#Army2020 – The Global Golf Bag


A guest post from Phil

This post represents some thoughts on the recent Army 2020 announcements. They are just that, thoughts on an announcement and must be taken as such since nobody, possibly even the decision makers in the Army, have finalised the entire Army 2020 structure yet.

The Context

Context is all. So what is the context of Army 2020? What is it meant to achieve and why? I will come on to thoughts about how later. SDSR promulgated plans for a new Army structure which unlike those of the RAF and Royal Navy, were kept deliberately vague as the dynamic effects of Op HERRICK and the consequent Army re-alignment to fight it, Op ENTIRETY meant serious planning would have to wait until an exit strategy if you will, solidified. Now though, every unit that will go to Afghan up until 2014 has been warned off and the Army can finally look beyond the final HERRICK roulements – it is now free to plan for the future, not the immediate, ever changing and pressing needs of the Defence Main Effort which required resilience and margins in the force structure on land.

The context of the new Army comprises three main challenge themes: resource limitations, organisational difficulties within MoD which have synergised with the first challenge, and the most important: UNCERTAINTY.

I have written uncertainty in capital letters to denote what I feel will be the single biggest challenge facing the Army and Defence as a whole in the short to medium term. Uncertainty itself embraces two key problems which synergise: the problem of predicting the type of operations the Army might be involved in and the diffuse and physically distant nature of the portfolio of possible future threat actors which makes them seem less imperative than they might be – this has the result of taking emphasis away from Defence since a quantifiable and existential threat concentrates the mind and wallet in a way that the current more intangible threats do not. Resource limitations have obviously had a massive effect on all three services and indeed the entire Government.

The resource limitations and the organisational difficulties experienced within Defence in terms of balancing the budget, resourcing equipment programmes and the consequent cultural problems made some sort of re-organisational exercise inevitable. One can argue the toss, but Defence does not exist in a vacuum and it has had to make its contribution to the high level goal of the new Government of reducing the structural deficit and instigating an economic recovery, especially in light of its own organisation problems – it is outside the scope of this document to discuss these matters, they must be accepted and it is the context that Army 2020 grew from. Therefore the real problem for the Army as a service was how to meet its third challenge theme, uncertainty.

Uncertainty is at the heart of the Defence problem after resources and cultural problems, and it is evident in the National Security Strategy and the SDSR. The National Security Strategy conducted a risk analysis and prioritised the likely threats to the grand UK national interests of security, prosperity and freedom. The most likely threats the risk analysis labelled Priority One and amongst these threats was this potential bombshell: “An international military crisis between states, drawing in the UK, and its allies as well as other states and non-state actors”. Here is one of the four, Priority One threats, and yet behind this simple sentence lies a massive problem – what is, an international military crisis? I think to try and define it would be to dangerously miss the point, the point is: an international military crisis can be almost anything and on any scale below an actual direct threat to the UK by another state – in other words, one of the main threats to this country’s grand interests is opaque and could take on an almost infinite number of variations and scales depending on the actors involved, the geographical area and the source of the crisis.

Any attempt to delineate this threat further, either by the likely type of crisis, or the region the crisis takes place would be arbitrary, unsound and artificial.

The elephant in the room is that nobody knows what is around the corner, nobody can quantify with certainty what the next threat to our grand interests will look like, who it will involve and how it will pan out – indeed, as our grand interests are pan-Global and have no physical limits in a globalised world we can begin to see the massive problem facing Defence and the Army: how to plan for the unknown crisis on a global scale and how to plan for it with the other challenge themes of resource limits and organisational difficulties?

The wider strategic solution to this has been, and has been for some time, set as operating independently at the lower operational spectrum and operating as a key player within an alliance at the high end of the operational spectrum – I ask the reader to accept this for now as it is an entirely separate post.

Global Golf Bag

The Army’s solution has had to contend with a very practical problem which has its roots in uncertainty: there can be no guarantees that certain capabilities will not be needed within the time frame it would take to completely re-generate them. The other problem uncertainty throws up in a practical sense is not only what kit to keep (capabilities) but how to organise that force when you have no idea what you might be doing, where you’ll be doing it, or for how long.

And the Army solution has been what I label, in a tongue in cheek nod to the RUSI devotion to snappy phrases, the Global Golf Bag model. It boils down to keeping a sufficient mass of the hardest to re-generate yet still versatile capabilities to operate in an alliance context (and a division of heavy forces still, relatively speaking, earns us a voice) and putting everything else into a Golf Bag or Adaptable Force.

Questions of organisation are answered by offering no fixed organisation which makes force generation far more harmonious since you are able to pick and choose force elements from a wider pool and not from units which usually own them in an operational sense. For example, a deploying brigade might once have needed to pluck an infantry battalion from another brigade, and when the second brigade came to deploy, it would need to pluck another infantry battalion from another in a vicious cycle that makes any force generation planning extremely difficult.

Now the model to be adopted is like that of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade which was generated using a pool of unallocated units, worked up, deployed and then disbanded on Op HERRICK. By removing the delineations in the force generation cycle it is much easier to pluck from the Golf Bag what you need. So the capability question and the organisation question has been answered in this manner: high end hard to regenerate capabilities are kept in the Reaction Forces and the Golf Bag kept for the upstream tasks and if needed the generation of units for enduring tasks – a concept validated by 11th Light Brigade. A further answer to the question of diffuse crises is the fact that the Adaptable Force is not just adaptable in an organisation sense, it is made quite clear that it will be used on the more day to day basis of crises prevention, or as it is essentially labelled, upstream engagement.

Therefore, what we have is the model of (a) operational independence at lower levels through the use and deployment of the Reaction Force Airborne Task Force and the Lead Armoured Infantry Battlegroup, and the Golf Bag of Adaptable Force upstream engagement efforts and (b) coupled with the ability to deploy a division of heavy forces, or smaller enduring force in order to have influence in an alliance context, an exercise which is as old as the Tudor monarchs.

Or does it?

As has been pointed out, this entire plan depends on the Army Reserve as the latest documentation calls presumably the Territorial Army and Regular Reserve. What we have therefore is half an announcement and somewhat less of a practical solution since the details of how the Army Reserve will be integrated are very thin indeed. Practical words and documents are simply not in the public domain at the moment, all we have are wishy washy phrases and concepts and it is unknown if these phrases are using language lazily or in a very precise manner.

What it seems will happen though is that a consultation will be done on changing the TA terms of service. The author must eat humble pie here as he did not believe that this would be on the cards in a time of economic difficulties as it would cross too many policy areas and be unlikely to pass Parliament. And, to be fair, it seems that the very tight lid they are keeping on possible changes before the consultation suggests that Government sees this as a very sensitive area in a time of cynicism over red-tape and struggling small-medium enterprises who will no doubt employee most of the reservists.

The author still believes that much could be done to improve the outputs of the TA and generate force elements needed to make the Army 2020 credible without changing terms of service and the evidence suggests that this is indeed occurring with the MoD citing increased overseas exercises for TA units, shadowing of regular units and command opportunities that would not have been available before which suggests that TA Officers and SNCO’s may be allowed to slot in and command regular troops on a semi-permanent basis or something akin to the old Gap Year Commission or on FTRS type contracts. Furthermore, this re-organisation finally offers the TA a real sense of purpose and focus which it has not had since the end of the Cold War and its Home Defence and BAOR reinforcement roles. Since 1995 the TA has been organised to flesh out the ARRC into a conventional Corps level operational grouping – providing traditional Corps level assets such as 2nd and 3rd line logistical units, Corps level artillery and GBAD units and engineer support – and fleshing out the Home Defence role against a threat that no longer existed.

The proper integration of the Army Reserve, rather than treating it like a separate force is long, long overdue and hopefully this mere change in focus will affect great cultural change and go a way to enabling the TA to generate what it needs to generate. However, a big question mark remains and it cannot be denied that time is precious since the reforms will have truly begun in 2 years time and the need for the TA will then begin to grow.

One final miscellaneous point on Army 2020: of great disappointment to the author is the recent emphasis on resilience or emergency planning roles for the armed forces and especially the Army. The armed forces are not part of the normal response network to a crisis or an emergency in this country and their involvement has always been, due to historical and constitutional issues, controversial and a last resort except in the most specialised of roles such as EOD.

The author fears that local authorities and category one responders will once again become lazy in their planning and rely on military assets which may not be available when the time comes as they are deployed on operations. It is an area where military involvement must be kept to a minimum for the apparently contradictory reasons that the military tends to excel at crisis response due to its culture, structure and mobility but at the same time it is not trained or experienced in the nuances of civilian emergency response and recovery.

The Army is a tempting partner for category one responders to burden since it can provide some of the most expensive and resource hungry needs of food, shelter, sanitation and water in almost any environment, as well as engineering plant and sheer labour which other emergency responders are loathe to funding adequately.


So in summary, Army 2020 represents an Army meeting three challenge themes: resources, organisational deficiencies within wider Defence and uncertainty. The role of uncertainty and resource limitation has seen the Army need to integrate reserve formations, focus resources on high end, hard to regenerate capabilities and to adopt a Golf Bag model for force generation for the comparatively less demanding upstream engagement roles and less complex enduring operation roles. The entire organisation will live or die by the ability of the TA to integrate further and generate useful force elements.

The concentration on CS and CSS within the TA represents a sensible balance and a realistic realisation that the TA is unlikely to ever be able to generate a combat arms battalion grouping for complex war fighting operations.

So, there is much risk in an otherwise sensible plan given the context, and we must now wait to see what becomes of the TA and if the planned changes already mentioned and the changes in terms of service are accepted and work.

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26 Responses

  1. Hi Phil,

    Interesting post, personally I cannot but help think that the return to an emphasis on “emergency planning roles” is in response to the planned increased use of reserves. I can imagine that they may set up the Reserves a bit like a life-boat crew, with once basic reservist training is complete, periods of being on-call, and then they would primarily deploy the Reserves “shadowing” infantry battalions in the Emergency Planning Roles (one week-end in Devon rescuing old ladies from floods, then a few week-ends later called out to provide warm bodies at Cup Final) – my thinking is that it will be easier to recruit to the Reserves if they have an actual all year round role rather than, post-Afghanistan, you just have training and the odd exercise, and little opportunity for an actual deployment by reservists shadowing a infantry battalion, unless there is a large deployment of the Adaptable forces.

  2. The trouble with that approach was starkly shown in the 2007 floods. Then the CCRF was not used in the floods as it was thought that they were of more use in their normal civilian roles than as reservists. The reserves shouldn’t have any emergency planning role at all.

  3. Hi Phil,

    While I do not dispute your argument (that it is a bad idea), I am simply suggesting that MoD may have decided that with more reserves they should be used for an emergency planning role – as it seems strange that they should have new strategy which reverses the break between the Army and emergency planning recently established in the same plan where they intend to double the size of the reserves – while it might be an extrapolation to far I cannot help but think it is linked. After all, it’s not like deploying troops in an emergency is a vote winner, and while doing so might help hide the fact that they have also cut the police to the bone, unless we attach all the reserves to the RMP, the Reserves can only carry-out roles in a emergency planning situation where bodies on the ground are needed, and no doubt you still need to send one or more police officer along with them to baby sit them – so less than ideal from a point of view of addressing lack of police numbers in civil disaster scenario.

    Of course the re-emergence of the emergency planning role might simply be some sort of bone for either the Tory or LibDem back-benchers.

  4. The emergency planning issue I think is coming from the fact that the Armed Forces can deliver the most important resources needed (food, water, shelter, sanitation, transportation) to a large number of people in any UK environment relatively rapidly and almost effortlessly (relatively speaking).

    There has been, for decades, this immense and almost irresistible urge by local authorities to abdicate their planning roles in the fields of basic necessities and ask the Army to do it since it provides these basics relatively effortlessly and local authorities don’t have to fund these. Why should they fund it all when its rarely needed and the Armed Forces are there, and can do it better than they ever could. A fair point in some ways but there are three big problems:

    (a) constitutional issues, these are not the trivial matter people think. We are having a very old problem rearing its head over the GBAD being placed on tower blocks in London, namely the effective force billeting of troops on civilians. I know they are not living in their flats but it is a similar argument and a similar problem.

    (b) the armed forces exist to fight, there is no guarantee that the Army units in a local authority area will be there when needed.

    (c) the civilians do not understand how the Army works or understand its capabilities. You can blame the Army for that but then why educate local authorities if you are not meant to be their get out of jail free card. So civilian emergency practioners have some pretty wild ideas about the Army’s capabilities. For example, looking at a TA field hospital in their area and thinking that there is a fully kitted out, 200 bed field hospital waiting to be sprung and deployed and be operational in 24 hours.

    I don’t think the reserves will play much of a role. They have tried this with the CCRFs and they have proved to be completely and utterly useless. They had the perfect opportunity to use them in 2007 when the flooding needed labour to build defences around the substation and they brought in regulars since mobilising the TA was such a ball ache and most of them were better off in their civilians posts. I really hope they have learned their lesson.

    Also, another factor is that the Army likes to remain relevant, if it grubs up some extra missions then it can justify certain force structures, we have GBAD in London when for some time GBAD has looked a tempting and low lying fruit for people looking to save money. The Army needs to be careful that by offering to integrate itself more into emergency planning they do not turn into a local authorities humanitarian aid agency which is what a lot of local government think they are, especially wonderful since they don’t come from their budget.

  5. As a raving civillian, ancient regiments mean nothing to me, but I do wonder the sanity of cutting REME numbers. For civil disaster, home & abroad, they are vital. I would have thought they should have been ring fenced. There is a case for raiding DfID money to keep REME numbers up.
    I still think cutting army numbers below 100,000 is a defeat waiting to happen.
    My back of envelope calculation says we need £22 billion to bring back the RAF/RN to near 1998 SDR capability.
    Yet the Bank of England creates £50 billion QE out of thin air, for its speculator chums to gamble with.

  6. Don’t forget, that all anyone has seen yet is the number of units to be cut, not the number of sub units. Lots of RHQs might go but a good deal of sub units might be farmed out to other RHQs or lots of RHQs might stay but we’ll see lots of sub units binned or converted to reserve formations. We really have nowhere near the full picture, just the general outline and my piece is a comment on the general outline rather than the details as that would all simply be speculation.

  7. Just a thought not all the reserves will be TA. Each battalion and regiment could form a reserve company or squadron. The R Squadrons formed from ex regulars of that particular unit would have the advantage of being part of the regimental family, with knowledge of how they do things and would probably like to help. All it needs is a government that protects their civilian jobs and a legislation on a minimum number of days call up to work with their old comrades. Its not as if we don’t already do this with L Detachment SAS, and it seems to work for the IDF.

  8. @ Jim re IDF

    Too different. If say the modern Briton despised the French as much as our ancestors (the ruling elites of which probably spoke French….) then I don’t think filling the ranks of the TA would be much of a problem. The defence budget would be bigger too because it would be further up the agenda. But because we don’t have a threat on our doorstep defence becomes an existential issue. Nobody cares about defence……

  9. “All it needs is a government that protects their civilian jobs and a legislation on a minimum number of days call up to work with their old comrades. Its not as if we don’t already do this with L Detachment SAS, and it seems to work for the IDF.”

    There should be better use of the Regular Reserve I agree, but this has been an argument since 1939 and before. There doesn’t seem to have been any will to incorporate Regular Reservists in a more organised sense or any mechanism to allow them to train on a regular basis with their old unit.

    Tapping into Regular Reservists is definitely a way of uplifting regular and TA units but I believe it would take some re-jigging of the RFA 1996 to accomplish this.

    I could see their being scope for reaction force units to be at nearly full strength and then a sliding scale of needing individuals to uplift to needing TA to uplift to needing TA to provide a sub unit and then needing regular reserves and TA to provide a sub unit.

  10. http://www.arrse.co.uk/current-affairs-news-analysis/184488-hammond-footsteps-haldane-cardwell.html#post4501513

    And the OP quotes a Telegraph article which interestingly says,

    “Significantly, there have been no cuts this time to the Gurkhas. Throughout the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, Britain had the vast reserves of the Indian Army on which to call: troops from India and what is now Pakistan fought in both world wars and in many a colonial campaign. The Gurkhas, a relic of that pool of manpower, have recently filled gaps with the so-called Gurkha Reinforcement Companies. The prospects for a young Nepali who reaches enlistment age in 2018, therefore, still look sound.”

    As the OP speculates there could be more to keeping the mountain men than politics.

  11. We don’t really need one. The Army’s usefulness in emergency response is its ability to live in the field. A Gendarmerie wouldn’t really have that ability. And it would be very foreign indeed to this country. They might be useful for cordon’s etc but we have a national police reinforcement plan which can mobilise something like 279 PSUs within a day or two, can’t remember the exact time.

    But above all, it would be so foreign, the idea wouldn’t stick. They do the Police job, fund the Police. Or get them to stop moaning.

  12. Phil – Great post, I agree that n an uncertain world with tight budgets we need to keep as many key capabilities as possible. I think breaking up the standing brigades in favour of battalion sized units that we can mix and match is the best option.

    We should not forget that the reason budgets are tight is because we live in an amazingly peaceful world, Yes there are threats but in the vast majority of cases these are small scale and a problem not just for us but for the international community. We have to get out of the world police man ethos that see’s us over commit to operations like the stan.

    I really think UK civilian emergency planning should not rely on the Army what so ever. Even in the worst of issues. Between Health and the Police force they get nearly 5 times more than defence, not to mention what local authorities get. Having a military fall back just lest these organisations get away with shirking their responsibilities.

    As with the Navy, the department of agriculture and fisheries pays for the fishery protection squadron, If local Authorities, the police and NHS want military support from reservists then they should have to pay for it.

    Any British soldier deploying on the streets of the UK should be bricking it from the legal ramification’s if they are put into a position of having to exercise force. Even the police in this country get sued and charged for skelping a few heads at anti globalisation riots.

  13. “The trouble with that approach was starkly shown in the 2007 floods. Then the CCRF was not used in the floods as it was thought that they were of more use in their normal civilian roles than as reservists. The reserves shouldn’t have any emergency planning role at all”

    My impression, based on links to SJC, was that CCRF wasnt touched due to confusion over the lead in times for actually mobilising reservists. CCRFs were simply a means to save the last 15 TA Inf Bns.

  14. Sir H

    That too. The relevant part of the Pitt Report into the floodings:

    “12.137 The Review has been advised by the
    MoD that the use of CCRFs was considered but
    that it would have taken longer to mobilise the
    CCRFs than it would to deploy regular forces
    to the scene. Since time was of the essence,
    regular Armed Forces personnel were used.
    Further, after the first 24 hours the majority
    of the work undertaken by the Armed Forces
    required specialist skills which the CCRFs did
    not have – for example engineering skills to
    construct semi-permanent flood defences and
    logistics specialists for the distribution of water
    supplies. Finally, any reserve personnel in the
    local area may have had other responsibilities
    in the community which would have been lost if
    they had been called up.”

  15. Phil

    Nice article matey ! Well written, ta very much :-)

    The biggest gap info for me at the moment, apart from fleshing out the Reserves plan, is the future of the Royal Artillery capabilities.

  16. Well the model is out. And it is this:

    There will be a five brigade roulement, 3 reaction force brigades and 2 AF. Presumably the TA units shadowing the regular AF will be large enough for a fresh tranche every 24 months to meet the one in five TA tour harmony guidelines.

    It seems there is a regular structure for 5 brigades (there’s 5 engineer regiments, 5 REME etc) so I guess that either the shadow unit will be drawn upon to raise the uplift in the AF or the regular unit will have direct command of a reserve squadron or company. I think we’ll see large shadow units that are designed to deliver 2 uplifts every 48 months and the regular unit will have a skeleton squadron that will basically induct the reservists like a conscript unit.

  17. The TA RLC will look like this (my prediction)

    2 logistic regiments
    3 force logistics regiments
    2 theatre logistics regiments
    Plus maybe a pioneer regiment and a few odds and sods

  18. “There will be a five brigade roulement, 3 reaction force brigades and 2 AF”

    So what happens if the need all three RF briagdes for the theatre entry than then becomes an enduring operation? That gives the RF 12 months before someone has to come back into theatre. Even with just two brigades going in initially, that still doesn’t provide enough time to avoid a breach?

  19. Chris

    Good question – where do the defence planning assumptions meet in the middle ?

    1 “large” operation of short duration (up to a division ?) Winds down but turns into an enduring operation (of a brigade)……..

  20. I guess the Army plans to take that on the chin as a once a decade event or the model goes deeper and a third brigade could be found or they put 16X and 3 Cdo on the roulement reinforced by elements of the AF. That bit is unclear but using the specialist brigades in extremis has precedence.

  21. I guess for one round it’s not such a huge issue (considering the strings that were pulled to maintain Iraq/Afghanistan simultaneously) as long as it doesn’t become a habit. I do wonder though what those latter brigades are supposed to do for armour/armoured infantry support, unless companies are going to be siphoned off the RF brigades or TA will be used?

  22. I think either 16X would deploy in the division or be worked up to immediately follow on.

    As for kit I imagine they have assumed that no more than HERRICK levels of CS would be needed so a FR Sqn, a BRF, an artillery battery and GMLRS troop plus the PM units which would fall in on in theatre kit.

    It all seems sensible. And the TA structure and mission set is becoming more fleshed out. For example whole TA logistic regiments will be needed for the 2 follow on AF Bdes.

  23. Hi Phil,

    Reading about artillery, engineers, signals… I have come to the same conclusion
    ” I think we’ll see large shadow units that are designed to deliver 2 uplifts every 48 months and the regular unit will have a skeleton squadron that will basically induct the reservists like a conscript unit.”
    – ie. leaving the intervention 16X and RM aside, the army is sized for 3+2

    Any reading of the two bde-level intel formations
    – is it just a “centre of excellence” type of concentration for peace time?

  24. Phil said “That bit is unclear but using the specialist brigades in extremis has precedence.”

    Hasn’t this become the norm not in extremis? 3Cdo and 16AAB deploying to Afghanistan showed more than anything that the Army is already short of line infantry without these cuts.

    Did I mention the barstewards have done for me country regiment? :)

  25. No they went on the HERRICK roulement as brigades because the Army was running ‘hot’ from doing TELIC at the same time.

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