UK Strike Brigade Update

By Nicholas Drummond

The British Army’s Strike Concept is one of the cornerstones of its regeneration plan. Very little has been officially announced, but it is possible to build a picture from the snippets of information that have been released.

Boxer-Afghanistan

Contents

01  Army 2025 Plan

02  Strike Brigade concept

03  Ajax and Boxer

04  Equipment concerns 

01  Army 2025 Plan

It is no secret that the Army has suffered the most from cuts made to UK Armed Forces since 2010. It’s 5,000 troops short of the headcount cap, recruitment is unable to keep-up with an exodus of experienced soldiers, and its combat vehicle fleet is approaching a cliff-edge of block obsolescence. Meanwhile, it remains committed to operational deployments in Estonia, Afghanistan and elsewhere that further suck resources and manpower.

The good news is that Gavin Williamson, Britain’s new Minister of Defence, understands the issues and is committed to getting additional defence funding from the Treasury. With General Sir Nick Carter promoted to CDS, General Mark Carleton-Smith as CGS and Lt General Patrick Sanders as Commander Field Army, the Army has rarely had such a strong leadership line-up. All are conscious of the need for renewal. 

By 2020, the Army’s equipment plan will have begun a process of regeneration. We will start to see big changes to the Army’s structure and equipment that will transform its combat capability. The 3rd (UK) Division will have two Armoured Infantry brigades. Each is expected to have a single Challenger 2 MBT armoured regiment, plus two Warrior IFV armoured infantry battalions. It is planned to upgrade both Challenger and Warrior, although the increased costs of the latter may have put the programme in jeopardy. (Should Warrior CSP be axed for any reason, there are plenty of alternative IFV solutions including the Ajax IFV variant, the Hagglunds CV90, Rheinmetall Lynx, or even an 8×8 wheeled option.)

Battle Groups within each Armoured Infantry brigade will be supported by an AS90 155mm artillery regiment, an armoured engineer regiment and a signals squadron. The Challenger 2 Life-Extension Programme is underway. While it would be good if it could include a new turret with the Rheinmetall L/55 120mm smoothbore, the existing rifled gun is still a potent weapon. With the upgraded Warrior mounting the 40mm CT cannon, armoured infantry units will have significantly greater firepower than ever before. Having seen the 40mm CT turrets developed by Lockheed Martin, both are remarkable in terms of ergonomics, managing the cognitive burden, comfort and protection. Their best feature is that they isolate the crew from the ammunition, reducing the risk of fire should the vehicle be penetrated. Overall, both Challenger and Warrior programmes represent a clever and careful application of limited funds. 

The 3rd (UK) Division’s two Armoured Infantry brigades will be complemented by two new Strike brigades. Each is expected to have two Ajax CRV armoured reconnaissance / direct fire support regiments, plus two Boxer mechanised infantry battalions. Each brigade will be supported by a L118 105mm towed light gun artillery regiment, an engineer regiment, and a signals squadron. Ajax CRVs will also mount the same 40mm CT cannon fitted to Warrior. While Strike units will lack the punch of 120mm tank guns, they will make-up for it with mobility. 

Divisional capabilities will include air defence (Stormer / Starstreak HVM and Sky Sabre / CAMM Land Ceptor), GMLRS, STA and UAS assets. This structure gives 3rd (UK) Division four brigades. With the addition of 16 Air Assault Brigade supported by Apache attack helicopters, the Army will have a total of five deployable brigades with each having  4,000-5,000 soldiers. 

It is possible that the Army will revert to the 1998 Strategic Defence Review plan that envisioned two deployable divisions plus the Air Assault Brigade. This would give the Army a total of seven deployable brigades, i.e. three AI, three Strike and one air assault. While it remains to be seen if additional funding will enable this, the structure currently emerging will do much to reverse the Army’s decline.  

02  Strike Brigade Concept

The British Army Strike concept is a new and largely untested tactical doctrine. Although it incorporates many of the operating principles that underpin the US Army’s medium weight forces, there has been only limited formal communication that defines the UK approach. Various buzzwords, such as “an enabler of divisional manoeuvre” are used to describe our thinking, but they do not yet provide an overarching explanation of how Strike works in practice. This is hardly surprising, because the doctrine is not yet fully formed. In the absence of concrete fact, there has been much conjecture about what Strike will be or needs to be. This has resulted in misunderstanding, misinformation and confusion. Making matters worse, when Strike is objectively analysed, inevitably there are questions and concerns that need to be addressed.

The primary misconception is that many serving soldiers do not understand how capable wheeled armoured vehicles have become off-road. Between 1998 and 2002, when the US Army first adopted GD’s wheeled LAV III to replace its fleet of ancient M113 APCs in mechanised infantry brigades, many people believed that 8×8 platforms were only adopted because they were less expensive than legacy tracked vehicles. This view ignored the extraordinary success the USMC had achieved with the LAV-25 in Panama, Grenada, Operation Desert Storm, and during other deployments between 1982 and 1998. It provided an unprecedented combination of on-road and off-road mobility. Indeed, the MOWAG LAV-25 was chosen over the Alvis CVR(T) Scimitar and Spartan.

Initially, 1st generation 8×8 vehicles had low power to weight ratios, one- or two-axle steering, and crude torsion bar suspensions, which gave them only limited off-road mobility. Today, the latest 3rd generation platforms have higher power-to-weight ratios, three-axle steering, fully independent, all-round, double wishbone suspensions, hydro pneumatic struts, and advanced tyres, to deliver a step-change in cross-country performance.

The evolution of 8×8 vehicles based on combat experience in Afghanistan has seen their survivability increase. Vehicles like Boxer, Patria AMV, Piranha 5 and VBCI are all as well if not better protected than most legacy tracked IFVs. Their speed and agility, off-road and on- road, has improved despite weight growth to more than 30 tonnes.

In the UK, few soldiers have any experience of medium weight wheeled armour. With only a limited comprehension of the “go anywhere, do anything” benefits that 8×8 vehicles offer, their beliefs have been shaped by negative experiences with inferior wheeled vehicles such as the AT105 Saxon, Snatch Land-Rover, Mastiff MRAP, and Panther command vehicle. Once the UK has MIV in service and its utility is experienced first-hand, all concerns should evaporate.

So what is Strike?

Given the range of threats we face today: a new Cold War stand-off with Russia; continuing instability the Middle East; a belligerent Iran sponsoring terrorism; the mess that is Syria; and the rise of Islamic extremism in Africa, UK tactical doctrine reflects the belief that we need to go out to counter threats at distance, before they turn-up on our doorstep. If the capability of modern armies is measured by their deployability, then the British Army needs to become inherently more mobile than it is today. With this in mind, Strike encompasses the following requirements: 

  • The need to project power at distance (up to 2,000 km). 
  • The need for units to deploy rapidly and independently with a reduced logistical footprint.
  • The acquisition of a new class of 8×8 wheeled armoured vehicle:
    • Combines good-off road performance with on-road speed
    • Offers Operational and Tactical mobility
    • Provides infantry battalions with high levels of protection
    • Improved mission flexibility 
    • Can be transported by air (e.g. A400M) when necessary.
  • Strike will be an enabler of divisional manoeuvre, which means brigades are likely to act as a screening force that delay and harass an enemy while heavy armour is deployed. 
  • Strike facilitates information manoeuvre, which means it harnesses the potential of digital communications and battlefield management systems, to ensure that enemy units are pre-emptively outflanked. 
  • Wheeled vehicles have lower acquisition and support costs than equivalent tracked vehicles.
  • Strike enables potent all arms formations to be generated easily and quickly.
  • Strike does not replace heavy tracked armour, but reduces our dependancy on it.
  • Strike brigades will allow Armoured Infantry Brigades the time they need to be deploy.
  • Strike Brigades will facilitate the use of airborne forces by being able to support air assault operations more quickly than tracked armour.

03  Ajax and Boxer

The two vehicle types that will equip the Strike Brigades are the General Dynamics Ajax and ARTEC Boxer. Both have been a long time coming. 

Ajax deliveries commence this year. A total of 589 vehicles will be acquired of which 245 will be turreted reconnaissance variants, 124 Athena command variants, 93 Ares protected mobility variants, 49 Argus engineer reconnaissance variants, 38 Atlas recovery variants and 50 Apollo repair variants. Each reconnaissance regiment is expected to get 42-44 turreted Ajax vehicles, while each armour infantry reconnaissance platoon should have 6-8. 

IMG_2515
Ajax Reconnaissance Vehicle with CT 40 mm cannon. (Image: WO2 Barnes)

Ajax has exceptionally high levels of protection for its category, but with an 800 bhp engine, mobility remains excellent. While Ajax has grown in size and weight relative to the CVR(T) Scimitar and Spartan vehicles it replaces, contemporary threats suggest that there was no alternative to provide the degree of protection that is now deemed necessary. Early feedback suggests that the Army is delighted with the capabilities that Ajax provides.

Just before Easter 2018, it was announced that the UK would be rejoining the ARTEC Boxer programme. The MoD has avoided a competition for MIV which would have further delayed its entry into service. Instead, it was guided by its own data and the Australian Army’s recent competition for its CRV requirement, which Boxer won. Although the decision was controversial (the MoD is buying multiple equipment types without competing the contracts, including Apache Block E, Boeing P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), and the F-35B JSF), it appears that the MoD has negotiated a very attractive price plus UK manufacture for Boxer. Boxer is expected to arrive from 2021 with IOC in 2023.

Boxer IFV
ARTEC Boxer (shown here with 30 mm Lance turret)

There can be no doubt that Boxer is highly capable. It is one of the best protected 8×8 platforms. During the Bundeswehr’s deployment to Afghanistan, the Boxer proved highly resistant to IEDs and no soldier deployed in one was killed. Uniquely, Boxer adopts a mission module approach that allows the entire rear crew compartment to be removed and replaced. This enables a wide range of modules to be developed and swapped as the mission dictates. Initially, it seems that the UK will acquire five different mission modules for its Boxer fleet:

  • Infantry Carrier Vehicle
  • Command Vehicle
  • Mortar Vehicle
  • Ambulance Vehicle
  • Repair Vehicle
  • Recovery Vehicle

Mission modules for all of these versions, except the mortar variant, have already been engineered. It is hoped that the UK will bite the bullet and opt for a 120 mm mortar both for its MIV and Warrior battalions. 

Boxer variants.001US feedback from its Stryker Brigades suggests that the 12.7mm HMG is not sufficiently powerful weapon for their M1126 Infantry Carrier Vehicles. Consequently, the UK is considering the 30x113mm M230LF chain gun from the Apache helicopter as a possible light cannon alternative. This can be mounted in a remote weapon station so would offer significantly upgraded firepower for not much extra money. If a coaxially mounted Javelin ATGM launcher and 7.62mm machine gun can also be fitted, then UK Strike Brigades will be a big step-up from previous wheeled MRAP and LPPV vehicles.  

What is interesting about the Boxer acquisition plan is that the UK has opted for an upgraded driveline which increases maximum gross vehicle weight to 38.5 tonnes. This ensures future growth potential across all variants. In particular, it allows flexibility to purchase the 155mm RCH howitzer artillery module. Its L/52 calibre howitzer offers increased range relative to the AS90’s L/39 calibre gun. It is also has an automated loading system with modular charges, is operated by a crew of just two – driver and gun operator – and can change firing positions much more rapidly than other wheeled or towed artillery systems, like Caesar or Archer. With 30 rounds stored in its turret, the Boxer RCH needs a dedicated ammunition carrier vehicle to support it (and perhaps additional crew to provide reversionary skills). It is also worth noting that the same howitzer also fits on Ajax’s ASCOD 2 platform, allowing the same gun to be used by the Armoured Infantry brigades on a tracked platform – something that might be essential for a winter deployment to the snowy climes of Northern Europe.

Boxer Artillery 155 RCH
Boxer RCH 155mm self-propelled gun.. With a fully automated FCS and loading system it only needs a crew of two. (Image: Rheinmetall)

The irony of purchasing Boxer now is that if we had stuck with the MRAV programme instead of leaving in 2003, MIV would have entered service as early as 2010 instead of after 2020. Had we been able to deploy Boxer to Afghanistan, perhaps British lives would have been saved. 

04  Equipment concerns

While Ajax and Boxer are both class-leading combat vehicles, there is one aspect of their acquisition that’s controversial. This is mixing them together – wheels and tracks – in the same combat formation. 

Boxer will have no trouble keeping-up with Ajax; however, Ajax will struggle to keep-up with Boxer, especially on long distance road deployments. Driving tracked vehicles extensively on metalled roads is not recommended. Tracks get hot and expand, which risks one being thrown, especially when executing tight turns. They also wear out faster and may damage road surfacing without suitable protective pads. Tracked vehicles need precautionary maintenance to ensure their reliability. They cannot travel at high speeds, and need to halt every 300 km to check track tension, oil and lubricant levels, and general wear and tear. This means that Boxer and other wheeled vehicles will only be travel as fast as Ajax can, which may be crucial when time is of the essence. In contrast, Boxer, like the thousands of articulated heavy trucks that ply Europe’s highways, coving up to 100,000 kilometres a year, will be equally at home on motorways as it will be traversing the rolling steppes. 

Strike Brigades won’t be supported by Challenger 2 regiments. Without Heavy Equipment Transporters (HET) MBTs are unlikely to deploy quickly enough to make a difference. If Ajax cannot deploy rapidly either, then MIV battalions will be vulnerable to tanks and cannon-equipped AFVs. So, this raises the question of whether the UK needs to consider some form of wheeled direct fire vehicle or mobile gun system to support mechanised infantry units?

Italy, Japan, and China have successfully adopted 8×8 platforms that mount either 105mm or 120mm tank guns. France used the 6×6 AMX 10RC’s 105 mm gun to great effect in Mali. Speed of response and massive firepower ensure total overmatch versus insurgent forces. In terms of countering peer or near-peer enemies, mobile gun systems with low levels of protection rely on first-round hits. For this reason they are better used defensively rather than offensively, such as ambushing enemy tank formations. Head-on assaults against dug-in MBTs are likely to end badly; however, if tanks cannot deploy quickly enough to influence the outcome of a battle, we may be better off with 8×8 mobile guns systems, rather than having nothing.

Italy, Japan, and China have successfully adopted 8×8 platforms that mount either 105mm or 120mm tank guns. France used the 6×6 AMX 10RC’s 105 mm gun to great effect in Mali. Speed of response and massive firepower ensure total overmatch versus insurgent forces. In terms of countering peer or near-peer enemies, mobile gun systems with low levels of protection rely on first-round hits. For this reason they are better used defensively rather than offensively, such as ambushing enemy tank formations. Head-on assaults against dug-in MBTs are likely to end badly; however, if tanks cannot deploy quickly enough to influence the outcome of a battle, we may be better off with 8×8 mobile guns systems, rather than having nothing.

Ultimately, UK Strike Brigades with two Boxer mechanised infantry battalions, plus two Boxer CT40 reconnaissance regiments, supported by a Boxer RCH 155mm artillery regiment, would be formidable.

The US M1128 Stryker 105mm mobile gun system has not been a success. The US Army is presently considering whether to improve it via a redesigned system or to adopt an alternative. In the interim, it has adopted the 30mm MK44 Bushmaster II cannon in an unmanned turret mounted to Stryker vehicles deployed to Europe.

France is replacing the AMX 10RC with the Jaguar EBRC 6×6 wheeled reconnaissance vehicle. With Jaguar, Griffon and the 8×8 VBCI, the French L’Armée de Terre is very much committed to a wheeled future. Like Ajax, the Jaguar reconnaissance vehicle mounts the 40mm CT cannon, but additionally gets twin MMP ATGMs. These compensate for the lack of a 105mm/ 120mm gun.

IMG_2544.jpg
The Nexter Jaguar EBRD reconnaissance vehicle. Like Ajax, it is equipped with he CT40 cannon. It also has twin MMP ATGM missiles. (Image: Nexter)

The need for a direct fire support vehicle capable of keeping pace with infantry units in Boxer means that the UK should consider a reconnaissance variant of Boxer. Lockheed Martin has already completed much of the engineering work necessary to fit the Warrior turret with CT40 cannon to a Boxer mission module, so it should be an easy additional variant to bring into service. The Boxer CRV selected by Australia, which is equipped with a 30mm cannon and twin ATGMs, hints at the potential of a 40mm CT-cannon equipped UK equivalent.  

Boxer CT40 2
Boxer with 40mm CT cannon turret. UK Strike Brigades undoubtedly need such a vehicle and adding to the list of required variants should be a top priority.  (Image: Lockheed Martin UK)

Ultimately, UK Strike Brigades with two Boxer mechanised infantry battalions, plus two Boxer CT40 reconnaissance regiments, supported by a Boxer RCH 155mm artillery regiment, would be credible, formidable and affordable.

For even greater combat capability, we may wish to consider developing additional Boxer variants including: 

  • Boxer GMLRS (using the US Army’s HIMARS missile pod)
  • Boxer SHORAD (using Stomer / Starsteak HVM missile turret)
  • Boxer LRATGM (using Exactor / Spike ER/ NLOS)
  • Boxer STA (using Giraffe 4a radar mounted on a dedicated mission module)

It is not unreasonable to propose additional Boxer variants. In equipping Mechanised Infantry battalions, this vehicle is a replacement for the 60-year old FV432. In its day, the FV430 series fulfilled a wide variety of roles and Boxer has already shown itself to be capable of doing he same.

If Strike Brigades become all-wheeled, what happens to Ajax? 

Ajax could and should be used to equip the Armoured Infantry Brigades. All that would need to be done is to adopt the Ajax IFV version and reconfigure the number of other variants being bought. You would need, six regiments / battalions instead of five. The additional Ajax IFVs could be funded by cancelling Warrior CSP. This approach has the added benefit of reducing the core fleet of combat vehicles to just five types: Challenger, Ajax, Boxer, MRVP (JLTV) and MRVP (Bushmaster).

Ajax IFV
Ajax IFV (Image: General Dynamics UK Ltd.)

Summary

At its heart, the Strike Brigade concept will provide the British Army with an agile, autonomous and adaptable force. Units will be able simply to “get in and go.” When they arrive, they will have sufficient firepower to defeat all other non-MBT AFVs. Together with revitalised armoured infantry brigades, Strike units represent a fundamental and far-reaching modernisation of the British Army. This is well overdue as there has been no major investment in UK land warfare capabilities since Challenger 2 and AS90 came into service more than a generation ago. Basic Ajax and Boxer variants weigh less than 37 tonnes, so both are air transportable by A400M* or C-17A. Although we are unlikely to deploy a whole brigade by air, having the ability to deploy a squadron or regiment could make a crucial difference during the initial stages of a deployment. 

Those who remain skeptical about the potential effectiveness of Strike should remember that when the US Army first proposed its own medium weight brigades, these too were criticised. Some 16 years later, Stryker Brigades are an integral part of the US Army and have more than proved themselves in combat during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. There should be no doubt that Britain’s Strike Brigades will do the same. 

*Ajax needs to remove its appliqué side armour to bring its weight down to below 37 tonnes. 

25 comments

  1. I see that most responders are posting their comments in your Twitter column. I am not a member of that medium and thought, anyway, that I would write one or two longer contributions on your blog site. Arguments can be developed a little more there.

    It is certainly an excellent article, thoroughly researched and benefiting, I would imagine from the close contacts you still have with the Army. However, as you say, “it is possible to build a picture from the snippets of information that have been released” and a more coherent picture of what the Strike Brigades and indeed, the future Army, will look like is indeed beginning to emerge.

    I would like to make a few points at a time over several posts, so here goes with the first couple.

    i) You keep on asserting in Twitter, Nick, that it would be sensible to replace the Warrior CSP with the Ajax IFV variant. Surely, however, such a contention must be questioned. We don’t yet know the cost of the Ajax IFV vis-a-vis that of the Warrior upgrade (or do we?). You yourself admit that Warrior programme represents “a clever and careful application of limited funds.” Not only that but there is the whole question of the replacement of the 60 year-old FV 432 variants. Could we really afford to replace them by Ajax-based vehicle? At the moment, I would imagine that it is the intention to replace them by variants based on a Warrior ABSV-type vehicle. I am thinking of the Command vehicle, Ambulance, Mortar, Rccovery and Repair versions. Now I know that later in the article you suggest that Boxer variants could be used as a replacement for the FV432 but I am talking about the need for a tracked utility vehicle in Armoured or Armoured Infantry formations.

    ii) I am also extremely concerned by the problem of Air Defence. When a Strike Brigade deploys, there is a strong possibility that it will be dispersed over a large area. Now I know that there will almost certainly be AA detachments armed with the shoulder-launched and Lightweight Multiple Launcher versions of Starstreak but surely a vehicle-mounted weapon is also needed to move at speed around the area to be protected. There will not be enough Stormers, so would it be a good idea to consider the new Sky Sabre (CAMM, Giraffe radar etc.) system. It is wheeled (truck-mounted) and presumably able to travel at a reasonably rapid speed in order to accompany and defend the Strike Brigades. It has a longer range than Rapier and could be considered a medium-range system. It could be included as an integral part of a Strike Brigade. No?

    More points to follow later.

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    1. Mike,

      Thanks for taking the time to provide your comments. Always interesting. Always relevant.

      The problem with Warrior CSP is not so much Warrior – although it is a problem for reasons I’ll go into in a moment. The real issue is Ajax. We’re buying 589 which is enough for four armoured recce regiments when we only need two. We’re locked into a contract with GD, so cannot reduce the total buy for fear of punitive cancellation costs. Therefore, it makes sense to reduce the number of specialist variants and to switch the order so that we buy the IFV version instead. Ajax is much better protected than Warrior and armoured brigades using a single Recce / IFV vehicle platform would ease training and reduce support costs.

      While Warrior CSP is conceptually a good idea, we may find that we don’t have enough platforms to convert the full number needed. This is because the aluminium hulls of the existing fleet have suffered serious de-lamination issues, meaning that they have corroded. It would be daft to build new ones when the platform is close to 35 years old. Moreover, Iraq and Afghanistan revealed a number of design flaws that will not be corrected by the CSP programme. One of these is that the fuel tank is still located on the floor below the turret. In the event of a large mine detonating under the vehicle, survivability would be moot. Unless you relocate the fuel tank, you will never get protection levels above Level 2 or 3. With Ajax it must be at least Level 5. So while Warrior CSP is conceptually clever, it has been compromised by a lack of cash. How much should you spend re-vamping an old bit of kit, before it is overkill? I don’t know. But, new turrets on old hulls is never an ideal solution.

      So, if you bin Warrior CSP and reduce Ajax recce buy, this gives you enough money for quite a lot of brand new Ajax IFVs. Or you could could use the Warrior CSP budget to put quite a lot of turrets on Boxer, which might be an even better solution.

      Air Defence. With Starstreak HVM and Sky Sabre, the Army will have tow outstanding AD systems. I’d like to see a Boxer Mission module for Starstreak developed so it can escort Strike Brigade units. I’d also like to see the Army get a truly lightweight portable AD missile capable of bringing down modern combat aircraft.

      The one thing that would most beef-up our SHORAD abilities would be to acquire Giraffe 4a ground-based radar systems. These can be used to identify artillery positions and enemy aircraft. If they could be networked to AFVs with 40mm CT cannons (which have a high angle of elevation due to the design of the cased-telescoped ammunition feed system) then we would have a truly layered and integrated air defence system.

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      1. Hello, UK Land Power. Thanks very much for your reply, which I found most illuminating. I had not realized that the problem with the Warrior’s armour, though I should have guessed. A few years ago I saw a Warrior at Plymouth and observed what seemed like strips of armour sticking out from the hull. It really was in ragged order, as if it had been reversed at high speed through a hedge thirty times! I know little about the technology involved in laminate armour, and even less about how it applies in Warrior’s case, but would that be a sign of the lamination peeling away? Anyway, sounds a serious problem, as indeed does the location of the fuel tank.

        So you might very well be right about the preferability of the AJAX IFV, although I can’t really agree with your statement concerning Warrior: “. . . we may find that we don’t have enough platforms to convert the full number needed.”. Didn’t we originally purchase 789? Where have they all gone? Moreover, procuring AJAX IFV is still not going to solve the problem of the replacement for the FV432. Hundreds of them are apparently still in service. How do we solve the difficulty, for instance, of obtaining a new Mortar vehicle to replace the FV432 one?

        And now on to the wider issue of the viability of the Strike Brigade concept. You are obviously utterly convinced by the idea, as may be judged from the very cogent last paragraph in your article. However, while I think that the concept is imaginative and could work, I’m afraid that I veer towards the jedpc view that “getting the budget to fix all of this is just not going to happen!” I think I would describe my attitude as one of healthy scepticism rather than of jed’s term “pessimism” because I would love to see the concept work. However, it would require a massive injection of new funding, which I do not think Mr. Hammond is going to release. Might it not be better just to go for one Strike Brigade in the near term? Your optimism is refreshing, though.

        You see, my main fear is that we shall not get the funding for sufficient variants in order to create genuine all-arms or multi-role brigades. You touch upon this in your article, when you mention the possibility of developing additional variants including Boxer SHORAD and Boxer LRATGM. I have recently been looking at the concept of the American Brigade Combat Teams. The BCT is designed to stand on its own, “like a division in miniature.” I notice, though, that such teams have about ten variants of the Stryker vehicle, including an Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicle (ATGM) armed with a twin TOW missile launcher and a Fire support vehicle. That is the kind of formation we need, unless we are going to risk the whole thing going off at half-cock because of insufficient resources.

        Moreover, I feel that we have already compromised the performance of the Strike Brigades because of the introduction of tracked vehicles. As you yourself state: ““Ajax will struggle to keep-up with Boxer, especially on long distance road deployments.”

        Incidentally, UK Land Power, did you by any chance read (and I can’t remember where I saw it now – somewhere on social media, I think – that someone had been told after a meeting that one of the MIV variants the British Army was going for was an Engineer version. There was some remark about the Sappers fighting their case well. Did you read anything about this?

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  2. Hi Nicholas

    Great article, thanks. Unfortunately I think your indulging in a lot of wishful thinking, not a bad thing of course, but after years of mismanagement, focusing on COIN and under-funding, getting the budget to fix all of this is just not going to happen ! Or as I said on twitter, its nice to see your optimism fly in the face of my pessimism.

    You already published my thoughts on how we should use the Ajax vehicles as we have put the order in and of course did not negotiate a contract that would be easily to cancel or change. If we take Ajax out of the equation for the moment.

    What I really don’t understand is how the Army expects to construct a training and deployment schedule when all formations come in two’s. So with 2 armoured brigades, and 2 strike brigades how is that going to work ? Haven’t we always previously worked on at least a minimum cycle of 3 ? 1. Re-set/Training 2. Advanced formation level training 3. High Readiness / Deployment.

    So with 2 and 2, how are things going to work ? Any thoughts, because I don’t get it.

    So I honestly think that the Warrior and Challenger upgrade cash should go to wheeled armoured and mechanised infantry. 3 Brigades on Boxer, and 3 Brigades on MRV-P (Bushmaster). For all that heavy tracked armour still has it’s place, countries that have a land border with their potential foes can focus on heavy armour; it’s easier for them to get it into the fight. For all the potential issues that even modern 8×8 might have with difficult terrain or other obstacle, the theatre strategic mobility advantages of a formation that can autonomously deploy over great distances are also considerable – the medium wheeled formation that gets to the fight is way better than the heavy one that is interdicted by ballistic missiles, air attack or fifth column saboteurs while still on rail flatbeds.

    However we need the top brass to acknowledge that we can no longer have the full spectrum, but what exactly is the point of heavy amour if you have only 2 regiments of tanks ?

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    1. Jed,

      The overall 2 + 2 structure for 3 (UK) Division is already funded as follows:

      224 x Challenger 2 LEP @£3.4 million each = £774 million (4 Regiments)
      380 x Warrior CSP @ £3.06 million each = 1.162 billion (4 Battalions)
      589 x Ajax @ £7.3 million each = £4.3 billion (4 Regiments)
      800 x Boxer MIV @ £3.375 million each = £2.7 billion (6 Battalions)

      The plan appears to include two re-equipped Artillery regiments with a wheeled howitzer to replace the L118 105 mm light gun in the Strike Brigades. This could well be the Boxer RCH155.

      128 x Boxer RCH 155 @ £6 million each + 128 Boxer ammo carriers @ £3 million each = £1.152 billion

      That’s a total of £10 billion.

      What we don’t have signed off is two wheeled reconnaissance regiments to provide Direct Fire support for the Strike Brigades.

      We would require an additional 214 x Boxer CRVs @ £5 million each = £1.07 billion. Over 10 years that’s nothing.

      With a little bit of finessing the numbers, we could easily have a full Strike Division, each with three brigades.

      We don’t need 589 Ajax Recce vehicles, we need 214. So, if you reduce the Ajax purchase by this number, it leaves you with enough money to buy 375 Ajax IFVs, possibly more because the IFV is less expensive than the Recce version.

      If you no longer need the Warrior CSP cash, you can divert it to buy the Boxer Recce version.

      This gives you 3 (UK) Division composed as follows:

      Two strike Brigades, each with 1 x Boxer Recce Regiment, 3 x Mechanised Infantry Battalions, and 1 x Boxer 155 RCH regiment.

      Two armoured infantry Brigades, each with 1 (or potentially 2) Challenger 2 Armoured Regiments, 1 x Ajax Armoured Recce Regiment, 2 x Armoured Infantry Battalions, and 1 x AS90 Regiment.

      I’d like the MoD to spend an extra £5 billion and create two deployable divisions each with 3 armoured infantry brigades and 3 mechanised infantry brigades. Do this, and you start to have a credibly regenerated Army – for an extra £5-£6 billion.

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  3. Boxer is designed to follow Leopard. I don’t think there will be much trouble mixing them. Certainly better than mixing Warrior and Saxon back in the day…..

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  4. Really interesting article, thank you. One thing I don’t understand is where the 5th Ajax regiment will come from, and whether it’s planned and resourced, or speculative?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great article, showing what could be possible, and affordable. Quick question, I thought Extractor and NLOS were the same thing, i.e. the longest range version of the Spike ATM, with Extractor being the British name for this Israeli system., or am I wrong?

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    1. Spike NLOS and Exactor are indeed the same thing. Exactor should not be confused with the standard Spike ATGM or Spike ER, the extended range ATGM. Spike NLOS is the game changer. Fresh article coming on the importance of long range precision guided missiles.

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  6. Also given the importance of being able to suppress ATGM, what would be your view of the integration of a 120mm mortar system (e.g. AMOS) able to fire on the move in response ATGM attacks into both Armoured and Strike brigades?

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    1. 120mm mortars give you much more range and lethality versus 81mm systems. So having organic mortar vehicles travelling in the Strike Brigades and able to target ATGM teams would be very useful. useful

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      1. Surely though it depends what you see as the role of the mortar, supression or destruction. The British army see mortars as primarily being for suppression while the battlegroup manoeuvres to engage the enemy in close combat. An 120mm mortar would arguably be more more than what is needed for suppression, duplicate the role of artillery, as well as coming with a significant weight and logistical penalty. Of course one could make the counter argument that 120mm might effectively supplement the Royal Artillery’s assets (many armies, such as France, regard such large mortars as part of the artillery not the infantry), however we still get back to the fundamental question of what mortars are actually for?

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  7. Hi UK Land Power.

    First of all I thought I would congratulate you on your ten initiatives that would restore the British Army to the world-class army it used to be. Every single one of them is an eminently sensible proposal and you have covered all the relevant areas,: from getting the most out of bases of bases to the rebuilding of morale, from the restoration of units and formations to the vital business of investing in new kit, especially armoured vehicles. You have, moreover, taken the wise approach of not compromising on your demands/ proposals and have faced the problems with plain, straight talking, rather than being “realistic” or “finding the middle ground”, usually euphemisms for abject concession. There is an old cliché: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” and to present a watered-down, conciliatory version of the present state of the British Army would serve no one any good.

    I know that I have written at length so far but I make no apology for doing so in another protracted missive. I don’t even necessarily need a reply because, in a way, I am “writing out” my own anger about what has been done to our armed forces, particularly the Army.

    One issue that I would like discussed is the question of whether a brigade (e.g. a Strike Brigade), in order to be deployable, should be a self-sufficient, independent organization with its own combat service support as an integral part of its make-up: i.e. not merely possessing Armour, Recce, Infantry, Artillery, Engineers, and Signals but with its own integral Logistics, Medics, REME, etc. The alternative to this is to focus on combat power and move CS/CSS to a divisional level. The latter seems to be happening in future plans but, in my opinion, is driven by the need for economies, rather than developing the necessary integration and cohesion between the elements of a brigade.

    If you take, as a model, the old Mechanised Brigade organisation (which was quite close to that of the one-time proposed Multi-Role Brigades), then they each had an Armoured Regt, an Armd Recce Sqn, an Armd Infantry Bn, a couple of Mech Bns, a SP Arty Regt, an Engr Sqn, an RLC Sqn, REME Wkshops, a Medical Sqn, a Javelin AD Det, a LRATGW Troop and an RMP Unit.

    Now the proposed Strike Brigades have nothing as comprehensive in terms of all-round ability as that. A large number of extra types of variants would have to be procured (Direct Fire Weapon, ATGW system (from under armour), a Bridgelayer, etc. etc. in order to make them “ready-to-go” formations. If they have to draw on divisional assets (e.g. MLRS/GMLRS, Air Defence units, ISTAR, UAV units, Medics etc.) and wait for them to arrive, can they really be described as “ready to go”? Previously, when these other capabilities have been drawn in from all over the Army, it must have created more than a certain degree of disruption. Would it not be better to equip just one Strike Brigade properly and see how it goes?

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  8. JT, good comment but the premise behind my post was how should we suppress ATGM on todays battlefield?
    If the mortar is to stay the weapon of choice for suppression while armoured vehicles manoeuvre, then given the range of modern ATGM the L16 81mm mortar is not up to the job anymore against anything bigger than a man portable system. Because the Kornet has a range of up to 10,000m, AT-15 up to 6000M, Spike ER 8000M, while the L16 has a range of 5675M. While a 120mm mortar has considerable logistics requirements compared to the L16 and is an awfully lot more expensive, it is a far more capable system. For example, if the hype is to be believed then the AMOS has an effective firing range of up to 10,000m and is able to travel with the manoeuvre units, fire 4 rounds in <8 seconds and scoot away from its firing position in <30 seconds, so likely to avoid counterbattery fire.

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    1. You forget that they need line of sight for most part and mortars don’t. Mortars have much more targets than just ATGM teams and situation where mortar and ATGM are against each other at max range seems like a niche.

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  9. Looking at Russian Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities back 500km from borders/FEBA air superiority will be fleeting at best; maybe falling back of long range precision fires rather than air platforms. A2/AD includes EW jamming and GNSS-denial/spoof . Will the Stryker/Strike concept still be valid in this environment, or will it risk a ‘dien bien phu’ moment?

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  10. interesting read. I am only an observer to these issues. I wonder is the MBT losing relevance at present? particularly in a defensive role. Is lighter agile armoured vehicle with passive and active protection system and anti-tank missiles (spike NLOS?)a potential replacement?

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  11. Personally Strike Brigades are simply a cheap and potentially suicidal long range dash and pray alternative to real equipment, tactics, and doctrine. The current threat is Russia and China and in that read A2/AD or in other words .. your butt and everyone around you for a kilometre around you is mine is you loose 100% air cover capable of stopping being found . If found, a Stryker (or lol Strike) brigade combat team (if you can afford the whole train-set) will be subjected to the treatment we designed before we signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) accord. In other words fixed in position my air-delivered mines, then armour detecting sub-munitions, then hypobarics to steal the remaining air from those unfortunate to be still breathing.. and burn/flay them alive of course. It’s happening now in East Ukraine kids. We should know that in the right conditions anything goes – are memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that thin? Bottom line is simple – YOU NO LONGER HAVE AIR SUPERIORITY to a depth of up to 300km – now you’re going to send a mobile brigade with no effective SHORAD, let alone C-RAM, 2k km into unfriendly territory? you’d better issue the medals before they go..

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    1. Mikero You completely miss how strike brigades are likely to be used. No one is suggesting that they deploy 2k in enemy territory. What they are saying is you can’t deploy tracked formations quickly in modern out of area operations, the scenarios would be deployment to Bali or Kosovo or potentially Afghanistan. The majority of the 2000km is likely to be friendly or negotiated territory with only the last stretch being in hostile area. In terms of air superiority this is not required in African scenarios in other situations we now have 3bn pound floating airfields a capable air tanker and transport this will ensure air superiority. In a peer to peer situation with Russia it is likely that strike brigades will be used as a flanking force like the French in 1991 Gulf War or a force than can exploit a gap created by the heavy forces. I don’t think british generals are that stupid to be wanted to gain this capability and as far as cheap – it would be much cheaper for the uk to upgrade all Challenger 2s, warriors etc. That obtain a brand new capability

      Liked by 2 people

  12. I think perhaps people are still thinking the next conflict will be like that envisaged in the cold war. TRADOC are already running scenarios with Styker brigades going in deep and fast to try and take out AD assets to give air power windows of opportunity; there are no ‘flanks’ anymore . They will be spotted by cheap UAVs in the air, perched, or on the ground and be targeted by long range precision fires. Or one of the locals will simply post a picture which comes complete with coordinated these days. I can only wonder what power a smartphone will have as an ISTAR asset in Africa once Google and/or Amazon get their Low Earth orbitals and Persistent UAVslike the Airbus Zephyr giving mobile phone and internet coverage across the continent.

    The carrier, (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/29/russia-claims-hms-queen-elizabeth-large-convenient-target-warns/ ) will go on the first day, maybe to a Russian sub as we can’t afford sufficient or adequate escorts, or more likely to a single Russian 3M22 Tsirkon hypersonic; taking most of our F35s with it… 21st Century Pearl Harbour moment.

    There is no desire in the UK for future expeditionary warfare according to serving military I have spoken to and so why equip for it? Bosnia/Kosovo proved nothing as we didn’t have a ground campaign, and the only lessons we learnt was that the UK had bought the wrong engine for our Apache and the RAF were deceived 99.9% by excellent CCD. We didn’t leave much of a legacy in Afghanistan, and Mali is still not resolved. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/mali

    You cannot upgrade the CH2 because there is not enough money in the current budget to deliver the 120mm smoothbore and turret to give a system capable of firing the ammunition needed to defeat the upgraded T72 & T80’s let alone the Armata. It would probably be cheaper to buy 2nd hand Leopard 2s and upgrade to the A7 version. Or wait and see what Rheinmetall is doing under the German Future Force 2035 program and pray we don’t go to war in the meantime; a political cop-out currently in use for the F35s of course.

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