Understandably, reductions to Army capabilities were relatively limited in comparison with the other services because of Afghanistan, understandably so. It is a measure of our tepid commitment to Afghanistan that we find it politically acceptable to reduce the forces in any way shape or form whilst fighting a protracted and difficult campaign. The Army section does not even warrant a full two pages.
That aside, the changes detailed in the SDSR are summarised below
- 5 multi-role brigades will replace the current brigade structures that are based around function; armoured, mechanised and light role.
- 16 Airborne Brigade to remain
- GMLRS and Loitering Munitions confirmed for the Royal Artillery but AS90 will be reduced by 35%
- A range of medium-weight vehicles including Terrier, FRES UV and Scout to form the core of the manoeuvre fleet
- Protected support vehicles to replace unprotected ones
- Challenger 2, Warrior, Titan and Trojan to remain in service but at a reduced level, Challenger reduced by 40%
- A range of ISTAR capabilities include Watchkeeper, ECM, a range of deployable surveillance systems and force protection systems to protect against indirect fire
- Apache to stay and Wildcat confirmed (no groaning at the back please)
- A small military stabilisation support group
- A range of counter IED and EOD capabilities
- A fully deployable divisional HQ with a second capable of preparing and training subordinate units for operations
- HQ ARRC but with reduced signals and logistics capabilities
- Reduction in non-deployable administration administrative structures
- Rationalise wider equipment holdings
- An overall personnel reduction of 5,000 will also take place
The vast majority of these were expected and most of the capability list we already have but FRES (in all its flavours) and Wildcat seems to have survived for now. Even the ‘new’ multi-role brigades aren’t really that new either and are simply the Future Army Structure (Next Steps) initiated a few years ago.
There is considerable logic behind the concept of a multi-role brigade from the perspective of force management, training and readiness but I am concerned that they become too jack and not enough master, unable to achieve sufficient mass for a given operation and therefore having to rob personnel and equipment from other brigades to achieve a particular mission, thus destroying the whole notion of a self-contained structure that only comes together for shorter-term operations.
It is, however, a significant shift in thinking and the staff work will no doubt have been carefully carried out to manage the issues. The SDSR states that the key to the Multi-Role Brigades utility is their building block nature but this is exactly how the forces operate today anyway, units, sub-units, personnel and equipment are rapidly assembled depending on the task at hand.
Each Brigade of approximately 6,500 personnel will comprise armoured, mechanised and light role subunits with their attendant combat support and combat service support. Territorial Army personnel will also be fully integrated into the Brigade structure.
The future role, structure and equipment of the armoured and formation reconnaissance regiments are still very much in flux. In Afghanistan, the Brigade Reconnaissance Force is generally centred on a Royal Armoured Corps formation reconnaissance squadron with a mix of CVR(T) and Jackal so it may well evolve from this to include FRES Scout, a greater dismount role and to include some of the offensive support controllers like Forward Air Controllers (FAC) and Forward Observation Officer (FOO) although there will likely be a big bun fight with the Royal Artillery for that role. There is an assumption that the panzer crews just mope around doing nothing when not driving their Challengers but nothing could be further from the truth, despite David Cameron and Liam Fox seeking to make the heavier forces more flexible they are already just that, carrying out well established secondary roles and new ones like driving Mastiff, Viking and Warthogs in Afghanistan. Although I used the word driving it is a disservice to the expertise and innovation delivered by members of the RAC when using these types of protected mobility vehicles.
Given that there are enough armoured formation reconnaissance regiments to cover the existing brigade (inc 16AAB and 3 Commando) this would seem to fit neatly within the new multi-role brigade structure but as they are likely to be suffering a reduction in equipment the actual establishment remains to be seen. It is likely not much going to change for the next 5 years but post-2015 almost anything might happen, merging the FR and Armoured regiments, splitting the medium-weight equipment across multifunction regiments or anything in between. One thing is certain, the existing distinction between Armoured and Formation Reconnaissance is too equipment centric and ripe for innovation.
A similar challenge remains with the Royal Artillery and with the reduction in AS90, will batteries re role to light gun or simple have less equipment.
As the combat strength shrinks slightly the reductions in personnel would seem likely to come from the combat service support functions in the Royal Logistic Corps and others. If the posty can be contractorised it is likely to be very heavily scrutinised; selected logistics, catering, postal, drivers etc. Given the relatively small scale of reductions hopefully, most will come from natural wastage although compulsory redundancies cannot be ruled out and the ever contentious manning control points may yet be deployed.
The infantry will definitely be untouched in the short term.
So the SDSR story for the Army is a tale of snip, snip rather than slash.