Priorities and Options for SDSR 2015 – Global Intervention


The forces and capabilities required for global intervention are very similar to those required for mobile operations within the NATO area.  Where there is a difference is the greater use of transport aircraft and aerial tankers to transport and supply forces over greater distances.

Wildcat and C17

The C-17 Globemaster provides the heavy transport for global mobility.

In addition, some equipment may need to be modified to operate in more challenging climates and environments.  In particular the Army may need different vehicles.  After recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan much of this has already been acquired and needs to be stored in a condition where it can easily be brought back into use should the need arise.

Emphasis needs to be given to light, highly mobile forces but with significant firepower such as Special Forces, the Air Assault Task Force and the Lead Commando Unit.  Deployment would be at Brigade level strength initially with the ability to upscale to Division strength by the start of any conflict.

Appropriate combat air power would be deployed from air bases or QE aircraft carriers as appropriate.

RAF Voyager and A400M Atlas
RAF Voyager and A400M Atlas

The A330MRTT Voyager and A400M Atlas are essential components of global mobility.

Defence planning needs to take into account two potential scenarios.

1. Co-operation with Allied Forces.

By far the most common situation would be for British forces to be deployed in partnership with allies who would provide their own combat forces.  Local allies would also provide air bases to operate from and we would supplement this with naval forces where appropriate.

In this scenario we would provide a minimum effective Reaction Force consisting of the appropriate elements of:

  • 1 Division strength unit made up from Special Forces, the Air Assault Brigade, Royal Marines Commandos and 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade
  • 4 Apache AH Squadrons
  • 3 Wildcat AH Squadrons – 2 AAC and 1 Royal Marines
  • 1 Lynx AH Squadron and 1 Dauphin LAH Squadron – dedicated to Special Forces
  • 1 C-17 Globemaster Squadron
  • 3 A400MC Atlas Squadrons
  • 2 A330MRTT Voyager Squadrons
  • 4 Chinook HC Squadrons
  • 2 Merlin HC Squadrons
  • 2 Puma HC Squadrons
  • 3 swing-role fighter Squadrons
  • 1 E-3 Sentry AWACS Squadron
  • elements of 5 ISTAR Squadrons
  • 1 Maritime Patrol Squadron
  • 2 QE aircraft carriers
  • 4 F-35B Squadrons – 2 fleet air defence/anti-shipping and 2 CAS/SEAD/land strike
  • 2 amphibious transport docks
  • 3 landing ships
  • 3 attack submarines
  • 9 destroyers/frigates
  • 4 Merlin HMA Squadrons and
  • 2 Wildcat HMA Squadrons.

What is clear from both Iraq and Afghanistan is that the armed forces may be required to stay involved for much longer in conflict zones than had been previously assumed.  This is now reflected in the structure of the Army that allows for rotation at Brigade level over the long-term.  The same can be applied to the RAF and FAA Squadrons making up the Expeditionary Air Wings and any Royal Navy units.

2. Lone Operations.

The number of situations where the UK would be forced into a conflict on its own would seem very limited and are largely covered in the section relating to any future Falklands conflict.  In such a scenario all of the Reaction Forces detailed above would be needed.  In particular for any independent naval task force to be successful it would be vital to be able to deploy two aircraft carriers for them to be able to supply mutual air support and to be able to provide a necessary minimum amount of air cover.

In addition, the support of long-range Maritime Patrol Aircraft supported by aerial tankers would be invaluable for reconnaissance, anti-submarine and anti-shipping requirements and so increase the security of the carrier force.


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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October 6, 2015 9:08 am

Andy, I liked the in alliance/ alone distinction, but the latter chapter turned out to be rather truncated. Let’s revisit the NSS and its two core objectives:
– ensuring the UK remains both secure and resilient (cannot be brought down on its knees by some indirect actions)
-shaping a stable world.

Both of these require
1. maintaining a capability to act well beyond our own shores
2. not only working with our allies, but also have strategic presence where UK’s direction so dictates
3. allocate resources so as to be able to respond to today’s threats as well prepare for those of tomorrow (the famous known unkowns plus those that are currently not on the radar… just think back to the rise of IS)
4.within those allocated resources , plan for the equipment long term so as to retain a balanced force capable of sovereign actions while also being able to fit in with our closest allies’ forces to deal with full-spectrum scenarios. Examples (some big lumps, just to illustrate against the yearly spend in the region of £40bn):
– power projection 2 x QE plus their minimum air wing £12bn (not counting in the amphibs, which are necessary, but on their own not broadly useful)
-sea denial (e.g. in support of the above): 7 x Astute => £14bn
– combat air: £25bn for the Tiffies plus another 5-ish for the rest of the F35 numbers =>30bn
– enablers: ISTAR, lift, helos… not cheap, either

Just the named capabilities amount to a third of the 10-yr kit budget, and are in the main for expeditionary purposes. Why am I dwelling on these numbers? Because, as a regional power with global influence, we need to be careful of not trying to cut the cloth for our coat according to the “elder brother’s size”. Rebalancing UK’s strategic direction in the fast changing world means that the appropriate ambition needs close scrutiny as to whether it is or is not also a realisable one.

October 6, 2015 9:47 am

Seems like we are already part of 3 ‘expeditionary’ forces, in addition to leading the NATO ARRC.
1. The UK-led 10,000 strong 4-5 day notice JEF, supposed to be operational by 2018 (with Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – and maybe Sweden),
2. the 10 day notice CJEF (with France) which has been progressing slowly since 2010 (has a divsional HQ and and Joint Logistics Group established by 2014) and,
3. the 30,000 strong NATO Very High Readiness Response Force (to wihch we contribute 1,000 personnel on a an enduring basis).

Also the carrier-centred Maritime Task Force that is likely to come from SDSR will have a Marine Cdo. attached, if we are to believe CDS’s speech at DSEi (although the MTF may also be part of the CJEF in rotation with a French-lead martimie task force?). Also what will this new Land Joint Strike concept do, and where will it fit in with these emerging new expeditionary structures? So far, so unclear.

October 6, 2015 10:02 am

@JF, yep, we have to be careful not to create illusions with double-hatting, triple-hatting… the same units!

Though this idea “(although the MTF may also be part of the CJEF in rotation with a French-lead martimie task force?)” is interesting – that the two nations would rotate the lead/ the highest readiness components, alternating between the maritime and airborne/ airlanded roles.

I was happy to hear about the third bn being moved into the 16X as it was a mystery to me how, between two bns, high readiness could have been maintained. Interim solution: keep only a Coy in that state, and don’t tell anyone! Now I just heard that the same bn is taking on a role in A-stan (though it was not said that it would be a bn strength deployment), so I started wondering again about the interim becoming interim – ad infinitum? But the rotation being shared with the French would solve this, and give more than an evacuation under fire – cum – Falklands fire brigade type of force.

October 6, 2015 10:21 am

As far as I can divine the JEF uses ‘existing high readiness forces’ (16AAB probably?) as its core. 16 has just been moved out of 3. Div. and reallocated directly under Land Command (CGS) as the ‘spearhead’ theatre entry unit, so could form the basis for a 4-5 day readiness JEF. JEF looks very much like an extension of the TFH ‘joint’ concept (with two of the same partners), but now envisaged as a fire brigade for the baltics.

CJEF includes ‘scalable’ UK and French ‘battlegroups’. So could presumably include mechanised elements of either 3 Div. or a battlegroup from 3 Cdo. brigade. I suspect the latter given that unlike JEF its horizon is beyond northern europe, to Africa and the middle east.

If these two options are pursued, they integrate both the paras and the marines into divisional sized joint expeditionary structures – one focussed on rapid airborne/air assault theatre entry into high intensity or hybrid conflict in northern europe and one on either high intensity or hybrid conflict outside europe – with an amphibious theatre entry capability. This would be excellent. Essentially 2 divsional-sized elite expeditionary units comprising key european NATO allies, focussed on 1 – containing Russia, and 2 – defeating ISIS.

October 6, 2015 12:01 pm

Looking around, it seems 16AAB is part of the iCJEF (i for interim CJEF) with the 11e BP.

Steve Coltman
Steve Coltman
October 6, 2015 12:57 pm

The intervention in Sierra Leone was a ‘lone’ operation, albeit quite unlike the Falklands. We were not forced into it of course as we were in the Falklands. I suspect the definition of Lone operation needs to be broadened.

October 11, 2015 8:21 pm

In previous posts I have mentioned the need for our Land forces to become a 5 Corp structure that includes all land based forces.

This would include 1 Corp (BEF) that would have 2 brigades of Royal Marines and 2 Brigades of Para/Gurkha’s – each brigade is approximately 6.2k personnel and is made up of 4 Battalions of circa 800 combat personnel. the remaining 3k personnel are logistics and CnC. This moves land forces to a 4 unit structure in order to have the ability to have 3 units moving and 1 in reserve in field, whilst out of operation it would be 1 high readiness / 1 moving from high readiness and 1 moving to assuming high readiness and 1 on leave and training (low readiness). This is sustainable indefinitely at the Corps level (25k personnel) once the Reserve is activated and at the divisional level without the reserve. The fifth corp is core logistics / cyber / medical / SFG and CnC and would be sized circa 36k personnel, bringing this in line with the current orbat of circa 135k personnel including those units not normally counted in the army.

2 and 3 Corp would be mechanised corps with a full range of equipment whilst 4 Corp would be light infantry territorial forces and logistics.