UK Rapid Response – Introduction

The need to respond quickly to an emerging crisis has formed the bedrock of much of the UK’s force capability generation activity for some time. Beyond the counter-terrorism role of UK Special Forces there are a number of capabilities held at high or very high readiness, examples of such capabilities might include everything from a single C17 to a spearhead battalion or the NATO Submarine Rescue System.

Under the control of the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) in Northwood is a collection of forces called the Joint Rapid Reaction Force. This is defined as;

The Joint Rapid Reaction Forces (JRRF) is a pool of highly capable units from all services that are maintained at high readiness for contingency operations. CJO is responsible for the JRRF, although operational command of the units is retained by the single service CINCs until they’re deployed.

These units are trained to joint standards and are deployed in joint force packages, tailored to meet the operational requirement. The pool is configured to mount operations up to medium scale war fighting and can be employed nationally or multinationally under NATO, EU, UN or other ad hoc coalition.

To command the JRRF a fully resourced Joint Task Force HQ (JTFHQ) is maintained at 48 hours notice to move.

This used to be supported principally by two elements from the British Army and Royal Marines although these have contracted and been renamed as part of SDSR 2010 and subsequent force changes. The Spearhead Lead Element was replaced with the Airborne Task Force and UK Operations Battalion in 2012.

This was modified further with the announcement of two combined high readiness forces.

The Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) is a joint UK/French construct and the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) is a an agreement between the UK and Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway that will create yet another high readiness force by 2018.

Recent announcements have also described the UK’s contribution to the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and there is also the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group and the Army’s Reaction Force.

So pretty much everyone in the armed forces seems to belong to some kind of high readiness force!

There is also a discussion to be had on the relation between forward basing heavier units and responding from a distance with lighter units but in the context of this series of posts I am going to have a look at the UK’s ability to rapidly intervene at distance.

Rapid reaction forces will rotate through a readiness cycle like any other forces and they can, and are used for deliberate operations. Both the Parachute Regiment and 3 Commando were used as part of the roulement for Afghanistan which reduced significantly the ability of the UK to mount a rapid intervention elsewhere, hardly ideal. The Royal Marines were used in Iraq in a semi amphibious role on the Al Faw peninsula, supported by various British Army units. This was not the traditional amphibious assault where that assault was the focus but carried out as part of the wider land focused operation.

A reaction force may also be deployed in phases, lead elements followed by second and third echelons as those forces are activated within their notice to move windows.

There is also a considerable political impediment to the deployment of rapid reaction forces, by definition, a capability deployed rapidly is more likely be conducted in a UK only context, although again, this is not a given.

The key fundamental of rapid reaction amphibious and airborne forces is their inherent flexibility although the obvious trade-off between speed and ‘weight’ means they are not the cure-all.

It is also clear that the UK has reduced its rapid reaction force capabilities.

Not at the headline level, both the Royal Marines and 16 Air Assault Brigade are still there, they have not been significantly reduced even in the post 2010 SDSR reorganisation and continue to cut about the place zooming around in landing craft and jumping out of aeroplanes.But scratch the surface and the story is not so rosy, reductions in amphibious shipping and transport aircraft especially but also a lack of investment in enabling capabilities mean the actual value of these forces is less than might first appear.

But scratch the surface and the story is not so rosy, reductions in amphibious shipping and transport aircraft especially but also a lack of investment in enabling capabilities mean the actual value of these forces is less than might first appear.

I am of the opinion that there is some collective self-delusion going on when it comes to our rapid reaction amphibious and air assault capabilities and I am equally unsure if they remain wedded to old fashioned concepts whilst the world has moved on around them. We can also look at the two main capability pillars and ask whether there is duplication, duplication the British armed forces can ill afford; during the series I am going to explore whether there are opportunities to eliminate this duplication and create a single high readiness unit.

Rapid reaction forces, whether delivered from a ship or an aircraft, will also need some form of control of the air and the ability to look over the next hill. That might be delivered via a ground-based air defence system and RPAS controlled from the UK, or it might need some form of expeditionary air support. Rapid reaction might also potentially consist of only aircraft, there are many cases where the UK has rapidly deployed fast jet and supporting capabilities alone i.e. no land or sea forces. This is a joint capability that I think is ignored or downplayed by many, it has proven to be of great value in the past and will do so in the future.

Part of this series will also explore the UK’s ability to forward and rapidly deploy a tailored fast jet force into a number of environments including the F35B forward austere base from the sea ‘thing’.

They can be deployed during an enduring operation just as equally as they can be deployed on their own.

To summarise, rapid reaction forces do not necessarily have to react rapidly but they must retain the ability to do so and so they will always be constrained by the means and mode of transport to their area of operations.

It is going to be a fairly wide-ranging series!

Other posts in this series

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Amphibious

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LouisB
LouisB
May 16, 2015 10:34 am

Rapid Response capabilities ??

Depressing – the words Church Mouse and Threadbare come to mind.

Rods
Rods
May 16, 2015 11:07 am

Sadly, I think we will find out how good they are in the next 18 months when Putin launches a hybrid war in one or more of the Baltic countries. The fact the countries are on Russia’s border and can be covered by Russian S300 / 400 SAMS is going to make this a very hostile environment for the RAF.

The Other Chris
May 16, 2015 11:11 am

Have we preserved the harder to regenerate skills and capabilities?

monkey
monkey
May 16, 2015 11:59 am

I am looking forward to the series and personally think this is were we as a contributor to an op, could excel. I also think this is were the drive begin SDSR2015 will be to enable said operations but not necessarily strong on all aspects but the SDSR will attempt to redress this with some form of long term wish list which in essence all SDSR’s are with the politicos swopping every 5 years and the World moving on in the meantime. The main hang up we have is the cycle between determining a required outcome or ability and the time to enable it .

ForcesReviewUK
ForcesReviewUK
May 16, 2015 1:32 pm

There’s also the National Security Council and how fast these politicians and agencies issue the orders.

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/national-security/groups/national-security-council

Peter
Peter
May 16, 2015 1:46 pm
Reply to  Rods

“a very hostile environment for the RAF.”
-We should have thought of that before Nato deliberately antagonised Russia, regarding Russia’s legitimate security interests, which have the same weight as the legitimate interest of USA not to have potential enemy forces based in, for example, Cuba, or UK’s interest not to have potential enemy forces based in, for example the Republic of Ireland. By the way, the interests I am referring to are ‘Russia’s’ not ‘Putin’s’.

monkey
monkey
May 16, 2015 3:22 pm


I didn’t realise NATO were basing troops in Ukraine?

Observer
Observer
May 16, 2015 3:55 pm

@Rods

While it is currently very popular to ascribe “World Domination” to Putin currently, I have very severe doubts that it is his actual game plan. What he is playing for is “Security”, a buffer zone from a pro-Europe Ukraine and sea access through Crimea. Stirring up the other countries breaks the status quo which puts Russia at more risk by opening more conflict zones that they have to monitor. I suspect Russia will fixate on Donbass and that is more or less it. Hell, they are not even claiming credit for that one.

Personally, I think he was just supplying the rebels, both with advisers and weapons but due to Western media incompetence, was written to make it sound like he’s in control. I strongly suspect in fact that the rebels are in control of no one but themselves. Which is why it is going to be a pain in the arse to stop them. No real chain of command.

mickp
mickp
May 16, 2015 4:39 pm

I think its is important we retain the 3 armoured brigades (but no more) with peer to peer capable kit and resources (FRES SV in due course and mastiff replacement eventually plus Ch2 upgrades). I feel these are more of a deterrent force than a reactionary force. Its the rest of the army and the adaptable force idea I am less clear about and feel that one or more brigades need to be firmly position as medium / light reaction force brigades to be air / sea transportable (with existing RAF / RN / RFA fleet) to support the spearhead units of the RM and Paras. The idea is to give some armour / hitting power capability in a crisis – e.g. securing a port / airport. These brigades should be structured for short term ops. May leave a few ‘adaptable brigades’ for long term ‘security’ or support ops

Challenger
Challenger
May 16, 2015 4:59 pm

@Observer

Agree on Putin’s long-term plan. The priorities seem to be reclaiming Crimea which was always Russian and only given to Ukraine when both countries were part of the USSR, securing dominance over the Donbass region (whether literally or figuratively is up for debate), the prevention of Ukraine moving politically towards the EU and Nato, the securing of Russia’s broader Western frontier and generally ‘restoring’ Russian prestige as a world power.

If Nato does it’s job properly in both politically and militarily making a firm stand in Poland and the Baltic’s then hopefully things won’t further escalate.

I concur with points made on the Open Thread about Putin’s defence spending not being sustainable or necessarily resulting in the kind of rejuvenated and imposing Armed Forces he and others would sorely like and the focus and preoccupation with Europe resulting in a major neglect of Russia’s Eastern borders and the potential issues with China and Japan that weakness could create.

Declining population, unsustainable spending, slumping economy, gigantic land boarders…..don’t get me wrong i’d like to see us and our allies being on our guard and better prepared to provide resolute opposition to keep a lid on things…..but i wouldn’t be panicking and talking about a new Cold War just yet.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 16, 2015 5:11 pm

@TD, a most welcome series.

If I can recall, the Future of… series ran out of steam just when we were about to touch on these topics (and the most relevant units)?

Chris
Editor
Chris
May 16, 2015 5:31 pm

mickp – ref armour for the lighter force – exactly what I’ve spent years designing. Only waiting for MOD to buy…

Challenger
Challenger
May 16, 2015 5:34 pm

I don’t think we have any crucial gaps in terms of rapid reaction, i’d just advocate a bit more of everything.

The one i would say is a lack of medium weight brigades. 3 heavy/tracked, 3 medium/wheeled and 2 specialist light, with far less adaptable brigades is the sort of structure i’d rather see.

Beyond that a third battalion for 16 Air-Assault, 10 C17’s, 30 A400m. 8 long-ranged C-130J retained for SF work, enough FJ’s to maintain a squadron sized force on active ops indefinitely, the maintaining of current ISTAR levels/capabilities, the retention of the current 5 amphibians (all fully active) and 8-9 Astute’s to always have one not too far from likely crises zones would all seem fairly justifiable and sensible to me.

monkey
monkey
May 16, 2015 5:39 pm

It seems to me Chris that the UK gov is having some kind of problem with such armour even though our allies and potential OPFOR field it in droves, air deployable light armour to resist upto light cannon fire, active systems for ‘other’ but able to provide better cover, payload, firepower and mobility than a Foxhound. It puzzles me :-(

Chris
Editor
Chris
May 16, 2015 5:57 pm

monkey – you and me both. Maybe as part of the budget compression it will be another part of UK defence unilaterally devolved to our NATO partners? Part of the “other nations will do it for us” strategy. A bit like we expect for MPA cover and maritime air cover and proper missile defence/air defence missile systems (not that we’ve asked for any yet) and so on. In the case of lighter combat armour I suppose that will be for the French to do for us. Good of them, I thought.

monkey
monkey
May 16, 2015 6:53 pm
Reply to  Chris


Its good to share.

Repulse
May 16, 2015 7:58 pm

I think it is long overdue that there are common reaction brigades that can be deployed by land, sea or air – all under the control of the Army. Alongside this smaller focused SAS/Para and SBS/RM units that act as door openers and for small raiding. Yes it means a reduction in RMs, but if the reduction in numbers could be traded for more sailors then it would be a good deal for the RN.

mickp
mickp
May 16, 2015 10:38 pm

@Challenger “The one i would say is a lack of medium weight brigades. 3 heavy/tracked, 3 medium/wheeled and 2 specialist light, with far less adaptable brigades is the sort of structure i’d rather see.
Beyond that a third battalion for 16 Air-Assault, 10 C17’s, 30 A400m. 8 long-ranged C-130J retained for SF work, enough FJ’s to maintain a squadron sized force on active ops indefinitely, the maintaining of current ISTAR levels/capabilities, the retention of the current 5 amphibians (all fully active) and 8-9 Astute’s to always have one not too far from likely crises zones would all seem fairly justifiable and sensible to me.”

MPA is all I’d add to that list

TAS
TAS
May 17, 2015 1:41 pm

TD, slightly OBE. The UK Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) now embodies what was the JRRF and will be a larger, more wider-ranging body covering all reaction forces. The JRRF is now but part of the JEF and is now called something else, the Reactive Force I think, with a body of forces at longer notice called the Augmentation Force. There is also an international element, but fundamentally the JEF replaces the JRRF and is now the entirety of all deployable UK force elements at readiness. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_Joint_Expeditionary_Force

Frenchie
Frenchie
May 17, 2015 6:04 pm

About light armoured vehicles, I had read here that you would have in the future a light armored division equipped with wheeled vehicles, it is still relevant or plans of your Ministry of Defence have changed ?

Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
May 17, 2015 6:11 pm

Russia’s legitimate security concerns are a valid argument, and some diplomatic own-goals have been allowed in since we inducted the new breed of Euro light-weight politicians in the last 25 years. However, let’s remember, that not even the Russians really believe that NATO is a potential belligerent on its borders, militarily speaking. The point here is that Putin will push boundaries and make a nuisance, but he is unlikely to risk all by rolling tanks across Europe beyond what he knows are red (ish) lines. Dictators want to believe in their own legacy and preserve power – it’s not a difficult ego to manage, and they ll go one day. The skill is simply to stump up a bit more budget, maintain credible deterrent capability, MAINTAIN A BROAD SPECTRUM OF CAPABILITY BALANCE, don’t provoke him, and keep diplomacy at work. And finally, keep Astute numbers up; nobody likes Division 1 SSNs in any quantity, and they are the stick we hold behind our back.

TAS
TAS
May 18, 2015 7:47 am

TD, as we were briefed the UK-France tie-up is CJEF, the NATO very high readiness force is the VJEF and the UK rapid reaction pool is JEF. Confused? So am I!

Monty
May 18, 2015 10:34 am

For some time I have advocated a revised Army 2020 force structure based on the planned manpower level of 82,000 soldiers. We definitely need three heavy armour brigades of the Reaction Force; so i would not change it. But what we also need is three UK Stryker brigades with wheeled 8×8 vehicles capable of self-deploying within Europe. With the equipment plan confirmed, the UVW programme will soon deliver close to 1,000 8×8 vehicles, so such a structure is not pie-in-the-sky. I’d like to see nine infantry battalions mounted in an 8×8 APC with some kind of offensive firepower (30 mm M230LF chain gun) supported by three cavalry regiments equipped with 8×8 Fire support vehicles (40 mm CTA cannon) and three artillery regiments (with 120 mm breech-loaded mortars). This would give us 18 infantry battalions and 9 cavalry regiments and 3 artillery regiments. I would leave the air mobile brigade as is, but ensure it had three infantry battalions not two. The remaining infantry battalions of what was the Adaptable Force would be mounted in a mix of Foxhound and Jackal vehicles. Every unit would have some form of protected mobility. Today, i believe that is essential. Foxhound and Jackal Battalions could be deployed by air. When we get the A400M in sufficient numbers, we’ll be able to deploy 8×8 UVWs by air too. Either way, we should be able to deploy significant firepower rapidly and support it in theatre.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 18, 2015 11:07 am

Pushed the like button for the above summary. The graph had omitted the third bn for 16X, but chatted to a gurkha recently, who indicated that their Bde number could soon be changing to that effect (Gurkha Bde as nomenclature does not need to go, as it is not a deployable one).

Russian bdes have had mobile heavy mortar support for two decades but their platforms have less stability (or maybe more recoil?) than this one with the turret from a well-known British defence company:

Thus the main advantage from breach loading, higher sustained rate of fire is wasted. The video has a simultaneous impact sequence in it (counted 6 only, when the double barrel on AMOS allows for 14).

Phil
May 18, 2015 11:08 am

Thing is Monty the driver here isn’t manpower. Its the ability to generate a division. Generating a division is very expensive. You require a whole other complete set of CS/CSS elements as well as the need to train the division as such and stock war reserves to enable it to deploy and fight. It’s much more expensive than the sum of its parts. By removing the requirement to deploy a second division we save an awful lot of money but still get to keep some of the combat elements.

I don’t really see the advantage of generating a structure with a second division unless we have the requirement to deploy two of them at once. Which we don’t and arguably won’t for a very long time.

Monty
May 18, 2015 11:18 am
Reply to  Phil

Phil, i get what you say 100%. We tend to overcomplicate our structures. If we were to adopt what I propose, we would need to add artillery, engineer, signals and logistics elements – but I think there is an equally strong case for re-thinking how we support brigades on operations.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 18, 2015 11:36 am

Isn’t the solution to the problem already in place?

http://www.army.mod.uk/structure/28213.aspx

Whether we generate a division or some bdes, the above would be applicable? Monty just added some duplo to the normal lego set-up. Wholly accepted from Phil’s point that generating two might leave the available quantity badly lacking, but heavy, medium and light should have a clear balance (with some rapid as icing on the cake).
– clearly, there can be situations where only “heavy” is applicable and, equally, there could be situations where a high intra-theatre mobility is a must to make the force relevant

Phil
May 18, 2015 12:02 pm
Reply to  Monty

Is there a requirement to field two divisions simultaneously though? If there isn’t why keep the structure of two when we’ll only deploy one? We used to maintain 1 and 3 Division post Cold War but we did have a requirement then to deploy them both or use each as a basis for supporting two medium enduring operations (whether that was pie-in-the-sky is another question all together).

I think that’s the crux. If we will only deploy one division then we only need one deployable division. By raising a second you have all the expense of that but you’ll not be required to deploy it.

A lot of work has gone into Improved Support to the Brigade which is why you’ll see quite a beefed up support structure for Brigades now, whether in the regular or reserve force.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 18, 2015 1:14 pm

Phil, can you recommend a source, to read up on what has been changed. A division, I think, has been permanently succeeded by brigades in the field.

mickp
mickp
May 18, 2015 1:18 pm

I think the proposed 2020 two divisional structure is about right – i.e. two deployable divisional HQs, one for 1 Armoured (Heavy) and one for 3 Mech – in theory ‘adaptable’ but I would like to see the underlying forces being of the medium nature Monkey suggested with light mounted battalions also available to support that structure or as a fast deployable contingency

TAS
TAS
May 18, 2015 2:11 pm

Who’s going to save the world … JEF!

It’s a neat enough unification of all UK deployable capabilities – it includes TAPS, FRE and the RFTG as well so some thought towards cross-linking all the preps. The JFHQ is likely to be upgraded as well to include a deployable 2*HQ, but as you can imagine the question is how that works – CJO doesn’t need another 2* kicking about in the HQ when he already has 2 (COS(OPS) and COS(POL/FIN). Then again, if the UK is going to keep pulling the same trick time and time again of dropping senior Brits into US formations at the 2i/c level, I suppose a 2* we can kick out the door at 4 hours notice is potentially useful.

Phil
May 18, 2015 3:19 pm
Reply to  ArmChairCivvy

I can’t think of a source but you can clearly see that support to the brigade has been beefed up as a result of our tendency to deploy Bde HQs a lot more than divisions these days. Brigades basically get a med regiment, 2 logistical regiments, a signals regiment, its own REME battalion etc.

On HERRICK at force peak you had a Brigade very heavy in CS/CSS units. The Army 2020 structure seems to keep that place but does move some of those CS/CSS either to a central pool or in the reserves.

The Other Chris
May 18, 2015 3:20 pm

And we couldn’t call it BEF.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 18, 2015 3:33 pm

Didn’t we deploy both to A-stan: ARCC for the Multinational Division and a bde HQ for each Herrick rotation?

Now that the deployment is over, I wonder how many army profiles still figure on the critical shortages list? The last one I saw seemed quite RN heavy. Of course that is just line items, by how many we are actaually falling short is the hidden detail behind each line.

Phil
May 18, 2015 3:39 pm

These days there’s a distinction between a divisional HQ in the traditional sense (something quite tactical) and a divisional HQ which basically takes up residence in a static facility and is supported by local assets. One is a lot easier to generate than the other I imagine but they wouldn’t be any good for driving to Basra or jumping on a Chinook to Port Stanley.

Challenger
Challenger
May 18, 2015 4:25 pm

If generating and filling out a 2nd deployable divisional HQ is difficult, costly and wasteful seen as (as Phil pointed out) we haven’t wanted or been able to deploy 2 at a time for years and years, but (as Monty and others have advocated) a role for some medium, Stryker style, wheeled brigades is still present then why can’t we just reorganise the Adaptable Force to comprise 3 medium brigades in the manner Monty suggested with the balance of the light battalions being stuffed into 2-3 other brigades, using Jackals and Foxhounds and able to reinforce other units or be rapidly air-deployed by the A400m.

So 3 heavy brigades in the current guise that come with a proper, bells and whistles divisional HQ, an Adaptable Force that isn’t a messy dumping ground for lots of light battalions, but rather properly structured into 6 autonomous brigades. 3 medium, 3 light, that can either deploy/act independently, or form and send off smaller battle-groups or reinforce other brigades etc, and 16 Air Assault + 3 Commando still providing the super light, highly rapid stuff.

Basically Monty’s suggestion, just without a proper 2nd division structure is what i’m saying!

Phil
May 18, 2015 4:40 pm

There’s two things here – a divisional HQ and a division. Divisional HQs aren’t particularly expensive in any form, but a fully formed division is relatively expensive if you want it to have any utility. Now if Monty just wanted three more regular brigades we see that’s still reasonably expensive because they still require a lot of support.

Challenger
Challenger
May 18, 2015 5:07 pm

Isn’t that one of the problems with Army 2020 though. Lots of light infantry battalions preserved but left at a loose end to spare wrangling over cap-badges, with an imbalance in terms enablers, artillery, engineers, signals, logistics etc to actually make them useful?

Rocket Banana
May 18, 2015 5:51 pm

Phil,

Can you see anything fundamentally wrong with the original Army2020 five identical multirole brigades model?

Phil
May 18, 2015 6:20 pm

@Challenger

As I’ve argued for a long time I think a lot of opposition to Army 2020 comes from the Montgomeryesque fascination with tidiness. The AF does not make for a “tidy” ORBAT diagram.

The nature of the world today means that we really have little cause in the next 12 months to deploy more than a division(+). So it makes no sense to have more than one fully formed, operational division. Everything else would just eating resources that could be focused on the RF division. But we still have a large need for defence engagement and numerous small deployments so having a pool of light forces with occasional augmentation from heavier sources is no bad thing IMHO. I’d rather have lots of infantry in a pool that are used often than have less infantry but formed into fully fledged brigades but with the need for infantry still being high.

It’s back to a Colonial style force around a very sensible divisional sized expeditionary force able to fight peers.

Now in 5 years that could change, which is why we need to keep the RF division. But equally its more likely it won’t change and we’ll still need lots of penny packet infantry on various taskings around the world from blowing up Libyan boats to dealing with riots in Sierra Leonne or some such.

Phil
May 18, 2015 6:25 pm

@Simon

There’s nothing drastically, fundamentally wrong with it as such – it represented an attempt to build an Army that could deploy for enduring operations of an indistinct and wide ranging type.

But if the BEF in 1940 had been so organised we’d have probably accused it of penny packeting heavier capabilities. It wasn’t a structure well-suited to fighting a peer I think. You could argue that we could regenerate that from 5 multi-role brigades in five years and probably be right.

But really, and I know I get accused of being an apologist here, I think the RF/AF division is a sensible one. We keep a hard core with which to occasionally use whilst being able to regenerate a larger heavier force from it. We keep a larger pool of infantry than we’d other be able to have for all the non-intense defence engagement and very small scale operations we do a lot of whilst also being able to re-generate 5 brigades.

Rocket Banana
May 18, 2015 7:08 pm

Thanks Phil,

So let me get this right. You’re saying either structure is okay and could (probably) morph into the other if things change on the world stage, but starting with the RF/AF structure is better for the activities we’re likely to undertake in the foreseeable future?

If so, great. I think I can live with that.

Phil
May 18, 2015 7:21 pm

I think so.

The Army rarely deploys as organised anyway so either force could do either job I think if push came to shove. I think the crucial part of the Army 2020 structure though is that it retains a traditional, heavy division so it will better retain the conceptual knowledge and mindset of operating it (well should anyway). The MRB structure seemed to dilute that somewhat in favour of what seemed to be the more likely scenario of enduring medium scale operations.

We’re back to pre 9/11 days now with the Army doing lots of penny packet sized operations / exercises globally, most of which fall short of combat but still make good use of infantry and cavalry. The RF is our insurance policy whilst generating a useful VHR battlegroup and the AF is going to do the bread and butter constabulary, defence engagement stuff. I know several people in an AF infantry battalion and they’re hardly home.

Challenger
Challenger
May 18, 2015 7:46 pm

You make some good points on the Army 2020 structure and whilst i don’t entirely agree with you i’m warming to you opinion!

Even if they weren’t actually molded into deployable brigades i still think it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more 8×8 wheeled medium battalions in the AF. with the rest of the remaining light battalions put onto Foxhound or the equivalent.

I get it’s about using our resources in the best way possible and not trying to overdo contingencies, but i’d still say even with a ‘full-fat’ RF and a pool of AF units Army 2020 is unbalanced with too few support units and a few too many stripped back, light battalions kept around purely to avoid losing cap-badges (many of which will be under-strength).

And as Monty said surely, even if we’re going back to penny packet, peacekeeping, stabilization, deployments, recent experiences have shown that protection, firepower and speed are important factors in terms of effectiveness and minimizing casualties.

I’d rather see 6 8×8 APC mounted ‘medium’ battalions and 6 Foxhound equipped ‘light’ battalions, all at full strength, rather than the currently planned situation.

Call me too neat and tidy if you like, guilty as charged! I feel it has a point beyond purely a nice ORBAT though.

Phil
May 18, 2015 8:07 pm

I don’t disagree with you about 8x8s perhaps. You could simply have a pool of them and mount units on them as they rotate through the AF readiness cycle.

If infantry battalions aren’t required to operate as infantry battalions on a day to day basis (and most haven’t since they tend to get pinged for all sorts of tasks that sees bits of them broken off to do them) it doesn’t massively matter if an infantry battalion isn’t conforming to a particular full strength organisation. As I say most of them are tasked organised at any point in time anyway and organisation is dependent on strength often.

The crucial points are the outputs – what do you want any given infantry battalion to be able to do at any point in time. You’re not going to want every battalion to field itself on a battlefield in its traditional 3-4 Coy organisation. So do you take scarce funds to do something you’re unlikely to need to do?

A lot of the current structure I think is bowing to a reality that has existed for a long time in practice. We’ve never had all our infantry battalions at full strength, we haven’t been able to deploy more than a division out of area since 1945, and we’ve long had a pool of light infantry which has been used more than the infantry in divisional structures.

mickp
mickp
May 18, 2015 11:08 pm

/ Challenger. I’ve often thought that Army 2020 should have had a medium wheeled reaction division but the more I think about it, perhaps the adaptable bridge structure is right and all it needs is for the right kit to filter through to give a combination of 8×8 medium and foxhound light battalions – i.e. push out most of the UOR MRAP Mastiffs to contingency / policing battalions

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 19, 2015 9:56 am

We do seem to have too many light infantry and patrol roled battalions in the Army.

Much of the Army looks to be still set up for slowly dragging low-level conflict and security operations. With bigger land forces we recently struggled to have a positive impact in a small part of one province of a third world country. And before the UK left Afghanistan, we were already cutting units and making redundancies; so we should consider whether all those light forces can now have any great deal of effect despite the large cost of maintaining them. I think there should either be more cuts, or more firepower and manoeuvre units within the adaptive force.

Moving to mirror the armoured division, but on wheels, is the wrong idea. It suggests the desire to deploy a larger armoured force for high-intensity conflict. That doesn’t only require more logistical support, it also suggests a need for more support elements like attack helicopters and RAF squadrons – all eye wateringly expensive.

There is also the question of where would we put nine 8×8 battalions (that some people suggest we need)? We left Germany to cut costs, and we’ve parked 3Div around Salisbury plain; do we have suitable training space remaining to support another three brigades of 30 tonne combat vehicles?

If re-equipping the adaptive force, I think there is an argument for some 8×8 vehicles, as they offer a rapid manoeuvre capability that isn’t there already; and they can increase the fightiness of an otherwise quite limp looking adaptive force. But we would still need light and heavy patrol vehicles and light infantry, and light cavalry; a range of different units to use as appropriate.

Chris
Editor
Chris
May 19, 2015 10:25 am

BB – ref “we would still need light and heavy patrol vehicles and light infantry, and light cavalry; a range of different units to use as appropriate” – that well describes what I’ve been busy designing. Lots of different high mobility AFV types of direct fire, indirect fire, protected mobility and support varieties, all of similar weight and all with common support.

mickp
mickp
May 19, 2015 11:25 am

@BB – That’s a very valid point about not mirroring 3Div. I think you are probably right in that its all about making the adaptable brigades truly adaptable – may be not all identical though otherwise each brigade may have too much of a scattergun kit list. Some 8×8 battalions yes (and possibly to replace the Mastiffs in 3Div?) and then the whole range of Chris’s designs possibly. Isn’t the point that an adaptable brigade should be configureable to meet needs and threats – ie we could send a fully 8×8 one somewhere, or we could send one fully configured for ‘security assistance’ (Mastiffs possibly) or we could send a lighter fire support brigade / battlegroup to supplement paras or RM. Not all at once of course!

Phil
May 19, 2015 4:33 pm

“Much of the Army looks to be still set up for slowly dragging low-level conflict and security operations.”

That’s because that’s the overwhelming majority of the operations we have conducted since 1945. I think a pool of medium vehicles would not be a bad investment but I see little sense in spending the money on mechanising entire battalions who will (a) not use them consistently and (b) even in peacetime not have their full allocation.

A great shift has occured. Gone for the moment are the days when your entire force had to be kitted out ready to fight in hours or days. All you need to do now is provide enough kit for one division plus a training pool and an attrition / maintenance reserve. We’re not expecting these forces to conduct combined arms high-intensity operations so do we need to have most of our permanently mechanised battalions outside of the RF? I think not.

Light infantry has significant utility. Medium infantry also has utility but I think its spending scarce money poorly to mechanise entire battalions at the expense of light infantry.

Monty
May 21, 2015 11:36 am

The Army views the divisional structure as the common unit of military currency since it is a proven unit structure that provides all of the essential assets needed to support combat operations across a wide range of expected deployment types. It is also how the Americans think and operate and if we are to partner them effectively (or any other NATO army) – a key aspiration given limited UK resources and a desire to only launch operations only when there is widespread political consensus – our own organisation and equipment must reflect that of our allies. We know the divisional structure works because it has been proven through years of training in Germany and operations elsewhere. We also know that Brigade structures are less ideal because they don’t contain all of the necessary supporting assets.

In parallel, there is a clear requirement for a heavy armour, fully-tracked formation capable of undertaking peer-to-peer deployments. So the structure and composition of Reaction Force as it is today is completely logical and appropriate. However, what our US and EU allies also have is multi-role units operating with medium armour wheeled vehicles. We don’t have these yet, but there is a clear aspiration to get them, especially after seeing how successful the Stryker Brigades were in Iraq, the German and Polish brigades in Afghanistan, and the French force in Mali. Wheeled formations are much faster and more independent with an ability to self-deploy over vast distances. They’re also highly flexible and adaptable being able to redeploy in formations of different sizes as needs dictate. In essence wheeled units can dominate huge swathes of territory with a smaller number of boots on the ground. In austere SDSR-climate, this is highly attractive. So with a Medium and Heavy Division you can fulfil a wider range of deployment types. Finally, wheeled vehicles are less expensive to buy with lower lifecycle costs.

For all these reasons, i think there is a very strong case for a two division structure. We certainly have the headcount to do it. What i don’t think makes sense is constitute the Adaptable Force as a pool of reserves to feed the Reaction Force. The aspiration of the 2010 SDSR was to be able to field 5-6 multi-role brigades. Today, we only have 3. We said we needed 5 or 6 in order to be able to sustain a brigade in theatre indefinitely. With increased instability globally:
– Post-Soviet Union Putin
– IS in Iraq
– The mess that is Syria,
– Unsettled Libya
– Un-trustworthy Iran
– Boku Harem / El Shebab in West and East Africa
– North Korea’s psychopathic leader
– China building its forces beyond any need for territorial defence
– Christine Kirchner buying aircraft from Russia to attack the Falklands

…we could easily need to deploy forces in across multiple geographies simultaneously.

The world is a very different place from how it was in 2010. Our army, let alone air force and navy need to reflect this.

Chris
Editor
Chris
May 21, 2015 12:52 pm

Excellent Monty I look forward to a big juicy order then for my really rather fine wheeled vehicles (of each of direct & indirect fire, liaison, protected mobility and support types). But wouldn’t there be value in including tracked variants as well as wheeled, as each has distinct advantages dependant on scenario?

Phil
May 21, 2015 5:46 pm

Where does the money come from tho Monty? And in what scenario can it be envisaged that we’d need to deploy 2 divisions in the next 12-24 months?

Monty
May 22, 2015 12:16 pm
Reply to  Phil

The 2010 SDSR suggested that we needed six fully- equipped multi-role brigades. We’ve got 3 and they are not multi-role. I believe that six brigades within two division structure is a minimum capability. We’re not that far away from achieving this structure since the 800-1,200 8×8 FRES UWs we would like to acquire are funded within the equipment plan. The reason this structure is important is because the Army says it is what it needs to sustain a brigade in theatre indefinitely. I. E. It facilitates effective rotation of units without loss of capabilities. If we stick to our pledge of Defence spending being 2% of GDP then this force structure is affordable. As for when would be deploy two divisions simultaneously, I see one being home defence and the other being expeditionary. With the high number of UK Army deployments today (more than 20 different missions in 2015) the need to deploy all six brigades could easily become necessary. Whatever, I am interested to see how the structure of the Army evolves prior to 2020. I think there will be a lot of changes.

Phil
May 22, 2015 1:45 pm

But Monty there’s no money and there’s no existential threat. Put those two together and any argument for a wholesale complete second division just turns into dust. A complete non-starter.

Every single brigade in the Army is multi-role to a lesser or greater extent hence why could deploy air assault, mechanised, light and armoured brigades to Afghanistan. The Army needs to do two things – keep a core heavy war fighting ability alive in a useful sized unit and remain flexible enough to do all the things it needs to do in between the once in a decade use of our peer fighting ability.

In the context of tight budgets, no existential threat, and no realistic scenario that requires a double division deployment in the next 12-24 months I can see a lot more useful things to spend that money on.

Frenchie
Frenchie
May 22, 2015 5:26 pm

As part of the project “Au Contact! ‘Ground forces, capable of intervening on overseas operations as on the national territory, will have 2025 units of adapted to the diversity, duration, dispersion and hardening of operations.

These will be structured by the new generation of Scorpion equipment and will be articulated in two combat divisions composed each of 3 brigades with 7,000 soldiers each on average, 7 regiments each : two high intensity brigades equipped with Leclerc, VBCI 8×8, two median brigades equipped with Jaguar 6×6 and Griffon 6×6 (amphibious) and two light brigades (airborne and mountain) equipped with Griffon 4×4 and Vikings.

An air combat brigade will be created.

To put them at an operational contract resized by a sustained commitment on the national territory, the land forces will reach an operational capacity of 77,000 men equipped. They will have in 2025 about 200 Leclerc tanks, 250 light tanks Jaguar, about 2700 Griffon, 147 helicopter reconnaissance and attack, 115 maneuvering helicopters and thirty tactical UAVs.

The operational reserve of the workforce will be gradually increased to 22,000 men, their training and their jobs will be primarily geared to domestic commitments.

Finally, the key capabilities of special land forces, air combat, intelligence, information and communication systems, especially of cyber defense, and logistics, will be strengthened and grouped within dedicated commandments, fit ensure a better interface with components of other armies.
A special effort will be conducted to consolidate the “helicopters” component whose key role is confirmed daily during operations on particularly extensive theaters.
The 2015-2017 period will represent a milestone in the creation of this model.

The renovation of the armoured component will allow him to take the decision in the first entry operations and to constitute a deterrent and assault in crises. The period will first be marked by the end of deliveries of 630 VBCI in 2015, 95 will have a level of protection adapted to the most demanding theaters of operations. The first standard for the renovation of 200 Leclerc tanks will start in 2018 with treatment of obsolescence; the first deliveries expected in 2020. The development of 248 Jaguar (gear
armoured combat reconnaissance) is initiated, the first order will be in 2018.

Crisis management operations require large numbers of troops equipped with sturdy and durable materials, able to cope with peaks of violence and intervene in situations marked by the difficulty of identifying the belligerents. To this end, the renovation of the infantry and support units and support of contact, stretched by current operations, based primarily on replacing VAB (front armoured vehicle) by 2070 Griffon (armoured vehicle multi-role) delivered from 2018. It is also based on the component light armored vehicles (VBL) that must always be a regeneration effort pending renewal programmed beyond 2025.

The superiority of the fighters in contact will be improved through the delivery, from 2017, the first of 101,000 AIF (future individual armament) to replace the Famas, for the last deliveries in 2014 of 18,552 individual equipment of fighter Felin, then from 4000 modernized vests, reinforcing the protection of forces and capabilities with a view to alleviating the dismounted soldier.

Moreover, to improve the consistency of the contact forces continued studies preparatory to subsequent deliveries 1470 VBAE (armoured aid commitment).

The Milan anti-tank missile will be replaced from 2017 by the medium-range missile (MMP), which will feature operational performance, versatility and superior flexibility. The Jaguar will be equipped with MMP type of missile, anti-tank assault to capacity and high-performance anti-shelters when it entered service in the forces.
The acquisition of a new AGM will be launched in 2021 to replace the Hellfire air-to-ground missiles equipping Tigre helicopters.

Changing multiple rocket launcher (MRLS) unitary rocket launcher (LRU) will provide support all-weather capability, accurate and responsive up to 70 km, adapted to current liabilities; 13 launchers were delivered in 2014. The artillery will be completed by 77 155mm guns CAESAR.

The Gazelle “armies” (canon, Hot and Mistral) will be partly gradually replaced by Tigre, including 25 Tigre HAD standard delivered between 2014 and 2019. Actually we have 39 Tigre HAD.
In addition to the 26 renovated Cougar and 8 Caracal, Puma will be gradually replaced by 74 NH90-TTH helicopters, of which 44 will be delivered before 2019. An additional command then will complete the replacement of PUMA to keep up target 115 helicopters to maneuver and then consider a homogenization of fleets between armies.

Moreover, the acquisition of an additional 7 Tigre will have a park in operational use at the operational contract requirement. This additional acquisition will bring the model of 60-67 Tigre. Integration accelerated a metric precision rocket to adapt to existing commitments will also be sought.

In the period 2014-2019, it will ensure the regeneration of the operational capacity of armies. The HIL program is intended to replace the Gazelle, highly stressed operations. The anticipation of the HIL program will be a 2017 study.

Challenger
Challenger
May 22, 2015 5:58 pm

Like the French Army’s future structure, if they pull it all off it will be impressive. I’d definitely like to see the British Army, not perfectly mimicking there frame-work, but certainly heading further in that direction.

Frenchie
Frenchie
May 22, 2015 6:42 pm

@Challenger
If the “FRES UV” project is successfully implemented, you will have nothing to envy us. It so happens that we have the chance currently to have a very good Minister of Defence and a President who assumes its role of Chief of the Armies, not accountants.
But we are very jealous of your Chinooks ;-)

Challenger
Challenger
May 22, 2015 7:13 pm

Yeah a large Chinook fleet is a great thing. We may yet see a few of them put into storage though. I’d be pleasantly surprised if the RAF got to utilize all 60 to their fullest potential.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
May 22, 2015 7:30 pm
Reply to  Challenger

An airforce (RAF) of rotocrafts?
– more of them than fighters

OK. a good 30 sent to RN, and the 64 (50 the not too far future?) in the Army air wing, but anyway:
107 being the magic number for fighters… 50 AH and 60 Chinooks alone will be trump cards?

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 27, 2015 10:05 am

Phil @ 16:33 19.05.2015

Not all operational examples since 1945 will be particularly relevant to where we are today though, Phil.

Many operations from the ’40s to the ’70s relate to the winding down of empire; and Northern Ireland was the dominant operational area through the ’70s and ’80s. Northern Ireland and the end of empire are not necessarily representative of our future challenges.

The end of the Cold War is perhaps a more relevant starting point. Up until then there was a contracting of our military horizons. The new doctrine after that point was for rapid reaction forces, expeditionary warfare, and manoeuvre warfare.

That’s where I think we should return to. We decided we couldn’t do the more manpower intensive stuff, so we decided not to try. We would do rapid reaction and manoeuvre forces, and light forces were to be light for portability; not for holding ground.

Iraq and Afghanistan have been said to disprove those concepts; but in Iraq, the Iraqi forces themselves could have been used to keep control of the country. Instead, someone decided to disband the military and civil defence forces, and so we ended up fighting them instead. And in Afghanistan, the American force that joined the Northern Alliance to win the civil war was relatively tiny, and the war was relatively short. The protracted conflict we were involved with after that was of dubious necessity, with various short-lived reasons given for our presence there.

The protracted operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were avoidable aberrations. Not something that should dominate every aspect of our future planning. And as I mentioned, we now have smaller land forces than we had when we were struggling through those ops.

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 27, 2015 10:59 am

I think we would do well to look at the French Scorpion project.

The Griffin vehicle sits somewhere between an APC and a heavy protected mobility vehicle. It could replace Mastif, due OOS in 2024, and also do some of the old 432 tasks.

The Jaguar could add firepower back to the light cavalry units after CVRT.

I would suggest what I think is a fairly modest reequipping:

1. The three heavy protected mobility battalions attached to the armoured brigades should be equipped with Griffin – but with a leaning towards a light mechanized structure, with all the appropriate variants. Consider also using the Griffin at HQ level for other units – the AAC for example, who previously used 432 as part of the armoured division; or the light protected mobility units that would expect to deploy with their heavier counterparts from time to time.

2. The Jaguar to equip a squadron each of the three light cavalry units. Roughly akin to the pairing of Jackal and Scimitar recently.

3. And three VBCI battalions. Wheeled IFV have been shown to have better in-theater mobility in situations that we could plausibly face. And I do think that the balance of mounted infantry is wrong for the planned force.

Perhaps three AF brigades with a basic structure of 1x light cavalry, 1x wheeled IFV, 2x light protected mobility would allow reasonable readiness. And the remaining light infantry in two further brigades.

I think that would be a reasonable package. A good range of equipment from which to make up a task specific battalion or brigade group. Plenty of units that would be relatively quick and easy to deploy. Not over-investing in one further type of vehicle, like having three brigades full of massive 8×8 vehicles. But a little less light infantry too.