Lynx, Bell 212 and Gazelle. The Wildcat replaces the Lynx AH7 next year (the Lynx AH9A will stay in service at least out to 2018), but it is not clear if 652 will deliver all the training in Yeovilton or if there will be an enduring separation, with 652 deliver Operational training (Conversion To Role) and 671 delivering Conversion To Type. This is not yet know, at least not outside the Army's circles. 

Reserve groundcrew of 6 Regiment AAC training with 652 Sqn's Wildcat

The squadrons, including 847 NAS, will draw their helicopters from a central pool comprising all of the 34 Army Wildcat AH1 machines. 
Maintenance Resources will also be centralized in the Regiments's Manoeuvre Support Squadron, comprising a Forward (deployable) line of maintenance and support teams, and an Echelon line for 2nd line equipment support. 
847 NAS will have its own team of technicians embedded into the Manoeuvre Support Squadron, but being navy qualified and trained specifically for shipboard operations, will remain connected to 847 for deployments. All other personnel will be more loosely assigned to deploying squadrons as necessary. 

This builds on the experience made with the Lynx AH9A in support of Afghanistan needs. In the last few years, the squadrons have been flying the legacy Lynx AH7 when outside of the Afghanistan deployment cycle. Only the AH9A, with its more powerful engines and upgrades, has been used by Afghan-deployed squadrons. 
Squadrons have been moving onto the AH9A for pre-deployment training and for deployment, and they have then passed the 9A to the following squadrons, going back to the AH7s. The helicopters have all been pooled together, and so have maintenance resources. 

In particular, the 22 AH9A have been shared in two separate pools, actually. 12 machines have been assigned to the "green" squadrons (including 847 NAS) (4-5 deployed in Afghanistan; 4 in the UK for pre-deployment training with the remaining three undergoing maintenance at any one time), while the remaining ten helicopters have been assigned to use by "another unit", which is widely expected to be the secretive 657 Sqn, Joint Special Forces Support Wing, RAF Odiham.  
One AH9A of 657 Sqn has been lost to a tragic crash in Afghanistan earlier this year, with the loss of five lives

The Lynx AH9A is expected to continue serving at least out to 2018 with 657 Sqn as the other units convert completely to the Wildcat, with the Lynx AH7 withdrawn from service already next year. 
In 2011, the Wildcat contract was about to be modified to include four additional and four re-purposed helicopters, to generate a small fleet of 8 "Light Assault Helicopters" believed to have been meant to re-equip 657 Sqn. The contract modification was announced by ministers and costed by the NAO, but it soon vanished from the radars and has never been mentioned again, with the 4 additional helicopters removed as quickly as they were added (the MOD, in all recent Wildcat articles, always talks of 62 machines, not of 66). 

Speculation abunds on why this happened, but solid information is next to non existant. Reportedly, the director Special Forces did not appreciate what the Wildcat LAH had to offer. However, as a consequence of the Wildcat rejection, the requirement for between 8 and 10 helicopters for 657 Sqn for special forces support, which has been mentioned already when the SDSR 2010 was in the works, remains without a clear long term solution. The Lynx AH9A, which employs the same engines of the Wildcat, could be further extended to 2022, it has been suggested, but some kind of solution for an actual replacement will have to be found, or 657 Sqn might just vanish and get nothing, with the well known budgetary climate the forces have to contend with.

- 7 Battalion REME delivers specialist second line equipment support to the Army's aviation, including UAVs. The battalion also controls the 132 Squadron Royal Logistic Corps, which delivers aviation logistics. Finally, the battalion includes the 8 Field Company, 16 Air Assault's very own REME unit. 

The battalion has three Aviation Companies in Wattisham, but one of them (73 Avn Coy) is due to transfer to Yeovilton to directly support 1st Regiment AAC and its Wildcats. The move was to be already ongoing, but it has been slowed down with a new target of autumn 2015. 
71 and 72 Avn companies will alternate yearly into readiness alongside the Apache regiments, being kept at R2 (5 days notice to move). Each company has two platoons, and each platoon will be responsible for 6 months of readiness, during which it will have to generate two Forward Repair Groups of 10 specialists each. This means one FRG for each of the Apache squadron's Close Support Sections REME in the at-readiness regiment. 

8 Field Company had an establishment of some 150 men in 2012. Based in Colchester with 16 Air Assault brigade, it will re-ORBAT to support the cycle of readiness, probably by mixing its Forward and Support Platoons together and splitting the Airborne Forward Repair Team (the first technicians to parachute into an area of operations to support Drop Zone activities and early brigade movements) to form a couple of identical, full-spectrum platoons to rotate into readiness alongsides the other pieces of the puzzle. 

132 Aviation Supply Squadron RLC will also probably reorganize to fit into the readiness cycle. 

- Other aviation supports the deployment of attack and battlefield support helicopters will be supported by Signallers from 244 Signal Squadron, part of 30 Regiment Royal Signal. 244 will provide tactical communications at the landing zones and resupply points. 
Before Army 2020, 244 Sqn was part of 21 Signal Regiment, which was tasked as a whole with aviation support. Army 2020 converted 21 Regiment to a Multi Role Signal Regiment for the manoeuvre brigades, and concentrated the aviation support role into the sole 244 Sqn, transferring it to 30 Signal Regiment. 

Battlefield helicopters are refueled in the field by the RAF Tactical Supply Wing based at RAF Stafford. The Wing has up to 58 teams each equipped with a 15.000 liters Oshkosh Tactical Aircraft Refueler and one 20.000 Close Support Tanker. 

Finally, the Joint Helicopter Support Squadron, based at RAF Odiham, provides specialists in under slung cargo transport and landing site management. The unit was obtained merging the RAF Mobile Air Operations Teams with the Joint Helicopter Support Unit RLC. The MAOTS used to be 13, and included a RAF officer, a master aircrew, an SNCO and 2 signallers from 21 Regiment Air Support.

Reserve support on the ground for helicopter operations arrives from 6 Regiment Army Air Corps and from 606 (Chiltern) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, based at RAF Benson. 6 Regiment AAC has been expanded considerably under Army 2020 and now includes the squadrons 675 (The Rifles) based around Yeovilton and twinned with the regular Wildcat squadrons; 677 (Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry) paired with 3 Regiment AAC; 678 (The Rifles) paired with 4 Regiment AAC and 679 (The duke of Connaught's) Sqn paired with the Army Aviation Centre at Middle Wallop.

- Surveillance and Target Acquisition. 16 Air Assault Brigade has lost the cavalry squadron it used to have, but has been given a STA battery from 5 Regiment Royal Artillery in exchange. 53 (Louisburg) Battery has taken up the Air Assault title and has been given the maroon beret of the PARAs with a ceremony on 20 June 2014. It would be of immense interest to learn about the battery's structure and equipment and methods, but unfortunately, so far at least, no information has been released. Almost certainly, the battery will be able to employ the man portable Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar (LCMR) and probably the HALO acousic artillery locating system as well, but there is probably more of a reconnaissance role to them to compensante for the loss of D Sqn, Household Cavalry. 
- UAVs. 21 (Gibraltar 1779 – 83) Air Assault Bty, 47 Regiment RA has been wearing the maroon beret for years, serving first as the brigade's own Air Defence unit, equipped with Starstreak, and then as a mini-UAV formation, employing mainly Desert Hawk III, but possibly including a Watchkeeper flight (exact battery structure unknown as of now). They remain part of the brigade in this second, more recent role. 

- Air Defence. The role which was of 21 Bty has now been assumed by 12 (Minden) Air Assault Battery, 12 Regiment RA. The battery has two missile Troops with Starstreak, which presumably alternate into high readiness. The battery employs the Lightweight triple launcher and Pinzgauer 6x6 vehicles for mobility and transport of the launcher and of reloads. The Pinzgauer 4x4 can be para-dropped on the Medium Stressed Platform alongside a trailer; it is possible that the 6x6 is parachutable as well, and anyway the Army is hoping to procure a more capable replacement platform for use on the A400, which shall be able to support a Jackal, so with a capacity of 7.5 to 10 tons. 

In this photo by Plain Military, the ADAD sensor can be seen in foreground, and a LML triple launcher in the background

One Pinzgauer 718 6x6 can carry 4 men, one ADAD search sensor, one LML launcher and 10 reloads. 

Pinzgauer 4x4 and trailer on a Medium Stressed Platform for air dropping

- Electronic Warfare. 14 Signal Regiment (EW) supplies PARA-trained Light Electronic Warfare Teams (LEWTs). 

- EOD support. Under Army 2020, early entry EOD capability is ensured by 821 Squadron, 33 Regiment EOD. The squadron has two PARA trained composite teams of Royal Engineers, RLC and military working dog specialists. Another two teams have Commando training to support the amphibious task group.  

- PATHFINDER Platoon. The secretive elitè scouts of the brigade remain as an important part of the unit. Little detail is available about their exact number and organisation, and even their equipment is non standard, seen using Diemaco C8 rifles, PARACLETE armour and other kit. 
In June 2013 the unit reportedly had 3 officers and 48 ORs organised on an HQ, a Communications and Information Systems section and six recce teams of 6 men each.

Finally, of course, the Air Assault Task Force is formed around one battalion of paratroopers. Under Army 2020, the PARA battalions have an enhanced establishment of 660 men, all-ranks, all-trades. 
2 and 3 PARA battalions, supported by 4 PARA (Reserve), alternate yearly into high readiness, to serve as the Air Manoeuvre Battlegroup (AMBG), the fighting core of the AATF. 

The two PARA battalions have been particularly busy during 2013 to adopt the new Army 2020 structures and to reform companies which had been cadreized for lack of manpower and Afghan-related ORBATing since 2012. 
Both battalions re-developed their D Companies as organic ISTAR formations and reformed missing companies during 2013: 2 PARA had been without A Coy since 2012, while 3 PARA had cadreized its C Coy as well as the Guards platoon, which is formed by parachute trained soldiers coming from the Guards regiment. 
All of those missing pieces were re-instated during 2013. The (Guards) title and role has gone to 6 Platoon, B Company, 3 PARA battalion. 

An amazing photo of 3 PARA at the end of training in Kenya last year
The PARA battalions have not lost any platoon, differently from Light Role infantry battalions as seen in earlier articles. The PARAs are also expected to continue to employ the light 60 mm mortar at platoon level. 
Only one Company in the battalion is normally trained up for parachute entry, with the remaining companies meant for helicopter air manoeuvre and/or for air landing. Rapid Air Landing and Follow On Air Landing (RAL and FAL) are operations which see cargo aircraft landing tactically directly inside an airfield or on Minimum Operating Strips (MOS), stretches of clear ground assed by recce teams inserted earlier and validated for the purpose. A C-130 MOS for training purpose is 1400 meters long and 18 meters wide (plus there has to be nothing in the way of the aircraft's wingspan, of course!), but during operations greater risks will be taken in some circumstances, and less space will be used. 
The incoming A400 Atlas, which the PARAs are anxiously waiting for, is able to land on 830 meters strips of soft ground with a 27 tons payload. Tactical Air Landing loads could include a Scimitar plus WMIK with trailer and 60 PARAs, which would quickly disgorge out of the aircraft and form a perimeter while the cargo itself would turn around and take off as quickly as possible. 

Both battalions line three Rifle companies, one ISTAR company, a Support Company and an HQ Company: 

A Coy

B Coy

C Coy



-          Patrols Platoon

-          Sniper Platoon

-          Signals Platoon

Support Coy

-          Mortar Platoon – use Pinzgauers for mobility

-          AT Platoon – Javelin, HMG, GMG they are re-equiping with Jackal 1 for mobility replacing RWMIK

-          Machine Gun Platoon – GPMG, HMG, probably to use Jackal as well 

HQ Coy

-          MT Transport and REME LAD 

-          Regimental Aid Post RAP

-          Catering Dep

-          Quartermaster

-          RAO det

Remember that 2 PARA's C Company is (Bruneval) Coy; it is very important for the Regiment to remember that.

- Reserves support. The AATF is reinforced by one Platoon of reservists from 4 PARA battalion and one Section of reserve engineers from 299 Sqn. The reservists sign an agreement with their employers so they can be quickly released for an operation popping up while they are at High Readiness. 
A wider role for formed reserve sub-units is still being formulated. 

The resulting standard Air Assault Task Force numbers some 1698 men all ranks, all trades. It comprises an Air Manoeuvre Battle Group at its core, supported by a Joint Helicopter Force including at least one Apache squadron plus Chinook, Wildcat and Puma; an Air Manoeuvre Medical Group formed on a squadron from 16 Medical Regiment plus reserves from 144 Sqn, plus an artillery group formed around a battery from 7 RHA, an air defence Troop from 12 Regiment RA, an engineer squadron reinforced by a section of reservists and an EOD team, pathfinders, a STA Battery, a UAV battery, a LEWT and other elements as needed.    
It is a capable, full spectrum battlegroup, if not very large in numbers. It makes good use of the limited resources available, and represent a potent, highly mobile mix available at 5 days notice to move. 

The one most immediate "problem" that can be seen is the loss of an armoured cavalry squadron. The Scimitar of D Sqn HCR was an excellent tool, even with all its limits in sensors, weaponry and protection. It added an armoured punch with an incredible strategic and tactical mobility. 

A Scimitar and WIMIK roll out of an A400 during a Tactical Air Landing trial. In a moment, the 60 soldiers will run out as well.
If it was possible to find the money and manpower for it, resurrecting the glorious, if quite short-lived, 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance name for a squadron of CVR(T) vehicles for the AATF, would be a major improvement, adding interesting options for a range of special and semi-special operations which require something more than a Jackal but that aren't quite suited for something as big and heavy as a FRES Scout.

Not part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, but worth mentioning as a part of the Parachute Regiment, 1 PARA, UK Special Forces Support Group continues to serve as a ranger unit in support of Special Forces operations. 
Manned by PARA and Royal Marines, the battalion has four Strike Companies (A, B, C, F coy), one HQ Company (D Coy); a fire support company with sniper platoon and with four Heavy Weapons Fire Support Groups, one for each Strike Coy. 
Support Company comprises the Mortar Platoon, a Joint Fires Cell capable to direct artillery and air attacks, and a Signals Platoon.