Priorities and Options for SDSR 2015 – An Eastern and Northern Threat


A far more potentially challenging threat could come from a resurgent Russia.

How prepared and effective are British and European NATO forces to counter such a possibility?

In the north, Norway shares a land border with Russia and this area is the main home of the Russian Navy.

The UK could initially deploy the Royal Marines Commandos with the support of a naval amphibious group made up of two amphibious transport docks, three landing ships and three destroyers/frigates together with one Wildcat attack helicopter Squadron and two Merlin transport helicopter Squadrons to support Norwegian ground forces.

This could be further backed up with one Armoured Infantry Brigade from the Reaction Force including 56 Challenger 2 main battle tanks.  Finally, if the situation should deteriorate further an Infantry Brigade from the Adaptable Force could be deployed to form 2nd (UK) Division.  Air support would be provided by carrier based F-35Bs, locally based Apache and Wildcat attack/assault helicopter Squadrons and UK based ISTAR Squadrons.

UK Naval Defence

UK Naval Defence – the white area can be covered by Maritime Patrol Aircraft operating from RAF Aldergrove, the yellow area is covered by anti-shipping Typhoons also based at RAF Aldergrove, the blue is covered by two RN carrier groups, the green by a French naval carrier group and the orange by anti-submarine patrols made up of destroyers, frigates and patrol ships with helicopters.

At sea the Royal Navy would send one carrier group to the Norwegian Sea consisting of three F-35B Squadrons (one Naval Air Squadron in the fleet air defence/anti-shipping role and two RAF Squadrons primarily supporting land forces), maritime/AEW helicopters and three destroyers/frigates.  This group would work with the naval amphibious group and be joined by a French carrier group and amphibious group.  Patrolling between Norway and Greenland this NATO naval task force would provide air support to ground forces in Norway, plus surface vessels from other NATO countries.

In the Western Approaches the RN would deploy a second carrier group with one F-35B Naval Air Squadron supported by maritime/AEW helicopters and three destroyers/frigates.

All remaining destroyers, frigates and patrol vessels, their helicopters and attack submarines would patrol the areas not covered by the carrier groups with the highest priority going to the approaches to Faslane.

Air defence of the UK would be provided by two Typhoon Squadrons based at RAF Lossiemouth to defend the north and two Squadrons (including the majority of the OCU) based at RAF Coningsby to defend the east.  These would be backed up by AESA equipped and Meteor capable F-16 aggressors and Hawks plus Land Ceptor SAMs.

Even with the full deployment of NATO naval forces there would still be plenty of areas of the Atlantic not covered by maritime defences.  To cover these areas a Maritime Patrol Squadron supported by an anti-shipping Flight of Typhoons would operate from RAF Aldergrove.

To provide a minimum effective defence of the area around Norway and the UK would require:

  • 2nd (UK) Division consisting of 1 Royal Marines Commando Brigade, 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade including 56 Challenger 2 main battle tanks plus 1 Adaptable Force Infantry Brigade
  • 1 Apache AH Squadron
  • 1 Wildcat Marines AH Squadron
  • 2 Merlin HC Squadrons
  • 1 Chinook HC Squadron
  • 5 Typhoon units – 4 air defence Squadrons plus 1 anti-shipping Flight
  • 1 E-3 Sentry AWACS Squadron
  • elements of 5 ISTAR Squadrons
  • 1 A330 Voyager aerial tanker Squadron
  • 2 F-16 aggressor Squadrons
  • 2 Hawk Squadrons
  • Land Ceptor SAMs
  • 1 Maritime Patrol Squadron
  • 2 aircraft carriers
  • 4 F-35B Squadrons – 2 fleet air defence/anti-shipping and 2 CAS/SEAD/land strike
  • 7 attack submarines, 19 destroyers/frigates and 3 offshore patrol vessels
  • 4 Merlin HMA Squadrons and
  • 2 Wildcat HMA Squadrons.

Regular training with Norwegian forces and French aircraft carrier and amphibious groups to aid effectiveness, co-operation and inter-operability should be a high priority.

The main battlefield would, however, be in Eastern Europe.  In a period of heightened tension NATO would particularly want to be able to move forces quickly to the region.  It is vital that all local countries maintain surplus air bases in good quality condition where air and ground forces could be deployed.

For the UK, initial deployment would come from Special Forces and the Air Assault Brigade including four Apache and two Wildcat attack/assault helicopter Squadrons.  These would be backed up by two Armoured Infantry Brigades from the Reaction Force.  Together with a reserve tank Regiment this would form 3rd (UK) Division including 168 Challenger 2 main battle tanks.

Further support would come from the deployment of the majority of the Adaptable Force consisting of eventually three Armoured Infantry Brigades.  These would form 1st (UK) Division.

Additional combat capability would be found by assigning 156 Challenger 2 tanks, held in storage, to three regular Adaptable Force Light Cavalry Regiments in periods of heightened tension.  They would receive basic tank training during peacetime with additional training being supplied by armoured units of the Reaction Force should the international situation deteriorate.  The Challenger 2s would be held in storage at Monchengladbach in Germany with crews being flown there for deployment only when the need arose.  This would convert these units into three Armoured Regiments.

Javelin missile training in Jordan

European NATO countries need to make up for a numerical disadvantage in armour with large stocks of anti-armour guided missiles.

Air support would be provided by at least four swing-role fighter Squadrons, elements of five ISTAR Squadrons and five helicopter transport Squadrons.

To provide a minimum effective defence in Eastern Europe would require:

  • Special Forces
  • 3rd (UK) Division consisting of 1 Air Assault Brigade and 2 Armoured Infantry Brigades with 168 Challenger 2 main battle tanks
  • 1st (UK) Division consisting of 3 Armoured Infantry Brigades with a total of 156 Challenger 2s
  • 4 Apache AH Squadrons
  • 2 Wildcat AH Squadrons
  • 1 Lynx AH Squadron and 1 Dauphin LAH Squadron – dedicated to Special Forces
  • 3 Chinook HC Squadrons
  • 2 Puma HC Squadrons
  • 4 swing-role fighter Squadrons and
  • elements of 5 ISTAR Squadrons.

Regular training with local ground and air forces is absolutely essential to aid effectiveness, co-operation and inter-operability especially with newer NATO members.

As Poland still operates 30 Su-22 and 30 MiG-29 Soviet-era fighters we should work with the German government to provide them with a financing deal that would enable the Polish Air Force to replace these aircraft with Eurofighter Typhoons.

However, the major question is: are these forces really strong and capable enough to provide an adequate defence?

This can best be assessed by comparing the current armed balance between Russia and the European NATO members to see if there are any particular deficiencies which need to be addressed.

Similarly to the Cold War, Russia has a marked advantage in the number of main battle tanks.  At present they have 2,500 in active service, but over 12,500 in reserve!  This compares to only about 6,000 between the European NATO members even including reserves.  That gives Russia a 2.5:1 advantage.  However, most of their tanks are older and less effective.  This is why we need to retain all of our formidable and still serviceable Challenger 2 tanks.

Russia also has an advantage in the number of infantry fighting vehicles and armoured personnel carriers.  They have 6,000 in active service and 21,500 in reserve.  European NATO has a total of about 22,000 so the advantage is only 1.25:1.  Altogether Russia can field 45,000 armoured vehicles (including 2,500 units of self-propelled artillery).

An Apache helicopter from 4 Regiment, 656 Squadron Army Air Corps, during live firing training at Otterburn Raanges in Northumberland.<br /> Photographer: Peter Davies from

European NATO countries have numerical air superiority and operate newer aircraft such as the Apache attack helicopter and F-35, Typhoon and Rafale.

The number of attack helicopters is very similar with both Russia and European NATO operating about 500.  However, Russia relies very heavily on the older Mi-25 whereas NATO has the more capable Apache and Eurocopter Tiger.

European NATO air forces are numerically superior to Russia’s with around 2,200 combat aircraft compared to about 1,700 Russian aircraft.  NATO also has an advantage with 320 stealth fighters currently on order compared to Russia’s 60 and 680 advanced Typhoons, Rafales and Gripens largely in service compared to just 380 of the latest Su-30/33/34/35s and MiG-35s mostly on order.

European NATO naval power is numerically superior to Russia’s.  NATO has five aircraft carriers either currently in service or on order compared to Russia’s one.  Russia is also considerably outnumbered in the rest of its surface fleet.  While it has five cruisers and NATO has none, it has only 17 destroyers/frigates and even if you add in the 74 smaller corvettes that only makes 96 surface warships.  In contrast European NATO countries have 121 destroyers and frigates.

Under the water Russia has six cruise missile and 33 attack submarines compared to NATO’s 58 attack submarines.

HMS Daring works with Carrier Strike Group

European NATO forces have a clear numerical advantage at sea.

In conclusion, European NATO members have a clear numerical advantage over Russia both at sea and in the air but Russia has the advantage on the ground.

The rest of the series

1 – Introduction

2 – Defence of the UK

3 – Other Sovereign Territories

4 – NATO

5 – A Southern or Middle Eastern Threat

6 – An Eastern and Northern Threat

7 – Global Intervention

8 – Land Command 2025; Appendix 1 – Army 2025

9 – Naval Command 2025; Appendix 2 – Royal Navy 2025

10 – Air Command 2025; Appendix 3 – RAF 2025

11 – Conclusion – The Options for Change; Appendix 4 – An Abundance of Riches: MoD Procurement 2015-25

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stephen duckworth
October 5, 2015 9:28 am

Copied from other thread.”
8:33 amOctober 5, 2015
stephen duckworth
Is their any point of keeping any armour , be it light ,medium or heavy , any where other than on the outermost land border countries of NATO? Who exactly is Portugal, Spain,France,Italy etc going to need to repell with their armoured forces. By all means keep a few APC in training or for civil disobedience control but keeping them hundreds or even thousands of kilometers from where the armour on armour incursions is likley to occur is just wasteful of equipment and resources and projects the wrong impression to our potential adversaries , that we aren’t united as one force but individual nations to be dealt seperatlely with politically. What’s the point of an armoured division that gets fragged on the way to Poland as it passes through the Dordogne by a brace of Tu-160’s which have slipped by the air cover that has been allocated away from the front line to cover them or is stopped by the saboteurs that have dropped all the bridges on the way etc FFS.”

October 5, 2015 9:32 am

The individual threats seem catered for but fail to plan for multiple threats(Iraq and Afghanistan) also the casualities and equipment loses that would occur.

October 5, 2015 10:08 am

Hi Andy,

Whilst I am enjoying your analysis – I am growing increasingly concerned by the numbers and the fact that the same units get deployed everywhere. This would assume we only have 1 problem at a time – which our military do not.

I would also like to see our stategy develop and agree with Stephen D that we do not need tanks unless they are based in Europe or other areas where they add real value, I personally would replace them with hundreds of apache helicopters which are far more flexible and lethal and have high usage rates. Additionally they can fly over the channel and engage within hours rather than the weeks/months it would need to get our tanks out there.

As we will no longer be based in mainland Europe I suggest we concentrate on more air and naval based assets and reduce our heavy armour to a minimum whilst retaining mech units through Ajax and Warrior.

We can take a lead in European NATO through our Navy, elite forces and air force and I would ensure that we have the largest helicopter attack force in Euro Nato as well as a large combat jet force. A side effect of this will also be in providing higher tech roles.

Our European allies should concentrate on heavy armour as in truth our armoured force is unlikely to be readily available and deployable should Russia engage in large scale warfare.

For those that argue that we used tanks in GW1 that is true but tanks were requested and denied for Afghanistan – so if we are not going to use assets we should get rid of them.

October 5, 2015 10:28 am

I would add to the article the formidable threat to surface vessels from the cruise missile -equipped subs and the bomber force (which, in the main, is tasked with naval defence even when the [peace time] base locations don’t fully reflect this).

October 5, 2015 11:16 am

I would also like to raise the thorny issue of attrition, If we are to engage a peer force such as Russia the losses would be pretty spectacular and I would imagine that nice shiny fleet we send to the coast of Norway would quickly become the latest artificial reefs.

In all of the Analysis done there is little given over to logistics and sadly attrition, we simply need to double the volume of anything we need as a minimum, so if we need 4 squadrons to do something – we actually need 8 to be able to sustain this.

2 squadrons is circa 32 assets, with circa 8 active at any point in time. This is clearly not enough I am afraid.

As for the Carriers they need to be fully loaded all the time – as there is a big difference in working in a tight fully loaded environment and at 25% capability.

October 5, 2015 11:55 am

Poland also operates F-16s.

These “fantasy fleets’ are always fun, but I’m always getting a bit antsy about just throwing units together; adding SF battalions to just complete a traditional three Brigade Division is just not the way to use them effectively, it will amount to a full ‘wet paper’ Division on some map (in fact, SF units should be considered Corps/Army assets instead of Divisional in any Orbat, and as a Company or even platoon sized operational unit).

Adding and comparing armor numbers is another; don’t match them one-on-one as tank vs tank battles are highly discouraged when we have things like BLU-108/Skeet; both aircraft and rocket variants (ATACMS/GMLRS) and their European PGM equivalents. Massed tank Fulda gap scenarios pretty much died when BLU-108 was used operationally in Irak 2003.

On (fighter) aircraft; the perceived lack of airframe numbers on the Russian side is overcome by the vast number of long-range and medium-range SAMs that dot the Russian Theater – Russia can control most of the East European airspace by sheer denial; long-range SAMs can nowadays threaten strategic supply and tanker ‘orbits’ over western Germany and beyond without having to cross any European borders (only one of the many reasons the Visegrad countries are so antsy). Since S-300/400s are ‘defensive’ Russia can place them freely on its side of the border without being viewed as an agressor (mad neigbour with shotgun patrolling his yard while your kids play in yours, but since he’s in his own yard – kind of thing).

And let’s not forget Russia’s IRBM threat. On paper NATO can build missile defense shields but these are mostly static -and thus vulnerable- objects themselves. Iskander-M in Kaliningrad can cover the whole (!) of Poland and the Baltic states (again, are ‘purely defensive’) including all NATO assets – budget cuts have reduced the number of operational NATO (air) bases and so made the remaining more vulnerable.

But it’s not all doom-and-gloom ofcourse; placing four NATO Theater Missile Defense ships (T-45+, Aegis, LCF) in the Norw. Sea, Baltic, Adriatic and Eastern MEd, is a strategic defensive posture that can be enormously effective. Another case where smaller or even single units are more true ‘force multipliers’ than when grouped together patrolling the GIUK gap.

Good piece, enjoyable read.

October 5, 2015 12:31 pm
The first problem with the forward basing of armour is that the treaty between NATO and Russia allowing former Warsaw Pact countries to join NATO specifically forbids the permanent deployment of western forces in those countries.

Andy C, at risk of trolling you around this blog, neither NATO nor any member nation agreed to such a restriction. I refer you again to

Russian officials claim that US and German officials promised in 1990 that NATO would not expand into Eastern and Central Europe, build military infrastructure near Russia’s borders or permanently deploy troops there.

No such pledge was made, and no evidence to back up Russia’s claims has ever been produced.

October 5, 2015 12:54 pm

Hi Andy

I do not want to reduce the army further, just not sure heavy armour has any place in the UK (where it will be based but not used) whilst we can have a lighter role mech infantry supported by apaches for “kill” power.

I actually believe we need to be bolder and have an 5 Corps Land force of circa 150k personnel that includes a 30k Territorial Corp and a 36k HQ core (including Cyber, Medical, Core Logistics, special forces etc) This would leave 3 permanent Infantry Corps each of 4 Brigades of circa 7.2k personnel (1 would be BEF 2xRM Bgdes, 1 Gurkha, 1 Para)
1 Corp (36k) – Multiple Brigades circa 6k personnel including 2x Cyber, 2x Medical 1x Special Forces + CnC
3 Corp (28k) – 4 Brigades of circa 6.5k + CnC
5 Corp (28k) – 4 Brigades of Circa 6.5k + CnC
7 Corp (28k) – 4 Brigades of Circas 6.5k + CnC
4 Corp Territorial (28k) – 4 Brigades of Circa 6.5k + CnC

So for me the land forces are right sized (as the above is more or less total current strength inc. RM and Gurkhas etc. I would stand the Territorials as a reserve proper instead of this integration nonsense. They can backfill as they are currently, but they need and deserve their own structure.

Given that all of the above will be UK or UK dependency based – it is important that the equipment they have is easily transportable, available and highly flexible, that subsequently leads me to a large helicopter force of Merlins and Apache’s instead of tanks etc.

October 5, 2015 1:33 pm

AndyC, once again I refer you to the same link where the same Founding act is discussed, with precisely the opposite conclusions

I am not for a moment saying that I think NATO is one the verge of building new infrastructure in Poland or the Baltic states or look for permanent basing there – as you correctly point out the economics don’t stack up either – but it is incorrect to suggest that the 1997 agreement prohibits it, even if the alliance or members want to abide by it post-Crimea

October 5, 2015 1:56 pm


MBTs are still very, very viable in current day battlefields, it is just that proponents for “anti-tank missiles” have blown up their utility beyond what is reality. An MBT is one of the very few pieces of equipment capable of wading through fire and coming out more or less intact at the other end, most MBT “kills” are usually equipment damage that cripples the vehicle or eliminates the crew, not kill it, which is where the distasteful but necessary practice of “recycling the tank” comes from. One of the tactics used even by the AH-64 pilots is to use an MBT as a mobile shield and pop up to take shots at an objective (supplemental gun platform), or to dart out, take a few shots at the enemy, then fly back to hide behind the tank (harassment tactics). Wasn’t there an old anecdotal story of an AH pilot who was shot down and landed behind the MBTs saying “If I was going to go down, I want it to be behind the biggest, toughest thing I can find.”?

AH-64s by themselves cannot sustain a head-on attack. They need the MBTs as the “armoured fist”. And “rolling cover”. :)

October 5, 2015 2:11 pm


Sometimes you need to rear base the important assets away from the front so that 1) Any sudden attack won’t destroy your most valuable assets, leaving you much poorer, 2) Rear basing allows you to be flexible to meet/generate more axis of attacks, when you are too close to the enemy FEBA, you can’t move too drastically lest some enterprising young officer decides to do a flank run into your convoy, so being a bit further back lets you move faster safer. And 3) their logistics supply lines start from their own countries, forward basing means that the owning country has to ship supplies all the way to the front, not to mention the effects of long term, long distance separation has on the soldier’s family lives.

That’s life.

October 5, 2015 2:16 pm

Hypothetical question, if Russia suddenly attacked through Eastern Europe, wouldn’t we send light troops to Norway and our heavy divisions into Benelux and France, with an eye over our shoulders to keep one or more of the Channel Ports open ( like we did in the previous 2 World Wars ) ?

And see what happens.

If Poland and Czech Republic are putting up a fight, then shore up the German and French rearguard as they move in ( so they have an escape route back to their homelands ).

If Poland and Czech Republic ( and the former Soviet countries fell ) would we try to stick at the German Border and rebuild an Iron Curtain – borders pretty much circa 1990 , or would we look to ‘liberate’ the East and push the Russians back to borders circa 2015 ?

Just asking :)

October 5, 2015 2:18 pm

Andy and Observer

I have no problems with Tanks per se, but given that we will no longer be based in Europe and that our commanders were allegedly refused Tanks for Afghanistan I don’t see a massive tank battle occurring on British soil and the time it takes to get them operational and into theatre is just too long for my liking.

Of course I would like to have tanks – but if we have to make decisions then I would rather have 200 Apache’s that we know we will use and let the Germans and French provide the tank forces on the European plain.

For other theatres I suspect the Americans would be happy to put tanks into the frontline for us if we send a large Apache force.

My view is how do we provide the most flexible force for every scenario covered by Andy here, whilst being able to act unilaterly if needed and as part of a NATO or other coalition.

Perhaps we do air cover for Poland etc and let them provide the land force/ tank screen for Europe. Given our withdrawal from Germany that would be an option.

October 5, 2015 2:43 pm

To give an idea of what will be the French forces by 2019 – 2025.

Armoured : There will be 200 Leclerc tanks, always “to renovate” against 254 in 2013, a decrease of 20% of the heavy tank park. Regarding the median and light tanks, there will be 236 AMX 10 RC against 256 (in 2013), the whole being completed by maintaining 60 ERC 90 Sagaie. A total of 496 tanks for the cavalry.

The 110-AMX 10 P, which were still in service in 2013 have all been pensioned off, and infantry will be equipped with 630 VBCI. 3200 VAB, it will be passed to 2190 VAB, will add 92 Griffon.

Artillery: 77 Caesar 155 mm and 13 LRU – which means that the other 80 howitzers (AUF-1) staffing early in the LPM have not been replaced. By counting the LRU (which fires a long-range rocket), the artillery will not have more than 90 tubes – which is undoubtedly a historical low since the sixteenth century.

Helicopters: 67 Tiger and 81 Gazelle will form the fleet of 148 (186 in 2013) attack and reconnaissance helicopters. 44 NH-90 Caiman, 43 Puma, 26 Cougar and 8 Caracal – a total of 121 helicopters to maneuver. Off devices for training, force air combat will therefore include 269 rotary wing – which is actually the first in Europe.
The additional NH90 is expected to complete the replacement of Puma over the next decade. 27 NH90 NFH for deliverables Navy by 2021. 74 NH90 TTH for the Light Aviation of the Army. 44 provided at the end of the draft 2014-2019 military program law. Late deliveries in 2024.

Combat Aviation: 180 Series aircraft have already been ordered by the French government on a need expressed by French armed forces 286 Rafale (228 for the Air Force and 58 for the navy)
The 180 aircraft ordered series consist of 132 Rafale for the air force, 48 Rafale for the navy.
To mitigate the spread of deliveries gust and preserve overall consistency of the fleet of combat aircraft, the Mirage 2000D renovation has been programmed, the first refurbished aircraft being delivered in 2019, in parallel with the use of older fleets, such as the Mirage 2000-5.

Tactical transport aircraft : It should ultimately consist of around 50 A400M. Twelve Airbus MRTT, the first in 2018, and delivery of others will be phased in to 2025. This decision is aimed at preventing the risk of serious disruption capability that would lead a judgment of the fleet of C 135.
The Air Force now has fourteen C 130. The purchase of four additional C 130 could be worn on US new C 130 J or C 130 H used aircraft; this choice is being expertise by the Ministry of Defence. These devices, particularly appreciated by special forces, would first be equipped with in-flight refueling capability for helicopters, valuable capacity in the Sahel-Saharan strip.

Navy: The adjustments ensure the maintenance of 15 leading frigates. The midsize frigate program (FTI) is advanced by two years, with first delivery planned for 2023. For the remainder, six anti-submarine FREMM (FREMM ASM) will be delivered by mid-2019; the following two buildings, specializing in air defense (FREMM DA), will be delivered in 2021 and 2022 respectively. These FREMM DA therefore replace anti-aircraft frigates Cassard and the Jean Bart from the previous generation, and will complement the anti-aircraft arsenal currently consists of two air defense frigates (FDA) type Horizon – frigates Forbin and Chevalier Paul – modernized.
The acquisition of a fourth B2M and four BSAH
The three B2M were commissioned in late 2013 and to be delivered in 2015, for deployment, respectively, the Caribbean, New Caledonia and Polynesia, the basis of one area per building. The fourth is scheduled to be delivered in 2017 and deployed in the southern zone of the Indian Ocean – the Mozambique Channel; are intended to enhance the ability to enforce our sovereignty, it based in Reunion. It will address some capacity reductions on patrol.
The BSAH contribute to the protection of maritime approaches, attend naval units deployed in operation, accompanying nuclear submarines of attack and support special operations. The holding of the navy operational contract requires the presence of two BSAH on each of the two coastlines.
They conduct maritime security missions and also contribute to the State’s action at sea missions, including surveillance and protection of French interests in the exclusive economic zones, backup and assistance for the populations and the projection of police or gendarmerie.

A shift in the renovation aircraft Atlantique 2, with the renovation of two units only by 2019.

Delivery of the first of six new nuclear attack submarine Barracuda, intended to replace the Rubis forward by one year. This delivery is now planned for late 2018, instead of late 2019 initially planned.

October 5, 2015 3:06 pm


I think your view on “tanks” is still a bit placid. :)

MBTs are not really meant for defensive wars, their main job is to put an enemy down by kicking down their door and smashing their head in. In short, they are meant not to stop an attack, but to stop all future attacks by crushing the head of the snake. Offensive action, not defensive. You can slow down an enemy defensively, but to really stop him, you must attack.

October 5, 2015 5:13 pm

Has Challenger 2 been cold weather tested? I’ve never heard of them being sent somewhere cold for testing. would be a good experiment much like when we sent them to Oman and discovered the needed new filters. I think they might need a cover on the radiators to hold the heat in. Its that type of thing you uncover.

October 5, 2015 7:13 pm

They have Challenger 2s at BATUS, so I suspect that they have experienced cold weather.

200 Apaches acquisition cost would net you 2,000 tanks. I don’t know how the operating costs compare but I know that helicopters are very costly per flight hour.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
October 5, 2015 7:40 pm

@Andy C
It is interesting that in nearly all the examples you have given in this and other in the series the primary role of the new carriers is as carriers with 3 F-35 squadrons on board. The second carrier would be used to provide additional capabilities like vertical lift. It is interesting as every time I have pointed out the carriers should be carriers I have been shot down for not embracing the options for air groups made up of varied number of types, which as always seemed to be to be a way of filling the flight deck to avoid PR embarrassment.

As I have said the carriers can be used in many ways but at their core they should be carriers not LHAs, and training of both ships crew and that of the air component should reflect this.

October 5, 2015 7:40 pm

Hi Mr Fred

200 Apaches would cost circa £4-6billion – I assume a modern MBT is circa 50% of the cost of an Apache (circa £10m as opposed to circa £20m each – Boeing – no AW installs).

I am not anti tank guys – I just don’t think we will get to use them, as much as we will use the Apache’s and Merlins. It is simply a cost thing – if we do go down the tank route then 500 is the number (Leopard’s probably) – but where are we gonna put them??
I am all for kitting out 12 standing Combat Brigades of 4 Mechanised Brigades( Ajax) , 4 Light Brigades and 4 Heavy Mech Brigades (MBT/Warrior) each of 6.5k personnel (inc logistics) but the logistics around tanks is actually quite frightening and we just don’t have the scale or requirement to put them out there. Assuming we survive the first wave of attacks I am sure the Americans or even our own industry will be happy to build several thousand as necessary.

The only other thing to say is if we keep buying 50 of something then it is always going to be expensive. So lets have 30 Frigates, 200 Typhoon, 200 F35 etc, etc as I would rather have something tangible than dribs and drabs of everything.

30 Frigates over 30 years is 500m p.a 200 Typhoons over 20 years is £1b pa, 200 F35 over 20 years is circa £1.5b pa. and 200 apaches over 20 years is circa 500m pa. Not sure how we are spending £16b p.a and don’t have this kind of volume.

October 5, 2015 8:02 pm

pac, it takes a year to build a tank from scratch, how many years do you think it will take to get to your “500 tanks”? And the cost isn’t 1:2 AH-64/CR2, it’s more like 1:5-10.

And AH-64s are not as robust as tanks. In the 6 day war, an Israeli Super Sherman with a stabilized gun put a main gun round through a Gazelle scout helicopter, don’t assume just because something is flying, it is immune.

You’ll get to use them if something big happens. That is what they were created for. As for travel time, even a casual drive will get them to Poland in one and a half days (assuming 60km/h travel speed, multiply by 2 for “just in case”.

They were not used in Afghanistan because it was thought to be overkill.

October 5, 2015 8:03 pm

Oh and it takes 7 years to build a plane. 200 Typhoons?…good luck.

October 5, 2015 8:17 pm

Hi Observer,

The last major use of tanks was the gulf war and I believe the danish put tanks out in afghanistan, so why can’t we? The Iraqi tanks were taken out on a massive scale by air power, however conversely in Kosovo after significant aerial bombardment it turns out that most of the Serbs tanks were unscathed. So yes tanks do have a place on the battlefield and I do think they are worthwhile, my issue is that they are based in Britain and given the weight of them and the amount of preparation needed to get them up and running I am not convinced we have the money or manpower to maintain a force that is almost never going to be deployed. Sadly it really is that simple.

The 6 day war is so long ago it is no longer relevant, but tanks were very important in that war.

Cost for both Apache and Leopard have been discussed on this site and it is not 1-10 ratio. It is closer to 1-2 as stated.

My last point is that in a commercial environment companies manage their fleets and ensure a smooth transition, too much procurement is famine and feast and this needs to be sorted.

Nothing Wrong with Tanks – just got to have a viable use past looking good on Salisbury plain.

October 5, 2015 8:19 pm

If you want to take the most optimistic estimate for an Apache and compare to the most pessimistic estimate for an MBT then of course you may, but I don’t think it the best basis for a fair comparison.
Personally I would advocate a radical concept I call combined arms. In this model, no part of the armed forces stands alone. Instead all disparate aspects, “arms”, if you will, work together to achieve an effect greater than the sum of their parts.

Sadly, this requires comparative “penny-packets” since relying on occasional allies to cover weaknesses in your force is a bit too risky.

This could be mitigated against by making sure that each piece of equipment can be used in as many ways as possible and the really specialised kit be limited. So any future tank needs to be adaptable and part of a family of vehicles.

October 5, 2015 8:40 pm

Puts the AH at about $60m each, while MBTs are $5-10m these days.

October 5, 2015 8:47 pm

mr.fred – Combined Arms? Never catch on, What? What?…

stephen duckworth
October 5, 2015 9:09 pm

“Before you know it you’d be re-creating the BAOR.” Yes but in the very cheap Baltic states,Poland ,Slovakia,Hungary and Rumania. The cost of living is drasticly cheaper than Germany and if we were to focus on one country per Western NATO ally I would have the UK opt for Romania and base air and naval assets there to . We could do worse than cohabit at NSF Deveselu, the US Ageis Ashore Base , part of the BMD shield.

October 5, 2015 9:50 pm


You (as in the British Army) made a choice not to use MBTs in Afghanistan. Not because they could not be used, but because you *chose* not to use them. Note the difference. One is inability, the other is a conscious choice to hold back, regardless of the capability.

As for getting it up and running, a properly stowed climate controlled warehoused tank can be made operational in 8 hours, that is the minimum standard for us, the unit stands to in M+8. (Mobilization +8), it’s hardly as long as you imagine it to be. Give it 32 hours for transit to Poland as an example, worst case scenario you get there in 32 hours+ (the + being the unknown time factor to cross the channel, via the cross-channel or via amphibs. So about 2 days to get it into the fight. Hardly a long time in a war. The Israelis did it even faster, but then M+8 was always the minimum standard.

stephen duckworth
October 5, 2015 10:09 pm

In terms of crossing the North Sea to Germany /Norway there are many companies with existing services that could move the relatively small amount if British armour of a couple of thousand vehicles or so.
Not just British firms either
My vote still is for forward basing the only people it benefits is mad Czar Putin and his crew not the people of the Eastern European NATO nations who will end up under occupation for years until we can drive or negotiate them out , if ever.

October 5, 2015 10:29 pm


Not too close, just in case a blitzkrieg sweeps them up. But then, our worries are different from yours. Too damn little strategic depth here, not to mention WWII history when the initial Japanese attacks knocked the Indian Regiments, arguably the most effective British force in Malaya, out of the fight way too early.

stephen duckworth
October 6, 2015 1:17 am
Reply to  Observer

The US base I mentioned is in the south of Rumania 100’s of km from the northern border but obviously the seaside would be best , the Black Sea in summer is wonderful , that should help with recruitment and retention :-) That and the skiing in the Carpathian mountains in winter not to mention cruises on the Danube , did I mention the beaches ? ;-)

October 6, 2015 3:49 am

BATUS does not operate over the winter. it only operates from May to October each year so as to avoid the bad weather. May be that is an idea we should start using BATUS over the winter months as well to give troops the experience of operating in extreme cold. at the moment we stop using BATUS when the average temperature is around 6’c if we carried on troops would experience average temperatures down to -11’c. Good training and cold weather testing.

October 6, 2015 6:52 am

I did not know that. Still, the vehicles live over there most of the time, do they not? So there would be ample opportunity to test in extreme conditions.

stephen duckworth
October 6, 2015 10:36 am
Reply to  as

On the cold weather training on BATUS or elsewhere it does seem a good idea. One of the core drivers ( as always) of the new T-14/T-15 designs was cold weather operation upto including high Arctic conditions , -40°C and colder. Russia expects to use its kit along its entire ,vast , frontier from the Article Ocean to the high mountainous deserts of the borders with the Stans’ to the Kamchatcha peninsular. If our kit fails like the German kit in the first winter after Barbarossa we are going to be in a bad way.

October 6, 2015 12:58 pm

Stephen, when there is the will, there is also a way:

The t-54/55s used to be started in that kind of temperatures by burning big logs under them… may be diesel pre-heating has taken a step or two since?

October 6, 2015 1:12 pm

To be really honest, and with no insult intended, Andy’s posts seem to be an extension of fantasy fleets/fantasy armies. The Orbat is thrown together with the criteria of “this looks nice here” instead of considerations of logistics, concept of ops, intent, threat assessment/threat levels or possibility of ramping up.

It’s basically “we need a battalion here.” “Why?” “No idea but we need one here anyway.”.

“It’s not that we’d be expecting to win any encounter but that the cost to Russia would be significant and that any attack by them would cause casualties to all NATO states and so commit them to full and immediate mobilisation.”

Ouch, shades of the BEF anyone? Love to see anyone you dispatch there told “we don’t expect you to win, just to die so you can be a red shirt we wave around.”.

stephen duckworth
October 6, 2015 3:47 pm

A key aspect of the Rapid Reaction Forces , whoever’s they are, is that with the reunification of Germany and the fall of the Warsaw Pact (now mostly NATO) the land border that needs to shored up is twice as long in central/eastern Europe than it was albeit with an adversary half the size. Perhaps the efficiencies , if that’s what you can call it , of the UK forces could be transferred to the new front line states militaries. I assume this process is already happening with the US leading the way with equipment donations etc but trying not to dump their surplus which would have a negative effect on domestic production abilities.

October 6, 2015 4:29 pm


Andy, don’t call all your infantry units “armoured infantry”, which are basically infantry assigned to armour. Armoured infantry is very different from line light or motorised/mechanized infantry as their role is usually very aggressive. Their main job usually isn’t to “defend an objective”, but to assault and clear out any fortified and built up areas that the armor has overrun. They also have much less men than other infantry units.

What you are looking for is more properly termed light and mechanized/motorised infantry. The difference is very drastic. One is more suited to defence, the other is meant to be a screen and mop up for assault forces, their roles are very different.

How many vehicles are assigned to the 16AAB to facilitate their “leap and bound” withdrawal? Enough to keep ahead of a Russian Motorised Rifle Regiment? IIRC, most of the 16 is still footbound.

October 6, 2015 9:49 pm

Would it not be sensible to keep one of the three Army 2020 heavy brigades in Germany, at least until say 2025 when the situation can be reviewed again?

The other two can train and rest at Salisbury as planned and rotate with the one forward deployed, leaving the heavy equipment in place to make things a bit easier.

stephen duckworth
October 7, 2015 7:53 am

” I’m not convinced keeping a Brigade in Germany is all that cost effective.”
Germany is no longer the front line unless we are willing to sacrifice Poland and the Baltic states ( been there done that : annexed 1939 liberated 1989 opps! )
The cost of basing in the easternmost NATO nations will be much much cheaper than the old basing in West Germany. For comparison Birmingham v Bucharest , a provincial UK city v a nations capital . Kingdom&country2=Romania&city1=Birmingham&city2=Bucharest

Brian Black
Brian Black
October 7, 2015 9:19 am

At the time of ‘Options for Change’ (which looked at ways to realise savings after the fall of the USSR) in the early ’90s, rumour control did put about the idea that British forces could be headed for Romania.

The reduced cost of basing and infrastructure, compared to western Germany, was suggested to be worthwhile. There was also the suggestion of an eastern ‘BATUS’ rather than permanent basing.

Romania dropped off the rumour radar fairly quickly, and 1 Armoured Division ended up regularly exercising in Poland.

It would no doubt be possible to keep using Poland for brigade scale exercises, but it does come down to cost and perceived benefits.

The Germans and Americans have committed to maintaining a continuous training presence in eastern Europe. British companies and brigade battlegroups could be expected to join them on an irregular basis, but not permanently and not necessarily armoured units either.

The NATO strategy is to have enough western area forces in eastern Europe at any given time to ensure that any Russian incursion would draw in the western NATO members. Eliminating the possibility of the Russians thinking that they could shave off a piece of eastern Europe that the US and other western members would not then be prepared to fight over (as in the Argentine expectations in the Falklands invasion).

The Russians at the moment are unlikely to be capable of opening a wide battlefront with NATO, or of extending invading forces into western Europe. So the NATO strategy at this time is to prevent sneaky annexations of territory, not to repel the 1980s armoured swarm.

October 18, 2015 1:18 pm

Personally I’d take Russia’s claim of military might with a huge dose of salt. The first issue is that Russia always design two versions of their vehicles, the peacetime/local version and the wartime/export/Monkey version.

The Monkey version of a tank might exclude spall liners, full armour, stabilisation etc. Cheap Crap sold overseas.

Give the Russians long history of faking their capabilities , I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of Russian equipment is substandard Monkey versions.

The other issue is the reserves. A tank takes $100 per day to maintain according to the Ukrainians, the reality is that the they have thousands of tanks in a grave yard that are no more that jumbles of metal with trees growing through them. They can be restored for $500k and time.

Peter Elliott
October 18, 2015 1:43 pm

It was being openly stated by SACEUR at the height of the Ukrainian crisis that Russia had made a forward assembly of a conventional force that was “very large and very ready”

I don’t see the same capability being demonstrated by NATO. It may or may not exist. But it doesn’t get demonstrated at Corps scale.

Peter Elliott
October 18, 2015 1:57 pm

As for having “monkey version” equipment that can be knocked out quickly and cheaply in wartime isn’t this just what was suggesting we needed to have designs ready for in the event of large scale industrial mobilisation?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
October 18, 2015 2:10 pm
Reply to  Peter Elliott

We are not going to attack them though. If they attack anywhere they need to be able to defend everywhere. What was not shouted quite so loudly but was very obvious is that Ukraine stretched the Russians logistics capabilities to the max.

Peter Elliott
October 18, 2015 2:22 pm

As I’m sure a similar scale NATO exercise would stretch ours. Just how many trucks and how much shipping could we really put our hands on and for how long without causing a major economic dislocation?

I presume there are professional logisticians who work these numbers and very wisely don’t disclose them. The lingering suspicion is that NATO chooses not to exercise at this scale because the cost and logistics would be just as challenging for us as it is for them.

At least having done it they now know for sure where their pinch points are and are presumably working on fixes. Who’s working to fix our unknown logistic deficits?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
October 18, 2015 2:33 pm
Reply to  Peter Elliott

Our logistics issue’s are hugely different do not confuse defensive Ops with offensive and to answer your question a lot more than Russia.

October 18, 2015 4:03 pm

PE – indeed I did suggest design activity should be sponsored even if production is not planned. As it stands with the length of design/prototype/trial/rework/qualification programmes, if war broke out now and design work was initiated for war fighting machinery, it would take longer than either WW1 or WW2 to get to a point where products could be manufactured. You can make your own minds up as to whether the current process is deliberately slow or convoluted, or if corners could be cut, or if the current procurement system is far more complicated than it needs to be. But you’d hope if backs were against the wall stuff would happen a great deal faster? Better, though, to know you have sound designs and decent plans for manufacture before hostilities become inevitable.

I suppose its pure coincidence that Baden-Powell, long term military chap, created the motto “Be prepared” for the Scout movement?

November 12, 2015 3:04 am
Reply to  Peter Elliott


Don’t know if this might be of interest…..

November 12, 2015 6:18 am

@ PE, re your “forward assembly of a conventional force that was “very large and very ready”
I don’t see the same capability being demonstrated by NATO. It may or may not exist”

“It’s important to note that Stryker brigades are a mid-weight unit, heavier than foot infantry but lighter than main battle tanks. They’re tactically not intended to face Russian heavy armor or artillery head-on. That’s the mission of armored brigade combat teams (ABCTs), the last of which was withdrawn from Europe years ago.

Two years after the last tank left Europe, head of US Army Europe Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges noted, the Army is putting an armored brigade’s worth of equipment back into Europe. That’s some 1,200 vehicles — including 245 M1 tanks, M2 Bradley troop carriers, and M109 howitzers — that will be stored in “Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Germany, and eventually Hungary,” Hodges said. Troops will come from the US in shifts to train on them.”

So put that and the in-situ Stryker bde together, and you have at least the same punch as with all the three AI bdes of the UK RF. Not saying that even these two elements put together would be that much, but then we have the rest of NATO (which may have the forces, but how about readiness?).

November 12, 2015 6:24 am

@PE, little by little a more coherent and deployable force is emerging:
“forward assembly of a conventional force that was “very large and very ready”
I don’t see the same capability being demonstrated by NATO. It may or may not exist”

“It’s important to note that Stryker brigades are a mid-weight unit, heavier than foot infantry but lighter than main battle tanks. They’re tactically not intended to face Russian heavy armor or artillery head-on. That’s the mission of armored brigade combat teams (ABCTs), the last of which was withdrawn from Europe years ago.

Two years after the last tank left Europe, head of US Army Europe Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges noted, the Army is putting an armored brigade’s worth of equipment back into Europe. That’s some 1,200 vehicles — including 245 M1 tanks, M2 Bradley troop carriers, and M109 howitzers — that will be stored in “Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Germany, and eventually Hungary,” Hodges said. Troops will come from the US in shifts to train on them.”

That is from breakingdefence a month ago.

That, put together with the in-situ Stryker bde would, in punch, equate to or surpass the whole UK RF with its three AI bdes (+some).