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February 27, 2014 2:40 pm

My question would be this: where is the force that holds the ground? I get that the objective is to provide indigenous forces to do so, but in the meantime?

In my view to hold ground you need a large, visible footprint which goes against what you believe is optimum for the non-permissive environment.

Personally I think the centre of gravity is well away from the battlefield. It’s at the national and international level. The key objective of isolating the insurgent is not an objective the military is likely to be able to achieve – that will be down to political and international will.

I think the broad lessons are that

(a) capacity building is a multi-agency, multi-national job with all the difficulties that implies

(b) that early re-building of indigenous security forces is a must (day one, week one task)

(c) depth and mass is needed from day one (not necessarily with lots of fire-power) which combined holding forces and striking forces.

(d) that the local human terrain needs to be recognised as incredibly complex and that data regarding it must be retained and digested

(e) that the force structure needs to be hyper-local in focus and is built upon the intelligence gathered in the above effort

Very interesting post though. My comments are just to get the ball rolling on a good discussion before the QE2 class are sunk by the weight of verbiage expended on them!

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
February 27, 2014 2:58 pm

A very interesting read.

I did some personal research awhile back (aka Googling) which lead to a RAND concept for Rapid Deployment forces – the force broke down into different parts and I was reminded of the concept when reading the article above:

a C4I3 (?) force meant to coordinate with friendly forces at different levels and “plug” them into the US information system.
A light force (mainly infantry with light vehicle mobility).
Amphibious forces, and so on leading to a deployment of the Heavy armoured units latter.

Apart from the latter, it does seem similar to the presented idea, only focused on Rapid Deployment instead of COIN/stabilisation.

Think Defence
February 27, 2014 4:19 pm

Where would you see economic development residing

Most conflicts it seem have at least some roots in economic, natural resource, land or general wealth distribution so addressing these fundamentals would seem critical

Also, what about language and cultural diversity, we obviously cannot maintain expert knowledge of every language and culture but if we could pull in resources from local specialists, NGO’s and others that would seem ideal, greater use of reservists of sponsored reservists perhaps.

Chris.B had a great post a while ago about having regionally focussed commands, I really liked the idea


February 27, 2014 4:19 pm

Looks like a really promising concept. My uninformed comments:

1. The reserve formation. I think it’s a mistake to have this as a fixed part of the structure: the security situation, the availability of other allied and UK troops in theatre, and the geography will mean that the ideal size and organisation will change from country to country. Maybe in one place you’d want two protected-mobility battalions. Somewhere else it might be aviation and boats only. I’d replace that bit of the orbat with a box that just says “Reserve: UK battlegroup or battlegroups as required”. You’ve done this already with the note about “attached force troops, aviation and SF as required”.

2. Is the police component – in the stabilisation brigade and in the host-nation forces – really big enough? You’re planning to have a host-nation army brigade, supported by a battalion’s worth of mentors, but only a battalion of host-nation gendarmerie and unspecified numbers of police, supported by four platoons of mentors. The ANA and ANP, to take one recent example, are roughly the same size. And in COIN, the police should be taking the lead – so shouldn’t that be reflected in the numbers of mentors you’re assigning?

February 27, 2014 10:00 pm

I don’t see a problem with western forces being used to “take” ground, in short term interventions, but using them to hold ground has proven very wasteful and problematic.

I completely agree that we need to get indigenous forces doing the footwork as fast as possible, but in the meantime there’s nobody in your structure to hold ground. Afghanistan and Iraq were difficult precisely because there were no effective security forces. If we’re there we’d have no choice but to fill that vacuum which is precisely what happened in June 2006 in Helmand.

A large enduring presence in areas which are non-permissive – i.e. folks don’t want you around – is very damaging to the mission and requires alternative approaches.

Staying where you are not wanted is bad news I agree. But areas where you are not wanted I think are more flexible and changeable. Sometimes you are not wanted because you represent a security threat to the locals – by showing them that you are in charge and can keep them safe you end up being wanted. Likewise, if there is an area you are intractably not wanted then local forces are also unlikely to be welcome.

In many cases public support for insurgency is bolstered by heavy handed or noticeably foreign intervention forces – as occurred in Somalia in the early 90s, and during the ‘shoot to kill’ period in Northern Ireland.

Agreed but it also works the other way – go in even handed and apply the rules of the game post 2009 in Helmand and you stand a far better chance of proving yourselves to be no trouble and a net benefit to the local community.

but they need to be more cleverly disguised and integrated with local forces and when required used for short-sharp operations

Where there’s no local security forces then there’s nothing to disguise them as. And also, it is not very practical to hide foreign involvement the locals can spot at a thousand yards who is and who is not of their ilk. You can indeed sit back and mentor and supervise local operations but again, you need to have competent local forces to do that. The key to competent local forces is the wider force generation needs – raising and maintaining standing security forces and that requires high level involvement.

I think your force shows the concepts we need to have embodied going into such an operation and it represents an excellent final or penultimate roulement but I just don’t see it having depth in a non or semi-permissive environment or where there are no local security forces and you have to do their job for them.

I also think trying to pre-package the force is a non-starter. The force structure needs to be ultra-sensitive as I said to the human terrain and human and social laydown of the AO. This requires excellent intelligence and excellent HUMINT and a way of having continuity so that intelligence and data is digested and dispersed.

February 27, 2014 10:17 pm

The principal problem with HMG approach to capacity building is that there are no specialised units (apart from SF) with well-developed expertise in what is often considered a secondary and somewhat menial task.

I will say this, I know people who have almost come to blows to get onto what was then the OMLT and then the BAG and so forth. It’s not considered menial by anyone I know and certainly from my experience good people were put on it and also senior people too – the ADVISOR callsign attached to us was a senior Captain and a SNCO.

It was considered the best posting to have, working closely with the locals and the local forces and getting into loads of scraps whilst in the arse end of nowhere, isolated and largely left alone by the bullshit wallahs. Chinditesque and no reflector belts in sight. I was gutted I didn’t get into the BAG but ended up working very closely with the local ADVISOR callsign who happened to be embedded with us and the ANA Tolay.

Think Defence
February 27, 2014 10:41 pm

Would it be fair to say that there has never been a formally established force that mentors and develops local forces and yet it seems to be something that we have always done, and done very well.

Whether that is SF or others types of unit

I would also add that with the experience of Afghanistan, where the capability has been very well developed from a reasonable baseline, then the question of maintenance of this capability, the skills and working relationships with all manner of non state and NGO’s, should be exercising those big brains in the MoD.

Another interesting subject, that I think is absent here, is how we can use our maritime and aviation forces to contribute. In Iraq, the USAF really put a lot of effort into developing the Iraqi Air Force, bought equipment into service that ironically is not in service with US forces, and this small force had a disproportionate impact on security.

The same is true for naval and riverine forces

How we do join the dots

I would also like to see more on de-mining and economic development

February 27, 2014 10:47 pm

Indeed, there is an opportunity to give the indigenous air force a carrier capable plane, the indiginous navy one of our CVFs and then let them get on and squabble over it whilst the Army and the indiginous Army get on with the real work of putting right what once went wrong.

Meanwhile the RAF Regiment can stag on Ascension incase the Argies get some RIBs up there, punch through the storm of iPods being thrown at them by the Navy and attempt to storm Ascension EFI.

Think Defence
February 27, 2014 10:55 pm
Reply to  Phil

Like it

Extending my argument though would me investment in things like this


and this


At the expense of this


and this


Can you see the obvious flaw in my plan :)

Seriously though, I do like this idea, especially the fact that it has the word experimental in it, nothing like a spot of trial and error, but you have to think in terms of water and air, as well as land

February 27, 2014 11:03 pm

Yes so do I. I think it’s an excellent framework from which to hang an ever reducing number of combat formations.

We often have prepositioned sets of equipment, what about a prepositioned set of local kit and a plan to generate an indigenous brigade or two from scratch in 36 months? Obviously it would need to happen in a wider context but having a plan in place and the kit needed for it ready to go would be interesting. A flat packed officer academy. Perhaps DfID could own the kit and sign it over when needed or give the forces a grant to hold it.

February 27, 2014 11:10 pm

I would not have thought it would be hard to stand up a mentoring troop/platoon in all the phase 2 training establishments, part funded by the FO?

You could always use the reserves for this sort of thing, including flying light aircraft. the regulars would let them have it for a while as they all try to get in on the reaction brigade band wagon but after a while once the regulars get wind that its a pretty decent job to do in various locations around the world they will take it back and then fuck up all the good work, with thrusting young officers trying to stamp their mark on everything.

So maybe not ;-)

Think Defence
February 27, 2014 11:14 pm
Reply to  DavidNiven

Just playing devils advocate, picking up from others

Is this something we can do on the cheap, or would it need serious investment?

Trading big ticket procurements for a capability like this seems like a very difficult sell

February 27, 2014 11:25 pm

I don’t think the units from the military will be a problem, its a dedicated civil service department that houses the specialisms and has experience of working with the military that seem to be missing. I know that there are some in Afghan now and were in Iraq, but they were all individually recruited which takes time for direction and cohesion to gain traction.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
February 27, 2014 11:44 pm

Sorry to start a second front Boss, but I can’t help feeling that a big floating airfield with command and control functions and lots of space might be quite a useful place to run lots of that “over the horizon” stuff from…especially if none of the neighbours are willing to help out with bases… :-)

A bloody irritating Gloomy

Think Defence
February 27, 2014 11:58 pm

Gloomy, are you on the wrong thread?

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
February 28, 2014 12:10 am

Boss – possibly – skiing with various knackered old joints, and thus awash with painkillers and obstler…but I’m sure you said “over the horizon” and talked about aircraft somewhere in there…

I’ll make for the naughty step

A contrite Gloomy :-(

February 28, 2014 7:57 am

Many moons ago the bde comd (Dwin Bramall) ordered an officer study project on what would now be called COIN. We identified the No 1 priority as securing the borders. I’ve experience, seen and heard nothing since to make me change my mind. Cutting the insurgents of from external support/safe haven is the mission critical first step.

February 28, 2014 9:13 am

A very interesting read and one of these ideas that is very easy to experiment with we probably already have most things you need to try it.

I think securing borders it an extremely difficult thing to do especially if your neighbour is someone like Iran.

February 28, 2014 10:12 am

“Many moons ago the bde comd (Dwin Bramall) ordered an officer study project on what would now be called COIN. We identified the No 1 priority as securing the borders. I’ve experience, seen and heard nothing since to make me change my mind.”

But I can’t help thinking of all the failed COIN campaigns that followed this advice. Vietnam, most obviously.

Peter Elliott
February 28, 2014 11:03 am

On the subjet of porous borders how about Kurdistan?

The Iraqi, Syrian, Turkish and Iranian areas clearly have a strong relationship between them.

Is there an element however when an upsurge in trouble in one direction actually helps to calm the remaineder? Becuase that is where the keenest fighters and most ambitious leaders focus their efforts? Outbreaks of peace in Iraqi and Turkish Kudistan might therefore be directly related to the emergence of an autonomous Syrian Kurdish zone.

February 28, 2014 11:34 am


An insightful and fascinating piece of work. Very much appreciated.

From a maritime perspective, this embodies everything the RN understands and is prepared for in terms of joint expeditionary operations. It dovetails with British Maritime doctrine, Ship-to-Objective-Manoeuvre and operations in the littoral, is underscored by the predictions laid down in Global Strategic Trends out to 2040, and reflects the maritime force and C2 structures already in place as well as the need for and role of the future carriers. Many training teams are already established and working with local forces as you have already discussed in more permissive areas. The Navy gets this in spades.

The most challenging part of this will be overcoming a decade of Army and RAF combat blindness, and shaking the belief that land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan represent a model for future operations.

Think Defence
February 28, 2014 12:06 pm
Reply to  TAS

TAS, I think a lot of work has been done about the impact of over fishing on regional stability, or areas such as maritime security in the petrochem industry and of course, piracy. But aren’t you of the opinion that this kind of work, fisheries protection and maritime security is a job for almost anyone else but the RN

Am confused (not hard I know)

If you were Admiral for the day, how would you expand the RN’s capabilities in this general area and would you stop doing other stuff to pay for it?

This actually comes back to the point I made earlier, all this sounds great and all that, but ask the Army to reduce armoured division, or the RAF to buy fewer Typhoons or the RN, put up with one or two less T26’s and I think we would find enthusiasm waning

We talk a good one about conflict prevention and upstream engagement, but when asked to defund the big boys toys, everyone suddenly starts shuffling and finding their shoes interesting

The real test of how ready we are for conflict prevention or stabilisation is when we cut an armoured brigade, squadron or frigate to pay for it

Think Defence
February 28, 2014 1:37 pm
Reply to  jamesf

James, have you seen this, from Denmark


Phil has written some good posts about Denmark’s approach as well

February 28, 2014 2:06 pm

TD, I’d start by actually funding the current force structure rather than pretending that we are getting along all okay when in fact the Service is dying on its feet.

Then I’d spend ten million pounds on educating the other two Services on the need for Jointery at all levels, including the use of Tasers every time a moustache sneered at the need for a balanced expeditionary fighting capability when a tank or a Tornado will do.

Then I’d pay for the Army and RAF to be properly reorganised into mobile, deployable formations, capable of employing an agile, adaptable and sustainable logistics chain, instead of guardians for a series of expansive married patches the length and breadth of Britain. Then I’d expand by 2000% the number of Joint exercises that take place every year and make them ALL involve significant involvement by each of the three Services. Even if that meant every tank practice on Salisbury plain, including every shell and jerrycan of gas had to start from the Outer Hebrides.

Note – not a mention of more kit for the dark blue.

February 28, 2014 2:15 pm

James, that is my general gist. However even I am not so blinded by too many days at sea to accept that sometimes these operations can (and should) take place from sustainable in-country bases. The UK has fought hard to maintain several key joint operating bases around the world and could well use them as the sustainable over-the-horizon operating base. I like your breadth of thinking.

February 28, 2014 2:55 pm

In my view the dilemma between maritime and continental is a false one. The real dilemma is between peer warfare and extended stabilisation operations. We need to be able to do both within a reasonable time frame.

There’s no option to specialise too much in either.

Persistent operations will never be a choice (we have hardly ever fought a war wishing to still be there 10 years later) and events in Syria and now in the Crimea show how close we can get to fighting a peer or at least an opponent who is not enormously shit.

Remove the ability to conduct stabilisation operations or OOTW across land, sea and air and you may as well have a Swiss style military. Concentrate solely on sea-air-land peer battles and you remove the armed forces from any normal day to day, bread and butter utility.

It’s heavy warfare versus stabilisation operations. Not maritime versus continental. Either extreme is a fallacy – balance is needed. This fundamental and very real dilemma should be recognised as the very nexus on which our defence policy should turn.

February 28, 2014 2:59 pm

I never was really happy with the need for stabilization missions, too much potential to bleed by a thousand cuts.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
February 28, 2014 5:22 pm
February 28, 2014 7:04 pm

Good read, really enjoyed it.

February 28, 2014 7:09 pm

A really interesting read, but as I am at work I dont have time to go through everyones comments, so very briefly:

1. I might at some point find the time to write on how Information Operaitons and Psyops would fit into this model

2. Afghanistan and Iraq were not “traditional” COIN efferts – it is rare you “reduce the country to the stone age” and then go in and build it from scratch. Historically most insurgencies are against an established or recently established regime, but generally you go somewhere to support an existing government and existing military and / or polciy forces. Do we really think the model for all our future operations will be Aghanistan ?

Off to a 3 hour Fiore Italian Longsword class afterwork, so If I still have usable hands tomorrow I will come back to read all the comments !

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
March 2, 2014 12:51 pm

@ Jamesf – I should mention the last link was provided by Sven (aka S O )

@ Jed – ” I might at some point find the time to write on how Information Operaitons and Psyops would fit into this model”

That would be interesting.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 2, 2014 8:00 pm

I’m not sure of the value of this type of brigade.

Obviously the forces do now need to train for operations other than conventional warfare across the Rhein; but there would seem to be too many variables in the possible scenarios that could crop-up to have a one-size-fits-all brigade waiting for action.

The ‘thrown together at the last minute’ criticism is surely simply a reflection of how different the requirements have been for various tasks in the past. The initial military response for stabilisation could be a very different package to that deployed in the longer term; and the military components can be very different from one stabilisation mission to the next.

Take two of the UK operations mentioned, Sierra Leone and Libya. The initial British movement in Sierra Leone was to send in an infantry battalion as the local and African forces were not capable enough on their own; that initial movement required healthy rapid-reaction forces for the immediate stabilisation of the situation, but it didn’t need the longer-term military training force and civilian response team to be already jointly organised and ready to go. The particular requirements would take time to establish too. On the other hand, the British military involvement in Libya was vastly different, without a land component, and entirely without the need for the type of brigade being suggested. The British led civilian Stabilisation Response Team which is now in Libya consists of eleven advisors, and there is no ongoing British military effort in the country.

In future situations, the starting point for stabilisation operations can be greatly different from one case to the next. Very rarely will we enter a country that has been Iraqised, with the complete dismantling of political and civil infrastructure and the military. There’ll be different deficiencies and different capabilities already in place, ad hoc grouping of stabilisation forces will consequently be much more likely and appropriate.

I have a question for the topic writer, but welcome anyone else’s response.

Having decided that the various stabilisation force elements should be under a single unified command, why should that be a military command rather than a civilian one?
If part of the force is constructed from government departments, or NGOs, and is concerned with things like judicial framework, policing, and civil infrastructure, why should it be the other part, the military part of the force which takes precedence in the command structure?

March 13, 2014 2:01 pm

@ James

Excellent piece of work with a lot of very good ideas.

I think having a dedicated section of the army to provide foreign training is a good idea. However I wonder if it would ever be able to match the SAS for prestige. countries like Malaysia still rave about SAS traing they recieved in the 1980’s and I wonder if atleast from a diplomatic point of view a british green berries could match that.

While your force structure looks great in a permissive environment I wonder how well it would do in an environment like Afghanistan. as you point out we have had little in the way of problems in providing stabilisation forces in permissive environments so would this structure actually solve any problems?

March 30, 2014 5:14 am
Reply to  a

The borders of SVN were never secured, apart from the small bit that was the DMZ. The long border with Cambodia and Laos was extremely permeable, that is the route by which many hundreds of thousands of N Vietnamese Army soldiers arrived in the South, plus most of the military supplies for the local insurgents (who had been basically defeated in 1968).

April 2, 2014 9:57 am

A quote from a letter in this week’s Economist from a gent at KCL “The current government and senior military officers remain myopically focused on so-called ‘stabilisation’ missions in regions that are marginal to Britain’s security. European peace and security, and NATO, should be Britain’s strategic priorities.”

I totally agree, having specialised units and formations for the stabilisation malarkey is nonsense. The reality is that when a country needs stabilising its government has failed and its armed forces have either collapsed or been defeated. They are not
capable of providing security for a stabilisation force. Military capability may have been reduced to middle rank and senior officers only. Junior officers, rank and file have to be recruited, and trained individually and collectively, with units and formations being created. This means intervening powers have to provide security and build local armed forces, this takes several years at best. Finding literate and numerate men is essential for some parts of an army. You may be able to set up a basically trained infantry company in a couple of years. An artillery battery takes somewhat longer, assuming you can find the numerate, other specialist elements are similar.