I don't know about you, but I find it quite instructive to go back and read old books and material at a later date to see what I can glean from them that I might have missed first time round. This is especially the case with military books, be they historical works, personal accounts, or studies of tactics and strategy. Often I find that subtle points - lost on the first reading as you come to grips with all the information being presented - will become apparent on a second or third reading, as your brain is now able to process a lot of the technical information and jargon in a more efficient manner, peeling back these layers to reveal the core points underneath.
There's probably a name for this process already, but personally I refer to it as (if you'll indulge a few words of the dreaded management speak, which I normally avoid) "developed understanding". In line with that I went back and had a read of the Army 2020 report that lays out the structure and purpose of the future British Army organisation.
On first reading I, like many others, was left a bit perplexed at how the numbers were all going to add up and the reasoning behind some of the decisions, like the Reaction Force/Adaptable Force split. Having gone back over it at a more leisurely pace I think it's all a bit clearer now. Indeed, it's actually a pretty good solution for the resources given.
So in todays article, I'm planning to lay out some of the stuff that I've learned. Hopefully this will help others who were as confused as I was when the paper was first released. For those who already have a firm grip of Army 2020, you probably wont learn much from this.
The basis of Army 2020 is the cut backs forced by financial pressure placed on defence since 2010 and the Strategic Defence and Security Review. The MoD saw its budget fall and as a consequence the army had to pay its pound of flesh into the kitty, which resulted in a number of redundancies, cutting the size of the regular army by around 20,000 while the size of the Army Reserve (formally the Territorial Army) would almost double to a strength of 30,000.
At the same time the army is drawing down from operations in Afghanistan and preparing itself to face future challenges, which could range from another large scale operation like the initial phase of the war in Iraq, to less demanding operations such as working with key allies to build their future military capacity and capability. This broad range of tasks has led the army to come up with a rather clever solution.
In future the army will be split largely into three sections; the Reaction Force, the Adaptable Force, and Force Troops Command. The Reaction Force will be made up of three armoured infantry brigades, a logistics brigade and 16 Air Assault brigade. The Adaptable Force will be made up of seven regional brigade headquarters, controlling a variety of light cavalry regiments, light infantry battalions and light protected mobility battalions. The Force Troops Command will be made up of eight brigades providing a variety of supporting functions to the main combat arms, such as artillery, ISTAR and communications.
The specific make up of the Reaction Force is fairly straightforward. Three armoured infantry brigades, supported by 101 logistic brigade will fall under the purview of 3rd UK division. The three armoured brigades will rotate through a 36 month cycle (known as the Formation Operational Readiness Mechanism - FORM) which involves a year doing intensive training, building up to combined arms battlegroup level, a year spent on contingency tasks, essentially "on call" ready to respond wherever in the world they might be needed as the lead armoured brigade (while maintaining collective training up to Company level), followed by a year of less intense "other tasks", which will involve individual courses, platoon level training, training support for the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Canada, and providing training support in the UK. With only two parachute battalions, 16 air assault brigade will have to alternate between training years and contingency years.
Of note is that the Reaction Force will be in the first line of the UKs military response overseas. In theory 3rd Division should be able to provide a full armoured division for overseas campaigns (two armoured brigades) in the same vein as the first phases of both the 1991 and 2003 Iraq Wars. In addition, the plan seems to be that the three armoured brigades will form the first three roulements of any future, enduring operation.
A key to this is that the Reaction Force is not as dependent on reserves as the Adaptable Force will be. There is some reserve support, but it's not a major component of the strength of the Reaction Forces. The Adaptable Force on the other hand should see much closer integration, with most of its regiments/battalions bar a few exceptions being paired off with a reserve unit of a similar size.
And it's the Adaptable Force that caused me the most head scratching at first. It's funny how when I went back and read the plan it became clear that all the answers were pretty much right there in front of me in black and white. First time around I struggled to work out how the units - spread unevenly across the seven regional brigades (plus 102 logistic Brigade) - were going to work in practice.
But as the document makes clear and the numbers show, it's actually quite simple. The Adaptable Force (AF) will work on a roughly similar 36 month FORM cycle to the Reaction Force (RF). In this case the units in the training year will build up to battlegroup level, in the contingency year they'll be available for various tasks defined as "defence engagement", and in their other tasks year they'll do platoon training, provide support to the Falkland Islands and provide training support in both the UK and to the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK).
If you look at the make up of the AF, it has three light cavalry regiments, six light protected mobility battalions, and nine light infantry battalions. From there it's easy to see how at any one time you could have a light cavalry regiment, two light protected mobility battalions and three light infantry battalions all in the same stage of the FORM cycle. The fact that many of them will hail from different brigades is largely irrelevant. There will also be spare units to deal with long term commitments such as Cyprus, Brunei and public duties in London.
The Adaptable Force represents probably the most innovative advancement achieved by Army 2020, as the MoD shifts towards defence/upstream engagement in order to head off problems before they become unmanageable, a sort of 'prevention being better than the cure' deal. The theory is that by working with the armed forces of nations in risk areas to develop their own ability to deal with problems, the government should be able to prevent problem areas of the world from becoming long term issues requiring major, sustained deployments in the nature of Afghanistan and Iraq.
I think it's an admirable aim, if difficult to achieve in practice. The army simply can't be deployed everywhere and predicting which areas will flare up and cause issues requiring a long term military solution is going to be almost impossible. But building the capacity of various regional allies could mitigate somewhat against the need for persistent UK interventions. Africa provides some good examples of this, where the African Union is taking progressively more and more responsibility for its own affairs, deploying peacekeepers to places like Somalia and Mali, which certainly lifts the main burden off of Western powers to intervene.
The Adaptable Force also has a role earmarked to provide the 4th and 5th (and presumably the 6th) roulements of any enduring operation. This much longer lead time gives the AF units plenty of warning to prepare, which makes the integration of their reserve units much easier. The only problem I see with it is that the 6 month deployment cycles that we would expect from such an enduring operation will cause a lot of disruption to the 12 month based FORM cycles.
Overall though, Army 2020 isn't a bad piece of work at all. The cuts have been turned into an opportunity to reorganise, allowing the army to prepare itself both for rapidly developing contingency events and for longer term engagement. Given the numbers they've been left with and the much greater emphasis on reserves, this is the best that could really be expected. The "Austerity Era" is forcing the armed forces to squeeze every last drop out of the resources at its disposal and the army certainly appears shaped to do that.