SDSR – Analysis #06 (Army)

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 of armoured, mechanised and light role sub units 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. There 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 slash.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mike W
November 12, 2010 10:32 pm


At first sight the multi-role brigade would seem to be a sensible approach. The regiments and other units within the new brigade structure would certainly know each other better and develop a much closer working relationship than units drawn from unconnected elements in the Army, as has been the case with the previous “golf bag” approach. There are also the very important considerations of force management, training and readiness that you mention.

As you have said in a previous post: “Each Brigade would then be a small ‘mechanised division’ i.e. with the full spectrum of equipment which is more reflective of the needs for the most common type of operation. It could revert to the more traditional role should it be needed.”

However, I think it was Sven who pointed out that a “jack of all trades is not a good answer – it’s mediocrity by design, always laden with unnecessary components and thus likely to be split before battle.” As he said, “You wouldn’t send tankers into mountain warfare as infantrymen, would you?” Although I don’t fully agree with Sven about the efficiency of such brigades, he has pointed to some potential difficulties. There might also be problems with supplying adequate logistics, as I believe Marcase pointed out. However, on the whole, I think the “building -block ” structure of the multi-role brigade, will allow greater choice in the size and composition of the force that might be deployed, without having to draw on other elements from the rest of the Army as has been the case in recent times.

One matter that concerns me is whether the new multi-role brigades will in fact have a “full spectrum of equipment”. OK, so they will have Challenger2s, FRES Scouts (or CVR(T)s) for reconnaissance, Warriors, Bulldogs and presumably vehicles such as Mastiffs, Ridgbacks, LPPVs, Jackals, etc. for infantry formations. However, what about Artillery? Will the Artillery components of the new brigades include such items as MLRS? Will there be Air defence with HVMs or Rapiers? Will the Engineers component have bridging assets such as M2s and ABLE vehicles or mine vehicles such as Shielder? Or would all of the latter remain as Corps assets, to be called on when needed? I suppose all this is still to be worked out. I don’t know whether anyone would like to suggest what the composition of the new-style brigade should look like in detail (together with equipment)!

November 12, 2010 10:49 pm

Multi-role sounds like as much as a cock-up as when the kicked the arms plot in to touch. We need specialists.

Call me old fashioned but The Rifles should be the light infantry. Proper light infantry and not infantry that just happens to have no real vehicles just 3/4 tonners. It should support the RM and be the strategic reserve. It should have dedicated artillery formations (including some MLRS.) And two FFRs.

Line infantry should rotate between training for armour at home (and over at BATUS.) And peace keeping/UN support.

16 AAB should be scrapped. All Parachute Reg should move over to support SF group a la US Rangers.

November 13, 2010 12:41 am

The main element is summed up in your statement:

“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”

Exactly – ‘it’s emperor’s new clothes’ !

It would not matter if instead there was armoured infantry, mechanised infantry (tracked), mechanised infantry (wheeled), Infantry (light) etc, each with four identical battalions – you would pull from them to create your battle groups as required…… so it all seems like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic to me :-(

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
November 13, 2010 6:04 am

I think a more balanced approach would be to have 2 of the 5 Brigades modeled along the line of light infantry and equipped in a similar way to 16 AAB. Though there is no need to carry out airbourne training, bringing them up to a simlar level of proficiency ala “Ranger” would increase the options open to planners. I would purchase sufficient M777 155mm to allow one battery per RA Regt to be equipped as such and restated to programme for the Supercat designed LW MLRS, so ideally each brigade would have 2x 105, 1x 155 and 1x LW MLRS. I would also like to see each brigade equipped with a transport Coy of BVs or Warthogs. 16AAB would lose it dedicated Airmobile credentials with this role being rotated throulf the 3 brigades.

The remaining 3 brigades would become the planned Multi-Role/Medium equipped with Challenger II, FRES and Warrior. These brigades need to be 4Bn Strong (1 Armoured and 3 Infantry with an RA Bn Attached) but organised to form 4Bn sized ballanced Battlegroups. I would like to see the FRES platform become the standatd chassis for all AFVs bar the CA2, and Recce squadrons attached to all 4 Bns rather than a dedicated Recce Bn. The same whould apply to ATGW carriers, reintroducing ATGW Troops to Bns

Much of the Kit bought for Afghanistan will probably be scrapped after we leave as it will be worn out. A number of MPAVs would be mothballed and maintained by the TA if there are sufficinet platforms in good condition but these would have to be rationalised to 2-3 platforms at most.

This way the Army will have 3 light but hard hitting and mobile brigades that can be deployed rapidly and 3 “Medium” brigades with greater stamina and firepower. This will mean if a long term operation is conducted the time between deployments will be reduced but I have a feeling that deployments of this type will be few and far between for quite a few years after we leave Afghanistan. So I am suggest a reorganisation that does not produce jack of all trades brigades but does produce formation that are more flexible than at present.

Navy What Navy
Navy What Navy
November 13, 2010 6:36 am

I think the Army section of the SDSR really just places the army in a holding pattern prior to the next review in 2015. This will coincide with the planned withdrawal and will also allow the Government to see how the economic recovery is progressing.

November 13, 2010 1:07 pm

“There 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”

I was wondering about this, because before the SDSR we had five armoured regiments anyway, but somehow we are going to reduce the number of tanks by 40% and yet still provide armour to each of the five multi-role brigades…………

Is the future of both armour and FR to be a composite ‘cavalry’ regiment?

Phil Darley
November 13, 2010 1:11 pm

Lord Jim, I xm with you on the FRES SV being used as a standard for all the mechanised roles (along the lines of the Russian model). I would like to see some mobile artillery and I would like to see something like AMOS fitted to FRES SV for that role. I would like to see the ocelot ordered to replace all the light wheeled vehicles (land rovers/snatch/wmik, jackal/ coyote and all the Pinzs).

I also agree we should have the M777 and reinstate LIMARS R

Mike W
November 13, 2010 3:19 pm


“It would not matter if instead there was armoured infantry, mechanised infantry (tracked), mechanised infantry (wheeled), Infantry (light) etc, each with four identical battalions – you would pull from them to create your battle groups as required…… so it all seems like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic to me.”

I see your point but agree to only a limited extent. Admin says, “this is exactly how the forces operate today anyway, units, sub units, personnel and equipment are rapidly assembled depending on the task at hand.” However, I think that he too is only partly right. I would, for instance, disagree strongly with his use of the expression “rapidly assembled”. Some of the assembly of personnel and equipment for both Iraq and Afghanistan left much to be desired. It certainly was not rapid! Remember the reports in the press.

And isn’t that what the new multi-role brigades are all about? What has perhaps been missing so far is coherence in organization, management structures, training and readiness to go. If you have to pull in forces from diffuse, scattered parts of the Army, units which perhaps have never trained together, then inefficiency and delays are inevitable. If, on the other hand you have a brigade that has a common management system, that has trained together and is mostly (if not entirely) self-sufficient in equipment, then you have a formation that is appropriate for most tasks and one which is ready to go very rapidly. You only have to look at the ethos and efficiency pf 16AA Brigade to see what I mean about cohesion.

Mike W
November 13, 2010 4:06 pm

Lord Jim,

Many of your views seem sound to me. I suppose there is no reason why the five multi-role brigades should all be identical. As you suggest, in some of them the emphasis could be on light infantry and some could be multi-role medium.

With regard to kit, I am of the same mind as you over the need for a lightweight MLRS and for some, at least, of the field artillery to be 155 mm. If we can’t afford M777 just yet, there is no reason why AS90 should not be used. I concur with both you and Phil Darley that the FRES chassis should become the standard for nearly all future AFVs. What did you have in mind for the ATW carrier exactly? Put it on ASCOD too?

Phil Darley

I do agree with you about the Ocelot being introduced to replace all light-wheeled vehicles. It has a modular design and comes in three variants. The LPPV patrol variant will replace the Snatch-Vixen; the fire support vehicle will take over from the existing WMIK vehicles and there will also be a protected logistics version. We might need to keep a few Landies for non-front-line liaison, etc., though.

Phil Darley
November 13, 2010 5:15 pm

Mike W there should be enough LandRover Wolfs and Pinzgauers spare to use in non combat type situations and for training areas etc…

November 13, 2010 5:33 pm

JBT said “Is the future of both armour and FR to be a composite ‘cavalry’ regiment?”

I think the orbat of American cavalry regiments has a lot of merit.

November 13, 2010 9:29 pm

hmmm, a regiment with 40% less tanks is a regiment with room for 40% of a FR regiment, perhaps that is the intention.

November 13, 2010 10:18 pm

I don’t know. Towards the end of the 19th century there was no real difference between light and heavy cavalry. I think regiments would “choose” to drive ASCODs if it meant the regiment survived. That is why CV90 was the better option all along as it gave us a choice of 40mm or 120mm off the shelf. When I say CV90 I mean CV9040 and not that Anglo-French thing. And I know ASCOD comes with a potential 105mm version but…..

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
November 13, 2010 10:39 pm

@Lord Jim:
I don’t understand why multi-role brigades should have different specialisms. If you have your one Light Inf specialised brigade doing Peace-keeping, then need to fight a brushfire war in a jungle, what do you do- send the heavy armour multi-role brigade to do the peace-keeping, or send them into the jungle? Surely all multi-role brigades should be identical to avoid this sort of situation?

The idea about buildig blocks is one that I am drawn to, but shouldn’t each block be smaller and single-function? That way when you compose your force for a specifica operation, you aren’t saddled with “unneeded” components that have to be brought along because they are a “part” of a specific multi-role brigade.

Of course, my preferred system would require much more training with other units to maintain personal relationships amongst commanders and interoperability between units. But then I don’t see that a a bad thing, you never know more respect for “other” units within the Army, could breed less bickering over traditions and cap badges . . .

Mike W
November 13, 2010 10:50 pm

Am I right in supposing that the Army is the only one of the three services to actually come out of the SDSR with some promises (albeit fairly vague ones) of NEW equipment (that is, other than that already in the pipeline)?

“Loitering Munitions able to circle over a battlefield for many hours ready for fleeting or opportunity targets”

Presumably this refers to the Fire Shadow system, which many people thought would be dropped after the Review. I personally think it will be very useful in Afghanistan, given the nature of the terrain and the adversary. What would it be like in more conventional high intensity conflicts, though? Does anyone know very much about this weapon system? Should it be be an integral part of the new-type brigade, for instance?

“a force protection system to protect against indirect fire such as artillery and mortars”

Does this perhaps refer to a new C-RAM system to take over from the Centurion (Phalanx-based) system? If so, what is it likely to be and should it be placed inside the new-type brigades?

Perhaps I am hoping for too much.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
November 14, 2010 1:10 pm

I would use the ASCOD as the platform for any over watch ATGW carrier included in the “Medium” Brigades. Personally I think that A ground launched Dual mode Brimstone would be a good candidate for the ATGW, being able to use Laser targetting for direct fire and possible MMW for indirect either designated by Apache or by a UAV with a version of longbow fitted. I think Amos is a good system but a simpler dual mode 120mm weapon would suffice, providing both direct and indirect gun/mortar support. This would also allow the amount of heavy SP artillery required to support the brigade to be reduced to a regt of 2 155 and 1 GMLRS batteries.

As for tank numbers, forgive my math but if each tank Regt was reduced to 3, 9 tank squadrons as opposed to 4, 12 tank squadrons at present, this should square the circle

Moving to the M777, in theory a number could be purchased under UOR for Afghanistan with the srguement that it has proven itself with the US and Canadian forces and offers the possibility of using GPS munitions. Once in service it shouldn’t be too hard to increase thir number post 2015 with the reorganisation that should be underway by then.

One final thing that will need to be addressed is standardising the small arms carrier by the Infantry. The old and faithful GPMG and Para Minimi need to be replaced by the newer FN 7.62 Minimi which will give fireteams a longer reach and also negate the need for the 7.62 Sharpshooter rifle

November 14, 2010 4:49 pm

(Disclaimer: I’m hardly ever right about anything. And I’m hung-over to boot.)

I know this is probably stating the wildly obvious, but I can’t help but think that the SDSR didn’t disembowel the army simply because of its engagement in Afghanistan, and a lingering political sense of debts owed to the army from operations in Iraq. And from that, I can’t help but think that the only service to get off ‘lightly’ is the one currently doing least to protect core UK interests into the future – and whose senior leadership has acquitted itself very poorly over the past decade. (Stunningly badly, I’d say.) Our presence in Afghanistan strategically weakens us, rather than strengthening us.

Given an unpredictable future, why retain forces that are slow to mass and slow to move, rather than more mobile, power-projecting expeditionary naval or air assets? Why retain land forces geared to occupying unimportant backwaters? Why ignore our economic and trade lifelines that keep the UK afloat? It makes no strategic sense. It’s only defensible from the perspective of a government PR machine.

OK, now I’ve made myself popular, it’s sinister conspiracy theory time!- I’m starting to think that we’re still in Afghanistan because the yanks have threatened to throw a financial wobbler with UK investments in the US. With our national debt the largest in the western world, as a percentage of our GDP (about 450%) we’d be screwed if they gave our larger multinational firms the ‘BP’ treatment. I’m quite conservative, but when Cameron went over to the USA for the first time, it struck me that he looked like a branch manager being called into head office at the time chosen by senior management, treated with contempt, and given a pretty humiliating bashing. If they turned off the tap to UK pension funds, we’d lose all fiscal security and with that, any pretensions to being on the UN Security Council. Under the American’s thumb, we’re a cowed and compliant supporter.

November 14, 2010 11:40 pm

LordJim – I have always been a big proponent of the 120mm breech loading smooth bore mortar fitted in a turret for both indirect and direct fire support. Apparently the French company Thomson Brandt (bought out a while ago, and now a subsidiary of Thales) used to build both 60mm and 81mm “gun-mortars”. Able to fire standard and “long range” 81mm ammo, they also made a high velocity APFSDS round (!) with a range around 1KM. So while I always thought we would have to introduce a new calibre, if this has been done before in 81mm, then perhaps it should just be resurrected.
I found another source which suggested mortar 81mm HE FRAG is generally equivalent to 105mm HE gun, and 120mm mortar generally equivalent to 155mm gun, so there is obviously great potential for close support !

November 15, 2010 12:05 am

Didn’t BAE do a breech loading mortar? I think the Saudis bought them.

@ Mat

The trouble is we are cowed to Brussels as well!!!

November 15, 2010 11:29 am

Mixed Brigades

The Mixed Brigade was something I was quite interested in.
My paper army went along the lines of

4 Rifle Battalions each 500 strong and mounted in Land Rovers or MRAPs, possibly two “Rifles” a “Para” and a “Marine”
2 Mech Inf Battalions each 500 strong and mounted in Warriors, with the possibility of turret varients, the Crew and Mounts should be trained for the vast majority of the maintenance work.
1 Tank Battalion in Challenger, again, 500 men, so with their own engineering support. Number of tanks, 40?
1 Artilery Battalions, AS90 and some sort of vehicle mounted GBAD
1 Engineering Battalion
1 Headquarters Battalion

Perhaps replace Warrior with something bigger and swap Challenger with CVR(T) replacement?

Not perfect I admit, but the armour can win the open ground, and then has immediate infantry who can win urban, with masses of fire support.

It cant fight a 12 hour armour engagement against 500 T95’s of the Seventh Shock Army, but thats what Apache is for anyway.
It can handle a few dozen rogue tanks, and it can survive against anything it cant handle until airpower can be tasked.

Mike W
November 16, 2010 1:56 pm

Dominic J

Some very interesting suggestions concerning future brigade structure. I think you’re not so very far away from what it will actually turn out to be. Just one or two comments, though.

No armoured infantry battalion? No one seems to know exactly what the MOD/Army has in mind but one source gives the reported structure as:

One armoured battalion (must mean regiment?) of Challenger 2 tanks
One armoured reconnaissance battalion (regiment? squadron?)
One armoured infantry battalion in Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicles
One mechanised infantry battalion in FV432 Bulldog armoured vehicles
Two light role infantry battalions

Wouldn’t the rifle (light role) battalions be mounted in Ocelot vehicles now (rather than Land Rovers)? There are 3 variants already of that vehicle: patrol, fire support and protected logistics, which would be ideal if Ocelot is eventually be produced in sufficient numbers. The SDSR states that infantry will be in “a variety of protected vehicles”.

What about Artillery? Would you have a whole Artillery regiment or just some batteries? Would some batteries be Light Gun? And what about Air Defence? You say “some sort of vehicle mounted GBAD” Missile-based presumably? Just one RA battery or detachment?

Then there are the other elements. The SDSR suggests that the brigades will be “self-supporting, having their own artillery, engineer, communications, intelligence, logistics and medical support.” Apparently, there will be “a migration of combat support and logistic assets currently held at divisional level into these brigades.” (Until I read this last remark I thought Jed was possibly right about the “emperor’s new clothes”!) So, a whole Engineer regiment then? And what about Logistics? How many units there? And will there be an AAC detachment (Lynx? Wildcat?) etc. etc.

I think that you are spot on with your points about what tanks can and cannot do in the new formation.

I don’t expect you to answer all this yourself, Dominic! Do any others out there have any views too?

paul g
November 16, 2010 5:15 pm

hmmm why retain a force that’s slow to mass, well it’s not and most of the hold ups in my experience were getting on and off the bus inbetween south cerney and brize waiting for a serviceable aircraft to take us to the latest shithole. Oh and trying holding ground for 24/7 with shiny fast things at 20,000ft

November 16, 2010 6:50 pm

mike w.
Armoured infantry is warrior right?
I called them mechanised, but i meant two warrior.

Light would be in ocelot, i was just c&p’in from an old piece.

Artilery would be a ‘full’ battalion of 500 men, tasked with providing towed and self propelled artilery and gbad, currently that would be light gun, rapier, as90 and whatever the cvrt high velocity missile is called. the exact mix, i’ll leave that to wiser men.

I put coms, int and medical in headquarters, and logistics with the engineers.

Air corps would remain as is, or could be split, at the end of the day, an apache or lynx pilot shouldnt be deploying anymore often than a squaddie, but then deploying 20 challys to peace keep siera leon would be a powerful statement of the absolute force available, deploying 12 apache would just be expensive.
I suppose they could rerole as uav scout drivers and still be deployed for ‘we are one brigade’ reasons.

November 16, 2010 6:52 pm

also, i was trying to make each battalion fit in a single landing ship…

November 16, 2010 7:04 pm

@ Dominicj

In Rebuilding the Royal Navy Brown’s says the Army were looking at a formation of 1inf bat + 1 batt SPG + 15 tanks (?) for an all up strength of 1069. (A modern battle group is about 1300.) If I recall the landing ship he came up with to accommodate this formation was far too big for them. The USMC struggle with 3 ship ARGs to carry an all arms battle group. San Antonio’s would accommodate a British infantry battalion in some comfort. But that comfort comes as one of the prices of 25,000 ton hull.

November 16, 2010 7:56 pm

sorry it was a bay per battalion.
And a battalion of about 500 men, and vehicles, and stores

November 16, 2010 9:00 pm

@ Dominicj

I know. I was just carrying on what you said. I have passing interest in how much an ARG should carry and what it should carry. My current thinking is that an amphibious battalion should actually bigger by 1 rifle company.

I am not sure Commando 21 is the way to go either. I just have to accept that people much, much better qualified than me think that idea is is a goer.

November 17, 2010 12:51 pm

To be honest the current size of companies and battalions confuses me.
I’m sure I’m missing something in Commando 21 too, it just doesnt make sense.
Half the man power is eaten up by logistics and headquarters, the headquarters has anti tank, which the stand offs have as well, the HQ also has medium machine guns, the stand offs have heavy, so that makes even less sense.
The HQ having snipers and mortars makes sense, but if the other troops are going to have 61’s, the heavy stuff being 81’s is a bit daft, they should be bigger and fewer

Brian Black
Brian Black
November 17, 2010 3:14 pm

By the mid 90s it had become an established part of British army doctrine that our future involvement in conflicts would be as part of a multinational force, and that the niche that we would create for ourselves would be that of the small but hi-tech, hi-spec, hi-mob, rapid reaction component of that force.

The UK would be able to spearhead an operation before neatly handing over to an ally that -while relatively not as mobile or technologically advanced- had the military manpower to put boots on the ground (e.g. India, Malaysia etc).

It was this concept that led to the formation of 16 Air Assault Brigade -the army’s vanguard brigade- at the end of that decade. That was pretty much it though; the new multi-role brigades would seem to be a return to, and the culmination of that concept.

Perhaps, that this reorganization of the army -along with the reduction in armour and heavy artillery- has been long overdue and to some extent expected is one reason why the army’s changes have been met with a lot less fuss than the RN and RAF – who appear to somewhat lack the benefit of a clear vision, within the Ministry/government, of their future role and structure.

The new model army possesses brigades that form self-contained packets of combat capabilities, complete with logistical support and command structures – ideal for maintaining readiness, and providing rapid response to crises whether as part of a NATO, EU, UN or some other combined force.

Some people, quite a lot of people, seem to think that the UK’s armed forces should be structured in order to win the 1982 campaign more resoundingly than before – against an enemy structured and equipped as they were in 1982. These people are wrong.

The only problem I have with the army’s reorganization is that it’s like Iraq and Afghanistan have never happened. I seem to remember all the talk many years ago from politicians and commentators that we would not be mired in dusty shit-holes for years to come.

I distinctly remember the wishful thinking that conjured up potential stabilization forces that would conveniently include large Muslim contingents from countries such as Turkey or Malaysia, or from an assortment of Arab nations. Rather annoyingly these forces never materialized.

I fear that we are creating rapid reaction forces that can rapidly respond and deploy; but we won’t have a government capable of thinking through the political and military consequences of some unforeseen future deployment at the same rate, and that we won’t have sufficient forces to do the job required.

Previous reforms -such as the civilianization of non-deployable posts, the restructuring of regiments to that of the pre-existing corps structure, and the disbandment of the RIR home service battalions- have all allowed for the reduction in numbers of enlisted men and costs without incurring a parallel penalty to the army’s available deployable strength; the new changes do hit deployable strength. Instead of trying to reduce manning levels whilst minimizing negative effects on capabilities, those previous reforms should have been used to introduce greater capability without expansion.

Imo, rather than reduce by one the number of deployable brigades, the government should have tried harder to make a sixth multi-role brigade more affordable. Perhaps a cut to generous military pensions could have been tempered by tenure bonuses in order to reduce long-term manpower costs without harming recruiting or retention. Long-term equipment costs could be made by a shake-up of defence procurement.

We need to look ahead, and we shouldn’t fall into the trap of planning for the last war; but nor should we assume just for present-day convenience that in the future country-x will make up the numbers that we cut from our own army, or that allies will be willing to stick with us through a protracted and difficult deployment.

Wildcat! Wooo!

Mike W
November 18, 2010 1:06 pm

Brian Black,

Yes, a lot of good sense talked here. I particularly agree with your comment about the self-contained quality of the new-style brigades and the way in which this will contribute to readiness.

“The new model army possesses brigades that form self-contained packets of combat capabilities, complete with logistical support and command structures – ideal for maintaining readiness, and providing rapid response to crises whether as part of a NATO, EU, UN or some other combined force.”

I also concur with your reservation about whether other nations will contribute sufficiently (or even at all!) to stabilisation forces. I haven’t seen much evidence of such forces materializing so far. You are right too about the danger of our not being left with sufficient forces to do the jobs required.

However, although I am pretty well sold on the idea of self-contained multi-role brigades, I do have one major concern. That is whether there will still be a need for highly specialized forces in certain types of potential future conflicts. If, say, we had to fight another Gulf War 3 (and that is not beyond the bound of possibility. I can think of at least one scenario right now), wouldn’t there be a need for heavy armour in mass? My question is whether the British Army could re-configure sufficiently rapidly the specialized armoured formations necessary to fight such a fast-moving, fluid, high-intensity war. It would be rather difficult if all armour were scattered among the new-type brigades, wouldn’t it? There might be an argument for retaining at least one armoured formation, albeit smaller than previous ones, which could practise such specialized warfare across the Canadian prairies.

November 18, 2010 2:41 pm

Mike W
I dont believe there would be a need for heavy armour in Mass.
Simply because No enemy force can mass against NATO.

The First Step of any NATO(ish) operation is air superiority, if not supremacey.
Once we have controll of the air, its simply suicide to move in large numbers.
If you move in large numbers, something airborne will see you and either it or something else airborne will destroy you.
We spent the last 30 years researching ways to annihilate tank formations, we got good at it.

Gulf War three could be fought by Mixed Brigades, anything big and mobile would be hammered into dust by airpower.
Anything small enough to be mobile and missed by the air would be dealt with by the armoured battalions of the Brigade.
Anything big but immobile would have to hope we blundered into it, and all the mixed Brigade would have to do is survive until airpower arrived to play with its new friends.

Brian Black
I dont so much ignore that Iraq and Ghanners happened, but hope to make damned sure they can never happen again.
The problem is simply one of manpower.
Even if the entire defence budget went on nothing but light infantry, at best, you’d be looking at a force of 2 million men.
But those men need transport and feeding when they’re overseas.
Lets say that requires a quarter of the budget, along with rifles and bullets.

We’ve now got 1.5 million men.
Well, they cant spend their entire lives overseas, at the moment we try 6 months out, 30 months home(ish) and then another cycle.
That means we have 215,000 men ready for overseas duties at any one time.

Going by the US Army field manual for the Middle East in the second world war, you need 1 soldier for 19 civillian, so our massive manpower could occupy a city of 4 million.
London has a population of 8 million.

Thats the problem with a “numbers” army.

Mike W
November 18, 2010 4:55 pm

Dominic J

“Gulf War three could be fought by Mixed Brigades, anything big and mobile would be hammered into dust by airpower.”

That’s always assuming that you can get your airpower out there! With no fly-over rights you might be in difficulty. So we’re back to the question of carriers and carrier-borne aircraft again. With carriers but no strike, anti-armour aircraft or air superiority fighters, you wouldn’t be any further forward!

November 18, 2010 5:28 pm

Mike W

Heavy Armour or no heavy Armour, there is a word for any army that tries to manouvre vehicle formations under open skies with out at least air supperiority over it’s own formations, in the face of an enemy that has a functioning airforce.

That word is DEAD

The army should not deply if it cannot get its Appachies out there.

Even in a mutual Air vacuum The presence or otherwise of 50 – or 500 challanger 2’s will not make a lot of difference.

We have no enemies we are likely (or even possibly going),to face on our own, who can deploy large armoured formations of any quality likely to trouble a force equipped with modern anti tank weapons.

Mike W
November 18, 2010 9:54 pm


You rather have me there. Yes, I admit that it would indeed be pretty suicidal to attempt any intervention without air superiority. I suppose that I was thinking of situations akin to those in both Gulf wars, where the opposition was pretty devoid of air power but where large numbers of tanks and armoured fighting vehicles were still deemed necessary.

My argument is that fairly large numbers of tanks and AFVs might be needed in any similar kind of intervention, even if part of a coalition. When the opposition has large ground forces, tanks and other armour are needed to take and hold ground. I have yet to see any plane or helicopter capable of doing that!

Why did we take two whole armoured brigades (7 and 4) to Iraq in the Gulf War 1? And remember we went as part of a coalition! Those brigades must have deployed well over a hundred tanks. I’m sorry, I don’t have the figures for Gulf War 2 but the same principle applied. There is one potential adversary in the Middle East that has (2006 figures) 1,600 tanks, 640 personnel carriers, 2010 pieces of towed artillery, 310 SP guns, 876 rocket launchers, etc. etc. How are you going to take and hold ground against that lot?

As I’ve said, I am pretty convinced about the new self-contained multi-role brigades but I do not think they are the answer for every contingency. Highly specialized forces might still be needed in some contexts.

November 18, 2010 11:48 pm

Mike W

Is that potential enemy, really a potential enemy? (why would we want to take and hold ground there)

That potential enemy with all the tanks. What are they – anything less than T90 is just target practice?

How much actual training have they had?
How many work?
(There are an awfull lot of armies for whom it is a result, if the annual independance day parade goes of without half of them breaking down).
Ditto Artillery of all types (Can they actualy hit anything)?
Are the units actually ‘Under command’ and can be trusted to even try to do what there told?
Do their commanders have a clue?

So we need to order several thousand ATGW, some MLRS, and above all some air cover.

A10 destroyed more than 3000 armoured vehicles in Gulf 1 most before the troops went in.

Likewise a couple of hundred Challangers won’t make any difference, we would need 4-5 amoured divisions to take and hold that ground against a force you describe,(if there any good), on our own, and frankly we aren’t going to be getting that lot any time soon.

Setting up an army around a couple of hundred tanks is just daft. It’s like the CVF, having one, no matter how millitarelly useless, is though to confer a certain status.

‘look at us were a propper army, we’ve got tanks and everything. And as soon as we can get the damn things to work, scrape together enough spares to sustain them,and the thousands of troops needed to mantain supply and transport the things we’ll show you’.

Sorry but the Era of (british) heavy armoured brigades or divisions sweeping accross planes to clash with like forces, is over.

November 19, 2010 12:57 am


Tank on Tank warfare was dead with the fall of the wall, no one foresaw GW1…… just saying……

However even if massive tank on tank warfare is dead (which is a good job, seeing as we NEVER had massive amounts of them) tanks were not invented as anti-tank weapons (strangely enough). Tanks have many roles, including hopefully being more RPG resistant than medium or light armoued vehicles. They are mobile “shock and awe” that can cross shrapnel shrewn battlefields to cause chaos among the opposition.

Heavy MBT’s have proved their worth in urban environments from Gaza via Chechnia to Iraq. For those countries that can be arsed to ship them out there, they are doing a good and worthwhile job in Afghanistan.

Keep 1 oversize regular regiment, with 4 squadrons on rotation (training, ready, deployed, reset) and have 4 TA regiments. MBT crews can train in simulators, they don’t have to be driving all over Essex or Yorkshire to get realistic training.

but neglect heavy armour and repent at length (same of course can be said for artillery, helicopters, etc…)

November 19, 2010 8:26 am

True, we deployed two heavy armour divisions to Iraq in GW1 and 2, but did we need to?
For the first, yes, we had no other anti tank weapons, but for the second?

If Irans 1600 heavy tanks and 1000 other armoured vehicles are actualy operable for any length of time, they still cannot “mass” to over run a British Brigade with only 30, because our air power would annihiliate them if they tried.

I’m not argueing Heavy Armour isnt useful, it clearly is, but its differently useful than it was 20 years ago, or 40 years ago.

Its no longer useful at forming into a big mass and ramming an enemy mass of tanks head on. We have other tools to do that job much better.
But it is very useful at providing immediate devestating on sight fire support to attached infantry units, its very useful at destroying any isolated pockets of enemy armour that have evaded destruction by airpower. Its very good at overwhelming enemy strong points that lack AT weapons.

But all these tasks call for a dozen tanks at most.
Afghanistan is the perfect example, they arent used en mass to defeat enemy massed armour, they’re used individualy or in pairs, to support the infantry

Brian Black
Brian Black
November 19, 2010 11:26 am

Sorry, DominicJ. I wasn’t trying to suggest that you were ignoring Iraq & Afghan, but rather the government were playing down the future need for large deployments due to the current financial situation.
You are of course right about not getting into an expensive numbers army – the PM himself said a while back that it’s not much use maintaining a large military if it bankrupts the country when you try to use it (words to that effect); but I don’t think that an 8 brigade (inc. 16AAB & 3 CB) force is entirely unrealistic for the UK.

On the heavy armour issue, rather than just cut back the numbers -which I agree with- perhaps there should be something of a rethink on weapons too. Maybe lose the long-barreled line-of-sight weapon on a few vehicles; it might be great for taking out another tank across a european plain or middle eastern desert, but not necessarily the ideal solution for supporting infantry in population centres.

November 19, 2010 11:53 am

Not to worry.
I take a pretty calm view on the financial side of things, the military budget is far to small to matter, itys the political cost that guides my thinking.
Afghanistan and Iraq combined have cost, at most, 4 months of the NHS budget.

But they have been political minefields. Politicaly speaking, wars great as long as its a nice short war and we win convincingly.
A long dragged out campaign, even one we are winning with a low body count, is politicaly painful.

I say 6 Brigades, but they’re 6 big Brigades, whereas from my understanding, 16AAB and 3CB are 2,500, half the size of mine.

Agree on the tanks too, sort of, If theres only 20 tanks per Brigade, I’d leave them be, but if theres 100 ish Warriors per Brigade, that gives a lot more room for spreading development costs.
Again, I would hate to guess on the correct mix of 40mm autocannons, dual 20mm, quad packed HMG, 40mm grenade launchers, mortars and whether or not some sort of of 120mm shotgun is sane, but theres a lot of room for wondering.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
November 19, 2010 2:15 pm

A hidden result of the SDSR that will affect the Army is the reduction of the MoD Civil Service by 25,000. It has been declared that this will happen whatever the consequences across all departments and if a post needs to be retained it will be filled by a service man or woman. This means amongst other skill sets, Logistics and Technical personnel from all three services wil be moved to the rear.

Just because it was a campaign promise, It still appears as another poorly thought out strategy!

November 19, 2010 3:03 pm

If, say, we had to fight another Gulf War 3 (and that is not beyond the bound of possibility. I can think of at least one scenario right now)

Do tell?

November 19, 2010 4:06 pm

BrianBlack and DomJ

Well as always it all comes down to money. Do we need 60-70 tonne MBT to take on enemy MBT – well no, but we missed a trick by not adding a twin SPIKE launcher to the Warrior upgrade turret. Challenger 2 is our only AT asset with the crew under armour !

Change them for new / modern roles – sure, if we had the cash. Develop the Jordanian Falcon turret with UK armour technology, the standard Rheinmetal 120mm. It puts the (TA) crew down in the hull for greater survivability.

For Urban ops replace the current gun with 120mm smooth bore gun-mortar, replace the 7.62 co-ax with 40mm AGL. Add 2 x RWS / combined “active defence” system on turret roof, et voila, your heavy infantry support tank – but it all costs money we apparently don’t have or don’t want to spend. It’s cheaper and easier to just keep repeating the mantra that heavy MBT is “cold war relic” …… and use that as a budget cutting excuse to (almost) get rid of them :-(

Mike W
November 19, 2010 6:10 pm


Think perhaps of a nation neighbouring the one we have fought in two Gulf Wars and starting with the same three letters. Shouldn’t be too difficult to work out. That possible scenario was mentioned extremely frequently in military discussions on the Middle East not so very long ago, although I must admit those discussions mentioned the the USA carrying out such an action more frequently than they mentioned the UK.

Mike W
November 19, 2010 6:41 pm


I’m glad you included the comment: “Tanks have many roles, including hopefully being more RPG resistant than medium or light armoured vehicles. They are mobile “shock and awe” that can cross shrapnel strewn battlefields to cause chaos among the opposition.” Yes, I can’t imagine such terrain being negotiated safely by just infantry carried only in 4-tonne trucks and open Landies, even though equipped with AT missiles.

Also your idea: “Keep 1 oversize regular regiment, with 4 squadrons on rotation (training, ready, deployed, reset) and have 4 TA regiments.” seems eminently sensible to me, and your conclusion: “but neglect heavy armour and repent at length (same of course can be said for artillery, helicopters, etc…)” seems even more so.

Dominic J,

“But it is very useful at providing immediate devastating on sight fire support to attached infantry units, its very useful at destroying any isolated pockets of enemy armour that have evaded destruction by airpower. It’s very good at overwhelming enemy strong points that lack AT weapons.”

Yes, these were some of the uses I was thinking of. Wasn’t there a case in Gulf War 2, where a relatively small unit of Iraqi tanks sallied forth from somewhere near Baghdad and were soon despatched by a small number of British Challies? I can’t think of the name given to the skirmish now.

November 19, 2010 8:50 pm

mike w
whereas iraq is flat, iran is all hills and valleys.
Smacking i’m a dinner jacket would be much more difficult for heavy stuff.

Doesnt ring a bell, but not well read on the fall of bagdhad.

But i believe my point stands, these are uses for tank squadrons, not tank divisions.
We need armour, but we dont need it to what we needed it to do forty years ago.

Mike W
November 19, 2010 10:45 pm


Sorry Dominic, I obviously don’t know my Middle-Eastern terrain sufficiently well!

On your conclusion: “We need armour, but we don’t need it to what we needed it to do forty years ago.” I think you might need it to do just that occasionally but in most cases you are probably right. We just have to agree to differ. It’s been an interesting debate so far, hasn’t it? One of the most perceptive and penetrating contributions so far has been that by Monty on “USMC Panzers to Afghanistan” (his first post). Have you read it?

November 20, 2010 7:30 am

not yet, i’m on my phone and theres squillions of posts

January 25, 2011 11:40 am

See thgere is now talk of only 50 tanks and 270 warrier apc’s being kept and the RAF Tornado fleet being slashed.