A balanced force with a balanced budget ?

Challenger 2

A guest post from Jed…

TD has recently regailed us with posts on the Post Afghan vehicle lottery and on aspects of operational mobility (just to back up his veritable reference work on bridging!), including his awesome series of specialist mobility video postings.

In the comment threads, plus those on earlier articles there is countless discussion of wheels versus tracks, CVR(T) 2.0 versus FRES SV etc. Personally I have always thought that “wheels versus tracks” is a non-existing argument – in fact we very obviously need both and we should use the right tool for the right job wherever and whenever we can.

However my thoughts on Future Force 2020 and what the army might look like evolve every time I read another interesting article or re-read interesting comments in the various threads. The evolution of the “perfect” post Afghanistan force structure for the British Army is apparently a cause close to many of our hearts, even ex-Navy men like me ! However as none of us are endowed with the ability to read the tea leaves of the geo-political future, we can’t really do anything other than attempt to design a force structure that meets the requirements of the SDSR, with a balanced set of capabilities that has the ability to enable a flexible response by UK forces to a potentially very broad set of contingencies.

Following this train of thought, I constantly return of two of TD’s enduring themes:

1. Massive commonality of vehicle type – with the aim to reduce logistics burden and through lifecycle cost by maximising maintenance benefits and simplifying the spares holdings etc.

2. Providing niche capabilities – providing NATO and ad hoc coalitions, or other alliances with specific ‘niche’ capabilities that lever what we are good at, or what we are already equipped to do.

Using these lenses to view the expeditionary requirements of the SDSR, with HMG’s confirmed desire to meddle in other people’s backyards in order to safeguard our national security interests, my own thoughts on force structure and Tables Of Equipment (ToE) have swung back and forth as the debate rages in the comment threads.

For example, I have never been a ‘fan’ or proponent of the 8 x 8 wheeled AFV as a replacement for tracked medium weight vehicles. However a few vociferous commenters are great fans of the concept, and their arguments with respect to strategic self-deployment, and operational mobility in theatre are not completely without merit. On the other hand, although just about everyone admits that the day of the 60 tonne plus MBT are really not over, with even the COIN-istas admitting their utility, the questions remain as to how often we might require their capabilities in any great numbers, and what is the best way to retain their certain advantageous capabilities.

Questions, questions and more questions…..

I would like to examine a few of the questions that pop up in my mind before indulging in a little bit of “fantasy fleet” force structure design.

Question 1 – do operational requirements outweigh the cost benefits of massive standardisation ?

If we could standardize on 3 ‘fighting vehicle’ fleets (not including MBT) with:

  • 1 tracked medium family (upgraded Warrior or FRES SV),
  • 1 wheeled Medium family (FRES UV) and
  • 1 light wheeled family (Foxhound);

plus some oddities like RM Viking, then would the cash benefits outweigh any potential operational flexibility costs ?

Question 2 – does filling a ‘niche’ mean going to extremes ?

Our NATO allies are divesting themselves of MBT’s and reducing their numbers of high end tracked, medium to heavy weight MICV / AIFV type vehicles, well most of them are – the U.S. and Turkey to a lesser extent. So should we aim for that niche, do a U-turn on MBR’s and go all heavy at one end and all light at the other ? Keep all our Chally 2’s and Warriors, upgrade them, get FRES SV into service, and build up the capabilities of our elite light infantry units at the other end of the capability spectrum ? After all we are no longer fighting the cold war, so do we need a the equivalent of TA infantry battalions in Saxon, able to zoom along the autobahn to re-enforce BAOR ?

But as I suggest, with the SDSR requirements, this is hardly a likely niche to focus on, is it ?

So could we go the other way ?

Reduce heavy armour and tracks to a minimalist capability, relying on allies to bring the tanks if we end up in another GW1 / GW2 type scenario ? Does the French, Italian, and U.S. (Stryker brigade) all wheeled brigade type of force fulfill the requirements of a what is largely an expeditionary force ?

Question 3 – is there a middle ground, some heavy tracked, and some medium wheeled ?

Can we truly afford to keep the “full spectrum’ war fighting capability of Challenger 2 regiments, Warrior armoured infantry, FRES SV ‘Formation Recce’ and find a suitable FRES UV wheeled armoured vehicle to replace all those thousand plus FV432 and CVR(T) variants, Mastiff’s, Wolfhounds and Ridgebacks ?

Can we dismiss ‘massive commonality” in favour of operational flexibility in the shape of some big, weighty well protected 8 x 8 to replace some tracks (say Patria AMV or RG41), while buying a cheaper 6 x 6 or 4 x4 (say RG35) to take on all the supporting roles ?

Question 4 – what roles for the reserves ?

People keep noting in the comments that fast paced armoured manoeuvre warfare is no role for part-time soldiers. I am not sure I agree. The assertion might be true the way the TA is structured right now, but other nations don’t have a problem with reservist armour crews – perhaps taking a leaf from the Israeli training manual we would only allow ex-full time ‘professionals’ into such units ? I have seen the big halls full of Challenger and Warrior simulators in Germany; spending a whole weekend buttoned up in one of those has to be a solid training experience !

We recently discussed the tooth to tail ratio with respect to the reserves – should the focus be on CSS units rather than on infantry and armour ? Perhaps this is the wrong way of looking at things ? Perhaps we should be asking if we need to rely on reservists to augment full timers on long term enduring operations, or instead should we aim to only fall back on a large scale short-ish duration call out of large numbers reservists if we commit a full (large) division to a short term high intensity operation ?

I would like to suggest two straw man options for people to pull to bits. However first I would just like to digress to cover the two “intervention” brigades, the units that SDSR FF2020 state are “out of the rotation” for a long enduring operation – 3 Commando Brigade RM, and 16 Air Assault Brigade

For each of these brigades, with 4 infantry units, I would use the existing vehicles to provide an “armoured support group” such as that which already exists for 3 Cdo with it’s Vikings. For 16 AAB (which I would change role and title a bit, but we don’t need to go there right now) we could use the 100 plus Warthog’s plus some additions. For both vehicles we should purchase some dedicated 120mm mortar versions with the STK SRAMS for example. The Warthog group might get some recce variants based just on the front module as I suggested previously.

Straw man force structures

Of course we can mess with the structure of the MRB’s and other units as required to fit our own agendas J For both potential solutions there are sizing options we can consider too, however I don’t want to explore all the variables, just to really examine the vehicle fleet options:

#1: The high end – low end option – mixed MRB’s

So straw man number 1 is a high-low mix, with nothing in the middle, but with a mixed set of capabilities based on both tracked and wheeled vehicles within the MRB. So five identical MRB’s of:

  • 1 x FRES SV family based Brigade Recce Regiment
  • 1 x Armoured Infantry Regiment on upgraded Warrior
  • 2 x Mechanised Infantry Regiment on FRES UV family based on RG35 variants
  • 1 x Artillery Regiment – resurrected LIMAWS based on single pod of rockets, and M777 on RG35 or other wheeled chassis.
  • CS – Combat Engineers with tracked as required (FRES SV family)
  • CSS – mostly FRES UV based

A am sure a squadron of Chally 2, a TA regiment of AS90 and an extra infantry battalion could be attached as required ? Should there be 4 infantry battalions as the norm and if so, can 1 be “Light role” as they would in the peacekeeping / peace enforcing / COIN scenarios they would be guarding bases etc and could patrol in Foxhounds if required ? Or should the deployable Brigade be capable of putting all it’s infantry on the move under armour, for more “intensive” scenarios ?

The aim here is to keep the FRES SV and Warrior upgrade programmes as they are, already funded etc. but add a single large family of FRES UV to replace a lot of existing old vehicles and make as much as possible of the “massive commonality” them at the wheeled, lower weight end.  Of course we would add Foxhound family based vehicles as required.

If you think about it, this is not radical at all, we would just be looking for the money to buy a lot of RG35 series vehicles, built in the UK if required to replace lots of old, mostly tracked vehicles. You could still mess with whether or how much of the MBT capability sits in the reserves or main force etc.

#2: High – middle – low

I want to be deliberately more contentious with this one, so hang in there with me, and just follow it through:

Heavy end:

  • 1 x Regular Armoured Brigade – 2 x MBT Regt. & 2 x Armoured Infantry (Warrior)
  • 1 x Reserve Armoured Brigade – as above

The Reserve formation would actually be twice as big, but with whole fleet management of the vehicles the concept is 2 regiments or battalions would share 1 regiment or battalions worth of vehicles. This means of course in time of call up we should have no problem getting a full complement of warm bodies for the ‘war time establishment’ of the units, plus probably some additional as ‘battle casualty replacements’.

The regular armoured brigades units would operate their squadrons / company’s on the 1 in 4 rotation, so that at any one time there should be a 12 tank squadron and a company of Warrior carried infantry available to the deployed MRB, with another available to support the ‘intervention’ brigade(s).

Medium wheeled:

  • 4 x MRB each with:
    • 1 x Brigade Recce Regiment on 8 x 8 AFV (e.g. Patria AMV or RG41)
    • 1 x Armoured Infantry on 8 x 8 AFV
    • 2 x Mechanised Infantry on 6 x 6 or 4 x 4 (e.g. RG35)

Potentially some Combat Support units would need the more expensive 8 x 8 vehicles. Combat Service Support would be mainly on the 6 x 6 or 4 x 4 platforms.

Notice that I am not mixing tracked FRES SV for Brigade Recce with the rest of the MRB on wheels. So we could go the cheap and easy short term route and ditch FRES SV family and rely on upgraded Warriors OR do the exact opposite and lever the investment in FRES SV and replace Warrior with FRES SV Protected Mobility variants.

The heavy armour units have potential to cause some of you varying amounts of apoplexy too. I would suggest 4 squadrons of 12 Challenger 2’s (4 x 12 = 42 + 2 = 50), plus a Recce squadron of 16 Warrior Recce variants – so I guess that’s a Type 66 Regiment ?

Also as TD has described for us previously, the upgrade path for Chally 2’s main armament is not an easy one; not easy to fit a 120mm smooth bore, nor easy to start production of a top of the range kinetic energy round for the current rifled gun. Two suggestions to fan the flames; put the Jordanian Falcon turret on them, or sell them off or scrap em’ and buy some second hand Leopard 2 A5 / A6’s.

The fifth Brigade / Formation Recce Regiment should have a vehicle able to support the Vikings and Warthogs of the intervention brigades – I am not going to map this to TD’s weight categories / break points , I will let you do that.

So, how many infantry battalions would we have all together in this heavy, medium, light and wheeled plus tracked force structure:

  • 5 battalions in the ‘intervention’ brigades (1 in 3 Cdo, 4 in 16 AAB)
  • 2 Armoured Infantry (tracked) on Warrior
  • 4 Armoured Infantry (wheeled) on 8 x 8
  • 8 Mechanised Infantry (wheeled) on 6 x 6 or 4 x 4
  • 2 Cyprus garrison battalions
  • 1 School of Infantry / Warminster battalion
  • 4 London Public Duties Guards battalions

Unfortunately I guess this would need us to bring back the “arms plot” and rotate units through specialisms in order to mix in the nice jollies to Cyprus and chicks sticking phone numbers into bearskins, with the rotation of MRB’s into the latest trouble spot.

In summary, my second straw man proposal provides an army with everything from elite light infantry for airmobile ops (Paras in 16 AAB), to specialist armoured infantry in tracked AIFV’s, through similar troops but in wheeled vehicles, to mechanised infantry delivered to the edge of the battle area in less tactically mobile 6 x 6 vehicles (and hopefully we could afford to buy some of these for a decent amount of the reserve infantry too !). However although it offers a “well balanced” force to take on a “full spectrum” of operations, it would introduce a whole raft of different vehicle types:

  • MBT and associated engineer support vehicles
  • Tracked medium weight AIFV – Warrior AND FRES SV, or maybe consolidated on just one type
  • Wheeled medium weight AIFV – for example the Patria AMV family or the BAe RG41 or similar
  • Wheeled medium weight APC / FRES Utility Vehicle family – for example the BAe RG35 family
  • Lighter weight wheeled family – Foxhound family in various versions
  • High Mobility Protected mobility vehicles – BVS10 Mk2 Vikings for 3 Cdo Brigade Armoured Support group and STK Warthog for 16 AAB Armoured Support Group
  • Light weight specialist vehicles – Supacats, ATV’s etc etc…..

Is this model affordable and sustainable ?





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