How should the field Army be structured?
As we have said in previous posts, that depends on the role the UK assumes in the coming years but if we are to make a prediction that despite future conflicts being unpredictable a reasonable guess can be made that the days of heavy armour on heavy armour clashes are likely to be less common.
However, the need for an armoured capability is still obvious, even though it is likely not to be used as much in future conflicts it still remains a core need and if one examines the operations in Iraq in 2003 onwards Challenger provided invaluable support. Remember, the aftermath of the invasion was supposed to be a classic COIN operation, yet Challenger 2 remained a key weapon system. Although the UK has not found the justification for deploying Challenger 2 to Afghanistan, other nations have deployed main battle tanks to great effect. Despite being perceived as a cold war relic the main battle tank remains a potent and relevant battlefield weapon, no matter what the nature of that battlefield is.
Armoured units comprising Challenger 2, Warrior and FRES Scout are still going to form the hard core of Army fighting capability in the foreseeable future.
The traditional distinction between mechanised and light role is their means of transport. Mechanised units have used Saxons and Bulldog armoured vehicles with heavy armoured support and were eventually to be replaced by the FRES medium weight concept.
Light role units have generally relied on air mobility and lightweight vehicles like Land Rovers and Pinzgauers, with the de-rigueur moustache of course.
Operations in Afghanistan, which in a global guardian context, are likely to be the prevalent type have seen these distinctions blur. Armoured infantry is still used occasionally but the light role and mechanised units are increasingly using the same equipments scales and vehicles, substituting helicopters for Mastiffs as the need arises.
The UK has two deployable divisions;
1 (UK) Armoured Division, comprises 3 combat brigades, the 4 Mechanised, 7 Armoured and 20 Armoured. All the usual combat support and combat service support regiments are also represented and the division is stationed in Germany.
3 (UK) Mechanised Division, comprising 1 and 12 Mechanised Brigades, 19 Light Brigade and 52 Infantry Brigade, again with all the usual CS and CSS formations.
In addition to the deployable divisions the Army also has The 16th Air Assault Brigade as part of the Joint Helicopter Command and various other smaller units like theatre support, special-forces and special-forces support.
In 2003 the ‘Arms Plot’ was abolished with each of the combat units assigned a specific role, armoured, mechanised or light and the role of armoured brigades reduced, many of them re roling to formation recce.
The question is, are the likely future conflicts going to see a distinction between light role and mechanised, could they be merged into a single versatile infantry capability that could operate in either role, a return to the original FRES concept of a medium weight force perhaps?
6 Division is in fact not a Division but a deployable divisional headquarters unit that was formed to share the command rotations of Iraq and Afghanistan. After being reinforced it deployed to Afghanistan as Joint Task Force 6.
Although only lifed to 2011 I think this should be continued with as a permanent arrangement, in fact expanded to provide a two deployable ‘command HQ Division’ capability that can deal with the full range of operational tasks. This Divisional HQ could then create composite units (as happens now) as the requirement dictated.
1 and 3 Div could then be collapsed into a series of self contained brigades.
The Army structure could then be…
2x Deployable Divisional Headquarters including divisional support elements
2x Heavy Brigades, equipped with Challenger 2, Warrior and AS90 etc
6x Medium Brigades, equipped with FRES and Protected Patrol Vehicles
2x Rapid Reaction Brigades, 16 Air Assault and RM 3 Commando (I know this is RN)
Plus special-forces, theatre support and other elements
This would be an overall increase of 2 brigades, allocated to the Medium role.