Sunday, February 12, 2017

A different refining process

This post explores in more detail my alternative proposal for Army 2020 Refine, which has already been the focus of several other posts. Here I will explain, and visualize with a table, the extent of the adjustments required to ensure that the Army has two workable divisions, with six workable brigades.
The comfort given by this alternative structure is a degree of repeatability. The army maintains the ability to support a brigade-sized deployment abroad enduringly. The army has two deployable divisions and does not reduce itself to a one-shot only 3rd Division, a six month “make it or break it”. Overall, it looks to me like a more rational and intelligent use of the scarce resources available.

It would be challenging, for many reasons, to accomplish this restructuring. The main concern is how bad recruitment figures are at the moment, particularly in key areas such as REME and Signals. The numbers, even with the removal of 3 infantry battalions, remain tight and cruel masters and careful management of resources would be required to assign the invaluable margin to this or that area.

As I’m not expecting any real budget increase, this restructuring is achieved by cancelling the Mechanized Infantry Vehicle, delaying the programme to a date to be determined. The current shape of Army 2020 Refine makes it clear that the army does not have enough resources to tackle MIV in a complete and proper way. Its introduction comes at the cost of a tremendous mutilation to the rest of the army, and I simply do not think it is worth it.
Manpower is recovered by removing 3 Light Role Infantry battalions; moving to Combined Arms Regiments in Heavy Armour and proceeding with 4 Specialized Infantry Battalions.
Extra manpower could be obtained by not rebuilding some of the Light Role battalions to a 3-companies structure, but this should be a measure of last resort. Cutting other battalions will be challenging unless supplementary tasks (2 battalions in Cyprus, 2 on Public Duty, 1 in Brunei, 1 in support of Special Forces) are downsized.

The complexity of the changes involved are significant, but Army 2020 Refine as described currently is not easy either, and the original Army 2020 wasn’t, either. What I’m advocating for is, for how I see it, a desperate call to the army and to government towards honesty and coherence. They cannot keep cutting while “saving capbadges” and pretend that they can contain the damage. They cannot. It is no use having 31 infantry battalions if there are supports to deploy 10 at best, two in each Army 2020 Refine armoured and strike brigade plus 2 in 16 Air Assault.
Preserving capbadges but cutting the means to deploy them meaningfully as complete battlegroups is simply idiotic, and it is time for realism to win the day, or attempting to fix the disaster later will result in a truly painful process.

Note to the document: the above tables should make it easier to visualize the proposed changes and their impact. 

The image on Pintrest shows the resulting Army 2020 Refine as a whole, with the two divisions drawing supports from Force Troops Command. 


The reorganization will continue to include 4 Specialized Infantry Battalions, as planned in Army 2020 Refine. The concept is challenging for a variety of reasons, but the attractive of it is in moving the “enduring tasks” away from the other battalions, which can then focus on their primary combat roles. The SIBs also help in freeing up a lot of manpower which is desperately needed elsewhere.
The challenges of the concept come from the very aim of the Specialized Infantry Group: train, advise and assist allied forces abroad, maintaining an enduring presence in key areas of the world, such as the Middle and Far East, East Europe and Africa.

The concept of the Specialized Infantry Group sees each SIB aligned with an administrative Infantry Division, which feeds qualified personnel into the small but very busy battalion. The enduring presence in all sectors is to be achieved by assigning each region to a battalion, which will then rotate its companies in and out of the area, enduringly. With the battalions numbering some 270 to 300 men, all trades, the balance of deployed and dwell time will be tricky to manage, and the composition, strength and number of the companies will require accurate study.

Another huge question mark is on the Assist objective, and on the comparison, repeatedly used, that draws a parallel between SIBs and American Green Berets. The extent of the Assist objective will be absolutely central in determining what these battalions are going to be: will they become Special Operations Forces, a “second tier” element to the Special Forces proper? Will they step directly into the fight alongside those they have trained, and will they provide key direction  and support? It seems to be the intention, and it should be, to give proper meaning to this force. But this in turn introduces all sorts of questions about the status of these battalions and their recruitment need. If they become battalions about which the government might want, in some occasions, to use the “we do not comment on special operations” line, this will have obvious consequences in terms of pay, terms of service, etcetera.

It is also clear to me that if these battalions are going to “assist” in any meaningful way they shall be able to carry out complex tasks, one of which would be to reconnoiter and mark targets for air attacks. The Specialized Infantry Group should really be a Specialized Brigade, aligned with the UKSFSG, and to do its job properly would need to include extra Fire Support Teams / “stay behind” observation teams from the Artillery and, ideally, it would need a “cavalry” with its squadrons equipped with protected mobility and firepower vehicles to provide lift, force protection and firepower. But to achieve this, time and investment will be required, so I’m forced to leave this out.

More immediately, the Army 2020 Refine which I propose would disband 3 Light Role battalions. The Army has too many, more than it can adequately support with Combat Support and Combat Service Support formations. With no extra money and manpower on the way, the army needs to be honest with itself and sacrifice capbadges if need be, and recollect invaluable manpower by cutting some infantry battalions rather than by messing up and reducing supports even further. Reducing supports causes less political and media flak than disbanding a historic infantry battalion, but it is far more devastating to army capability, because it means being less and less able to properly deploy and support the infantry battalions that remain. Army 2020 Refine as currently planned is a brutal blow to army capability, reducing all supports from 5 to 4, further reducing the meaning of the Adaptable Force.
Removing three infantry battalions will recoup some 1680 posts. 1160 more posts come from the downsizing of 4 battalions into SIBs.

The Armoured Infantry battalions of Army 2020 Refine fall to a total of 4, from 6. This is kind of unavoidable because the Warrior CSP programme is planned to deliver enough vehicles for, you guess it, 4 battalions. Unless more money can be provided and more vehicles upgraded, there is no way around this single, massive roadblock.
Since more armoured infantry would also require more tanks in support, and so more money, we are not likely to go anywhere trying to maintain six battalions. My proposal is to follow the American (and, to a lesser degree, the Israeli) model and go for Combined Arms Regiments. In  fact, permanent, square 2+2 battlegroups that the Army knows well and appreciates.
6 such combines arms regiments would contain a total of six “small battalions” of infantry and six “small battalions” of tanks. 2 Tank Squadrons, with 14 tanks each, and an ISTAR Squadron with Ajax and Warrior-mounted scouts would form the “tank battalion”, while 2 armoured infantry companies plus a Support Weapons Company would form the infantry element.
All six capbadges currently connected to the Armoured Infantry stay in the role, but lose a company each. The loss of 6 companies, or two battalions, fixes the Warrior problem.
The new tank organization erases the cut to MBT numbers that the current Army 2020 Refine implies. 168 tanks are spread in squadrons of 14 across the 6 regiments, for a total of 168, the exact same total of the earlier Army 2020 with 3 regiments of 56 tanks each.

One challenge connected with the smaller battalions is career management for the soldiers within them. The infantry elements should not have too many issues as the battalions would all continue to be part of their respective infantry capbadges. The loss of companies is bad, but far from unprecedented: Army 2020 effectively robbed all Light Role infantry battalions of one company.
Tank “battalions” might benefit from being coupled together into regiments, since the “battalions” would not have a real independent HQ element of their own. For example, the Royal Tank Regiment could return to having a separate 1st and 2nd, as was pre-2010. The “Royal Hussars” could have a Queen’s and a King’s battalion. I have thought long and hard of the identities to choose for the last couple of battalions, but eventually I’ve decided to leave the issue unsettled for now. The romantic in me has tried to give life to a “Union Regiment” which would somehow tie together cavalry elements from across the UK. I’ve thought about splitting the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards into Royal Scots Greys and Carabiniers, but I’m hesitant to move them back to the heavy role and away from Leuchars or, at least, Scotland.

The Combined Arms Regiments have been described in detail here, although I would now recommend forming a separate “cavalry” company for reconnaissance / ISTAR. The manpower total would still be equal or slightly inferior to the 6135 men necessary for the original Army 2020 structure (3 tank regiments with 587 men each and 6 infantry battalions of 729).

Finally, on the infantry front, the plan requires an extra Mechanized Infantry battalion on Mastiff. Being 709 strong, such a battalion requires the expansion of one of the existing formations, and the use of some 150 posts.
The number of Foxhound-mounted battalions drops from 6 to 4, in order to move to 3-companies battalions (currently, the six light protected mobility battalions have only 2 rifle companies each). One Light Mechanized Battalion on Foxhound is assigned to each Mechanized and Light Brigade, plus one to 16 Air Assault.
All Light Role infantry battalions will rebuild the missing rifle company as well (Army 2020 Refine already includes this, uplifting the battalions from 560 or 580 for the Foxhound-mounted ones to 630). The cost in manpower is around 800 posts.

In order to fund all the changes and uplifts in other key areas, the main victim, money-wise, is the Mechanized Infantry Vehicle programme, which is delayed to a later date, to be defined. Although Mastiff has very real mobility problems, particularly over wet and soft terrain, the MIV programme as currently envisaged, in my opinion, costs too much and solves too little. The Army is mutilating itself in order to scrape together four battalions mounted on 8x8 vehicles which will almost certainly be mere APCs, very lightly armed. Their greater mobility would help, but the current Strike Brigade concept is full of contradictions and generally looks like a solution in search of a problem. It does not respond to any real need, especially because, in its current envisaged structure, even assuming it could move as much and as rapidly as general Carter claims, they would lack the firepower to be decisive once they get there.
As a consequence, instead of making one of the many 8x8 producers happy and rich, I’d want to focus on other areas first.


Army 2020 Refine is supposedly shaped by the “realization” that state on state warfare is not dead. However, while Germany, US and France rebuild their heavy armour components, the british army slashes its own and makes it even smaller. As so often happens, action is not coherent with narrative.
My Army 2020 Refine proposal removes the cut to MBT numbers. Indeed, I’d recommend adding a tank squadron within the reconnaissance cavalry regiments in the two heavy brigades. This would partially solve the lack of firepower of the fully-Ajax based regiment, which can hardly be a “recce by stealth” formation yet lacks the decisive punch to do recce by force. It would also contribute to more closely aligning the british heavy brigades with the US Army ABCTs, which are putting a tank company of 14 Abrams back into their own reconnaissance squadron, although, at least for now, by moving said company out of one of the three Combined Arms Battalions. This could change when the 2017 budget is approved and the manpower boost confirmed. The two british heavy brigades would be “super ABCTs”, more readily understood by the US Army alongside which they are most likely to operate.

An absolute priority for the british army must be solving the obsolescence of Challenger 2, so the cancellation of MIV should see some of the savings repurposed towards a more ambitious upgrade programme for the MBT, with the aim of replacing the powerpack and the rifled gun. Once the smoothbore gun is retrofitted, adoption of the latest advanced multi-purpose rounds and long-rod armor piercing rounds should immediately follow to give the MBT the necessary anti-armour punch and a true multi-role capability against structures and infantry in the open and behind cover.

Adding a tank company within two of the cavalry regiments would require an extra 28 frontline tanks on top of 168 for the Combined Arms Regiment. 196 active tanks still fit within the original Army 2020 fleet of 227, but re-activating some extra tanks would never hurt.

The Mechanized Infantry Brigades will get a Cavalry regiment on Ajax each. This requires the expansion of a Light Cavalry regiment (404 strong) to an Armoured Cavalry formation (528), with the use of some 124 posts. Heavy mortars should also be added to provide long-range, indirect firepower to the recce formations, so a number of extra posts would be required.


Artillery regiments will return to a formal alignment with the respective brigades. 1st Artillery Brigade will be replaced by two smaller Artillery Group HQs attached each to a Division. These groups will have much the same functions as the resurrected Div Arty commands in US Army divisions, ensuring both coherence in training, force structure and methods and a greater connection with the division’s commander and the maneuver forces. They will also oversee, on deployment, the regiment tasked with air defence and whatever extra Fires resource is available from the Reserve and/or allies. 

N Bty, 3 Royal Horse Artillery converted from Tac Group to Precision Fires, with GMLRS and Exactor. Army 2020 Refine goes back and cancels the decentralization of Army 2020 in favor of rebuilding a single "Division Fires" regiment. It does so, however, by repurposing a brigade Fires regiment, and this is something i want to avoid. 

L Bty (1 RHA), 129 Bty (4 RA), 38 Bty (19 RA) and 19 Bty (26 RA), currently all Tac Group batteries, would be re-invested as Brigade STA batteries with mini-UAVs (Desert Hawk III and, later on, its replacement) and Fire Support Teams. Centralized within 32 Regiment Royal Artillery for ease of training, logistics and career, the brigade SRA batteries would be aligned each to a different brigade and particularly close to the reconnaissance cavalry. 
At the end of the restructuring, 32 Regiment should have one 'UAV and Tac' battery for each brigade, including 3rd Commando Brigade. 47 Royal Artillery should form 4 Watchkeeper batteries for brigade and division level tasking. 

L118 Batteries within 4 Royal Artillery regiment would be uplifted from 4 to 6 guns each; and V Bty would be rebuilt within 7 RHA, with six guns plus Fire Support Teams. 26 Royal Artillery regiment would transition from AS90 to a new, lighter self propelled 155mm artillery system, possibly wheeled. My recommendation is to go for a system which can also replace the increasingly aging and short-ranged AS90. The DONAR system looks to me like the best candidate. On Ajax hull, it could replace AS90 and support the Mechanized Brigades, but for the latter, if it was financially feasible, a wheeled base could be even better.

Other artillery priorities would be programmes that the Royal Artillery has been unsuccessfully pursuing for years: a Course Correcting Fuze for 155mm shells, to improve general accuracy of the heavy artillery; a long range guided 155mm shell, for precision engagement; and the new Long Range Precision Fires missile for GMLRS.
Purchasing a stock of Alternative Warhead rockets for the GMLRS would also finally restore anti-area capability to the system following the demise of sub-munitions.

Air Defence has been highlighted, correctly, as a major British Army weakness. Unfortunately, solving this issue would require resources that simply won’t be there. The latest RAF strategy document includes mention of the service acquiring an “anti-ballistic capability”, but of course no details are provided. The british army only option is to work together with the RAF towards the acquisition of a long-range air defence system with anti-ballistic capability, to provide a more realistic umbrella over deployed forces and, at the very least, some protection to deployed HQs and other key targets from the Iskander threat.

From within its resources, the Army  should in the meanwhile re-organized 12 and 16 regiment to turn each formation into a Divisional Air Defence regiment with a battery for each brigade. Each battery should have a vShorad element with HVM / LMM and a Local Area element with Rapier and then Land Ceptor.

The number of batteries is unchanged, but T bty becomes a support battery to enable 12 Regiment to serve as a Divisional air defence asset, and a Commando battery is formed to support 3rd Commando Brigade. All batteries need expansion to have a HVM / LMM element and a Land Ceptor element.

Royal Engineers won’t lose 35 Engr Regt under my proposal, but will instead form new regular and reserve squadrons to better support the brigades. 21 and 32 regiments need an extra squadron each; and 23 Parachute regiment needs to recreate the lost 12 Sqn plus a new HQ element. Heavy equipment (Titan and Trojan) is concentrated in two heavy regiments. Two “medium regiments” (21 and 32) are equipped, and two light regiments complete the Close Support group.


One of the greatest weaknesses in Army 2020 is the lack of Royal Signal resources to support formations. It is not a secret, yet little to nothing has been done about it. Army 2020 cut a signal regiment, and then Peter Wall complained about signals shortage in front of the Defence Committee. Very smart. But, of course, infantry capbadges had to be preserved and five battalions were the most they were allowed to cut, as we know, so the pain had to hit elsewhere.
During 2016, reality emerged once more, as it has the bad habit of doing, and the Army has realized that it really cannot rotate “multi-role signal regiments” in and out of role to do the work of 6 or 7 regiments with 5. It just doesn’t work, and so regiments are aligning with one brigade. Or, in the case of 3 Signal, with 3rd Division.
The uplift required is significant: 216 Signal Sqn, within 16 Air Assault brigade, must be supplemented with other squadrons to form a new brigade signal regiment, if the formation is to be able to deploy as a large maneuver formation and not just support a battlegroup at readiness. I’ve suggested 210 and 215 as squadron identities as those have had parachute and air assault roles in the past.
A further two regiments need to formed, while 1 Signal becomes a Divisional signal regiment, in support of 1st Division. Much of the manpower margin created by reductions to the infantry would be absorbed by these measures.

Logistic and equipment support

Logistic regiments also need reinforcement. My proposal eliminates a small regiment (7 RLC, in the Adaptable Force) in favor of reinforcing what is left, building up capable brigade support formations backed by Theatre Support regiments at Division level.
REME expansion is also required: lack of maintainers has been causing “indirect cuts” within artillery and even infantry: the struggle to realize Light Mechanized Infantry is also due to lack of REME resources to support Foxhound.

Combat Aviation Brigades

Despite the efforts of Joint Helicopter Command, the integration between aviation and land forces is still cause of concerns, as evidenced in the Operation Herrick lessons learned report. To try and improve the alignment of precious helicopter resources with the readiness cycle of the land forces, my proposal is to form two deployable Combat Aviation Brigades. Their structure would formalize readiness mechanisms that, in large part, already exist. 

Under the first Army 2020, the two Attack Helicopter regiments alternate yearly into readiness, and align one squadron with the Air Assault Task Force and one with the Amphibious Task Force.
The Attack regiments are also tasked with generating a deployable Aviation HQ element, and another is generated by the RAF’s Support Helicopter Force.
Under Army 2020 Refine, the attack helicopter regiments are entering the age of "continuous readiness"Gone is the training year, and the demands increase a lot as 4 Regiment is assigned permanently to support of 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando, with 664 Sqn specializing in Land Air Assault and 656 Sqn in Maritime operations.3 Regiment, on the other hand, will align with 3rd UK Division. Details are still to come, but it seems reasonable to assume that its two frontline Apache squadrons will be required to align to the Armoured and Strike Brigade that will hold Readiness every year.

The Aviation HQ, in my proposal, would be enhanced and removed from the regiments, to be concentrated at brigade level with the formation of the two CABs.
Each CAB would have:

-          One deployable aviation HQ
-          One Signal Sqn (the existing 244 and another)
-          One Reconnaissance, Command Support and Light Utility regiment with two WILDCAT Sqns
-          One Attack Regiment with two APACHE Sqns
-          One Support Regiment with one CHINOOK and one PUMA Sqns
-          One Aviation Support Battalion, composed of elements from the current Joint Helicopter Support Squadron (LZ management, underslung loads); logistic element from 132 RLC Sqn, Fuel element from the Tactical Supply Wing and Aviation Support Coy REME.
-          One RAF Regiment Field Sqn for force protection and for MERT defence
-          Two Watchkeeper batteries from 47 Royal Artillery 

Joint Helicopter Command would maintain direct control of the Joint Special Forces Support Wing (including one CHINOOK Sqn) as well as of the training units, including 673 Sqn (APACHE OCU), 653 Sqn (APACHE Conversion to Role), 652 (WILDCAT OCU) and 28 Sqn (Puma and Chinook OCU). The two deployable brigades would be aligned each to an Army Division. The elements needed for the CABs are mostly already existent, although adjustements would be required.