By Jed Cawthorne
This article is primarily a response to the recently published RUSI paper; ‘The Future of Fires: Maximising the UK’s tactical and operational firepower’ by Dr. Jack Watling.
It is also a follow-up to a previous article on fires capabilities within in the context of Strike Brigades, and a discussion of the question whether we should allocate a larger proportion of limited resources on what will be a rather small number of Main Battle Tanks (MBTs).
Ideally, we should not be in the position of having to choose between artillery and tanks. The defence budget ought to allow an increase in the Army’s headcount, to retain and regenerate tracked armoured infantry brigades, as well as generating new wheeled Strike brigades, and with both fully equipped with fire support assets. However, with stagnant GDP and political parties of all colours distracted by Brexit, any future defence review will likely see further cuts, leading to hard decisions on what to prioritise.
This is where the discussion of our MBT capability comes into play. The Challenger 2 upgrade has been delayed time after time, and the older it becomes, the more that needs to be done to ensure it remains competitive. A decision on the programme was due around now, but is now likely to be pushed either to late 2020 or early 2021, assuming the Treasury doesn’t decide that it has become unaffordable. Instead of debating whether 150 exquisitely upgraded Challenger 3s, Leopard 2s or M1A3s would be the best value for money, perhaps we should address the more fundamental issue of whether such a small number of tanks actually makes any difference to our overall level of national security, or to the capabilities of the NATO alliance, and the role of the Army across these tasks?
During the cold war, the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) was a Corps-sized formation with close to 1,000 MBTs in four deployable divisions; however, it was what we now call “forward based.” These did not have far to travel from their German barracks to potential WWIII battlegrounds. In such a scenario, heavy armour made perfect sense, as it now does for Germany, Poland, and other NATO countries that share land borders with potential enemies. The problem now is that we are struggling to man and equip even divisions, of which only one is deployable. They are mostly based in UK, including their heavy equipment such as MBTs and Warrior IFVs. This means that before they can take part in any fight, they have to be delivered into theatre. If an asset cannot get to the fight in a timely fashion, then it is pretty much pointless.
I am not arguing that tanks are obsolete, that they have no role, or no future. I am not arguing that they have no role in the land domain capabilities of the broader NATO alliance. However, I am arguing that the UK would be better spending a finite budget on different capabilities. I delved deeper into those arguments in my previous article: https://uklandpower.com/2019/07/02/the-importance-of-building-uk-strike-brigades-around-artillery/
So, where does the RUSI paper come into play in this context? It does not suggest that money spent on MBTs is money wasted, but it does recognise the need for vastly improved our fires capabilities – conventional tube artillery, multiple launch rocket artillery, defensive and offensive missile capabilities, and air defence assets. It discusses this in the context of UK participation in a NATO allied force in North West continental Europe, to resist potential aggression from Russian Federation forces. The paper compares and contrasts UK capabilities with the artillery / fires of a Russian Brigade Tactical Group (BGT) and Division, noting that a Russian Motor-Rifle Brigade (mechanised infantry) has a total of 81 artillery pieces, ranging from 152mm howitzers to 300 mm rocket MLRS with a range of 120km; and each battalion tactical group is supported by 18 self-propelled guns (SPG). The British Army in return would struggle to deploy one of its two AS90 regiments, each of which has 24 mm L/39 calibre 155 SPGs and a battery of 6 to 8 M270 227mm MLRS, assuming that it has sufficient heavy equipment transporters necessary to get these tracked vehicles to where they are needed. It is an excellent paper, well researched and provides some useful insights. I highly recommend reading it, if you have not done so already.
Artillery capabilities provide us with highly scalable resources suitable for a range of missions, from small scale interventions, such as evacuating UK / allied citizens, to larger scale counter-terrorism operations, limited conflicts against near-peer and non-state actors, to full scale peer-to-peer war fighting. Expensive precision guided munitions with small or even inert warheads can be used to minimize collateral damage where required. Different types of precision guided rounds provide anti-armour capabilities, but as Russian activities in Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine have shown, a large tonnage of traditional high explosive still has an important role to play.
So, spending our meagre budget on improving our fires capabilities does much to provide us with a set of tools that can be leveraged across a range of operational types. The RUSI paper provides interesting detail on the Russian use of artillery and rocket warheads that are essentially cluster munitions with large numbers of small multi-purpose hollow charge / fragmentation bomblets, and whether we should repudiate international treaties that ban such munitions, so that we have them should we ever need them, specifically to defend against Russian forces with superior numbers of tanks, self-propelled howitzers and MLRS systems. However without developing or putting new types of ammunition into production, we could substantially improve our capabilities with purchases off-the-shelf ammunition types.
At the shortest range, the Bofors Strix IR guided top attack 120mm mortar round, used by the Swedish Army since 1994, provides a useful indirect anti-armour capability out 4.5 km for a standard round (or 7 km for an extended-range version). During the Cold War, BAE Systems developed the Merlin 81mm Millimetric Wave (MMW) radar guided round, which did not make into service, being somewhat ahead of its time. I don’t know if the Strix is still in production for Sweden, but given MBDA’s success in developing the Brimstone missiles MMW seeker, and since as Bofors is a BAE Systems company, perhaps the time is right to invest in an upgrade?
From the same company, and used during operations in Mali by France, is the BONUS 155 mm anti-armour artillery round. https://www.baesystems.com/en/product/155-bonus With a range of up to 35km, it is not exactly a long-range round, but its guided sub-munition projectiles are far more useful against an enemy armoured formation, than standard HE blast / fragmentation effects. Although, as shown by cold war testing by the US Army, the amount of damage that can be caused by 152mm Russian / 155mm NATO HE rounds should not be discounted. The problem is we are not likely to have enough guns to provide the weight of fire needed. Even so, an initial salvo from one battery, might damage active protection system and communication equipment antennas before the BONUS sub-munitions start falling. Standard HE rounds benefit from a Precision Guidance Kit (PGK), a nose-mounted fuse assembly that includes a GPS receiver, an inertial navigation system and guidance fins. Even in a GPS denied environment (highly likely in a peer-to-peer scenario) the inertial navigation capability provides increased accuracy.
For the longest ranges from tube artillery, something along the lines of the OTO-Melara Vulcano 155mm round with inertial, GPS and SAL terminal guidance is available, and would be useful for precision strikes against static targets. https://www.leonardocompany.com/en/products/vulcano-155mm
Even with a new long-barrelled 155mm / L/52 gun-on-a-truck (GOAT) such as the BAE Systems Archer on a MAN truck, or the KMW RCH155 module on a Boxer, getting long-range fires on target in support of a Strike Brigade is likely to require a wheeled HIMARS type MLRS. The M31 Guided MLRS Unitary warhead round used by the UK in Afghanistan is nicknamed “the 70km sniper” and has great utility in the counter-insurgency role. In a peer to peer conflict, however, the GPS navigation system is likely to be jammed, while the HE round is less effective. The US is developing a version of the M31 called the GMLRS-ER, or Extended Range, with a capability to reach out to 150km, this would be extremely useful in the context of the RUSI Future Fires paper’s concept of a well-defended artillery position providing fire support to Strike Brigade company-sized battle groups as they conduct operations deep into enemy territory. However, if we don’t want to break our commitment to the ban on cluster-munitions, we would need these rockets to be fitted with the ‘Alternative Warhead’ developed by Lockheed Martin and Alliant Techsystems. This AW is designed to have equal or greater effect against material and personnel targets than a Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DIPCM) warhead, while leaving no unexploded ordinance on the battlefield. A 150 km range AW-equipped rocket for MLRS/ HIMARS would provide the required counter-battery effects against Russian MLRS batteries, as well as the cross-range ability to support multiple battle groups with counter battery fires against Russia’s numerically superior 152mm howitzer batteries.
The RUSI paper also notes that the Russian way of waging artillery-based war requires considerable logistics, multiple tonnes of 152 mm ammunition, often delivered by train to a logistics hub. An existing system that might be well suited to this kind of target is the SAAB Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (SDB). This basically utilises the DIPCM warhead from an M26 rocket and attaches an adapter for the Boeing SDB 250lb guided glide bomb. The rocket launches the SDB to altitude where it opens its wings and assumes is glide bomb profile, reaching targets at distances of up to 150km. The SDB has a semi-active laser (SAL) seeker, so, if a nearby drone can illuminate the target, it becomes a precision strike tool, again adding a utility in limited conflict scenarios. A future ground-launched version of the UK’s SPEAR 3 jet powered ‘mini-cruise missile’ would have an even longer range, but would require us to spend on R&D, whereas the GL-SDB has been developed, tested and is available now.
So, if we were to invest in a 120mm mortar for Boxer, in a Boxer-mounted or truck-mounted 155mm gun system to replace the AS90 and added wheeled HIMARS launchers, there are several existing munitions types, and a number in final-stages of development new ammunition types that would do much to address UK fires weaknesses outlined by the RUSI Future Fires paper.
To summarize so far, investing in indirect fires, with three 3-4 different range capabilities (or Battalion, Brigade, Division and Corps assets) brings a huge potential uplift in general close fire support, anti-armour, counter battery and long-range precision guided capabilities. I would argue that all of these capabilities are far more valuable, across a far greater range of scenario’s than a small number of high-end MBTs.
However, the RUSI paper also suggests that “a battery of anti-tank guided missiles per battlegroup” is required. UK doctrine and CONOPS has, right through the cold war, insisted on an anti-tank “over watch” capability rather than equipping individual IFVs with turret or RWS-mounted ATGW launchers. But, for a Strike Brigade with no tanks or wheeled assault guns / mobile gun systems, this may need to change. The RUSI paper notes US / UK research suggests that, for a NATO mechanized infantry brigade to take-on a Russian Motor-Rile Brigade, it would need 108 Javelin launchers. Perhaps it is time to mix and match infantry with RWS-mounted ATGMs and cavalry units with longer range overwatch ATGMs? Equipping Boxer Mechanised Infantry Vehicles with Javelin, and Ajax Reconnaissance vehicles with a ground-launched version of Brimstone 3 would meet this requirement. At the last DSEI, MBDA showed concepts of what appeared to be a stretched 178mm Brimstone-derived missile, with 8 containers on the back of a Boxer.
The existing Brimstone 2 can reach 40+ km from a helicopter launch, so suggesting perhaps 24 to 30km from a ground launcher does not seem to be over-reaching. A salvo of 32 ground launched Brimstone 2 from a battery of 4 launchers, in autonomous MMW operating mode, is equivalent to a strike by four Typhoons, but taking place within an A2/AD integrated air defence bubble, it’s really going to ruin the day of a Russian Brigade commander.
A “direct fire” analogue to the ATGW overwatch capability, Javelin on Boxer RWS mounts could be mixed with the less expensive Thales LMM. This is a lightweight supersonic missile with a 4km+ range (8km from a helicopter) and 3kg dual-effect shaped charge/blast-fragmentation warhead. It should be more than capable of neutralising BMPs and BTRs, leaving Javelin for dealing with actual tanks.
In conclusion, it is important to emphasise that the Main Battle Tank is not necessarily obsolete or of no tactical utility. However, in a resource-constrained environment, that’s likely to get worse before it gets better, and where the British Army may need to brace itself for another round of cuts, the cash we do allocate to new or refreshed capabilities must be well spent. Almost two decades of counter-insurgency warfare have seen both the Royal Armoured Corps and Royal Artillery starved of funding. Personally, I do not believe it is worth spending £1.5 billion on a Challenger 3 upgrade. While it might be more sensible to acquire a European MBT (Leopard 2A7V) or a US one (M1A3 Abrams), perhaps we should leave other European NATO states to concentrate on heavy tracked armour, while we concentrate on wheeled Strike Brigades with potent indirect fires capabilities? A strategic capability that can self-deploy anywhere it is required in the defence of continental European NATO Alliance partners (such as an Article 5 defence of the Baltic states) would be much more useful a capability for high-end, peer-to-peer warfare. It would also offer utility in “out of area” global deployments in counter-insurgency operations or limited conflict roles to counter rogue states. Modern artillery has far greater utility than a 70-tonne MBT, and could be used effectively in a much broader range of scenarios, offering better value for money, as well as increased operational effectiveness. The RUSI report suggests a battery of ATGM missiles and a battery of 120mm mortars to support each battlegroup, plus a regiment of 24 155mm self-propelled howitzers at brigade level, or 72 guns at divisional level, supported by a regiment (24-32) MLRS launchers. I might quibble about the mix, replacing some of the guns at the divisional support group with more HIMARS type MLRS launchers, due to their range advantage. Whatever we do, it may be worth investing in new munitions that provide increased flexibility, accuracy and target effect:
- 120mm mortar with Strix – anti-armour effect to 5-7 km
- Ground launched Brimstone 2 – anti-armour effect to 24-28 km
- 155mm BONUS ATGW rounds – anti-armour effect to 35 km
- 155mm base-bleed rounds with Precision Guidance Kits – general fire support to 40+ km
- 155mm VULCANO long-range precision guided rounds -precision fires to 70 km
- M31 GMLRS with Alternative Warhead – counter battery fires against SPG and MLRS batteries, long range support fires to 70 km
- GMLRS-ER with Alternative Warhead – counter battery fires against long range MLRS, anti-A2AD against radars and SAM batteries to 150 km
- Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb – long range precision fires against high value targets to 150 km
We may not be able to invest in all of the above munition types, but we can definitely invest in some – if we forego the expected £1.5 billion cost of an exquisite upgrade for an insignificant number (150+) of Challenger 2 MBTs. What makes this discussion relevant and important is that UK-based MBTs are unlikely to deploy quickly enough to Europe to contribute a decisive effect.
I would a poss a question – does the proliferation of IM warheads make the criticisms of cluster munitions redundant? Provided of course they are not used as area denial mines. I’m not advocating bringing back AP mines, but cluster weapons certainly have their uses.
Great article Jed, some great content and ideas.
I will comment on it at a later date when I have the time to commit to the sort or response that this article deserves. I’m busy at the moment bringing in the harvest ( I’m a spaghetti farmer by trade ).
There is no alternative to the MBT, as they play a number of roles apart from head to head conflict. In Iraq, CH2 was used to stand guard or create roadblocks and street to street fighting, which could not be achieved with artillery. No, we should not even consider we have a choice.
Those chaps in CR2s braking up the battlespace in Basra all those years ago were some terribly brave, and may I say good looking chaps! (probably huge, nay massive male appendages)
Sure, like I said, MBT’s are not obsolete. Note however that we soon withdrew the Chally 2 from Iraq and used just Warriors for “heavy” support. Nor did we deploy them to Afghanistan like some of our allies. You say we should not consider we even have a choice? So you are constraining us to an approach based on historical force design and budgets? So what do you want to give up in order to pay for say, lets be generous, 200 Chally 3 ? What are we not going to have in order to retain this capability. How and when do you see it being deployed?
I’d be very happy to retain the CH2 upgrade. As for giving something up, I’d give up everything to retain the MBT. The only problem we have is too few MBT’s. Obviously, armoured troop carriers are essential but maybe not so many varied vehicles? Remember, the Sirians use MBT’s to chase out rebels from inner cities, and they give the best protection, even though the loss numbers are considerable. We also used CH2 at the heart of the Kuiat and Iraq wars to great effect, so no, we should not dump the MBT for other vehicles with less battlefield punch.
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I wonder, is the logistical tail associated with big conventional guns necessarily the best fit for ‘strike’, especially if it were to achieve penetration to the extent that the door basically closed behind it.
Should we maybe take the RHA and create a fast moving cavalry hybrid that can hit and run?
All artillery needs to be able to hit and run, or shoot and scoot. Logistics is an issue of course. 1 Boxer ammo carrier for every Boxer with a 120mm mortar?
BAe have shown a MAN truck based “limber vehicle” to go with their ‘Archer on MAN’ GOAT – carries twice the number of rounds and is backed up to the gun / magazine pod and feeds the rounds in. So again, 1 or 2 of these for ever gun? Also do you add a gun troop to every BG, or keep them back in your heavily defended citadel if it exists, and fire from there?
Gun ammo still offers greater density than the 227mm MLRS rocket packs, but the newer rockets offer greater range, hopefully making resupply easier to protect.
I should perhaps have been more clear, I understand, I just didn’t mean shoot and scoot I meant hit and run.
I must admit to being increasingly confused by strike; disaggregation, reaggregation, swarming and harassing vulnerable areas, talk of 100km frontage and penetration up to 200km.
Then they seem to combine it with what a gamer would call a tower defence, I get that they think they can safely tow a fire base through Russia, but they really can’t.
It just seems to me that that methodology, the nodes, reliable access to resupply, would be better employed by line infantry behind strike, that’s what I think anyway, but what do I know.
What I was pondering looking at your article was reversing a cavalry regiment for artillery, so it would be rocket heavy with recce troops, whereas the cavalry regiment itself would be recce heavy with rocket troops, so you could go deep, find, lob a couple hundred Brimstone into a search box and run away.
If we’re looking at a preponderance of 120mm mortars and precision missiles across the brigade anyway and we’re looking to move fast and be self sufficient, should we dare to leave the 155 at home?
120mm mortar has roughly the same effect as 105mm artillery and for weight you get two or three rounds for every 155, so you get more fire missions with what you’re carrying. Raiding, I guess I’m saying, I thought we were doing raiding.
What does everyone have against Spike?
Spike LR2 – 5.5 km
Spike ER2 – 10km
Spike NLOS – 25 km
That said, the LRPF from MBDA for RHA (!…)
As (micro) ucavs and small kamikaze ucavs etc will make the MBT to vulnerable in comparison to its cost and also will deliver at the same time the information for indirect fires, the answer is in my opinion very simple: the only way into the future is indirect fires. For that reason the MBT is like the cavalry in around 1900, a discontinued model which will retreat more and more to niches and special roles and will become more and more irrelevant.
So for warfare in the future the answer is: choose indirect fires. In combination with light fast (armored) recce systems which can also deliver firepower, be it uavs or ground units.
The MBT is called dead since its inception in WW1…..
On your points:
Kamikaze UAVs are a evolutionary dead end in my oppinion. The micro size of them is too vulnerable to everything, especially electromagnetic warfare. If they are autonomous you have the problem of target aquisition, if not you have the problem of communication with the operators and low ranges on the micro size.
Furthermore their payload is so low, that even if they become a threat, MBTs will be modified to counter them and will have a lot more lbs to spare to put effective counters to them in place. You also have to take into account, that MBTs dont operate alone, they are supported by their by other MBTs and everything inside their units, for example dedicated AA or dedicated EW.
You could say that you kamikaze UAVs could grow to be more resilent, but there will come a point when you will call them cruise missiles, those are not cost effective against tanks…..
When a mechanized brigade attacks with 15-20 tanks and 20-30 IFVs with artillery preparation, artillery covering fire, EW support, AA support, ENG support, you dont want to be on the other side operating a micro uav…….
To put it short, tanks are not dead, they are the most dangerous AFV a ground force can hace…..
I absolutly agree with your scenario if this would be the case. But that was not what i mean. You compare an complete extreme strong force fighting combined with only one weapon system as if “our” side could not also combine weapons with each other and use several different systems that would the support each other.
For the costs of 20 MBT and 30 IFV with artillery prep / cover, EW and AA and ENG you could not only use micro uav for them own. You can use also EW, Artillery, long range tank hunting assets and drones combined. But because you spare the MBT and the costs for them, you have much more of them. And their stronger NLOS Fire Power would destroy your LOS centric force always faster then your LOS Tanks could destroy this dedicated NLOS Force.
That does not mean, that MBT are dead now, or useless, to the opposite. But they are not longer the decisive weapon system and they are on an dead end because of their LOS centric design. Its not so much about the MBT, but about LOS combat, so the same mechanics also apply to other LOS centric systems.
That said one main demandment is IMO to develope the MBT into an system which can also fight as much as possible in the NLOS area. The KSTAM ammunition for example shows how.
Hey Jed, Another great piece. Thanks for contributing it!
I can see your point perfectly. You make a very strong case for Artillery over heavy metal. However, if we lose our tanks, don’t we lose our credibility as a Tier 1 Army? Holland and Canada both regretted retiring their MBT fleets and both are now getting back into the game. I think the tank as presently constituted is too heavy and too difficult to deploy, but the concept of mobile firepower it embodies remains valid.
In the short-term, maybe retiring Challenger 2 now and gapping the ability makes sense. Or we could simply keep Challenger 2 in service for as long as we can before it literally falls apart. The Challenger 2 LEP is expected to cost north of £1 billion. I’m not sure this is the best use of limited cash now. Best wait and see what the US Army’s OMT and KNDS’s MGCS roll out. In the meantime, I would only get rid of UK MBTs if there was some way to mount a 120 mm or 105 mm gun on another platform.
Nick, thanks again for publishing my musings.
I know you absolutely grasp the budgetary reality of the situation. I wonder about the cost benefit analysis of the ongoing support costs of keeping an non-updated Challenger 2 in service until it falls apart.
I believe we could, and should go all in on wheeled medium weight formations based on Boxer. Call it Strike, called it Armoured Infantry, call it Mechanized, they are really just labels, although Strike does have certain connotations based on the original Recce-Strike Group (RSG) concept. If we were to concentrate our budget, our doctrinal development and our collective brain power on that, then there is room for the recently hinted at Boxer variant with a John Cockerill high pressure 105mm gun. As discussed in the comments, and recently on twitter threads, such a gun would be highly mobile assault gun weapon, with a secondary anti-armour capability.
However I believe this only becomes useful when every Boxer APC has a Javelin on its RWS, or is fitted with an LM Warrior WSCP turret with a 40mm and 2 x Javelin, or even better with a Nexter T40 unmanned turret with a 40mm and 2 x MMP. Only when the ATGM platforms are somewhat profligate (well compared to now) can we know that the “assault gun”platform will not be pushed to the fore as an anti-tank weapon. This situation improves still further if we have stand off over-watch in the form of ground launched Brimstone.
Of course the exact same turret has also been demonstrated on a GD ASCOD (Ajax) type hull. So we could have a common turret on the two major armoured platforms, medium tracked and medium wheeled.
However as per the main thrust of this article, if we cannot afford all these other capabilities, AND build up a significant, flexible artillery capability, then I go with the “fires” and that includes buying a large number of Boxers with 120mm mortars before I would buy the 105mm gun version (all though the particular gun / turret combi has always been marketed as having an excellent in-direct fire capability too).
Tanks make sense if you have plains on which to use them, I agree with Jed on this we should let our partners who have that terrain to bring their tanks to the party, our future role in NATO is surely reinforcement and precision fires (Strike), add in Apaches that travel with the strike force and operate from austere landing Zones and the need for tanks is further mitigated.
Again, tanks are great but are limited in the terrain they are effective on.
I am in the camp that the Army needs to be all wheeled and our light forces are Commando only (and also wheeled but with Dagors)
Boxers with supporting Fires in large volume is the way to go for an army shrinking in manpower that still wishes to compete. The only way we can do that is by improving the firepower per person.
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Am I right in saying that the core of the Strike concept is in the unparalleled integration of various ISTAR assets to basically lift the fog of war and allow the dispersion of the mass without losing the concentration of fire power?
Thus an opponent mass can be attritioned at arms length by a number of different platforms dispersed and arrayed around the periphery of a battlefield without them being able to lay a glove on you.
I guess that’s been the holy grail for a while, but with the latest generation of ISTAR platforms and guided munitions is finally a realistic goal.
As you say then, long range fires is the twin pillar alongside ISTAR to making the concept workable. I agree with the central thesis of getting ATGMs onto Boxers and the overwatch role with Brimstone seems a no brainer.
I guess two things that come to my mind is that if your ISTAR element fails and an opponent mass does manage to close up to your dispersed formations then it has to retire or be defeated in detail, unless it can concentrate enough mobile fire power to stop the enemy mass. There are likely a number of starting positions which for political reasons means that yours and their formations start at relatively close proximity, which would blunt the effect of a long range fires approach?
Second is that APS systems on MBTs are based around stopping ATGMs. So there is your armour-gun loop all over. Am I right in saying that a high velocity kinetic penetrator remains the highest percentage option for stopping an enemy MBT?
I think the Strike concept makes sense, if the British army went ‘all in’ on it and used the economy of scales of buying a larger number of Boxers that could be adapted to different purposes including AT overwatch, MGS and IFV as well as a common platform for different artillery systems then conceivably the British Army would have a far more integrated and more resilient firepower approach than it has had for some time.
Yet I’m left with the nagging feeling that there are enough situations where if the ISTAR elements didnt work as expected, that you’d be exposing relatively lightweight formations to MBT formations that might make short work of them?
Dear Captain Nemo
Your right, it really is about “raiding” in some respects. That is what the highly dispersed battle groups of the Strike brigade are doing in effect, at the same time they are both find an fix assets; if they find a juicy high value target they call in fires, if its a more mobile, more fighty tactical target they can fix it in place long enough to call in fires……
I think if our fictional division includes a Mech Infantry brigade they are the “security” or ‘force protection” element for a heavily defended bastion where our Div fires, Air Defence and logistics forward elements hang out, and our “Light Infantry” provide what used to be called ‘rear area security’ – all to give the Strike brigade BG’s some where to call fire from and fall back to for resup.
To be clear the RUSI paper suggested the tubes would be back in the protected area, I am the one suggesting that if the guns are mobile enough, then the whole BG forms their protection, and the 4 gun battery has the range to support the next distributed BG, or to reach out to opfor batteries or juicy C2 and Logistics targets.
What we have to remember in this full on peer to peer against Russians in the Baltic’s type scenario, is that the Strike Brigade is not operating in a vacuum. Whether operating in the Baltics, or around the Sulwaki Gap in Poland for example, there will be other allied forces and capabilities to take into account.
On the other hand, if deployed alone, in Africa say, it has significant combat power on its own if provided with flexible supporting fires.
Again, I understand, what I’m saying is that if they mean to employ strike as a sensor net for precision fires, they’re going to have to slowly wheel the protected node forward to take advantage of it and they’re effectively going to fix strike within its fire limit, reducing its options for manoeuvre.
So, if that is the case why not just make a cheaper net out of the guys defending the node and let Strike off the leash?
Realistically the majority of your fires for the foreseeable future are going to be in the 40km range, so strike is, as you say, going to have to take its own firepower with it. With artillery accounting for 50% of your logistics, I’m simply asking whether it would be to our advantage to leave the big guns out of that one in favour of a new fighting construct. Or maybe not so new.
“Horse artillery was a type of light, fast-moving, and fast-firing artillery which provided highly mobile fire support, especially to cavalry units”
I think we are agreeing in some respects. Lots of 120mm mortars in the BG’s , Brimstone launch vehicles, etc are all highly mobile with the BG. You can take 155’s with you, or not depending on the circumstances, and your mission outcomes etc.
You are absolutely right, the whole thing fails without robust, mobile, reliable ISTAR / C4I / ECM capabilities, they are a corner stone. This is another areas where potential opfor often seems to have put more thought and money into the equation than we have.
As an ex-Royal Corps of Signals type, I could write tons of articles on this subject, but they would be guaranteed to put the readership to sleep 🙂
Ref kinetic kill of MBT – pop over to the comments on the recent Tanks article – lots of conversation on this subject there.
“Tanks or Indirect fires? If we can’t afford both, which should we choose?”
The question is how many infantry battalion reductions will it take to balance the whole force and allow our brigades/battlegroups to be fully supported including the retention of a moderate number of heavy armour in the armoured brigades.
Which then leads to how many fully supported bde’s/battlegroups can we afford.
In essence how big a shake up and reorganisation does the army need to face future threats and be a viable ally.
I think Covid-19 has proven that when the proverbial hits the fan those strong alliances are not as strong as claimed. Even in NATO it is more likely to be a coalition of the willing mobilising, which means we cannot rely on someone else providing non-exotic capabilities and as a military power every brigade/ battlegroup we deploy should be as logistically and kinetically independent as possible.
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Great comment, DN!
But I think I should proof read for spelling mistakes more often before posting!
I’ve edited it for you. All good.
My concern is what is the next conversation we have? Do we need artillery as soon we will have stealth aircraft F35b and Tempest that can penetrate air defences? I get where you are coming from, but the logical conclusion is what? Instead of cuts in all capabilities cuts now come in the form of losing whole capabilities? Relegating us down to an insignificant power.
If anyone thinks medium forces with a high level of indirect fires can hold ground against a serious onslaught I really don’t see it? The whole premise of Strike is not to get in to a slogging match. Yes the serious backbone could be provided by other Alliance members but so could the nuclear deterrent, aircraft and almost any other capability.
Also nothing says to allies our commitment more than a heavy Armoured brigade. Strike is close, but it can retreat as quickly as it got there. If we want to be taken seriously in our commitment to NATO and our deterrence to Russia, the removal of heavy armour from the ORBAT will not help.
I think the strike concept is great but it only really becomes effective in peer to peer with full fat Armoured formations and the concept realises this. Strike dones to train regularly both as an individual formation and joint formation as the modus operandi, I would think would be quite different in the 2 scenarios. No matter how close an ally a combined British formation, I am sure would work much better than a German/British or French/British. There is also a need for OPFOR & yes there are ways around that, but it is still better to have your own representative forces and armoured brigades that think and act like armoured brigades.
I would be very surprised if a significant Russian attack on NATO would come without warning and even it does we/NATO could be holding a line much closer to home. So we would have time in this scenario to prepare and move resources. In the another Ukraine scenario yes UKs heavy armour makes little sense and in this case Strike will be our contribution.
If a significant attack was planned we would need to respond with something more considerable than 8x8s. I think only heavy armour would deter or stop such an attack.
I do think the acquisition of Boxer has gone to a lot of people’s heads its an 8×8, a good one, but an 8×8 none the less! The Germans have said 8×8 but continue to invest in Puma and leopard.
I know the funding situation isn’t great. But I believe (hope) we have hit close to rock bottom for a country our size with our global ambitions and finally politicians realise this.
I really hope that the CH2 numbers don’t drop and if we don’t have enough regular manpower that at least some consideration is given to giving the excess to the reserves. We could still use some of the vehicles we must have in storage to complete a brigade? If not they would be able to replace any losses.
Even if the numbers did drop Russian numbers are only going one way NATO needs every single tank they can get their hands on!
I think the real question is one that politicians and generals don’t want to answer. Is do we undo what we’ve just done? and reposition units back to Germany? With whatever necessary financial commitment is required to actually make that a meaningful deployment. What will the Kremlin take notice of more Strike?
Great article ! As you point out modern ammunition such as long range, area effect top attack, guided, antitank missiles are essential. They have proved very useful. These ammo are obviously more expensive, (i.e an antitank missile costs much more than a GMLRS ) and most have a relatively short shelf life. On the top of this, we need a lot of conventional shells in case GPS and radio coms are jammed. Ammunition is now more expensive than ever. Therefore, instead of ruling out the MBTs for good, (yes they are very vulnerable to Bonus type ammo, but so are all fighting vehicles, IFVs, 155s…) there are a lot of savings to be made through a better ballance of investments in artillery. You refer to the RCH155 and the ARCHER. The RCH is more than twice the unitary cost of a Dannish CAESAR, at least 4 million pounds of difference per unit. This is 1/2 billion £ for 135 guns ! For the Archer less so, but probably around 300 million £ (to which you add 135 specialised resupply vehs vs half the number of DROPS for RCH or CAESAR. Half a billion pounds is a lot of ammunition! With the Covid 19 crisis, as you rightly point out, there will be savings to be made, however we still need numbers. There is no way we will have 135 155s at a unitary cost above 7 million £, and indeed because of the cost of ammo, almost all branches and services have to do this exercise of balancing their investments. I would certainly prefer the dissuasive power and combat power of 135 guns to 60 over expansive and somehow fancy kit.
Well we can agree to disagree I think 🙂
“Instead of cuts in all capabilities cuts now come in the form of losing whole capabilities?”
Yes, constant salami slicing of budgets and capabilities actually reduces us to mediocrity and lack of credibility across the board. Pick some capabilities, invest in them and be really good at them.
“Relegating us down to an insignificant power”
Define significant? Significant to whom? By some reckoning, we are already insignificant in the land domain. Again, pick something, a set of capabilities, invest in it (time, money, people) get really good at it, and become a significant contributor.
“Also nothing says to allies our commitment more than a heavy Armoured brigade.”
Absolute rubbish! The Poles, Germans, French, just about any continental European ally can get more such brigades into the field than us. Ask the French what being a good friend in Africa means – C17’s , ISTAR and intel assets. (yes, I know thats a different context).
“If anyone thinks medium forces with a high level of indirect fires can hold ground against a serious onslaught I really don’t see it?”
Did you read the RUSI papers on fires and strike? Read my previous articles on this site, I am absolutely not saying a strike brigade should try to hold ground against a serious onslaught. It should never try to hold ground, it should manouver, that is what it is designed for. The high level of indirect fire is to reduce enemy formations to a level of ineffectiveness. No one has the manpower numbers to saturate a piece of real estate and hold it for the sake of it. Plus, once again, a UK strike brigade operating in a European theatre is not operating in a vacuum.
“I think the real question is one that politicians and generals don’t want to answer. Is do we undo what we’ve just done? and reposition units back to Germany?” – Never. Going. To. Happen.
Bigger role in NATO forward presence BG’s in Poland and Baltics, maybe, permanent based troops in Germany, nope.
I think we will have to disagree 🙂 my point is significant military powers have full spectrum capabilities to deal with different scenarios.
With removal of full capabilities that spectrum narrows. Yes we can still contribute but with strike only really offensively.
Due to the size of the Russian threat and their stance it is likely we will be on the back foot. There are 2 scenarios I see: one is all out war, the other is a cleverly formed intervention against a NATO member in a way that doesn’t quite trigger article 5 or proxy type war.
In the first it has to be heavy for me with maybe medium in support is the only way to go due to the defensive posture. In this scenario the Russians would have to build up a significant force. This would give us, and the rest of NATO time to deploy. If we deployed a force similar to Gulf War 1 (which we could just about theoretically with 224 Challengers & reserves etc.) I don’t think that is an insignificant contribution to the alliance? Especially if the upgrade is going to be as good as it looks. If we lose tanks altogether we lose this capability.
There is the possibility we could re-role the Boxer element of a strike brigade to the ifv role in AI brigades and we could maintain the CH2 element of the 3rd brigade in the reserves such as Wessex Yeomanry.
As you say yourself Strike is about maneuver and not the most likely holding ground or slow retreat required in this situation. If it is going forward is it not likely to get left behind? So I’d question the additional useful capability it would bring in this scenario? Rear guard security? Plug in gaps?
In the second scenario Strike comes in to its own and we contribute effectively which we can’t do now due to slow deployment. In this scenario heavy is not of any use unless it escalates in to scenario 1.
Regarding the commitment of a heavy brigade your argument leads to well the USA has the most tanks why should the other members bother? The whole idea of the alliance is countries commit what they can and it builds a larger force.
Support in Africa is all well and good but that is about terrorists. The situation could be dealt with by upgraded HMT type platforms. I’m unsure what the army has against this it seems applying the LWR type cabin to a significant portion of the remaining fleet extending where necessary to 6×6 plus a few new purchases would be a no brained but I digress!
Plus when thousands upon thousands of tanks could be available to the opponent every single extra tank would be needed. Are we really going to leave ours at home/give them up, if they’re the best assets for the fight we’re in? The fact that such a force cannot be easily be deployed or equally easily withdrawn logically to me says more commitment to the fight rather than one that could deploy and withdraw back to blighty when things get tough.
I know my last point is never going to happen, but Putin understands one thing and that is military power any cutting of capabilities now IMO sends the completely wrong message. Our politicians need & must understand this.
Therefore I understand your points and it’s a great well thought out article. That is dealing with the sad realism of today. I just feel its done from an a logical financial position & is not what we really need as a supposed global power and that’s the investment for both. I feel that is what should be argued for. The army is trying to correct more than 20+ years under investment in significant land forces & with FV432 even longer.
NATO should be taking Russian & China seriously & we should all at least look to match the USAs GDP spend of 3.4%. The US is more or less geographically the most secure NATO member it is not right they contribute more than anyone else its about the only thing I agree with Trump on!
Great article and an excellent RUSI study. It shows the same trend as observed in the air forces: the risk is to end up with very reduced fleets of sophisticated items (tanks, guns, etc…). However with the new antitank missiles and area-effect top attack munitions alnd combat vehicles are very vulnerable, I think it is risky to aim at the highest level of sophistication for land combat vehicles. Up to where should we go ? And indeed differences in prices can imply 1/2 billion pounds for 135 guns. I think it is even more because RCH155 is hugely expensive. I agree with Bombard op on that one. Better have 135 good and affordable guns rather than a few dozens, lets stop this reduction trend.
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Obviously it’s a bit of a false premise – the Army needs both capabilities.
A more interesting proposition would be
“Should we spend billions on re-newing the UKs nuclear forces, or spend the money on a properly equipped and combat capable army?”
(You could throw in those two defenceless aircraft carriers as well)
Just writing in to say congratulations on another fine piece. Don’t you know a lot about Artillery!
I disagree with the main thrust of your article, though. You have argued your case well but I think that we must accept more powerful arguments, one of which is the point made by UK Land Power: “Holland and Canada both regretted retiring their MBT fleets and both are now getting back into the game.” Maurice 10 also makes some telling points: e.g “There is no alternative to the MBT, as they play a number of roles apart from head to head conflict. In Iraq, CH2 was used to stand guard or create roadblocks and street to street fighting, which could not be achieved with artillery. No, we should not even consider we have a choice.”
I am going to go off at a tangent here because I have a question about tracked Artillery to which I genuinely do not know the answer. I feel justified in the digression, however, because the whole article concerns Artillery and, if we do not go all-wheeled, as you would like, then we have to consider which Artillery kit would still be useful.
My question concerns the AS90. You near the beginning of your article the following: “The British Army in return would struggle to deploy one of its two AS90 regiments, each of which has 24 mm L/39 calibre 155 SPGs and a battery of 6 to 8 M270 227mm MLRS.”
Is it the case that the inclusion of GMLRSs in AS90 regiments still exists? I know that it was the case after another re-organization of our Artillery a few years ago but I thought that it had been considered that the rockets should be moved back to their own GMLRS regiments again and become Divisional assets once more. (Something to do with the amalgamated units containing both guns and rockets and how that made it difficult for rocket men to achieve promotion). This is in no way meant to be a carping criticism. I simply do not know the answer and it difficult to find out the formation and kit of particular formations and kit within the British Arm nowadays.
On the subject of the AS90, would not an upgrade to the Braveheart version of the weapon, 52 calibres (L/52) long be a real improvement to our capabilities? The AS9 is still a more than useful weapon and the upgrade would improve its performance considerably. I read the other day that the Braveheart programme was still alive. Any truth in that, do you know?
I wanted to ask about Air Defence for the Strike Brigades but perhaps a later post, as this one i already getting too long!
There are a number of issues with the AS90 Platform: age, weight, speed and cost of upgrade to name but afew.
I agree with Sam Hogg, life cycle cost related issues, including the need to have more haulers, more fuel tanks….
But tactically, modern ISTAR capabilities (CB radars, UAVs, EW…) mean that more than ever survivability lies in the capacity to move. The more you do so the more fuel you use and armoured-tracked vehicles will obviously use more fuel. Once the fuel resupply chain is interrupted, movement is interrupted, and your guns stop firing (or they are destroyed). Modern ammunition can destroy roads and paralyse MSRs. Guns like AS90 or K9 are things of the past. The last RAND report about artillery 2025 is very interesting. I understand that K9 can be useful in a static environment facing an enemy without anti armour sensor fuzed ammo capability, it could be hit mostly by splinters. It is not the case facing Russia, Russian arty has plenty of sensor-fuzed munitions. It can destroy arty at range, not just neutralise it with splinters. This is why i believe it makes no sense to go for heavy howitzers which are much more expensive than GOATs and which will be paralysed once the fuel resupply is interrupted. Not to mention the fact that they won’t be deployed in limited conflicts like Afghanistan. These conflits mean that the arty skills are preserved, tha the gunners still want to join and stay, and be ready for the next war.
Dissension is welcomed !
If we retain tracked heavy armour, the question on whether we retain tracked SPH is a pertinent one. MLRS is not employed in mixed regiments with the AS90. The AS90 are termed “close support” regiments. Is the base vehicle in good enough condition for the Braveheart upgrade to make sense, or would it make more sense to put the ACH 155 gun module, AND the MLRS launchers onto new Ajax chassis ?
Oh air defence is a whole other conversation indeed. An area where we are terribly lacking. So then the conversation is circular, would you rather take a finite budget and pay for air defence or tanks…….
This was a pretty informative article and I enjoyed reading it and I agree with you that fires needs to be prioritized. But tanks allow direct action and are just as important in combined arms warfare as artillery and infantry.
Instead of cancelling the Challenger 2 upgrade why not cancel the warrior upgrade and buy 2 battalions worth of boxers and use the funds to invest in additional fires that are required.
Finally to provide enough soldiers to man this new equipment and the logistics necessary is going to require a reduction in infantry battalions so those personal slots can be reallocated. Which would be a good thing.
Because we’re virtually committed to Warrior if not by this time actually committed and the cost is looking like £1.2 billion total with the £400 million already committed. If we cancel we burn the £400 million and have £800 million left which may get you 150 basic boxers with 0.5 hmg which would then need turrets with sights/ sensors etc.
So you may have to spend another x00 million which effectively again impacts the number of Boxers you can afford. Most people are not recognising that this probably equals the majority of the cost of the Warrior contract and we need the turrets, this is not an insignificant x. By now possibly down to less than 100 Boxers. Plus the integration of the turret has already happen on Warrior so there will be more money to spend integrating the turret to a Boxer module.
This is also before you ignore as most others seem to the likely numbers of spares we have for warrior and the fact we have an engineering variant, recovery variant etc. So you would either have keep these alongside Boxer increasing the logistic burden or find more funding to replace them.
Also despite what others may say by the laws of physics tracked will always be better over all terrain as wheels have little contact with the ground creating extra pressure where they do contact the ground.
Thanks for taking the trouble to reply.
I suppose that you have put your finger on it when you say: “Is the base vehicle in good enough condition for the Braveheart upgrade to make sense.” Sam Hogg seems to think that the problems are numerous. I have no conclusive evidence either way. It just seemed to me a shame that with a fairly serviceable vehicle available and with the longer barrels presumably still stored by BAe or some company, that the necessary upgrade would be comparatively cheap but maybe I am wrong again!
On the subject of air defence, I don’t know that it is an area where we are particularly lacking. After all, we have Starstreak mounted on Stormer (together with a lighter weight missile) and now the Camm or Land Ceptor. The latter of course has the advantage (as far as the Strike Brigades are concerned) of being based on a wheeled vehicle. Ought it not to be a prime candidate, therefore, to equip such Brigades? Trouble is we are likely to have only 24 of them in service, at least in the near future.
It is just that I have a terrible presentiment that such brigades will be “done on the cheap” e.g. that the artillery support will still be provided by something like the Light Gun, that bridging will be based upon REBS, that ambulances might still be Land Rovers etc.) and that the whole thing will prove a failure because of insufficient investment. Such a view will not please a genuine supporter like Nick Drummond, I know, but I just think the finance will not be there. The concept is interesting but it needs the necessary dosh, which might be very difficult post the corona virus.
Air defence remains a shambles. Very few of those StarStreak on Stormer are available. The light weight MANPADS version is few and far between and not integrated in to Infantry, it is an RA capability.
SkySabre (CAMM) is a great replacement for Rapier, but we will have far to few. Also the Italians have funded development of an extended range version, so their AD bubble will be bigger.
We have no Counter- Rocket, Artillary and Mortar (C-RAM) capability.
We have no Counter-UAV capability – including sensors, directed energy, cannon, missile or C-UAV UAV’s – we may have some EW capability in this area, but it would no doubt be classified.
We have no medium to long range SAMS for homeland defence or deployed Army, unless T45 with Aster 30 is near by.
Once again, all fur coat and no nickers if enemy rockets, missiles, fast air and helo’s get past the RAF Typhoons……
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I don’t agree with this premise that we need to remove heavy armour to fund ‘Strike’ as in my opinion it is a false premise.
The Russians have basically been using the strike concept in Ukraine for years with their Battalion Tactical Groups the RUSI paper also alluded to them. These formations are made up of legacy equipment with modern air defence, ECM and ISTAR.
This is one of the many videos and papers available on the subject and gives a good overview of the concept and how overmatched we are if we are going to face a peer/near peer oppo who can also read and learn from open sources.
Drones and IED’s have proliferated and so will some of these tactics it’s inevitable as it’s an obvious way of levelling the playing field against the likes of NATO.
Sound starts off a bit iffy but improves 3 min in and skip to about 14 min if you do not want to hear about the Hybrid stuff.
At the moment the Armoured brigades are the only formations we have that can execute combined arms warfare at the level to to at least compete against a peer enemy, so why would we remove that capability to fund one that is not even going to be available for years?
We can do Mali now with the same equipment we used on Herrick and by looking at what was posted about the Strike brigades make up all we have done is replace Mastiff with Boxer with no real uplift in capability.
All I see at the moment is an army floundering under it’s inability to make the hard decisions to properly reorganise both it’s manning and structures to allow innovation to happen.
I hope someone can put me right and tell me I’m massively mistaken but I hear the term innovating being siad a lot in guff write ups about the Army, but it seems to be more of a tik in the senior leadership than actual innovating.
I know we have looked at UGV’s etc but when you consider that we have had a large proportion of the Army continuosly deployed since the first Gulf war on various ops if we have not innovated by now then I would seriously look at the structures we have that prevent us from doing so.
If we were truly a constsantly improving organisation then why are behind the curve of civilian industries to apply new tech and methods rather than right there at the beginning?
Off the top of my head I would say the last time the Army truly innovated and changed the way the world opperated was in the introduction of DROPS.
And remember our last 2 outings were a defeat and a draw.
Anyway end of my Covid19 little rant.
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“We can do Mali now with the same equipment we used on Herrick and by looking at what was posted about the Strike brigades make up all we have done is replace Mastiff with Boxer with no real uplift in capability”
I thought about that watching this:
Um, if it’s so clever, why weren’t you doing it earlier?
They must be desperate if they’re finally asking the men.
Saying that and with reference to UKLP’s previous article on the regimental system, one of the reasons I would like to see a general levelling into rifle divisions would be to instil a collective USMC style ‘can do’ attitude irrespective of cap badge. They’re kind of doing it here but at the same time saying ‘strike ethos’ is ours, it’s a special thing that can only be found here.
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Greetings all, I hope I’m not too late to the party, I don’t know if any of you watch the news but there is some sort of national emergency going on.
Great article Jed, its always good to stir up debate.
I think the main thrust of the article was removing heavy armour capability to pay for an increases OS and medium weight capability. I think we could go further and ask the more important question of why, when we have a £36bn a year budget are we needing to do this.
I think removing the heavies from the ORBAT would have a massive detrimental effect on our combat power, granted some of the power will be clawed back with an increase of offensive support but not enough to compensate for the loss.
My biggest worry is that OPFOR deploys a myriad of systems just to combat heavy armour, ATGM, APS, Smart munitions, all of which will not be needed in the numbers currently fielded, so the resources used for this can be employed elsewhere. Just like if we remove long range fires, this will allow the enemy to manoeuvre freely in their rear areas and thus build up a material superiority.
You also have to take into account how brigades and battlegroups employ their armour, the tanks are your insurance, they are your hard stop, they give you options such as defending a position that the enemy wouldn’t even bother to attack as their losses would be disproportionality high. The simple threat of an armoured assault means the enemy will have to dedicate huge amounts of resources to the rear and the flanks just in case, these flanking security forces cant just be a few bods with a GPMG, they need to have substantial anti tank capability which have to be drawn from what would otherwise be used in their own advance. When planning a Brigade operation, one question you always ask is “what is the most dangerous course of enemy action?”, it usually states an all out armoured advance as that is the hardest to counter.
I think we need to get some data on this. How much money will be saved by scraping CR2? what will we replace it with to fill the direct fire capability? How much will we save by scrapping all tracked vehicles and going wheeled only? what indirect fires capability would we procure and how much will it cost?
It would be interesting to see a Brigade ORBAT based on Jeds’ ideas if anyone would like a stab at that, not just the OS part but the rest of it, Inf engineers et al. Everyone loves a bit of fantasy fleets, there must be someone out there in internet land willing to do this.
If we do go down the maxed out OS route we will need to change our mindset about calling in fires, for example, some precision munitions need to be called in using a 8-10 figure grid, no something your average dismount can’t do with a soggy map and a prismatic. This would mean ether dedicated kit and training for section commanders etc or massive increase of JTACs/FOOs so they can also fight dispersed.
There are a few points that the RUSI report that bothered my, first was that it talked repeatedly about needing to look into developing certain systems, to study the principles and requirements so a system can be put together. This should have happened ten years ago, we need the systems now and not in twenty years time, the horses have bolted, COTS will have to be the solution, its better to have 75% capability now, than 100% capability in the distant future.
I think the biggest question is, when are you writing your next one?
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Party’s still going but they’re sad, sad songs.
I don’t think the LEP question is as simple as to tank or not to tank, more how many other projects will that billion or so save, they’ll probably go ahead and hope some money turns up to help them out, which it won’t.
But I realise I’m stating the obvious.
The question for me would be will Challenger get the love it needs after this, because it’s not had much thus far; will it have the parts and will it have the HET’s to get it where it needs to go, my inclination is to say it’ll get the upgrade and they’ll call that job done. That and the overall numbers suggest you could field one regiment, maybe two, but that will probably again start to degrade over time, so is fielding 50 tanks worth a billion?
Looking at Abrams the thought occurred that we could share with the US in a similar fashion to the P8, that is to say pay and draw from their fleet, that way we write a working future proofed unit into the deal.
I think either way we need some sort of large calibre direct fire capability, be it Challenger LEP, some sort of MGS or Centauro on a boxer hull, but most importantly it needs to be in the correct numbers. As it turns out, LEP may turn out to be the cheapest as its already supported and certain costs have already been paid for. I think if CR3?? gets cancelled the money will just be absorbed into new tyres for the F-35 or poured into the development of a parts ordering system that doesn’t work.
I keep hearing different numbers being batted around the place in regards to total numbers upgraded, as I understand it, 3 regiments plus training fleet were getting done, that’s 200+ units.
I have worked with M1A1 a few times over the years, I have also had the task of compiling a “one pager” on how suitable it would be for British service so this, as they say is right up my flag pole.
Abrams comes in many flavours, the basic M1A1 was offered to us a while ago when we were looking into smoothbore, the Americans offered them for a pound a pop as long as we pick up the tab for transporting them. Jumping into an M1A1 after being in an Challenger 2 is like going from a new Jag XF and then climbing into an old XJS, it still makes all the right noises, goes fast and has nice stitched leather but everything else is just old and outdated. Its engine is a pain in the ass, its thermal needs an upgrade, its FCS is a generation behind and its armour is terrible. M1A2 Sep V.3 would be a better option but it still has that god awful engine and is less lethal than a CR3 because of its 44cal barrel and would be mega expensive to operate.
If only there was a way of posting all the crap I have written over the years without getting sued to buggery.
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Mr Drummond would be more up to date as the numbers seem given to change, last I heard I think it was £700m for 170 tanks, so three regiments worth with I guess two being theoretically available for the two armoured brigades, no resilience to speak of and unsure if Titan or Trojan get any money.
So I think one deployable brigade with one tank regiment (maybe two if you can find the parts), hence the Boxer rebellion.
I think the cost of upgrading 170 Challengers is likely to be closer to £1 billion.
Really interesting article.
For me the question is not so much whether to rebalance investment towards indirect fires, but given financial and logistical limitations what type of indirect fires. Firstly on logistics I seem to recall that the tons per day logistics requirement of the old 1 armoured div was largely driven by artillery gun ammunition; when in combat that is. Secondly given that our financial choices are likely to be limited one might look to concentrating that investment in a smaller number of system types, and buying more of them so as to minimise non-recurring costs. Both the logistics and financial factors drive one to think that perhaps one should privilege long range missile artillery over and above guns, perhaps to the extent of even reducing gun batteries in favour of missile ones. Where guns are retained only do so if precision guided shells are available so as to reduce the over the target ammunition requirement, and thus minimise the number of guns and ammunition logistics burden.
I think there is a balance to be struck between logistically what we have the capacity for and what we can afford. Swapping guns for missiles will massively reduce the logistical burden but will also absorb most of our defence budget, something like a SPIKE NLOS costs so much more than a hand full of 155s, which when adjusted onto target has the same effect. Missiles also have a problem with suppression, its like the difference between a GPMG and a sniper rifle.
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We shouldn’t put all our eggs in the same basket. What you say about reducing the logistical burden is certainly true for counter-insurgency (although unguided shells are still necessary), but I don’t think it would apply in high intensity conflict agains Russia or China. When we are jammed and there is no connection between ISTAR assets and batteries you need area effect : 155 mm HE. It is true too when GPS is jammed. Long range rockets are interesting but they are more vulnerable to C-RAM than shells, they should be reserved for deep strikes (beyond 155 mm reach) and targets too strong to engage with 155 mm ( pilboxes, other infrastructure…).
I think guided ammo should only be a limited proportion of all ammo.
The real logiscical issue for modern artillery seems to me fuel LOG and not ammo as we would need to transport a fair amount of dumb shells as well as guided ammo in case guided ammo can’t be used.
Fuel is the critical asset because our resupply lines are within reach of modern long range, guided, high power of destruction rockets, as well as long range sensor-fuzed ammo. This is why I think we must keep arty systems as light as possible, no more than 30-32 tons. Armoured tracked guns are way too heavy, they are vulnerable because they depend so much on uninterrupted fuel LOG.
I think you’re spot on with the first line.
Strike is a great in theory concept but needs lots of fires to make it happen and as yet it is unproven. So if we scrap MBTs, Warrior upgrade etc which has gone through all MOD & government red tape with different programs being run to see whats best etc. who’s to say that money comes back in to the defense budget? and isn’t reclaimed by the treasury? with logic being you’ve committed to all these projects and cancelled them. Do you really need all these missiles? or are you going to change your mind again wasting another x billions? Result the army is left with Ajax (committed) Boxers with 0.5 hmg and not much else.
All in all the modernised tanks versus better indirect fires question is of course an example of a forced choice. The modernisation of armour and armoured/ mechanised infantry and armoured cavalry is due to complete around 2025 to 2030. I think the reality is that one needs to look at what the army’s force structure for the 2030 to 2035 period might be. I suspect in the run up to that era one might see a rebalancing of resources, tipping in favour of indirect systems.
Late coming back to the comments on this article,I thought the conversation had died down, but thanks to BV Buster and others for keeping it going.
JT – of course and absolutely it’s a forced choice! Why is it forced? Because man in the street would rather fund the NHS and his pension. Because HMG thinks paying billions on a nuclear deterrent is a good use of taxpayer money.
It is a forced choice because Warrior WSCP and Ajax programmes are rumoured to have major technical issues. It is a force choice because the Royal Artillery has been the under funded red haired step child for decades; it is a forced choice because we seem incapable of getting a level of value for money out of our budget that France and Italy as examples seem capable of.
Forced, hard choices require us to make difficult decisions, which we we appear to be instructionally incapable of making. Constant salami slicing with each round of government cuts and each set of internecine cap badge in-fighting just means that a major reset is required – but instead we debate whether 1 billion pounds is available to upgrade 170 MBT’s to a standard that that will still not be at the level of the best available to allies???
Post COVID budget cuts that are inevitable in a situation where the governing party don’t care about defence at all, but must push on relentlessly with their ideological political agenda, which every expert analysis suggests will dump the UK into recession, well what can I say, forced choices indeed!
If we can’t afford both then we should not have either, and should not bother with being a 1st tier army. The hard choices we should be making are what do we need and want our armed forces to be able to do. Then give them the tools to do it.
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MikeR – that seems a bit “cut your nose off to spite your face” ?
“If we can’t afford both, we should not have either” ???
I don’t understand why people think we are a “1st Tier Army” ?
Our MBT is ancient and we dont have many, our armoured recce is ancient (until all replaced by Ajax, if that happens) , our IFV is ancient, and if it gets upgraded it will be in reduced numbers, most of our infantry is “General Role – Light” and gets to the fight on shanks pony, meanwhile supporting arms are in Bulldog’s that are older than me (in there 50’s). Our artillery is ancient and we dont have enough of it, our ground based air defence capabilities are anemic. We don’t have enough CS / CSS units to support more than a handful of brigades, but hey we provide the ARRC HQ, so we must be 1st Tier, right ?
Don’t get me wrong, great, well trained people, who can often do an awful lot, and pull great performances out of the bag, but “1st tier” ?
What is wrong with a smaller, hard as nails, usable, deployable, pretty shit hot 2nd Tier force?
Our MBT is newer than the M1 and leopard 2 it has just been neglected, also warrior is younger than M2 Bradley & lots of countries are still running M113. Our training is recognised as some of the best in the world as is our SF. Just some perspective.