Sunday, 20 August 2017

A smaller, sleeker army?

So I've been fairly busy of late which has put back a post that I wanted to rustle up last week (or was it the week before? How time flies) when it seemed the wolves were beginning to circle around the British army. With all this talk of a possible "SDSR 2017" etc it seems the knives are out and everyone is after a slice of the budget pie currently tied up in the land domain. Some articles I've seen have been quite interesting, thought provoking and reasonably balanced. Others... less so, shall we say. All though seem to share a similar theme; now that Afghanistan is over and done with we can raid the army for cash for the other two services, justified on the premise that the army is a) a bit knackered equipment wise and b) apparently lacking in strategic relevance all of a sudden.

The immediate question mark that arises is one of double standards. A lot of the criticism being levelled at the army is that because much of its equipment is getting old and is struggling to keep up with the Jones's abroad, that it should simply be binned and the money spent instead on recapitalising the other two services, some of whose equipment is getting old and struggling to keep up with the Jones's abroad...

It just makes no sense to me, this mentality that if we're talking about knackered* or out-dated equipment in the navy/air force then it obviously needs replacing, but if we talk about knackered or out-dated equipment in the army then obviously it needs to be binned and the units that hold it should be disbanded immediately. People point to things like Challenger tanks and argue that because they're dwindling in numbers we should just abandon the idea of operating tanks full stop. Surprisingly the fact we don't have enough towed array sonar systems for every last frigate has not prompted similar calls to just give up on anti-submarine warfare, nor has the past cannibalisation of Typhoon airframes for parts brought similar calls to get out of the fast aviation game. Odd that isn't it?

*(For the benefit of American readers who might not be familiar with the term "Knackered", think Peyton Manning in the last two seasons of his career)

All that said, I don't contest the overall idea that the army requires some kind of significant reform to keep it relevant going into the 2020s. As things stand the army has enough infantry battalions to comfortably man at least 3 square infantry divisions if it desired. The fact that it wouldn't be able to properly support said divisions with all the bolt on capabilities that a modern division requires says a lot about how the army has allowed itself to be shaped over the proceeding decade. Manpower for manpower's sake seems to have become the order of the day. I can't see that lasting very long, especially in the face of the reality of an ever changing world.

Part of the army's vision for its own future is in the Strike Brigade. Nobody really seems to be sure what this means yet, other than it being packed with the new AJAX vehicles, because they're cheaper than tanks and they're being purchased anyway, so why not double down on them eh? The Strike Brigade(s) is touted as providing a rapid reaction capability, to which end it'll also include some kind of as yet to be purchased 8x8 troop carrying vehicle, most likely the German Boxer, to provide high end mobility. Quite how wheeled and tracked vehicles will integrate to provide a rapid reaction ability is uncertain at this stage. Initial Operating Capability is set for 2021 and Full Operating Capability for 2025, which means there's a good chance the concept will be out dated and dumped before it ever gets that far.

The other main part of its vision is to retain the ability to deploy an armoured division at longer notice, something which has been questioned by many. Why does the UK cling to this ability to deploy a full division? This is how General Sir Nick Carter, chief of the general staff, put it to the defence select committee not long ago:

One of the great outcomes from the SDSR, from my perspective as the head of the Army, was the ambition to deliver a war-fighting division, because, in a sense, the division is a bit like an aircraft carrier—it is where the full orchestra comes together. It is where all the capabilities that you need to compete in the state-on-state space happen. That full orchestra is an aspiration that I think is absolutely right for us to have at the moment, because it makes you a reference customer not only of your enemies, but of your allies. It means that you can sit at the table alongside the Americans and the French, who can field this capability, and you can use that as the basis for restructuring.

Putting that into Google** translate and converting it from Bullshit to English, what he's saying is that the division represents the ideal level to bring together all the main elements of land power; tanks, armoured infantry, artillery, engineers etc, with which to take the fight to the Queen's enemies. It's also the level by which major land combat power is judged in the current era, though I'd argue that's a touch more speculative. I'd agree that being able to put an armoured division in the field with sufficient notice is a solid aspiration. Quite why it's considered to be part of the rapid reaction force is not. The major problem with that aspiration is that he doesn't have the equipment to realistically deliver it. 

**(Amusingly the spell check on this Google powered blog doesn't recognise "Google" as a real word).

For a start, the reconnaissance regiments expected to head the division and provide operational level recce are tracked and not wheeled like their French counter parts, defying the lessons of about 78 years of armoured warfare. The army is now moving towards only having two Challenger equipped regiments (battalions for all the non-British readers. Fucking cavalry) which would be scraping the barrel even if that was all supposed to go in the one division. But because they'll have to rotate through differing levels of readiness it means that likely only one regiment will be available at a time and it seems the plan is to make up the deficiency using the Ajax vehicles of the strike brigades to act as "medium tanks", which of course cannot possibly end in disaster.

Trailing behind all this will be a variety of clapped out armoured vehicles that are older than most of their crews, even the veteran ones, mixed with shiny new 8x8 troop carriers that are more trendy than required, and supported by a lack of modern, mobile artillery that has been cut to the bone over the years, no dedicated anti-tank battalion (as these are definitely not trendy these days, despite their historical utility and the increasing use of direct fire 122mm in Ukraine) and without the kind of electronic warfare support that the Russians have basically established as being the baseline for modern operations from now on. 

The under investment in the artillery is particularly odd, considering artillery has long been considered vital to modern integrated operations and has historically been one of the areas the UK has always garnered great respect from its enemies for. It's called the king of the battlefield for a reason, with casualty rates caused by high explosives in conventional conflicts typically reaching 70-85% of all casualties inflicted. And, again, if we look at the snapshot of modern conflict presented by operations in Ukraine we can see how important artillery remains, especially with the use of modern top attack dispensing munitions.

So it seems that while General Carter has his aspiration for an armoured division, he doesn't actually plan on doing anything to achieve that aspiration, like making the hard choice to take a scythe to the number of infantry battalions he has under his command in order to provide the appropriate funding to actually build and maintain the very thing which he thinks will make him a "reference customer". If this all sounds a bit familiar for UK defence then sadly that's because it is, as money is poured into maintaining the headline numbers and not in forming all the nitty gritty bits that really matter when the chips are on the table.

Sad thing is, there's more than enough manpower and funding there if properly distributed to do both the armoured division aspiration and a lighter, more mobile division for rapid reaction, albeit one that would operate more in terms of providing force elements at readiness (FEAR. Or FE@R if you want to go all 21st century) for emerging, lower threat level operations as opposed to deploying as a division itself.

One needs most of the heavy stuff, some of the medium stuff (Mastiff will suffice) and some shiny new stuff to bring it up to date. The other can mostly get by with Foxhound, a sprinkling of some shiny new stuff such as the US HIMARS to give it a bit more punch, and that's about all. The heavy division is the long term force, dialled up when needed with a bit of warning. The lighter division provides bits that are ready to go in a pinch and does most of the defence engagement business. 

Or, with correct marshalling (fuck you Google, that's how it's spelt) of the support elements, it might even be possible to keep the whole force at varying levels of readiness to be called upon when needed to create essentially a "plug and play" force of whichever type was needed the most at the time, scalable from brigade to division level, which would permit greater manpower reductions in exchange for more money for re-capitalising the army and providing much greater funding for training, with any excess savings returned to the treasury.

So in summary, yes, I can agree that the army needs a trim. But no, I don't agree that the army should be put out to pasture, or trimmed so that money can be used to shore up gaps in the naval and air services. If any trimming (cuts) are to take place, they should be used to fund a massive program of investment to drag the army into the modern era and to equip it with the systems it needs to conduct both 21st century armoured warfare and 21st century support to its allies.

11 comments:

  1. Chris
    As always, a thought provoking piece. However, what I am more interested in is your thoughts on how the British Army corrects the in my view terminal path it is on. I have debated on “another” blog my views, but I would look at it like this.
    8x8 MIV. Please don’t buy it or sink money in to it without being fully committed to it. That means 2 Brigades with supporting Wheeled and Escorted Logistics, Artillery, Direct fire Gun Support and an organic Mobile 8x8 mounted Anti-Air and Heavy Missile 8x8 Anti-Tank component, yes, a “strike” Brigade has its place. But do not waste your money on buying 300 8x8 APC’s that rely on tracked 40tonne Scout vehicles with 40mm Gun only for all support fire, anti-Tank etc. Since we cannot afford to buy the extra 200 odd 8x8’s to provide these support vehicles do not create a bastard child, accept you are not going to get it and move on and save £2 to £3bn.
    JLTV. Again, what’s the need. It’s too big to replace Land Rovers because it’s over 3.5t so needs an LGV Cat C licence to drive, so unless you’re going to train every infantry soldier to that level it’s pointless. We already have between Foxhound/Husky/Panther 1,100 armoured sub 7.5T 4x4 vehicles. Use those do not spend money you don’t have, that’s another £1bn saved.
    So, having just savaged the future vehicle spend of Land Warfare we need to discuss where we go with it. The fact is General Carter is correct in that the UK Must be able to deploy a Division size force. This directly allows you to command certain Nato organisations, and talk on equal terms. So what do we mount them on and how do we pay for it. Basically, my view is use and improve what you’ve got and dispose of a 70yr old relic.
    Firstly, you have to accept that the British Army with the withdraw from Germany is now back to being an expeditionary army. That means it must have a way of quickly intervening in Europe. Hence General Carters talk of a Brigade able to self-deploy over 2,000 miles. This roughly equates to a road drive to the Baltics/Romania in the event of a “Russian” threat. It also conveniently ties in with being the distance that most of the world is from a deep blue water port. So, the need is clear, but the question is do you sacrifice the effectiveness of the rest of the army to try and mount this organisation on 8x8 wheels. My reply is no.
    Part 1

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  2. We know that the 8x8’s being considered offer no more protection than a Mastiff, they do offer an increase in cross country ability. But if you are looking at an all wheeled formation that is not churning up the countryside first the ability of Wolfhound/Mastiff/Ridgeback is more than sufficient. Since the 8x8 is not bringing a 30mm cannon to the fight (as American Strykers used in Europe are getting) I see little to be gained at a lot of cost. So you form 20th Armoured Brigade based on Light Cavalry on Upgraded Jackal with a fully enclosed Cab and Remote Operated 30mm Gun, plus vehicle mounted Anti-Tank weapons, 3 Regiments of Mastiff Mounted Infantry, the Logistics, Medical and Support Functions are all mounted on Wolfhound/Ridgeback. Since M777 155mm Towed Artillery Piece is made by BAE the UK purchases 50 odd mounted on Wolfhound vehicles (to provide 4 12 gun batteries), with towed ammunition, further vehicle mounted Starstreak equipment in sufficient numbers to provide air defence. This should allow shoot and scoot firing. All support functions to get an allocation of Jackal Vehicles to provide convoy Protection. This then creates a Brigade that can deploy quickly in times of tension across Europe and provide a meaningful punch when it arrives. Everything in this Brigade has to be on wheels This will stay in 3rd Armoured Div.
    What to do with the two tracked Armoured Brigades. Well we have the thorny issues of Fv430’s, Warrior Upgrades, Challenger 2. The reality is that we need to increase lethality of the whole thing. Thus, I suggest that we end up with 4 Tank Battalions based on Tank Regiment Battalions 1 & 2 in 1st Armoured Brigade, and the Hussars split as Kings Battalion / Queens Battalion in 12th Armoured. These will be based on each Battalion having 42 Tanks, each paired with an Armoured Infantry Battalion. Further there would be 2 Squadrons of Ajax vehicles paired to each infantry battalion, 1 Regiment per Brigade. So you would end up with 42 Tanks, 33 Scouts in Armoured Cavalry Role, Warriors Upgraded 40mm Turreted, Turretless Warriors replacing FV430 Series, 8 Ajax as Infantry Battalion Scouts forming an Armoured Infantry Battalion. The Second Armoured Infantry Battalion instead of being mounted on Warriors would replace the Turreted IFV version of Warrior with a modified Challenger 2 Chassis from Storage. (lets be honest those in storage are being robbed for parts and left to rust, a saving if out of the 250 in storage, 125 were converted and the rest disposed off) This means the Army would only have to fund 2 Battalions worth of Turreted Warrior upgrade releasing the rest of the chassis to replace the FV430 in all its iterations. Since the ABSV conversion is considerably cheaper there should be a significant saving along with the abandonment of the MIV should allow the funding of the Challenger 2 upgrades to keep all 168 operation MBT plus allow another 100/125 to be converted to IFV for 2 battalions of Heavy Armoured Infantry.
    In this scheme 3rd Armoured Infantry Brigade does “loose” two infantry Battalions, but the raw numbers would be better used in creating the extra troops to mount the M777 Artillery and reinforce the support functions. You could keep all AS90 Artillery and GMLRs now concentrated to support your two Armoured Infantry Brigades. All arms come under the operational control of 3rd Armoured div from Infantry, Tanks Regiments, Artillery, Logistics etc whilst the individual Force Troop Brigade commands become responsible for whole force training and standards, plus career development rather than having operational control of Artillery/Engineering etc.
    Part 2

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  3. Turning now to the 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando. The Navy has made it clear they do not have the funds to provide 3 Commando’s. The reality is as the parachute Regiment has learned you cannot provide a Battalion’s worth of troops on 48hr notice based on only 2 battalions. Thus in reality both the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines are the UK’s immediate response troops and should be together in one place. Thus to maximise the support functions, divisional command etc I propose that 3 Commando Brigade, 16 Air Assault and a 3rd Army Brigade form a UK Rapid Response Div. This would use the Divisional Command resource that the RM already possess (as a force of some 7,000 troops) plus those within 16 AA and those of 1st UK Div. I would reroll 7th Infantry Brigade (for publicity purposes having the “Dessert Rats” combined with Para and Marines looks good) whilst passing over the area responsibilities to 1tth Infantry Brigade which would now cover South & Eastern England. This Brigade would be mounted on Foxhound, supported by upgraded Jackals. This operation would be C130/A400/C17/Under Slung Chinook air mobile. It would have assigned to it a 2 Squadrons of Chinooks to permanently train with along with the the 2 Apache Squadrons. Secondly all the 102 Logistics Brigade, Medical Regiments, Close Support, Light Gun Artillery would all be in this division supporting 7th Brigade and back filling the gaping holes in the support functions for the Marines and Para’s. I would leave 42 Commando within the Navy to provide all the boarding teams, specialist Aircrew Recovery Teams etc. Along with any other parts of the Royal Marines linked specifically with ship borne activity such as manning landing craft etc. Since the RM would bring their own armour and support group this means that of the 3 Light Cavalry units, 1 would be assigned to the wheeled 20th Mechanised Brigade, 1 to the 7th Air Mobile Brigade and 1 to the 16 Air Assault Brigade. Finally I would look to must as many Anti Tank, Anti Air missiles as possible and mount the launches on the various vehicles of this Div, since it will heavily rely on missiles as it has no heavy artillery or direct fire support above 30mm cannon.
    In this form, you would have created 6 Deployable Brigades, which would give you 1 Immediate Response Light Infantry Brigade deployable by Air, on foot or vehicle mounted, plus 5 other Brigades to provide follow on troops, to maintain a 1 Brigade Deployment. Allowing time for (2 ½ yrs) for those troops in the “Home” Brigades to be trained up to fall in to the rotation.
    This would leave you with 4 Armoured Infantry Brigades mounted on Upgraded Warrior/IFC Challenger, 168 Upgraded Challenger 2 Tanks, 150 Reconnaissance Ajax Variants, 60 odd AS 90’s plus 48 to 50 M777 155mm Artillery, 30 GMLRS, 3 mechanised Infantry Brigades, 300 upgraded Jackals mounting an effective gun system, 9 Air Assault/Air Mobile/Sea Mobile Deployable light infantry Brigades. You concentrate the fire power and the equipment you have in to fully deployable forces.
    This then leaves the rest of the adaptable force. This is 15 Infantry Battalions, of which I would take the 3 Riffle Battalions to form the idea of General Carter to have 3 Specialist Support Infantry Training Battalions. These would be moved and be part of the special forces command. Along with 1 Para being renamed as a Rangers Regiment. Any soldier if they have passed the relevant courses etc can transfer in to and out of this Regiment. Alongside this will be the transfer of the RAF Regiment Aircrew Recovery based on the RAF Parachute II Squadron. This unit will take this task off the SAS/SBS and will also include the Helicopter Medics to provide a full range of Combat Air Recovery something solely lacking in the British Army and other European Forces. This regiment would work closely with 42 Commando who would provide similar services from Navy Ships.
    Part 3

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  4. Thus, you have 12 Battalions plus the remainder of the RAF Regiment. These would take over the Local Liaison roles, be responsible for rotation in to standing requirements in the Falklands, Cyprus etc. These would use the equipment of the RAF Regiment for anti-air etc, plus have man portable anti-tank missiles and manpad anti air. They would be mounted on leased 4x4’s from a major manufacturer, using local infrastructure such as manufacturers garages, local fuel supplies etc. . The Land Rovers (some 8 to 10,000) would be gradually sold off to the Public/Specialist converts for which there is a huge demand after the cessation of Land Rover production by JLR. This should net the MOD a considerable bonus which will be used to buy armour kits, wading kits etc for the 4x4 force which will be operated by the Adaptable Forces. Each Brigade will be made up of 2 Light Infantry Battalions of 380 Troops roles will include, using 1st & 3rd Div Equipment to provide additional manpower/rotations on enduring ops, standing commitments, Air Base Protection and other sensitive infrastructure, local anti-terror support to the Police, plus other emergency relief such as flooding etc. These would all be regionally based and recruited.
    Do I hope that shows how I think you could get the most bang for your buck with regard the British Army. I am sure there are lots of holes in it, but if you think it’s a good idea and can flesh out the details your ideas would be welcomed.
    Part 4

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    Replies
    1. Hello Anon, quite a bit to take in there.

      I agree that I don't think an 8x8 purchase is the right path to go down. Other than being a shiny new toy there seems little to commend it vs the other options available such as tracked vehicles for an armoured division and current vehicles like Mastiff for less intense operations.

      At the same time however I'm not overly convinced by the idea of tank based APC/IFVs either. I know the Israeli's have had some success with them, but I wonder how much of that is just a product of their typical operating environment, which is quite static and urban orientated with a heavy dose of incoming anti-tank rounds.

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    2. Chris

      Thank you for your comment. The fact is however that a lot of future fighting in any European context is going to involve A) A Lot of urban fighting, the last time there was tank warfare in Europe there were a lot less people, towns, cities and buildings. Just look at a map of Europe and see how densely populated it is. B) Missiles. The evidence from the Ukraine having waded through a number of reports on that area gives us an incite in to Russian Tactics. The fact is high grade (not RPG7's which can be defeated by some slat armour) are ubiquitous on the battlefield. We know that Warrior is not capable as the Israeli's who are fighting Russian made ATGW's all the time have found out with their own IFV. Why you then go and buy an even lighter armoured wheeled 8x8 to send in to that meat grinder is beyond me. C) Other indirect fire. Such as the heavy reliance of Russian troops on Artillery/Rocketry that decimated Ukrainian Troops in 8x8 APC's. Either you have i)your own anti battery counter fire artillery/rocketry or ii)you have air cover to take out the Russian Guns. Since General Carter is talking about operating in an air denied area then either its option i) which he and the British Army have never addressed or more armour.
      So my argument is that the two most recent "wars" involving the deployment of Western sourced armour in one of those conflicts has shown that substantial upgrading is needed in survivability on the modern battlefield. This is not only in using heavier armour for IFV (hence the use of quite frankly rusting hulks costing money sitting in a warehouse somewhere as useable vehicles whilst you still can)but also a need for the MoD to look at the Israeli Trophy System or similar to increase the level of protection.
      Further if General Carter wants to or thinks we will need to (and lets be honest with only 7 or so active RAF Squadrons its pretty likely) operate without air superiority which has always been British and Nato doctrine then Land need to convince Ministers to pay for a lot more under armour Anti-Air and other missiles. Because the option to call in an air strike is off the table.
      The other area I did not touch on is that all Nato forces need to look at simple anti-drone technology since again in the Gaza Strip and the Ukraine forces used extensively home made drone systems that were very effective in bringing down artillery barrages especially in the Ukraine where Russian backed/armed rebels were not shy in going for the grid destroy method.
      What I was trying to get through was that for out of area operations the light infantry or mobile protected infantry that 3 Commando/16 AA/7th Desert Rats could provide is very good at chasing ISIS around Africa/Middle East etc. But the British Armies most core function is to provide for the defence of Europe. We allowed Europe to fall once before because of a lack of planning and preparation, lets not make the same mistake again. It has clearly been shown that the modern Near Peer or Peer to Peer Conflict has become more deadly over the last 20yrs and the British Army needs to respond. The problem is we don't have any money so the simpler more cost effective option is to use what you have not go of chasing the rainbow of the 8x8.

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  5. With all due respect to the commentators on this subject, as an outsider (non -Brit), it really sounds as if you are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The harsh reality is that the UK has neither the will nor the finances to be a major military player in the world. Nor does it seem that the majority of the British public want it to be a major player. Even if a UK government was willing to finance the military to a level commensurate to the role that the UK thinks it plays on the world stage, the harsh realty is that the UK can't fill its current active duty manpower requirements and the reserve is just non-existent. Why not just recognize reality? The UK is finished as a major military power. I say that in sadness, not with rancor.

    ReplyDelete
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