Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Of Carriers, Obsolescence and Vulnerability

An aircraft carrier is a sovereign, mobile air base that ensures you can apply airpower at a point of your choosing. It ensures the fleet can have its own intimate air support, and its own timely air cover. It allows the surface fleet to launch its own quick reaction alert fighter jets and have its own CAPs to protect itself from enemy air attack.

Incidentally, allow me to say that one of the biggest mistakes the Royal Navy has made in the past was to refer to the carriers as “strike” carriers. That actually downplays the immense importance the carrier air wing plays in the survivability of a surface task group.

“Strike” is just one of the many missions of the Air Wing and is actually in some ways the least important one. Much (not all of it, but certainly much of it)  of the “strike” role could be carried out with Tomahawks or other ship and submarine-launched missiles, if you just funded enough VLS cells and missiles.

Air defence, reconnaissance, flexible close air support, anti-submarine warfare through the use of groups of helicopters, etcetera. These are the really defining roles of the carrier air wing. There are many alternative ways of putting 500 to 1000 lbs of explosive into a target, especially in the age of air to air refueling, drones and cruise missiles.
Put putting air defence patrols up above the fleet deployed far away from friendly shores? That definitely requires the carrier. You can’t sustain any sizeable air umbrella for any meaningful amount of time by trailing fighter jets thousands of miles via air to air refueling.

The aircraft carrier enables you to do that, because it is a fighter jets base that you can position as needed. As such, it can only ever become truly obsolete if A) jets themselves are obsolete and no longer needed. Already in the 50s the UK imagined a world where aircraft would become almost pointless because of missiles. It was wildly wrong at the time, and still is in many ways, but maybe a combination of drones and missiles will indeed take the place of jets one day. Not today, nor tomorrow, though.

Option B is that jets somehow grown such combat endurance and range that you can launch them from home and have them reliably and persistently overhead out at sea, or anyway at a great distance from a friendly air base. This is still technically unfeasible and it will be so for many, many more years.

Is the carrier vulnerable? Yes, it is relatively fragile. It is a ship. It has very little available estate, no matter how large it is, and that makes it difficult to work around battle damage. If the flight deck is damaged, you can’t simply fill up the crater with dirt and plate it up with AM-2 mat like you’d do on land. And if enough holes are opened in the hull, it will inexorably sunk. That’s the reality of being a ship. But that’s nothing new, and shouldn't be blown out of proportion either, because finding an aircraft carrier at sea and then assaulting it successfully, going through the various layers of its defences, remains actually a very challenging task. 

Whenever you say the aircraft carrier is “too vulnerable”, what you are actually implying is not the obsolescence of the carrier, but the fact you don't trust your AAW and ASW capabilities.
From a purely british point of view, the aircraft carrier is surrounded by Phalanx CIWS, Aster missiles from the Type 45 and Sea Ceptor from Type 23, 26 and 31.
Add the embarked jets supplying air defence, and the carrier is literally the best defended place in the whole of the UK and its armed forces.

In comparison, Land forces and land airbases have access to just a few STARSTREAK and Land Ceptor missiles (replacement from Rapier, coming into service beginning in the new year).  
If you feel you can’t protect the aircraft carrier from “drones”, it is not a carrier problem. It is a forces-wide problem, because it means other ships, the army and the RAF jets when on the ground are all even more vulnerable.
Clearly, your problem is not the carrier being “obsolete”, but your air defences.

Naturally, the carrier is exposed to submarine threats which are particularly scary. An air base on land, no. Then again, the land base is subject to a whole lot of other threats, including lack of host country authorizations and cooperation, protests, disruptions of the supply routes and potentially indirect fire at all levels (from ballistic missiles down to mortars and rockets). Airbases on land can also be assaulted by suicidal attackers with various tactics. 
There is a reason why the RAF continues to integrate the equivalent of 2 infantry battalions in the form of 6 RAF Regiment Squadrons for Force Protection. Without expanding beyond the last decade alone, we have witnessed the Taliban attack on Camp Bastion, repeated disasters in Pakistani airbases stormed by terrorists and various attacks in Syria which are all good examples of additional threats to land bases. 
A base on land cannot sink, but it remains very vulnerable to disruption and, moreover, any aircraft when parked on the ground is very fragile. 
A swarm of UAVs cannot sink an air base ashore, but it can put it out of commission all the same, and destroy the aircraft on the ground with relative ease. 
Yet nobody would argue that the airfield is "obsolete". You'd argue, correctly, that better defences are required. 

The submarine threat is perhaps the most terrifying of all, but if you don’t think you can keep the aircraft carrier safe, the implication is that surface operations as a whole are doomed to failure, because nothing else will be as well defended.
Again, it implies you don’t trust your ASW technology, tactics and resources as a whole to be up to the task. If this is the case, the problem is not the carrier, or at least definitely not limited to it. 

Ultimately, if the carrier was not there with its jets and helicopters, both your AAW and ASW instantaneously gets even weaker. Maybe the fleet will still have access to Airborne Early Warning (the one saving grace of having helicopter-borne AEW is that it can work from pretty much any ship at all), but it will no longer enjoy intimate air support. It’ll have to restrict its movements to where land-based airpower can provide sufficient cover.

Remove the ASW helicopters embarked on the carrier, and your ASW defences are also immediately weakened.

Threats are getting more difficult to counter, that’s undeniable, but the war between the “sword” and the “shield” is as old as war itself.
It is not the carrier that you are calling into question if you believe you can’t defend against the enemy “swords”. It is your “shields”.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Towards the SDSR 2020

5 years ago, I ran a series of articles ahead of the SDSR 2015 in which I highlighted what, in my opinion, were the priorities to be tackled in the review. Admittedly, it was perhaps easier back then, because some major requirements were well evident and it didn’t take much imagination to call for the plugging of those holes. But my predictions proved remarkably accurate, and so I want to write a short piece ahead of the incoming SDSR 2020 as well, pointing my finger at what I see as main issues to be tackled.

First of all, I will expose myself and say that I am, for now at least, somewhat at peace with the idea of the incoming review. I’m relatively confident that it won’t bring big cuts: I’m expecting the targets of the SDSR 2015 to overall hold steady. The Conservatives have committed to the 2% of GDP base figure, and extended the 0.5% annual growth above inflation for the duration of the new Parliament, which is progress, however modest, since that commitment was otherwise going to expire by 2022.

This gives the MOD a degree of certainty about the budget that will be available, and means that the uncertainty mainly stems from the exact entity of the rumored “black hole” in the future years programme. That “black hole” is not really easy to actually define, as its effective magnitude depends on a huge variety of factors that go from Foreign Exchange variations to cost growth in ongoing programmes, to variations in GDP etcetera. In the 2018 estimates of the Black Hole, it is possible, and actually pretty likely, that the 0.5% growth above inflation was not factored in beyond 2022, and that will have contributed to the “worst case scenario” figure. Estimates supplied in 2018, in fact, had a pretty dramatic range, going from a modest 2,8 billion to nearly 15 or more over the 10 years of the programme. Clearly, 15 billion would be a big problem. 3, not so much.

The MOD secured a much needed injection of cash recently, as we know, and that helped overcome the short term problems and avoided the old and highly ineffective solution of delaying expenditure, which inexorably results in an even higher cost further down the line.

The budget pressure is indeed mostly, if not exclusively, concentrated on the next few years since a multitude of programmes are supposed to start and, at the same time, several others are already under contract at the same time. What is already under contract cannot, obviously, be easily tampered with, leaving limited flexibility to deal with money shortages.
In future years the problem is less dramatic simply because much of the expenditure is planned, but not contracted, and can be simply be pushed to the right. Of course, this has an impact on capability as kit is not procured, but on the other hand does not require the frantic cutting of what is already there, which is what happened in 2010.

Much, if not everything, will depend on the real width of the “black hole” and on the flexibility available to deal with it. Obviously, the most vulnerable programmes are the ones which haven’t yet started: Multi Role Vehicle Protected, for example, could very easily slip further to the right despite decisions on both Group 1 and Group 2 being currently expected in 2020. WCSP production, Challenger 2 LEP, but also purchases of F-35s after 2025, the Future Fleet Solid Support ships for the Royal Navy and the procurement of Typhoon upgrades (AESA, Litening 5…) and the purchase of new build Chinook Block 2 are all exposed to delays and variations and potentially even cancellation. Contracts which have not been signed yet are, obviously, the easiest ones to remove from the 10 year programme, and they make for cuts which are quite “stealthy” and do not expose politicians to as much criticism.
In other words, despite the noise on some newspapers about Dominic Cummings’ previous comments about the carriers, it is not the Queen Elizabeth class which is exposed. Both ships are now in service and the acquisition programme is nearly entirely complete, so (thankfully) any further political meddling (like the delay imposed by Gordon Brown which resulted in a cost growth of over 1 billion, or the 2011 mess) is out of question.

The carriers can of course still be hurt indirectly by, for example, stopping the Fleet Solid Support project, but this is relatively unlikely given how unusually high a profile shipbuilding has played in the Election. Labour had promised to amend the shipbuilding strategy to  ensure RFA vessels are built in the UK, and while the Conservative manifesto does not contain such a promise, the Prime Minister has promised more shipbuilding work. While I don’t expect the optional 3rd Solid Support Ship to ever be contracted, I’m optimistic that 2 will eventually come and I think building them in the UK is almost a certainty at this point.

Some other programmes are much more secure despite the lack of a contract. An easy example: apart from the capability rationale, Type 26 Batch 2 would be political dynamite to tamper with, due to the tensions with Scotland. SKYNET 6 satellites are also unlikely to suffer much, simply because they really are the kind of equipment which just HAS to be procured.

Space is expected to be a winner, in general. The Manifesto promises a Space Command, which might or might not grow into or from 11 Group, Royal Air Force, which is currently in charge for space activities, along with 23 Sqn, resurrected to be the first “space squadron”.
News coming out on some newspapers ahead of the Election suggest there will soon be announcements about a national Global Positioning System, aligned with the 5 Eyes organization (Australia, in particular, is expected to be involved in the project), which will give the UK a sovereign alternative to GPS and Galileo. If confirmed, this would be an exciting development, even if, with the pricetag being given at around 5 billions, I’m not sure should have been granted such a great priority. Much will depend on exactly how alternative it is to the existing GPS and “clones”. To be truly worth it, it should come with different technical approaches, hopefully obviating to some of the known vulnerabilities of the existing systems. With the UK’s (but Airbus-owned) Surrey having build the navigation system payload of the Galileo satellites themselves, know-how definitely exists.  

What I truly hope to see is a bold and meaningful commitment to projects ARTEMIS and OBERON, in connection with the spaceports in Scotland and Cornwall. Both programmes have received some initial funding but are currently experimental: I hope there will be a solid commitment towards growing up both constellations to give the UK a sovereign space-based imagery intelligence capability (ARTEMIS) and a sovereign Radar and Electronic Surveillance capability (OBERON), so to drastically reduce what is currently pretty much a 100% dependency on Allies (mostly the US) in both areas.

ARTEMIS and OBERON are bold because they want to pack high definition imagery and Inverted SAR radar capability in small satellites. Since Britain is among the biggest producers of small satellites in the world, this makes sense in more ways than one. And since the UK will soon have two spaceports able to put small satellites into space from UK soil, this is even more exciting. ARTEMIS, in particular, includes provisions to demonstrate the ability to put satellites into space with short notice, exploiting the air-launched rocket and the modified Boeing 747 “Cosmic Girl” taking off from Newquay in Cornwall.

The UK-developed "origami antenna" which should allow OBERON small satellites to have a powerful Inverted SAR radar sensor, with a resolution normally associated to much larger and heavier satellites 

This is extremely promising and potentially very, very significant, because (relatively) cheap ARTEMIS satellites could be launched at short notice to improve coverage in the future and, crucially, timely replace space-based sensors destroyed or denied by enemy action, kinetic or otherwise.
Britain-made, Britain-owned satellites, launched from UK soil, potentially with the Orbex’s british made rocket. That would be a great capability to have, and it would go quite some way towards healing the disastrous decisions of the past which put UK space on a dramatic capability holiday just after the UK had become one of the few nations in the world to put a sovereign satellite into space with a sovereign rocket (PROSPERO satellite and BLACK ARROW rocket, in 1971).
The RAF putting one first pilot into Virgin’s space programme is also a welcome step going in this very direction.

UK built satellites, launched from the UK, potentially with a RAF pilot at the controls. As early as 2021

Obviously, further support for the SABRE engine is to be auspicated. The recent RAF contract for studies into the potential benefits coming from integrating the pre-cooling technology of SABRE into the EuroJet engine of the Typhoon is a very welcome development and hopefully it’ll be just the first of many applications. SABRE is a true potential revolution in the making, so I’d like to see support to this exciting project being front and centre.

In general, Space should be a winner in the coming review and beyond. Space investment is in no way a Defence exclusive, and the UK has already confirmed a substantial uplift of investment into ESA projects, in exchange securing lead roles in a number of key initiatives. Further investment into space tech for the military sector is likely to be guided in large part by the Space Strategy document which was announced back when Gavin Williamson was still Secretary of State for Defence. The document has not been published yet, but we can expect much of its content to migrate into the new SDSR.

Much the same can most likely be said for the Arctic Strategy as well, which saw the UK committing to a 10 year programme of support, primarily to and in Norway, which will become very apparent with the large scale 3rd Commando Winter Deployment 2020 (WD2020) which is in preparation. The Northern Flank of NATO should, for obvious reasons, be confirmed as an absolute priority engagement area for the UK. The North Sea is the UK’s exposed flank in any Russia scenario, and this is enough of a reason to ensure appropriate attention is pinned on this sector and on key capabilities such as Anti Submarine Warfare.

A welcome step was the revitalization, back in November, of the NATO Channel Committee to oversee plans for the protection of vital shipping routes across the North Sea and the English Channel. A document was signed on November 7 between the Navies of UK, Germany, France, Belgium and Netherlands to breathe new life into the NATO Advisory Body - Channel Committee (CHANCOM), and it is in the UK’s best interest, for reasons I hope are obvious to everyone, to play a key role in this organization.

With the Type 31 under contract and the Type 26 being a top priority as well as politically red-hot things no one will want to mess with, I’m expecting the Royal Navy to fare well in the review, despite whatever grievance Dominic Cummings might have against the carriers.

The First Sea Lord will go to the SDSR table with the Future Commando Force as one of its top priorities this time, and hopefully that will help the amphibious flotilla and the Royal Marines survive another round of political meddling. This remains, however, the most exposed area for the Senior Service, so it is where the hardest battles will be fought.

I’m relatively optimistic about the Littoral Strike Ships eventually materializing since I expect that this requirement will be put in close relationship to well known ambitions for “disaster relief / hospital ships” which will be at least partially funded with Foreign Aid money. According to the latest reports, Boris Johnson is much more open towards the idea of using Foreign Aid to fund programmes which more directly benefit UK interests. The Department for International Aid is said to be heading for incorporation within the Foreign Office, in fact, and in general I expect that Defence will be aided with some of this very budget, where possible.

Littoral Strike Ships will hopefully still happen. Their flexibility will be key, in particular when it comes to their large flight deck and hangar. With the loss of HMS Ocean, UK amphibious capabilities suffer badly from a shortage of helicopter capability, unless a carrier is deployed. 

According to the Press, Ben Wallace might soon lose his role of Secretary for Defence, but until then we have to take due consideration of the priorities he has given in debates ahead of the Election. For the Royal Navy, the absolute priority is making better use of what is already available, and it’s impossible not to agree.
Ships that have been tied up in harbor should be returned to full operational status as soon as possible, and every effort should be made to put a brake on the delays to refits and maintenance periods which are keeping too high a proportion of the existing fleet tied up. The gains will take time, however, and not everything can be affected at all: Type 23 Life Extension refits are demanding and time consuming, and the Type 45s are going to have to circle one by one through Birkenhead to have their Diesel gensets replaced under Project NAPIER. Every effort should be made to ensure that the refits stick to the schedule, however, and even more effort should go into ensuring that all ships in the fleet are used as much as possible. This, of course, means also putting further effort (and money, if necessary) into filling up the manpower deficit.

If sacrifices cannot be avoided, I feel that the first “victims” should be the WAVE and FORT classes. Fort Austin and Fort Rosalie have a dismal record for sea days in the last several years, and 6 tankers are probably too many for the fleet that remains in Royal Navy service. At any one time, several RFA vessels are actually tied up into Birkenhead, inactive and effectively mothballed, and the cause of this should be finally identified and cured. If the RFA cannot actually crew and use the WAVEs, I think they should be sold while they have still value. As for the two oldest FORTs, they have not received the modifications given to Fort Victoria to make them compatible with the new aircraft carriers and thus their usefulness is limited. If there is no way to put them back at sea quickly, it might be better to just sacrifice them. It would not save much money at all, but neither it would hurt the Service that much, since they are mostly only ever parked up in port anyway.

Going back to the Future Commando Force, instead, one priority I’d set if it depended on me would be to bring back into full service the mothballed LPD.
It would be a major win for the Navy and it would reflect the priority of using to the max everything that the Navy already has. Moreover, it would greatly help in achieving one of the key targets of the Future Commando Force, which is to have more Marines forward deployed at sea.

Forward basing in general is likely to be a key theme for the Navy in the new Review. Two 1st Sea Lords in a row have, correctly in my opinion, identified it as the only option to increase presence abroad without an increase in the number of ships. HMS Montrose in the Gulf for 3 years is the first of, hopefully, a few more long-term forward basing arrangements, with the Royal Navy looking in particular at the Caribbean and at South East Asia. The 1st Sea Lord would like to “initially” put a couple of OPVs in Asia, and while this might seem low key, it would be a very significant first step, which Type 31 might in future make more meaty.

It will be important, however, to secure a further extension to the operational life of the 3 River Batch 1 ships to cover home water needs and let the more capable Batch 2s free to show the flag abroad and complement actual frigates.

It would be easy to ask for more frigates, but I won’t even waste the time it would take me to write about it, because there are no real chances of it happening any time soon, I’m afraid. Apart from increasing the readiness rate of the existing fleet and expanding its footprint with Forward Basing and Littoral Strike Ships and accompanying groups, my priorities for the naval sector would be:

-          Unmanned vehicles. Some good experimentation is ongoing thanks to 700X NAS and the Royal Marines respectively, but every effort should be made to finally move beyond the experimentation phase. The Royal Navy and Marines both need UAVs to increase their ISTAR collection capability. I’d like to see more work going towards unmanned surface and sub-surface vehicles configured for ASW tasks as well.
Among known projects, the Royal Navy is seeking a few PAC-24 RHIBS converted into USVs, and project MINERVA is working on a large quad-copter which will be able to locate a man at sea and drop a SAR raft and smoke markings to aid rescue efforts. MINERVA, if successful, could greatly reduce the need to tie up an helicopter as plane guard during every launch and recovery evolution on the aircraft carriers, for example, resulting in significant efficiencies in the use of precious and finite assets. The PAC-24 USV could be a precursor to more ambitious surface combat assets for inspection and force protection and, eventually, for ASW.
Another option immediately available is insisting with either ARCIMS or Halcyon from the unmanned MCM solutions: those are already able to tow sonars, and could complement the scarce frigates.
It’s also time to look again at plans for a rotary wing tactical UAS, which would also be very important for the future of the Yeovil factory. Leonardo was given 8 millions for studies back in 2017, but only ominous silence has followed.

-          Force Protection / Combat Boats. These would be essential not just for the Future Commando Force’s needs, but for the wider Navy. Well armed, enclosed, all weather combat boats with a good operational range could truly open up raiding opportunities along great lengths of enemy coast and even up rivers. Moreover, said boats, deployed from a Bay, a LPD or a Littoral Strike Ship or even a Type 26 or 31 could extend the influence radius of those units by hundreds of miles. Imagine, for example, well armed force protection crafts supporting the few frigates in the Gulf in the challenging task of escorting merchant shipping in and out.

Combat Boats such as the Mark VI, or the swedish CB90, would hugely boast the capabilities of the Navy and Royal Marines in the littoral 

-          Ship to Shore Connectors. Much as “raiding” seems to be the sexy word of the week, the future of the Royal Marines still lies with their ability to put an enemy coast at serious risk, forcing enemy units to mount guard along hundreds or thousands of miles of littoral. Moreover, the amphibious capability of the Royal Navy is only truly valid until it is dimensioned in such a way to enable the landing of heavy, mechanized force elements. New Ship to Shore Connectors, much faster and thus more survivable, are a key component of the future Commando Force, which means that resurrecting the LCU Mk 10 replacement programme as soon as possible should be high up on the list of priorities.

-          Investment in helicopters. Data links for WILDCAT and the addition of LMM missiles and radar on the Army variant of the AW-159.
The Commando Helicopter Force would also like to more heavily arm the Merlin HC4 (miniguns fit) and introduce the ability to refuel in flight.
Finally, in an ideal world the number of Merlin helicopters would be increased by repairing and updating as many of the remaining, stored HM1s as possible. This would be expensive, but everybody knows that 30 Merlin HM2 doing ASW and AEW at once are too few. The pressure on the fleet is very intense. 

For the Air Force, with the deliveries of Typhoon now completed, the only combat aircraft still being acquired is the F-35, and this review will have to look at what happens after the first 48 jets have all been acquired. With the Block Buy contract for lots 12 to 14 having been signed, focus now shifts to reaching a deal for Block Buy II, covering lots 15 to 17. These lots will complete the purchase of the first 48 jets and include an unknown number beyond those.

The questions still without answer are many. We don’t know over how many years the MOD proposes to acquire the famous 138 jets. We also do not know whether the RAF can, and if yes how, absorb that many jets and form additional squadrons from the manpower it has. Officially, the Typhoon Tranche 1 is now going to stay all the way to 2035, but that continues to sound pretty suspect to me, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see those 2 squadrons eventually becoming F-35 units with the very limited Tranche 1 heading out of service. By 2023 there should be 7 Typhoon and 2 F-35B Squadrons, and this is about as many fast jet units as the RAF has had in recent times. Where is the manpower margin to form additional units?

How many F-35 will the UK be able to purchase, year on year? The largest yearly order currently planned is for 8 jets in Lot 14; if the UK purchased 8 aircraft per year after 2023 it would still take more than eleven years to procure the other 90 jets, meaning that the last british F-35 could be delivered in 2035.
In that same year, rather optimistically, Project TEMPEST should deliver the first jets to RAF service. 

I believe the UK will never acquire 138 F-35. The actual number will be lower than that, because expenditure on Project TEMPEST will have to ramp up over the same years and something will have to give.  
This is not necessarily a “bad” thing, however, simply because there does not seem to be the manpower to form additional squadrons anyway. With today’s manpower figures, I don’t think the RAF can actually use 160 Typhoons and 138 F-35s.

Another question yet to be answered is, of course, the make up of the F-35 fleet. The RAF would love to switch the purchase to the A model, but if that happened immediately after the first 48 jets, it would make it impossible to ever fill up even just one of the two aircraft carriers. Moreover, it would make it very challenging to embark, with any sort of regularity, the objective airwing of 24 jets. It would mean embarking 100% of the frontline fleet, and that is unlikely to be feasible for obvious reasons.
The Review should determine how many fast jet squadrons can realistically be formed, manned and supported. Until recently, the target was to eventually field 4 F-35 squadrons. If this number is confirmed, splitting them 50/50, B model and A model, would be pretty horribly ineffective, leaving two small fleets, none of which truly able to meet all needs, which will inexorably be at each other’s throats all the time over finite budgets for updates, maintenance and support.
The last time the RAF had a 2-squadrons fast jet type, it ended up cutting the whole fleet because it was “not efficient”, remember? I would very much like to avoid going there again.
While the A does have some kinetic and range advantages over the B, I would very much recommend going for 4 squadrons of a single type rather than 2+2.
The reasons, I’ve already explained in detail in other occasions in the past.

To complete the Combat Air section of the review, I would of course like to see continued support for capability insertions into Typhoon. The adoption of STRIKER 2 helmets, LITENING 5 pods (with some reconnaissance capability making up at least in part the loss of RAPTOR) and SPEAR would definitely add a lot of capability to the fleet and I hope to see all of those confirmed.

The other and biggest capability enhancement is the AESA radar, with the UK busy developing a “R2 variant” which is expected to have a significantly greater EW capability than the R1 and R1+ chosen by Germany, Spain and Qatar. The timeline for the retrofit is still a question mark and, while Germany has now officialized its intention to retrofit all its Tranche 2s as well as the Tranche 3s, the UK’s plan remains obscure. Extending the Retrofit to the Tranche 2s is incredibly important, longer term, since that is the standard of most of the aircraft in the fleet. There are just 40 Tranche 3s.

Beyond Combat Air, one question which needs answering is what happens in 2021 to the wide area radar ground surveillance capability. A further extension to the Sentinel R1’s service life? A capability gap with their withdrawal going ahead? Or a replacement through the purchase of AAS radar pods for the P-8 Poseidon fleet, ideally along with a few extra airframes?
My favorite option would be withdrawing Sentinel but adding to the P-8 numbers and adopting the air to surface radar gondola.

For the unmanned portion of the ISTAR fleet, the Review will have to consider how many PROTECTOR to purchase. 16 are currently on order, with the stated aim of going beyond 20 with follow-on orders. Will those be confirmed?
Apart from purely financial considerations, manpower margins will play a part in the decision. It should also be noted that the recent spate of UAVs shot down (over Libya and Yemen, but also the Global Hawk shot down by Iran over the Gulf) has reminded everyone that these systems are currently completely (or in some case almost completely) defenceless. Even against enemies which are in no way peers, such as the militias in Libya, the UAVs are quite vulnerable.

I think a pause in the orders would definitely not be a tragedy. Indeed, it might be better to put some money into defences for the PROTECTORs already on order. In particular, I wonder if the defensive pods that came off Tornado GR4 and which saw considerable investment right up to the end of their service life, couldn’t be adapted for PROTECTOR.

Eventually, I would also like to see investment in the proposed ASW capability for PROTECTOR, with SEASPRAY radars and sonobuoys pods eventually becoming part of the fleet’s equipment to give the type a maritime role in support of the precious few P-8 Poseidons.

One expensive programme which has made very little noise so far but which will undoubtedly be reviewed is the Chinook Capability Sustainment Programme. The UK basically intends to procure new build Chinooks, ideally at the latest Block II standard, to progressively replace the oldest airframes. It has already secured in 2017 the authorization to purchase up to 16 such machines and according to Boeing a contract for 14 could come soon. Review permitting, obviously. This would be an expensive endeavour and it might well be postponed in a hurry to ease the pressure on the budget.  

If it does instead proceed, the authorization document suggests the UK has requested helicopters at the MH-47G standard, so the full-optional Special Forces one, with just one very evident item missing: the air refueling probe. In the meanwhile, however, the US have offered the probe for export to Israel and Germany both, so the UK should have no problem obtaining them.
Ideally, it should.

Putting probes on Merlin HC4 and Chinook, however, is only half the job. The UK would then have to procure either C-130J tanker kits, or A400M pods. The A400M is basically “tanker-ready” and recent tests with the reworked pods, carried out in France, suggest that the capability will indeed become available, so procuring a few pods should not be overly complex or expensive.
The C-130 tanker kit is an alternative, but the KC-130s are all short fuselage models, and the RAF is retaining only one short C-130. Converting just one aircraft wouldn’t be great. Had more short fuselage been retained, the ideal solution would have been to procure some HARVEST HAWK kits from the USMC, adding not just air refueling capability, but weaponry.

This would have fit into the spirit of the “VENOM” project announced by Gavin Williamson but never detailed. Assuming VENOM is not quietly cancelled, this should see the integration of a non better specified “kinetic strike” capability on some of the RAF ISTAR / support aircraft. HARVEST HAWK kits would be the absolute best fit among what is already out on the market, and the Special Forces would no doubt appreciate.
This whole initiative, however, is one of the easiest to cancel and will undoubtedly quietly vanish away if saving money fast is imperative.

My list of priorities for the RAF would include:

-          Expanding 216 Squadron activities and capabilities (the unit is standing up to work with Swarming UAVs)

-          Investing in the LANCA “loyal wingman” development, including the requirement for “runway independence” to ensure they can readily be embarked in support to the F-35Bs of the carriers as well. Maturation of the LANCA capability should be pursued with decision, because this is probably the only truly feasible way to expand the number of aircraft in service

-          A plan to get to a total of 4 F-35B squadrons. Avoid a fleet split, especially if no more than 4 Sqns can be expected to stand up in total. A reduction in total number of airframes is not only acceptable, but borders on the advisable, in order to free up funding for Project TEMPEST

-          Project TEMPEST should be supported and nurtured and every effort should be made to try and involve more countries, beginning with Japan in particular. Speaking of Japan, continued support to joint development of the Joint New Air to Air Missile (evolved Meteor with AESA seeker) should be a priority.

-          AESA retrofit extended to cover Tranche 2 Typhoons as well; STRIKER 2, SPEAR and Litening 5 to be adopted as soon as practicable 

-          Investigate adding some self-defences on PROTECTOR; ASW capability if financially possible.
-          Acquiring 2 to 4 sets of AAR pods for the A400M fleet once they have been proven workable
       Ideally, go ahead with the Chinook CSP, including AAR capability for at least a portion of the fleet

If money could be secured, I would recommend investing further in capability aiming at the suppression and destruction of enemy air defences. In particular, an anti-radar missile derived from Meteor (MBDA has already proposed such a development) and eventual adoption of Escort Jammer pods for use on Typhoon would be my favored investments. An anti-radar weapon derived from Meteor would come with the key advantage of being compatible with internal carry into the F-35, while escort jammers would give better chances to the Typhoons to stay relevant well into the future.

Finally, the Army.
While for the other Services I auspicate a continuation of current programmes and approaches, I would recommend a wide ranging rethink of the Army plans. As I’ve written many times, in multiple articles, the Army plans for the future are by far the messiest and less convincing.

To this day, few seem to have awakened to the fact that more than half of the Army’s infantry battalions are “parked” within 4 “brigades” which have no artillery, no signals, no logistic, no engineering units of their own. The whole 1st Division is a container for “spare” infantry and some Light Cavalry. For me, this is an unacceptable waste of finite resources. I can accept some “spare” battalions (the UK needs a few just to cover rotating, standing tasks including Public Duty, Brunei and Cyprus), but maintaining a ghost division and parking in it around two thirds of the available Infantry is in no way acceptable.

Fixing 1st Division, and indeed the wider imbalance within the Army, should be priority number one perhaps of the entire Review. The plans that Carter left behind himself are in large part unworkable and should definitely be rewritten.

Re-balancing the Army will require the courage to tackle head on the one and only true Sacred Cow in Defence: the british fetish for the infantry battalions and their capbadges. Courage will be needed to merge and / or disband a few more battalions in favor of beefing up what remains and in favor of standing up more supporting units, to ensure that the brigades that remain are actually able to deploy into the field with their own communications, logistic, engineering and artillery support.

In particular, I would recommend adopting an army structure similar to the one adopted by France with the recent “Au Contact” restructuring. In practice, instead of having all deployable brigades in 3rd Division and “everything that’s left” into 1st Division, I’d encourage the formation of two more equally resourced Divisions, each one comprising an Armoured Infantry brigade, a Medium brigade (STRIKE, if you truly must insist with that rather empty title) and a Light brigade. In the past I had attempted a detailed look at such a possibility, and while today I’d go a slightly different way about it, that article remains interesting to see, in detail, what would be needed and what is instead already available.

One of said Light Brigades might have to be 16 Air Assault. This would cut down to a minimum the need to raise new Artillery, Logistic, Engineer and Medical formations, since 16AA already has these formations (albeit with just a couple of sub-units each).   
On the other hand, ideally I’d want 16 Air Assault and 3rd Commando and the Specialized Infantry Group (which could well be given a Brigade identity, since it is a 1-star command anyway) sitting together under a Joint Divisional Command specializing in unconventional warfare and theatre opening. The reasoning behind such a grouping is simple: Specialised Infantry is meant to be constantly deployed abroad, building security but also local knowledge of various reasons which might one day be theatres of action. 16 AA and 3rd Commando are early entry forces and, in particular with 3rd Commando, a raiding / unconventional warfare force which could be used to create the conditions for a subsequent deployment of a larger Army force.  

I’d alter the (too) ambitious Carter target of being able to deploy a Division of 2 Armoured and 1 Strike brigade, which does not appear realistic, in favor of being able to deploy either one of the two “identical” divisions instead. They would be individually lighter, but they could rotate in and out of operations and ensure the Army is not just a single use silver bullet which, if ever expended, is then out of the picture nearly completely for years.

On the equipment front, I’m recommending that the MoD does not proceed with a production contract for the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme. If the decision was in my hands, that budget would be immediately moved across to the MIV programme to purchase further BOXERs, which would then be equipped with the WCSP turret (the only part of the program which is already under contract). The turreted BOXERs would then be mixed with the APC variants to form 8 battalions: 2 for each Armoured and Medium brigade. There are many reasons for me to formulate this recommendation, but they all more or less stem from the following main considerations: the Warrior hull is old and tired and the CSP does not quite solve that, nor does replace the old powerpack; an all MIV fleet helps standardization; having the infantry on wheels helps the Army be more self-deployable and means the precious few Heavy and Light Equipment Transports (89 and 77 respectively) are free to focus on moving the MBTs and other tracked platforms, such as AJAX and TERRIER; having at least a portion of the BOXERs well armed with a 40mm gun means that, apart from being able to get to the fight, they will also be able to fight. The current MIV, armed like a SAXON, can get there but can’t get into a fight, only drop its infantry a safe distance back. 
Finally, plans for a new tracked support vehicle to replace FV432 seem to have died entirely, and it would border on ridiculous to field a 28 tons tracked Warrior supported by wheeled 8x8s weighting close to 40. Boxer is a modern and well protected hull, and if the Army cannot afford a proper split of tracks and wheels, on balance of merits and defects, wheels should probably take precedence. This is what France has done, by the way, with the VBCI replacing the last tracked IFVs of the Armee de Terre. 

Again, a priority for me would also be to re-evaluate the variants of MIV to be procured, reducing to the bare minimum the number of ambulances and command posts in favor of pursuing instead a 120mm mortar and an ATGW variants as well as, potentially, more APCs / IFVs to increase, if at all possible, the number of mechanized battalions in the Army. With over 500 vehicles already on order, it should be feasible. I’ve written about this in greater detail in a previous article.  

The Ambulance role and, wherever possible, the C2 role would be instead “offloaded” onto much cheaper Multi Role Vehicle Protected variants. Regarding MRV-P, I’d personally urge the Army to finally proceed with the programme with the aim of rationalizing the current dog’s breakfast of multiple “mini” fleets, getting rid progressively of Husky, Panther, DURO, Pinzgauer and part of the Land Rovers.
My favorite for Group 2 would be the Thales Bushmaster, to be assembled in their Glasgow plant as promised by the company and by the Australian government.

Unfortunately, the near totality of the Royal Artillery modernization attempts are not under contract yet and are thus exposed to silent cancellation. It would be a repeat of the “lost decade+” that saw the previous programme of evolution nearly entirely killed off by budget cuts. The Royal Artillery’s main priorities for the new decade are pretty much the same as the previous decade:

-          Land Precision Strike. Initially delivered by EXACTOR MK2, it is meant to evolve towards a weapon system with a much greater range (at least 60 km, eventually). EXACTOR has a provisional OSD of 2023, but might be the successor of itself through a Mid-Life Upgrade. The Land Precision Strike system should be mounted on a vehicle, and EXACTOR itself (currently launched from a small trailer) might end up retrofitted onto a vehicle base in the next few years if the MLU happens.

-          Deep Fires Rocket System. This modernization / eventual replacement of MLRS should expand the striking range and introduce a greater variety of ammunition and effects. The Royal Artillery hopes to procure the GMLRS Extended Range rockets being developed, which would double the current range (to above 150 km) and it should also pursue the Alternative Warhead developed by the US as replacement to the old submunitions to restore an area suppression capability. Procurement of the new Land Precision Strike missile developed in the US or of a national alternative would enable strikes to 500 km or potentially beyond, reducing the gap against Russian systems, primarily ISKANDER.

-          SERPENS. This key programme is about procuring replacements for the handful (literally) of MAMBA artillery locating radars and the sound ranging equipment. High priority should be attached to this programme and to the Army’s Surveillance and Target Acquisition capability in general. Ideally, “basic” STA should be pushed down into the Close Support Artillery regiments, while 5 Royal Artillery Regiment should focus on Theatre-wide / Divisional level STA. More and better radars are a key upgrade the Army cannot do without if it has to be taken seriously in a peer scenario.

-          Mobile Fires Platform. The replacement for AS90 and for the L118 Light Gun in the “STRIKE” regiments. Around 98 systems for equipping 4 regiments, with initial capability expected in 2026. This programme is also very vulnerable to stealth cancellation, but it should be accorded high priority because the British Army’s artillery is truly in bad shape. In this very early phase of the programme, the Army has essentially looked at autocannons (CAESAR and ARCHER above all) but I’d recommend a more careful evaluation of the options. The US are about to move on to a 58 caliber 155mm gun system, while in Germany Rheinmetall is now working on a 60 caliber retrofit option. It would be very unwise for the Army to procure (with so great delay) a 52 caliber system only to still lag well behind both Allies and Enemies in terms of range.

-          Precision / Near precision 155 mm ammunition and, ideally, a smart shell with top-attack capability for use against enemy armour on the move. The Army had selected SMART shells for this requirement but the procurement was just one of the many programmes to be cancelled in the lost decade.

Other priorities, Army-wide, include finally pressing home the reorganization of the Army Air Corps and Joint Helicopter Command. Plans have been ongoing since at least 2015, including a seemingly endless review into the possibility / opportunity of moving the Apache helicopters out of Wattisham to rationalize the AAC bases.
Plans were well advanced, but implementation has largely been put on hold. It is now likely that the plan will be brought into the SDSR 2020 and the formation of a Combat Aviation Brigade on the American model will be part of the final document. Next year, a UK combat aviation battlegroup will deploy in Europe together with a US CAB during the mega exercise DEFENDER EUROPE 2020, and this is likely to be a key test for the new structures and methods. The implementation of the Combat Aviation Brigade plan should be a priority and it should, obviously, involve the RAF Chinook and Puma squadrons.

Finally, I’d urge the Army to proceed with the Challenger 2 LEP, because the obsolescence of the type can no longer be denied. The new turret put forwards by Rheinmetall BAE Land Systems will cure the problems and turn Challenger into one of the very best tanks within NATO, ensuring its validity for the next couple of decades. Ideally, a powerpack change should also be funded, however, since the current engine has too little power for such a heavy machine, and is getting increasingly unreliable.
Rather than cutting the number of tank regiments from 3 to 2, I’d encourage the Army to set up 4 tank regiments, albeit individually smaller (Type 44 instead of Type 56, for example), to ensure that the two Armoured Infantry brigades can have a solid “square” base and assign a tank formation in support of each infantry battalion.
Ideally, in a more courageous Army, I’d urge the reorganization of the Tank and Armoured Infantry regiments / battalions into Combined Arms Battalions, similar to the American ones, permanently combining tank squadrons and IFV companies. With Armour now being all concentrated in the Salisbury Plain area, this should not prove overly complex.

In terms of Commands, I remain unconvinced by the restructuring last August which saw Force Troops Command dismembered and renamed. While I recognize that the “spare infantry” of 1st Division would be used to secure the rear in a Divisional deployment and would provide security to theatre opening activities, I still don’t think 104 Logistic Brigade, 2nd Medical Brigade and 8 Engineer Brigade belong there.

As I said, in my “ideal” army, a Joint Rapid Reaction divisional HQ would group together 16 AA, 3 Cdo and Specialised Infantry, while 1st and 3rd Division would be nearly identical in structure and would alternate into readiness (and deployment, when necessary).
Force Support units would probably sit under a command focusing on logistics. However close the liaison would have to be with the “fighting” divisions, I don’t think the current arrangement is a good idea.

This piece is a summary of my expectations and opinions ahead of the SDSR 2020. As such, it might well be proven wrong in multiple areas. Things might end up being a lot rougher. I would lie if I said I was relaxed and solely confident in the outcome of the review.

I am, however, moderately optimistic. I’m expecting something upbeat, more similar to 2015 than 2010. There will be less big programmes launched, compared with 2015, and much of the focus will be on Cyber (thus on area where progress is hard to visualize and even harder to measure, allowing loud and cheap claims) and on Space. In general, I think the 2015 targets will be maintained as much as possible, and I hope there will be room for a few welcome adjustements and boosts in key areas.

As I’ve made clear in the article, pain is likely to be felt mostly in the less glamorous programmes which are part of the 10 years plan but are not really known by the public and are not yet under contract. Stealth cuts are a constant at the MOD, and this review will not be an exception. I don’t think Boris Johnson will want to associate himself and his government with draconian cuts to what is left of the Forces, so I’m trying to focus on the positive. The one area in which I think a revolution is necessary is the Army. Unfortunately, it is the one area which is most resistant to change. There is often much talk about “sacred cows” in defence, but as often happens, what is talked about the most is the smokescreen, not the problem.

Sacred cows are not the Paras, or the Marines. The one Sacred Cow is the Army’s insistence in clinging on to its regiments and infantry battalions, even at the cost of maintaining a ghost Division with very low actual combat capability.
This is the one sacred cow I’d want to slay right at the start of the Review.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Of compromises and priorities

The signing of the contract for the Mechanized Infantry Vehicle for the army is something to be cheered, of course, but i don’t think it should be welcomed without critique. This hugely expensive contract comes decades late, and it ends (hopefully) a whole 3 decades of disasters in army vehicles procurement. Almost everyone knows that BOXER, today’s MIV, is yesterday’s MRAV. The British Army was a founding member of the programme and had a big input in the design of the vehicle, which was originally meant to be the wheeled part of a comprehensive modernization programme for the Army, which included a tracked counterpart.

Equally notoriously, the whole programme fell apart and was succeeded by that utter disaster that was FRES. A whole 3 decades on, the original requirements are still only partially covered, and neither AJAX / WCSP nor MIV have yet managed to define a path towards complete replacement of all FV432 variants. To say that this saga has been a colossal failure is still an understatement, and the army cannot and should not pretend that all blame lays with politicians. Moreover, the Army should stop pretending that the blame lies on the expenditure for the Aircraft Carriers, or some other piece of equipment of the other two services.

In this article, however, I want to focus on the present, not the past. The past can’t be fixed, anyway.
The Army secured a sizeable first purchase: after initial talks of 300, up to heights of 600, down to an expected 508 in the final phases of the negotiation, it eventually signed for 523 series production vehicles and 5 prototypes. This is already enough to make it the world’s biggest BOXER operator, since even Germany only acquired 403 in two batches (a recent one for 131 and an earlier one for 272).

In the tenders published in the run-up to the contract, the MOD specifically sought to include options for further variants and successive purchases of vehicles, to get to a total of up to 1,500.
This enormous number is not expected to translate into a large number of mechanized infantry battalions, because many of the BOXERs would be used to replace FV432s and other vehicles across a multitude of supporting roles.

In fact, supporting variants are likely to make up a very significant portion of the 523 vehicles on order, even though we do not know yet the exact partitioning of the order. Known STRIKE plans involve just 4 battalions of infantry to be mounted in MIV vehicles, and this can be achieved with fewer than 250 – 300 vehicles. The exact number entirely depends on how many supporting variants are included: a WARRIOR battalion, for example, will have WARRIOR hulls for the infantry platoons, tactical HQ elements, ATGW platoon, recovery and repair (FV512 and FV513 variants). Mortar carriers, ambulances, HQ support vehicles and some other roles are covered by FV432s since the relevant WARRIOR variants were never acquired.

The current MIV order includes just 4 variants: APC, Command Post, Ambulance and a “Specialist” carrier whose role is not yet entirely clear. It is understood to be derived from the Dutch engineer variant, so it basically comes with less seats and more storage space for equipment. It might come with racks for Engineer recce teams but also come in, for example, a variant equipped to carry JAVELIN missile teams. In other words, it looks like a wheeled counterpart to the ARES (at least in some of its configurations) and ARGUS vehicles from the AJAX family.

In other words, not too many roles within a battalion will be actually covered by MIV variants, at least in the foreseeable future, and so it is even more likely that only between 250 and 300 vehicles are needed for the 4 battalions. 300 having been, not casually i dare adding, the first number thrown about for MIV.
The rest will be made up of ambulances, command posts and specialist carriers destined to other units. MIV Ambulances are most likely headed for the Armoured Infantry battalions mounted on WARRIOR, since the Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle (ABSV) programme seems to be dead and the AJAX family has not, in the end, included an ambulance variant.

MIV ambulances will obviously go to the Medical battalions of the Armoured and STRIKE brigades; MIV Specialist carriers could be headed for the Engineer regiments of the STRIKE brigades. I say could because the exact role of these “specialist” variants is far from clear yet and because there is already the ARGUS variant from the AJAX family. It might be that ARGUS will be concentrated in the two regiments aligned with the Armoured brigades, mainly tracked, and MIVs in similar configurations will go to the STRIKE engineers. It is yet to be discovered. The “Specialist” might also equip STRIKE artillery units, to give mobility to their Fire Support Teams as they track and designate targets.

In practice, the British Army is approaching MIV in a way that is a hybrid of Germany’s and Netherland’s approaches: the Dutch, in fact, procured 200 BOXERs in various Support Role configurations as replacement for their tracked M113s. They have no infantry mounted in BOXERs at all.
Germany has procured mostly APCs to equip its Jäger (Light) infantry battalions, and some support vehicles to go along with them.
The result of this hybrid approach is that Germany will have mounted more infantry battalions in BOXERs than the British Army, despite purchasing less vehicles.

This is not necessarily wrong in entirety, but it is the result of different compromises. Germany clearly thinks that such a massive, expensive and capable vehicle is mostly to be destined to frontline, combat role, while support roles, with some exceptions, can be entrusted to less expensive machines. The UK is currently planning to increase protection levels massively for a wider range of roles, but at the cost of leaving most of its infantry battalions standing literally on their feet.

There is a discussion to be had on whether the British Army’s priorities are the right ones for a cash-strapped force which is currently aiming for a grand total of 8 (small) battalions with some form of mechanization (4 on WARRIOR, 4 on MIV as of today’s plans). Wouldn’t it be better to reserve BOXERs for frontline roles, and have less expensive vehicles for supporting roles wherever this is reasonable?

Other armies clearly think it is a good proposition: France procured 630 VBCIs in just 2 variants: IFV (510) and Command (120) and equipped 8 regiments with them. And please, take due note of the fact that French regiments are based on 4 rather than 3 Companies and are much, much bigger than british battalions. Supporting vehicles today are mostly VABs, and tomorrow will be GRIFFON 6x6 vehicles, immensely cheaper than a top-class 8x8 and purchased in literal thousands.

Italy gets often overlooked, but actually fields impressive and very active armed forces, especially considered the tiny budget the service chiefs have to work with. It is also one of the most active western players when it comes to wheeled armour, and 8x8 in particular, thanks to the CENTAURO tank destroyer and then to the FRECCIA family.

The FRECCIA family is an interesting case of prioritization completely different from the British Army’s approach. FRECCIA orders are still coming and production is still (slowly) progressing due to the already mentioned tiny budget, and it is worth noting that almost the entire purchase is devoted to frontline combat. In fact, between delivered, ordered and planned, the vehicles of the family include 335 IFVs, 72 anti-tank vehicles (with SPIKE missile pods on the sides of the turrets), 34 120mm Mortar Carriers, 40 Recovery vehicles, 60 Reconnaissance vehicles in FAR configuration and 60 in CLOSE configuration, and just 26 command vehicles in 2 different variants (note: some of the IFVs are kitted for infantry company command).
16 Ambulances were envisaged at one point, but the idea was abandoned in favor of less expensive alternatives.

What alternatives? And why so few command posts?
This is arguably the most interesting part.
On the ambulances front, the answer is that the role has essentially been pushed down onto the Italian counterpart to the Multi Role Vehicle – Protected (MRV-P) that the British Army hopes to acquire. For those who don’t remember what MRV-P is, I’ll mention that it is a large programme meant to replace (part of) the unprotected Land Rover variants; the Pinzgauers, the PANTHERs and eventually the HUSKYs. To do this, two “Groups” are envisaged: Group 1 is for a 4x4 vehicle, so (relatively) small, while Group 2 is for a larger vehicle, with effectively only 6x6s left in the races, for more demanding roles.
For Group 1, the British Army has expressed its favor for the American Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) and has already secured, back in 2017, the US approval for a purchase of up to 2,747 vehicles and associated kits and equipment. Back in April this year, a 2-year demonstration phase has been authorized to test and develop british-specific fit-outs and work out integration and mission safety features.
Up to at least this September, government reiterated in Written Answers that it expects decisions on MRV-P during 2020: in particular, the JLTV purchase could get the go ahead while a selection should also be made between the two contenders left in the race for Group 2.
These are the Thales BUSHMASTER and the General Dynamics EAGLE 6x6. The BUSHMASTER is sponsored by Australia, which through its defence minister has promised that production of the vehicles would happen in the Thales facility up in Glasgow. BUSHMASTER is seen as the favorite, but while a selection is supposedly due in “early 2020”, all timings are obviously always doubtful when it comes to the army and even more so now that there is an SDSR coming after the elections.
There is (was?) also a “Group 3” requirement, which is specifically about a Lightweight, air portable Recovery vehicle, which is required not just to service MRV-P itself, but to support units mounted in other “light” vehicles, such as JACKAL/COYOTE and FOXHOUND. At the moment, apart from a few HUSKYs partially fitted out for the role by the REME, there is no real alternative to the MAN SV Wrecker, a 32 tons behemoth that is, for obvious reasons, actually very poorly suited to supporting Light Cavalry and Light Mechanized Infantry on FOXHOUND.
The Lightweight recovery vehicle was very much craved by 16 Air Assault and 3 Commando brigades and was supposed to be a funded requirement, but even so it has not progressed to a selection and contract award, despite a number of interesting entries, led in particular by SUPACAT’s own product based on the same high-mobility family that spawned the JACKAL.

Said of the british MRV-P, let’s talk about the Italian one, which arguably provided the inspiration for the Group 1 and 2 split. In fact, Italy’s Group 1 is made up by thousands of Iveco LINCE (Lynx, the vehicle that was the base for the british PANTHER variant), while Group 2 is made up by the much larger, but still 4x4, Iveco ORSO (Bear, or more specifically Grizzy, especially in the german 6x6 variant, which however has been more or less abandoned).

ORSO and LINCE (long wheelbase variant) ambulance variants 
Due to the insufficient budget (Italy unfortunately spends much, much, much less than the fabled 2% of GDP on defence) the purchases are very slow, but the ORSO is meant to cover a huge variety of roles including Ambulance, Command Post, Comms and EW, EOD and Route Clearance.
It does, and increasingly will as more are acquired, offload most supporting roles from more expensive fleets, such as the FRECCIA, while enabling a standardization of the various existing fleets. The Route Clearance package based on the ORSO, for example, is allowing the Italian Army to let go of the US COUGAR-based MRAPs that it had urgently procured for operations in Afghanistan. One route clearance package is being assigned to the Engineer regiment in each brigade.
The ORSO will also be supporting the tracked DARDO (Dart) IFVs since the Italian Army has given up its M113 fleet to save money. This will be somewhat sub-optimal due to the mixing of wheels and tracks, but at least it won’t be quite as ridiculous as having a behemoth BOXER ambulance literally dwarfing the WARRIOR IFV it will support. The maximum mass of BOXER in the latest variant, which is the one the British Army will acquire, is 38,5 tons. Probably the ambulance won’t weight quite that much, but a baseline WARRIOR at FV520 standard (the new post-CSP designation) weights around 27…

A Route Clearance package based on the ORSO, with ground penetrating radar, anti-mine rollers, mast-mounted sensors for situational awareness and then the vehicle with the rummaging arm for anti-IED checks. One such package will be assigned to each brigade of the italian army for Mobility support. 

I make no mystery of the fact that I’m much more attuned to the Italian priorities than to the british ones. The British Army is about to splash a lot of money on a big number of massive 8x8 ambulances, while, at the same time, having still no plan at all for what vehicle will carry the battalion’s mortars after the FV432 finally retires. The problem is common to both WARRIOR and BOXER battalions, and it amazes me. Add to this the fact that the british battalions continue to have access to nothing more than hand-loaded 81 mm mortars while everyone else has long had 120mm mortars, more often than not semi-automatic, and you might understand why I’m utterly perplexed. Surely BOXER hulls with full protection would be better spent for this key role…?
The British Army is also still without an under-armour launch capability for anti-tank guided weapons. It last had one in the early 2000s, before the last CVR(T) STRIKERS armed with SWINGFIRE missiles were withdrawn without direct replacement. The only ATGW capability is given by dismounted JAVELIN teams, or soldier-carried NLAWs. There is a possibility that some PROTECTOR RWS will get a single JAVELIN launcher strapped on (the option is readily available and was trialed successfully in the UK from a modified SPARTAN already years ago), but this is still quite underwhelming to what is the norm elsewhere. The FRECCIA ATGW variant carries dismounted SPIKE teams in the back, but also has SPIKE Long Range missiles in box-launchers on either side of the turret, for example.

WCSP, AJAX and now BOXER have all failed at trying to bring any progress in this area, despite their enormous cost. And again I wonder if this shouldn’t have been granted a much, much higher priority. If you ask me, yes, it should have. Especially since you are exhausting most of your budget for the next few years on this purchase, and effectively ensuring that these capability gaps will not go away anytime soon.

The latest BUSHMASTER evolution is seen as the favorite in the MRV-P race. Some BUSHMASTERS are already in use, including in Syria, with the UK Special Forces. The selection of BUSHMASTER would also be a "returned favor" after Australia jointed the Type 26 Global Combat Ship project. 

MRV-P Group 2 is mainly composed of “Troop carriers” (2+6 seats) and Ambulances, yet it is evidently felt that these will mostly be about replacing Land Rover-based ambulances, we have to assume.

The EAGLE 6x6 is the other Group 2 aspirant 

When it comes to Command Posts, the discussion to be had is even more urgent and more complex. I’ll again look at the Italian Army, because for all its shortcomings and budget problems it has been one of the most innovative in the last several decades and has been carrying on impressive experimentation and development. In particular, it has been working very hard on digitalization, and is seeking to truly modernize the command posts on the field.

In its Network Enabled force plans, the Italian Army has sought to define various levels of command / access to information. Tier Zero is the Sensor, which might well mean a small unattended, automated sensor on the ground. T1 is the individual soldier, then T2 is the Section, T3 the Platoon, T4 the Company, T5 the Regiment and T6 the Brigade.
Most of these command levels have relatively low need for data and information. Things start getting interesting at T2 level. Digitalization, of course, is supposed to make even Sections much more capable by allowing them to know more about their surroundings, collect and share more data, access more directly to supports. The Italian Army is thus investing heavily on Software Defined radios and Satcom On the Move (SOTM). SOTM, in particular, means your command post can continue to communicate while it is moving, while “normal” HQ are only able to access most of the data On The Halt. Obviously, the more command and comms function work while on the move, the more your battle rhythm can be quickened, at least in theory. Your command also becomes enormously more survivable as it does not need to stop, set up tents, camouflage itself, wire itself into gear etcetera.
T2 to T4 tiers are getting LINCE vehicles outfitted with software defined radios and SOTM X-band comms where necessary, to expand their capability. 

A LINCE 2 (the current production standard, much improved and more roomy than the original LINCE) equipped as command post. The flat antenna on top of the rear is the SOTM X-band antenna. 

At higher levels, company commanders riding in FRECCIA do not really need a specific command variant, because digitalized comms on the FRECCIA, integrated with a JANUS panoramic EO/IR sensor ball, are sufficient to build situational awareness and exercise command. At a slightly higher level of complication in battle command, the Command variants of the vehicle do step in. As I mentioned earlier, there are actually 2 command variants to the FRECCIA: one is for tactical command, when the officers need to be close to the action, and comes with turret and 25mm gun, like the other IFVs.
The “Main” command post is a FRECCIA APC with more room in the back and just an HITROLE RWS for self defence. This distinction is of course not necessarily “new” in itself. The British Army itself of course mixes WARRIORs or, where applicable, CHALLENGERs for “tactical” HQ to FV432 / 436 kitted out to form the main HQ element. An interesting image tweeted by a British Army officer and showing a tabletop wargaming exercise with STRIKE ORBATs shows that with AJAX and MIV the situation will be much the same, with a couple of AJAX for the tactical element supported by ATHENA vehicles for the actual command.

A glimpse of the STRIKE wargames offer a vision of some company level organisation. The most notable thing is that the ORBATs are actually very, very traditional. The AJAX Sqn literally swaps SPARTAN for ARES and SCIMITAR for AJAX, with no other visible change. Note "GW Troop", Guided Weapon Troop, on ARES: this will be JAVELIN missile teams. What is not yet clear is whether there still is a dedicate "Overwatch" sub-variant of ARES and whether this includes at least a JAVELIN on the RWS, to have at least a hint of under-armour ATGW capability. There does not seem to be any mortar at all in sight in the ORBAT. The only possible surprise is the very recognizable shape of FOXHOUND wherever a CLV (Command and Liaison Vehicle) appears in the ORBAT. This might or might not provide a hint of where FOXHOUND is next headed. It might also be a shape used semi-randomly to indicate the yet-to-be-procured MRV-P, however. 

What is interesting in the Italian army’s approach is that the number of such commands is more limited. Digitalization is exploited to reduce the need for dedicate command vehicles. The AJAX family already includes 112 ATHENA vehicles, and the first MIV purchase is likely to add quite a lot of its own C2 variant. Is this really unavoidable, or even tactically sound?

In the Italian army, again the ORSO steps into the fray. Forza NEC, the network-enabled force project of the Italian Army, has invested into other ways to create command posts that are both connected and mobile, capable and survivable. One such fully mobile HQ model is built upon 4 ORSO vehicles, 2 built for the Command role and 2 specializing in communications.
At brigade level, the new model of digitalized command post is based on 6 ISO expanding shelters, fully mobile once carried on trucks. Of the 6 shelters, one is for analysis and planning, one for the management of ongoing manoeuvre, 2 are for comms and EW, one for Artillery and one for Logistics.
This shelterized HQ is fully mobile, is faster into action than a classical tented solution and cheaper than a solution based on armoured vehicles. It is also arguably easier to hide “containers” among normal logistic movements and keep the enemy guessing about where the HQ is. This kind of shelter can also relatively easily be equipped with ballistic and CBRN protection. The Italian army has anyway developed a tented variant, which can be used when the HQ is not at risk and can be static for longer, and there is even an hybrid variant which combines tented spaces and shelterized equipment to cut down on assembly and wiring times.

Unfortunately, the British Army does not appear to have approached the issue of command posts anywhere near as seriously and comprehensively. In recent times there have been some low-budget experiments within infantry battalions which have sought to make their HQs more survivable by mounting the equipment into MAN SV trucks, cutting down the wiring time. The HQ in this experiment was still essentially an old-style affair, just quicker in relocating to enhance its chances of survival. Those who took part, predictably, noted that shelters thought specifically for the purpose would, of course, work better.

In 2017, finally, the British Army started experimenting with something more ambitious and adequate to the modern world with the Tactical HotSpot experiment which has seen a couple of PANTHERs and then also FOXHOUND kitted out to deliver both SATCOM On The Move and bubbles of secure data connectivity.
The HotSpot is meant to enable processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) of ISR data as well as high capacity line of sight meshed networks; it employs Satcom On the Move (SOTM) and Mobile Ad Hoc Networking (MANET) support air and land operations in an integrated way.
Its deployable masts give it FALCON connectivity as well as BOWMAN reach, and there are 4G networking and Link 16 also involved. Amazingly, it all fits on a PANTHER. These demonstrators have been followed by the HAWK, which is a similar HotSpot development packed into a FOXHOUND instead, and first showcased and demonstrated to the Army in 2018.

The PANTHER HotSpot demonstrator, with the very evident telescopic masts at the rear 

Agile Command, Control and Communications is the theme of the Army Warfighting Experiment for 2020, and both HotSpot demonstrators are highly likely to feature at the event, hopefully alongside other solutions including shelterized command posts, which in the meanwhile have been gaining ground in the US as well. It is to be hoped that the experiments in this AWE edition will lead, this time for real, to a true modernization effort for how the army sees, deploys and employs command posts.

A final note on the FRECCIA reconnaissance variants, because they are a very interesting topic: both are armed with the usual 25mm gun turret, but they are otherwise complementary due to the sensors and systems they carry. The FAR variant is equipped with the VIRESS sensor suite on a telescopic mast, combining a radar LYRA 10 and a HORIZON HD long-range EO/IR optic, as well with HORUS UAVs which are launched from boxes on the sides of the turret, similar to normal SPIKE missile launchers. Both sensors are also man-portable for dismounted use away from the vehicle.
The CLOSE variant has the SPIKE missiles in the boxes and carries an Unmanned Ground Vehicle RTP-2 in the back.
Procurement is moving slowly, but the eventual ambition is to equip almost every brigade in the Italian army with a recce Cavalry regiment which will have one Squadron of CENTAURO 2 tank destroyers (120/45 mm smoothbore gun on 8x8) and 2 mixed squadrons of FRECCIA FAR and CLOSE.

The CENTAURO 2 prototype (left) next to a current CENTAURO with 105 mm gun 

There was a time in which the AJAX family was expected to be similar, with a Medium Armour variant with the 120mm in support of the base AJAX and of the few, still mysterious “Ground Based Surveillance” variant which, assuming it is still planned at all, should carry some additional sensors. Today, the AJAX in its basic Scout variant is being asked to “impersonate” the defunct Medium Armour variant within the STRIKE brigades, with no uplift to its firepower or sensors.


The first (and pretty much only) objection that was formulated against my doubts about the expenditure on so many BOXER support variants is that having “everything” on the same vehicle base simplifies logistics. I can see that by myself, but what I can also see is that the British Army is nowhere near to any degree of true “standardization” and won’t be for many more years, if ever. As already mentioned, only a very limited number of variants of BOXER are funded, and they are insufficient to achieve a complete standardization even within the MIV-mounted infantry battalions. Elsewhere in the Army, you’ll have a few lone BOXERs into a WARRIOR or AJAX battalion, because there is no new tracked ambulance. And nobody knows yet what will be done about the mortars, I’ll again remark. Something that, to me at least, is unconceivable.

BOXER-standardization is a dream that entirely rests upon those nearly 1000 options for future purchases. It is the quintessential example of living on a prayer, hoping in the jam that will come tomorrow. And “tomorrow”, even in the very best case, means several years further down the line. We all know just how many things could go wrong. The Army has selected the most expensive 8x8 on the market while knowing full well that there are many other requirements desperately calling for funding. The British Army does not have the budget to use “Rolls Royce” cars for everything, and will never have it. Just as the Navy and to a lesser degree even the RAF have accepted that they can’t use high end platforms for everything, the Army needs to also get real.

Multi Role Vehicle – Protected, if properly funded and finally allowed to begin, could bring about a wider standardization than BOXER ever could. HUSKY, PANTHER, PINZGAUER, DURO and some of the old, tired Landies could all be replaced by 2 fleets, more modern, more protected and more reliable.

The JLTV family. New variants and mission fits have already started to appear, which is one of the advantages of going with a vehicle that will be in so widespread use in the US Armed Forces 

Everything in life is some sort of compromise, and in my opinion it is better to compromise on your ambulance vehicle than on your mortar carrier, or on the fact of having one more battalions riding into battle over BOXER rather than on foot, or on seats strapped in the back of an HX60 truck.
Speaking of compromises and standardization, the situation in the British Army is getting so ridiculous due to the enduring problem of how to replace FV432 and get WARRIOR into the 21st Century that perhaps the greatest priority I’d personally associate to BOXER is replacing WARRIOR itself.
The WARRIOR CSP production deal has not been signed yet. Only the turrets and cannons are under contract, and this, in my opinion at least, is a blessing. What better standardization than to replace those tired WARRIOR hulls with BOXER hulls, modern, well protected, with much more room available and seats for 8 dismounts even when a turret is fitted. Use the WCSP budget to procure some 245 new hulls (in theory at least the cost would be exactly around a billion pounds) and have the turrets installed onto those.
Then spread those 245 turreted vehicles spread across 8 battalions, mixing them with the cheaper APC variant being procured under the current deal. Is it ideal? No, it is a compromise. We all know that the tactical mobility of tracks in atrocious terrains is probably never going to be entirely matched by wheels. But the British Army has no path to a fully tracked force since ABSV appears dead, so rather than have BOXER ambulances dwarfing the IFVs they support while struggling to match their mobility in the mud, I’d very much rather “go french” and give up the tracked IFV fleet. Again, everything is a compromise. But is it a better compromise than 4 battalions on WARRIORs and 4 battalions on APCs armed with nothing more than a .50 HMG? In my opinion yes; it is a massive improvement in my eyes.

It also fixes, at least partially, another flaw with the BOXER purchase as it is currently planned: the incredibly light armament. The MIV Troop Carriers are, for now at least, expected to be armed just with a PROTECTOR RWS, which can take machine guns up to the .50 HMG, or a 40mm GMG grenade launcher at best. This is in line with the dutch BOXERs (which however are not troop carriers at all, as we have seen) and with Germany’s own, which however were originally procured as battle taxis for the german army’s light infantry.

It should be noted that according to the latest news the German army is actually about to procure 30mm turrets for its BOXERs. This follows similar moves by the US (30mm on STRYKERs) and Poland (which put 30mm guns and anti-tank missiles on the portion of its ROSOMAK fleet it had originally procured in APC form).

The British Army’s plan is for the BOXER-borne infantry to be the very vanguard of the Army, as well as, laughable as it sounds, its countermeasure to Anti Access; Area Denial (A2AD) tactics. In the Army’s thinking, these vehicles, which are in no way more mobile than Russia’s own wheeled force while being enormously weaker in terms of firepower, will “disperse” over a wide area, “dance” around main enemy forces and strike at will at vulnerable points to “complicate the enemy’s C2 picture”.
I think it is utter nonsense, as I’ve made plenty clear in many other articles. But it would be a little less unbelievable if the BOXER battalions had their own share of 40mm guns to fight back against enemy AFVs (note: Russia puts 30mm guns AND anti-tank missiles on nearly anything that moves) without having to stick close to the tracked AJAX.
It would also bring forth some serious standardization. For real, this time.

It is no mystery that the STRIKE concept does not convince me at all. Especially with the kind of equipment and mass that the British Army has and will realistically have. Every time I think that the army owns just 89 Heavy Equipment Transports (plus 3 recovery vehicles) and 77 Light Equipment Transporters, and any STRIKE fantasy immediately dies, together with much of the feasibility of deploying the fabled “warfighting division” in a meaningfully short timeframe.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’d rather “STRIKEIZE” the existing brigades by replacing WARRIOR than pursue STRIKE brigades in the way that has been imagined so far.

A BOXER for everything?

Ultimately, the question for the cash-strapped British Army is: does it make any kind of sense to even try and purchase BOXER for all roles? The modularity of BOXER does not change the fact that it is a behemoth, and an expensive one at that. There have already been all kinds of pitches for further variants, including an armoured LEAPP / Skykeeper module complete of its own Saab 1X radar or the Land Precision Strike pitch by MBDA. This variant, in particular, would be a launcher for missiles with a range requirement of at least 60 km. Land Precision Strike, in the interim, is delivered by the EXACTOR (SPIKE NLOS) missile, currently launched from a tiny trailer-launcher. The Royal Artillery would like to update this capability by extending its range and by having the missiles mounted on a vehicle, but should that vehicle be a BOXER?

This vehicle will spend most of the time hiding. It will fire missiles from a great, “safe” distance and then it’ll seek to vanish away before the enemy can react. Does it NEED to be a BOXER? I’d rather have it installed on an inconspicuous and ideally very light vehicle, to preserve, as much as possible, the good attributes of the tiny trailer: complete air mobility and ease of concealment. Indeed, while a vehicle-mounted launcher would be a great addition, I’d personally recommend the Army to retain the trailer launchers as well, because their ease of movement on the battlefield is an awesome characteristic in itself.

My recommendation to the Army is: think very carefully about what needs to be a BOXER, and what does not. Don’t waste finite millions on trying to BOXER-ize everything. Moreover, start from the most dangerous roles. I come back to the Mortar Carrier, or ATGW vehicle. These two roles certainly require the best mobility and protection and firepower that can be acquired. A 120mm mortar should be an absolute priority. An urgency, even. A mobile, under-armour ATGW capability is also an urgency.

A 60+ km Land Precision Strike missile, if it’ll ever truly be funded (the past decade saw nearly all Artillery modernization programmes mercilessly killed by budget cuts, not sure this decade will be any different…) might not need to be on a BOXER hull. It will be one of the least exposed to direct and indirect fire simply because it’ll hide, fire very quickly, hide again. Its worst enemies will be of the flying kind, and being on a BOXER hull won’t be really decisive in ensuring survivability against those.

Conversely, it seems the Army is happy with having its future 155mm howitzer based on a lightly protected truck. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have it on a better protected platform, since guns, unlike rocket / missile launchers, tend to end up firing very frequently and, critically, for extended periods of time?

ARCHER automated gun module on HX truck base (Top) and MBDA's Land Precision Strike pitch. Wouldn't it make more sense if the base vehicles were inverted...? The ARCHER on MAN SV base is one of the main contenders for the Mobile Fires Platform programme which should re-equip 4 Royal Artillery regiments, replacing AS90 and part of the L118 Light Guns. Land Precision Strike is the evolution of the current EXACTOR capability. 

I think a honest assessment of relative risks will agree with me that the howitzer is more likely to end up framed by counterbattery fire than the Land Precision Strike launcher.

A decision on “what does what” is overdue. The Army has spent the last decade dodging the question of how to make AJAX, WCSP, MIV and MRV-P fit together in a way that makes sense and allows the FV432 and all CRV(T) to leave service without capability gaps opening all over the place. Billions of pounds of contracts later, it still does not have an answer yet. It is time to formulate one which is more realistic than expecting repeated BOXER purchases for the next X decades until most of the army is equipped with it. Even if it was financially feasible over the long term, it’ll take so long that the BOXER will be an old vehicle before deliveries even conclude.

Realism, please

News have already started to appear in the press about how things are moving in the MOD Main Building ahead of the expected SDSR 2020. Some reports are less credible than others, but one line in a recent Times article has caught the attention by suggesting that the current Chief of General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, is in open contrast with the Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, which preceded him at the helm of the Army and crafted the initial Army 2020 Refine plan.

According to the Times, Carleton-Smith is warning CDS that said A2020R ambitions are unachievable, at least in the near future and with the resources planned. Carter, on the other hand, is said to be adamant that things must progress in the way he had envisioned them.

It’s hard to say whether the Times has got it right and what is the exact state of play, but many aspects of Army 2020 Refine made no sense at all, and continue to make no sense. The whole STRIKE concept as initially crafted is simply not believable; the mixture of tracks and wheels is sub-optimal at best and is only possible by robbing RECCE cavalry away from the Armoured Brigades, and the demand to the army of being able to deploy a Division of 2 Armoured and 1 STRIKE brigades is arguably unachievable. It would require deploying 100% of the heavy armour complement and 50% of the Medium armour at once, and anyone who remembers previous Divisional deployments, when the army was larger than it is now, will most likely confirm that it is next to impossible to do. Even though such a scenario would be a literal “silver bullet”, fired only once and after a sizeable preparation time.
The cupboard would be wholly and miserably empty once all that is out of the door.

Back in august, when the Army once more moved chairs around in its frankly dysfunctional force structure, it did one thing that makes a whole lot of sense: concentrated 1st Division’s infantry in fewer brigades by removing all infantry units from 160 and 38 Brigades.
1st and 6th Rifles (regular and paired reserve) moved from 160th to 7th; 2nd and 8th RIFLES from 38th to 51st; 2nd and 6th SCOTS from 51st to 4th, 1st and 2nd IRISH from 160th to 11th and 3 PWRR from 7th to 11th. Earlier still, the Army had done away with 42nd Brigade.

Gone are the (frankly utterly ridiculous) 7 “adaptable” brigades of wildly variable structure and size, replaced by a somewhat more realistic nucleus of 4 brigades. This allows a more realistic “concentration” of the force, but still does nothing to solve  the fact that none of these brigades include anything beyond some infantry and, in a couple of cases, Light Cavalry. There is no artillery, no logistic unit, no medical unit, no engineer unit.

An injection of realism is urgently needed in matters of Force Structure as well as in the choice of vehicles and priorities for equipment. 
France, with a considerably larger army and far more vehicles available and on order, has 6 brigades in total (7 if you want to count the Franco-German binational brigade as well).

Excluding 16 Air Assault, which anyway is no longer a “complete” brigade itself as its supporting elements are only large enough for supporting 2 battlegroups, one of which always at readiness, the British Army has 7 other Brigades, plus 38th and 160th "Brigades" as 1-star regional commands, plus the Specialised Infantry Group as another 1-star command.
It however has only 4 artillery regiments, medical units, logistic groups, signal formations etcetera, because these were the first units to be cut in 2011, due to the need to preserve the precious infantry cap badges, the only real sacred cow in Defence.

For what is worth, I continue to urge the Army to rebalance its force structure. Perhaps go more “French”. 

France’s new Army structure is perfectly rational: two homogeneous Divisions, each with a strong Armoured brigade, one Medium, Wheeled brigade and a Light / Specialist brigade (Mountain and PARA respectively). Individually, the French Division is less capable than the “Warfighting Division” imagined by Carter.

Armee de Terre under "Au Contact" structures. I've added some color notes to evidence some of the roles and equipment of the units. This is a far more rational Force Structure, which matches Manoeuvre units and Supports in a more realistic way. 

But, unlike Carter’s Division, the French ones exist, are being kitted out, and can both deploy across the spectrum of operations. While the British Army’s 3rd Division is a one-shot silver bullet with nothing behind it, the French Divisions can rotate in and out and ensure the Army’s output lasts.

While the British Army has an abyss separating the capabilities of 3rd and 1st Division, the French have chosen near perfect balance, and have sought to ensure that every brigade can take on a whole multitude of tasks.

The brigades in 1st Division are “containers” of useful infantry battalions, some of which are rotationally committed to a variety of roles such as Cyprus and Brunei. This is clear and understood. But they are extremely, extremely limited in their ability to do much of anything else. The 4 brigades within 1st Division can only look forwards to Rear Line security, prisoner guarding and security tasking in support of a 3rd Division deployment. It is not by pure chance that, back in August, 104 Logistic Brigade was moved into 1st Division: its role is to set up the Theatre access for 3rd Division to come through, and elements of a scraped together “Lead Light Infantry Brigade” would be used to cover the security requirements connected to that. While that too is a requirement, I would urge the Army to use its manpower better.

It’s absurd to relegate the majority of your precious infantry into ghost brigades, part of a “fake”, undeployable Division good only for other-than-war tasks.

In the new SDSR, Carter’s horrendously unbalanced plan should be picked apart, and the pieces put back into a more realistic balance.

Even if it means some infantry battalions must go.