By Jed Cawthorne

This article is a response to the RUSI Occasional Paper on UK Strike Brigades. In particular, it looks at the need to invest in new artillery to ensure that Strike has teeth.

Screenshot 2019-06-20 at 19.35.29
UK Strike Brigade structure proposed by the RUSI Occasional Paper: Strike – From Concept to Force, by Dr Jack Watling and Justin Bronk 

 

Introduction

The online defence community has produced numerous articles that have tried to determine the most appropriate size, structure and doctrine for the British Army’s new Strike Brigades. These have mostly tried to fill the void of briefings and other unclassified information presented by the Army itself. The latest piece to drive discussion on this topic is the RUSI Occasional Paper Strike: From Concept to Force.[i]As the title of this paper implies, it provides a tangible description of Strike including an outline of the organisational structure (ORBAT) and concept of employment (CONEMP). While this certainly goes beyond anything written before, ultimately it falls short because it fails to properly address some of the legitimate concerns raised by other commentators on this topic. It glosses over the problem of mixing wheels and track by suggesting that an increased number of wheeled equipment transporters will be sufficient, when the reality of operating dispersed at distances of up to 2,000 kilometres will make operational manoeuvre in a contested battlespace extremely challenging. Nor does it properly address the lack of Strike Brigade firepower and the need for substantial investment in new artillery systems. Overall, the RUSI Strike paper does not emphasise the need to put some kind of ability to “strike” into the Strike concept. This reflects the reality of Strike, which is that it must operate within the financially constraints imposed by the Defence budget. But when those constraints impose significant operational limitations, it is important that these are highlighted and that practical solutions to address them are considered, which is the purpose of this article.

How did we get where we are?

Mechanized infantry formations based on light and medium weight wheeled armoured vehicles are nothing new. The genesis and history of this class of AFVs have been explored by a variety of other reference articles (see below). The British Army has had them since it acquired the Saladin and Saracen family of 6×6 AFVs in the 1950s. It also had the 4×4 Ferret and Fox CVR(W) armoured cars. The Army gave-up playing within the light and medium space when it replaced its entire family of light and medium wheeled reconnaissance vehicles with the tracked CVR(T) family in the 1970s. Later the Army acquired the Saxon APC, which was intended to transport reinforcing infantry from the UK to the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). Although wheeled, it was an unsophisticated truck-based vehicle with limited off-road performance, not part of a coherent expeditionary capability as its predecessors had been. Saxon was retired from service in 2008 and would have been replaced by MRAV and FRES UV had these projects been carried forward to fruition. In other words, the British Army is no stranger to wheeled personnel carriers and armoured cars.

Saracen and Salaldin
British Army Saladin and Saracen 6×6 vehicles.

After the Cold War ended, the absence of any new or significant threat meant that it made sense to retain the existing heavy tracked forces we had built up. The UK’s Chieftain/ Challenger MBT, AS90 artillery, FV432 APC and Warrior IFV fleets remained in Germany. Within 24 hours of the 1990 Defence White paper, “Options For Change,” being signed-off, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. The MBTs, SPGs and IFVs that had remained unused in Germany for almost half a century were deployed to the Middle East for use in Operation Desert Storm (First Gulf War) and compressively overmatched Iraq’s Soviet-sourced armour. A decade later in 2002, the same armoured vehicles were used again during Operation Iraqi Freedom (Second Gulf War). Warrior IFVs also provided protected mobility in the Balkans. As the British Army transitioned from fighting a desert campaign against an armoured enemy organised along Soviet lines, to peace support and then to counter-insurgency operations, it was not deemed necessary to invest in new heavy armoured equipment for fighting peer adversaries. Money set aside for renewal was spent on Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) for specialist vehicles use in Iraq and Afghanistan, specifically MRAPS that were urgently needed to counter the threat posed by IEDs. Today, the resurgence of Russia underlines the fact that heavy tracked armour still has a place, but our heavy armour assets are obsolete and worn out. Meanwhile, a corresponding need to establish expeditionary forces so we can deploy over longer distances has become paramount. This implies the need to renew medium and light wheeled armour as well as heavy armour.

After 2010, the Army’s core strategy fluctuated as new threats evolved and Government austerity measures cut the defence budget. We went from the “Multi-Role Brigade” concept based on five identical brigades that would enable sustained overseas deployments; to the “Dual Force” concept of Army 2020 with a “Reaction Force” comprised of three comprehensive Armoured Infantry brigades plus an Air Assault Brigade supported by an “Adaptable Force,” which was in reality a collection of infantry battalions without the Combat Support (CS) and Combat Service Support (CSS) elements they needed to be deployable; to the “Tri-Force” concept of Army 2020 Refine which has a single deployable division comprised of two Armoured Infantry brigades, plus two Mechanised Infantry or Strike Brigades” and a single Air Assault Brigade. All of these constructs have been uneasy compromises in the eyes of senior commanders, because each was driven by budget limitations not objective analysis of Britain’s defence needs. Some of the referenced articles cover this ground in great detail, but the bottom line is, it puts us where we are today:

  • Smallest standing army since before the Napoleonic Wars
  • No sustained investment in spiral development of existing platforms leading to block obsolescence
  • UK Army desire to deliver capability across all key areas, leading to “salami slice” cuts, with the Army trying to keep at least something of everything
  • A distinct lack of ‘fires’ – a Royal Artillery almost withered to the bone
  • Increasingly expensive programmes that finally upgrade vehicles that should have been life-extended or retired decades ago (e.g. the 60-year old FV432)
  • Insufficient resources to comprehensively renew every capability that needs updating

When it comes to the mix of Armoured infantry Brigades versus Strike Brigades and taking a holistic view of Army modernisation, an important question is – what do we prioritise if we cannot afford to fund everything the Army needs to provide a broad spectrum of capabilities?

  • Challenger 2 MBT life extension and Warrior IFV capability sustainment programmes
  • Introduce Ajax family (FRES Scout vehicle) into service
  • Introduce MIV into service and establish Strike Brigades
  • Select and introduce MRV-P into service
  • Replace or upgrade AS90 155mm SPG
  • Introduce new GBAD system to replace Rapier
  • Introduce new communications and battle management systems to replace Bowman etc.

If we need to do all of these things, we need to accept that they cannot all be done at the same time. We also need to review the scope of each programme to ensure they are still relevant to the threats we face. At a fundamental level, there is a need to re-think the Army’s role, mission sets, size, structure and capabilities. Whatever we do, so long as the Army continues to operate within a fixed budget, it may need to cut or reduce the scope of some programmes to pay for others. Given headcount caps and other constraints, there is an increased risk of the Army being deployed as part of a coalition in NATO Article 5 scenarios in Western Europe, or for operations elsewhere in the world (most likely the Middle East or Africa). So it may make sense to reconfigure the Army around the Strike Brigades and at the expense of Armoured Infantry brigades.

To be clear, this would involve cancelling Challenger 2 and Warrior upgrade programmes and abandoning the Armoured Infantry brigade concept. This means no MBTs, no heavy tracked IFVs. Instead, Army modernisation would focus on building a distinctive capability around medium weight wheeled forces capable of long-distance autonomous deployments and with a reduced logistical footprint. Such an approach would not automatically reduce the UK to being a second-tier player of no real value to our allies, but it give us renewed focus and a chance to develop new doctrine and acquire capabilities that would allow us to excel at expeditionary warfare, making it an area of expertise.

Why we must stop “Salami slicing” and jealously guarding “Sacred Cow” capabilities.

When you try to fulfil every capability requirement, you end up performing every role at a basic level, but none with distinction. A question for anyone who thinks that retiring our tanks is heresy: after we have spent around £1 billion exquisitely updating 148 ancient Challenger 2s, how useful is such an insignificant number going to be in deterring Russian aggression in the Balkans, or against some terrorist group in the horn of Africa? This is not to suggest the concept of the MBT is obsolete – not at all, but Poland’s 200+ modernized Leopard 2s and 500+ PT90’s, plus US Army M1A2Cs Abrams forward based in the same country, are going to be a lot closer to the fight than any British contingent, even if we retain a presence in Germany to store them. Then there are those who think that leased civilian low-loaders or new military HETs are not particularly expensive and could solve the strategic mobility problem of how we get to the fight. While this adds further cost to the budget, the potential impact of “hybrid warfare” tactics being used against deploying UK forces  – SF/ Spetsnaz ambushes, sowing intended route with IEDs and mines, sabotage by sleeper cells, air attacks and so on, makes such an approach marginal at best. There are also many threats that would challenge a naval convoy trying to position armoured infantry brigades where needed. Assuming we could eventually deliver a tracked formation to where it was required, we simply would not have sufficient numbers of Challenger 2 and Warrior to achieve a worthwhile impact once deployed, because we lack sufficient artillery and ground-based air defence (GBAD) assets to support them. Life extension programmes are now so late and costly in terms of the longevity they add, that they fail any reasonable cost/ benefit analysis.

Force generation and readiness

The other major concern about the present plan is that resource constraints may well result in us “spreading the jam too thinly” to properly resource two Armoured Infantry and two Strike Brigades.  What kind of proper training and deployment cycle can be achieved with only two brigades of each type?  Traditionally, we have always maintained a minimum of three brigades to ensure that we always have one available at a state high readiness at any given time. With just two, we will struggle to field a brigade at short notice. This is why we have a single Battle Group in Estonia, not an entire Brigade.

It would be even better if there were four formations in the force generation cycle, especially if we plan to deploy forces out of area as well. At a bare minimum, there is a strong case for returning to a structure of least three of any given formation type so that we can sustain a full force generation cycle:

1 in basic training / reset
1 in advanced training,
1 in high readiness (or deployed)

This also goes for the Air Assault Brigade. This should have three Parachute Regiment infantry battalions not two, for exactly the same reasons. Alternatively, high readiness forces could be generated by rotating the Air Assault Brigade with 3 Commando Brigade and a third high readiness infantry brigade made-up from other miscellaneous infantry battalions out of the total of 32. High readiness forces could also be achieved by considering the idea of the Light Strike Brigades.[ii]

In any event, at its core this proposal re-focuses the Army around three fully-equipped Strike Brigades with infantry and artillery mass, on wheeled platforms, to establish an agile and resilient war fighting capability, so that the Army better invests the resources at its disposal and is better equipped for the range of specific missions it will be needed to execute.

AJAX Scout vehicle In-Country cold weather system trialling at Tame Ranges in Sweden
Ajax reconnaissance vehicle undergoing cold weather testing. (Image: UK MoD)

Where does Ajax fit in an all-wheeled Army?

Before proceeding further, we need to consider what should be done with the Ajax family of tracked reconnaissance vehicles that are now starting to be delivered. We are committed to purchasing 589 Ajax vehicles. It would be extremely difficult to cancel or reduce the contracted number without incurring significant financial penalties. While tracked vehicles are no longer a primary part of new brigades, Ajax can still play a useful role in a mostly wheeled force, but unlike the Army’s current plan and RUSI paper proposal, it would not be employed in mixed wheeled / tracked formations. We will have enough Ajax vehicles of all types to equip three Armoured Reconnaissance Regiments in a brigade, plus training vehicles at BATUS etc. This gives us sufficient regiments for a 1-in-3 rotation in a revised force generation cycle. As part of NATO article 5 commitment, we could have the high readiness Reconnaissance Regiment based in Poland, as the formation Recce element of either a Polish Division or a US Armoured Division based there. This could be backed up by other tracked assets, such as the M270 MLRS and combat engineers. To this end, it may be worth retaining a single regiment of AS90 with at least three batteries to provide close support fires.

The important point is that Ajax could still play a useful role even though the MBTS and IFVs it was intended to support were no longer used. We just need to think differently about the value they bring. The high readiness regiment in Poland could provide a squadron to one of the Baltic states as part of the strategy for forward engagement and training allies. It just doesn’t make sense to mix Ajax with Boxer simply because we have it. However, with turreted Boxers, we would not need it in the Strike Brigades, allowing to perform a more specialised role.

Why focus on Strike Brigades not AI Brigades?

The RUSI paper justifies the need for Strike Brigades well by articulating the Army requirement for a force able to self-deploy at distances of up to 2,000 kilometres. It also reviews some of the capability gaps that are likely to exist within Strike Brigades as currently envisaged. It suggests that a wheeled medium Armoured force has utility in a Northern European Baltics / NATO Article 5 context, as well as in a global out of area operations context. A long-range self-deployment capability is also important when considering the sophisticated anti-access / area denial technologies available to terrorists organisations and other non-state actors. We may want to deploy a brigade by sea to a port some distance from its eventual area of operations in order to reduce the risk of obvious lines of approach by being disrupted by mines, anti-ship missiles, small boat swarms and even raids on, or sabotage of unloading shipping.

Under current plans, Strike Brigades will have Boxer 8x8s equipped with 12.7mm HMGs supported by 40mm cannon-equipped Ajax vehicles. This may be sufficient for neutralising terrorists in Africa, but for independent formations countering a potential Russian / Russian-backed hybrid force in Europe, it will need additional firepower. This is why Strike Brigades design needs to focus on investment in new artillery systems.

Firepower, putting “strike” into the Strike Brigade concept

The RUSI paper attempts to address firepower constraints within the context of the Army investing in Challenger 2 and Warrior upgrades. It suggests that 120mm automatic mortars (Patria NEMO) on the Boxer would fulfil an important close range fires requirement at the battle group level. Such mortars provide the punch of 155mm artillery at ranges of up to 10 kilometres, but have a reduced logistical footprint and, if mounted on Boxer, would offer vehicle platform commonality. This would deliver a considerable uplift in close-range firepower, and would be particularly useful in rapidly evolving meeting engagements. However, the RUSI paper goes on to suggest that there is no ideal wheeled 155mm self-propelled artillery presently available, so it jumps straight to the 227mm NATO standard MLRS, in its wheeled truck mounted form developed for US Army and USMC, known as HIMARS. A wheeled multi-launch rocket system would certainly be a useful addition, especially for deep fires, but can 155mm artillery be overlooked so easily?

Strike Brigades will excel at delivering infantry mass when and where it is needed, to seize and hold vital territory, to degrade an enemy’s war fighting ability, and to close-with and defeat the enemy. While the agile nature of such a formation will allow it to manoeuvre to critical points to deliver effect and respond rapidly across a variety of situations, artillery remains a critical component in achieving all of these goals. So the firepower that a Strike Brigade brings to the party will be its most important enabler. As much as Strike Brigade infantry units will rely on artillery to support them, artillery components will correspondingly rely on infantry, plus ISTAR and C4I assets, to protect them. In fact, infantry battalions will play an increasingly important role in ensuring that artillery can deliver lethal effect.

The need to concentrate on delivering superior firepower where needed is because the British Army no longer has sufficient infantry (or other arms) to achieve blanket coverage, as we have done in the past. Even during the Cold War, we moved to a doctrine of highly mobile, dynamic defence. We no longer have the size or mass to dig-in with solid overhead protection to save us from enemy artillery. In a NATO Article 5 scenario , we would need to leave fixed defence to the regular, reserve and militia forces of Poland and the Baltic states.

If we cannot provide a solid, multi-layered static defence with the traditional reserve for blocking enemy breakthroughs, what can we do? We can and should focus on destroying an enemy’s combat power and combat effectiveness. That does not require us to go static or hold a particular terrain feature or geographic locale. It does require us to find and reliably target enemy units, to pass the targeting data to suitable weapons systems, to hit the enemy hard, and then to quickly move to a new position to avoid counter fires. It requires us to protect our own ISTAR assets, artillery systems, logistics and command elements, and it requires us to do this in an environment without a traditional “front line.” Indeed, contemporary warfare will involve tactical penetration with overlapping enemy and friendly forces. As noted by the RUSI paper, it will be an environment where we will need to operate dispersed so as not to present an juicy target opportunities to the enemy. Adding further complexity, we will need to do this in an environment where we are denied air supremacy or even air parity and therefore we will lack the abundant close air support and interdiction that our ground forces have become used to. In fact, NATO air forces will increasingly rely on ground forces to take-on an anti-A2AD role, targeting and destroying integrated air defence systems.

The Royal Artillery – core of the Strike Brigade

Central to this revised Strike concept is the need for substantial investment in the Royal Artillery. We must place revitalised fires capabilities at the front and centre of the Strike Brigade. This means investment in the following systems:

  • 120mm mortars at company group level as mentioned above
  • 155mm wheeled self-propelled howitzers
  • Wheeled multiple launch rocket systems
  • Precision guided and anti-armour munitions / systems
  • Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) from Counter-UAS (C-UAS), through Very Short Range Air Defence (VSHORAD – Starstreak HVM) to Short to Medium range (25km) from SkySabre

It doesn’t matter if the 120mm mortars used are fully-automated NEMO systems, or one of the many other systems on the market, nor does it matter if they are grouped within infantry battalions as they are at present or artillery batteries attached to battle groups. But we do want as many as possible; perhaps as many as 32 per brigade. Whether it’s air bursting HE, laser guided precision attack rounds, rapid deployment of smoke screens or IR illumination, 120mm mortars are affordable and effective.

Caesar Tatra 155
French Caesar Tatra with L/52 calibre 155mm howitzer mounted on Tatra 8×8 truck. This has an armoured cab for crew protection. 

The UK Land Power view is that the RUSI paper is wrong to forego 155mm tube artillery. There is definitely a need for some kind of L/52 calibre 155mm self-propelled howitzer. The gun-on-a-truck (GOAT) concept is not ideal, especially if the system takes more than a few minutes to bring in and out of action; if it is unarmoured; or, if the crew needs to dismount to operate it – all of which make it vulnerable to counter-battery fire. While the French wheeled 155mm Caesar mobile artillery system offers many benefits, it cannot match the mount and dismount times of a tracked self-propelled howitzer, like the K9 Thunder, or move across country as rapidly. So some kind of wheeled self-propelled gun is preferable. The South African C6 Rhino 155mm howitzer is an interesting and proven option. The new Boxer RCH155 has an automated howitzer and is built on the same Boxer platform that the UK is acquiring. It is still in development and there are concerns with its mobility and the fact that it only carries 18 ready rounds when it really needs 40. It will also need its own logistics and ammunition carrier to support it in the field.

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South African G6 Rhine 155mm self-propelled gun.

While a credible wheeled 155mm gun does not yet exist, we should not exclude the need for wheeled 155mm artillery. If we save cash by cancelling Challenger and Warrior, we should use it to invest in a viable wheeled L/52 155mm artillery platform. Fully-automated systems are preferred, not just for their “shoot and scoot” rapid engagement and withdrawal capabilities, but because people are expensive to recruit, train and retain, and smaller gun crews are thus a good thing, but since electronics are prone to malfunction, some kind of reversionary capability is desirable. 155mm logistics are somewhere between the smaller individual rounds of the 120mm mortars, and the very large rocket packs of the 227mm MLRS. With MLRS re-supply trucks it is more about volume and how much space the rocket pack takes up on a truck, which could probably carry considerably more 155mm rounds / charges. With speciality rounds including long range GPS guided, BONUS anti-armour rounds, and the ability to put down a large number of standard HE rounds, I think the Brigade needs a full regiment of 32 guns, and the logistic support that goes with them. Archer or Caesar 155mm howitzers on a MAN 8×8 truck would be a viable alternative to a Boxer AGM or G6.

This does not preclude the use of a wheeled (MAN truck) mounted MLRS system similar to the US HIMARS. Although the original “steel rain” sub-munition rockets, providing the MLRS with its “grid square removal” capability have been phased out due to international treaties banning sub-munitions, the Army has made great use of the M31 Unitary warhead Guided MLRS rocket nicknamed “the 70km sniper” in Afghanistan. Such rockets obviously have continued utility depending on the scenario in which the brigade is engaged, and whether they are in a GPS denied EW environment. The US is currently working on the Alternative Warhead Program to provide a heavy fragmentation effect from a single 200lb warhead, in an effort to replace the effects that used to be provided by the sub-munitions warheads. The UK should definitely get in on this act and invest in this type of rocket. However despite the great utility of a wheeled MLRS, the bulk of the 6-round rocket packets remains a concern, along with the number that can be carried by a single re-load truck. If the Strike Brigades is going to operate autonomously, with its logistics tail travel closely behind it wherever it goes, it will need to protect those supplies as it moves. This means that ammunition density may favour the tube artillery. So perhaps we would have fewer HIMARS launchers in Strike Brigade.

While it makes sense to constrain the procurement of new capabilities to available, off the shelf systems, one capability that is also worth investing in is a ground launched Brimstone anti-armour capability. The US Army’s Multi-Mission Launcher (MML) was developed quickly and inexpensively, using some HIMARS components and has test fired a Hellfire. If it can fire Hellfire, it should be able to launch Brimstone too. With 15 missile cells on the launcher, this is equivalent to a full Brimstone load-out on a Typhoon, and could provide the Brigade with a very useful autonomous anti-armour over-watch capability in all weathers, when tac-air cannot make it to the party. If we were to invest in this system, we might as well buy some Miniature Hit-to-Kill missiles for the C-UAS / C-RAM capability from the same launch vehicle, because the Brigade is going to need this capability too.

In terms of Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD), more SkySabre batteries are needed. Under present plans, we will acquire just 24 SkySabre launchers with a significant number being deployed to the Falkland Islands. We need a minimum of 96 or three air defence regiments each with 32 launch systems. We also need to mount the Starstreak HVM SHORARD missile used on the Stormer platform on a wheeled platform, ideally Boxer. The RUSI paper suggests that we need a cannon-based SHORAD system because missiles are too expensive to be used to defeat small drones. The Skykeeper 35mm system mounted on a Boxer module is extremely good. Its revolutionary AHEAD ammunition with tungsten fragments has a large burst pattern. Although the ammunition is expensive, fewer rounds are needed to defeat a target than with systems like Goalkeeper.

We would also need commensurate investment in ISTAR, and C4I systems. The Army presently has a total of 5 counter-battery locating radars with a limited range. Moving on from ARTHUR (Mamba in UK service) to Giraffe 4a would give us the ability to track aerial targets as well as artillery shells. Linked to our air defence systems, this would give Strike Brigades much greater resilience.

The Mechanised Infantry Vehicle

At the heart of Strike is the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle, the ARTEC Boxer 8×8. Developed between 1998 and 2008, it builds upon the success of the USMC’s LAV-25 and US Army’s LAVE III (Stryker) platform, but offers much greater protection. Good on-road and off-road, it delivers 80-90% of the cross-country performance of an equivalent tracked platform, while being 30-40% less expensive to acquire and 50% less expensive to support through its lifecycle. If we make this platform the focus of the Strike Brigades, just as we made the FV432 family the core armoured platform of BAOR during the Cold War, then we will need to buy a significant number – not just the 514 currently envisaged, but something like 1,800-2,000.

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Boxer Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) 

An ideal brigade configuration would be four primary Boxer equipped units. One would be a medium reconnaissance regiment with the fire support variant of Boxer mounting a 30-50mm cannon in a manned turret; the other three would be mechanised infantry battalions with a Boxer infantry carrier mounting some form of light cannon in a remote weapon station or unmanned turret.

The infantry carrier variant of Boxer is expected to mount a 12.7mm HMG. While this is suitable for command, engineer and other support variants, it is not sufficient for high intensity engagements. The Northrop Grumman M230LF chain gun (used in the Apache AH-64 attack helicopter) would provide a better capability that would enable an overmatch versus 14.5mm and 23mm cannons. Mounted in something like the the Leonardo / Moog Reconfigurable Weapons Installation Platform (RWIP), this allows various missile systems to be included in the configuration. We might want to add a pair of Javelin or MMP ATGMs, quad Light Weight Multi-Role Missile (LMM) for anti-helicopter, C-UAS and anti-light armour roles, or even tube launch UAS for STA roles. The same highly flexible system could also be fitted to Ares vehicles in Ajax regiments, and even for JLTVs purchased as part of the MRV-P programme.

Given that Ajax will have the 40mm CT cannon, it makes sense to mount this system on a Boxer reconnaissance variant. We might be able to re-purpose the LMUK turret destined for Warrior on Boxer.

We will acquire an extensive range of Boxer variants including C2, ambulance, combat engineer, repair and recovery and other specialist configurations. If the budget could be stretched far enough, Challenger 2 could be replaced by fitting a Leonardo 120mm HitFact turret to a Boxer Direct Fire variant. Or, we could simply but the Italian Centauro 2 off-the-shelf, which has the same turret. We could equip one regiment per brigade with this to back-up the formation’s ATGM component with APFSDS penetrators.

Summary and Conclusion

There is much good work that went into the RUSI paper on Strike and there is a lot of great thought that has gone into the various articles in the reading list at the beginning of this one. Comments in the RUSI paper on logistics are not considered here, but it is important to emphasise that the logistics system behind the Strike Brigades will be essential. Second, the Army as a whole is going to need to invest in a more substantial EW capability through which we can listen-in on enemy conversations, jam communications, target headquarters and disrupt the enemy’s own logistics chain.

To conclude, there essential characteristics of the all-wheeled force proposed here are:

  • Strike Brigades become the core of the UK’s land component, with a focus on equipping three multi-role formations
  • Retiring heavy armour would not make us a third world military power
  • The MBT is not obsolete, but rather than spending huge amounts of cash on penny packets of capability, it’s time for a fundamental re-think
  • Let the countries that will be fighting on their own turf build their own forces around heavy armour, which has much shorter distances to deploy into action
  • Remember there is a reason why the Russians have always considered artillery as the “Queen of the battlefield” – it wins battles – so the RA needs considerable investment
  • Artillery should be at front and centre of Strike Brigades capability – in this respect it is a wheeled medium armour version of Lt. Colonel Douglas McGregor’s Reconnaissance Strike Group (RSG)
  • The Strike Brigade has three mechanised infantry battalions to give it the dismounted mass needed for flexibility and resilience – but this means investing in a large of Boxer platforms
  • There is a role for the Ajax vehicles in this new way of doing things, it is just not mixed in with wheeled Strike Brigades
  • Apart from the Immediate Reaction forces, there should be three of everything: three Strike Brigades, with three Infantry battalions, in order to have reasonable force generation cycle
  • To achieve a credible force, we will need to take some tough decisions, but if we are prepared to sacrifice older, less relevant capabilities to concentrate on others that relate directly to the unique challenges the UK would face, we would establish a modern and credible force that would make us a more useful and flexible ally our NATO allies and coalition partners.

Ultimately, this discussion isn’t about challenging individual equipment choices, such as which cannon or missile systems should be acquired, but about the viability of a new operating concept. In any event, our approach to contemporary warfare must acknowledge that we will never have enough boots on the ground to hold a line, or defend a city. This means we need to consider innovative doctrines. The Strike concept implies we can effectively manoeuvre in the land domain (including within the littorals and cyber / information domains), and we can destroy or render combat ineffective enemy formations, while denying their capabilities. So long as Strike Brigades are properly resourced, there is no reason why they cannot be transformational.

Further Reading:

www.UKLandPower.com

www.thinkdefence.co.uk

Gabriele Molinelli – UK Armed Forces Commentary:

Janes:

Military Review:

Strykers on the Mechanized battlefield https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/English-Edition-Archives/November-December-2017/Strykers-on-the-Mechanized-Battlefield/

NOTES:

[i]Strike: From Concept to Force: https://rusi.org/publication/occasional-papers/strike-concept-force

[ii]Think Defence: https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2018/02/light-strike-brigade-concept/

 

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