A guest post by Jed C. that explores how we can enhance the Army’s capabilities while reconciling a shrinking budget with a “Maritime First” view of UK Defence.
01 – Need for short-term savings and to prioritise the Royal Navy
02 – Reconfiguring the Army within current constraints
03 – Concept of a UK Reconnaissance Strike Group (RSG)
04 – Summary
01 – Need for short-term savings and to prioritise the Royal Navy
With the impending threat of a “defence adjustments” which is MoD-speak for a fresh round of cuts, it may be useful to consider a practical way forward for UK Land Power, so that we emerge from them with only a slightly smaller, but better equipped army.
In an increasingly unstable world, the defence and security budget needs a long-term view so that the budget and investment in key capabilities grow as our needs evolve. We should set the defence budget for the next 5 years, in law if necessary. In the short-term, however, it appears that we do need to make savings; but we need to avoid false economies and recognise that there are a few things we cannot cut. So, let’s address the elephant in the room early, I take a “maritime first” view of UK defence and security strategy. This means I would reduce the RAF and Army headcount to increase the number of sailors in the Royal Navy, so that it can fully crew the ships it has – all of them, including many “mothballed” vessels. However, I would also hand-over River Class patrol vessels to the RFA allowing Merchant Navy manning, to act as a “Coast Guard”.
Respected blogger and commentator, “Think Defence,” has demanded a “grown-up” debate on the fate of the Royal Navy’s Amphibious capability and possible cuts to the Royal Marines. Many people seem to agree that 3 Commando Brigade is an elite, highly-trained and capable force, so cutting it would be senseless act. It might be preferable to cut three regular infantry battalions instead and then to transfer the three battalion-size “Commandos” of 3 Brigade Royal Marines to the Army. Making the Royal Marines part of the Army would be anathema to some, but Fleet protection, Landing Craft squadrons etc. would remain part of the Navy and its budget. Ultimately, if this split is the only way to retain a highly specialist and world class capability, so be it.
As for the Amphibious vessels, it is worth noting that, according to a report released in October 2017, the last time atmospheric CO2 was this high, the world was on average 2o C warmer, and the sea level was 10m higher than it is today. If the hurricane season we have just had is indicative of climate change, and likely to be repeated, perhaps most of us would agree that the DfID international aid budget could justifiably be used to pay for the Royal Navy’s amphibious capability, due to the dual-use potential they offer. We need the RN to be fully manned, to avoid cuts to RM numbers, and to retain our amphibious ships. This being the case, what would we need to give up instead? I would quite happily surrender the F-35 and maintain the carriers as the world’s largest helicopter carriers. Secondly, and I know this would not be popular with many readers, but I question the real value of CASD and the new SSBNs.
For the RAF, I would also give up the idea of the F-35. It just does not make sense when you analyse the benefit versus the costs. Instead, we should acquire more Typhoons with all the bells and whistles, buy a UCAV, such as Taranis, and then start experimenting with manned/ unmanned pairing. We should also cut the E3 Sentry AWACS while either the US or NATO allies might still buy them to shore up their existing fleets. We should also consider axing the Red Arrows – because this will really focus public attention on the defence debate
02 – Reconfiguring the Army within current constraints
Given the above savings as a “strategic context,” we can progress to the substance of this piece; how do we regenerate the Army so that it can fulfil its roles and requirements, so that we can recruit sufficient personnel and so that morale is restored?
Think Defence has written extensively on the debacle that has been our doctrine development, strategic direction and procurement nightmares in the form of medium capabilities, wheeled and tracked, from MRAV to FRES etc. However, let’s just take stock of where we are now:
- An under-funded project to upgrade a very small number of MBTs, which will no doubt turn out to be more expensive than planned
- A project to upgrade less than half of our existing number of Infantry Fighting Vehicles (Warrior) with a new turret, and other bits and bobs. The programme is over budget and behind schedule
- FV432 series vehicles that are older than my Dad, well, almost, but they are old…..
- An order for a “medium weight” tracked recce “tank” family (FRES Scout) that was designed to fight for information as part of an armoured brigade in a mechanized or armoured division, which now appears destined to provide fire support to wheeled mechanized infantry brigades
- A small number of lightly armed scout helicopters (Wildcat), a reasonable amount of attack helicopters (Apache AH-64E), and a good amount of medium support helicopters (Chinook CH-47)
- An armoured vehicle fleet that includes dozens of UOR types taken into core
- An un-funded project (?) for a wheeled MIV – Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (8×8 APC)
- An un-funded (?) project for two types of MRVP – Multi-Role Vehicle Protected (4×4 and 6×6)
- Vastly reduced artillery capabilities – short-barrelled AS90 155 SPG and 105mm Light gun, no MLRS rocket launcher to replace the original bomblet dispensing “grid square removers” and no gun or rocket delivered precision rounds or anti-armour top attack rounds
- Woefully inadequate organic, integrated air defence
Does that seem bad enough and accurate to everyone? There are other deficiencies too. Less equipment centric, but no less indictable. Let’s not forget the bizarre doctrine that mixes wheels and tracks in new the “Strike Brigade” concept and “Special Purpose” infantry battalions, which are really no more than under-strength units.
So, given this context, what can we do to move forward, especially as Her Majesty’s Government is keen to identify further savings? I would suggest that we have to figure out a better way to use what we have, what we have on order, and not to further paint ourselves into some kind of doctrinal corner or create some other unworkable fudge, based on what it the budget allows us to do, rather than being guided by what we genuinely need to achieve strategically.
Part of the problem is that we cut by salami-slicing and not by dropping capabilities, even if they no longer make much sense. For example, we have projects to upgrade vastly reduced numbers of Challenger 2 MBTs and Warrior IFVs, but is the reality that these capabilities may no longer be relevant to our overall defence priorities. Heavy armour ideally needs to be positioned near its area of operational deployment. Long road marches on low loaders are vulnerable to attack before heavy tracked units reach their deployment area. So, let me be a little contentious and paint a picture of what we can do, with what we have, without the ridiculous proposition of a Strike Brigade that mixes wheeled APC’s with tracked “medium armour” while only having a 40mm cannon.
03 – Concept of a UK Reconnaissance Strike Group (RSG)
In his recent article, our Italian friend Gabriele, detailed US Army doctrinal experiments and the idea of the Reconnaissance Strike Group and the derivate Reconnaissance Security Strike Group. In many ways the UK’s new Ajax combat reconnaissance vehicle (CRV) family is the ideal platform to create a UK RSG. It is highly mobile, well protected and has the potent new 40mmm CTAI cannon. My proposal is that given the large number of Ajax variants already on order, we could:
- Adjust the type and quantity of variants already ordered
- Add a number of additional variants
- Cancel Challenger 2 LEP & Warrior CSP upgrade programmes – removing them from the inventory would also eliminate further support costs
- Use the CR2 and WCSP budgets to fund additional Ajax vehicle purchase.
A UK RSG type formation, or Armoured Reconnaissance Brigade, could be based in Southern Poland (outside of missile range from the Kaliningrad enclave). It would be a major part of the UK’s contribution to NATO collective defence. It would substitute British Forces Germany (BFG) with British Forces Poland (BFP) while being a valid response to the strategic / tactical conundrum of having medium / heavy tracked vehicles close to where they are needed. With a perceived Russian threat to the Baltic states leading to the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroups in Poland and each of the Baltic states, including the UK led multi-national battle group in Estonia, this could be a credible long-term initiative that would enhance the UK’s long-term commitment to NATO.
I envisage a UK version of the RSG/RSSG as having four Ajax-equipped Armoured Reconnaissance Regiments, or Recce-Strike Regiments (RSR) as the main element, supported by Armoured Infantry Battalions, Armoured Combat Engineer Regiment, Royal Artillery regiments, Signals Regiment and combat service and support units as required.
The existing order numbers for Ajax family variants are detailed in this post by Think Defence. There would be enough 40mm CTA cannon-armed variants to form the back bone of the four RSR’s with 3 of these being the RSG/ARB in Poland, and one in the UK as a training regiment.
Each RSR would have:
- HQ Squadron – 4 Athena C2,
- 3 x Sabre Squadrons – 14 Ajax Scout and 2 Athena C2 vehicles in each
- ISR Squadron – 6 Ajax Joint Fire Control, 6 Ajax Ground Based Surveillance, 6 Ares APC with Desert Hawk UAV teams
- Support Squadron – 6 Argus Engineer Recce, 6 Atlas armoured recovery, 6 Apollo armoured repair
With three RSR’s in Poland, on a one-in-three duty cycle, one would be on training, one on advanced training/ high readiness, and one would be the high readiness regiment, providing three company-sized recce battle groups, a mini-RSSG in effect. With enough warning, the idea would be to field the whole brigade as a full-on RSSG as part of a Polish division.
There would be enough Argus, Atlas and Apollo, plus Terrier and Trojan vehicles for a well equipped Armoured Combat Engineer regiment to support the RSR’s.
Of course, the “strike” part of the US RSG / RSSG concepts are heavy “fires”, provided by large numbers of organic 120mm mortars and MLRS. We could certainly maximize our remaining MLRS launchers into an 18-launcher regiment, with 3 batteries of 6 launchers on the one-in-three readiness cycle. A 120mm mortar version of Ares would be great, but we don’t have those on order, but what we do have is our short barrelled 155mm AS90 self propelled guns. A large close support regiment with 32 guns could provide 3 batteries of 12, again on a one-in-three duty cycle, with a troop of 4 supporting the battle group. Finally, a similar close air defence capability would be provided by regiment equipped with StarStreak on Stormer.
So what is missing? To have a single family of armoured vehicles providing commonality benefits, we really need a proper anti-armour over-watch version of the Ares, plus an armoured ambulance version. Most important, I would like to see us invest in an APC version of Ares to equip 4 armoured infantry battalions, as this is the missing part of the RSG / ARB. Based on the same one-in-three duty cycle in Poland, and with one training regiment in the UK, each would supply an armoured infantry company to the recce battle group, providing close infantry support. To keep costs down, I would make these RWS armed APC’s rather than 40mm CTA armed IFV’s. The key question is, would funds diverted from not upgrading 380 Warriors pay for an extra 150-ish Ares? Of course, being totally strapped for cash means we might configure this as one large battalion with four rifle companies, plus a training company. This too would operate on a one-in-three rotation, providing an armoured infantry platoon to support of each Saber squadron battle group. Less than ideal, but it allows us to operate within budgetary constraints.
The lack of anti-armour capability would initially have to be addressed by half of the Ajax versions having the RWS with Javelin fitted. However, I would like to see the development of something akin to the old Alvis Striker variant of CVR(T) with a raising / pop up launcher for the new MMP ATGW.
Javelin on a Konsberg Protector RWS as fitted to both Ares and on the turret of Ajax variants.
There are other forms of indirect fire anti-armour capability we can invest in of course. We could use some of the M270 chassis used for the MLRS and mount the new US Army Multi-Mission Launcher (MML) which puts 12 cells on a MLRS derived frame. So, 12 Brimstone in MMW autonomous guidance mode fired from maybe as far as 20 miles out, would be highly effective at spoiling an enemy armour formation’s day, multiply that by 4 launchers in a troop and it seems a very cost-effective way to deal with enemy armour at range, especially in a contested anti-air environment, where Apaches and Typhoons may not be able to roam at will.
Of course, if you really want direct fire, then an APFSDS round still appears to be a more challenging proposition for active defence systems to intercept than an ATGM, so perhaps the Challenger 2 upgrade program funds could be used instead to put a turret on the Ajax chassis – COTS options exist, like the CMI Defence XC8 with a 120mm high velocity smooth bore gun. This would be no MBT replacement, but would in fact be more of a mobile anti-tank gun. The same turret could be used on a direct fire MIV variant for greater commonality. An active defence system like the IBD – Rheinmetall Active Defence System would be a good idea for a vehicle with this level of passive armour.
04 – Summary
The main questions remain funding ones. Would dropping an MBT from our inventory and saving the upgrade programme costs, plus cutting the Warrior upgrade program save enough to buy additional Ares APC’s to fill out a full RSG type Armoured Recce Brigade?
Would we still have enough money to equip three brigades, each with three infantry battalions plus a cavalry regiment with an 8×8 MIV? The turrets we have already contracted for with Lockheed for Warrior could be used with MIV, so that would not be wasted money. We still need a wheeled 155mm SPG, HIMARS and wheeled SHORAD solution for fully capable mechanised infantry brigades, plus wheeled combat engineer plant.
However, taking the very capable Ajax family, concentrating all vehicles together with existing assets like MLRS, AS90, Terrier and Trojan to have a medium weight tracked capability based close to where it would be needed makes sense. It would allow the UK to fulfil our commitment to the collective defence of the NATO alliance, would be more sensible than the mixed tracks and wheels Strike Brigade concept. Of course, I realize getting out of the heavy MBT game would be a blow to some people, but while a dozen or more regiments of Chieftain, Challenger and then Challenger 2 made sense when we had an entire Corps in continental Europe, does it make sense to retain this capability given our budgetary constraints and our defence priorities? An RSG based in Poland could be part of a Polish division with Leopard 2’s, and it could even have a regiment of PT91 Twardy attached under Opcon. At around 45 tonnes, is closer in weight to the Ajax family of vehicles with similar mobility support needs.
The rest of the Army’s fighting power would reside in the three mechanised infantry brigades equipped with an 8×8 MIV, and with light formations, including 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade, which amounts to six combat brigades in total, comparable to what France or Italy have. Such a structure seems modest and realistic. Also it should not be too expensive to acquire?
If we are to look at “iron triangle” from a few steps back and apply it to formation scale we see the british and many other continental European armies lacking in the firepower section. Mobility has been hotness for sometime and protection has people going nuts over V-shaped hull and RPG nets. We need to look at our suspected foe and their artillery park. In military planning having over three times the artillery power means you’ll win if you don’t fuck up elsewhere providing the artillery in comparable. Having comparable numbers and quality means others things start to have bigger meaning, having 4-6 times less artillery means no matter how good your grounds troops are you’ll likely face defeat. In terms of artillery and counter artillery capabilities american ABCT and russian mechanized infantry brigade are similar in quality but russians have three times the numbers. This number is applicable to almost every organization level above and including brigade.
For defensive purposes enough artillery, excellent capability to dig down and slow down the enemy would be imperative, on the offence artillery and mobility overmatch need to be achieved. In my opinion RSG would need to be artillery regiment on steroids supported by infantry. Say three battalions of MIV/AJAX mounted infantry each supported by AS90 battalion of 12 guns and brigade level artillery battalion of 12 AS90 and 6 MLRS. Even then we would be on par with russian mechanized brigade, 48+6 versus 36+18 and not forgetting what demise the Oslo treaty has brought upon us by banning bomblets.
You make a very important point. We seem to forgotten how important artillery still is. The UK urgently needs a 155/52 mm howitzer, something like the PxH 2000, K9 or Paladin or proposed upgrade to our AS90 Braveheart.
In any event, I wouldn’t want to deploy any Strike Brigade without its own integral artillery regiment. Assuming Jed’s RSG had 3x Infantry battalions with Ajax IFV with 27x 120mm mortars (9 tubes per battalion) plus a further regiment with the 120mm Griffin tank destroyer, supported by a 155mm artillery regiment with 36 guns, plus divisional level MLRS and precision fires, you’d be in good shape.
I’m also thinking about the structure. Since Strike brigade would be used as divisional recon asset and securing flanks it won’t be used as a brigade but more as battlegroups. Since the operational usage is this it would make sense to set up battlegroups from the beginning.
Absolutely agreed – artillery, queen of the battlefield, is what really does all the damage. I did say that this proposal was about mostly using the assets we already have, about grouping them together to be tactically useful. I gave the brigade 36 x 155mm guns, 18 x MLRS launchers, and 18 x MML (specifically for long range ATGW, but could be used for other purposes). If we could afford to add 120mm auto-mortar (NEMO on Ares) even better. Either way we need new rockets for the MLRS, but still I felt it was a decent concentration of fire power given all the budgetary indicators of more cuts to come !
Bit shocked Jed
No aircraft for our aircraft carriers, so don’t bother to arm the most powerful conventional weapon you can have.
But wait there’s more get rid of CASD the most powerful weapon you can have full stop!
Putin says shove of or I’ll I nuke you and we will say ok anything you say.
We no longer get to sit at the top table in global discussion as we are no longer a nuclear power.
I understand your points. If we can afford to put F35’s on the carriers do so. If we cannot then don’t. They can support the fleet with a better AEW platform, by investing in V22 for AEW and tanker support. They can carry Chinook and AH64, and ASW Merlin. So yes, they have great utility supporting surface ships or even subs that can throw TLAM at the enemy. If HMG want to increase spending to ensure a good force of F35 to fly from these decks, then even better.
On the CASD – I cannot understand what people do not get about Mutually Assured Destruction and the use of nuclear weapons. “Putin says shove off or I’ll nuke you and we will say OK” – hmmm really ? When was the last time global geopolitics rendered down to “shove off or we will nuke you” ? If your spitting SLBM’s with MIRV at the enemy, then its the end of the world, so why spend such a large amount of money that will hopefully never be used to contribute to the end of the world ? I have no probs with Typhoons carrying those nice French supersonic ASM’s with tactical nuclear warheads, or longer ranged nuclear armed cruise missiles. I just question the point at which a seat on the UN Security council (which everyone seems to think we will loose without CASD) is worth wrecking our conventional armed forces ???
In other words – deterrence works, so let’s stop using it.
Our most likely conventional enemies vastly overmatch us as it is. Both in population, in military might, including tactical nuclear weapons and in willingness to take casualties.
Yeah, let’s ditch CASD so we can stand up a bigger tripwire force.
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“We want to be heard, we want our position to be understood. But if that does not happen, we lift from ourselves any responsibility for the steps we take in response, because we are not the ones who are initating the arms race in Europe.”
“Mr Putin’s comments, in an interview with selected media from G8 countries at his dacha outside Moscow, appear calculated to inflict maximum panic among western leaders ahead of the G8 summit.”
Not going to fire them though because it would be MAD
To turn your comment on its head whats the point in getting rid of CASD just to get a fractionally larger army with some fan boy 8x8s that some people are desperate to have. What will this do for the UK? How would going to the expense of this be of any use considering the size of the ground forces Germany, US Poland can place. Surly bringing some thing to the party like CEPP that other don’t have would be of more use? Dont bother spending any more money on the Army until you have funded the air group for the carriers, after all the army have wheeled vehicles already they just don’t seem to like them
One big question I have is the future effectiveness of heavy MBT-level protection vs likely threats. The current generation of western MBTs have held up fairly well in Iraq and Afghanistan, when competently driven and led. And even though Israeli Merkavas took a beating in Lebanon a while back, it had more to do with tactics, training and leadership than material.
Iraqi-driven M1s haven’t done as well, but they’re Iraqi-driven.. YMMV.
Can medium armor do what MBTs currently can do? Even in “Cavalry-style” recon formations, with advanced sensors and so on, most recent US armored engagements have been so-called Movements to Contact, i.e. “you find the enemy when you run into them”. This places a significant emphasis on being able to take a hit and win the close fight.
Can medium armor do this? Do they have a reasonable chance to take a Kornet or RPG-29 hit and continue the fight?
What about once top-attack munitions become more widespread?
I’m skeptical of ditching MBTs entirely until it can be show that heavy armor lacks relevance in future combat.
Sure, they are harder to move. But Challengers still participated in Iraq.
You’ll want HETs to move Ajaxes via road over significant distances anyway.
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I am not sure your understanding my point. Updated Challenger 2’s would be great. Leopard 2 A7 would be better, diesel powered M1A3 would be really cool. I am not saying the MBT is dead, or does not have a use.
I am saying, given that HMG wants FURTHER cuts to the UK defence budget, we need to be more radical about prioritizing the budget we have. As part of that I believe my idea for an RSG “forward based” in Poland is a better answer than the current idea of “Strike Brigades” with a mixed tracked and wheeled composition. Hence the Ajax of an RSG might not need a ton of HET’s to move to their operational areas. Yes Challengers participated in Iraq / GW1 and 2 – but how many, how long did it take to get them there, and how much bigger was the army and its budget in even this recent history ?
So is a “medium” tank with 120mm gun on an APC chassis going to be awesome , quite probably not, is it going to be useful in a tactical context as a “mobile anti-tank gun” – maybe, but as we do not have the budget to have all the toys we want, we need to start thinking more radically.
Conforming to budget realities always demands sacrifice.
My point on MBTs was more philosophic, and germane to the broader discussion of “pure medium” forces in general (including UK Strike Brigades, US SBCTs, Macgregor’s RSG).
On Ajax vs Challenger operational movement, current UK heavy units include both Challengers and Warriors (medium tracked vehicles). If they’re like US heavy units, they load both MBTs AND IFVs on HETs for long, administrative road marches.
So I don’t see how you gain major strategic or operational deployability by omitting MBTs, but retaining large numbers of ~40t, tracked armored vehicle.
The real gain in “operational” deployability comes with wheels, where vehicles can make long road marches on their own.
For “strategic mobility” with heavy forces, the only real gain you can make is prepositioning the heavy stuff at or near where you expect to use it. At that point, it doesn’t matter much if it’s Challenger+Warrior or Ajax.
I would say that MBTs definitely still have a role, when they can be deployed or if they are forward-based in readiness. But an MBT that arrives too late to make a difference, is no use at all. With weight growth to 70+ tonnes, there are few bridges outside Germany (which US Engineers thoughtfully reinforced to cope with Abrams) that can handle such weight.
In any event, there are so many weapon systems designed to defeat tanks, that the utility of the extra weight they carry is a diminishing return. I’m not sure we would rely on 8x8s or Ajax vehicles as primary assets to destroy tanks, instead we would rely on fast air, attack helicopters and NLOS missiles.
I guess I have a hard time believing MBTs can’t be driven around most of Europe, with restrictions. Poland owns Leopard 2s. The US Army operated M1s in Kosovo and, to a lesser degree, in places like Lithuania.
If you divest MBTs completely, then there’s zero chance they’ll make it to the fight. If you keep them around, there’s at least the possibility, however difficult, they can contribute.
There are many weapons designed to defeat tanks, and they vary in their degree of success. However virtually all of them will be more successful at defeating medium armor than MBTs.
Looking at relevant, representative threats: Kornet, RPG-29, and 125mm APFSDS. All can be defeated by Challenger 2 across the frontal arc (with exceptions). None can be reliably defeated by Ajax (to my knowledge), in any aspect.
And as I said before, the theory that we can rely on ISR and standoff to defeat enemy tanks was not borne out in recent conflicts. Most encounters were still “Movements to Contact”, i.e. we didn’t know the enemy was there until the shooting started.
The expenses for making a tank 100% road-mobile with a cruise speed of 80 kph are about 300,000 €. You simply buy a commercial-type tank transporter with trailer. Used vehicles would be fine, for soft military motor vehicles move very little and rather succumb to corrosion than wear.
The only mobility problem of MBTs on tank transporters is the question of pontoon bridging load limits. The Polish pontoon bridges cannot support Challenger 2, Abrams or Leopard. The British pontoon bridge unit will be withdrawn from Germany soon.
The tank destroyer doctrine for the 21st century? I’m all for combined arms, but not having the ability for your front-line assets to combat enemy armour has shades of Shermans vs the German big cats.
Broadly speaking, can’t Challenger 2 go most places Ajax can?
Great article. I disagree with your proposal but they’re thought provoking. One thing irks and I have yet to get a satisfactory answer. Italy, Spain and Greece are all in much worse financial shape than the UK yet they’re able to maintain their forces (or appear to). Poland has a robust Army and they’re working on their Air Force. Turkey is expanding across the board.
SO why is the UK so hell bent on budget cuts? What are others doing that the UK isn’t? The UK was classed ahead of S. Korea and Japan (in my personal ratings) but if what is being discussed at the MoD and on these pages ever come to pass then you will fall way behind.
So I ask again. Why is this happening????
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That is a very good question. I would have to say its a lack of political will by all parties. There are simply not enough votes in defence, so no one puts any time into it, and no one wants to fund it. The current Conservative govt. is all about “austerity” and just sees defence as a place to make more cuts / savings. The Labour opposition is currently led by MP’s with a very dubious world view, and tenuous grasp of foreign policy, and many think they would be quite happy abolishing the forces completely !
Italy is a good use case to examine. Their army was about the same size as ours at the end of the cold war, their air force and navy were similar sized too. They have always spent less on defence, and yet they seem to have a coherent strategy, a coherent procurement policy and despite all the corruptions charges leveled at their government, they consistently seem to get more bang per buck than the UK does.!!
“Many people seem to agree that 3 Commando Brigade is an elite, highly-trained and capable force, so cutting it would be senseless act”
Not at all. Think about this; maybe those high quality infantrymen are missing in junior NCO roles in regular infantry units?
Sorry Sven, I don’t even understand the comment about high quality junior NCO’s missing from regular infantry units. What point are you trying to make exactly ?
” A concentration of talent in more or less few and small “special forces” has been criticised thoroughly, and in many countries so.* The regular infantry gets deprived of this talent (especially in regard to NCOs) and superiors lose confidence in regular infantry’s ability to conduct difficult missions. It has been observed that after a thorough inflation of USSOCOM and various SAS establishments superiors began to think of former normal infantry missions such as raiding, infiltration or snatching prisoners as missions only the special forces were capable of (or usable for in practice).
There was in the end likely no substantial net improvement of capabilities by forming or enlarging the special forces.”
OK Sven – got it based on your reply below. Well I suppose it depends on your definition of the term elite. The Royal Marines Commando’s go through a much longer training course than the average British infantry. Does that make them “elite” – well they would like to think so, but that is also based on who they are recruiting to do this enhanced training. So yes, in some countries the RM might be considered “special operations” but even so, it is hardly depriving the average foot regiment of “talent”. So I disagree that having 3 Commando’s / battalions of RM (and 3 of Para’s) is depriving 30 battalions of infantry of talented JNCO’s.
You have already read this post by Sven of the Defence and Freedom blog.
Jed, an imaginative and ingenious concept, which I enjoyed reading about.
I have several other questions which I intend asking in a future series of comments but I shall content myself with just one or two now.
I might have missed it but you appear not to have said anything about any possible air element in your plan for a UK RSG. Would you include squadrons of Apache or Wildcat helicopters, for instance. UK Land Power has already stated in the above exchange of view that he is “not sure we would rely on 8x8s or Ajax vehicles as primary assets to destroy tanks; instead we would rely on fast air, attack helicopters and NLOS missiles.”
The second question concerns the omission of MBTs from your line-up. Is it at all significant that the Dutch, having decided to withdraw and sell their MBTS, have now decided to lease Leopard 2 A6 tanks from the German Army to equip their tank battalion? (The Dutch 43rd Mechanised Brigade “will be officially integrated into the German 1st Panzer Division.”)
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Good questions. I missed army air out of the equation on purpose, but perhaps I should not have done. I do not agree with Nicholas that we can rely on fast air or Apaches. I think in any neer peer or peer-to-peer conflict our air dominance /air superiority is going to be a thing of the past. Hence the idea for MML batteries with ground launched Brimstone 2. If we could afford to add 120mm mortars, like NEMO on Ajax, then you can add IR guided top attack weapons like the Strix.
However, you can add as many of our new AH64E or Wildcat to the RSG mix as you like.
To your second point – is it significant that the Dutch realized they made a mistake . Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I am reacting to further potential defence cuts by saying lets just drop a capability to concentrate on something else, instead of constant salami slicing that leaves us with a whole bunch of hollowed out capabilities that have no resilience at all. As suggested, we would be providing a capability to the alliance, and in return perhaps one of our allies would add the MBT capability to this formation – does that make sense ?
Ones mistake is anothers fortune. Those 100 Leo 2A6s provide much more defence and deterrance in Finland than in Netherlands. Forward positioning gear can also happen covertly. During cold war Finland trained much more pilots than it needed and Sweden produced more planes than it needed. See where this is going?
Air dominance in modern warfare is a unicorn, everyone talks about it but no one has seen one. Peer war will see air power revert back to fighting for air control, CAS will be a distant memory from blastin’ mud huts in Iraq. Every military that is in the business of actually killing the enemy and not pointless policing and nation building keeps employing weapons designed to do so. AP mines, scatterable mines, cluster bombs, FAE weapons and such. Western nations and their politicians have done great job at giving possible enemies a head start.
About the RSG, I don’t think it nessecarily needs tanks provided it would be used with rest of the division and the AI brigades. I would concectrate all the tank in the AIs. Don’t make the same mistake that french did before and during WW2. Concentrate tanks and artillery, don’t disperse them. RSG/Strike is just a glorified recon regiment. Burning Ajax hulls will show where the enemy is for the tankers. Hey, that’s war so don’t get your knickers in a twist.
Hello again, Jed
Many thanks for your reply. Yes, the point about “salami slicing leaving us with hollowed-out capabilities that have no resilience at all” makes absolute sense and, as you say, “in return perhaps one of our allies would add the MBT capability to this formation” It makes in terms of the way in which it is expressed but that does not mean that I automatically agree with all of your solutions to our problems, though! (Perhaps I shall develop this in a later contribution.)
I also like the way in which you list the current deficiencies of the British Army in equipment and programmes. One or two of the phrases you use are truly incisive and tell it as it is e.g. “Let’s not forget the bizarre doctrine that mixes wheels and tracks in new the “Strike Brigade” concept and “Special Purpose” infantry battalions, which are really no more than under-strength units.”
There are a couple more questions I would like to ask. The first concerns a possible fire-support version of the AJAX. You mention the possibility of putting the CMI Defence XC8 with a 120mm high velocity smooth bore gun onto the vehicle to provide Direct Fire. This is not the same weapon as is fitted to the Griffin version based on the Ascod SV / Ajax hull, is it? I thought that was fitted with an American low-recoil force 120mm gun. And are both different again from the M8 Buford Light tank armament?
The second question concerns the replacement for the Bulldog. I agree about the age of this vehicle. They were just about to come into service in the early 1960s, when my father was just about to retire from the Army. Would the cancellation of the Challenger 2 LEP & Warrior CSP upgrade programmes really cover the replacement of these vehicles too? There are apparently over 800 of the Bulldog/FV432 vehicles left in service. Would you simply use turretless, upgraded Warriors to replace those as mortar carriers, ambulances etc. (the ABSV idea)?
Apologies for delays in getting back to you with responses to your questions !
1. The 120mm HV direct fire question
“This is not the same weapon as is fitted to the Griffin version based on the Ascod SV / Ajax hull, is it?”
No, that is an American cannon. I cannot remember exactly where CMI got the 120mm high velocity smooth bore for their prototypes, but I am pretty sure its from RUAG of Switzerland. I prefer the lighter CMI turret as the crew are pretty low down, and in a central citadel. Leaves more weight margin for adding active countermeasures.
2. Tracked Support
“The second question concerns the replacement for the Bulldog…..”. In my suggested plan we would get rid of upgraded Bulldog and Warrior – no ABSV, but buy additional Ajax / Ares variants for ambulances and mortar carriers. Other support roles would rely on variants of wheeled vehicles – MIV and MRV-P (heavy).
However tracked support vehicles are just another example of lack of holistic strategy – lets keep hundreds of 40 year old upgraded FV432, but sell off the 100 plus relatively new, flexible and highly effective Warthog (STK Bronco).
Jed, agree on the maritime focus to NATO commitments and expeditionary capability. My view is that we should have joint (USMC style) medium Commando units made up of RMs and Army units. MBTs should stay in the UK primarily focused on defence – no point sending an insignificant version of the BEF to Europe that would be a minor bump in the road for any attacking Russians.
I agree with Jed in that mbt upgrade budget is best used on ajax variants, unmanned automated turret systems. With popup ATAMs combined. Mobility is key and support of NATO in Poland or wherever is priority. But keep mbtC2 numbers maintained. Air superiority is also key for removing enemy mbt threat and artillery. Not Allways available far from home so missile variants of ajax highly important. Maybe cuts in other areas a better option. Unless we prefer pomp instead of punch. !!!!
Many thanks for your reply and don’t worry about it being late. I’m just grateful to have one at all.
Yes, at first I wondered a great deal about your proposal to cancel the Challenger 2 LEP and Warrior CSP upgrade programmes in order to use the CR2 and WCSP budgets to fund additional Ajax vehicle purchases. I wondered whether the savings from cancellation would provide enough purchasing power for your required new vehicles.
Then I took the trouble to look up the latest estimates for the cost of the two programmes. Now I might have got this entirely wrong but the latest estimates I can find are £744 million for the Challenger upgrade and £1.6 billion for the Warrior CSP. The total for the two is something in excess of £2.3 billion! Now you can buy one hell of a number of armoured fighting vehicles for that figure (in your case more AJAX and variants of AJAX).
The problem is that I can’t do the rest of the sums because I’ve no idea how much your variants are going to cost. Obvious a direct-fire variant fitted with a 120mm gun would cost a tremendous amount more than a simple APC but do you have any idea at all how much your proposed programme would cost in new vehicles? In any case has the stable door already been shut? A considerable amount of work has already been done on Warrior CSP, for instance.
One last point about the Warthog. You say, “let’s keep hundreds of 40 year old upgraded FV432, but sell off the 100 plus relatively new, flexible and highly effective Warthog”. There were certainly glowing reports coming back from the recent campaigns about the performance of that vehicle but more recently at least one opinion has been much less favourable, so I might have have got something else wrong. We certainly need to update out fleet – and urgently. Of that there is absolutely no question.
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With regards to the Warthog vs FV430 series, you can look at it another way: you have two fleets. One is a large fleet that has been in service for many years and is very simple. It has maintainers and maintainer training in place along with an established spares and logistics system. The other consists of a hundred or so new and more complex vehicles that have been procured as a UOR with minimal support and have been run into the ground. To keep them you have to jump through treasury hoops and pay to recreate the logistics, spares and training that you already have and buy sufficient new ones to totally supplant the fleet you are replacing. Which do you keep?
Fair points Mr Fred – have they been “run into the ground” ? I honestly don’t know . Did we not buy manufacturers support with them ? Have we not trained maintainers ??
“One is a large fleet that has been in service for many years and is very simple.” – way too many years, even if there are plenty of trained maintainers !
They were bought as a UOR, which means that there wouldn’t be a support contract beyond the operation they were procured for.
The 430 series is old, and in my mind should have been wholly replaced with Warrior variants while there was still a production line. Replacing it with a UOR fleet, however, would have required a great deal more funding than is immediately apparent.
Is this not really a round about way of finding a role for AJAX, in much the same manner as integrating them into Strike was?
If money is tight would it not be better to just reduce our heavy armour capability to one fully equipped brigade? as even with this concept you are retaining Trojan. If we moved Ajax back into the heavy brigade the ABSV requirement could be fulfilled by the excess Ajax hulls we will not require as turreted versions.
Yes, exactly, I am trying to fit the vehicle family (Ajax) to the requirements of the Army – as in the defence tasks we need to do, because I do not think it fits with wheeled vehicles in the “Strike brigade” as currently envisioned.
Where would you base the “one fully equipped armoured brigade” ? How will we pay for a good enough capability for the wheeled brigades if we continue to pay for Chally 2 upgrade, and then also pay an industrial penalty to GD for not buying all the turreted Ajax we have committed to in the contract ?
I am not particularly against your idea, although I was trying to break the status quo, whereas I see your idea as reinforcing it – but perhaps you could write an article to flesh it out a bit ?
When it comes to Strike I am in agreement that shoehorning Ajax into the formations is not ideal and would remove the platform if it was possible but to just create a new type of brigade to fit the vehicle rather than a new doctrine would also be a mistake. At the moment the armoured brigades are the most coherent brigades we have in terms of equipment, CS and CSS units and therefore the easiest to fix.
I have nothing against your view of cancelling our MBT’s but it needs to be done from having a true alternative capability and concept waiting in the wings or calculate risk and gap the capability to be reinstated later such as the MPA seedcorn (Dutch Leopards?) if it is still deemed a required capability.
We have not yet found that alternative and probably will not in the current situation of constantly going from one financial crisis to another. Some may argue that having no money drives innovation but in the case of the armed forces this is clearly not the case at the moment or maybe hasn’t been for the last decade at least. You need some money and spare capacity to test and develop your theories and sound practice should not be discarded to a hollow statement of ‘innovation’.
The current budget for the Warrior CSP project is for up to 380 Warriors (five variants) at a cost of £1352 million a rise of £40m and a delay of 12 months with an in service date of Jul 20.
Ajax has a budget of £5429 million a reduction of £50m and an in service date of Jan 20.
The Challenger upgrade budget is not listed in the 2016 report but if it is a similar cost to the Warrior upgrade would still be roughly half the budget of the Ajax project when combined with the warrior price tag for similar numbers in platforms.
For your RSG formations to work with diminished mass then I think a large uplift in areas such as ISTAR, EW, long range fires, logistics and counter mobility/mobility would be required. Granted in some of these capabilities an uplift is required anyway but with money so tight would spending a large proportion of our budget on more Ajax for the RSG be starving the wheeled strike brigades (with it’s emphasis on maneuverability at greater distances) of capability in these areas?
Perhaps reducing our heavy armour to a brigade and doubling down on the medium wheeled capability at the expense of light and heavy would benefit all with it’s capability overlaps that would be required to support an effort against a peer/near peer adversary and should be the way to go?
‘Where would you base the “one fully equipped armoured brigade” ?’
I would keep them in Germany if it was possible. we have not yet fully removed ourselves from there and contracts and infrastructure are already in place to build back up slightly if required. You have more room to maneuver from the center of Europe to any front ( back if needs be) in Germany than from Poland.
And the logistics requirements of the RSG would be very similar in terms of movement to a UK armoured brigade.
‘How will we pay for a good enough capability for the wheeled brigades if we continue to pay for Chally 2 upgrade, and then also pay an industrial penalty to GD for not buying all the turreted Ajax we have committed to in the contract ?’
Some money could be saved by reducing the scope of the Chally 2 upgrade especially in numbers if we revert to one brigade, possibly scrap altogether and lease if the numbers and availability are favourable in that direction? Look at Warrior numbers and see if we could replace all the Bulldog variants within the brigade with cancellation of an AI btn’s worth of IFV by re scoping the project?
If we needed to ‘compensate’ GD for not completing our order then, could we not look at gifting them the MRV(P) contract with the Eagle 6×6 s? or re hull AS90 onto Ajax for commonality etc. Or we could just build them and transfer to the reserves (so we actually start getting a true reserve capability)?
Is 16 AAB as constituted fir for purpose should we be looking at savings there and other light role formations to pay for strike? Is Wildcat a sound investment? Should we dispense with Army rotary altogether?
Any way these are just a few incoherent thoughts.
NB I think the spec inf btns are a good idea and a natural evolution from what we have learned from our recent ops and what we are still doing now in Iraq and afghan, as long as they are properly funded and supported they should prove a worthwhile capability.
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Hi Jed, I saw above that you mentioned V-22 in a tanking role for the carrier on a wishlist. I put an FoI in about tanking based on something somebody from Airbus mentioned to me at RIAT regarding the Atlas, and the response was that “the MOD must purchase AAR for UK fixed wing aircraft exclusively from Air Tanker or be liable to pay compensation”. Presumably this would preclude a V-22 being used to tank the F-35.
The full response can be found here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/427117/response/1056648/attach/4/20171020%20FOI2017%2009062%20Air%20Tanker%20FOI.pdf?cookie_passthrough=1
David – thanks for the comprehensive response ! We can agree to disagree on the details, and especially on the “Spec Inf Bttln’s” – just a way to use a “battalion” that you cannot fully man, and do not want to disband, because of all the trouble that would cause !
Chris – thanks for the link – you would have thought any such contracting language in the PPP train wreck that is “Air Tanker” might have had a proviso for naval ops ? Maybe not, I suggest the MOD fire it’s lawyers…… 🙂
First off, great article, more is needed on this subject if only to bring it more into the public domain.
I will apologise in advance for any grammatical errors, spelling issues and forum faux pas as this is getting bashed out quick time as I’m on the clock.
Just a few points to kick the wasps nest a little.
I would probably push for a few more command variants in the HQ Sqn to allow for a more comprehensive battlegroup step up, DF linked to 152mm is getting better.
Each Sqn will need its own REME support elements because of their dispersed nature, so a recovery and repair asset in each rather than in one supports Sqn, same goes for engineer assets, they need to be right up front ready to poke river beds at short notice.
The Sqns need organic anti tank and chaps on black taxis, so throwing in 8 Inf variants per Sqn will allow a better freedom of manoeuvre without having to wait for outside call signs to turn up. I understand in an ideal world we would have an over watch AT variant attached but until then its young lads with a Jav on their back.
I get the idea of strike, I have seen it done well and can see why it is relevant to us floating off the French coast on our little island, but!…. If you are going to “do” strike then it needs to be done properly, all on wheels, ideally the same platform and in the right numbers. As of yet what strike capable platforms to we operate? Ajax? Well that is open to debate, the label on the tin says yes but until we get to play with them properly we just don’t know. All the UOR vehicles are out as support is a nightmare and they lack firepower and critical mass. MIV is a PowerPoint, Jackal can pull it off but is a tad light. So basically we will be creating strike from scratch, purchasing an entire new fleet of vehicles and scrapping the old fleet to cover the cost, a bloody big ask.
Go big or go home, fully commit to strike or don’t commit at all, fully commit to Heavy or again not at all, there are no half way houses, no “Diet” Strike or “light” heavy, to fudge ether is just pissing the pounds away.
I have kicked the nest, now I’m going to poke with a stick. Let’s be realistic, the biggest threat is not Vlads tanks in Poland, it’s his subs in the Atlantic and bombers in the north. If we are unable to commit properly to the land domain then let’s stop pretending we have and concentrate on what we do well. Reduce the Army to 50k, scrap CR2,WR,Nasty and create a handful of brigades based on Ajax (cheque has already been cashed). With the billions saved pump the cash into Tiffy B3+, JSF,P8, properly fund the Navy and get our heads back into the sub hunting game.
I eagerly await your return fire, targets up.
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BV Buster – if your still out their checking back, I apologize for not picking up on your comment earlier !
I personally have no problem with your “go big or go home” statements. Pick something and do it well and properly! However MP’s and the HMG will be swayed in their decisions by retired Colonel’s who cannot see past Matelot’s being given all the money, and their regiment being disbanded. So while I don’t see it happening, you will receive no incoming on your proposals from me.
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Interesting to re-read this in the context of Future Soldier and the Deep Reconnaissance Strike brigade.