Saturday, April 15, 2017

Building on strengths: what happens to the amphibious force?


1- Introduction and Air Manoeuver 
2 - Amphibious force and the Royal Marines cut
3 - what happens to the amphibious force?


What happens to the Royal Marines, exacty? The honest answer is that we don’t yet really know. Very few details have been provided about Commando Force 2030 and the exact shape that 42 Commando will take as it loses its amphibious assault role.



The Royal Marines provide force protection for the fleet as well as “green” boarding teams, trained to undertake complex assaults on ships that oppose resistance. In 2010, these roles were grouped within 43 Commando, in addition to the main role of this unit which remains protection of the nuclear deterrent and related installations. Two squadrons within 43 Commando initially delivered the fleet roles: P Squadron and S Squadron. P was actually largely manned by the Navy, and used to be around 167 strong. It provided force protection teams for deploying RN and RFA vessels, but it did not last long: formed in April 2010, it disbanded 31 December 2013 when the manpower crisis within the Navy made it indispensable to recoup all posts for other needs. At that point, the Force Protection task was given to the Commando in its “Standing Tasks” year. 45 Commando was the first to be given this responsibility.

40, 42 and 45 Commando have so far operated to a 3-year Force Generation Cycle: one year in “Standing Tasks” position; one year in “Generate” position, training for high readiness; and the third year in “Operate” condition, with responsibility to deliver the Lead Commando Group at 5 days notice to move, with vanguard elements at 48 hours notice.
Standing tasks include defence engagement abroad, training and assistance, and, since 2013, ships Force Protection.

Ex Black Aligator, 2015 

S Sqn, still part of 43 Commando, provides the Fleet Stand-By Rifle Troop (FSRT), the Fleet Contingent Troop (FCT) and the Maritime Sniper Teams (MST). The Fleet Stand-By Rifle Troop provides 16 “green” boarding teams, complete of sniper pair from MST, which are cleared for boarding Non-Compliant ships. The Contingent Troop provides four teams, supported normally by two sniper pairs, trained for Opposed boarding. They are called upon in the most complex situations.

Where does 42 Commando fit in? It is pretty likely that S Squadron will move across from 43 Cdo. The rumor that has started to circulate says S Sqn joins, Juliet Company disbands, Lima and Mike companies re-role for ships force protection. Kilo company’s fate is not mentioned.
Manpower reductions can be expected especially in the HQ and Logistic companies, as the unit, in this new role, will not need its 81mm mortars, Javelin missiles, HMG and GMG and medium machine gun troop with GPMG. It might retain some machine guns, but certainly in reworked structures. Logistic support in the new role will also be very different and will probably require a lot fewer men.

43 Commando, if S Sqn moved out, would remain with just O and R squadrons, in the nuclear deterrent protection and Faslane / Coulport recapture roles. What impact on politics, if men move out of Scotland, though? 



The Lead Commando Group responsibility will fall on 40 and 45 Commando alone, in a two-year force generation cycle. The ambitions for the LCG are unchanged: 5 days notice to move and ability to insert two company groups (one by helicopter, one by landing craft) within a 6 hour window of night darkness. The Commandos, unless the new 2030 plan changes their structure, have 4 combat companies each, plus Logistic and HQ coy, the latter incorporating the fire support role with Mortars, AT Platoon and GPMG SF.

It seems that the Special Purpose Task Group, a company-group unit of up to 200 personnel, will actually come out of the Lead Commando Group and serve as its forward-based vanguard, with the shortest reaction time (provided it is close to the right area of operations, obviously). It is planned  that a SPTG will always be embarked on the aircraft carrier out at sea, along with at least one “Unit of Action” comprising 4 Merlin HC4 helicopters.

According to what Jane’s report, the Commando Helicopter Force will assign 12 Merlin to 845 NAS, which will form three “Units of Action”. 846 NAS will have nine helicopters, mainly tied to training and operational conversion plus the provision of a couple of helicopters at high readiness for the Maritime Counter Terrorism reaction force. Four helicopters at any one time will be in the sustainment fleet.
847 NAS, with 6 Wildcat, will provide two 3-strong units of action.

The first Merlin refurhished to HC4 standard, with FLIR not yet installed. The carriers are an opportunity; the loss of Ocean a big issue; but focusing too much on "lighter, by helicopter" would be a huge and painful mistake. 

The Lead Commando Group, yearly formed upon 40 or 45 Cdo, will include either 59 or 54 Commando Engineer squadrons, rotating yearly into readiness, plus a Logistic Task Group from the Commando Logistic Regiment; a formation from 30 Commando IX providing air defence, police, reconnaissance and communications plus EW teams from 14 Royal Signal Regiment.
29 Commando Royal Artillery provides a gun battery with L118 and Fire Support Teams from 148 Meitkila Bty. As yet unannounced, but pretty much certain, is the disbandment of one battery within the regiment, between 7, 8 and 79. With one Commando less to support, the 12 guns can be expected to concentrate within two 6-guns batteries, exactly as happens in 7 Royal Horse Artillery within 16 Air Assault Brigade.
7 Bty, based in Scotland, has hung in the balance since 2010, but with 45 Cdo, also Scotland based, staying in the amphibious role and with the know political implications of any manpower shift in the area, the pain might suddenly shift on someone else. 

The Royal Marines have a long-standing requirement for UAS support and would probably kill to have a dedicate UAS battery, but the decisions about 29 Commando Royal Artillery are in army hands and Land Command will want to shift as much manpower as it can into other areas.
The Royal Marines have resorted to double-hatting their Air Defence troop, training it on Desert Hawk III mini-UAS, plus a little reserve element as 289 Commando Troop, 266 Battery, 104 Royal Artillery regiment. However, 104 Regiment will cease to be a UAS unit as part of Army 2020 Refine, converting to close support with L118 and AS90.
The Marines have also tried to work with the army to launch a Joint Mini UAS programme for procuring a replacement, but the programme was denied funding several times in a row and to this day no one knows what will deliver Battlegroup-and-below ISTAR after Desert Hawk III goes out of service in 2021. The Army already plans to disband 32 Royal Artillery regiment, the main DH III user, and give its spaces over to 5 Royal Artillery regiment as part of the Defence Estate reduction.

News reports have included news of a possible reduction in the landing craft inventory as well, and it is probably a certainty. For a start, the Royal Marines disbanded 6 Assault Squadron in 2010 when one of the LPDs was mothballed. Only 4 Squadron remains, moving from Albion to Bulwark when the ships alternate into the operational phase.
When next year HMS Ocean leaves service, its 9 Assault Squadron and its four LCVP MK5s will also go. A number of the 21 LCVPs are almost certainly going to go out of active service as the number of active davits shrinks. Hopefully, an Assault Squadron will be formed to provide LCUs and LCVPs for the Bay class LSDs, at least.

The Royal Marines have for years attempted to replace part of the LCVP fleet with a flotilla of combat boats for force protection, surf zone and riverine operations. Swedish CB90 boats were loaned and extensively trialed, but no visible progress has been made towards procuring any hull. A squadron of these boats would provide a lot of capability in a range of roles, including counter-piracy, extending the reach of a Bay class acting as mothership by hundreds of miles in every direction. Money, however, is just not there for anything.

Another important requirement that has run aground is that for a fast landing craft to replace the very slow LCU MK10. A faster craft is an absolutely key requirement for the future as it would enable the amphibious ships to stay further away from the beach, keeping out of harm as much as possible. Unfortunately, despite a rather successful test campaign with the PACSCAT prototype LCU, more than 3 times faster than the MK10 when laden, no purchase has materialized.

On the vehicle front, the Marines have a requirement for replacing the old and unprotected BV206s in their many supporting roles within the brigade. The All Terrain Vehicle Support ATV(S) or Future ATV calls for up to 233 vehicles in a range of variants including troop carrier, mortar carrier, ambulance, command, repair and logistic flatbed. The vehicle would replace the BV206 and serve alongside the Viking, with the latter being more protected and combat-oriented.  The Support vehicle should come with a max protection to Level 2 standard. The first attempt at launching the programme dates all the way back to 2008, yet no progress can be reported to this day, almost a decade later.

The Viking itself has had a bit more luck, securing funding for a substantial upgrade and refurbishment, worth more than 37 million pounds. 99 vehicles have been refurbished, and two new variants introduced: 19 vehicles in Crew Served Weapon carrier configuration and 9 in Mortar Carrier configuration.
The British Viking vehicles originally came only in Troop Carrier, Command and Recovery variants, but in 2008 field conversions of some troop carriers into ambulances were carried out in Afghanistan. They might not have been retained into long term service, however.

The Royal Marines originally ordered 108 Viking vehicles in the early 2000s, as part of the Commando 21 reorganization. The Viking All-Terrain Vehicle (Protected) was meant to provide armoured, amphibious mobility to the Commando groups, and it hit its IOC in 2005, with deliveries completed by 2006.
The Royal Marines took 33 of the new vehicles with them in Afghanistan during their tour in October 2006, and the all terrain mobility of the Viking proved incredibly precious during operations, so much so that the British Army asked to retain a Viking presence in theatre in the long term as Herrick 6 began. The Army obviously had no Viking-trained personnel, so the new big mission of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group became the support of the Afghan effort, in parallel to the deployment of the vehicle at sea on amphibious operations, including a raid inland in Somalia last year.
Further orders for Viking vehicles were made during the years of service in Afghanistan: in June 2008, for example, 14 new vehicles were ordered.
Eventually, 24 Viking of the much improved MK2 type were also ordered during 2009, with deliveries completed in 2010: these were 22 troop transports and 2 command vehicles.
In 2007 a separate order was placed, for 21 Vikings which will be part of the Watchkeeper UAS system , carrying the Tactical Party that will enable ground forces and HQs to access the data from the unmanned aircrafts and assign missions to it.
In total, more than 160 Vikings have been ordered by the UK, but at least 27 were lost during operations. 21 are Army systems within the Watchkeeper batteries, and 99 remain in Royal Marines service.

The 9 Mortar Carriers should be at the same standard as that showcased at DSEI 2011 by BAE Systems, including a turntable for mounting the 81mm L16 mortar and space for the stowage of 140 rounds.
The 19 crew-served weapon variants come with a protected mount for an additional weapon on the rear car, in addition to the MR555 weapon mounts already present on all front cars. These shielded mounts can take any weapon, from a 5.56 Minimi to the HMG .50 and the GMG. The mount weights some 380 kg complete with the .50 HMG and offers STANAG Level 2 ballistic protection to the gunner.
The Viking Crew Served Weapon variant showcased by BAE Systems as a very impressive, all-inclusive mobile fortress meant to provide fire support and ISTAR to the forces on the ground: it was in fact shown fitted with a Remote Weapon Station with a .50 HMG mounted over the front car, a shielded ring mount mounted on top of the rear car, Boomerang III acoustical shooter detection system and retractable, mast-mounted EO/IR sensor payload. It is not clear if the 19 CSW vehicles for the Royal Marines will any of the more advanced features.  

The upgrade improved protection on the older Vikings bringing them in line with the latest MK2 standard. The gross weight grew up to 14 tons, and front and rear hulls were rebuilt to integrate the latest generation V-shaped mine-resistant protection (with the exception of the rear cars of Repair and Mortar variants). Modifications to brakes and suspensions and to all other affected components were part of the overhaul. Unfortunately, not enough money was available to replace the powerpack of the older Vikings to fully match the MK2, but wiring and mount modifications were carried out to simplify later adoption of the more powerful engine. The MK1 and 1A employ a 5.9 litre Cummins engine, while the MK2s use a 6.7 litre one. The MK2 has greater electrical power output, increased to 260 amperes.
The vehicles are equipped with blast-protected seats, hung on rails, and come with four-point seat belts.
The vehicles can take add-on armour kits and can be fitted with a cage armor to resist to RPGs, but with these additions they are no longer amphibious. Extra protection kits were procured as part of the refurbishment.
The Full Operational Capability of the renewed Viking fleet was announced in April 2016. At the time, the upgrade was said to secure the Viking’s future out to 2024, at which point another upgrade would extend that possibly to 2034.





It is not clear exactly how the 99 vehicles are distributed and employed. A recent news report says that the “Viking Squadron” is a 167-strong formation, formally under control of the Commando Logistic Regiment. Based in Bovington, where work started in 2013 to build a permanent Royal Marines facility, the unit has a trials and training cell plus supports and is structured on 3 Troops of 16 Vikings each, plus mortar section with 4 vehicles.
Two Troops are kept at 5 days notice to move and can provide lift to half of the Lead Commando Group, while the third Troop is kept at 28 days notice. Under Commando 21, half of the strength of a Commando unit was meant to be tracked, and half wheeled. Jackals are also part of the Royal Marines inventory. In general, 19 Crew Served vehicles and 9 Mortar carriers suggest that the objective of the Viking refurbishment programme was to provide protected mobility essentially to the sole Lead Commando Group.

Despite the hard work done in the field, the Royal Marines have not had a good time at home and in the budget battles of the last decade and more. Their priorities for the future remain almost completely unaddressed and the amphibious shipping has, since 2010, taken some savage hits. It is not a good time for the amphibious force, and there is no telling when things could look up.
In my opinion, the Marines need to try and position themselves differently: the Special Purpose Task Group is not a bad idea, but it is a dangerous example of shrinkage of what amphibious forces are good for. Fighting light and inserting by helicopter is just a tiny percentage of what makes amphibious forces important, and it is the least “special” bit of their job. There are already Light Role infantry and Parachute troops for that.

What makes the amphibious force unique is the ability to carry out a forcible entry carrying a lot of heavy equipment. If the amphibious force loses its ability to kick down the door and go ashore with vehicles and stores in quantities adequate to support maneuver even against well equipped enemies, their purpose is lost. If the Marines become nothing more than Light, airmobile infantry, the next cut will be a lot more painful, because they will no longer be unique, but just another infantry formation in the pile, just more expensive.

Arguably, instead of procuring yet another articulated, light, all-terrain BV-X vehicle, the Royal Marines should seek to become heavier. The Commandos never operated a combat vehicle like the US AAV-7 or the LAV, but it is probably high time for them to begin doing that. Arguably, Viking is the All Terrain Support vehicle and the actual gap is in the combat role, where a new, amphibious 8x8 vehicle would give a lot more bite and purpose. Money is of course the problem, but the Corps should begin to consider its future in new ways. They could have, and perhaps should have, positioned themselves as a true Strike Brigade candidate, even if that meant accepting greater army control. Because the truth is that 3 Commando Brigade already depends heavily on Army’s decisions through its Logistic, Engineer and Artillery component. It risked to lose a lot of those in 2010, and next time might not be able to parry the blow, especially because it cannot expect financial and even less manpower help from Navy Command, which is by now the image of despair, trying hard not to fall off the knife’s edge.

BAE - Iveco ACV swims ashore from an italian LPD during trials for the USMC ACV programme. The ACV can be equipped with an unmanned turret with 30mm gun; or carry a 120mm mortar, as well as come in Troop Carrier configuration. This is the field the Marines should aim towards. 


Going lighter is not going to help. The british armed forces are already overloaded with light and poorly supported formations. The Air Assault task force experimented in Joint Warrior with air-inserted light armour in the form of Foxhound, and this is a very welcome development.
The Royal Marines, however, need to reconsider with attention what makes them special, which is their ability to deploy a significant, well equipped force, much heavier than any force that can move in by air. The Corps should work to go heavier, not to go lighter. The field of “light” is already overcrowded. The “Medium” field should have been the Marines’s realm. Trials have begun with the Ares variant of the Ajax family to prove that it can go ashore from LCU MK10, but this is not enough, and might be too little, too late.


Ares goes to the beach 

In my opinion, the top priority for the Corps is to procure a faster, large landing craft, indispensable for littoral maneuver as part of a wider effort to build itself a role in the Medium weight arena, working together with the Army. 



More of this work alongside the army is what really sets the amphibious force apart. Air Assault is someone else's job, and going there means losing capability... as well as the Corps, in the long run. 

The UK does not need the Marines for helicopter-borne raids; it needs them for littoral maneuver and for opening doors for the Army. And the Corps, if it wants to survive in the age of constant cuts, needs to realize this. It is not an easy position to hold, between an Army short of manpower but needed for key supports; and a Navy even more desperate for manpower but that has the amphibious ships that make it all possible. 
It'll take courage and wisdom to hold that ground. 



21 comments:

  1. Without more information on what constitutes Commando Forces 2030 its difficult to form a firm judgement on the implications of 42 being converted in a Maritime Operations Commando. One argument says that it's a loss of capability, another says that if a Commando is going to have to do maritime ops anyway as part of it's 'standing tasks' year then it is more efficient to have the unit specifically designed for this purpose and to redeploy any remaining manpower to higher priority areas within the navy. We'll all have our own views on which is the correct view, but I also think we'd all accept that only time will tell.

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  2. Another quite brilliant article from Gabriele.

    Some questions. Are the Armoured Support Group RM and "Viking" Squadron RM one and the same?
    Also, a Squadron having 3 "Companies" as stated in the article seems wrong. Should be Troops? Unless you meant the ASG RM has 3 companies.
    Further, I had the formation in Bovington known as "Armoured Support Company RM" as a separate entity alongside ASG RM. A bit hazy in this area as to what the true set up is.

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    1. They are called Troops, yes.

      As for the exact make-up of the unit, i can't provide a definitive answer. In September 2016 they were repeatedly calling it Viking Sqn and specifically said it sits under the Commando Logistic Regiment, curiously enough. A bit like when APCs used to be in Royal Corps of Transport units...

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  3. Gabriel.

    I have Jackals in Surveillance and Recc Squadron in 30 Commando and some with the SBS. Are any in the regular Commandos?

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    1. On deployment, quite surely. In peacetime, maybe no.

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    2. Since they don't like speaking and writing without being poked, a good FOI demanding details is probably in order if someone can make it.

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    3. I used to make many...then they stopped replying to me! Wonder why...

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  4. Does this mark the end of 3Cdo as a unit capable of brigade level combat?

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    1. That moment realistically arrived a long while ago. There were complete supports only for two, rather than three, battlegroups already before this latest change.

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  5. From MikeW

    Hi Gaby

    Another very fine, well researched article. I agree with you when you say: “In my opinion, the top priority for the Corps is to procure a faster, large landing craft, indispensable for littoral maneuver as part of a wider effort to build itself a role in the Medium weight arena, working together with the Army.”

    I was wondering whether, if as you suggest, the present LCU is replaced by your proposed faster large landing craft, some of the LCUs cold be handed over to 17 Port and Maritime regiment down at Marchwood and used by them for ferrying, harbour duties, etc. ( I seem to remember the Regiment used some of the older LCVPs some years ago). They could then be dual purpose and drawn upon by the Marines when they need extra capacity.

    I am sure that what you say about the need for the Royal Marines to become heavier, not lighter, is very pertinent. If they simply become light, airmobile infantry, then their purpose is lost. Therefore your suggestion of trying to acquire an amphibious 8 x 8 is a good one.

    And what about the possible use of Bronco/Warthog? They have already been procured and the Army must still have some of them. Could they fill a role in the Commando Brigade?

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    1. A few LCU MK10, once replaced by the Royal Marines with something faster, say PACSCAT, would be great as replacement for the Ramped Craft, Logistic used by 17 Port regiment. Unfortunately, it seems they will all go without replacement.

      As for the Warthog, it would make sense to put them to use, one would think, but the idea never seems to catch on. Maybe bringing them back to amphibious condition is too complex and expensive.

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  6. I have some sympathy for your ideas, but the reality is that RM are never going to get amphibious fighting vehicles or fast landing craft - no money, and quite frankly no ambition.

    "Commando 2030" is just following the Army trend of decimating its combat brigades - the only half decent formations we now have that can fight at brigade level are the 3 armoured infantry brigades and even they are weak compared to their peers (Russian units of a similar size have 3 times as much artillery for example).

    What I think we have to accept is that the UK is out of the overseas intervention game - they'll keep battlegroup sized units for casualty evacuation and things like that, but nothing like the Falklands any more.

    What I'm finding odd is that most people on ARSSE seem to agree with this. There's been a couple of interesting threads about 42 Cdo, and most people seem happy with the changes. When one poster ventured that perhaps it wasn't wise to get rid of one of the World premier battalions of marine infantry, he was immediately shouted down. I can only assume Arssers are glad that their beloved foot infantry battalions have survived.

    I wonder why you still bother with this blog - things aren't going to get any better.

    JEM

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    1. I'd have to disagree JEM. The UK can still intervene, just in much reduced numbers. Our SSN's, Special Forces, ISTAR and Cyber capabilities, C17's, The RFA and Carriers to come all make oversees interventions perfectly possible. Indeed. As a P5 member of the UNSC that position almost demands it if the need arises.
      What we do not need are to occupy other nations ( Iraq & Afghanistan ) Our cutting edge assets and professionalism of our forces still make us more capable than most, in many areas.
      As for the Falklands, such a scenario is totally unnecessary as this time we have MPA to fly reinforcements in. Hold that and the Argentinians have not a hope. Or we just Tomahawk their assets. We did not have those capabilities last time.

      Regards

      Dan

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  7. If 42 Cdo are doing maritime ops does this mean that they'll get C8 carbines just like 43 Cdo?

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  8. I think the pessimists fail to recognise something in all these cuts: in many them, every attempt is made to preserve as much capability as possible. It´s not like the armed forces are just blindly getting rid of capabilities in the hope they do not need them in the future. In most cases, they try to preserve the capability to the greatest possible extent, and when that just doesn´t make sense (i.e. MPA) they look to regenerate the capability ASAP.

    I think if 3 Commando Brigade manages to get an Army infantry battalion attached to it, as it has in the past, then the loss in terms of real capability is negligible, especially as at least one of the battalions would be airlifted in any future operation, and as Gabriel pointed out, if they are going to be airlifted then they do not need to be marines. You could even attach the same battalion (of the rifles) that was attached to them before, as they should still have a decent understanding of how 3rd Commando Brigade works.

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  9. You should start a Patreon account. You are doing sterling work on a subject matter which is nigh on impossible to find anywhere else in such depth of analysis. I would contribute! Stag on!

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  10. Ciao Gabriele.

    Regarding your LCVP / LCU tweet on numbers.

    You mention 4 removed from service?
    I had LCVP numbers of 23 total, including retained older marks used by 17 PMR at Marchwood and 460 Tp at Mere Harbour. Are these still around or cut?
    I assume the 12 Mk5 retains enough for 4 each for the 2 LPD's should they ever be needed in unison, used by 4 Squadron, and a couple for 10 Squadron training and 11 Squadron trials.

    I had a further 4 Mk5 with 539 Squadron so I assume these are already gone in a previous cut I missed, to go with the 4 with 9 Squadron on Ocean which we guessed would go already.

    Unless there are older marks still around 12 is not enough then to also operate from the LSD's as hoped?

    As for the LCU's, again 4 each for Albion and Bulwark if needed and a couple for training. I guess it is enough?

    I echo the poster above. With a surplus of Light Role Infantry Battalions around lets get 1 allocated to 3 Commando on a permanent basis.

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    1. Some have already been cut in the past, evidently, because the MOD says there are now 16 LCVP in use. So, easy math from there.

      As for adding an infantry battalion to 3 Commando, it won't do much to solve the problem. You'd still be short on the artillery, logistic, recce, and engineer side. If that is not touched, 3 Commando cannot support more than 2 battlegroups at once. Just like 16 air assault.

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    2. OK thank you was not aware of the 16 quote from MOD.
      Very true I'm afraid re supports. There are always solutions if they wanted to address them.
      As far as Logistics goes, how about disbanding ARRC Combat Service Support Battalion and using those people to form additional squadrons for CLR and 13AASR?
      The discarded Field Hospital, use the manpower for an additional squadron for 16 Medical? Or use the people from the disbanding medical regiment.
      We have the formations, but its all so unbalanced and poorly organised.

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    3. Is that 12 in front line operational use or total? Maybe it does not include those with training and trials?

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    4. I would say it is a total, since they gave 10 for the LCU MK10 fleet.

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