UK and US Strike Brigade Comparison

By Gabriele Molinelli

(Gabriele Molinelli who runs http://ukarmedforcescommentary.blogspot.co.uk and who has followed the UK’s efforts to develop a Strike Brigade Capability compares and contrasts British Army Strike with the US Army’s emerging vision. This provides a useful description of what Strike is meant to be conceptually, but also looks at the issues that potentially prevent it from being all it can be.) 

Stryker in Syria
US Stryker vehicles deployed in Syria 2017.

Contrasting the British and American Approach to Strike

The British Army is betting its future on its new Strike Brigades. These will be medium-weight forces that combine the Ajax tracked AFV with wheeled APCs to be purchased under the Mechanized Infantry Vehicle (MIV) programme. The Army has not communicated the doctrine or objectives that underpin the Strike concept, but the little that has been said has major implications. Fundamentally, Strike Brigades are envisaged as self-deployable, road-mobile formations capable of executing expeditionary operations abroad where operational areas stretch across great distances. The French operation SERVAL in Mali is cited as a text book example, where battle groups moved rapidly across country to hit insurgents before they could achieve their objectives. A key success factor was the ability of wheeled mechanized formations, some of which were already forward-based in Africa while others were deployed via sea and air, to move many hundreds of kilometres on land to enter and dominate the combat zone.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Strike Brigade will serve as a “Divisional Manoeuvre Enabler,” securing flanks, scouting ahead of heavy armoured battlegroups and attacking enemy “weak spots” through manoeuvre over long distances. According to the Chief General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, the Strike Brigade is envisaged as a means of counteracting enemy attempts to create Anti Access Area Denial (A2AD) bubbles. Prior to 2010, the UK was moving towards a Brigade-centric structure, but was asked by the US to focus its resources around a deployable divisional structure, to ensure that it could continue to contribute formations with a comprehensive array of supporting arms.

Puma
Puma IFV with 30mm Rheinmetall Lance turret

A2AD strategies established by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, reflect decades of underinvestment in combined arms manoeuvre by NATO and other Western armies. The A2AD threat has also inspired the USA’s new Multi Domain Battle concept. Although the US Army’s existing Armoured Brigade Combat Teams (ABCTs) and Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (SBCTs) are highly capable, they lack a full array of capabilities. Therefore, the US Army is considering what the ideal “Army formation of the future” should be. It wants to devise a new type of brigade to perform Multi-Domain Battle roles, and has set up an experimental Multi Domain Task Force to determine the attributes of the new formation. This is a compact formation of about 1500 personnel and combines elements from all corps, including infantry, armour, fires, aviation and signals.

Although comprehensive experimentation is needed to define the optimum structure, there seems to be consensus on the need for smaller, highly capable, and self-contained formations that posses a full and organic multi-domain capability. In the meantime, six specific areas of improvement have been identified: combat vehicles, precision fires, air defence, soldier lethality, electronic warfare and network-centric command and control. Improvements to current armoured vehicles are the short-term solution and are exemplified by the latest modifications to Abrams, Bradley and Paladin. As a matter of urgency, Stryker brigades, beginning with the formation based in Europe, are being given a substantial uplift in firepower with adoption of Javelin under-armour capability for half of the vehicles and unmanned gun turrets with 30mm cannons for the other half. The need for a new generation combat vehicle is clear; as is the need for increased mobility and firepower within infantry formations at the light end of the spectrum.

The closest the US Army has previously got to the multi-role, multi-effect formation imagined for the Multi Domain Battle is the former Armoured Cavalry Regiment (ACR), which was a combined arms formation comprised of heavy armour and organic artillery supported by a dedicated aviation element. Unsurprisingly, a modernized and improved ACR is being promoted as an ideal solution for today’s challenges, under the acronym “Reconnaissance and Security Strike Group” (RSSG). The RSSG approach is supported by high calibre army reformers (who are also ACR veterans) such as Doug MacGregor and H.R. McMaster.

AMOS
Swedish CV90 with twin AMOS 120mm mortar system

While the British Army is carrying out its own “Strike Experimentation,” an alarming lack of UK Defence resources raises concerns about what, if anything, will actually be done to respond to the recommendations of desktop simulations and field exercises. Moreover, the British Army has already decided where it wants to invest its cash and is now contractually committed to Ajax. When Ajax was first conceived it was intended to be the reconnaissance element of the armoured infantry brigades. It is now intended to be used in a different role, as if it were a medium tank. This worries many senior officers. It is worth reminding that until recently the FRES Specialist Vehicle, before it was renamed Ajax, was to include a “Direct Fire” variant which would have been armed with a 120mm smoothbore cannon. Ajax’s common hull was specifically designed to have a large turret ring to facilitate the development of a large gun version, which General Dynamics is now proposing, under the name “Griffin,” for the US Army Mobile Protected Firepower requirement. The MPF requirement is in effect the need for a Light to Medium tank, which will be used to provide direct fire support to light infantry and, possibly, air assault formations. Both armies appreciate the need for Direct Fire support to the infantry, which is also an obvious consequence of future scenarios where air support cannot be counted upon, but the British Army, being short of cash, is trying to respond by suddenly changing the role of Ajax.

The other element of the UK’s new Strike Brigades is the acquisition of a wheeled infantry carrier vehicle family. Called Mechanised infantry Vehicle (MIV) this programme appears to be more or less “frozen.”  This will be a 30-tonne 8×8 vehicle, although the exact type has yet to be selected. It is currently expected to mount just a 12.7mm HMG in a remoted weapon station despite Experimentation findings recommending a proper turret, mounting something like that 30mm cannon that is now being fitted to SBCT Strykers in Europe.

boxer-fres
ARTEC Boxer 8×8 is a candidate vehicle for the UK MIV requirement.

The Strike Brigade is currently expected to field two infantry battalions on MIV and 2 regiments of cavalry on Ajax, with one tasked as “Medium Armour” support to the infantry and the other tasked with reconnaissance. The British Army has had to accept a wide range of cuts to its force structure elsewhere to enable the Strike project to progress, and this includes losing one of just three remaining regular MBT regiments. Until recently, the Royal Lancers, already a reconnaissance cavalry formation, were due to be the first unit to convert to Ajax, but now it is planned that this honour will instead fall on the King’s Royal Hussars, which will lose their Challenger 2 MBTs. This will happen by 2019, well before the Strike Experimentation is complete, and this creates further concerns about the extent to which the fact-based findings of it will actually influence the final doctrine, structure and equipment.

In general, the US Army seems to be tackling the problem more methodically, carrying out a much more objective experimentation to determine the ideal shape of new land combat units while fixing individual capability problems first. The currently preferred force structure seems to be highly capable, full-spectrum formation, even though there are critics who say that the current ABCT is already overloaded with too many responsibilities.

The British Army has little momentum (and even less money) for fixing individual problems and has initiated an Experimentation which appears to be starting from a conclusion rather than a hypothesis, with the aim of trying to validate the plan already crafted rather than fully define something new. The Strike Brigade as currently envisioned will have capabilities far inferior to those of an ACR or RSSG and seems to be seen, at least in complex scenarios, as merely a component of a larger, division-level package. The British Army in this appears to be agreeing with US critics, who do not want to overload brigade-level formations.

It is worth noting that potential adversaries, who have inspired modernization efforts, such as Russia, unequivocally do not believe that brigade commands are overloaded with responsibilities. This was explained in detail by Igor Sutyagin at the RUSI Land Warfare conference earlier this year. Russian brigades are resourced with a vast array of Electronic Warfare capabilities, a SOF element and more Fires than a British division. The Russians have concluded that having broad organic capabilities and commanders well versed in their use, reducing their dependency on higher commands, is a battle winning capability.

In devising a new force structure to meet this challenge, both US and UK must take note of this new Russian doctrine. Russia wants operationally independent brigades to ensure that commanders can carry out their plans quickly. High level political decisions might still be centralized and slow, so the Russians are trying to ensure that all formations in the field compensate that with their ops tempo. During the Cold War the West knew it could exploit the slowness of a Red Army inexorably forced to pass all actions through Stavka oversight. Is the West now at risk of being the player slowed down by the need to pass through Stavka for very decision? Excessively dependence on the higher levels of command, coupled with the constraints introduced by political oversight, public opinion concerns and the media battle, puts the western formations in a position of constant disadvantage.

It was the capability of the ACRs to successfully engage even the most capable enemy formations and the independence and aggressiveness of its commanders that brought about successes such as the battle of 73 Easting. McMaster knows it all too well, having been at the centre of it.

Reconnaissance and Security Strike Group and Strike Brigade

There are at least two variations of RSSG being suggested for adoption. One is more closely related to the old ACR, because it would be built up with Abrams MBTs and Bradley IFVs, while the second variant, pushed by Colonel McGregor, is more innovative and daring because it is predicated on a new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) developed from the German Puma IFV – which, ironically, is not that different from the UK’s Ajax.

Both variations of the RSSG remain predicated on the same basic concept, which is also the biggest element of discontinuity with the old ACR: combined arms teams of armour, bringing to bear maximum protected mobility and firepower, would fight dispersed, semi-independently and at long range while supported by a powerful central ISR and Fires construct. The ACR of old would often get augmented with Deep Fire capabilities but never had them as organic component.

To literally combat Fires with Fires, the RSSG comes with organic long-range GMLRS. The US Army is tackling individual Fires weaknesses with a number of programmes: Precision Fires will deliver new missiles to replace ATACMS, doubling the amount of ready to fire rounds per launcher and offering a reach of between 300 and 500 km. The Alternative Warhead programme, meanwhile, is restoring a wide area attack capability to GMLRS after the demise of earlier sub-munition-based rockets due to UXO concerns and impact on civilians.

Griffin
General Dynamics “Griffin” Direct Fire vehicle with 120mm smoothbore on Ajax platform.

The integral aviation element of the first model is reinforced compared to the already very substantial resources that used to be available to the ACR, and a major addition is represented by UAVs.

In McGregor’s proposal, the number and types of manned helicopters are curtailed severely, but firepower is provided by a large battery of Loitering Munitions, which make up for the loss of Apache attack helicopters while putting far less strain on the logistic element.

Another obvious difference between the two models is that McGregor proposes a regiment based on four armoured manoeuvre battalions, as he imagines the RSSG fighting isolated and surrounded in a complex, congested and contested battlespace with no real rear echelon. The four battalions move and fight in an imaginary box with sides of 60 to 80 km, with their ISR and Fires support in the middle.

Both variations are proposed as self-contained “all arms, all effects” formations able to Jointly find, target and manoeuvre to annihilate the enemy, acting as vanguard and enablers for follow on formations.

McGregor’s RSSG is “medium weight” and “single-type” in order to deploy with maximum firepower for minimum footprint. It is meant to weigh less, require less sustainment, be deployed more rapidly and easily. Arguably, McGregor’s RSSG is the one that most resembles the concept behind the British Strike Brigade. The principal resemblance is in terms of weight and deployability ambitions: the British brigade will use Ajax (and MIV), which are comparable in terms of footprint to the Puma.  Yet, at the same time, the differences are substantial, especially in terms of firepower.

McGregor does away with self-propelled howitzers: instead of having Paladin in support of the armoured manoeuvre units he imagines a Puma hull fitted with AMOS turret with twin automated 120mm mortars.

Puma obviously replaces Bradley, but also replaces Abrams: he imagines a Puma derivative fitted with an unmanned turret armed with a 120mm smoothbore cannon or, ideally, the new 130mm in development by Rheinmetall.  A Puma variant would also provide low level air defence and anti-UAS / C-RAM protection thanks to the SkyRanger turret with 35mm gun.

In both variants, the RSSG comes with firepower that is many orders of magnitude superior to that of UK Strike Brigade. It has organic deep strike Fires and ISR. It has organic air defence. It is also entirely tracked and does not imagine dispersion “in up to 60 points of presence” and over “up to 2000 km” like the Strike Brigade optimistically does.

Logistically, the RSSG comes with a far greater level of commonality thanks to its “Puma for everything” approach. In some ways, McGregor’s RSSG is a return to FRES and FCS and their families of common-hull tracked vehicles.

The RSSG, in both proposals, appear more rationally thought out than the Strike Brigade. They have an answer to the problems identified by the Army. They have the overwhelming firepower to manoeuvre through peer and near-peer opposition. They have organic Fires, including Deep Strike, to at least respond in kind, if not overmatch, to the traditionally impressive array of artillery support available to Russian commanders. It has organic air defence to protect itself from drones, armed and unarmed. In McGregor’s proposal, the use of a single base hull for most of the brigade’s combat elements has obvious benefits on the logistic footprint.

The Strike Brigade, conversely, seem to have lost itself along the way while trying to decide if it is a medium weight brigade for Mali scenarios or a divisional enabler for high intensity warfare. Half of it is wheeled for long, independent road moves, but with little to no mounted firepower. The other half is tracked and has the excellent 40mm CTA gun, but, to this day, no mounted ATGWs or heavy smoothbore cannons to contrast enemy armour. There is no sign of organic air defence to contrast at least the threat of UAVs.

The artillery contingent is going to have just two batteries of L118 Light Guns and two batteries of JTACs and Joint Fires directors: this makes sense for the “Mali half” of tasks, where air superiority is assured; but is totally unsuited to near peer scenarios where air parity is the best that can be hoped for and the enemy is known to have a massive overmatch in terms of artillery.

Security of logistics is still very much an open question. Despite this and many more questionable characteristics, the Strike Brigade sets for itself objectives far more ambitious than those imagined even for the far better resourced RSSG.

While the British Army is aware of at least some of the gaps, there is no clear path to a funded solution. For example, the Royal Artillery has a programme for a “Long range rocket system” which has finally appeared within the Equipment Programme document, 2016 edition, but this is not particularly reassuring when we think that ATACMS was on the list already a decade ago. “Land precision strike capability”, which should involve precision shells for the 155mm howitzer, as well as course correction fuses for standard shells, is also in the document, but it too is a requirement at least 10 years old.  Many more examples could be made. Soothsayer, for new EW systems, was cancelled and its full replacement is yet to be seen; COBRA left service and all that remains to identify enemy firing positions is a literal handful of short-range MAMBA radars. The Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle, desperately needed to replace the many variants of FV432 in armoured formations, has been pushed to the right once more in the 2016 budget cycle.

Given the constraints, is MIV and the Strike Brigades in general, a sensible use of money? The US Army is fixing individual capability gaps while it experiments and thinks about how to band the various elements together afterwards. The British Army, short of funding as it is, should probably do the same rather than trying to find a justification for a brigade structure that someone has already decided, without a clear reason to believe it will work.

Looking at the numbers, the sad reality is that the British “warfighting division” would actually more closely resemble a single ACR or RSSG (option one). This is the reality the army has to face: perhaps RSSG “Option One” can actually be the workable basis for the British Army’s solution to modern high intensity warfare, using mostly equipment that is already available and leaving the limited budget available to fill the largest capability gaps.

A “Mali” type deployment could arguably be achieved with Mastiff and Foxhound plus Ajax in support, where necessary. However, it is the high-intensity scenario, which seems less likely to materialise, that should drive the Army’s plans, because it is the only one that most reflects current existential threats.

 

 

 

45 comments

  1. IMHO, the Strike Brigade and RSSG don’t share much in common other than being somewhat based around medium armored vehicles.

    The Strike Brigade appears to be an amalgam of different maneuver battalion types (MIV and AJAX) with different logistics requirements and mobility limitations. I’m not sure of the rationale for that. Why not consolidate like with like? Have an AJAX Strike Brigade and a separate MIV Strike Brigade.

    It’s almost like they couldn’t decide what they wanted so they made a brigade with a bit of everything.

    OTOH, the RSSG wants to eliminate the division by plussing up the brigade into a mini-division structure. This is supposed to save personnel from Div HQ elements. Corps and enlarged RSSG HQ, CS and CSS elements would take up the slack.

    But the RSSG battalions are largely uniform – all on Pumas. Obviously task organization could bring other battalion types into the mix.

    IMHO, the most interesting part of the RSSG is the fully integrated fires component, including Air Force coordination directly in the brigade structure.

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    1. Douglas MacGregor has provided the brief for the RSG and informs me the RSG test is in the current Defense APPROPRIATION BILL.

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    2. My comments above were directed at Col Macgregor’s RSG concept, not the Army RSSG. My apologies for the confusion. The RSSG is just an ACR++. Not much new there.

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  2. The American RSB has considerably more power and capabilities, particularly as modeled originally by Douglas Macgregor, not in the watered down TrADOC version.

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  3. This is unclassified from COL Macgregor. He asked me to post this. Btw, you spelled his name wrong.

    The RSSG was a paper only attempt to compete with the RSG. It died because the SASC saw it as an unserious effort.

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  4. I don’t like the idea of using the German Puma. I consider it to be flawed as an IFV and also as the basis for a Medium tank. Actually, I think the UK Ajax is a much better proposition. The development work done by General Dynamics UK has effectively transformed it into a new vehicle. It’s extremely well protected and has great mobility for a tracked platform.

    The idea of using a medium weight tracked platform as a common base platform for a manoeuvre brigade is sound. Having an IFV, MGS, Mortar, Engineer, Signals and supporting elements all using the same vehicle platform would simplify logistics and ensure that all units had equal mobility. I like the idea of adding integral SHORAD, air support, UAV and precision fire assets too.

    We certainly need to simplify command structures. Beefed-up brigades can certainly achieve that. Today any credible brigade needs to have three infantry battalions, a cavalry regiment, an artillery regiment, an engineer regiment and a signals regiment. At the divisional level, it can be supported by additional GMLRS, AD, long-range precision fires and UAVs.

    Having separate wheeled and tracked brigades makes sense. However, the wheeled brigades will need an 8×8 tank destroyer that mounts a 120-130 mm gun. These are a new type of AFV category and I don’t think we’ve seen an optimised form factor yet.

    Long-term, NATO armies need to develop new heavy armour platforms like the Israeli Merkava, which can be used for both MBT and IFV applications. The defunct TRACER concept was a glimpse into the future. Its unmanned gun turret was an ideal way to reduce weight and increase survivability.

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    1. For an ACR-like unit, yes a tracked, medium-weight vehicle does make sense. What don’t you like about Puma vis a vis Ajax?

      I personally think Macgregor does some significant “book cooking” when calculating his unit combat values. He derives a lot of combat value from TARES, which is an unproven, unfielded system with unknown costs and vulnerabilities. To my knowledge, it stopped development twelve years ago and hasn’t resumed.

      Beyond that, his combat values for existing vehicles vs Puma are questionable. Here’s a slide,

      from here,

      Click to access COL%20(R)%20Douglas%20Macgregor–September%203,%202015.pdf

      I’m not exactly sure how he’s using his Speed Factor, but is Puma really 3+ times as fast as an M1 or Bradley? I doubt it.

      I’m skeptical that Puma has an armor value of 0.8 vs an M1’s 1.0. IMHO, Puma has zero chance of stopping a 125mm sabot frontally. OTOH, an M1A2 can usually stop most, if not all, current Russian rounds frontally, at least at combat ranges. Same goes for current-generation Russian ATGMs over significant frontal areas.

      And Bradleys all carry TOW, so its Firepower Factor should be higher.

      So his notion that RSGs could perform several times better than existing ABCT/SBCTs seems like a sales job on the order of the old FCS program.

      And in all of this, he’s comparing new systems to existing ones. Why not look at an evolved ABCT or SBCT too? Many of these systems could plug into existing units.

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      1. Why do I dislike Puma? For all the reasons you’ve pointed out. Protection levels are vastly inferior to M1. It is Level 6 for sure, but nowhere near 0.8 of MBT values. The hull of Puma is very low, so it is very uncomfortable for troops. I think it would be very difficult to evacuate driver and gunner quickly if hit. And stoppages need to be cleared by leaving the security vehicle. A rare miss-step by German AFV industry.

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      2. Protection is inferior to M1, but should be better than Bradley and Ajax (debatably).

        The interior should be more open than a regular, turreted vehicle, where the turret basket takes up significant interior space. So even though it’s lower, egress shouldn’t be worse for driver and gunner.

        I do agree that Ajax (or an evolved CV90) may be a more suitable starting point for a general purpose, medium-weight, tracked vehicle.

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      3. When asked about the Puma, the RSSG proponents replied that it was merely a stand-in for a similar concept vehicle to be developed by the US Army. Ponder if you will the implications of that…

        MacGregor’s RSSG has been comprehensively critiqued elsewhere on the Internet. IIRC, H.R. McMaster himself pointed out a few problems with it. Generally the issues are that it greatly underestimates the logistics burden of such a unit and greatly overestimates the firepower of the Loitering Munition – part and parcel of the controversial rating system employed.

        Plus, there’s the whole issue of deployability. It’s easy to propose entire brigades made up solely of Puma-likes or Merkavas and Namers, not quite that easy to ferry them to where they will be needed. That is a very cogent point to consider, particularly for the latter proposal.

        Frankly… As a thought exercise RSSG is interesting. As a practical blueplan, its fantasy fleets for the Army.

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      4. Great response! Yes. Logistics for the RSSG are likely to be a concern, especially the air elements.

        I tend to believe that the M1 Abrams will need to be replaced by a new combined MBT / IFV platform that is considerably lighter. However, even if it weighs 50 tonnes, deployability will remain a problem. Travelling 300 km in a tracked vehicles is tiring – noise, vibration, diesel fumes – but a journey of 1,000 km is not realistic. So a tracked RSSG would need to be deployed on HETTs. That’s why you need both wheels and tracks. And, if you’re going with wheels, it’s why you need a 120mm DF tank destroyer variant to support your infantry battalions.

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      5. Kidd,

        We’ve deployed ABCTs and ACRs around the world, which are heavier (or similar to ) the MacGregor RSG in weight. So it’s certainly within the US military’s capability.

        We have SBCTs and IBCTs if we need more deployable units.

        I view the RSG less as a cogent blueprint for the Army, and more as a collection of interesting (and not-so-interesting) ideas.

        Some ideas (with my Hot/Warm/Cold feelings),

        1. Skip the Division. Increase the size of the BCT and let Corps handle the rest. (Warm)
        2. Fully integrated control of fires (organic, Corps, air power) (Hot)
        3. Bring back the ACR (essentially the RSG mission) (Warm)
        4. All medium-heavy, tracked vehicle formation (Cold)
        5. Adopt long-range, loitering munitions (Warm)

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      6. bsmitty, I think you read those mutlipliers wrong.

        Puma has lots of mobility advantages
        – MLC for military bridging
        – civilian bridges
        – decoupled running gear vasty reduces vibrations/noise and thus better crew endurance
        – longer lasting parts
        – shorter mainitenance breaks
        – much less fuel consumption, better effective range offroad and onroad

        Its main mobility disadvantage is about extreme cold wether engine starts.

        Similarly, protection can be understood as how many threats it survives, and Puma may very well survive some threats that Abrams doe snot survive because of a much older defensive aids suite. Moreover, almost no ground threats penetrate a Puma – frontal penetration requires dediated anti-tank munitions or artillery. There are but a few dozen weapons in a Russian brigade that would penetrate a Puma reliably, but thousands of weapons overall. And those couple dozen threats may very well be able to penetrate an Abrams as well – its their job.

        TOW is little more than a HE projector for infantry fire support in a peer war. It’s not going to kill any 80’s tech MBTs frontally, and may not even only hit at long ranges because the missile is awfully slow, even in the radio-guided version.

        Such variables are always questionable, though. To use such variables doesn’t make much sense if you look at it closely.

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      7. SO,

        I agree I might be interpreting the multipliers incorrectly. There is very little explanation as to what they mean.

        Puma has some advantages over Abrams, and some over Bradley, but also has disadvantages.

        It’s heavier than Bradley, so it should be at a disadvantage with regards to bridging. Also, one would expect it to use more fuel than Bradley for the same reason. But perhaps the more modern powertrain offsets the weight.

        As far as parts longevity and duration of maintenance, I really can’t say. The Bradley has been in service for far longer, and many more have been built, so one could assume more of the kinks have been worked out. But the Puma is newer. YMMV.

        But all-in-all, I have a hard time believing these varying factors gives the Puma a 3.4 times advantage in mobility over Bradley (3.12/.91). Maybe >1. I could see that. But I find it very hard to believe a Puma could move a given distance in 1/3rd the time.

        It still feels like book-cooking to me.

        The Puma’s soft-kill suite may be more advanced than Abrams, but that’s something relatively easy to upgrade on other vehicles.

        Some Bradley and Abrams may be getting Trophy, which is obviously a step beyond soft-kill.

        Again, I just have a hard time with the numbers he uses. Seems like more book-cooking.

        A 0.4 protection factor for a late model Bradley with, presumably, reactive armor but the same for a Stryker with just cage? Doesn’t seem right.

        The US uses the top-attack TOW 2B for anti-tank work. I agree it’s getting a bit long in the tooth, but it should still be a fairly capable tank killer. It pains me that we haven’t moved beyond it. We should have a Spike ER-level weapon that’s fired from an upgraded TOW CLU by now.

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    2. Apologies for the “late” comment as I have just discovered this blog. What do you consider to be the Puma’s flaws? May I inquire as to your thoughts on Rhienmetal’s Lynx?

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      1. The Puma had to be re-deisgned halfway through trials to add an extra set of road wheels. Not a good start. The crew compartment is very low and cramped with dismounts sitting in what feels like a deckchair. Not very comfortable or easy to get out of. The 30 mm turret actually takes up more interior space than you would expect so that dismounts sit with two on one side and four on the other. I think it would be challenging to evacuate the driver and commander via the rear quickly if the vehicles was hit.

        The Rheinmetall Lynx is much more spacious, modern development based on the Marder. It is available in tow versions, one with a longer wheelbase to accommodate a full squad even when a two-man turret is fitted. I do not have much knowledge of it apart from seeing it at Eurosatory when it was unveiled 18 months ago.

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  5. This is one of the best articles by Gabriele and other UK defense bloggers on medium brigades as the article addresses the wartime role of newly designed brigades in addition to recounting equipment programs.

    Maybe the Army is ordering enough Ajax to have something like one brigade of tracked medium vehicles in a design inspired by MacGrgegor’s. The main thing would be to add anti-tank missiles to some vehicles and to buy a few vehicles with the 120mm direct fire cannon and, separately, mortars to add lethality. In this world, the UK could field altogether two armored infantry brigades (with MBTs and IFVs) and one Ajax brigade. No wheeled 8×8 APCs would be needed.

    Gabriele’s article would be even better with more discussion of the option of keeping the three current armored infantry brigades with the Ajax being used for armored recon as originally planned.

    Maybe part of the budget problem is trying to increase the Army to four maneuver brigades, from the current three. Having three decently equipped brigades should be affordable even if there need to be manpower cuts elsewhere, like in the light infantry.

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  6. What does the UK’s Strike Brigade actually have to do with “strike”? Is it just an attempt to sound cool like the US Army Stryker Brigade (conveniently named after two Medal of Honor winners)?

    Mcgregor’s RSG actually does emphasize strike, with organic MLRS, TARES, tight air component integration, and attack helicopters (vice UCAVs).

    IMHO, if you go by the apparent intellectual basis for the UK Brigade structure, they should probably be named “We’re Buying AJAX and 8x8s, so We Have to Figure Out What to Do with Them” Brigades. Granted, WBA8WHFOWDT doesn’t roll off the tongue.

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    1. I get your point, but I think of the word “Strike” as meaning “Expeditionary.” That means we go out to meet and defeat enemies, rather than simply waiting for them to turn-up on our door step. Having said, that I can see the logic of building a Strike Brigade around Ajax and then building another one around MIV. What I cannot understand is why we would unite wheels and tracks in the same Brigade.

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      1. Aren’t all Army forces, beyond reserves and national guard, essentially “expeditionary” by that definition?

        I agree on your other point. There is significant value in having a pure wheeled formation for Mali-style operations and times when long, intra-theater road marches are needed.

        IMHO, the Strike Brigade design appears to be driven more by existing programs and budgets than cohesive operational requirements.

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      2. the strike brigade is driven by threat analysis of the baltic, european, and modern states where light forces, the airborne, and the marine corps fall short in firepower and flexibility. Strike maiximizes the power of air forces, naval, and army indirect fires to couple with a ground element using the entire suite of intelligence systems. We dont have that in light forces or any headquarters below “Corps” task force. its mobile, survivable, and can defend itself, something the light fighters who have to be saved by the cavalry cant say. It can accept and use intelligence from satellites, the national command authority, the air force and the navy. it is a purple fighter on tracks. It is the future point of the spear.

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      3. Along these lines, I drew up a proposal to upgrade the US Army IBCTs (infantry brigades) to something that could be more useful across the spectrum of conflicts.

        “Pimp My IBCT”

        http://interestedamateur.blogspot.com/2016/12/pimp-my-ibct.html

        I propose taking some of the thousands of M-ATVs we are keeping after the draw-downs in Iraq and Afghanistan and permanently adding them to the TOE of IBCTs.

        Take some more and create prepositioned equipment sets near hotspots around the world.

        IBCTs would train with their home set, but travel light and fall in on a prepo set when deploying.

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      4. Roger,

        Are you speaking of the MacGregor RSG, or the UK Strike Brigade? I haven’t seen any mention of UK Strike Brigade design attempting to maximize multi-service indirect fires. Sounds more like the RSG.

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  7. An excellent discussion so far, with some penetrating points made.

    I particularly liked the comment by bsmitty, which read: ““IMHO, if you go by the apparent intellectual basis for the UK Brigade structure, they should probably be named “We’re Buying AJAX and 8x8s, so We Have to Figure Out What to Do with Them” Brigades.”, which leads to his logical conclusion: “IMHO, the Strike Brigade design appears to be driven more by existing programs and budgets than cohesive operational requirements.”

    Certainly, at the moment the planning for UK Strike Brigades does seem somewhat confused and makeshift, to say the least. Even UK Land Power (Nicholas Drummond) who, I would imagine, is a great proponent of the Strike Brigade concept, has reached the conclusion: “I can see the logic of building a Strike Brigade around Ajax and then building another one around MIV. What I cannot understand is why we would unite wheels and tracks in the same Brigade.”

    The latter combination would of course be a hotch-potch of varying vehicle types, a mish-mash (and mis-match) of capabilities. I don’t know, for instance, whether the AJAX vehicles in such a formation, would travel by road in the fashion of MIVs, or would have to be carried on transporters, which would make them considerably slower that the wheeled 8 x8s.

    Another thing that worries me considerably is that the UK Strike Brigades are, in Gabriele’s words, “self-deployable, road-mobile formations capable of executing expeditionary operations abroad where operational areas stretch across great distances.” The phrase “great distances” is a key one here. When deployed, often such formations will be relatively isolated and will therefore need such integral elements as air defence (against drones, helicopters, etc.) and engineer assets such as river crossing capabilities (i.e. bridgelayer versions of the MIV). Are any such elements being planned? We need the MIV to have at least ten variants, as the Stryker does.

    We certainly need, again in Gabriele’s words, these formations to be: “self-contained formations that possess a full and organic multi-domain capability”. To make them so surely would not be “to overload brigade-level formations”. It was certainly not the case that the British Army’s old Mechanised Brigade formations were overloaded and they managed to cope with Armour, Armoured Infantry, Mechanised battalions, SP Arty regts, Engineers, Logistics, Air Defence detachments , LRATGW troops, Medical units, etc. etc. etc.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great article Gabby and a fascinating discussion. I have a draft article on how we could use the currently ordered numbers of Ajax to create an RSG type formation – so perhaps I can finish it, polish it and forward it to Nicholas for publishing here ?

    However even if we have an RSG type (Heavy Cavalry Brigade ?) formation, if it is based on medium weight tracked vehicle family we come back to the post Cold War European theatre problem – how and when is it deployed for use ? Do we expect the old “political period of tension” before Russia invades Lithuania , so we can put them on Point class ro-ro and then low loader convoys to the operational area ? Or as our major contribution to NATO do we replace BFG with British Forces Group Poland – so that the tracked assets are “forward deployed” and within self deploy range of a potential operational area ? In which case do we put the formation under the OpCon of a Polish division ?

    Meanwhile the MIV based mechanized infantry brigades would be based on all wheeled platforms to lever the improved strategic / theatre mobility for either reinforcing Euro-NATO nations under direct threat, or for global expeditionary ops.

    Any British army experiments under way are nothing but budget driven, to legitimize a desire to use a medium tracked platform designed and ordered in a “different age” .

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    1. I think the idea of forward basing a single brigade in Poland is a good idea. We should rotate brigades on a regular basis.

      General Dynamics have developed an IFV version of Ajax which is being offered for the Australian Land 400 Phase 3 competition. It has an extra set of road wheels and a slightly longer hull. It would complement Ajax CRV and DF versions perfectly. You could also fit a 120mm automatic mortar without an issue.

      We’re presently buying 587 Ajax. For a full Ajax based Division we would need 942 to have 9 x IFV battalions plus 3 x CRV regiments.

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      1. Given that the UK is only buying 587 Ajax, I suppose I can see some logic in spreading them around in mixed brigades.

        I haven’t looked in detail at the battalion structures, but a US SBCT needs around 330 Strykers. So the UK won’t have enough Ajax for two SBCT-sized brigades.

        So it probably doesn’t make sense to concentrate them in a single Ajax-pure brigade, given the numbers and variants bought.

        Maybe instead, the UK could just create a number of battalion-sized task forces/battle groups with them instead?

        The 1,500-2,000 man battle group seems to be en vogue in Europe these days anyway.

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      2. I fear the Strike brigade will end up as lackluster. Not only does the brigade need to get from A to B swiftly but also fight and survive. Mixing wheels and tracks in same brigades manuever battalion doesn’t add up in my book and the artillery component will probably be far and few apart. Apart from these two points the Strike brigade holds keys to being powerfull formation. My main concern again is the artillery and only two battalions with superior on-road speed and endurance.

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  9. @jedpc

    A good idea for an article “how we could use the currently ordered numbers of Ajax to create an RSG type formation”. I hope you can get it polished and published, as you put it. I have come across your articles/comments before – always sensible and perceptive.

    @Gabriele

    Something I forgot to ask about in my previous comments is where the potential UK Strike Brigades are likely to be based. I ask because I am intrigued by how we plan to deal with the English Channel. If they are to be based in a “forward” position, somewhere on the Continent, then that solves the problem but, if in the UK, then a considerable obstacle raises its head, does it not? I understand that the essence of the Strike Brigade concept is speed. They are very rapid reaction forces. Would there have to be special ferries (or “Points”) at Dover or wherever to carry them over the “22-mile Ditch” or what ? Would such ships always be available, unless dedicated ones on stand-by? To me this carries the risk of slowing down the deployment of a Strike Brigade considerably.

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    1. The Channel Tunnel exists. While you’d not be able to fit Ajax or MIV into the normal freight cars, you could get a train of low loader cars. Although if you’ve got the vehicles on rail freight, you can probably get them most of the way to where they need to go while you’re at it.

      Or it might be possible to get stripped-down vehicles into the standard cars by ignoring some of the usual precautions.

      Or you could pirate a regular ferry. It’s not like the UK doesn’t have form or there aren’t generally a ferry or few in ports at each end. (although piracy is going back some).

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  10. Nice hearing from you again , Mr. Fred. Yes, I had overlooked the cross-Channel rail service. I suppose I have got used to seeing armoured vehicles being loaded onto ferries or ships operating out of Marchwood (the latter in the old days anyway). As you say, the main difficulty would seem to be fitting AFVs into the normal freight cars. If a full brigade deployed it would have a hell of a lot of fairly heavy kit. You mention low loaders and I suppose they might provide some of the answers.

    “Although if you’ve got the vehicles on rail freight, you can probably get them most of the way to where they need to go while you’re at it.” True. A lot of transport of military kit takes place by rail on the Continent. Didn’t elements of the UK-led Battlegroup in Estonia deploy by rail or have I got that wrong?

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  11. But the issue of fires is still not addressed in MacGregor’s RSG. Dispensing with 155mm Paladin’s and hoping TALES or 120mm AMOS is adequate. Yet if TALES is airborne, it is detectable. and there will likely be AA systems at work e.g. Tunguska 2K22, Pantsir, etc.

    And the 120mm AMOS won’t have the range for counterbattery fires. What is to stop a peer enemy with long range MLRS and 152mm or 155mm batteries from parking outside the RSG’s organic fires range, under the safety of AA, and firing volley after volley of ICM-DP rounds?

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    1. …And I am not sure wheeled 155mm artillery like Caesar or Archer is the answer either. Though highly mobile, it doesn’t have sufficient protection for the crew who operate such systems dismounted. They take time to mount and dismount and when targeted by counter-artillery bombardment, they will be vulnerable. So a protected turret is required, like a standard SPG.

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      1. Yes. 12 MLRS, which are painstaking to reload and will be the first thing enemy counter-battery fire will target.

        Let’s say, for example, that the peer rival is Russia and it invades the Baltics. What artillery assets would a Russian Corps or Army bring to such an effort? And considering the technology the Russian employ for counter-battery (radar, acoustic, UAV recon), how long do 12 MLRS last?

        And if the Russians are using ICM-DP and the RGS isn’t?

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      2. Paralus,

        Short of tactical nuclear weapons, nothing is going to even the odds between a brigade-sized RSG and a Russian Corps or Army. Even massive airpower probably couldn’t stop a determined multi-division assault on a lowly brigade before it was too late.

        MLRS can shoot-n-scoot, and it takes less time for them to fire off a useful salvo than tube artillery. But yes, it is an incomplete solution.

        I’d vote for tube artillery as well. An Ajax-ified Donar probably makes the most sense for a UK brigade, since it’s already based on the ASCOD chassis.

        An Exactor/Ajax variant would be a nice addition for AT units, though its susceptibility to jamming is unclear.

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  12. @UK Land Power

    You say:

    ““…And I am not sure wheeled 155mm artillery like Caesar or Archer is the answer either. Though highly mobile, it doesn’t have sufficient protection for the crew who operate such systems dismounted.”

    If you feel that the vehicles being touted at the moment for the wheeled artillery roles (presumably in Strike Brigades) are insufficiently armoured, I was wondering whether the British Army could do worse than look at the South African G6 wheeled howitzers . I’m not an expert in this field but I remember reading about them some time ago. They were developed for the border wars several decades ago and are capable of being deployed over long distances by road (hence wheeled rather than tracked) without burning too much fuel. They are generally held to be among the most mobile howitzers in service anywhere (they would not require transporters). They are also quite fast (55 mph approx.) and they are, and this is also important, mine-resistant and blastproof and are turreted. By the way, there is also a specialist anti-aircraft version export version fitted with the British Marksman turret. It the Army needs good wheeled howitzers for the Strike Brigades, they would surely be strong candidates, wouldn’t they?

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    1. Yes. The G6 wheeled howitzer is exactly the sort of thing we need. Such a platform is needed not only to mount a 155mm howitzer, but MLRS, Precision Fires, and SHORAD. It could also provide a support platform for UAV units. The Tatra and MAN 8×8 truck platforms also very good.

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      1. Why would you need to reinvent the wheel? Just go with Himars, no wonder UK is broke wanting to UK-ify everything. Those would hardly be bought in quantities to justify common plattform.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Doing things this way ” the formation based in Europe, are being given a substantial uplift in firepower with adoption of Javelin under-armour capability for half of the vehicles and unmanned gun turrets with 30mm cannons for the other half ” suddenly dilutes the dilemma about across how many vehicles should a platoon (even a squad/ section) be split. While abstracting away from the Boxer being much ‘roomier’ than a Warrior with the new turret, one can appreciate a platoon having a fire support vehicle for each ‘flank’ and two more, v mobile assets to bring to a point where support for dealing with OpFor ‘ heavies’ has unexpectedly arisen.

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  14. Allow me to play the Devil’s advocate on this one: ” The Strike Brigade as currently envisioned will have capabilities far inferior to those of an ACR or RSSG and seems to be seen, at least in complex scenarios, as merely a component of a larger, division-level package. The British Army in this appears to be agreeing with US critics, who do not want to overload brigade-level formations.”
    – is it just our own version of “one and a half”wars?
    – even if the complex scenario has kicked in (so our one and only division is in the process of being deployed), we would still have ‘ the other’ Strike Bde to deploy (quickly) to another geography – whether that geography is part of the same theater, or seemingly unrelated

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  15. Without subscribing to McGregor’s concept (while acknowledging like Gaby does that it comes closest to what we can understand of the Strike Bde concept) , is it any wonder, considering

    “[In a] contested battlespace with no real rear echelon[.] The four battalions move and fight in an imaginary box with sides of 60 to 80 km, with their ISR and Fires support in the middle.”

    that we would also need the new version of GMLRS (or Himars, for that matter) that comes at half (!) price and double (!!) the range?
    – with the current version, them sitting in the middle and OpFor artillery ‘touching’ the sides of The Box at their [max] range, the combined distance would max out the available range

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  16. about the Puma, the RSSG proponents replied that it was merely a stand-in for a similar concept vehicle to be developed by the US Army.
    – as I am *really late* to this party, may I point out that the contributor ‘Halidon’ on UK Defence Forum has just provided an excellent update as to what is currently in the running for this
    – won’t put in a link (so as not to breach any rules around here!)

    Like

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