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. 


  1. All in all a very sensible set of options / recommendations. MIV has to go absolutely, but I just dont ever see our Army merging armour and infantry in your combined regiments. In fact there is no need to do it anyway, but your suggestion "hides" the numbers nicely. On the loss of cap badges, how about the armoured infantry (Warrior) role becomes a role for the Guards regiments. With 5 such regiments and 6 slots (4 armoured Inf, 2 x Public Duties) we could either add second battalion to the Coldstream or Grenadiers, or make one of the public duties battalions a composite with a Company from each of the others ? All other infantry regiments would become battalions of "The Rifles", and a little funding to a central infantry museum might keep the old men who loose their old colours happy.

  2. I'm undecided as to whether or not I like this (although it's considerably better thought out than the current 2020 refine). How long will the Divisions spend in training and readiness? I don't think a one on one off is going to be sustainable in the long term, especially over a 24 month period. I think the biggest issue with the original 2020 plan was the Adaptable force and the hotch potch of brigades to make the 4th & 5th rotations. A couple of ideas to throw out there. Could we accept a 'virtual' Brigade fully manned and equipped with Challengers and older APC's to keep 3 Armoured Infantry Brigades, knowing that we will only ever deploy 2 in a peer-to-peer conflict. Also does 16 AA Brigade have utility as a stand alone Brigade ? Could the army not have 3 lighter Brigades, will full support containing AA, Air deployable mech and light infantry ? Essentially giving you one heavy and one light brigade at readiness + RM + helicopters, with a view of a one off 3 Brigade effort?

    1. How would you build up those brigades, and support them? The units in the tables are all the support the army has, before Army 2020 Refine cuts. Please note how much stuff is needed just to bring back the existing supports to a credible size. Unless manpower, money and equipment grow by a lot, you cannot have 3 armoured, 3 light and 16 AA. You don't have anywhere near enough men. You can have 3 light role infantry battalions and an HQ, but that does not a brigade make.

    2. My first starting point would be to remove 2 Light Battalions, one of the Scots and 2 Lancs, based purely on the undermanning. I'll move the Heavy Battalions out of the AI Brigades and give them a light battalion from the Guards each, so 2 x AI Bns and light Bn with the Guards rotating to London. That gives me about 1,100 spare posts. If you consider 4,7 and 16 Brigades as semi-deployable, ie having CSS attached, each of the CSS units has about 2/3 sub-unit strength, so I am looking at that manpower pool to bring some of them up to strength. I'll give each of the lighter brigades an Air Assault Battalion, a full fat mech Battalion and a light Battalion (the lights can do Cyprus and the Northern Ireland roatation). That's 18 Battalions committed to the Brigades, + 6 doing Cyprus, London, Brunei and Northern Ireland. With my 5 spares, I'll go for the 4 Engagement Battalions, giving me a further 1000 posts to redeploy and maybe keep one back as a strategic reserve. It's by no means perfect because I know one of my AI Brigades will not have Warrior (but I keep challenger numbers) and the CSS for the light brigades might be slimmer than ideal, but I keep the 36 month rotation - as I said in the original post, that I think will be the biggest challenge of refine.

    3. And who is going to handle communications? You are still full of holes all over the place.

    4. How would you manage those training cycles Gabby? To get true "repeatability" are you rotating contingency through the brigades rather than between them so that each Division has 1 Armoured, 1 Mechanised and 1 Airmobile battlegroup available each year? Can you just transpose your table into six multi-role brigades? And if you're doing that why not go back to five and have 40% of the force ready each year rather than a third?

    5. Each of my brigades is essentially structured to deliver 3 battlegroups, each with an infantry battalion, a Cavalry company, a close support logistic coy and elements of general support, and an artillery battery. 6 months at high readiness each. During those 18 months, the parent division would be in charge of readiness and the brigades should be brought up and maintained to a suitable level of preparedness to deploy if necessary. Then the readiness baton would move to the other Division. It is closer to the new Army 2020 Refine 2:2 model than to the old model, but there is no real alternative, other than having less stuff at readiness, simply. Forming extra brigades to keep a rotation of 3 is simply not feasible with the resources available.

  3. Good see Gab talking bollocks again! Thank god he is only a key board warrior or we would most definatly be in the poo. It is clear that he doesnt understand the nature of modern asymmetric warfare and need to balance both firepower and protection in a well balanced medium weight package.

    1. And that would be the strike brigade abort? What are you smoking? It must be good stuff.

    2. Gosh Mitty, good friends with the British Army's leadership are we.... You must be to come out with such bizarre comments. Just to spell it out for you -
      You are making several assumptions -
      1. That the only operations that the British armed forces are going to be conducting are asymmetric in nature. Even Carter has admitted that this might not be true
      2. That somehow medium weight forces are the "answer" to said warfare (whatever it is - indeed where does it start and stop?). I would have thought that all of the experiences of the last 15 years would have blown this out of the water. Just ask the Israelis and indeed the Turkish who are fighting against irregulars armed with RPGs and ATGWs how survivable their IFVs and even MBTs are....
      3. You are assuming that somehow the UK armed forces are blessed with funds - they are not. They can't have a spread of Heavy, Medium and Light. It is either stop doing state on state or accept that a balance of Heavy and Light is what we have and hence can afford to build on.
      Over the last 20 years the ongoing chimera of medium weight (FRES etc) has seen the Army spend £500m + on studies and procurements and with not a vehicle delivered and indeed with no real practical thinking underpinning it....

    3. So based upon your spelled out points a balance force struture is required yes???

      If so you could argue that a div structure based upon 1 x heavy bde, 2 x medium bde and 1 x light bde would give the capability to fufill a full spectrum force requirement.

      The key, fundementally, is balanced adaptable force struture which funnily requires a medium weight element combining firepower, mobility and protection.

      The British Army does not currently have the assets to fufill this capability. As such both Ajax and MIV are essential weather you like or or not.

      By the time Gab has all his toy tanks lined for World War III the war will be over. Heavy armour has place as does medium weight armour and rapidly deployable light forces.

    4. Mitty,

      I notice in none of your posts do you once mention money and hence I fear we are talking at cross purposes here. This is fundamentally about money and to as lesser, although linked, extent ability to procure equipment and numbers of personnel.
      While one can argue the merits or not of 8*8s as both I and Gab note (I happen to be a very strong sceptic), at he very best you come to your conclusion that heavy, medium and light "have their place".
      Unfortunately the money involved in developing and deploying two or at a huge stretch three fully equipped medium weight Brigades (ie 3 infantry bats + 1 cav bat, fully 8*8 with 40mm cannons and direct fire 155mm), would and is meaning that the British armed forces would have to be reduced to 1 deployable division and no heavy armour + 1 under strength air assault brigade and 1 marine brigade.
      Is that what you are suggesting? If it is, great, lets be open about it and explain how that 1 Division and 2-3 medium brigades could -
      a/ Survive conflict against any enemy with MBTs and heavy IFVs
      b/ Be sustained at strength beyond 6-9 months in the field?

      The question being asked here is, with the money and personnel available how will the UK retain 2 Divisional Headquarters, 6 deployable brigades and 1 marine brigade.
      The above cannot be achieved with the development and deployment of 2 8*8 Brigades, no matter how desirable it may be.

      Please explain your thinking, TAKING MONEY INTO ACCOUNT.

    5. PS - I should correct my post above btw.
      1. I should have said armed with 120mm direct fire and also 155mm artillery
      2. unfortunately the money involved with delivering 2-3 of the above brigades would totally suck money out of every single other project and in particular making the 2-3 armoured brigades in any way viable, leaving the Army left with 2-3 shiny medium brigades and not much else.....

  4. "Good see Gab talking bollocks again! Thank god he is only a key board warrior or we would most definatly be in the poo. It is clear that he doesnt understand the nature of modern asymmetric warfare and need to balance both firepower and protection in a well balanced medium weight package."

    I've got a lot of sympathy with this comment. The problem I have though is that we can only afford 2 batallions worth of MIVs and are pairing them up with tracked vehicles which kind of defeats the object of simplified logistics. That's assuming we can afford any at all bearing in mind the decline of the £ against the $. In any case it's too small a force to make any real difference.

    Personally I think we should dump the MIV and the whole medium weight idea, reduce the army by 10-15000 men, and use the spare cash to upgrade our heavy stuff.


    1. Okay, there seems to be something not clear about my position: i have nothing against the concept of a medium force, nor against 8x8. The Army could certainly use a couple of brigades on 8x8, eventually, although i do not share the excessive faith of some. 8x8s have been around for a long while, and there is nothing, nothing, that they actually "solve". They are useful tools, but nothing more. Having 8x8, on its own, won't help the UK do anything more than it did so far.

      My problem is with Army 2020 Refine pursuing a bunch of 8x8 at the cost of doing a whole series of things that make not one lick of sense, from brigades with only two infantry units (which have been tried countless times in history and have always, always, always been abandoned as failures) to cutting back even further on tanks, to losing the fifth set of supports and shrink to a one-shot "make it or break it" force.

      It is an absurd cost to pay for a vehicle that, even when it comes, is most likely to also lack firepower because only a light RWS is expected as armament. Seriously, it is just a suicidal idea.

    2. In short: if you can't afford to do it, don't do it. There are better ways to use that money and that manpower. It is that simple.

  5. Gabby, you haven't had a lot of reaction to this one and I'm not surprised - it's too far away from the way that the British Army does business. Your ideas of creating and combining half regiments looks a mish-mash and arguably reduces flexibility where it counts. I did note that when you suggested it on Arsse, they weren't impressed.

    Quite frankly if I were you, I would simply have suggested bringing the Chally's currently in store back out, and using them to boost tank numbers in the existing 3 armd inf brigades. For example you could give each brigade 2 x armd regts of 44 tanks each, or give the existing armd regiment a 4th sabre sqn of 18 tanks and then assigning that sqn that to the recce regiment in wartime.

    I know that doesn't square with your idea of adopting the US model of 2 x armd and 2 x mech companies in a battalion as a permanent structure, but it's still better than the existing system, and is much closer to the way that the army works.

    Too pay for the increased tank numbers, reduce the size of the army by getting rid of what was known as reactive forces (each 10,000 men you get rid of is a saving of around £1 billion p.a.). Also don't purchase MIV. That means that the army becomes much more of a home defence force which some won't agree with, but it's so small and poorly equipped for overseas intervention these days anyway, that we might as well do this. Looking ahead, that ain't going to change as the economy isn't going to get any better or Politicians spend any extra cash on defence. Rather there's going to be less cash so lets forget about overseas intervention and just focus on home protection.

    Just my 0.5p


    1. It is a complete falseness to say that the 2+2 model diminished flaxibility. It does the exact opposite, and it puts the tanks within reach of a number of key supports that they need but won't otherwise often have.

      2+2 battlegroups are also something the army actually knows well. It just creates them for deployment and exercise. There is no real reason not to adopt them permanently, other than outdated regimental and corps thinking that must be crushed out of the army yesterday, because today is already late.

  6. Well, even though I broadly agree, you stumble on this sir:
    "There is no real reason not to adopt them permanently, other than outdated regimental and corps thinking that must be crushed out of the army yesterday, because today is already late."

    Saving cap badges for the sake of it is dumb. The way the British army works is not, it has served us well. That splits Armour and Infantry into different corps, with different specialism, career paths etc. These are brought together to fight in the highly flexible model of the task organized battle group. What does it matter if you have an American (or Italian ?) style "2+2" battalion or 2 tank regiments, plus 2 Armoured Infantry battalions, which can be provide squadrons and companies to be mixed and matched as required. You get to the same end result without attempting upheaval of entire "corporate culture".

    For Mitty Hunter: if we want to put our money where our mouth is and support continental European allies, plus save our selves some of the pain of trying to find enough bases in the UK for our pathetic remaining "rump" of the army, perhaps a heavy armoured brigade could be based in Poland instead of Germany - far closer to at least one potential source of "action" !

    1. It matters in several ways. Among those, having six combined battalions allows you to save from the chop six support companies. The other way around does not.

    2. As for "saving capbadges for the sake of it", if we are to believe to the last two Chiefs of Staff that was one of the key requirements government put forwards for Army 2020. "no more than 5 battalions of infantry to be lost, because all capbadges have to stay". They have said and written it many times over. They invented the goddamn adaptable force and cut platoons out of all infantry battalions to avoid disbanding some more, did you miss that part? That is both part of the problem and something that, like it or not, cannot be avoided, as government only cares about avoiding as much flak as possible on the newspapers.

  7. I think what most of the comments lack is a concept of how and where the forces they detail are to be deployed. It seems to me that médium-weight forces are necessary for two reasons. One is to act as a deterrent against a Russian invasion of the Baltics. The armoured brigades won´t work for this, as by the time they get there it will already be a fait accompli (as a previous poster noted). The only way they could is if say one armoured brigade was permanently based in the Baltics, which is undesirable for political reasons. It is still unlikely that we would be able to deploy a médium-weight brigade quickly enough from the UK, so perhaps we should look at basing one in Poland. It should be able to deploy more quickly from there to the Baltics than an armoured brigade. To make these brigades an effective deterrent though, they need to have more firepower than currently seems to be envisaged. For that reason, I think the Challenger 2 upgrade should be limited to the sight only, and the rest of the money spent on a direct fire version of the Ajax. Since the most likely use of the Challenger would be in some planned multilateral action against a non-peer enemy, the lack of a 120 smoothbore would be unlikely to derail the whole operation (considering that the enemy is likely to have inferior tanks itself, and that other allied forces would have superior ones, alongside massive allied airpower).
    If in the future a new Cold War emerges in Europe, with heavily militarised borders on both sides, that will be the moment to look to base a replacement for the Challenger wherever that border is to be found.

    1. So I am struggling with your argument -
      1. You note that we couldn't deploy either an Armoured or a Medium Brigade quickly to the Baltics (I agree)
      2. You also argue that basing an Armoured Brigade in the Baltics is undesirable from a political reason (potentially true but why?)
      3. You then argue that we should deploy a medium weight brigade to Poland. Why would this be politically desirable when the Baltics would not?
      4. You then argue that a medium brigade would be able to deploy more quickly than an armoured one to the Baltics. I agree with this if it didn't have Ajax. The normal version of Ajax and even more so a direct fire version of Ajax would be just as slow to deploy than Chall 2 or Warrior, thus negating the raison d'etre of a Medium Weight Brigade

      So given the above, in conclusion you are arguing that we should have 2-3 (technically you need at least three to maintain one in Europe) medium weight brigades which are wheeled in their entirety, including a direct fire platform, because they can self deploy across Eastern Europe more quickly.
      So the questions then become -
      1. Where do you get the funding for the 1,000 - 1,500 8*8 that would be required?
      2. What would happen to Ajax - one assumes re assigned back to the 2 remaining armoured brigades (where it belongs)?
      Leaving us with 2 armoured brigades with brand new scout and IFVs and a totally out of date MBT?

      Doesn't sound fully thought out?

    2. 1.Correct
      2. Correct. Seen as aggression, might worsen the security/political situation.
      3. It´s further away/less of an immediate threat, and I believe the US already does this.
      4. Comes down to whether Ajax is airmobile or not, in any of its versions. If it is, it can be flown in whilst the rest drive.

      In terms of the structure, I think it would require about 400 MIV for the four infantry battalions (already in the Budget surely?), and then 100-200 direct fire variants of Ajax. Half the recce Ajax would provide the recce regiments for these two brigades, and half ditto for the armoured brigades. Ideally each strike brigade would have another battalion at least of infantry, perhaps we could use the Foxhounds for 4 more battalions until we have enough money to replace them. If we don´t, surely they will just be wasted, since we aren´t going to be doing any enduring operations anytime soon. As for needing three brigades, we will just have to look to our allies to fill in the third slot.

      Describing it as totally out of date seems like a bit of an exaggeration. Which potential adversaries, except for Russia (see above), would make it seem obselete? Surely the completely out of date part of the armoured brigades were the 7-ton recce vehicles? Do you think they should be kept?

    3. Hi,

      Ok, I understand points 1-3 - thank you.
      On point 2, I would quibble about whether or not a Brigade in the Baltics would be seen as any more threatening than, say, squadrons of fighter aircraft there (which NATO already provides), but hey
      On point 4, Ajax weighs in at an extremely weighty 40 tonnes each, which assuming it would actually fit in an Atlas, means that the entire RAF transport fleet would need a couple of days to lift 1 Regiment's worth to the Baltics - and then of course they would need spares, ammunition etc. If it doesn't fit in Atlas - likely, then this is a non starter.

      As for the balance -
      1. As I have noted before, for a medium brigade to work, it really can't have Ajax. In addition it ideally needs 3 battalions of infantry, so you are talking 600 - 800 vehicles for 2 Brigades of 6-8 battalions.
      This brings us back to the money question. The Army is already planning to cripple itself to buy 4 battalions of 8*8 APCs. To double this to actually deploy useful medium Brigades is simply impossible.
      2. I don't understand how the how the allied rotation would work? Are you saying half our Medium vehicles would be in Poland but they would only be manned 2/3s of the time?
      3. Challenger 2 is the most modern part of the armoured force, but its power pack is becoming extremely challenging to support. Furthermore its gun and most importantly its ammunition are simply unsustainable. So no, it is not out of date, but it desperately needs work
      4. The Scimitar family should absolutely not be kept. I happen to quite like Ajax although it is clearly not a recon vehicle. My point is that it has no purpose in a medium brigade and all of the numbers purchased should be completely concentrated in 2-3 armoured brigades, along with updated Chall 2 and updated Warrior.

      Ultimately I am fine with medium brigades as part of a balanced force, although I believe they are a luxury. What I am completely against are half assed medium brigades at the expense of credible armoured brigades, 6 deployable brigade headquarters and 2 deployable divisional headquarters and that is ultimately what you are arguing for....

    4. If the Medium Brigade has to have a "european" role to play against Russia aggression, it also cannot have MIV procured as an APC with a .50 on RWS mount. The complete lack of firepower brings us back to the "once it goes there, what does it even do?" question i've advanced several times without ever getting a credible answer.

      If that is the Strike Brigade's mission, to be remotely credible it needs guns, including big ones. Italy had Medium (Cavalry) brigades with a "anti-red army rapid reaction" role, but they were armed with the Centauro tank destroyer with its L7 105mm gun. They were meant to race along the eastern coast of Italy to contain a red army amphibious assault long enough for the tank brigades to arrive. Or, anyway, to race around to scout, screen and plug gaps.

      The Strike Brigade on two battalions of Ajax and 2 APC battalions clearly is not credible in such a role to start with.

  8. I agree with the points both of you made. As for how long it would take to deploy Ajax by air, it would take much less time from Poland to the Baltics, obviously. They could be rotated there with vehicles and everything, probably by using the RO-ROs.

    I agree that MIV needs more firepower too. If there is not enough money for this and the Direct Fire variant, you might be right that it is better to stick with the current structure, but in that case I don´t see us having much deterrent value/military effect in the Baltics.

  9. I was fallowing your blog with great interest for 2 years. You nailed some very good points here, however reality isnt wish list or reorg within todays budget or manpower. Politics rules and Im afraid that this has become repeating wishfull bloging.
    I do love your analisys, maybe some more details into your proposition of British cav bn. Are Warriors all to old that cant be upgraded with new powerpacks, guns and optronics? Maybe with this tight budget would be wiser to upgade and use them in your proposed CABs (thats 220 CR2 and 650 Warriors for all tasks allready in use, and make proposed armored brigades with only two types of vehicles, without need for buying new expensive vehicle that does the same). Using ABs as tripwire forces is lame to me. Why not to use large knowlidge of operting divisions (only country in europe to be able of that, and that did that in GW1 and 2) and make divisions of Baltic states, Poland and maybe Germany, Denmark and Dutch and putting them to protect Baltic areas? Imagine that Baltic Division, always at full strenght with 3 brgades, and 2-3 more prepearng and ready to take place in TOE or in proces of reseting and training. Personaly I thing that would be the biggest contribution to European security with necceserry point of purpose, organisation, mission, training... that would show all those EU countries how it is suppose to be done.
    Also I cant keep wondering, why does UK keep so many semispecial forces bns (10 I think) like Paras, Commandos, RAF gunners, Gurkhas. Could it be better organised and used. Big airdrops (UK doesnt have planes and helies for it) and amph assaults (RN doesnt have ships enough for brigade level ops) are history, so why doesnt it reoganise these elite forces into one regiment od 5 bns along US Rangers line and free rest of 5 bns for Spec.Inf.Gps or to beef up rest of inf corps?! 1 would be for amph assault, 1 would be PARA-RAF airassault, both capable for interoperability and SF support. Take men and train them to elite level, let rest of them go to other bns.

  10. From MikeW


    You stated in one of your comments on “A different refining process” that “If that is the Strike Brigade's mission, to be remotely credible it needs guns, including big ones.”

    You also stated in your article “Army 2020 Refine” (UPDATE) that “3 RHA is ending the 3 gun batteries "experiment" (an attempt to avoid shrinking to just two gun batteries by having 3 batteries on 4 guns rather than 2 on 6 guns”

    Unless I have got the figures wrong, that means just twelve of the proposed new 155mm wheeled guns in each Strike Brigade (each Brigade having only one Artillery regiment attached to it). Surely that is incredibly light for the Strike Brigades’ purposes. The SP Artillery Regiment in the old Mechanised Brigade organisation used to have 24 x AS90 - twice as many!) On deployment, a Strike Brigade might very well be dispersed over a very large area and would need many more guns than the proposed figure. I am very likely to get figures wrong. Please tell me that I have so in this case!

    1. Unfortunately, that is correct: 12 guns in two gun batteries, the same as 7 RHA. 29 Commando has 12 in three batteries, but with a very high risk of losing one gun battery. Even since 2010, 7 Bty has been hanging by a thread for one reason or another, and might have lost its guns already. Information does not come out of the army fast.

      They are very light regiments indeed, on the guns side. Even though each strike regiment will have a reserve artillery regiment in support, which should at least add a third battery for a major deployment, it remains a sad state of affairs.

      One interesting element that seems to be emerging is the beginning of a heavy reserve. I'm told, but i cannot confirm as of now, that one reserve artillery regiment (104, maybe) will take the AS90 role. I've also seen adverts from 7 RIFLES about working with Warrior. I'm keeping my eyes open on this one, we'll see if anything emerges.

    2. From MikeW


      Many thanks for the reply, Gaby. It would seem that we are in a pretty parlous state with regard to both equipment and manpower for the Army, a state of affairs which surely cannot be allowed to continue much longer.

      The possibility of the emergence of a heavy reserve is intriguing. It would certainly help to alleviate some of the serious shortcomings we are suffering from at the moment.

      I think that writer of the comments - the last Anonymous (Feb 21st 12.21 AM), after my and your comments, has it “spot-on”. Very knowledgeable and the case summed up succinctly and incisively. Who can really argue against that? That is not to say that I am against the acquisition of wheeled 8 x 8s eventually but let’s get the immediate problems sorted out first of all.

  11. I think this debate clearly shows the problem with 2020 Refine. Everybody I have ever seen comment on this subject all accepts the utility of a medium weight force. But it has to be financed properly. That means it wheels for all, you have to fund it and purchase enough MIV's, direct fire MIV's and support function. It means you don't cut artillery and other support functions to pay for it. You don't rob the Armed Brigades of upgrades and artillery to create it, you don't get rid of up to 60 tanks to pay for it, you don't make the rest of the Army basically useless to pay for it. A properly funded Medium force would have merit, but the half arsed abortion being created by the demands of saving overall budget, shinny kit syndrome, lack of will is leaving the British Army irrelevant.
    We have the Ajax unable to deploy across Europe without HET transport, you have an 8x8 only armed with 12.7mm machine gun whilst America and everybody else is up-gunning to 30mm turreted guns, whilst the Ukraine and Israeli experience shows the need for heavily armed IFV's is a must. But apparently the British Army knows best and will field a lightly armed, lightly armoured, light on artillery, light on anti tank missiles, light on mounted anti tank missile systems Medium Brigade that if it ever comes up against any force with tanks, missiles or heavy artillery will last hours, just as even irregular forces such as in Yemen are acquiring this capability. I just can not see the logic and if someone in authority could actually explain it to me with reason argument rather than calling Ajax a Mdium Tank crap , I might believe it. If not then I can't.

  12. Thanks for this Gabriele. One question, in your design for 2020 Refined who actually is it designed to fight?

    1. It is designed primarily to preserve as much combat power as possible; to squeeze out as much usefulness as possible from what the army already has; and to more readily match equivalent US Army formations where possible, since they are the primary partner. The heavy brigades are for near peer engagements, the light / airmobile brigades for flank maneuvers and traditional light infantry tasks, and the mechanized brigades as gap fillers between the two. It is not perfect, but at least it delivers 6 realistic brigades and two division HQs, so that the Army isn't reduced to a 6-month "make it or break it" attempt.

    2. Thank you. Any army organisational structure will have both advantages and disadvantages. Also any follow-on reorganisation will be unlikely to happen before the next SDSR (around the time of the next general election, say 2020). So my two questions for Gabriele are:
      1) What do you see as the possible disadvantages of your proposed alternative organisation? and
      2) If you were able to make one single change (i.e. not a comprehensive reorganisation) before the next SDSR then what would it be?

    3. My proposal for Army 2020 Refine had to take resources from somewhere, and that somewhere had to be the MIV. However, the Mastiff does have very real mobility limitations off-road, so that is an obvious weakness that over time would have to be fixed.

      As for a single change... i wouldn't want to lose any more tanks. They are already too few as it is, so the King's Royal Hussars should not lose Challenger 2.

  13. From MikeW

    In one of your recent tweets you stated that some Army Reserve formations, for the first time, will be paired with heavy units: Warrior, AS90, armoured engineer, as part of “Army 2020 Refine”.
    I am not 100% certain what that means. Does it mean that Challengers, Warriors, AS90s, Trojans etc. will actually be allocated to those units and that they will really be employed in armoured warfare (if it happens) as fully developed separate formations or will they be more like re-supply or delivery units employed to fill in gaps caused by battle damage in the regular units?
    Secondly, if they are used in the former role, they could prove a more than useful addition. What sort of numbers of vehicles are we talking about? It could be a good move, as Reserve (formerly TA units) have made more than a good fist of manning GMLRS systems.

    1. There is no available detail about how exactly it will work out. It has emerged that 7 RIFLES is now paired to 5 RIFLES in the armour role, and reservists have apparently begun to see Warriors, but whether the chosen regiments will have any real vehicle fleet of their own is not clear, but does not look too likely.

  14. I you could please give us some more info about proposed UK cav bns. Some 1000 men is a bit too much, dont you think? US cav bn have some 640 men, and recon bn have 440 men with 3 sqn/coy. Thats 800 men per cav bn with more mbts, afv/apc and logistics in US unit than for British one proposed by you.
    Also, if heavy formations are for near peer enemies, it means large hi tempo ops with a lot of artillery and stuff from other armed forces branches (air, navy, paramil). It most certanly means a lot of destruction in men and equipement. British army will have only 5 or 6 those units, with 2 in theathre, 2 in standy by and 1-2 in training. So are you saying that all Brits heavy formations will be gone within 1-2 weeks of begining of hostilities?!
    Frankly, sole UK stand no chance in todays hi tempo armored ops, EU cant form even one brigade of this all european countries are flank holders for US if they can move quickly enough with US forces. If so, why do Britain need heavy type of forces? Wouldnt be better to invest in airforce or navy instead of 10-15 thausend men and 10-15 thausend smen-support for type of warfare that you cant prevail in today anymore?

    1. Follow the link. There is an entire post and a graphic showing the structure of the Combined Arms Regiment. But no, it is not too big. It needs to be about that size to do its job: a battlegroup of that kind has that dimension. The US Combined Arms Battalion does not have more tanks and does not have more IFVs, actually. Unlike my proposed "british" variation on the combined arms battalion, the US battalion is quite weak in terms of organic logistic, repair and recovery. Those in fact come from the Brigade Support Battalion, that is twice as big as the RLC and REME elements of a british brigade. It would be possible to have a smaller combined arms regiment, but you would simply be moving stuff towards the logistic units within the Brigade, and you still would have to bring them back in the battlegroup for deployment, so you would not really gain anything.

      As for the number of units the British Army can field, we all know they are few. 82.000 men cannot do more than so much.
      But if the heavy formations were kept at 6, the comparison would actually be favorable against most european countries. It would deliver a realistic armoured division, and that is considerable power at one country's disposal.

      It is absolutely false what you say about Europe "not having a single armoured brigade". That is completely absurd. As is your suggestion to just give in on heavy force, which is still what determines the political weight of your army and what you actually need to have for a serious operation. I would never, never, never recommend to turn into nothing more than a "cheap grunts provider". That would massively weaken the country's political as well as military status.

  15. I think one needs caution in comparing the British and continental armies. The latter often seem to have greater, and better equipped, brigades than the UK. Yet the Brits spend so much more on defence. How can these seemingly irreconcilable facts be squared away? The reality is that buying equipment and employing soldiers is not the same as keeping them at readiness, trained, able and ready to fight. This latter ability costs money, a lot of money, more money than one would think. Therein lies an explanation for this difference.

    1. How much of it is true, and how much of it is due to political unwillingness to get too involved in the wars of choice of the last nearly two decades? Even italy's army, which has a tiny training and exercise budget has actually been up to interesting things. Field hospital and force protection in Libya, CSAR detachment in the Middle East, Mosul dam defence as of now. In 2008 it entered Lebanon from the sea with a good operation, albeit of course no opposition materialized. It faced combat both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
      I'm wary of overestimates in the effective differences. When your battalions are smaller and have less equipment, sometimes so evidently, training can only do so much.

  16. The key to me is deciding what strike will be, at the moment it seems a parking solution for Ajax that really needs to be in the heavy brigades supporting (perhaps with Challenger) recon - as it was meant to me. Strike needs be an all wheeled self supporting 8x8 brigade with direct fire support, mobile artillery / mortars etc - 'strike' should be 'stryker brigade'. 4 full strength brigades, 2 heavy and 2 strike with 16AAB and RM seems a realistic and effective force. Can't let Ch 2 dip below 200 even if some are sat with reserves.


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