Tuesday, December 22, 2015

British Army 2025: a proposed concept and structure

Since the British Army plans for Joint Force 2025 still are nowhere to be seen, there is space for suggestions. I decided to write my own.

Combined Arms Regiments

How to transform the 3 armoured infantry brigades of Army 2020 into two armoured infantry brigades for future force 2025, not losing MBTs, keeping 3 main maneuver units (plus Cavalry for recce and screening) and at the same time addressing the insufficiency of the 245 Warrior CSP in Infantry and Infantry Command variants?

If I was the one making the decisions, my first pick would be the Combined Arms Regiment, on the model of those adopted years ago by the US Army.
The current three tank regiments and 6 (on paper) armoured infantry battalions would be mixed to become 6 Combined Arms Regiments. Each CAR would have 2 tank squadrons with 14 MBTs, and 2 armoured infantry companies, plus a Recce and Screening element and a Support Weapons Company.
With 1 further MBT (and a Warrior) in the RHQ, the regiment would line 29 MBTs and a similar number of Warrior IFVs.
The reconnaissance and screening element would be provided by a strong squadron with Ajax and Ares / Warrior / ABSV apc carrying dismounts.
The Support Weapons Company would deliver long range guided weapons capability (Javelin); snipers; assault pioneers and mortars. In particular, it is highly desirable to invest in 120 mm mortars for both ABSV mortar carriers (for the tracked, heavy brigades) and MIV mortar carriers (for use in the Strike Brigades). 
Combining the Tank Regiments and the existing armoured infantry battalions means making do with what is already available / on order. Indeed, the passage from 9 regiments / battalions to 6 units allows savings which are easily quantified: 3 less REME LADs, 3 less recce platoons on Ajax, a reduced requirement for ABSV vehicles and a reduction in the number of armoured infantry companies (from 18 to 12).
A cut by any other name, but one which looks more and more unavoidable: 245 updated Warriors just aren’t enough for more.

Advantages include a more appropriate ratio of MBTs to IFVs (the insufficient number of tanks in the current Armoured Infantry Brigade structure has been evidenced in training) and the CAR is, in its daily shape, much closer to a realistic Battlegroup composition. Instead of being pieced together on deployment, the CAR is always in typical battlegroup shape.
The number of tanks, overall, would stay exactly the same: Army 2020 has 3 tank regiments with 58 tanks each, for a total of 174. 6 CARs with 29 tanks each give exactly the same total, compatible with the 227 tanks in holding post 2010 cuts. The new brigade would be able to pair each infantry company with a tank squadron. This is not possible in the Armoured Infantry Brigades as currently planned (58 tanks, of which the majority sits in three squadrons of 18 each). 

The CAR could be given a stronger reconnaissance and screening element by receiving more than 8 Ajax, and/or complementing them with a greater dismounted element carried in Ares or ABSV. 

The mortars are essential: moving up to the 120 mm opens up whole new lethality, range and precision opportunities: guided 120 mm mortar rounds are becoming available. Having mortars in direct support to tanks gives an excellent counter to enemy ATGW teams. Adding mortars into armoured regiments is something that elsewhere already happens, from the US to Israel, but the british army would not be able to afford adding a mortar element into the tank regiments unless they become one with the armoured infantry battalions. 
The CAR concept allows the six existing mortar platoons to offer a (virtually) greater cover. The cover is evidently not actually greater, but just better placed to respond to the various needs. 

With a powerful screening and recce element; a powerful fire support element, tanks and armoured infantry, the CAR is a battlegroup in itself. It has everything it needs to hit the ground running if needs be. This is unlike the current Army 2020 Lead Armoured Battlegroup, which has to be built up by taking one tank squadron plus HQ (18  + 2 MBTs) from the brigade’s tank regiment; two armoured infantry companies from one of the brigade’s battalions and a company on Mastiff from the brigades’ Heavy Protected Mobility Infantry battalion, as well as all relevant sub-units from artillery, medical, logistic and engineer regiments and battalions. 

Capbadges chapter: moving from 9 to 6 units has obvious capbadges implications. But a CAR arrangement gives options to keep all capbadges alive, with a bit of imagination. The tank and infantry elements could keep their “battalion” status within the CAR, and thus preserve their respective capbadges and identities while being joined at the hip into the new combined units. Six CARs would actually allow the resurrection of lost cavalry capbadges, as 3 tank regiments would become 6 “small battalions”… Not to mention that the CARs themselves could take up some historic title of their own, if there was the will to make it happen.
The rich history of the british army is added value, but it cannot shape the force structure. It must be considered, absolutely, but not drive the strategy. Only capability should drive the planning, with the capbadges preservation coming last on the list of priorities.

Balance of change from Army 2020 to a Joint Force 2025 CAR

MBTs: same (174 tanks in the regular regiments)
Warrior IFVs: same (245), but equipping 12 instead of 18 rifle companies
Ajax: slightly less or same. There will be 3 less Recce platoons to form, freeing up 24 Ajax. However, they could just be assigned to the platoons remaining, to expand them from 8 to 12 vehicles each. Otherwise, they would go to the second Strike Brigade to ease the formation of its recce Cavalry regiment.  
ABSV: less. Same number of mortar carriers and other variants, but reduced requirement in some other areas, due to the reduction from 9 separate units to 6. 
A reduction also comes from other units within the armoured brigades: going down to two armoured brigades mean just 2, rather than 3 armoured medical regiments, so less ABSV ambulances are required. Same goes for Close Support REME units.  
REME: 3 less LADs required due to the drop from 9 to 6 main armoured units, freeing up resources to transfer to the Strike Brigades, the second of which will need the uplift as it changes from a mostly Light Role adaptable infantry brigade into a mechanized formation. More vehicles and kit means needing more REME (and more RLC logistic support too: another uplift needed there). 

Strike Brigades

One Strike Brigade will be obtained downgrading one of the three Armoured Infantry Brigades planned by Army 2020, while another will be obtained by upgrading one of the seven adaptable brigades.

The current 3 Heavy Protected Mobility Infantry battalions (one in each armoured infantry brigade) can be expected to move across to the Strike Brigades. At least a fourth regiment is needed, however, assuming that the Strike Brigades will have at least 2 “heavy” mechanized formations each (with Mastiff at first, and then with the new 8x8 MIV).
Since a mechanized infantry battalion is close to 200 men larger than a Light Role battalion, the reduction in armoured infantry caused by the CARs will be re-absorbed quite quickly to cover all the areas where growth is required.

Ideally, the Strike Brigades should have 3 infantry battalions on MIV, but it takes quite some optimism to imagine the british army with enough funds to purchase the hundreds of 8x8s needed for such structure.
An alternative could be a structure with 2 heavy battalions and a light battalion, mounted on Foxhound. There are 6 such light battalions planned under Army 2020, with, crucially, 400 Foxhound already on order.

Soldiers from 4 RIFLES get to know the french VBCI. A rifle coy from 4 RIFLES has spent months working with the Armee de Terre and specifically with VBCI. Clearly, an experiment ahead of the start of MIV 

Army 2020 includes 3 heavy cavalry regiments on Ajax, which means that the two armoured brigades and the first of the strike brigades are covered. A fourth regiment on Ajax is however needed for the second strike brigade. An Ajax regiment is well over one hundred men larger than a Light Cavalry regiment on Jackal, but the CAR reform will have freed up manpower to adjust the various areas without an increase in the total number of regulars. Planned numbers of Ajax-family vehicles should suffice to form 4 regiments, but it might be necessary to make each regiment a bit smaller, and adjust the ratio of variants (Ajax, Ares). 

General Dynamics UK is already working on a proposal for the MIV requirement
What the Strike Brigades lack is a direct fire support platform bringing heavy, tank-like firepower to the party. The Ajax only has a 40 mm gun, and the MIV might end up having nothing more than a .50 or GMG on RWS. A direct fire variant of the MIV would be a real blessing, but, again, money is the obvious issue.

Infantry Brigades

The six remaining infantry brigades should continue to include two “deployable” brigades, working to a two year force generation cycle, with supports for one deployment, so that future enduring operations will be sustainable.
Under Army 2020, three out of seven adaptable brigades are the main deployable framework upon which a three-year force generation cycle is built, forming each year a package including up to 5 infantry battalions (2 mounted on Foxhound, 3 Light Role plus paired reserve battalions) and a Light Cavalry regiment (plus paired reserve).
Two sets of supports (artillery regiment, engineer regiment, medical regiment, REME, logistic regiment) are also available, so that the Adaptable force, when needs be, can support two six-months deployments out of the 5 needed, in circle, for an enduring operation if the “1 in 5” principle is to be respected.

In Joint Force 2025, the number of “deployable” infantry brigades could shrink to two. And since one set of supports will have to be upgraded to cover the second Strike Brigade, only one would remain.
The infantry brigades would be tasked with a single deployment within a cycle of 5, instead of two.

The transition of supports

Plenty of questions remain on how support units will be reconfigured. For example, artillery: while it is reasonable to expect no changes for the artillery regiments associated to the two remaining Armoured Infantry Brigades (3 batteries with AS90, 1 Precision Fires battery with GMLRS and EXACTOR), the composition of the artillery regiment for the Strike Brigades is anyone’s guess.
The AS90 appears too heavy and large to fit within the “deployability” that the Strike Brigade is supposed to offer. On the other hand, its firepower, protection and mobility would fit a mechanized formation better than the L118 Light Gun.
The loss of one armoured brigade could result in further reductions to the number of AS90 batteries, even though one of the (several) lessons of the war in Ukraine is the enduring key importance of artillery… and the fact that pretty much everyone in NATO is really at a disadvantage against the kind of indirect firepower available to Russian-style formations. Losing AS90s is really not something that should happen, yet it is a quite likely outcome.
If the army decides to put AS90 in the Strike Brigades, their total number (89 post 2010 cuts) means that adding a net three batteries is going to be next to impossible.
The Strike Brigades could perhaps receive only two AS90 batteries (+1 bty from Army 2020 planning), with the balance made up by L118.

Towards 2030 (the OSD for both AS90 and L118), a new plan for artillery might be necessary, and again France could provide an useful indication: their CAESAR truck-mounted howitzer would be a perfect fit for the Strike Brigades. The Armee de Terre is also now planning to procure the CAESAR NG, on an armored 8x8 platform, as replacement for their remaining tracked heavy howitzers.
The UK could, and probably should, follow the same direction when the time comes: while the tracked howitzer brings several advantages (more armor, more mobility, 360° coverage due to the turret), it costs more, it is harder to deploy and, ultimately, misses out on part of its advantages due to its resupply chain.
The AS90 has the mobility of a MBT and good protection, but in the end depends entirely on wheeled trucks carrying the ammunition. Trucks which are less mobile and more vulnerable to counter-battery fire.
Arguably, the advantages of the tracked self-propelled howitzer are only enjoyed fully if, like in the british army, a vehicle with the same protection and mobility features is used to carry ammunition during shoot and scoot fire missions.
In absence of money for those, it might be best to just go for the different advantages offered by a lighter, cheaper, wheeled howitzer.
Crucially, the CAESAR comes with the longer barrel (and thus the greater range) that AS90 sadly didn’t get when the BRAVEHEART upgrade programme collapsed.

The L118’s replacement could be the 120mm towed mortar. Even easier to deploy, even smaller and lighter, it offers almost as much range, same lethality and a greater variety of ammunition, already including precision guided shells.
A French-style combination of CAESAR and mortar batteries could give even 16 Air Assault and 3 Commando a good level of capability, offering both the power and reach of the 155 and the strategic and tactical mobility of the 120mm mortar.
But this is in future prospective.

The GMLRS is a key capability, for its long range, its precision, its effects. Its weight and mass is not far from the “defining form factor” for the Strike Brigade, which has its sweet spot at around 30+ tons. Weight and mass which must be compatible with A400M Atlas transport (even though air insertion alone will never be a realistic option for deploying a brigade, and arguably not even a battlegroup, with the number of cargo aircraft the UK can reasonably expect to have available).
The GMLRS comfortably fits within that sweet spot, and because of what it brings to the fight, it is to be recommended that a Precision Fires battery is included in the Strike Brigade’s artillery element.
This means adding a fourth GMLRS battery (up from 3 in Army 2020), but it should be doable: the army should have some 36 launchers at B1 standard. 
One issue is that the GMLRS is now a pin-point precision weapon only, having lost the ability to annihillate dispersed forces in a wide area with the withdrawal of the rockets loaded with submunitions. The US Army is beginning to put in service the Alternative Warhead rockets, which replace the submunitions with an enhanced fragmentation payload with zero risks of residual Unexploded Ordnance on the ground and restored wide-area attack capability. The Royal Artillery should buy a stock of these rockets as soon as possible.

Engineer regiments will change, as well. The loss of one armoured brigade means that less Titan and Trojan will be required; even assuming that the remaining two regiments will increase their holding to compensate.
The Terrier, at around 30 tons, will be the key capability of the Strike Brigade’s own engineer regiments.
Bridgelaying will probably fall on the shoulders of the ABLE systems and of the few REBS, which should have been brought into core after the end of Op Herrick.

Medical regiments for the Armoured Infantry Brigades are currently equipped with the medical variants of FV432 tracked vehicles, which might be replaced by suitable variants of the ABSV when the programme finally progresses.
The Medical regiments for the Strike Brigades could use an ambulance variant of MIV, eventually, although less expensive options, such as the ambulance variant of the Multi Role Vehicle – Protected, might be adopted instead.

Beyond the adjustments (less track and heavy armor; more wheels and medium weights), the real key question in this hundredth restructuring of the army must be a very basic one: does it make sense to centralize support units away from the maneuver brigades? I’ve written more than once to say that no, it doesn’t, and that remains my belief.
Now more than before. Since the regiments are inexorably taking on a structure that reflects the brigade they have to support, the benefits of centralization are quickly made irrelevant. It would be far better if the key supports were part of the relative brigade (at least for the armoured and strike brigades).

A reorganization of logistics also appears necessary. With the army having won, at least in the talk, a renewed commitment to the Division as operational, deployable level, the task should now be to reorganize the divisional logistic brigade.
The maneuver brigade should include the logistic elements it needs at the tactical level, to support its own operations, whether as a full formation or broken into dispersed battlegroups. The logistic brigade should have a theatre-wide responsibility, and be the point of contact between the maneuver brigades and the main port (air and sea) of debarkation of stores, equipment and materials, with these being, of course, primarily the responsibility of 104 Log Bde with its theatre-opening capabilities.

Between US and France

It appears clear that the British Army is trying to position itself, structure-wise, somewhere between the US and France. Concepts coming from either country clearly run into the british army’s own planning. And in my proposal, due to the CARs, the resemblance with the A-BCTs of the US Army would be even greater.

I think many will have noticed the resemblance between Joint Force 2025 and the “Au Contact” plan of the French armee de terre. The 2 heavy, 2 medium, 2 light plus airmobile brigade structure is the same, with the British Army adding a number of further infantry brigades of, honestly, dubious usefulness, but that are needed as containers for infantry battalions busy on a variety of roles in the UK and abroad.

The French Au Contact plan, which also puts renewed focus on the Division, has gone for a very rational spread of capability: each Division commands 1 armoured, 1 medium and 1 infantry brigade. In the French case, the “infantry” brigades are particularly capable and specialized, since one is the Mountain brigade and one the PARA brigade.
The armee de terre then has an “airmobile” brigade which is, really, an aviation brigade, since it does not include ground maneuver units other than the logistic battalion. It contains the helicopter squadrons, but the infantry would come from other brigades.
The French “airmobile” brigade actually resembles more the “new” Joint Helicopter Command than it does 16 Air Assault Brigade.

I call JHC “new” because, as part of the restructuring, 16 Air Assault brigade has been pulled out of JHC and assigned to Field Army Command. In the process, 16 Air Assault Brigade has lost direct control of the helicopter regiments, that remain in JHC alongside the 7 Aviation Support Battalion REME (including 132 Aviation Supply Sqn RLC).
16 Air Assault now has all the ground units (including 8 Field Company (PARA) REME, which has left 7 REME and joined 13 Air Assault Support Regiment RLC instead) while the JHC has all the major aviation units.
Major aviation units that, by August 2016, will include 47 Regiment Royal Artillery, with its 3 Watchkeeper batteries: it has been decided that, despite its ISTAR role, a UAV of that size and complexity should not be under direct command of the ISTAR brigade, but rather under the aviation experts of JHC.  
All Desert Hawk III mini-UAS instead are to be grouped in 32 Regiment RA, within the ISTAR brigade.

Unlike the Armee de Terre, the British Army seems determined not to split the brigades evenly across the two Divisions. All armoured and strike brigades will be under 3(UK) Division, while 1(UK) Division will have the six infantry brigades.
This is probably in no small part due to geography and infrastructure: the heavier and more complex brigades largely gravitate around Salisbury Plain for both basing and training. Sitting under the same Div HQ probably makes sense because of that. However, if the Division is to be so important in the future of the british army, careful thought should go into how to ensure that 1(UK) Div HQ can deploy, command and, through its logistic brigade, support whatever brigade the UK is fielding in a determinate moment.


-          Re-arrange heavy armour formations according to the Combined Arms Regiment structure

-          Use the manpower savings obtained via CAR to uplift the units needed for the second strike brigade. The first comes from downgrading one of the armoured brigades of Army 2020. 

-          Bring CS and CSS units back into the maneuver brigades, and structure their sub-units to support both full-brigade operations and the agile, quick deployment of battlegroups formed from within a specific CAR 

-          The battlegroup mechanism should no longer be matter of making a complete dog’s breakfast by pulling pieces from everywhere across the brigade, and even beyond. As much as possible, the dogma should be: structure like you fight. Battle-grouping must be thought into the very structure of the brigade, on the lines of what happens within 16 Air Assault and 3 Commando due to their specific readiness requirements. A basic battlegroup from the armoured brigade should consist of a CAR, an artillery battery, an engineer squadron, a recce squadron, plus all other elements up to a CAMM battery for air defence where required. 

-          If the Division is key, plan accordingly, and uplift the capability of 1(UK) Div HQ. 

-          A triple, two-year force generation cycle based on the alternation into readiness of 2 armoured, 2 strike, 2 infantry brigades. This will make possible to deploy a Division of three brigades, as from SDSR ambitions. Simultaneous deployment of both armoured brigades, as has been indicated in the House of Lords, promises to be quite challenging, and will require, at a very minimum, the maintenance of high vehicle availability. It seems a “third world war” desperation scenario, or something, otherwise, that the Army would only be able to do if given ample notice to move (more than 1 year, surely). 

-          ABSV remains a fundamental part of the future of the army. It must be progressed at all costs. 

-          120 mm mortars should be introduced in the armoured and mechanized regiments and battalions. 

-          Once, the MOD was looking at 8x8 in pure APC configuration, with nothing but a .50 or GMG as main armament. This severely limits the usefulness of the 8x8 in a conflict against a near peer adversary and even, as the French found out in Mali, represents a serious weakness against enemies with ample access to 23 mm guns and 14.5mm machine guns mounted on pick-ups. The French vehicles armed with .50 have found themselves repeatedly outmatched by the firepower and reach of the enemy, so much so that they have brought old 20mm guns out of storage and put them on trucks used as convoy escorts. The French VBCI has the 25mm gun, and that is a key part of why it did so well in Mali (although the one-person turret, did not prove entirely convincing). It is very important that at least a share of the MIVs get fitted with an unmanned turret with the CTA 40mm cannon, to ensure that each company has adequate firepower.
The US Army is putting remotely operated, basket-less Kongsberg Protector MCRWS on its Strykers to arm them with 30mm guns, and this hopefully will provide further “inspiration” to the british army as well. 

-          Another lesson readily learnt by the Armee de Terre in Africa is the need for an escort squadron within the Logistic regiments. The British Army is well aware of this necessity as well, but probably unable to release manpower from elsewhere to fix the problem. If some of the small light role infantry battalions that will remain after the restructuring were looking for a role, this might just be it…   

          The third Light Cavalry regiment should be assigned to 16 Air Assault Brigade to become a IX unit including squadrons mounted on Jackal, the Pathfinders and the framework for integrating EW teams and Air Defence troops, on the lines of what 30 Commando IX does for 3 Commando brigade. Ideally, a small number of CVR(T) vehicles should be retained for this particular regiment, to give a small, highly mobile, highly deployable armor element which could prove invaluable in some situations.