Priorities and Options for SDSR 2015 – NATO


NATO is clearly the UK’s most important international defence obligation.  Our forces need to be able to operate in defence of any member nation whose security is under threat.  This requires a high degree of mobility and the ability to co-operate effectively with allies in many different terrains and environments.

The Ukraine crisis showed that we must plan for contingencies and possible future threats and maintain a high level of deterrence and preparedness.

Under existing plans the UK maintains a Joint Rapid Reaction Force in a state of high readiness made up of elements from:

  • The British Army including Special Forces, the Air Assault Task Force, the Lead Armoured Task Force and an Armoured Infantry Battalion with support from three Army Air Corps Regiments;
  • The Royal Marines consisting of the Lead Commando Unit with support from one assault and two transport helicopter Squadrons and;
  • The RAF providing support aircraft from one Squadron of C-17 Globemaster heavy transport aircraft, three Squadrons of A400 Atlas medium transport aircraft, two Squadrons of A330 Voyager aerial tankers/transports and six helicopter transport Squadrons plus ISTAR and AWACS aircraft. The air combat element would be provided by one swing-role fighter Squadron.

To provide a minimum effective Joint Rapid Reaction Force requires:

  • at least 1 Brigade strength unit made up of elements from Special Forces, the Air Assault Brigade, Royal Marines Commandos and an Armoured Infantry Brigade
  • 5 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 Puma HC Squadrons
  • 2 Merlin HC Squadrons
  • 1 swing-role fighter Squadron
  • 1 E-3 Sentry AWACS Squadron and
  • 5 ISTAR Squadrons.

If further escalation is required the full complement of the Air Assault Brigade, Royal Marines Commandos and an Armoured Infantry Brigade would be deployed bringing the Reaction Force up to Division strength.  Two additional swing-role fighter Squadrons would also be deployed in support.

Next would come two Armoured Infantry Brigades and an Adaptable Force Infantry Brigade which would provide enough troops for a second Division.   In this planning scenario 3rd (UK) Division would form up around the three Armoured Infantry Brigades and 1st (UK) Division would be based on the Air Assault Brigade, Royal Marines Commandos and the Adaptable Force Infantry Brigade.  Further swing-role air combat support would be provided by the Test & Evaluation Squadron and the Falklands Flight.

So where might a future possible threat come from, how would these forces be deployed accordingly and what additional elements might be required?


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

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
October 2, 2015 4:13 pm

From my humble point of view, there are two scenarios:

First scenario, the Channel Tunnel is open, you carry all your armoured vehicles of the armoured Infantry Brigade by rail, is already complicated, you must define oversized itineraries for armoured vehicles used by the army UK. Convoys of this type must take a special route and require very specific traffic conditions. For example, no train can not move in reverse, avoid bridges, speed limits, etc …

Second scenario, the tunnel is not open for any reason, and there you are in the previous configuration, none of your armoured vehicles can not enter into anything other than a C-17, so you have to carry them by sea . This is not very fast.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
October 2, 2015 4:26 pm
Reply to  Frenchie

It is not very far across the channel or the North Sea. If there is a serious conventional threat you want your heavy armour. Fly light and die early!

October 2, 2015 4:34 pm

Across to Antwerp and off to Ukraine! :)

IIRC Antwerp still has the facilities for heavy goods, they should be able to handle most things. If the French don’t grant right of way, this might be a good option.

October 2, 2015 4:39 pm


No insult intended, but how do you derive the numbers for “enough force”? Without analysis of the possible opposition, there is no way to determine “enough” from “overkill” or “insufficient”. For example, if the force you proposed was to face a resurgent 3rd Shock Army, it would be something like a speed bump if the enemy was willing to take the casualties. On the other hand, if it was against something like the Donbass insurrection/irregular unit infiltration, it would be rather heavy (in aircraft and units) for something like that. So what is the force appreciation matrix used to evaluate the “sufficiency” of your proposed forces?

October 2, 2015 7:12 pm

If this is to counter an attack from Russia, I think the best solution for the British Army is to keep one armoured infantry brigade in Poland or East Germany, it is the simplest.
What I wanted to emphasize in my previous message is the uselessness of the A400M for the British Army.
Sorry if that sounds offensive.

all Politicians are the Same
all Politicians are the Same
October 2, 2015 7:17 pm
Reply to  Frenchie

The C130 carried even less and it was extremely useful.

October 2, 2015 7:38 pm

@All Politicians are the Same,
I agree, but the A400M is very expensive, one A400M cost €152.4M and one C-17 cost €194M for a double payload, and if I remember correctly, the MoD has ordered around 20 aircraft so that priority would be to order more C-17.

all Politicians are the Same
all Politicians are the Same
October 2, 2015 7:45 pm
Reply to  Frenchie

The C17 cannot land everywhere an A400M can though. Your mistake is totally blinkered thinking that it is all about carrying armoured vehicles. It is so most definitely not. The A400 allows us to carry more further and faster than the C130 whilst retaining tactical capability. I we felt the need for a light weight armoured fehicle it could carry them.
The C17 offers genuine strategic heavy weight capability.

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 2, 2015 7:47 pm

Whats this about the USMC basing at least one sqn of F-35B on QE/PoW?

October 2, 2015 7:55 pm

Frenchie, sometimes in difficult terrain, a Mega or Gigafly JPADS paradrop of supplies can be critical, this is where the small tactical cargo planes come in.

October 3, 2015 7:49 am

I think the UK’s contribution to NATO should be prioritised as policing / monitoring of the North Atlantic (and North Sea) both sea and airspace. A secondary function should be have the ability to give tactical support in the defence of Eastern Europe – this should not be by forward basing army units (the scale of German, Polish & French forces would make this insignificant), but having the ability to perform surgical offensive actions at a brigade level via maritime and air assets.

October 3, 2015 8:04 am

Obs – ref small tactical cargo planes – have you seen the size of A400M?
comment image

October 3, 2015 8:07 am

@All Politicians are the Same

Thank you for your pertinent remarks :)

October 3, 2015 8:08 am

The French and German armies are very broadly the same as ours the only major land component would come from the Poles which is undergoing rapid modernisation.

October 3, 2015 8:11 am

Andy C

Do you intend to use 3 Cdo and 16 AAB within the central European theater as part of a NATO contribution? I’m slightly confused as to the purposes of the reaction forces they seem to be there just to have them.

October 3, 2015 8:50 am

Concerning France, you are right, our ground equipment is obsolete, our VAB, our AMX10RC, our Sagaie have 40 years and have yet to serve 5-10 years before their replacement. Leclerc and VBL have 20 years, they are still quite modern, only the VBCI is brand new. If there is a major attack I don’t know what might happen.

October 3, 2015 8:59 am

Ok, “small-ish”. :)

October 3, 2015 9:12 am

Reaction forces are high readiness contingency. So yes NW Euope. JEF is 3 Cdo. 16AAB has moved to land command and is in effect the spearhead battalions if we have to move very fast. Then comes 3 div – the three armoured brigades, and then the 3 protectected mobility brigades on a longer lead time, finally the four small light infantry brigades which are mostly in training.

October 3, 2015 9:22 am

I am totally against forward basing British heavy armour in Central Europe. Not our responsibility. That is the job of the nations who are there and specialise in armoured warfare.
We should keep a modest heavy capability (to maintain our ability to deploy almost everywhere – embarrassing if we wanted to go peace-enforcing somewhere and couldn’t because the oppo had tanks and we didn’t), and in extremis we would ship it across the Channel to help out, but we shouldn’t be fighting anyone with significant numbers of tanks without allies.
Our speciality should be deployable air power and flank and rear protection, – ie keeping the Russians out of the Atlantic and North Sea, and going into Norway. It is most suitable for our geographical position, and means that our NATO role requires much the same equipment as our desire to be a world-deployable military player.

October 3, 2015 9:29 am

Whats the point in sending 16 AAB to NW Europe? surely that role would more suited to the lead armoured taskforce within the RF then followed by the rest of the armoured contingent bde?

October 3, 2015 9:45 am

It’s not so much the equipment (I think we are all operating old kit) as France, UK and Germany are roughly equal in terms of armour etc but manpower (which we are also pretty much equal). I do not think either of us could deploy more than a brigade at short notice and it would probably be made up of both light and heavy units, with all parties mustering a division after a period of time.

October 3, 2015 11:42 am

Frenchie, RE “Leclerc and VBL have 20 years, they are still quite modern, only the VBCI is brand new. If there is a major attack I don’t know what might happen.”

Allowing for the VBCI production run to finish (the Leclerc LEP is already done?), what kind of force could be kitted out with them? A whole division? Less, more?

Also the long shadow of the Algeria war has gone away (the restrictions on using conscripted forces) with the all-pro army. Weren’t the paratrooper and Marines units all-pro even before (so that they could be used without restriction… and even had their own armoured cavalry)? What is their combined unit worth on the military scales… about another division?

October 3, 2015 2:58 pm


As much as I have disagreements with DN on the utility of thin-skinned vehicles in future army ORBATs, I sort of have to agree with his view that a lot of the force seems to be there for the sake of being there. Which is the point of course since even you do not know why NATO wants them for, just that they want them. As Chris said, a more meaningful initial contribution might be to aid the countries under attack by helping them ensure air supremacy or at least air denial and later heavy units instead of more light infantry where the countries under attack could generate easily by conscription (or at least desperation of the people living there).

I suspect the Rapid Reaction units are more aimed at Africa and the Middle East ala Mali than Central Europe.

October 3, 2015 3:33 pm


The Leclerc is expected to remain in service until 2040 and beyond, after a renovation phase in the Scorpion program with the delivery of the first renovated char expected in 2019.
The last of the ordered 630 VBCI was delivered on March 19.
In 2016 it will have the new order of battle of the Army with two divisions consisting of three brigades, making six brigades.


27 Brigade d’Infanterie de Montagne :
7 Bataillon de Chasseurs Alpins (Vikings)
13 Bataillon de Chasseurs Alpins (VAB)
27 Batallion de Chasseurs Alpins (Vikings)
4 Régiment de Chasseurs (AMX10RC, Sagaie)
93 Régiment d’Artillerie de Montagne (Caesar)
2 Régiment Etranger du Génie

9 Brigade d’Infanterie de Marine :
2 Régiment d’Infanterie de Marine (VAB)
3 Régiment d’Infanterie de Marine (VAB)
126 Régiment d’Infanterie (VAB)
Régiment d’Infanterie de Chars de Marine (AMX10RC)
1 Régiment d’Infanterie de Marine (AMX10RC)
11 Régiment d’Artillerie de Marine (Caesar)
6 Régiment du Génie

7 Brigade Blindée :
35 Régiment d’Infanterie (VBCI)
152 Régiment d’Infanterie (VBCI)
1 Régiment de Tirailleurs (VBCI)
1Régiment de Chasseurs (Leclerc)
5 Régiment de Dragons (Leclerc)
68 Régiment d’Artillerie d’Afrique (LRU)
3 Régiment du Génie


11 Brigade Parachutiste :
1 Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutiste (VAB)
3 Régiment Parachutiste d’Infanterie de Marine (VAB)
8 Régiment Parachutiste d’Infanterie de Marine (VAB)
2 Régiment Etranger Parachutiste (VAB)
1 Régiment de Hussards Parachutistes (Sagaie)
35 Régiment d’Artillerie Parachutiste (Caesar)
17 Régiment du Génie Parachutiste
1 Régiment du Train Parachutiste

6 Brigade Légère Blindée :
2 Régiment Etranger d’Infanterie (VAB)
13 Demi-Brigade de la Légion Etrangère ?
21 Régiment d’Infanterie de Marine (Vikings, VAB)
1 Régiment Etranger de Cavalerie (AMX10RC)
1 Régiment de Spahis (AMX10RC)
3 Régiment d’Artillerie de Marine (Caesar)
1 Régiment Etranger du Génie

2 Brigade Blindée :
Régiment de Marche du Tchad (VBCI)
16 Bataillon de Chasseurs (VBCI)
92 Régiment d’Infanterie (VBCI)
501 Régiment de Chars de Combat (Leclerc)
12 Régiment de Cuirassiers (Leclerc)
40 Régiment d’Artillerie (LRU)
13 Régiment du Génie

Peter Elliott
October 3, 2015 5:33 pm

No-one ever wants to be in the 2e Division ;)

October 3, 2015 5:44 pm

This is a ruse to make believe that we have three divisions while we have only two :-)

Peter Elliott
October 3, 2015 5:49 pm

As with all the best ideas the British thought of it first ;)

October 4, 2015 8:44 am

I made some errors :

1er Régiment d’Artillerie is part of the 7ème Brigade Blindée and it is equipped of LRU.
40ème Régiment d’Artillerie is part of the 2ème Brigade Blindée and it is equipped of AMX 30,155 AUF1.
68ème Régiment d’Artillerie d’Afrique is part of the 7ème Brigade Blindée and it is equipped of Caesar.

2ème Régiment Etranger d’Infanterie is part of the 6ème Brigade Légère Blindée and it is equipped of VBCI.
2ème Régiment d’Infanterie de Marine is part of the 9ème Brigade d’Infanterie de Marine and it is equipped of VBCI.

October 4, 2015 11:05 am

In answer to your question, the war in Algeria is far behind us, the French have confidence in anything except the police, the firefighters and the Army.
And we can align two Armoured Brigade, with Leclerc, VBCI and LRU (Unitary Rocket Launcher). I don’t know if a Warrior is better that VBCI, but that’s all we have.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
October 5, 2015 1:41 am

One thing I would like to consider is prepositioning the equipment for one of our Armoured Brigades in Poland for example. Maintain one of the brigades as full strength in the UK and have the other two share one brigades worth for training, and co-locate them so that when the high readiness brigade deploys to match up with its equipment the remaining brigade can bring itself up to speed. This would allow us to deploy one Brigade very rapidly to support 16 AA or by itself. IT could then be fairly quickly reinforced by the full strength brigade form the UK followed by the third if required.

Whist focused n Europe the above still has a UK based Armoured brigades fully maintained at full strength for deployment elsewhere. Having a full brigades worth of kit in Poland also allows us to move personnel from the UK to train in Europe, which could possibly replace the training undertaken in Canada, as Poland has some large exercise areas. These would be a sort of mini-reforger idea with a different brigade going to Poland each year.

Maybe one of the things NATO should look at is establishing a large training area in Poland combining in the field training with simulators. Obviously the latter would have to be generic as the idea of accurately copying each nations AFVs would be both costly and impractical. If like the US it enabled brigade level digital exercises, involving personnel from different nations at the same time, linking in the live feed from field training to the command level, you have basically the ability to train a divisional level multi-national battle group at considerably less cost. NATO could also train with countries currently not member, for out of area operations such as Sweden and Finland.

The organisation you have shown for the French Army is, I believe one the British Army should aspire to. Yes some of the equipment is getting on but having the VAB to move infantry around is far better then our still using soft platforms, plus those regiments have both mortar and ATGW and many other variants of the same platform. Am I right in thinking that the VAB has been updated and improved through its service life?

stephen duckworth
October 5, 2015 8:19 am
Reply to  AndyC

Plus BATUS is in Alberta , in Western Canada :-)

stephen duckworth
October 5, 2015 8:33 am
Reply to  ChrisM

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 8:49 am

Part of the deal for ‘allowing’ former Warsaw Pact countries to join NATO was precisely that we wouldn’t do this sort of thing

From the NATO website

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. Should such a promise have been made by NATO as such, it would have to have been as a formal, written decision by all NATO Allies. Furthermore, the consideration of enlarging NATO came years after German reunification. This issue was not yet on the agenda when Russia claims these promises were made.

Allegations about NATO pledging not to build infrastructure close to Russia are equally inaccurate. In the Founding Act, NATO reiterated “in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defence and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces. Accordingly, it will have to rely on adequate infrastructure commensurate with the above tasks. In this context, reinforcement may take place, when necessary, in the event of defence against a threat of aggression and missions in support of peace consistent with the United Nations Charter and the OSCE governing principles, as well as for exercises consistent with the adapted CFE Treaty, the provisions of the Vienna Document 1994 and mutually agreed transparency measures.”

NATO has indeed supported the upgrading of military infrastructure, such as air bases, in the countries which have joined the Alliance, commensurate with the requirements for reinforcement and exercises. However, the only combat forces permanently stationed on the territory of the new members are their own armed forces.

Even before the Ukraine crisis, the only routinely visible sign of Alliance forces in the new members were the NATO jets used in the Baltic States for the air policing mission. These minimal defensive assets cannot be described as substantial combat forces in the meaning of the Founding Act.

Since the crisis, NATO has taken steps to increase situational awareness and bolster the defences of our Eastern members. This, too, is entirely consistent with the Founding Act and is a direct result of Russia’s destabilizing military actions.

Finally, the Act also states, “Russia will exercise similar restraint in its conventional force deployments in Europe.” Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a flagrant breach of this commitment, as is its unilateral suspension of compliance with the CFE Treaty.

October 5, 2015 9:00 am

Not only that but Russia actually did sign a piece of paper guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity so they can get bent.

October 5, 2015 9:44 am

@Lord Jim,
This is the best source in english that I found to explain the VAB upgrade and all of its versions, which are numerous.'Avant_Blind%C3%A9

Steve Coltman
Steve Coltman
October 5, 2015 4:35 pm

Whether to forward base an armoured infantry brigade in Poland is essentially a political decision. It seems clear that Russia wants to intimidate our N European allies, it is essential they are not intimidated, esp. Poland and Sweden. It is entirely reasonable that they should look to Britain among other countries to back them up and a battalion of paratroopers simply wont do. We need to be able to send something meaningful. One of the three brigades stationed on the continent, even just remaining in western Germany, would be sensible. The highest-readiness armoured infantry brigade needs, I think, to remain in the UK in case needed elsewhere. 3 good-quality heavy brigades is not an insignificant contribution. Poland has 10 brigades of various types, Germany 6 heavy brigades (not in very good nick it seems) and France 3-4. UK contribution would certainly make a difference.

October 5, 2015 6:53 pm

France could deploy the 2nd Armored Brigade in Poland with about 100 Leclerc and 180 VBCI amongst other. But I don’t know if there is a political will to do so.

October 6, 2015 9:38 am

Quite agree with AC above, also the Baltic (like Latin America, for instance) is one of those non-nuclear zones. Some of its shores might be brimming with tactical nukes, but annulling such arrangements can’t be close to the heart of a man who hails from St. Pete (and only lives in Moscow because of the day job)? Nor Russia’s interests more broadly.

October 14, 2015 5:47 pm
Reply to  tweckyspat


I think legalities became moot once the EU set out to get Ukraine into the EU / destabilise an elected pro-Russian govt* and things just went from there. Of course what the EU forgot – or chose to forget – was that the Russians wouldn’t sit still while the EU messed around in the Ukraine.

Thus we now have the bizarre position that NATO / the EU is supporting a govt. backed by the Western Ukrainians that is now busy chopping up Eastern Ukrainians after the NATO and the EU said the ‘old’ Ukrainian government was ever so naughty for doing that to pro-Western Ukrainians.

Meanwhile of course, Kiev knows it doesn’t have the military firepower to end the separatists without NATO support at the ‘pointy end of the spear’ and the separatists know they can’t dislodge the ‘criminal’ (in the eyes of the separatists) govt. in Kiev without vast Russian support.

* – take yer pick.

October 14, 2015 5:48 pm
Reply to  Hohum

@ Hohum ,

Quite right – but I think the Russians take the view that paper was null and void once the EU (containing the UK) started to ferment insurrection in Kiev and support the overthrow of the Moscow tilting elected govt. of Ukraine.

Ahh…well….such is politics.

October 15, 2015 7:11 am
Reply to  Allan


I am not a NATO spokesman. I am just pointing to the rebuttal NATO made (and therefore agreed by 28 nations) of the claims which are persistently made of some “deal” not to base or posture NATO forces in new NATO nations.
The rebuttal suggests 28 nations think the issue is not “moot” at all

Don’t get me wrong, I agree the situation is a mess and with hindsight the EU and perhaps some NATO members actions and signals to Ukraine were horribly misguided. I was just addressing the specific point about what NATO nations have and have not agreed by treaty or convention

October 15, 2015 4:31 pm
Reply to  tweckyspat

Fair comment! :)