What does this discussion mean for the Army’s proposed 2020 structure?
If all armoured vehicles can now be neutralised by tank guns or ATGMs, heavy armour is largely redundant. That being the case, we need to determine what is the minimum level of protection required for different vehicle types and, specifically, whether a medium armour capability can substitute heavy tanks.
The key areas governing choice of vehicle type are strategic mobility (ability to deploy long distances quickly), tactical flexibility (ability to switch tasks / redeploy once in theatre), off-road performance, protection (level of armour), firepower (organic weapons), reliability (mechanical integrity / ease of maintenance) and cost. Using these criteria (see below), medium armour wheeled vehicles appear to provide the best balance of characteristics.
Summary Comparison of Tracked AFVs versus Wheeled AFVs
The British Army’s 3rd (UK) Division (The Reaction Force) will be substantially upgraded through the acquisition of FRES SV and upgrade programmes for Challenger 2 and Warrior. But even with new tracked vehicles, the three component brigades will remain heavy armoured units that lack the flexibility to deploy rapidly. Once deployed, however, they would certainly have sufficient organic firepower to be effective across a variety of roles.
The British Army’s 1st (UK) Division (The Adaptable Force) can rapidly deploy 6 Light Protected Mobility (LPM) battalions equipped with Foxhound and 3 Cavalry regiments equipped with Jackal. However, these units lack sufficient organic firepower to be used in anything other than counter insurgency / peacekeeping operations. There are no tanks or vehicles mounting tank guns or cannons. There are an additional 15 infantry battalions that have no protected mobility at all.
In line with every other army in Europe and every member of NATO, the British Army urgently needs a “go anywhere, do anything” capability that would be provided by a force equipped with a family of 8×8 wheeled vehicles. Therefore, the need to fast-track a reinvigorated FRES UV programme is paramount. This cannot simply be the purchase of a single-type 8×8 vehicle that is issued to various units on an ad hoc basis. The capability needs to be delivered via properly organised brigade structure in a new division.
A revised Army 2020 structure should be comprised of three core formations, a Heavy (tracked) Armoured Division (3rd UK Division), a Medium (Wheeled) Armour Division and a Light Division (1st UK Division). The three primary divisions would be supported by an air mobile brigade to provide a quick reaction force.
Proposed Structure for a Revised Army 2020
The revised structure above would create six fully capable multi-role armoured brigades as envisaged by the 2010 SDSR plus a further three light brigades suitable for COIN deployments. The three medium armoured brigades would be very similar to US Stryker brigades.
The overall number of regular infantry battalions would be increased from 30 to 37 to address manpower concerns. The total number of regular cavalry regiments would increase from 9 to 12. The number of reserve cavalry units would stay the same at 4. The number of reserve infantry battalions would be 10. The 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment would be returned to strengthen 16 Air Assault Brigade and a new “Ranger” regiment created to provide dedicated support for SF units.
The core weapons of the heavy armoured division would be Challenger 2’s 120mm gun and the 40mm CTA cannon mounted on Warriors and Scout SV vehicles. The core weapons of the medium armoured division would be similar: a low-recoil 120mm gun mounted on 8×8 Fire Support Vehicles (issued to cavalry units) and a 40mm CTA cannon mounted on 8×8 Infantry Fighting Vehicles. The Royal Artillery would provide four 155mm AS90 self-propelled gun regiments, four 105mm light gun regiments, and four missile / UAV regiments. It might also be worth adding four additional artillery regiments equipped with 8×8 artillery vehicles with either 155mm guns or heavy 120mm breech loading mortars.
A comparison of the costs of procuring a tracked brigade versus a wheeled brigade, amounts to a saving of approximately 40-50%% for the latter.(15)
Cost comparison of tracked AFVs versus wheeled AFVs
In the final analysis, acquiring wheeled medium armour brigades would give the British Army a true “full spectrum” capability that would provide an inherent flexibility to fulfil any of its primary defence commitments. The right 8×8 platform: GD Stryker DVH, Patria AMV, KMW Boxer, Nexter VBCI, Iveco Freccia, or ST Kinetics Terrex, would combine excellent IED protection, unprecedented mobility and the ability to mount a variety of weapons. Although any of the 8×8 vehicles listed above can be bought commercially-off-the-shelf, the UK’s industrial defence strategy should make building them domestically a priority.
With individual 8×8 vehicles weighing less than 30 tonnes, we could easily airlift a wheeled brigade anywhere within Europe within 72 hours. We could also deploy it very rapidly within the United Kingdom if the need arose. An 8×8 formation could travel independently by road or track to any required region. Once in theatre it would be self-sufficient with a vastly reduced logistical footprint versus legacy tracked formations. It would have an inherent flexibility enabling it to operate integrally with tracked brigades, light protected units or the air mobile brigade.
The acquisition costs would be 40-50% less than buying a comparable tracked fleet. Maintenance and spare parts costs would also be reduced. By using a common platform we would simplify training and resupply.
The requirement for FRES UV is one of the UK’s most important defence procurement programmes. It is the Army’s equivalent of the Navy’s CVF or the RAF’s F-35. It represents a step-change in our military capabilities. Given the current state of 8×8 development, such a programme is not a complex, high risk endeavour but a straightforward process. The need for 8×8 vehicles is not only concerned with protected mobility, but also delivering direct offensive firepower to support troops on the ground. Ultimately, we will only be acquiring a capability that the armies of the USA, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden, the UAE, and even the Philippines, already have. Ultimately, it may no longer a question of whether we can afford to upgrade our AFV fleet, but whether we can afford not to.
- Brief Guide to Previous British Defence Reviews, Claire Taylor, House of Commons Library, October 2010.
- Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty, HMSO, October 2010.
- BBC interview with MoD spokesperson quoting official figures Radio 4, July 2013 in response to questions about Army redundancies.
- Transforming the British Army – An Update, July 2013, MoD Publications.
- General Sir Nick Houghton, Chief of the Defence Staff, 19 December 2013.
- HM Treasury, UK Public expenditure Statistical Analysis (PESA) 2013
- The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, USMC, Marines Magazine, January 1999.
- Stryker Combat Vehicles, Gordon L Rottman & Hugh Johnson, Osprey Publishing, 2006.
- Cut to armed forces undermine nuclear deterrent, Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian newspaper, 27 March 2014.
- IHS Janes
- UK MoD
- Author’s analysis based on RUSI estimates 2013, IISS Military Balance 2012 and IHS Janes
- IISS Military Balance 2012
- Lockheed Martin’s quoted unit cost for a Javelin antitank missile
- IHS Janes / RUSI
- The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter that Transformed the Middle East, by Abraham Rabinovich, Schocken Books, ISBN 0805241760, 2005
- LAV-25: The US Marine Corps’ Light Armored Vehicle, by James D’Angina, Osprey Publishing, 2011.
- From Transformation to Combat, The First Stryker Brigade at War, by Mark J Reardon & Jeffrey A Charlston, Center of Military History, US Army, 2007.
- French Army Post-Operations Debrief, 2013.
- General Dynamics land Systems (Europe) / ASCOD.