Sunday, December 19, 2021

A Future Soldier alternative


Some observations on Future Soldier. And AJAX.


There can be no discussion of an alternative to Future Soldier without first spending a few words on AJAX, and how the plan as published has faced some issues, or ignored them. 

Even after the recent oral statement and the publication of the report into the vibration and noise disaster, we still do not know if AJAX will ever be able to get into service. Proposals for a number of fixes have been formulated but will now have to be trialed, evaluated and costed, and who knows what the result will be, and how long it will take.

Future Soldier (for now) assumes AJAX will eventually deliver, but there are very good reasons to fear it won’t. It is also increasingly out of place in an Army that has lost its IFVs and does not have a budget that would enable the launch of a second major acquisition programme to replace it. The British Army seems to have well and truly crashed into its “French moment”, and I don’t know if there will ever again be a tracked IFV in service.

At this point, my personal opinion is that AJAX should not survive. The money yet not sunk on AJAX would be redirected primarily towards more BOXERs (because that is the only thing that can be purchased quickly, and expanding the order is cheaper than trying to launch a separate procurement for something else) and towards a modest expansion of the CHALLENGER 3 project. However, given the current situation and the fact that the Army is clearly afraid that, if it lets go of this deal for 589 AFVS, it will not be able to get them replaced, it is indispensable to consider the scenario in which AJAX does survive.


We can only guess, at this stage, how the Army thinks it will fight in the future. The Future Soldier plan deliberately avoids venturing into the shape of the “warfighting division” on deployment, unlike Army 2020 Refine, the previous plan.

Under Army 2020 Refine, 3rd Division was going to have 2 armoured infantry brigades and 2 STRIKE brigades, but the planning assumption was that, on deployment, only one of the STRIKE formations would go. The equipment allocations went hand in hand with that assumption, because at no point of the STRIKE odyssey there was a funded, well-timed plan to get to both brigades being fully resourced.

Now 3rd Division is down to 2 armoured infantry “Brigade Combat Teams” and a “Deep Recce & Strike Brigade Combat Team” which will see the current 1st Armoured Infantry Brigade merge with 1st Artillery Brigade in Summer 2022.

I’m guessing that the whole package is expected to deploy in the field, but the document does not exactly gives us confirmations or any detail about the timeframes and other accompanying conditions and assumptions.


Assuming the whole package is now expected to deploy, the principal changes are the greater number of BOXER battalions and AJAX regiments that would deploy.

Future Soldier lists 5 BOXER-mounted infantry battalions, up from 4 in the Army 2020 Refine plan (2 per each STRIKE brigade). If the whole package is to be deployable, this is an increase from 2 to 5 “deployable” BOXER units.

Of course, it does not compensate the fact that, under Army 2020 Refine, there were going to be 4 WARRIOR-mounted battalions in addition to the ones on BOXER.

The number of AJAX regiments is the same (4, with the fourth to be obtained by having King’s Royal Hussars regiment losing MBTs to convert to AJAX instead), but their distribution has changed: instead of being assigned in pairs to each STRIKE brigade (so with the assumption that only 2 out of 4 would simultaneously deploy) they are now assigned as follows:

1x in each Armoured Infantry BCT

2x in the Deep Recce Strike BCT

If the whole package is going to be deployable, the assumption is that AJAX units will be held at higher readiness to deploy and will have an even more important role to play.


We can also speculate on the Why.

In a STRIKE brigade, one AJAX regiment would be in “Armoured Cavalry” configuration, and would have reconnaissance and screening as its main role. The other, controversially, was going to be known as “Medium Armour” and would have had the exact same AJAX vehicles, organized differently, more akin to a Tank regiment, with the mission of supplying the very lightly armed BOXERs with intimate fire support.


In practice, once in the field the STRIKE brigade was going to possibly parcel out “Cavalry” squadrons to cover the reconnaissance needs, while organizing the rest of its resources in combined arms battlegroups that, by default, would have included:

1x Medium Armour Squadron (14 AJAX in 4 Sabre Troops and 2 more in the HQ, plus a section of 4 ARES carrying JAVELIN teams)

2x Mechanized Infantry Companies on BOXER (12 Infantry Carrier Vehicles in 3 Rifle Platoons, 1 Ambulance, 3 more for the OC, 2IC and CSM respectively)


Internal Wargaming of the STRIKE brigade. A battlegroup with the standard Medium Armour Sqn is visible nearest to the camera.  

BOXER, being lightly armed and, unlike WARRIOR, unable to drive the infantry onto the target and deliver supporting fire on the spot, was (and is) expected to dismount the infantry a “safe” distance away from the target. The dismounts would have gotten their intimate fire support not by their APCs, but by AJAX.

In the Armoured Infantry Brigade, of course, the WARRIOR covers both bases (at the cost of carrying 2 dismounts less) and works alongside the CHALLENGER tanks.


That was the previous plan. What happens now?

Despite much talk of attempts to improve the armament of at least some of the BOXERs, they remain wheeled APCs which the Army continues to see as unsuited for driving onto the target. The Army has been very clear and consistent in saying that BOXER is not and won’t be a WARRIOR replacement, because it does not have that kind of capability.

Unfortunately, however, the BOXER is physically replacing WARRIOR anyway. It will take its place into the infantry battalions that would have had WARRIOR, and will take over the garages and bases in Salisbury plain. It will sit within the Armoured Infantry Brigades, since the STRIKE brigades are no more.

It will replace WARRIOR... while being in no way adequate to replace WARRIOR. Wonders of British Army planning!


This situation means that the firepower gap that AJAX was meant to fill in the STRIKE battlegroups not only is unchanged and undiminished, it is literally 100% worse since WARRIOR will be withdrawn from service.

Future Soldier no longer lists any of the AJAX regiments as “Medium Armour”, but i suspect this is just a cosmetic change.

As we have seen, when STRIKE was a thing and the 2 Armoured Brigades had no Cavalry of their own at all, they were supposed to be supported for their reconnaissance and screening needs by elements coming from the single STRIKE brigade, aka from 2 AJAX regiments.


Under the new plan, the 2 armoured BCTs each have an AJAX regiment, and 2 more sit into the Deep Recce Strike BCT. This means 4 AJAX regiments potentially in the field at once. All of them, if we look at the names on paper, to cover Cavalry tasks.

Do we believe to that? Until yesterday, 2 AJAX regts were supposed to be enough to deliver recce, screening and fire support organic to the STRIKE Battlegroups proper, with the Armoured Brigades having no cavalry on their own, and now the Cavalry requirement is virtually doubled...?


I don’t think so. It seems clear to me that, while the Army is (rightly so) too embarrassed to call AJAX “medium armour” anymore, the requirement for it to support the infantry is more acute than ever before. With WARRIOR gone, there is nothing else that can deliver the supporting fire of a high-elevation, quick firing gun to suppress infantry, light armour and enemy ATGW teams. 

Logic suggest that the Deep Recce & Strike BCT with its 2 AJAX regiment will do the cavalry job... and the AJAX regiments in the Armoured BCTs will, regardless of names and titles, end up playing that “medium armour” role.

I’ll be controversial about it and say that, by accident and inability to set sensible priorities, the British Army is on the path to (poorly and remotely) emulate the Russian “TERMINATOR” vehicle concept by having AJAX, a non-tank, non-IFV, provide intimate support to tanks and infantry.


If AJAX is to stay, I can only hope there is a decent technical solution to its vibration and noise problems. What is not going away is fact that AJAX and BOXER are 2 unfinished projects thrown together in despair to create something that is workable, but way too expensive and awkward for what it does.

I honestly don't think there are alternatives for a wheeled, under-armed APC and a vehicle-with-firepower-of-upgraded-Warrior-but-unable-to-carry-dismounts. All you can do is have APC sitting back, disgorging dismounts some distance away while AJAX “plays Warrior” accompanying them.


I’ll also have to try and guess how the Army now expects to kit out 5 infantry battalions with BOXER without new vehicles being purchased. In this case i must assume they have done what i’ve long been saying would be unavoidable, and changed the mix of variants in the order.

For example, I think the 60 engineer section vehicles  could probably have been switched to Infantry carriers: remember that Future Soldier downgrades the previous plan from 4 brigades to 2, effectively, and there is already an engineer variant of AJAX, the ARGUS, on order.

Until recently, we can assume ARGUS would have equipped the Armoured Infantry Brigade’s engineer regiments, while the BOXERs would have gone to the engineer regiments of the STRIKE brigades. Now, there are only the former left to equip.

The order for 61 ambulances could also have been cut back sharply, as well as the (absolutely out of balance) 123 between Command Posts and Command Post – Utility vehicles.


Finally, a comment on another case of British Army contradictory decisions: it appears likely that the Mobile Fires Platform project, for the replacement of the AS90 with a new 155/52 gun, has seen its requirement slashed significantly. Possibly by half, despite the Army’s narrative being a greater focus on the Deep battle and long range Fires.

The requirement previously fluctuated between 98 and 116 guns, but with one firm assumption: 4 regiments would get the new gun. 2 regiments for the armoured infantry brigades (19 RA and 1 RHA) and 2 for the STRIKE brigades (3 RHA and 4 RA).

But under future soldier, 3 RHA is converting to GMLRS, and its place in support of 4 “Light BCT” is taken by 103 Royal Artillery Regiment (Reserve). Very big doubts hang over the deployability of 4th Light BCT as its Combat Support and Combat Service Support are all dependent on Reservists showing up when needed. Moreover, it is now going to be an extremely light brigade, and this makes it very difficult to imagine 103 RA being outfitted with MFP.

4 RA will support 7th Light Mechanised BCT and might still get MFP, eventually.

Instinctively, i say that the MFP requirement has just stealthily been cut by 25 to 50%. 



An alternative Future Soldier


In my alternative proposal, Infantry battalions take (kind of) even more of a hit, in favour of building up the range of supports needed to ensure there are more Combined Arms Formations that can be formed and put into the field. The Army Special Operations Brigade and the Ranger regiment remain, but the parallel Security Force Assistance Brigade is removed in favour of manpower going to other roles.


The main design drivers of my alternative proposal are:


-          North and South focus. The UK’s national strategy has, now more than ever, a two-pronged (3 if we include Central / Eastern Europe) shape with the conclusion of key agreements with “High North” countries (Canada, Norway and the rest of the Joint Expeditionary Force partners) and other important deals concluded with partners in the Middle East, with India and in Asia.

The Future Commando Force is reflecting this double focus by forming two Littoral Response Groups but it is clear to me that the Army must add its weight to ensure each region benefits from a more capable and credible UK forward presence.


-          Finding and Striking is going to be key in the future. This is an assumption we hear all the time, and which the previous Chief of Defence Staff constantly repeated, but there is little to no evidence of any real action being taken to ensure British forces can Find and Acquire targets quickly and hit them at long range. The upgrade to M270B1 launchers and the acquisition of longer range GMLRS rockets and new payload options is an excellent start but is not sufficient.

Key to my proposal is the repurposing of multiple infantry battalions into composite units which, taking example from 30 Commando IX in 3 Commando Brigade, will assume a long-range “Recce-Strike” and Brigade HQ support role. These units will also become responsible for Mini UAVs and suitable Uncrewed Ground Vehicles once these will become available, in particular combat UGVs compatible with Conceptual Force 2035’s aim of using autonomous vehicles to “push reconnaissance forth to the point of destruction” in order to increase op tempo. 

With mini-UAVs being distributed out directly to the infantry, 32 Royal Artillery regiment will instead convert to lightweight GMLRS launchers.

The official Future Soldier plan assigns 1 Royal Irish to 16 Air Assault brigade in such a role, although detail is still scarce and my proposal might still be significantly different. Each brigade will get such a battalion under my plan.


-          The British Armed Forces already possess most of the expensive “ingredients” needed to build up a powerful Air Mobile force. Future Soldier seems to (finally) have noticed and has started exploiting them with plans for the “Global Response Force”, but i’m urging an even greater focus on this area.


-          My alternative plan keeps the Army Special Operations Brigade and the Rangers, but sacrifices the Security Force Assistance Brigade in favour of resourcing the manoeuvre brigades. I think the Rangers, being meant from the start as a capable fighting force that will accompany local allies and carry out SOF raids, can carve a useful role for themselves even though the Joint Force would be hard pressed to supply the wide panoply of supports that would be needed for the concept to truly work. I’m far less convinced by the usefulness of the SFAB, because I simply don’t think courses in basic soldiering skills are what partners need. 


-          I hope the Reserve can provide more formed units and more capabilities in the future, but i’m not prepared to make one of already way too few brigades dependent on Reservists showing up when and as required. The core BCTs must be manned by regulars and provided with sufficient CS and CSS support.


1st Division

In my Army proposal, 1st Division is devoted to Forward Presence and Rapid Reaction. Forward Presence being a major, national strategy and involving the Future Commando Force and the indispensable support of Navy and Royal Navy units, the Division becomes a joint unit, effectively absorbing Joint Task Force HQ and integrating 3rd Commando Brigade in its mechanism of force generation to cover the North and South tasks.

1st Division will take command of 1st Aviation BCT, 16 Air Assault BCT, 3 Commando and 7th Mechanized BCT.


1st Division will become a High Readiness, highly active deployable HQ, integrating in itself Joint Task Force HQ functions (and resources). It will be strengthened to account for the fact that it will be expected to oversee permanently forward deployed forces and command quick reaction operations.

30 Signal Regiment has the single Aviation Support comms Sqn, but sits in 1st Signal Brigade and under ARRC. Why has everything got to be this convoluted? Why can't the British Army just put things where they are needed, and cut down some of the intricacy?

30 Signal Regiment, which is primarily tasked with JTFHQ and JHC support already, will consequently become an organic element of the Division’s Information Maneouvre Component, alongside 2 Signal Regiment and an Intelligence battalion integrating joint force elements. 244 Aviation Support Signal Sqn will go directly to the Aviation Brigade.


A Recce and Fires Group will be formed around 32 Regiment Royal Artillery as it re-equips with a lightweight, rapidly deployable new missile launcher, either LIMAWS(R) resurrected or the USMC’s ROGUE/NMESIS. These lightweight launchers, which will be able to deploy by air, move long distances by road and being carried under slung by CHINOOK, would add that “strategic” dimension to both the air mobile and future commando force that is currently missing. Compatibility with GMLRS ammunition, up to the Precision Strike Missile to come (with ranges of 500 Km or more) and even to Naval Strike Missile (the NMESIS solution) would massively expand the usefulness of the light raiding forces, and make them lethal.

One note i will add here is that plans to acquire and develop new warhead and payload options for GMLRS rockets are the one truly good news of Future Soldier and i hope the Army will truly prioritize this. The acquisition of the Alternative Warhead for Convention-compliant area attack is crucial to restore the M270’s destructive ability, and the intention to add “explosive and non-explosive barriers to constrain vehicle movement; missile-deployed sensors; and radio frequency effects” are to be welcomed. Russia leads NATO by a mile in this kind of advanced artillery capability, and if the UK manages to develop effective payloads it could not only improve the Army’s position but potentially secure huge export wins across NATO.

The Recce and Fires Group will also include one Electronic Warfare regiment: Future Soldier already plans to convert 21 Royal Signal in a second EW formation. In my plan 14 Regt would focus on 1st Division (it already includes the LEWTs for 16 Air Assault) and would maintain an EW Sqn for each brigade (3 Commando already provides its own EW) plus a Divisional Sqn.

Unlike the Deep Recce & Strike Group at present, which is a mammoth formation of 2 heavy cav, 2 light cav, 2 GMLRS regiments, 2 AS90 regiments and a STA regiment absurdly without any organic RLC unit to carry the immense amount of ammunition and supplies required, the Recce and Fires Group will absolutely need to have at least one organic, regular logistic regiment, plus a Reserve transport regiment specifically focused on ammunition and in particular GMLRS pods.

With each Division having equal “dignity” even if not equal weight, Air Defence needs will be equal as well. In my plan, 12 and 16 Regiments will be assigned one per Division and will become mixed regiments comprising SHORAD and MRAD batteries. Being based on the very same installation and very much working side by side, there shouldn’t be excessive issues in adopting a mix that, in the field, would be inevitable anyway.

An additional Surveillance and Target Acquisition regiment will need to be formed, so each Division has access to indispensable sensors including counter-battery radars.

The Recce and Fires Group for 1st Division will have 2 scout battlegroups formed around Light Cavalry, initially with Jackals and, one day, with an enclosed light vehicle better suited to operations including in extreme cold.


1st Aviation Brigade Combat Team changes

1st Aviation BCT will expand and rationalize its organisation. Elements of one infantry battalion, plus 244 Signal Squadron (from 30 Signal Regiment) and Landing Zone reconnaissance and communication parties from the current Joint Helicopter Support Squadron will be used to create a Command and Support Battalion that will deliver deployable HQs, communications, ground reconnaissance and force protection.


The RAF Chinook Squadrons will formally come under the BCT’s command, organized into a Heavy Regiment through the formation of appropriate ground life support teams for operations in the field, on the model of existing AAC regiments. At the moment, the RAF Support Force is more tied to established airbases and does not come with the kind of organic life support found in AAC Regts.

The same would happen with the new Medium helicopters, to be organized in a Medium Regiment which will have 2 of its Squadrons forward based by default (84 Sqn in Cyprus, 667 Sqn in Brunei).


The RAF Tactical Supply Wing will merge with 132 RLC Sqn and elements of the current JHSS to form a single, integrated Aviation Sustainment Battalion.

7 REME will lose command of 132 RLC Sqn and carry on focusing only on Aviation Maintenance.

158 Aviation Support Battalion RLC (Reserve) will become organic to the BCT it is meant to support. 

47 Royal Artillery with its WATCHKEEPER batteries would be part of the Aviation Brigade due to the sizeable ground footprint required by the drone.


16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team changes

Largely the same changes already planned in Future Soldier: a third logistic squadron and artillery battery to be formed so that each battlegroup (2 PARA, 3 PARA, 1/2 GURKHA) is supported.

1 R IRISH joining the brigade as a Recce and Strike Formation. Keeping pace with my conception of this unit, which should in no small part reproduce what 30 Commando successfully does for 3 Commando, this battalion will effectively also absorb 216 Signal Sqn and the Brigade’s deployable HQ, to ensure its force protection and life support.

R IRISH will also supply patrols / a mounted Brigade Reconnaissance and Surveillance Sqn, effectively integrating the Pathfinders into what will really be a composite unit, no longer a “true” infantry formation.

An EW battery and a Light Air Defence Battery will complete this battlegroup, on permanent alignment from 14 Royal Signal Regiment and 12 Royal Artillery Regiment respectively, much as already happens today.

The priority for the brigade would be the acquisition of CHINOOK-portable light vehicles to increase its mobility on the ground. The new Battlegroup Organic Anti-Armour solution should obviously include a scaled-down launcher option compatible with these light vehicles; the current trailer-mounted EXACTOR can be the stopgap on the way there.


7th Brigade Combat Team

In my plan, this brigade becomes “joined at the hip” with the Future Commando Force’s Littoral Response Groups, forming a North group, with focus on Norway and the Arctic, and a South group focused on Middle East and beyond.

The brigade will still be “light mechanized”, but it would receive the VIKING as its primary fighting vehicle, because it is amphibious and proven both in Arctic scenarios and in hot, sandy and muddy ground.

The brigade will technically be quaternary, but its 4 battalions will be split into two groups, one for forward deployment in Oman, and the other focused on Norway deployments. Each group having 2 battalions enables a yearly rotation to spread out the pressure.

In combination with the afloat LRG provided by the Royal Marines, these heavier, mechanized battlegroups ensure the UK has a more credible force at readiness in both regions. Obviously the Artillery regiment would have 4 batteries to ensure proper battlegrouping, and the Close Support Logistic regiment should ideally receive, over time, at least a basic fleet of all-terrain, Arctic-compatible heavy duty cargo carriers able to ensure appropriate intimate support even in the most demanding terrain.

4 Artillery Regiment would receive the Mobile Fires Platform in the 2030s, replacing the L118.

The brigade will have, as per my introduction, a “Recce-Strike” battlegroup delivering brigade reconnaissance in deep, screening, communications and force protection for the HQ in the field. The unit will integrate the deployable brigade HQ and its Signal Sqn.

32 Royal Engineers will provide close support engineering, and a Close Support RLC regiment will, over time, acquire at least a basic fleet of heavy duty logistic platforms compatible with snow and the atrocious terrain of the high north. Budget restrictions mean this will have to be a gradual transformation, but if priorities were steady, progressive improvements would be possible.


3 Commando Brigade changes  

The Commando brigade would undergo some level of change by continuing its already ongoing split into two Groups, North and South. Specifically, i’m advocating 42 and 47 Commando to mix their respective capabilities. Right now, 42 Commando concentrates all of the ship boarding and ship force protection teams, as well as Mentoring tasks and a Sqn assigned to Joint Personnel Recovery role; 47 Commando groups the Landing Craft Sqns and the boat raiding Sqn.

I think it would be beneficial to split the capabilities across the two units and have them assigned to the two geographic focus points. Each “maritime Commando” will deliver:  

-          Boarding Teams and Force Protection with the adequate force and equipment mix for the relative areas. In general, most boarding happens in the LRG (South) area, normally.

-          Boat / Raiding Sqn, to be equipped with more capable combat boats as soon as practicable

-          Landing Craft Sqn

-          Joint Personnel Recovery

 LRG (North) would be delivered by 45 and 47 Commando plus supports; (South) would be the remit of 40 and 42 Commando.



3rd Division


The Iron Division will continue to be the Heavy division (or “warfighting” if you like the Americanism) and will have 3 manoeuvre brigades: 12 and 20 armoured BCTs and 4th Light BCT. The inclusion of the Light BCT can appear counter-intuitive, but it was always planned that 3rd Division, on deployment, would call on the services of the Vanguard Light Brigade for rear area security, prisoners management and all sort of other supporting tasks. In my proposal, 4th BCT would also be Light Mechanized, anyway, by inheriting the Foxhound (and Mastiff / Ridgback) from 7th BCT as the latter gets VIKINGs.


The divisional enablers will include of course a Recce and Fires Group centered on 26 RA (and 101 RA of the Reserve) with M270B1 GMLRS. 5 RA delivering STA, 16 RA delivering SHORAD and MRAD, 21 Royal Signal delivering EW.

The one difference from 1st Division’s Group would be the 2 Recce-Strike battlegroups which, in this case, would be square Combined Arms Regiments comprising a cavalry “battalion” with 2 AJAX Sabre Sqns plus supports and an infantry “battalion” of two rifles companies on BOXER, plus a regimental support company with mortars, long range ATGWs (to be acquired under the Battlegroup Organic Anti-Armour project).



Armoured BCTs

This model of Combined Arms Regiment would be the core of the Armoured BCTs as well, for the reasons explained at length in the introduction. You’ve heard me talk of the Combined Arms Regiment in a multitude of articles in the past, so i won’t repeat it all here.

I will just note that, due to the “particular” situation of today’s British Army, needing to combine AJAX and BOXER to, effectively, replace effects normally associated to the IFV alone, i’m keeping the tank regiments separated.

Instead of a single Type 58 regiment, each brigade would have 2 smaller tank regiments (ideally Type 44, with a slight increase to the total number of CHALLENGER 3 to be acquired over time), to go along with 2 Combined Arms Regiments.

The Armoured BCTs would need to be, virtually, at the same level of readiness for the deployment of both to be feasible in a Division-level operation, but in truth we’ll have to assume a more graduated cycle of readiness and engagement.

One brigade at “higher” readiness could be committed to central-eastern Europe, with elements of one Combined Arms Regiment plus tanks and supports in Estonia for operation CABRIT and the other Combined Arms Regiment and tank regiment in Germany.

The other brigade could, in the same year, rotate its battlegroups through Oman’s training area to deliver the heavier element of Forward Presence in the (South) sector and to exploit greater training spaces and maintain experience of operations in arid climates.

The Close Support Artillery regiments with AS90 (and then MFP) would be organic to the BCTs in my plan, as well as Close Support Logistic.

The Armoured BCTs would have their own Recce-Strike formation to support the HQ, deliver reconnaissance in deep and UAV support and organic tactical intelligence.

If Future Soldier is to truly deliver BCTs that are more capable of independent action, this is simply indispensable.


4th Light Mechanized BCT

That 4th Light Brigade Combat Team as envisioned in the current Future Soldier is not a (reliably) deployable brigade is evident by the fact that the totality of its Combat Support and Combat Service Support roles are to be covered by the Reserve.

With all due respect for the Reserve and with all possible optimism in the expansion of their role and ability to field formed units, it appears to me that this arrangement will too often not work satisfactorily.


That 4th BCT is yet another brigade becoming an undeployable paper tiger due to the Army’s obsession to cling on to more infantry battalions than it can possibly support is further evidence by the fact that 1st Division has a single Signal regiment. 3rd Division has 1 divisional regt and 2 "brigade" regts. The current ORBAT is just NOT built around what is needed to deploy force in the field.

We KNOW that a Bde needs, at a MINIMUM, a Signal Sqn for its HQ and Comms. Army currently assigns a whole regt to its (few) decent bdes, with 1 Sqn delivering Armoured HQ (where applicable) and 1 delivering Network, plus Sp Sqn. A Bde is nothing if it can't command & communicate.


"We need X battalions of infantry because there is the Cyprus and Publid Duty rotation, you know" is technically true, but the Army cannot continue to use this shield to defend a constant erosion of the CS and CSS elements that make a Brigade a meaningful combined arms formation.

21 Signal Regt becomes EW, and that's fantastic. More EW is needed. But can price of some more EW really be leaving 4th Brigade without Signal support? 3 RHA becomes a GMLRS regiment, and again that's good, but the price can't be leaving 4th Bde depending wholly on the Reserve.

My solution to all of these problems is the Recce-Strike combined arms formation at brigade level, as it combines a combat role suited to infantry and cavalry with indispensable current capabilities including a Signal Sqn for the brigade’s C2 needs and a tactical UAV unit.

The remaining Signal resources, grouped in regiments assigned to the Divisions, can deliver theatre-wide network support while the Signals organic to the brigades deliver the BCT’s intimate needs.

With 32 RA no longer being the lone custodian of mini UAVs, it can convert to Light GMLRs as said earlier, and 3 RHA can continue in the close support artillery role.


4th Brigade will be based around 4 Light Mechanized battalions on deployment, but will have more battalions at its command to account for the needs of Cyprus.

Cyprus absorbs 2 battalions, one of which is a garrison force while the other, from several years already, is a Theatre Reserve Battalion, effectively forward based on the island for rapid insertion in the Mediterranean and Middle East area. This would make it one of the 4 primary manoeuvre units of the brigade.

The brigade would also control the garrison battalion, but that would be additional to the manoeuvre strength, not considered part of it proper. The Cyprus-task would continue to be rotated through the brigade’s battalions.

3 RHA would still be aiming for the Mobile Fires Platform, in my plan.


The Reserve

Future Soldier is a bit contradictory on how best to organize the Reserve to ensure it can force-generate for deployment. Several Reserve units are organic to Regular BCTs, while many more are assigned to 19th Brigade, which will resurrect in 2022 to take care of the reserve force generation cycle.

Personally, i’m going to recommend going with specific brigading of the Reserve, outside but alongside Regular BCTs.

As i’ve said from the beginning, 11th Brigade will not take a Security Force Assistance role in my plan. Instead, it will become a Reserve brigade (Heavy), assigned to 3rd Division to support primarily the armoured BCTs.

It will take ownership of units that Future Soldier currently assigns directly to the Armd BCTs, from 104 Royal Artillery to the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, moving through the Reserve battalion counterparts to the BOXER-mounted regulars.


19th Brigade will be the Reserve brigade for 1st Division, taking command of 103 Royal Artillery and the reserve infantry battalions as well as the reserve CS and CSS units currently assigned to 4th BCT.


Public Duty

Future Soldier has started a welcome revolution in how Public Duties are provided, reducing the requirement from 2 regular battalions to 1, thanks to the creation of “Public Duties Teams”, presumably based on the current Incremental Guards Companies. There will be 8 teams, apparently, with up to 3 on duty at any one time.

Support will be provided by the reserves of the LONDON regiment, which is receiving the Guards title.



In conclusion

My plan would impact the Infantry quite severely. Many battalions would need to become “hybrid” formations less about traditional infanteering and more about UAVs, patrols, surveillance and target acquisition. I believe this is in the interest of the Army’s capability, however, and an inevitable consequence of having to accommodate the largest number of capable Combined Arms Formations into a constrictive ceiling of 73.000 regulars.


Emphasis is put on ensuring regular CS and CSS support, as well as Surveillance and Target Acquisition, are available more widely and assuredly across the formations.

Note that these are all things that the Army and Secretary of State for Defence say are needed; the problem is that Future Soldier as currently published does not follow those directions.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Time for courage


The British Army is expected to reveal more details about its future plans sometime “in the autumn”, which in theory means sometime soon. The internal work to define the way forward is known as Project EMBANKMENT and is meant to put meat on the bones of the Future Soldier announcement that came together with the Defence Command Paper.

The Army’s Future Soldier position at the time was articulated as follows:


       An additional £3bn will be invested in new Army equipment over the next ten years on top of the £20bn already planned.

[NOTE: we have to assume it is part of this money that has been used to announce the GMLRS upgrade and new munitions, at 250 million, and the Mobile Fires Platform, replacement for AS90 and part of the L118s, at “over” 800 million. Both these projects already existed before, but clearly they didn’t have any funding line before the Review. The 120 million investment in the RANGER regiment, the planned 2023 purchases of new mini UAVs to replace Desert Hawk III and of new C-UAS weapons; plus plans for CAMM ER to beef up ground based air defence are probably all funded from this pot. “Over” 200 million have also been promised to beef up Electronic Warfare capabilities.]


       By 2025 the Army will be 72,500 regular and 30,100 reserve personnel.

       There will be no loss of cap badges and no redundancies of Regular soldiers.

       The Army will continue to recruit in large numbers the diverse talent that it needs to maintain a competitive advantage now and in the future.  

       1 MERCIAN and 2 MERCIAN will be merged.  In time they will form one of the new Boxer-mounted battalions in the new structure.

[NOTE: 1 MERCIAN was earlier planned to be a WARRIOR-mounted battalion. With WARRIOR going out of service and a lot of garage and barracks space, sometimes literally newly built, becoming available in Tidworth and Bulford, we have to assume earlier plans for BOXER battalions will be completely torn apart. There is little to no sense in putting BOXER in Catterick, as once planned, when Salisbury Plain is now “empty”.)


       A new Army Special Operations Brigade based around a new Ranger Regiment able to operate in high threat environments to train, advise and accompany partners.  This will be initially seeded from the current Specialised Infantry Battalions: 1 SCOTS, 2 PWRR, 2 LANCS and 4 RIFLES.


       A new Security Force Assistance Brigade to complement the Army Special Operations Brigade, operating in lower threat environments, routinely deployed across the globe to develop the capacity of partners and allies.

[NOTE: effectively this means turning another 4 battalions into Specialised Infantry. One of them will probably be 3 GURKHA RIFLES, which was being built up as 5th of the Specialised units when the new Army plan appeared]


       2 YORKS will become a new prototype warfighting and experimentation battalion. [This has now happened, with 2 YORKS, while based in Cyprus, busy testing new equipments including Dismounted Situational Awareness tablets; Robotic Platoon Vehicles and the new Assault Rifle In-line Low Light Sight, ARILLS]

Clipped on in front of the Day sight, the ARILLS "fuses" thermal imagery and image intensification for maximum performance at night and in all low light conditions. 

       The Infantry will be reorganised into four Divisions of Infantry with a more balanced number of battalions and offering a wider range of infantry roles. 

[Each infantry division will be aligned to one of the RANGER battalions and, presumably, one of the Specialised battalions as well. Each infantry division will probably get 1 mechanised battalion as well, so each division can offer a wide range of opportunities to new recruits]


       The Army will reorganise into Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), including permanently assigned supporting elements like artillery, engineers, electronic warfare, cyber and UAS.  


Plans to upgrade GMLRS, reactivate some of the ones in reserve (44 launchers will be upgraded, compared to 35 now in use) and acquire new, long range and more advanced munitions is extremely welcome, but much of this was supposed to be funded already before the Review. 

       A very-high-readiness Global Response Force of 16 Air Assault Brigade and the newly formed 1st Aviation Brigade, which will be ready to respond from humanitarian relief through to crisis response and warfighting.

[The British armed forces have a formidable array of capabilities needed to build and sustain an excellent air mobile brigade: 8 C-17, 22 A-400M, 60 Chinook, 50 Apache helicopters, a new Medium Lift Helicopter to come, plus Wildcat. It’s a shame it took years to notice. The formation of the Aviation brigade was a much welcome step and further refinement of the combined capabilities of the two brigades would deliver a truly excellent tool. On the other hand, the loss of C-130J is regrettable, as it reduces the airlift capability. It’s very much contradictory to cut cargo aircraft while expanding the role of the air mobile force, but coherence in UK defence planning has never been a factor...]


       The Land Industrial Strategy will strengthen our partnerships with industry to unlock and rapidly exploit the potential of innovation and spiral development, delivering the kit we need when we need it, as part of the Army’s contribution to UK prosperity.


In terms of timelines, the Future Soldier briefing noted:


       The Army will use spring and early summer 2021 to refine and test the designs, capabilities and structure below BCT-level. It will plan carefully to maximise the potential of limited resources, particularly key equipment.

        This work will be presented to the Army Board in late June 21.

       The MOD Reserve Forces 30 review will be published in May 21. 

       Detailed programming and balanced decisions about the optimum resourcing and sequencing of this institutional change will follow, enabling CGS to issue orders to the Army in early autumn.

In terms of Force Structure, the Future Soldier plan as published at the time of the Defence Command Paper was as unimaginative as they come. The "new" Army linearly fell from a planned 4 mechanized brigades (2 armoured, 2 STRIKE) to just 2 mechanized Brigade Combat Teams, ugly and inevitable hybrids pieced together with the surviving pieces of Armoured Bdes (Challenger 3) and STRIKE (AJAX, which was originally meant for Armour anyway; and BOXER).

1 Cavalry regiment with AJAX, 1 tank regiment, 2 infantry battalions on BOXER. If this plan will be confirmed, it couldn’t possibly be any more foregone than it already is. You lose WARRIOR, you end up here. That's literally it. I was writing about it back in February

The only "innovation" at the time was the attempt to turn 1st Artillery Brigade into a 3rd manoeuvre bde by putting the 2 "orphaned" AJAX regiments into it, alongside GMLRS but without infantry. The Army calls this formation Deep Recce Strike Brigade Combat Team. This is not new per se, but it's new to see it as an organic, permanent formation: the Deep Strike Recce BCT is, really, the comfortable choice that lets the British Army hang on a couple of Cavalry regiments otherwise at risk, while adopting a familiar, reassuring mix that was used in Op GRANBY in 1991, grouping 16/5 Lancers with 32 and 39 Heavy regts RA as Divisional Artillery Group. What is old is new again.

The other 2 manoeuvre brigades were inevitably downgraded to Light BCTs, with the assumption that one would be Lightly Mechanized thanks to the use of FOXHOUND. Apparently, even in the middle of this disaster, the Army remains uninterested in hanging on to MASTIFF and RIDGEBACK, and we really should ask ourselves why, especially since these vehicles have received a quick, painless, cheap but important mobility upgrade and have been sent to Mali where they have an important role.


At a macro level, the new organization is purely born out of despair and can’t have taken more than 5 minutes to design. Literally.

Where innovation is supposed to happen is at lower level, and we have to hope that the Army will be bold enough to truly change its ways, and go back to the drawing board in regard to the organization of the brigades. 

The british BCT is described as a formation which


“will be structured to integrate capabilities at the lowest appropriate level with supporting capabilities routinely assigned including artillery, Un-crewed Aerial Systems, cyber, air defence, engineers, signals and logistic support. This will create more self-sufficient tactical units with the capacity to work with partners across government, allies and industry.”


The internal brief insists: “A Land force structured to integrate capabilities at the lowest appropriate level creating more self-sufficient points of presence”.



This is perfectly in tune with assumptions about the future that have been in Army thinking for several years now. The Integrated Operating Concept 2025 has notoriously listed the necessary attributes of the future force as:


Have smaller and faster capabilities to avoid detection

Trade reduced physical protection for increased mobility

Rely more heavily on low-observable and stealth technologies

Depend increasingly on electronic warfare and passive deception measures to gain and maintain information advantage

Include a mix of crewed, uncrewed and autonomous platforms

Be integrated into ever more sophisticated networks of systems through a combat cloud that makes best use of data

Have an open systems architecture that enables the rapid incorporation of new capability

Be markedly less dependent on fossil fuels

Employ non-line-of-sight fires to exploit the advantages we gain from information advantage

Emphasize the non-lethal disabling of enemy capabilities, thereby increasing the range of political and strategic options


The Army’s own Conceptual Force 2035 doubles down on the same kind of design drivers. This study imagined an army of 3 smaller but capable divisions made of lighter, faster, more deployable, largely independent battlegroups, with dispersion being the norm. Conceptual Force 2035 specifies that the disaggregated fighting requires Combined Arms capabilities to be organic at lower level, to ensure the dispersed Battlegroups do not have to wait for a superior echelon to make supports available. This includes having more organic Indirect Fire capability and employing it alongside greater ATGW capability to offset the capability currently delivered by MBTs through “lighter” vehicles.

The BGs will be expected to carry out, and I quote, deeper, more risky and aggressive manoeuvre. Robotic, sacrificial systems will be used to press on reconnaissance, and I quote again, to the point of destruction, in order to enable the BG to use frenetic op-tempo to make up for the lack of mass.

The resulting BGs would be around 500-strong but are supposed to match the current mission set of a 1250-strong armoured BG though the use of robotics and higher op-tempo. The Conceptual Force imagined that, from the then objective force of around 82.000 regulars, the British Army would be able to form some 48 such Combined Arms battlegroups. The organization would work to the Rule of 4, with an Assault Force, Covering Force, Echelon Force and Reserve Force. These BGs would be grouped in Brigades with enough CS and CSS elements to fight, again, largely independently from the Division level.


Conceptual Force 2035's key points

We can agree or disagree with the assumptions above, but there is no denying that, at a conceptual and doctrinal level, the scenario has been set. This is the future force that the Army thinks is needed in the future.

Now the real question is whether the Army has any appetite to reorganize its Force Structure accordingly, and let go of some old, deeply ingrained tribalism that has been allowed to put up all sorts of avoidable problems.

The examples that could be made when referring to that “tribalism” are many, at all levels, but my favourites  are always the same because they perfectly illustrate the avoidable stupidity that permeates the British Army’s structure.

First example: when “battlegrouping”, Cavalry / Tank squadrons or demi-squadrons are mixed with companies of infantry. A battlegroup based on an Infantry Battalion comes with the very significant advantage of having a Fire Support Company with mortars, snipers and anti-tank platoons. A BG based on a tank formation does not get a Fire Support Coy, because Tank regiments don’t have them. The AJAX regiments organized as “Medium Armour” formations, mirroring Tank regiments, would also not have had one. The cavalry regiments have anti-tank capability in their Guided Weapons Troop, but normally have no mortars. One of the “innovations” that the Household Cavalry Regiment was (is?) pursuing as part of STRIKE and of its transition to AJAX, is the creation of a mortar troop.

This, for me, is tribalism. That in this age of warfare we are still looking at these baby steps is insanity.

The use of UAVs is also very stovepiped, with 32 Regiment Royal Artillery holding the Mini-UAS capability and parcelling it out upon battlegrouping. This frankly won’t do in the future. Capability must spread out across formations and go down the ladder of formation size; combined arms must be the norm, not the on-deployment mixing of today.


If the Army is to move in any way closer to its own Concept Force 2035 ambition, it needs to find the courage to gut its current, increasingly nonsensical structure, mix Infantry & Cavalry and redistribute capabilities with no deference to capbadges and outdated Corps separations, creating Permanent Combined Arms Battlegroups.


Such a radical reform is no longer avoidable, since the Army is trying to modernize in the context of a regular manpower cap moving down from a theoretical, never-achieved 82,000 to 72,500 by 2025.

The regular Army is going to be smaller, and positions will be lost, and units will need to change. In particular, the Infantry is bound to take a hit, simply because Combat Support and Combat Service Support formations have already been cut back so much that most of the Army’s brigades are make-believe formations comprising only infantry, with no artillery, communications, engineering or logistics.

1st Division's brigades, with the exception of one which gets some supports on rotation, are next to useless paper bags containing infantry battalions to parcel out in the never ending quest to rob Peter so that Paul can be outfitted in a decent way for deployment.

This has to change. The Army will continue to drown in its own chaos otherwise.


While BOXER is an excellent base vehicle, it is not a complete, coherent capability unless the right mix of variants is achieved, and the equipment fit is decent. At the moment, the British Army's equipment fit plans are dismal, with, for example, the mortar carrier being literally just an APC carrying a L16 81mm mortar that will only be able to fire once dismounted. Same for the Observation Post Vehicle, which at the moment is not planned to be equipped with its own sensors and target marker to enable target designation from under armour. Key variants are missing entirely; others could now be a duplication (Engineer Section Vehicle and the ARGUS vehicle of the Ajax family seem to be in open conflict now that only 2 brigades remain), the number of infantry carriers is ridiculously small, firepower on the vehicles is absysmal. Change is urgently needed. 

As the reveal date for Embankment draws nearer, the leaks to the press have begun, with the Daily Mail writing about incoming reductions to the Infantry, which is said to be destined to shrink from 16,500 to 11,000. Apparently, the Rifles regiment didn’t take well to the news and promptly leaked the internal memo to the press. Either the leaker or, more likely, the Daily Mail itself, have also immediately felt the need to point out that the plan will be “overseen by the new Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin. The evil Royal Navy is already out to get the Army’s scalp, seems to be the narrative that we will be force-fed over the coming months.

The fact that the Admiral is not yet in post, and that Embankment is the Army’s own plan formulated over the last several months is, naturally, a detail of no importance: never let facts get in the way of a good tale!


The reduction in the Infantry numbers is not and cannot possibly be a surprise to anyone who read the Defence Command Paper and Future Soldier brochure. Where did people think that the manpower reduction would hit? On the last few enablers left to ensure that the Army can scrape together 4 brigades somewhat deployable?

It was inevitably going to come to this.

And if the Army was to finally pursue its own imagined Future Combat Team, around 500 strong, it would again be inevitable that Infantry numbers would be further affected.

It was all always under our eyes.


The impact on the Infantry’s effectiveness is the only thing that isn’t yet clear. Some reductions will be pretty much automatic since mechanized battalions are larger than Light Role formations. As WARRIOR disappears and only 4 Mechanized battalions remain, a few hundred posts will disappear naturally. Several hundred more will vanish as 4 (or rather 3, assuming 3 GURKHA RIFLES carries on) battalions are cut down from 500/600 to 250-or so to form the new Security Force Assistance Brigade.

2 MERCIAN effectively disappears with the merging into 1 MERCIAN, accounting for several hundred more. And the rest will have to be shaved off with some other change to the structure of the remaining Battalions. 

Unfortunately the Army has once more tied its hands up by insisting that no capbadge will be lost and that no other battalions will disband, so this inexorably means every remaining battalion will get smaller.

How, and with what “capability compensation”, is the only question that remains on the table.


Army 2020, in 2011, attempted to absorb the manpower cut by removing a Platoon from every Rifle Company in every Light Role battalion. This proved unworkable, so a whole Company was removed instead, with the assumption that the hole would be filled by a formed company of reservists from the paired Reserve battalion.

This arrangement on paper makes a lot of sense in what is supposed to be a fully integrated force of Regulars and Reservists, but unfortunately proved unworkable because the availability of reservists is, understandably, not very good and not very predictable. 

The number of times the Reserve has been able to deploy a formed Company probably fits on the fingers of one hand. I can think of 4 PARA deploying one to the Falklands, and a case in Cyprus. 

Day to day efficiency of the regular battalions was badly impaired, as was their ability to train. It became normal to put together companies of two battalions to make one, which obviously defeats the point of keeping so many tiny battalions in the first place. 

Eventually, in 2015, the missing companies were rebuilt, redistributing the manpower obtained by inventing the Specialised Infantry battalions and downsizing them to just around 250 personnel.

But this time, manpower cannot just move around. It will be shed for good.

And there are just two ways in which this can happen:

-       The Stupid, Capbadge-driven way: insist in holding on to Infantry battalions more or less as they are, and go back to the (failed) Army 2020 model. This is unfortunately highly likely to happen, if recent Army history is any indication.

-       The Conceptual Force 2035 way: remove the artificial separations between Infantry, Cavalry, Armour, etcetera, and build up permanent, Combined Arms Battlegroups which will probably have the equivalent of just 2 Infantry companies, again, but will at least be designed from the ground up to include armour-support, UAVs, Robotic vehicles when they eventually happen, and beefed-up organic Fires. 


The most common counter-argument deployed against Permanent battlegrouping is that, supposedly, maintaining the separation of roles enables each component to pursue excellence in its field, and battlegrouping only for deployment safeguards “flexibility”.

Personally, I think this is an extraordinarily weak argument. It could be countered in all sorts of ways, but i once again will go back to the example made earlier: keeping the specialties separated results in incomplete battlegroups simply because, to make one example, the Cavalry absurdly does not have mortars.

The separation only enables and sometimes mandates the proliferation of capability gaps that require ever more “robbing Peter to pay Paul”: a stupefying number  of separate formations sending bits and pieces to one another to build something that actually works.


I don’t see a single genuinely good reason why we should continue to keep separate formations that will never deploy on operations without being broken apart and reassembled in combined arms battlegroups.

All too often, when looking back to operations, the post-action analysis contains the passage “the units in the battlegroup had only been together for a short time and didn’t know each other enough”, or similar remarks. Lieutenant M. Dewis, on TANK 2020 (volume 102, No 801) makes a series of recommendations to try and save the Regimental system while enabling the creation of effective Combined Arms Teams.

He stops short of advocating for permanent overarching formations, but he underlines the need for broader, more stable affiliations and more cross-training. At the same time he can’t help but note that Battlegroup level training is expensive and an increasingly rare commodity at a time in which it is more desperately needed than ever. It’s all good to insist on social networking and “forming and storming” by “intruding” in each other’s low level training events as much as possible, and simulation and tabletop wargames obviously help, but I don’t think half-measures are adequate. Certainly not in the context of a further shrinking Army.

The Army’s Conceptual Force 2035 is clear in its working assumption that the future is the combined arms Future Combat Team. It is time for the Army to move in that direction in a serious way, if it believes its own innovative thinking. There is absolutely no rational reason to claim that more self-sufficient formations wouldn’t be flexible and able to cooperate and re-ORBAT as necessary.


The Army insists that “the future battlefield will be different. It will be harder to hide and weapons will destroy with greater accuracy, range and precision. People will retain their centrality in the battle of wills, while robots and UAVs will increasingly reduce the number of people engaged in the front line. Legacy capabilities are becoming obsolete ever more rapidly”. 

To counter that, the Army says it needs faster, agile, well integrated, combined arms formations able to aggregate and disaggregate across a vast battlefield.

If this is the assumption, act on it.


The attributes of the Future Combat Team are the key to the whole concept: if you want to fight dispersed and be lighter but still capable, you must pack a serious punch and have far more capability pushed down the levels of command. This is something that in STRIKE was never done in any meaningful way. Firepower has been dead last in the list of priorities so far, and that made the whole thing not credible.

In fact, what is most striking about the Conceptual Force 2035 is that it is so entirely alien to what the British Army actually looks like today, in structure, “culture” and programmes. Permanent Combined Arms Battlegroups are anathema in today’s British Army and among the purists of capbadges and specialty separations. CS and CSS are a scarce resource completely out of balance with the number of infantry battalions. Indirect Fires and ATGWs are weaknesses, not strengths. The Rule of 4 is nowhere to be seen, and indeed resources in multiple areas are spread so thin than even the Rule of 3 is dubious, with infantry battalions that could literally shed a rifle company soon.


British Army armour leaving BATUS. The end of an era, happening largely behind curtains of shame-induced silence. 

Embankment is an opportunity for change. The reduction to regular manpower margins will be painful, there is no way to deny it will be. Trying to absorb the reduction while hanging on to 31 battalions will only make the pain worse and result in 31 ever more unusable formations.

It is time to be courageous, and end the tribalism and the excuses.


Change is desperately and urgently needed in equipment plans as well: AJAX and BOXER purchases as currently planned, in consequence of the disappearance of WARRIOR, no longer integrate each other. BOXER variants mix and equipment fit must change to lessen the devastating impact of losing WARRIOR. For a wider discussion about this aspect, see:



In the Global Response Force, investment is needed to ensure 16 Air Assault acquires organic vehicle mobility to complement the helicopter mobility. Light, Chinook-portable vehicles would enable the PARAs to manoeuvre quickly out of a landing zone, allowing the helicopter to drop troops off further away from a target and thus hopefully away from enemy air defences.

In terms of organisation, there is obvious scope for a greater integration of the all-important Chinook force into the Aviation Brigade. Since the Chinook is RAF-owned and operated, it is currently not an integral part of the brigade and, moreover, the Squadrons are not equipped with the same wealth of organic life support on the ground. At the moment, APACHE and Wildcat squadrons can operate on the battlefield in a way that Chinook cannot replicate, being more tied to well established airbases. This difference is unhelpful at best, and would need correcting.

There is also obvious scope for rationalising the current separated bits and pieces of ground support units: the current 7 REME, 132 Sqn Royal Logistic Corps, Tactical Supply Wing and Joint Helicopter Support Squadron could and should be re-organized to cut down duplication and maximize the number of complete task lines covering everything from ammunitioning, fueling, equipment maintenance and Landing Zone management.

It seems also obvious that 244 Signal Squadron, the one unit tasked with providing communications to the Joint Helicopter Command, really belongs organically into the Aviation Brigade.

They are not big changes, and in several cases they would probably generate efficiencies and savings, but they will require the cancellation of some redundant HQs and the removal of barriers between Army and RAF and between RLC, REME and Royal Signals.


The barrier between Royal Logistic Corps and REME might indeed be brought down more or less completely. There have been suggestions that the Army might be headed towards integrated Close Support Regiments, possibly including also the medical capability.

Defence already has one such integrated regiment, the Commando Logistic Regiment of 3 Commando Brigade, although this is admittedly a somewhat special case as the Royal Marines have the intimate support of ship-borne assets and stores. 

However, the STRIKE Brigades were also going to have a CSS battalion obtained by merging a RLC formation with a REME one. There’s a possibility that this integration will now become a target army-wide. There are resistances, but such integration is the norm in multiple allied armies, including the US, and it’s increasingly difficult to claim the British Army cannot adapt.


Change will also be needed in wider strategy and purpose as Forward Basing is finally embraced beyond the persistent presence of Specialised Infantry Companies.

Lieutenant General Chris Tickell, Deputy CGS, revealed at DSEI what the Army is doing to increase its responsiveness in key regions of the world. The BATUS training area in Canada has been quietly “robbed” of its large, permanent fleet of armoured vehicles, which have been brought back from February this year. Some 112 vehicles between Challenger tanks, AS90 guns, Warriors and “T2” (Titan bridgelayers and Trojan AVRE of the Royal Engineers) have been moved out and are heading towards Sennelager, in Germany, which will act both as the de-facto main training area for the mechanized force, and a Forward Base which will be better able to project heavy forces towards Eastern Europe.

The Omani-British Joint Training Area near Duqm, which we have been promised will be “tripled in size” with additional investment, will become the other main training ground for british mechanized forces. Units will deploy to Oman for “Khanjer Oman” exercises and will remain for a few months, rather than just for the duration of the exercise. In so doing, they will become a Forward Based force to complement the afloat Littoral Response Group (South) that the Royal Navy and Marines will base at Duqm from 2023.

The BATUK training area in Kenya, similarly, will see light / air assault battlegroups spending 2-3 months at a time in the area, rather than weeks as currently happen for the “Askari Storm” exercises.

BATUS, de facto, is no more. Although it is not closing down entirely, its era appears to have ended, and it would have deserved a more dignified goodbye, but the Army, MOD and Government presumably don’t like admitting that there just aren’t enough armoured vehicles left to sustain a training fleet based in Canada.

Training fleets in Sennelager and Oman can be realistically “double-hatted” as rapidly deployable, forward based forces. An armoured battlegroup stuck in the Canadian prairie cannot. At the end of the day, this is the one explanation for the move.


BATUS was notable for its absence in the graphics about Forward Presence. There was a reason for it, as has since become apparent. 

But given the premises, it is the right move, for once. I encourage the Army to insist on this path, and invest on it, and work closely together with the Royal Marines so that the Oman-based contingent is closely integrated with the LRG(S) and with its ships, that are the key element to enable the forward based force to move quickly across a theatre which is dominated by the sea.


What is still missing from the picture is an Army formation equipped and trained with the High North in mind. As the UK reinforces its strategic commitment to Norway and the wider Arctic, and makes the Littoral Response Group (North) one of the two main prongs of its international engagement strategy, there is obvious scope for the Army to provide a heavier force to back-up the afloat Royal Marines component.


It’s an obvious step to synchronize the Army with the Nation’s strategy.

But it will take courage.