To kick start the LAND section of the Think Defence Future Defence Review I thought a post on Future Army Structure might be a reasonable place to start.
FAS is actually old terminology, first mentioned in the defence 2003 Defence White Paper (Delivering Security in a Changing World) but the Army (as other services) are constantly looking to the future, re-organising and usually reducing in size. Just looking at the recent defence reviews, from Option for Change (1990) through Front Line First (1994) and the Strategic Defence Review of 1998 with its subsequent revisions the unrelenting trend has been change, merging and looking to the future.
What characterises these reorganisations is a common thread of reduction in manpower, especially Infantry units.
Fast forward to 2010 and it is the Army that is no doubt carrying the major burden of operations. Before I get any howls of protest everyone acknowledges that the other services are making vital contributions and in some areas as stretched as the Army but when taken in the round Afghanistan is a land operation and a sustained one at that.
FAS, as is usual with these types of re-organisation that seek to squeeze a pint out of a thimble was inevitably not a complete success, with intervals between tours getting longer not shorter and this was even worse for certain pinch point trades.
In response to these pressures, in 2009, the then Chief of the Defence Staff (General Sir Richard Dannatt) announced that the Future Army Structure (Next Steps) would be initiated to allow the Army to cope better with these ongoing demands. Next Steps is planned to retain more experienced soldiers by reducing the number of brigades from 10 to 6 but increasing their size to approximately 4,000. Brigades will consist of a battalion of Challenger 2 main battle tanks, one of armoured reconnaissance, an armoured infantry battalion, a mechanised infantry battalion and two light role battalions. No details have emerged on the RM, 16 Air Assault Brigade, combat support, combat service support or higher formations headquarters.
It’s hard not to be cynical when FAS was characterised as;
an Army for the challenges of today and tomorrow
Facing the obvious increase in non deployability due to injury from operations and other factors a number of activities have also been undertaken including increasing use of Manning Control Points to remove soldiers unfit for deployment.
Manning is an extremely complex subject best visualised as a series of four conveyor belts; recruits, junior ranks, senior ranks and officers. Each of these conveyor belts moves at a different pace and one also has to consider training and skills, promotion opportunities and actual manpower requirements. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have tended to produce unexpected variations in the conveyor belt, adding a number of problems and pinch point trades continue to plague all the services with several specialist areas woefully undermanned.
The link between strategy, structures and manning are of course close ones.
If the future defence review takes the RUSI option of Strategic Raiding then after a future draw down from Afghanistan the Army would likely see a considerable reduction, if the option is Global Guardian then it is obvious that the Army will need to increase in size.
I think there will be no decisive result from any future review and the likely outcome will be a typical fudge but my preferred option is to retain a rounded force capable of any contingent operation and for this, the need to increase the Army is self evident.
At an operational level one of the enduring characteristics of the British Army is the ability to organise itself for the task at hand, new formations and units being formed as required. This is in sharp contrast to other nations and is a quality that should be retained, there is nothing like operational experience to create effective organisations.
There is no doubt that the Army is stretched but there are few definitions of what harmony, stretch or overstretch actually look like.
All these factors conspire to create a great deal of fluidity and uncertainty when looking at the structure of the Army so no more than general themes can be suggested.