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.


  1. Hi Gabby

    Another thoughtful piece as ever. I wholeheartedly agree (as do most?) that Future Soldier is lacking in ambition, common sense and realistic force design. Just calling a formation a 'Brigade Combat Team' does not make it so - the defining characteristic of a BCT in US terms in the organic support and sustainment - the lack of which as you point out just makes the DRS BCT a place to park various units, it is in effect a Divisional Artillery Group without closely aligned logistics support. As to your suggestions, there are only 99 BVS10 so not enough for a full Brigade, but out of all the equipment we could buy, that is one that could provide great value for money, especially as various European NATO countries, and the US are all looking at procuring a ATTV type vehicles.
    I don't think the RN would go for your Future Commando Force changes, as I think they would say they have in hand, there will be LRS North and South, and those will be based around a Vanguard Company each, with supports from the other Commandos (assault craft, IX etc) as required.
    In conclusion, I think I would just say that the Army needs to word hard on a better force design IF it wants to both generate "forward deployed and constantly engaged" units other than the Rangers, and provide a "warfighting Division" to NATO. The way Russia uses Brigades to generate a 'Battalion Tactical Group' or the French use Brigades to generate GTIA's (All Arms Tactical Groups) for deployment, should be our model.

    1. "The way Russia uses Brigades to generate a 'Battalion Tactical Group' or the French use Brigades to generate GTIA's (All Arms Tactical Groups) for deployment, should be our model." Now I can't speak for the way Russia does it, but the way France generates an GTIA is the same way the British army generates an All Arms Battle Group. I remember discussing this at a staff college exercise with a French officer who had just commanded a regiment of troupes de marine. His view was that the way that France and the UK force generate was to all intents and purposes the same, as were a GTIA and a BG. He also felt that the peacetime structure of a French regiment was somewhat too big and that it should ideally be nearer in size to a British battalion.

  2. Future Soldier Alternative is a great achievement. It's a whole army alternative, a vast scope showing deep knowledge and acute analysis. There is plenty to ponder, and I will.

  3. Your article makes sense. But ultimately it’s just another armchair warrior’s take on troubled British Army transformation/reorganization. We all know it ain’t gonna happen.

    1. Yes Joe, it ain’t gonna happen. The real problem is the armchair warriors in the general staff with wacky ideas that ain't gonna happen before they move to another seat. You say the article makes sense but how do we make it happen?

    2. I guess what really matters is adequate resourcing plus avoiding past mistakes in acquisitions. Funding is the number one priority, how to organize the forces comes after that. Personally, my biggest take on Mr Gabriel’s approach of rebalancing British Army comes down to two points: 1) giving up infantry cap to beef up CS and CSS and making these units self deployable 2) maneuver units like BCTs must be built upon regular army personnel. Both are non-beainer. How exactly the new unit is composed of, every body has his opinion . IMO we have be realistic given the fiscal constraints. For example while it may sound good to have 2 type-44 tank regiments within each armored BCT, it’s just not going to happen. It’s also unwise for UK to develop its own payload option for GMLRS. PrSM is an overkill, GMLRS-ER is adequate to satisfy British Army’s deep strike requirement. I can keep going on but you get my point.

    3. I don't get, can't pick out, your main point. Funding is the number one priority, you say, how to organize the forces comes after that. Funding is fixed for the next 4 years, the main equipment projects are under contract. 4 type 44 regiments from an order of 148 CR3 - that's not going to happen. There are a few other examples like this, but from the Army, not entirely Gabriele. The Army does not reveal all details and we may suggest a few tweaks.

      * how to organize the forces comes after that " This is the main thrust of Future Soldier alternative. You give your "biggest take" on 2 points but is this what you support, or does "what really matters is adequate resourcing" mean asking for more money first?

    4. The math doesn’t add up. 4 type 44 tank regiments equal to 176 MBTs while entire CH3 program covers only 148. And what about additional requirement for attrition, spare and training set if you want to maintain 4 combat ready tank formations? Two type 58 regiments serving as combat unit while the reserve Yeomanry performs training and crew replacement role. This is the official plan and only logical. Any wishful thinking of beyond this force structure is fantasy.

  4. So, in Future Soldier the strike brigades live on. Each will have the infamous "medium tank" Ajax regiment and 2 Boxer battalions. The recce Ajax regiment goes to Division and an armoured regiment comes in to provide the previously missing armoured fighting capability.

    The extra Boxer battalion in 20 ABCT is, I think, for Cabrit and the 2 new strike brigades (ABCT) will effectively have the same organisation.

    Forming battle groups from 4 units with Ajax, Boxer, and CR3 will take some thought and experimentation. ! AI Brigade & Strike Experimental Group should have learnt some lessons. But that HQ is not one of then new strike brigades and only one unit, Royal Dragoon Guards goes to new strike. It looks like the lessons will be lost.

    Gabriele's Combined Arms Regiments have been a strong call in the wilderness for some time but the Army is not going that way and is still lost.

  5. I like Gabrielle's article, which is not necessarily the same thing as saying I agree with it. Three questions I'd pick out: 1) why make 1 Div effectively into a (C)JTF HQ when there's already SJFHQ for that? 2) Why are you effectively coupling 3 Cdo Bde into land forces when the FCF initiative has firmly put them into the space of being part of the maritime force, which then in turn is synthesized into the Integrated Force? and 3) At the tactical level you've turned 32 RA into a guns regt, so where would the smaller UAVs go to?

    Finally I notice that Conceptual Force (Land) has reappeared. See Cove webinar

    1. Because i want to cut down on the number of HQs. I want one more workable division, and 1 less layer of HQs without assigned troops.

      I'm putting 3 Commando in step with 1st Division because 3 Commando is turning into a "pre landing force". By definition it is going to achieve very little without a "landing force". There has to be proper coordination with an heavier army component assigned to the same regions. The "maritime" nature of 3 Commando doesn't need or have to change just because of this; but i'm personally very, very, VERY wary of what that "maritime focus" means in practice. Too little focus on how to get the Marines ashore is a bad beginning.
      I also want 3 Commando to have access to strategic effects without having to borrow them from the USMC; that's why i want them to have a clear relationship and path to a GMLRS / Missile regiment.
      It's all well and good scouting in favor of USMC HIMARS, but i want a UK solution.

      The UAVs will be pushed down directly to the infantry. First of all, as i've written, down to the "30 Commando-like recce-strike formations i'm putting in each brigade.

      Thanks for that link, i'll definitely check that presentation out.

  6. By Michael Cover:

    When General Montgomery took command of the 8th Army, he abolished “Battle Groups” or whatever they were then called. In his subsequent report on the North Africa campaign 1942-43 (National Archives Extracts from that report, Catalogue ref: WO 214/19), he wrote:

    “Divisions were split up into bits and pieces all over the desert; the armour was not concentrated; the gunners had forgotten the art of employing artillery in a concentrated form.”

    So nothing changes and maybe we need another Montgomery to sort this out!

    We also need to recognise that the Defence Procurement Budget is large but inefficient. For example, the timescale of the FSS or Fleet Solid Support Ship programme is ridiculously long and involves spending £20 million just for the “Competitive Procurement Phase”. In addition, the continued non-use of independent dispute avoidance and adjudication boards, sometimes called conflict avoidance or collaboration facilitation boards, to identify and head off and, if necessary, rule on issues, disputes and variations on projects with a value of, say, £50 million or more is baffling and even grossly negligent. The international funders, such as the World Bank and the other MDB’s or Multilateral Development Banks, know better and insist on the use of these boards, in order to keep the projects they fund on time and on budget.”

  7. Hi,

    Fantastic article and I largely agree with your conclusions. I do have some additional questions / thoughts if I may?

    1. The GMLRS Regiment for 1 Div - agree vital. However money means a "light" purchase is highly unlikely. Given we have a ongoing programme to update 44 MLRS vehicles that feels like we have 36 ready to go for two Regiments and replacing half of them can't be a priority - munitions should take precedence
    2. Staying with Artillery - you talk about Mobile fires a lot - are you expecting the same equipment set for all 5 deployable brigades or two different types (K9 and M777 for example) and if so in what mix? For example Archer may be a single choice, but would that really be useful for 16 Air Assault
    3. You use 30 Commando as the exemplar for a "command/recee" battalion - I agree. Question on 3 Commando though - is this actually a deployable Brigade now and what is its role in the North and South Groups (and artillery, engineer and logistic support too)?
    4. 3 Division - understand the two recce/strike battlegroups held at Div level and their structure. Is this the same structure / orbat you are suggesting for the 4 combined arms regiments for the two Armoured Brigades?
    5. Since all other Brigades are based on rule of 4, why not move 16 Air Assault to that structure too?


    1. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

      Purchase of new launchers couldn't happen right away, no. But in my view it is prioritary and should be fitted into the equipment program ASAP. The heavier M270B1 will be fully exploited by the "heavy division" and in supporting ARRC which badly needs an assured artillery component.

      Mobile Fires Platform will not go to PARA and Commandos, not even in my plan. There is a research and development plan ongoing behind the scenes for a new Super Lightweight Gun to replace L118 around 2030.

      3 Commando is still supposed to be a deployable brigade for a major operation, with the assumption that the Littoral Response Groups would concentrate to enable it. Artillery and logistics are not going away; tactics are changing but there is currently no intention to do away with 29 Cdo or the other supports.

      Yes, the 2 recce/strike BGs in the Deep Recce & Strike BCT would be very similar or identical to those in the armoured brigades. I just don't believe cavalry and infantry can be disjointed anymore. Two groups of pure cavalry without significant infantry component are too limited; and same is true for infantry riding in BOXERs without something well armed in support.

  8. My current thoughts on joining Boxer & Ajax go down below Battle Group level. I'm looking at a Mechanised Combat Team (MCT) with 2 Boxer rifle platoons, an Ajax platoon, and a Boxer fire support platoon.

    This is an infantry sub-unit, hence Ajax platoon not Ajax troop. Ajax could have replaced Scimitar in AI recce platoons. Similarly my MCT Ajax are infantry crewed, no need for another cap badge. The Ajax platoon has 4 vehicles.

    The rifle platoons in my MCT each have 4 sections + platoon HQ vehicle. The MCT thus has 8 sections, just short of the 3x3 in a conventional company.

    The fire support platoon has 2 Boxer ATGW carriers and 2 Boxer mortar carriers. I would put 40 mm GMG on the mortar carriers as an alternative means of HE throwing. The LM Ajax turret does not have capability for airburst rounds and no ATGW. These deficiencies lead me to the fire support platoon instead of a second Ajax platoon.

    The MCT HQ has 2, maybe 3, command post Boxers and an attached artillery observation post Boxer.

    1. My mechanised battalions each have 3 mechanised combat teams (MCT) with Boxer and Ajax plus a battalion close recce platoon with Ajax.

      Until Ajax or a replacement arrives, the interim substitute in the infantry will be Warrior. This needs a basic life extension - strip, inspect, renew, rebuild. Ordering a battalion set of 18 at a time should not be a big budget.

    2. Future Soldier has failings, but the discussion here is quiet. I'll continue, if I may.

      The partner of my MCT is an armoured squadron with 3 troops each 4 CR3, an armoured rifle troop, and HQ with 2 CR3. The armoured rifle troop has 4 Ares supported by 2 Ajax. It is similar to the formation recce squadron support troop and doesn't need an infantry cap badge.

      A regiment with 3 such squadrons has 42 CR3 and I can equip 3 regiments this way - R Tank, QR Hussars, and KR Hussars - with a fleet of 148. In fact I need to keep CR3 in KR Hussars and also convert R Dragoon G to light cavalry to supply the Ajax & Ares for my ^combined^ armoured regiments & mechanised battalions.

    3. Future Soldier has 5 mechanised battalions in 3rd Division. I want to increase that to 6: Mercian, R Welsh, RR Fusiliers, PWRR, Scots G, Duke of Lancaster's.

      With 6 mech battalions & 3 armoured regiments I can form 3 brigades each with 2 mech battalions & 1 armoured regiment. The 3rd brigade has no combat support, no service support. It is a non-deployable regenerative brigade.

      This is not about mass, it is about an operational readiness mechanism that can really deliver a brigade at high readiness.

    4. My proposed brigade can form 3 common core battle groups each with 2 MCT, an armoured squadron, and a close recce platoon or troop. Each battle group includes the following.

      16 rifle sections in Boxer carriers
      2 rifle sections in Ares
      14 CR3 MBT
      16 Ajax
      2 Boxer ATGW carriers
      2 Boxer mortar carriers

      This is my development of Gabriele's Combined Arms Regiment concept.

    5. My battle group allocations on 28th April have an error. 2 ATGW + 2 mortar carriers is for a single MCT. The total for a battle group is 4 ATGW + 4 mortar.

      Note that an ATGW vehicle carries 2 ground mount launchers and crews as well as an ATGW on the RWS. That is 12 medium launchers in the battle group.

    6. Potentially, the British Army could have 9 combined arms battle groups. The structure I have presented so far retains separate armoured regiments and mechanised battalions. I would like to get past that.

      The battalions I listed on 25th April are, or will be, the sole regular battalion of a regiment. I would transfer these regiments from an infantry administrative division to the Royal Armoured Corps. The RAC then has responsibility for implementing a combined structure.

      There will be a cap badge bun fight over some orphaned reserve infantry battalions with several outcomes possible.

    7. The Reserve Forces Review 2030 recommends a reserve framework consisting of 3 elements: Reinforcement, Operational and Strategic Reserves.

      The Strategic Reserve gets a 2 word mention in Future Soldier - the 2 words Strategic Reserve in a table. Reinforcement and Operational Reserves are not mentioned by name but it is clear that 19th Brigade is meant to form the Operational Reserve.

      Within 3rd division, all mechanised battalions get a paired reinforcement reserve, also for one armoured regiment but not the other. The armoured cavalry regiments get none. The Reserves Review says the Reinforcement Reserve will be managed to improve sharing - not pairing for some and none for others.

      The way I would go is Royal Wessex Yeomanry remains the armoured reinforcement reserve, shared between my 3 armoured regiments with priority for the high readiness regiment. The 6 mechanised battalions would similarly share 2 reinforcement reserve battalions. Gabriele proposes a reserve brigade. I would put my fewer reserve units in my regenerative brigade with regular units.

      I nominate 4 Mercian and 3 R Welsh as reserve armoured infantry based simply on proximity to Wiltshire. Infantry reserves orphaned from their armoured regulars are: 5 RR Fusiliers, 4 DLR, 3&4 PWRR.

    8. The commentary here is old but still relevant. For the record, I have moved on from a regenerative brigade to bringing 7th brigade and supports into 3rd Division and restructuring as the 3rd armoured brigade.

  9. For your comparison, here is the details on US Army waypoint 2020 Division plan.

    1. Thanks for that Joe123, very interesting.

      I would caution others about assuming this orbat would be necessarily right for the UK. Britain needs to work out its own needs, balance the resources available across all three services and come to its own conclusions; and not be knocked off course by external commentaries.


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