Monday, February 29, 2016

The Army's deficits - UPDATE

Are 82.000 men too few? Yes, especially if you waste them.

There is little doubt that 82.000 regulars are a small manpower base for a major army like the british one. The limit has been met by accepting constraints almost anywhere, and some other limitations have only been narrowly avoided (example: the 60mm handheld mortars remain, but at one point they were due to be shelved in all but PARA and Commando battalions). However, 82.000 is not a shabby number. If used well, it can still sustain a good combat force. The problem is that the british army is not using its 82.000 regulars in a way that makes sense, due to political interference. Namely, due to the 2010 order from HMG to cut a maximum of five infantry battalions, to avoid a loss of capbadges. I bang on this problem quite often, but it is indispensable to do so, because this single order is continuing to cause absurd distortions in the force structure.

The biggest and most amazing issue is that, due to the conflicting requirements caused by the 2010 orders, 7 out of 11 army brigades are currently undeployable. They are a container of precious resources (3 cavalry regiments, 2 artillery regiments, 2 logistic, 2 REME, 2 artillery, 2 medical and over half of the infantry battalions) piled up messily and destined to be thrown together yearly to form a “brigade package” which, in an enduring operation abroad, would have to cover the 4th and 5th deployment in the 5-deployments cycle.

There is a lot of value in the Adaptable Force. Yet, all of it is of dubious actual employability. The infantry battalions are scrawny: they have been kept around, but all rifle companies are short of one platoon. Every area has been cut back to the bare minimum of men needed.
The Light Cavalry regiments have no direct firepower greater than that offered by HMG and GMG.
The Artillery regiments have a mere 12 L118 Light Guns each, and the supporting elements (command, REME, etcetera) have been cut to the bare bone.
The Logistic Regiments are down to 2 squadrons plus HQ Sqn.
And there is not a single Royal Signal regiment in the whole Adaptable Force.

The Signal deficit

Amazingly, the 7 brigades of the Adaptable Force have access to zero dedicate Signal support. There is not a single Signal regiment tasked with supporting the Adaptable Force. Under Army 2020, Signal resources have been “centralized” under 1st and 11th Signal Bdes. In particular, the 11th Brigade groups the signal regiments destined to ensuring brigades and divisions can communicate. 5 “Multi Role Signal Regiments” have been formed and put in Group 7. The reserve Signal Regiments form Group 2.
Group 2 is tasked with the provision of UK ICS support. The regiments are not deployable, but they are paired with the regular ones and provide reinforcement to them.

That leaves 5 regular regiments which are tasked with providing communications for brigades, divisions and all supporting elements (logistic brigades, field hospitals, theatre entry units from 104 Log Bde). Between 2011 and 2015, the plan has been for the 5 regiments to be restructured to the same shape and capability, to enable seamless transition from one position to another in the Readiness Cycle and in the Army’s ORBAT.

The FORM (Formation Readiness cycle) was thus intended to be spread over 5 years, with each regiment spending three years aligned with one of the Reaction Force armoured infantry brigades (a complete cycle Other Tasks Year, Training Year, Readiness Year) before moving on to spend one year aligned with the Reaction Force Division HQ (providing the Forward and Main HQ and support for attached units) and finally conclude the FORM with a “Committed Year” delivering ICS support to… whoever needs it across the army, including troops in Afghanistan for Op TORAL to forces busy in the Middle East under Op SHADER and all sorts of other small deployments (training tasks and defence engagement tasks abroad).
If an enduring operation popped up and had to be supported, the “Committed Year” probably would entail deploying in support of the Adaptable Brigade going in the field, even though this would inexorably break Harmony Guidelines.
Let that sink in: half of the army (and the majority of its brigades) has no assured, dedicate communications support.

The whole wisdom and feasibility of the “centralization” of resources is called into question. It just can’t really work, no matter how many buzzwords are thrown at the plan to make it look like “innovation”. What the Multi Role Signal Regiment concept does is providing uniformity in structures and capabilities across the regiments and deliver Signal units that can actually meet the needs of a brigade / division HQ in the field. But did the restructuring of signal resources also require the removal from the supported brigades and division?
The current multi role signal regiment has:

-          one armoured squadron, mounted on Bulldog, delivering the manoeuvre HQ for the Division or Armoured Infantry Brigade. Effectively, these are the Brigade Signal Sqns of the pre-2011 era, removed from the brigades and incorporated into Signal regiments.
-          one squadron delivering communications support to Vanguard Enabling elements from 104 Log Sup Bde and Force Troops Command
-          one squadron delivering FALCON Trunk service and SATCOM to enable operations of the deployed force and of its supporting elements

In the Division support role, one squadron is needed to deliver the Main HQ, a huge field deployable command structure comprising 50 or more DRASH tents, 2 FALCON elements, a REACHER Satcom access point and hundreds of other elements.

The complexity of the Division Support role and the changes it requires to training, equipment and structure have ended up making the originally envisaged FORM mechanism almost unworkable. The result…? Months after shelving “Division Signal Regiment” from its title, 3 Signal Regiment is now once more called 3 (UK) Division Signal Regiment, and while remaining under OPCON of 11th Signal Brigade, it is now permanently aligned to the divisional task, giving a “4 + 1” FORM.
Three regiments (21, 1 and 16) have already taken up the intended Multi Role Signal Regiment structure. 2 Signal Regiment, on the other hand, has stopped its restructuring to provide much needed Signal support to all deployed packages during 2016: this includes a multitude of short term training tasks and other duties in Africa and elsewhere; support to BATUK training etcetera. To make things more complex still, HMG keeps piling up commitments on the shoulders of the Army, having committed 4 Brigade HQ for High Readiness in the 3rd and 4th quarters of this year as framework HQ of the European Union Battlegroup, while also promising some personnel to the Spanish-led NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (Land) 16.
So, an area already stretched thin is stretched thinner still, with 2 Signal Regiment tasked to send men all over the place, literally.

Hilarity will ensue when the Army tries to make sense of Joint Force 2025, with its 4 regular, reaction brigades (up from 3). That will probably entail the definitive abandonment of the Army 2020 “centralization” and FORM rotation. With 3rd Signal Regiment already committed to the Divisional role, there are just 4 regiments for 4 brigades of two types (armoured, tracked – mechanized, wheeled). It seems fair to assume that the Signal Regiments will align permanently each to a single brigade, and that will end the “innovation” of Army 2020.
Cuts are not innovation.

Elsewhere, centralization is just as virtual: Artillery, REME, Medical, Logistic units, all obviously need to reflect the characteristics of the brigade they are meant to support, so that huge differences exist between the regiments committed to supporting the Reaction Force and those left for the Adaptable Force.
Again, does it even make any real sense to keep these units formally separated from the manoeuvre brigades? As I’ve said many times already, I think no, it does not make actual sense. No one else is doing it and the US Army, the only one which had done something remotely similar by giving its Brigade Combat Teams only token engineer elements, grouping the rest into brigades, is going back to fix the mess.

Moreover, the problem of the Enduring Operation remains: math is a cruel mistress, and the British Army continues to be at least 1 Signal Regiment short of the minimum requirement for 5 brigades to alternate in the field.  

The Firepower deficit

The british army ranks among the lightest in the world when it comes to generating firepower. It does not employ 120mm mortars in its battalions; it does not have vehicle-borne ATGWs; it fields Cavalry Regiments which have in the Grenade Machine Gun their most powerful direct fire solution, etcetera, etcetera.
There is also a lot of curiosity ahead of the selection of a solution for the Mechanized Infantry Vehicle (MIV) requirement. Will it still be a simple APC, with no firepower option greater than an RWS with a .50 or GMG if we are lucky…?

The british army has been deeply impressed by the French operations in Mali and has found in those the ultimate argument in favor of the “medium weight force”, based on the 8x8, which it has been pursuing for decades (without any success so far). British soldiers have been training on the VBCI in France, getting to know it, its merits and the tactics connected with the vehicle.
However, it must be noted that VBCI did well in Mali because it is an IFV, with a turret and a 25mm gun. The gun bit cannot be ignored. The french army has found itself in difficulty in Mali when faced by columns of pick-ups armed with 14.5mm Russian machine guns and the ubiquitous 23mm ZSU cannons and other heavy weaponry. Those weapons outgun and outrange the .50 HMG, and represent a serious threat. In Afghanistan the problem was not quite as keenly felt due to how the Taliban fight and act, but in Mali the French army ended up pulling out the old 20mm AA guns to fit them on the back of trucks to outgun or at least match the firepower and reach of the 14.5 and 23mm on the enemy pick ups. We are not even talking about the firepower of a Russian mechanized formation, but of ISIS-level cheap crap, which can already be enough to create serious risks and difficulties.  

The "Strike Brigade", if the MIV ends up being an APC with a RWS, will be outgunned by pretty much anyone on earth, and all direct firepower requirements will fall on a handful of Ajax from the brigade’s cavalry regiment, being used not just for recce but as "medium armour" element as well.
It is worth reminding that FRES SV originally included a specific "medium armour" variant. That was a serious item, armed with the 120mm gun.
But now Medium Armour is merely another double-hatting of the recce variant.

Ahead of the MIV (and ABSV, hopefully) decision, the British Army should reconsider its firepower capabilities. Everyone and their dog are rethinking the merry and unarmed 8x8 APCs. Poland is putting remote 30mm gun turrets complete with SPIKE missiles on its Rosomak in the APC version. Even Germany is thinking about putting Puma turrets on Boxer. The US Army is rethinking the Stryker and working to put an unmanned turret with a 30mm gun on it. And even before that, Stryker battalions were supposed to include a number of Mobile Gun System vehicles with the 105mm gun, now possibly to be replaced by the new Mobile Protected Firepower once they fund and select a vehicle for the requirement.

Are they the mad ones? Don't think so. Of course, money is always a problem. Turrets and guns have a cost. But if the Strike Brigade is to be useful and, at least to a degree, able to deploy alone and get the job done exploiting its strategic and tactical mobility, the MIV must have firepower.
At least one vehicle in each MIV section should carry an unmanned turret with a serious gun, ideally the same 40mm employed by Warrior and Ajax, if you ask me.

Indeed, in my mind the Light Cavalry regiments need some guns with more punch and reach than HMG and GMG, too. And quickly, because the French experience proves how easy it would be to put a current Light Cavalry formation in trouble.
Workable solutions to this problem exist, and have been put forwards in France and in the US, where the M230 30mm chain gun used on the Apache has been adapted to vehicle RWS weighting as little as 450 kg (including 250 rounds), which have been tested on Humvees and M-ATV vehicles and even on the little, Chinook-internally transportable Flyer. While putting the CTA 40mm gun on Jackal does not seem to be doable, a number of vehicles in each regiment could be armed relatively easily with the land variant of the 30mm gun used by the Apache attack helicopter. This would also have the merit of not introducing a new cannon and a new stock of ammunition to manage: commonality with the Army Air Corps would ease things somewhat. Lethality out to 2 km would be vastly improved. 

The M230 on the Flyer lightweight vehicle. This could be a low-pain solution to the firepower deficit in the Light Cavalry.

Both the MIV and the ABSV mortar carrier variants should come fitted with 120mm mortars. The 81 mm mortar makes sense for Light formations, but armoured and mechanized battalions, which aren’t as tormented by weight issues, should really adequate their firepower to what is by now the international standard. 

The US Army has awakened to the weakness of Light Role infantry brigades and early-entry parachute forces which lack mechanization and direct fire punch. The Mobile Protected Firepower, for which BAE is offering a renewed and improved M8 light tank, aims to provide Infantry BCTs and Air Assault / Parachute BCTs with an air-droppable, light, protected, well armed fire support platform. It could also end up replacing the rather unsuccesful Stryker Mobile Gun System in Stryker brigades. In the meanwhile, the US Army is funding unmanned turrets with 30mm guns for its Stryker troop carriers. The UK should take notice of both developments.

The Army “hopes” to have an ABSV variant in the ATGW role, possibly reinstating vehicle-borne long range anti-tank missile capability in the British forces after many years of gap. The MIV should come with an ATGW variant as well, arguably with even greater urgency since the Strike Brigades will not include tanks to relay upon.

The EW deficit

Another important programme for the future is Landseeker, the tentative of Land command to procure new EW systems. Ever since Soothsayer was cancelled, the army has been able to make progress in this field only with the purchase of Light systems, procured as UOR for use in Afghanistan.
But one of the lessons of the war in Ukraine is that EW really is game-changing, and Russian formations make ample use of it. The british army needs to acquire more capable systems not to be shut out of this particular fight.

Lessons from Op Herrick

The Army has released part of the document produced to summarize the lessons of operations in Afghanistan. They are many, but several are related to aviation support and manoeuvre. The ability to move troops by air, using helicopters, is a recognized key strategic ability, yet the army fears that, with the end of operations in Afghanistan, the helicopters will tend to be available only for the PARAs. Maybe this concern has something to do with how 16 Air Assault Brigade has been split from the Apache helicopter regiments and pulled out of Joint Helicopter Command. Specific aviation needs which have long been neglected are also mentioned, including medical evacuation via MERT teams, which are not normally available, and helicopter transport for the commanders.
The crucial importance of aviation to the whole army and the need for enduring close integration make me think, not for the first time, that the one Force Support Brigade that Army 2020 should have given us was the Combat Aviation Brigade.
This belief is further reinforced by the observations contained in the Herrick campaign review about the different tour length for aviation personnel and the problems in ensuring that ground forces and air forces deployments remain connected properly. More must be done to re-align tour lengths for future operations, but the document laconically says that JHC has no intention to do so, at least “at the time of writing”. The wild difference in tour lengths should absolutely be mitigated, although tour duration will never be written in stone due to considerations of output and performance of the crews.
It seems to me that having JHC in Andover is not enough to ensure proper Air-Land integration, and I continue to believe that the combat aviation brigade construct should be a priority for Joint Force 2025.

The Op Herrick campaign study also says that the Warrior 514 is not fit for the purpose of carrying and enabling a Fire Support Team. It should be carefully considered whether it is possible and cost-effective to proceed with the 514 upgrade the Royal Artillery has been pursuing, so far without success, for years, or if it wouldn’t be easier to just purchase some more Ajax in the Joint Fires variant. Ajax comes with more space, more power and a more modern electronic architecture that should ease the integration of all systems needed. Moreover, using only the relevant Ajax variant would remove the need for developing and procuring the role-specific 514 upgrade.

Another area in which I feel vindicated is Air Drop. The Op Herrick document contains the recommendation to procure precision and guided airdrop capability for stores.
The British Army also needs to recuperate the ability to airdrop Light Gun and vehicles: currently, this is not possible since the Medium Stressed Platform is not compatible with the C-130J’s cargo floor and a temporary integration, although pursued for a while, seems not to have been funded.

If, Then, Else

There are basic truths that do not change, no matter how many buzzwords SDSR documents use. There are things in the military which just are what they are, and can’t be “radically innovated”. Operational capability is not achieved by an understrength Light Role infantry battalion, but by a coherent construct composed of a recce element, a manoeuvre element and the key fire and logistic supports, plus adequate communications. A messy pile of resources will not deliver adaptable combat power just because you stick the “adaptable” adjective to it on paper.
The Army needs to be given real freedom of manoeuvre in reorganizing its structures. And the army must face the problem with rationality and honesty.

If the Division is important, then resourcing it must be a priority and having only one deployable HQ is probably not enough. It imposes a really short duration to operations.

If air manoeuvre is key, your force structure must reflect your doctrine.

If you know that to make a brigade you need a Cavalry/recce element, at least 3 manoeuvre formations, ideally a direct fire support unit, artillery, logistic, communications, medic and equipment support, build a structure that reflects it.

My “SDSR” for the British Army is as follows:

Disband 4 Light Role infantry battalions to free manpower for other needs (should make available at least around 2200 all ranks all trades).

Form two additional brigade Signal Regiments and one additional Aviation Support Signal Sqn (use 1300 all ranks, all trades).

Beef up 16 Air Assault brigade with Light Cavalry regiment; swap 2nd Gurkha Rifles for 2 Light Protected Mobility battalions. Build up 8 Field Coy REME into a battalion; reinforce other supporting formations with a third sub-unit each.

Form a second airmobile brigade with two Light Role (instead of PARA) and two Light Protected Mobility battalions.

Convert the third Light Cavalry regiment in the CBRN Regiment as the mission is taken back from the RAF Regiment.

1st UK Division to be restored as a deployable HQ; 1st Signal Regiment to resume its Divisional role

Two Armoured Infantry brigades each with one cavalry regiment with Ajax and 3 Combined Arms Regiments each. The 6 CARs are to be formed by merging the current 3 tank regiments and 6 armoured infantry battalions. Each CAR to have 2 squadrons of Challenger 2 tanks, 2 companies of infantry on Warrior and one Manoeuvre Support Coy with mortars, ATGW, Recce troop, Snipers and Pioneers.

2 Medium Brigades each with one cavalry regiment with Ajax and 3 infantry battalions on MIV.

Align each support regiment permanently to one brigade. Each brigade to have one Signal regiment, 1 artillery regiment, 1 REME, 1 Medical, 1 Brigade Logistic Regiment.
The regiments currently assigned to 16 Air Assault and to the Adaptable Force will need an uplift and the formation of the missing sub-units. This will quickly use up all the remaining manpower recouped with reductions elsewhere.

Create a 4th regular Precision Fires artillery battery with GMLRS and Exactor. Each armoured and medium brigade to have its own.

Cut 3 AS90 batteries, re-role to L118 and assigned to Medium Brigade. An autocannon like CAESAR would be perfect to equip the Medium Brigades, but money won’t be available before 2030 at the very least (current OSD for both AS90 and L118).

Purchase a number of lightweight 30mm guns to fit on Jackals to give greater firepower to the Light Cavalry. At least a share of the MIVs should come armed with the CTA 40mm gun in an unmanned turret.

Create two Combat Aviation Brigades, one for each Division. Each brigade to have:  

1 Reconnaissance, Light Utility & Command Support regiment with WILDCAT (2 Sqns) and Watchkeeper (1 large battery). Ensure close liaison with Division HQ for command support utility role, as from Op Herrick lesson learned.

1 Assault Regiment, with one Chinook (HC4 and HC6) and one Puma HC2 squadrons.

1 Attack Regiment with two Apache squadrons.

1 Aviation Support Signal Sqn (244 Sig Sqn, existing, and a second one to be formed) 

1 Aviation Logistic Group (REME Av Coy, RLC Supply Sqn, Tactical Refueling Sqn, Joint Ground and LZ Support Element. The REME Coys exist within 7 REME; the RLC element is currently 132 Sqn, might need reinforcement as it is restructured in two twin sub-units; same for the Tactical Refueling Wing and the Joint Helicopter Support Squadron)

1 Force Protection and MEDEVAC Sqn (RAF Regiment Field Squadron, with attached permanent MERT organization supported by one Chinook and one Puma flights from the Assault Regiment)

24 Air Mobile brigade. Back as a Combat Aviation Brigade? If it depended on my judgement, yes.

Going back to 2 deployable Division HQs will be given sense by redistributing the deployable brigades under the two, following the example of the French army under their Au Contact plan: each Division should control one armoured, one medium and one air mobile / light brigade.
The readiness cycle will last two years, one of reset and training and one at readiness. Each year, one Division, with its brigades, will be responsible for preparing and fielding the force needed for any crisis arising.
16 Air Assault will continue to have the two PARA battalions and will alternate them in the Airborne Task Force role. I gave thought to putting one PARA battalion in each brigade, but figured it would probably complicate things rather than ease them.

This restructuring cuts back on infantry to re-invest in enablers, first of all on the Royal Signal, but also to rebuild sub-units in currently understrength logistic, artillery and engineer regiments in order to better exploit the still considerable resources available and deliver a greater number of deployable brigades and, hopefully, a greater integration with aviation resources.

Cutting four infantry battalions will still leave 27, of which 20 in the Deployable Brigades. That leaves 7 to cover Cyprus (2 battalions), Public Duties (2 battalions), Special Forces Support Group (1), Brunei (2 battalions, one in the UK and one in Brunei, alternating regularly). Every two years, the battalions in Cyprus and in Public Duties role will swap place with the Light Protected Mobility battalions in the Light Brigades. The two Gurkha battalions will continue to alternate to cover Brunei. It is a tight fit, but all roles are covered and the resources that remain are better exploited.

Both Divisions will have their own Logistic Brigade. Rather than directly incorporating every logistic regiment, though, the brigade will contain the “Theatre” elements, which stand between the UK and the brigade area of responsibility. The logistic brigades should cover that level, ensuring the flow of supplies from the UK to the area of operations and forward to the Brigade area of responsibility. The Manoeuvre Brigade should instead have its own Close Support Logistic element, configured to deliver all the way to the line of fire.

A number of Force Troops brigades would consequently be removed: 1st Artillery Brigade will be replaced by smaller Artillery Integration Cells at the Divisional Level. 11th Signal Brigade would be removed from the ORBAT, with the reserve regiments and 10 and 15 support regiments assigned to Groups within 1st Signal Brigade.
8th Engineer Brigade would stay, but the Close Support group would be removed as the combat engineer regiments are handed back to the manoeuvre brigades, leaving Force Support Group (Land), Force Support Group (Air) and Force Support Group (EOD). 

EDIT: I've just learned that 25 (Close Support) Group, with the 3 heavy engineer regiments destined to the Armoured Infantry Brigades, has resubordinated to 3rd UK Division. The two hybrid regiments (21 and 32) which would support the Adaptable Force have been assigned to 12 (Force Support) Group within 8 Engineer Brigade. Not quite the return to the manoeuvre brigade yet, but a step in that direction.

The formation of the Combat Aviation Brigades will still leave 1 Chinook squadron, which will be devoted to Special Forces role and CSAR. Ideally, it will have the long-range HC3 (which are being upgraded to HC5 and fitted with Digital Flight Controls like those found on the new HC6s) and, if they really will be funded, the AAR probes to further expand their reach.
Formally outside of the Combat Aviation Brigades will also remain 657 AAC (also special forces support), 658 AAC (Dauphin for urban SF ops), all grouped in the Joint SF Air Wing.
The training squadrons will also remain outside, at least in terms of Force Generation Cycle.    

Flexibility and task-grouping will continue to be encouraged and pursued, but with a different approach. Task-grouping must become an easier proposition and something that is carried out orderly within the brigade. Flexibility is best achieved by using standardized structures for sub-units and by reducing the amount of re-roling and mixing up of parts within infantry battalions. Currently, in any one year the personnel within a typical british infantry battalion can be moved around infinite times; mortar platoons can go without touching a mortar for months and re-ORBATing is way too frequent. This may give soldiers knowledge of a wider variety of roles, but the confusion it brings cannot be actually helpful. Jacks of all trades and masters of none, that’s the likely outcome.
It is time to bring standardization and order in basic structures. Build battalions which can be employed, and brigades that can readily pick pieces from their constituting units to form battlegroups, following practices recognized by everyone within the army.

It won’t solve all problems, but it’ll do wonders to improve the effective combat power of those precious, few 82.000 regulars. And it'll make supporting future enduring operations a realistic proposition. At the moment, it does not seem to be realistic at all, because too many pieces are not available, sacrificed to keep capbadges thrivin and to shield politicians from the backlash that comes from losing an historic regiment. 

Time to put CAPABILITY first.