Those new fangled Strike Brigades
Does anyone know what they will look like?
I ask because there seems to be a dearth of released information, this doesn’t, of course, mean the information is not there, it means it has not been published.
That hasn’t stopped the speculation and doom-mongers mind.
What is mildly concerning though is that this is the latest re-organisation in a long line of re-organisations, each of which is accompanied by a truckload of acronyms and management buzzwordery, but ultimately are replaced a few years later.
All through the FRES debacle, the concept of the Medium Weight Force has waxed and waned but the Strike brigade concept looks very much like it. In fact, as many concepts have been, it is based on the availability of vehicles.
The vehicles we have dictated organisational concepts rather than the other way around.
The 1998 Future Army Structure (FAS) saw the end of the Arms Plot, reorganisation into twelve larger Regiments and an overall reduction to infantry 36 Battalions, per Future Infantry Structure (FIS).
It was to be in place by 2008 and would comprise two armoured brigades, three mechanised, one light and one air assault.
2- 3 – 2
The Medium/Mechanised Brigades were planned to make use of the emerging FRES concept.
As Defence Strategic Guidance had informed the Future Land Operational Concept, this Future Land Operational Concept would be used to inform Future Army Structure (Next Steps), in early 2009.
The Future Land Operating Concept (FLOC) from 2008 described a slightly different future;
Major combat operations will be characterised by the deployment of ‘high-end’ military capability against a broadly matched, conventional adversary. The land component of such a force will probably be of at least divisional size, and operations will feature fire and manoeuvre at formation level.
This resulted in a proposal for a three-tier structure, heavy, medium and light.
Heavy; An all-arms heavy major combat operations capability needs to be retained to counter the re-emergence of state-centred conventional threats that base their offensive fighting power on mass and manoeuvre. Sufficient core expertise, firepower, protected mobility and mass should be maintained, albeit at levels of readiness agreed by Government, within readiness planning yardsticks, in the event of the unexpected and as seed corn for regeneration. In addition, these forces provide a substantial deterrent to would-be aggressors, as well as the explicit capacity for overmatch in relation to irregular opponents. Consequently, these forces need to be progressively modernised and proactive in responding to novel technologies that could enhance capabilities while remaining aware of significant antiarmour and anti-manoeuvre capabilities available in the commercial market.
Medium; Land forces will be required to achieve early effect across a range of complex, and frequently occurring, scenarios. This requirement will necessitate an increase in Land forces flexibility and the development of forces capable of rapid deployment, yet with integral firepower and levels of protection that are matched to the likely threat. These are described as ‘medium forces’ in this paper and they are characterised, in part, by their air deployability. Medium forces will need higher levels of mobility and protection than currently available to ‘light’ forces as well as greater deployability and agility than ‘heavy’ forces. The acquisition of an integrated suite of modern platforms, and the streamlining of some existing capabilities, will increase current Land forces capability to respond to crises. The Joint Medium Weight Capability (JtMWCap) concept highlights how this capability can be progressed; exploiting the capabilities of wider joint assets and scaled for rapid deployment, recovery and re-allocation. The Land core of JtMWCap must be capable of strategic movement by air and sustained ground manoeuvre, exploiting the advantages of firepower, mobility, increased levels of FP and access to wide area and specific ISTAR. Additional support from battlefield helicopters, joint fires, robust, networked Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) and optimised logistics should allow a reduced expeditionary overhead, and connectivity with allies. tMWCap Land forces should be designed primarily for rapid intervention potentially within urban terrain, with the adaptability to meet other Land priorities and be directly applicable to major combat operations.
Light; The speed of response of light forces will add flexibility to the national contingent capability. Better suited towards operations in complex terrain, as part of an all arms grouping, light force capability and mobility is continually developing. For strategic deployability, light forces will rely on the provision of theatre entry capabilities by land and sea, but light force elements will have to be trained, equipped and resourced appropriately if they are to be launched into volatile operations from high readiness. It will be increasingly challenging to provide the FP and protected mobility requirements for light forces in high intensity stabilisation tasks. Migrating SF capabilities and developing threats will necessitate a review of training, equipment and structures
The FLOC 2008 did recognise that it might not be possible to maintain a force capable of large-scale combat operations and smaller operations on an enduring basis. It made the assumption that enduring operations would be much more likely than major combat operations at a large scale.
FAS (Next Steps), therefore, came out of a recognition that the future would likely not be characterised by major combat operations but instead, operations characterised by enduring operations such as the then Iraq and Afghanistan would be much more likely.
The Army had to choose, and it chose enduring operations like Afghanistan and Iraq.
The resultant organisation was called the Multi Role Brigade.
It envisaged 8 identical Brigades and 3 deployable Divisional HQ’s, each larger than a conventional Brigade and broadly configured for enduring operations like Iraq or Afghanistan
Clearly, the underlying thread was to ensure sustainability for a long term operations with each Brigade deploying for 6 months every 3 years. From the existing brigade/divisional that defines the function of a Brigade as armoured, light role or mechanised the Multi Role Brigade would be homogenous.
The 2010 SDSR described the MRB’s thus;
We will restructure the Army around five multi-role brigades, keeping one brigade at high readiness available for an intervention operation and four in support to provide the ability to sustain an enduring stabilisation operation. Key to the utility of these multi-role brigades is their “building block” structure, allowing greater choice in the size and composition of the force that might be deployed, without having to draw on other elements from the rest of the Army as has been the case in recent times. With suitable warning time, the brigades could be combined to generate a larger formation.
The multi-role brigades will include Reconnaissance forces to gain information even in high-threat situations; Tanks, which continue to provide a unique combination of protection, mobility and firepower; and Infantry operating from a range of protected vehicles.
The brigades will be self-supporting, having their own artillery, engineer, communications, intelligence, logistics and medical support. Territorial Army personnel will be fully integrated into the new structures, in both specialist roles and reinforcing combat units.
In addition to the historic pattern of enduring operations the influencing factor in the MRB concept was that in those same operations a range of capabilities had been used, from heavy armour to light infantry including artillery, engineers and the other enabling functions. When these other capabilities had been used they had been pulled in from all over the Army, creating disruption and upsetting established rotation patterns.
So it was these factors that informed the creation of the Multi Role Brigade; sustainability within harmony guidelines, likely operations and reduction in disruption.
Each Multi Role Brigade (MRB) was planned to consist of 6,500 personnel and comprise a mixture of an armoured regiment, brigade reconnaissance regiment, armoured infantry battalion, mechanised infantry battalion, light role infantry battalion and a cast of supporting functions. The Combat Support functions such as artillery have also started the transformation process with RA Close Support Regiments, for example, likely to comprise both Light Gun and AS90.
In 2012, I wrote;
What I find hardest to understand in this is exactly how it is going to be achieved with 82,000 regular soldiers. The SDSR based 5 MRB’s on a total Army number of 95,500, not 82,000.
So when the Army was reduced to 82,000 Regular personnel, FAS(Next Steps) and the MRB was simply not viable.
The answer was Army 2020, informed by a new Future Land Operating Concept in 2012.
This video from 2011 made it clear MRB was not long for these shores
Recognise who that is!
FLOC 2012 provided the underpinning for Army 2020, where the prevailing view in 2008 on was that enduring stabilisation operations would be the norm as the Afghanistan deployment was moving toward the end, the Army saw a different future.
A future without the Army.
FLOC 2012 recognised the fundamental uncertainty of the future and proposed a framework for Army 2020. The manoeuvre approach was back and the future was back, in some measure, to the concepts and ideas that would be familiar to those of a BAOR vintage.
The Three Month Exercise concluded that an Army of 82,000 Regular and 30,000 Reservists would be the new baseline.
2010 National Security Strategy described a new Priority One Risk;
An international military crisis between states, drawing in the UK, and its allies as well as other states and non-state actors
The Army, therefore, tried to organise itself on the simple principle that it was not Mystic Meg.
Army 2020 was revealed in July 2012 and described the future of the structure of the British Army; two years after the Multi Role Brigades were described as the future.
Army 2020 was clear about its backdrop;
It can no longer be assumed that the Army will be permanently engaged on an enduring stabilisation operation.
A series of amalgamations and disbandment’s followed and the organisation changed, again, into two forces; a Reaction Force and an Adaptive Force, that were both to be supported by CS/CSS Force Troops.
The Reaction Force will provide the lead Armoured Infantry Battle Group and the lead Airborne or Air Assault Force to provide a rapid reaction war fighting/deterrent capability.
It will consist of three Armoured Infantry Brigades and 16 Air Assault Brigade under the command of a divisional headquarters. Each Armoured Infantry Brigade will have three manoeuvre units: a type 56 tank regiment and two armoured infantry battalions. They will also have a heavily protected mobility infantry battalion and an armoured cavalry regiment which will be able to task organise with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The Reaction Forces will also have 101 Logistic Brigade under their command for logistic support.
The Adaptable Force will be a pool of Regular and Reserve forces held at lower readiness. They will provide further capacity when required and be able to generate additional brigade-sized forces for enduring operations. However, more routinely these soldiers will carry out wider engagement overseas to help to build capacity in friendly nations’ armies, and fulfil the UK’s standing garrison tasks in Brunei, Cyprus and the Falkland Islands. In addition, these troops will be responsible for public duties and state ceremonial tasks.
Adaptable Forces will encompass seven Regular infantry brigades, paired with a Reserve unit, reporting to a divisional headquarters. How these paired forces will be deployed will depend on the operational requirement, but the Reserves could make up as much as 30 percent of a deployed unit in an enduring operation, whereas simple operations could have the Reserves deployed as a complete battalion.
Like the Reaction Force, the Adaptable Force will have its own logistic support provided by 102 Logistic Brigade, which will be predominantly made up of Reserve troops.
Force Troops will support both of these forces. They will consist of an Artillery brigade with supplementary Fire Support Teams, and an Engineer Brigade that will integrate the Explosive Ordinance Disposal squadron in response to the improvised explosive device threat of the modern battlefield. It will also include the Medical Brigade, and 104 Logistic Support Brigade, which might take on the Joint Force Logistic Support role.
In addition, there will be two Signals brigades, one of which will include five multi-role signals regiments providing Information Communication Support, together with a newly created non-deployable Surveillance Brigade under a 1-star headquarters. Furthermore, there will be a newly created Security Assistance Group pulling together the soft effect capabilities of the Military Stabilisation Support Group, 15 Psychological Operations Group and potentially Media Operations Group.
At the time, Ukraine, Crimea and ISIS were not on the political map so the Army found a new interest in ‘homeland resilience and security’
Army 2020 saw a proliferation of sub-unit types that were based entirely upon what vehicles could be found, post-Afghanistan.
Armoured Infantry Battalion and Armoured Regiments were joined by Armoured Cavalry Regiments, Heavy Protected Mobility Battalions, Light Cavalry Regiments and Protected Mobility Battalions.
Army 2020 was always work in progress and over the next couple of years the structure established itself, the goal was still the same, maintain mass in the areas that are the hardest to generate if they go i.e. combined arms manoeuvre at divisional scale, whilst trying to stave off conflict with ‘upstream engagement’ that as a by-product, would provide the rotational mass for any future enduring stability operation.
This provided an ability to generate force by picking and choosing to suit the operation, without the constraints of the homogenous Multi Role Brigade.
In June and September 2014 the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office released reports on progress towards Army 2020, neither made pleasant reading.
Both drew into sharp focus that the Army had no Plan B, should Plan A (for Army Reserve) fail.
Army 2020 was still a sound concept, derived from a great deal of analysis, but the widely published difficulty of increasing the Army Reserve strength was causing a great deal of concern, the concept would be held at risk if the Army Reserve recruitment and sustainment drive foundered.
French operation in Mali showed the value of a deployable force that could operate across large areas, after it’s problems with FRES UV, the British Army green eyed monster was out.
At the same time as the well-publicised Army reserve problems, Russia decided to upset the global apple cart with its shenanigans in Ukraine.
With the two in perfect harmony, and with Mali and US Stryker Brigade deployment exercises in Europe as a convenient backdrop, SDSR described a new Army organisation;
4.40 We will be able to deploy a larger force more quickly. By 2025, this highly capable expeditionary force of around 50,000 (compared with around 30,000 planned in Future Force 2020) will include:
A maritime task group centred on a Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier with F35 Lightning combat aircraft.
A land division with three brigades including a new Strike Force.
An air group of combat, transport and surveillance aircraft.
A Special Forces task group
So, a Land Division with three Brigades including a new Strike Force is the new future.
A war-fighting division optimised for high-intensity combat operations. The division will draw on two armoured infantry brigades and two new Strike Brigades to deliver a deployed division of three brigades. We will establish these two Strike Brigades to be able to deploy rapidly over long distances using the new Ajax armoured vehicles and new mechanised infantry vehicles. They will double the number of brigades ready for operations. With these and 16 Air Assault Brigade’s very high readiness forces, we will improve our ability to respond to all likely threats.
A number of infantry battalions reconfigured to provide an increased contribution to countering terrorism and building stability overseas. They will conduct defence engagement and capacity building, providing training, assistance, advice and mentoring to our partners
Defence engagement and capacity building sounds very much like the lightest possible organisation i.e. without vehicles, is that being cynical?
But what of the Strike Brigades?
The Strike Brigade goes all the way back to FLOC 2008 and the Joint Medium Weight Capability, the father of FRES.
Funnily enough, it is widely believed that the Strike Brigade will have the yet to be obtained Mechanised Infantry Vehicle at its core and leavened with Ajax vehicles, mixing tracks and wheels to produce a medium-weight force.
Force generation, readiness and equipment challenges remain somewhat of a challenge, there are many moving chess pieces on the table and Ajax, at 30 plus tonnes is not going to be deploying anywhere quickly.
We can all start speculating about where these Strike Brigades will be drawn, what they will be equipped with and how we are all doomed, but it is clear that the clock has been wound back and we intend, after many bites of the cherry, to get a FRESalike Medium Weight force.
The Army will change as it has done numerous times and who knows if Joint Force 2020 will be replaced by something else in the 2020 SDSR.
The original FRES idea was for a bulging medium weight force buttressed by a smaller and heavier force. We are not quite there with this announcement, the heavy (armoured) and strike (medium mechanised) would seem to be in harmony, and given that we can’t afford the vehicles, the lightweight force will be larger than the others combined.
However, Army 2020 was a smart concept resulting from a great deal of serious thinking, recognition of uncertainty and the difficulty of force generation problems. There ws risk, and it may not be funded, but as a conceptual starting point, more than sound.
Link this with some of the work on medium weight concepts and a 2 Heavy, 2 Medium and 4 Light Brigade construct starts sounding like a very good proposition, yes, I said 4 Light brigades.
FAS was to take 10 years, starting in 1998. It lasted about that long before it was replaced with FAS (Next Steps)
FAS (Next Steps) and SDSR 2010 introduced the Multi Role Brigade that lasted until 2012, when it was replaced with Army 2020.
Army 2020 was to take eight years but only lasted until SDSR 2015 described Joint Force 2025 and a ten-year journey to the new Strike Brigades.
Stop the bus, I want to get off!
Who would have thought that it was Russia that provided the impetus for Future FRES, or FFRES as I like to call it :)
To be continued.