How to Fix UK Land Power

I have recently looked at both the brigades of the U.S. Army and the German Heer on my blog. It's an interesting thought experiment to do the same to about the army of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

This is a guest post from long time defence blogger Sven, from Defense and Freedom, a German milblog.

Sven describes his blog as;

This blog is about the defence against external threats and about the defence of civil liberties. Most topics are about the art of war, military history or military technology

It is always good to get an outside perspective on things.

So on to the subject, fixing UK Land Power…

The security situation in Europe has changed from the rather pleasant state at the turn of the millennium.

At first, the warning shot of the South Ossetia War left little impression on most who bothered to pay attention to military affairs in Europe. Few dared to be derided as Cold War dinosaurs and began to point at collective deterrence and defence as the raison d’être of NATO, calling for attention on deterring Russia for the sake of the vulnerable Baltic members of NATO. At least NATO finally and belatedly began to plan for their defence in 2010.

Yet the official stance was still that Russia was a partner, not a great power to be deterred.

This bubble of illusion did burst with the Ukrainian Civil War – a war that was waged between pro-Western and pro-Russian elements in the political arena, albeit the actual forces siding with Russia were Russia’s own army operating without proper national insignia, adventurers from outside the Ukraine and relatively few actual ethnic Russians from Ukraine.

Whatever the political and military events looked and look like in Ukraine – that war seemed to have convinced a majority of those who paid attention in NATO that Russia is more of an aggressor – a threat – than a “partner for peace”.

Meanwhile, all those great power games on distant continents ended in a mess – one after another.

  • Iraq is still a mess,
  • Afghanistan is a mess’
  • Yemen is a mess,
  • Somalia has made a mess its natural state of existence,
  • Pakistan may turn into a mess with nukes any day.

None of the great power gaming with military forces has achieved much more than body counts. Additional oil has been poured into the fire. The belief in military force as capable of solving problems on distant continents was mostly shattered in the West. It wasn’t quite a majority opinion in Europe anyway. Most of those politicians who get to play great power games – with the world as their sandbox and the armed forces as their plastic toy soldiers – have lost this naive faith as well.

Many of those who pay attention to military affairs at all are somewhat surprised by the new threat Russia, and in their primitiveness many of them conclude that we need to spend additional resources to meet such a threat.

I have yet to see anyone who publicly does the rational thing: Look at the real threat situation, look at the budget sizes (less pensions), look at what efficiency of military spending can be achieved and then determine the required level of spending.

Instead, the easiest route is being preferred. Let’s throw some more resources at the problem, this is how to solve problems, right?

Didn’t this serve us well in the great power games before?

I have recently looked at both the brigades of the U.S. Army and the German Heer on my blog, trying to determine what minimum changes should be done to make them fit for collective deterrence and defence against the only somewhat realistic threat, Russia. I mustered the self-discipline and moderated the ambition, trying to point at but a very few pivotal points instead of creating some fantasy army from a blank sheet of paper.

It’s an interesting thought experiment to do the same to about the army of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Said army is still recovering from being used as a pool of ‘toy soldiers’ for great power games in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s also withdrawing from its WW2 legacy bases in Germany. Its equipment for conventional warfare such as main battle tanks or air defences suffers from very small production runs and inventories, and the wisdom of additional national design solutions is highly questionable. Development and procurement of equipment in the past decades hasn’t exactly gained the bureaucracy a reputation for outstanding competence. Its post-Cold War track record in developing combat platforms for the army has been as dismal as in the United States.

British Aerospace has become a binational corporation (US/UK), and the English people stand out in Europe as feeling much more close to North America than continental Europe does, and attitude that can at the very least be traced back to the Thatcher era. Both these factors almost predetermine that the British Army’s equipment will become ever more similar to the U.S Army’s. In my opinion any advice or proposal to choose another path is bound to be unrealistic.

Likewise, it’s unrealistic to expect the UK to feel as a land power first and foremost anytime soon. Ever since the 16th century the English in particular have looked to the seas first, with land power being an afterthought during peacetime at least. An all-out orientation of their army at NATO’s Eastern frontier as can be asked of the Germans is thus unrealistic.

What conclusions could be drawn for adjustments to the British land forces (including the Royal Marines) then?

The land forces can sensibly be expected to have several tasks:

  1. to provide a contribution to NATO’s Eastern deterrence and defence
  2. to provide a contribution to NATO’s Northern deterrence and defence
  3. to protect the UK territory at least against feeble invasion attempts
  4. to provide a pool of great power game toy soldiers*
[box type=”note” bg=”#” color=”#” border=”#” radius=”0″ fontsize=”15″]TD NOTE; Have discussed this last point point with Sven and for the avoidance of doubt, he has used this term in the context of his opinion that contemporary politicians see the Army as plastic toy soldiers on a board as part of their ‘power games’. No slight or insult is intended so please do not climb aboard the outrage bus.[/box]

I do not claim to fully understand or even like British army traditions, regimental system et cetera. A main battle tank battalion that gets called “Hussars” is an insult to my military history sense, for example.

Still, I do feel that there are sensible paths for change that do not require substantial extra budgeting or unrealistic changes of national attitudes. So much I dare to pretend to know and understand.

Concerning the four principal missions:


A combination of Royal Marines, “Para” and “Commando” forces could meet the Norway defence requirements. Norway is too large and its geography too complex for a complete defence, but the persistence of forces even in face of an invading force could neutralise Norway as a base for opposing forces’ air and sea power. This in turn would keep the UK far from any opposing forces’ base and thus safe. It is reasonable to expect the Americans or preferably Canadians to do the same regarding Iceland.

The equipment of forces meant in part for employment in Norway needs to be air-deployable, suitable for very cold weather, suitable for mountainous terrain and efficient in supply demands (both mass and volume).

Royal Navy sea King HC4 Jungly helicopter in Norway

Effective, denying attacks on airbases and harbours needs to be possible with some pieces of this equipment even in face of strong security efforts on the opposing forces. Obviously, this goes well beyond what 81 mm mortars can do.

The organisation of these forces will likely remain a hodgepodge of one-of-its-kind units with traditional designations. Any effort at organisation standardisation would likely be a wasted effort. The organisation should meet two requirements, though: It should both allow for guerilla-like persisting operation of highly elusive small units and units that keep threatening bases AND concerted synchronised assaults to defeat invading forces when this seems to be possible.

This way a mere share of the UK’s land power could in concert with Norwegian forces provide the deterrence required to make Norway a most undesirable target for invasion, and thus safe. This is in the long term and grand scheme of things the price to be paid for being -and staying- at a safe distance from the net potential aggressor.


Forces for employment in Eastern Europe would first and foremost need to be able to deploy there in time. There’s still no road connection, and the Eurotunnel appears to be a fairly easy target for disruption efforts. A deployment by rail from the UK into Poland is thus too unreliable an approach to be trusted. Any deployment by sea on the other hand would only reach to Hamburg. Hamburg is the closest to Poland and the Baltics among all reasonably safe harbours. A road march of hundreds of kilometres after disembarkment would thus be inevitable unless at least the equipment was prepositioned. There’s little reason to expect much forward positioning of equipment or even complete brigades given the political situation (especially fiscal policy) and attitudes. Air transport assets would be overburdened by the Royal Air Force’s needs (in support of Typhoons) and the deployment of forces into Norway. To add much additional airlift capacity is unrealistic considering the high prices of Western military transport aircraft.

I do not wish to insult the UK’s land forces, but to me they seem to be limited to a slow deployment reinforcements role regarding NATO’s Eastern security. A battalion or so may be in the region as symbolic tripwire force as part of some rotation scheme, but the bulk of land power would arrive so late that they would have no say in whether the Russians overrun and occupy the Baltics or not.

The consequence of this is simply that the land power would need to be suitable for liberation of the Baltics, a capability which may add to the alliance’s deterrence. This also means that these forces would be pointless and thus their budgets wasted if Russia’s leaders were convinced that such a liberation could be deterred with the threat of tactical nuclear strikes or if NATO allies such as Poland and Germany convince the same Russian leaders that Lithuania would not be overrun in the first place, and Estonia/Latvia only be overrun at the price or losing the Kaliningrad Oblast.

Still, what should such forces look like?

Air defence needs to be more serious, which CAMM may provide – but MICA VL is available military off the shelf already and ESSM Block II may spawn a land-based system before CAMM becomes available. Anti-tank defences should be bolstered as well, and this goes beyond the question mark about Challenger 2’s 120 mm munitions.

Javelin has been understood by the Russians since 1989. They are almost guaranteed to have worked out a counter to Javelin, and thus also to EuroSpike. This may be a warning sensor and a liberal employment of multispectral smoke if nothing else. My proposal is thus the same as for the German and American land forces; add redundancy and thus reliability by adding an anti-tank munition with very few if any systemic (shared) risks: A Mach 6 missile with a kinetic energy penetrator similar to the long rod of APFSDS fired from 120 mm tank guns. Multiple American projects appear to be the closest to introduction into service; LOSAT, CKEM and HATM. They share a weakness at short ranges since the missile first needs to accelerate, but this happens within the effective range of NLAW and at those ranges where Javelin cannot exploit its top attack mode yet.

45 Commando operate NLAW (Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon) at Castle Martin Ranges, South West Wales. Picture: LA (Phot) Pepe Hogan Royal Marines from 45 Commando, RM Condor, training with NLAW (Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon) and Jackal vehicles. The training was taking place at Castle Martin Ranges, South West Wales. 45 Commando assumed the role of Lead Commando Unit on 1st May 2015, which means that they are the UK’s response to any military or humanitarian crisis, maintained at high-readiness to deploy anywhere in the world. Members of the Unit are currently embarked on HMS Bulwark involved in the migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

British artillery shares about the same problems as the American artillery; its self-propelled gun is an old style 155 mm L/39 ordnance, not L/45 of the 80’s or L/52 of the 90’s. Really long ranges can only be achieved with exotic (gliding) rounds that aren’t in the inventory. The AS 90 either needs to be upgraded, or artillery needs to focus on multiple rocket launchers or alternative 155 mm L/52 systems need to be introduced. A substantial range disadvantage compared to 2S19, 2S35 and possibly even the old 2S5 should not be tolerated.

MLRS should be reverted from a GMLRS-only role; the system lends itself well to large thermobaric munitions which would be uniquely suitable for destruction of identified and occupied positions, akin to TOS-1A.

Organisation-wise, I think terrain and mission would favour a mechanised brigade format, essentially well-rounded little divisions with organic air defence, anti-tank unit, tank, armoured infantry, artillery, infantry, engineer and logistics components. This could yield up to three battalion battlegroups, either identical or with different weighting of infantry and armour.

Rocket artillery on the other hand should stay out of the manoeuvre brigades; unguided rocket munitions are terribly bulky and thus poorly suited for mobile warfare while guided rocket munitions can support from far ‘behind’.


The Army Reserve (territorial forces) faces the challenge of being relevant for deterrence while spending as little as possible. A great dependence on reservist and possibly part-time personnel is thus the way to go, and let’s be frank: The most sensible course of action would be to hand them mostly second hand equipment that’s been succeeded in the deployable army already. The move from a militia-like territorial force towards a pool for additional, cheaper, soldiers was ill-advised.

By now it’s obvious that this yields no benefit whatsoever.

Deployment on the continent in the event of collective defence in Europe would hardly be a benefit, for it would expose the UK to event he flimsiest airborne invasions if the Typhoons fail (or are absent). The Army Reserve would furthermore arrive even later than the regular army, and would no doubt be rated much lower in quality by Russian army planners. To change this would turn the Army Reserve into regular army forces, with the resulting fiscal disadvantage.

The Army Reserve should in equipment and organisation be focused on defeating the VDV and on disaster relief in my opinion.


Finally, the pool for those ‘board game toy soldiers’ should probably follow the Légion étrangère format, exploiting recruiting in Commonwealth countries and especially among Gurkhas. The equipment could be dominated by armoured air-deployable cars, while the Commando/Para ‘Norway reinforcements’ could add the infantry strength needed in places like Belize.

– – – – –

I paid much attention to laying out the reasoning, as well as why, where and how the path dependency should be broken to increase the fitness of British land power for missions that really matter. The exact choice of equipment types and formation designs is not so much of importance as is clarity about what land power is good for now, in the near future, and why.

Only this utility may justify the fiscal expenses as well as the spending of time, sweat and often even health by British soldiers.



“began to plan for their defence in 2010” :







“withdrawing from its WW2 legacy bases in Germany”:


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July 21, 2016 8:06 pm


Several sensible areas of discussion raised and many areas I agree with. I have long been an advocate for a total removal of tanks from the UK inventory in favour of more apaches and for the UK to become a full on expeditionary force.

Whilst I accept that tanks have a role – I think the geography of the UK does not suit them and that the European mainland forces should have the tank inventory. So a move to a larger, more potent air force is sensible.

I also agree that our land forces should take on an expeditionary feel and be air transportable on the whole. As for reservists I agree that we should recycle gear, but actually I remember the UK sending new equipment to Africa for the ebola outbreak at a time when the military itself is not getting new equipment is ridiculous (aid budget should buy ex military equipment to allow recycling and refresh).

The UK post Brexit should concentrate on expeditionary forces and in essence become Europes USMC. It has similar budget and should aim for the same size. The USMC has serious capability but is not full spectrum and Britain probably needs to accept some limitations.

Re-inforcing mainland Europe seems sensible as several countries (most notably Germany itself) have not paid enough into Nato but expect protection.

July 21, 2016 8:40 pm

When a country mobilizes for war, the number of men it can get into uniform and under arms is an incredible amount that numbers in the millions. When the gloves come off, you will not have the luxury of a “disaster relief” army and a regular army. Everyone will end up as “regulars”, even if it is just for the simple effort to match the “enemy” man for man.

For example, the US Armed forces have a standing manpower of ~1.3(?) million. A number that even the UK with a much smaller land mass can match with 10% conscription.

If you throw a “standing army” at an opponent mobilized for war, it will be severely outnumbered. Fine if you are against 3rd world countries but a developing or peer enemy is going to make your life hell.

PAC, airpower has its own problems too, like massive fuel usage, limited numbers, inability to hold ground, limited munitions, limited intel (best intel gatherer is still a man with a pair of binos), inability to take losses etc. I do get the strategic concept behind an airforce heavy armed forces, hell, we do the same thing, but there are some things that simply need boots on the ground and hard steel in front of you.

July 21, 2016 9:45 pm

The Americans moan that the Europeans do not do enough to defend themselves. Frankly, why should Britain send (token) forces to Eastern Europe, when any serious use of force by Putin, would wipe them out?
Western Europe (including Britain) has plenty of decent kit, standing idle due to budget cuts. Better to give/donate that kit to NATO members in Eastern Europe, so they can defend themselves.
Britain developed the tank in WW1, did little between the wars & got caught out at the start of WW2. We had good cold war tanks (Centurion, Chieftain, Challenger), but have been negligent since. Helicopter gunships are great, but if you want to hold ground, when the helicopters have gone off to refuel, you still need a tank.
Ajax with a 120mm gun, is probably the nearest we could get to a new British MBT. Hopefully lighter & more deployable than a C2.
Frankly, post Brexit, we need to reconnect with those abandoned industrial sections of Britain & get those factories working again.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
July 21, 2016 10:59 pm

A lot of common sense ideas discussed in the blog post. Without wishing to bore everyone by repeating things I have said in previous posts and accepting most of what has already been said, I would like to see our purchasing GMRLS alternative warhead rounds, GMRLS-SDB-I (some also with the alternative warhead), GMRLS-SMART and to fund GMLRS thermobaric, the P44 precision attack missile and the new LM 500km follow on to ATACMS. I think the 155mm SMART round is pretty much a no brainer – fitted with the PGK fuses that the RA are getting along with Excalibur or similar. I would like to see us standing up one regular and two Army Reserve regiments with HIMARS -at around £6M a pop they are the bargain of the century. Countermobility should also be reinstated with the Shielder/Volcano system, also in helo delivered form (failing that another helo delivered AT-mine system), together with MLRS AT-2. Buy huge numbers of commercial satphones and GPS integrated bilonculars and train up Baltic Republic Reservists as stay behinds to target our artillery.

Russia attacking through Norway or down its coast simply isn’t going to happen for a host of reasons. the Norwegians, with help from the USN USAF, USMC and our existing forces should be able to easily stop them and their own Home Guard would provide rear area defence.

A lot would depend around what the Russians did in terms of conventional stand off weapon attacks. At the moment, if they chose to go after our power grid control centre, air traffic control, the London stock exchange etc. there would be essentially nothing we could do about it. Would the British public really want to give up electricity, food, water and Pokemon Go to save three small, sparsely populated countries most of them probably couldn’t place on a map?

Oleg Yaroshevych
Oleg Yaroshevych
July 22, 2016 12:05 am

“Ukrainian Civil War”? It’s like saying that Winter War was a civil war.

July 22, 2016 5:04 am

Chris, depends on how much fear and outrage the Germans, oops, Russians provoke. People still bring up Chamberlain these days and not in a positive sense! :)

I suspect people will, because they see it as a repeat of history, that if they don’t fight “them” there, sooner or later they’ll fight them on the shores of England. To put it in a nasty way, better a fight in someone else’s home than your own.

Besides, taking a shot at someone’s stock exchange, power plant, utilities etc is already an act of war so I can’t see how you can avoid war when someone is already pounding the hell out of your infrastructure unless it was a cyber attack.

July 22, 2016 8:06 am

Yet again I think there is a justification for the reestablishment of the NATO Allied Command Mobile Force, both the land and air component. The AMF(L) immediate reaction force land component comprised of approx. 5,000 troops from 14 NATO countries. (funnily enough, the same number as the VJTF) They trained together three or four times a year and regularly deployed to the flanks of NATO. (Norway, Denmark, Turkey and in the later years with the intention of exercising in Ukraine)

The AMF(L) embodied the concept of rapid deployment and flexible multinational forces and did it very well for just over 40 years.

July 22, 2016 8:07 am

To clarify, I do not want to abandon East European NATO states, but perhaps their best defence against Putin, is if we give them ex Dutch/German Leopard 2, with local air defence from our surplus Starstreak/Stormer.

Peter Elliott
July 22, 2016 9:10 am

One of the lessons of Ukraine seems to be that Artillery is still king if the battlefield. So, alongside MIV, a series of sensible incremental purchases to improve the adaptability, range and lethality of our Arty seems like a wise plan.

Don’t think we should get rid of our Tanks just yet. But I agree that, short of basing a NATO Corps in Poland, UK armour looks not hugely relevant to Baltic deterrence. I don’t really see a forward based NATO Corps as either cost effective or a proportionate piece of deterrence. So the question of how our heavy forces can contribute is a valid one. Almost certainly not from Salisbury Plain.

But have we actually pulled the last brigade out of Germany yet? It will be very interesting when they do go to see which direction they take: west or east….? Or stay where they are with an augmented fleet of Tank Tansporters and other logistics to facilitate rapid road mobility? Tank Transporters must be a lot cheaper to have available in numbers than either planes or ships. Could be a very efficient piece of investment.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
July 22, 2016 10:11 am

I don’t think we have any “surplus” Starstreak Stormer. Loads were either converted to troop scout vehicles or went to Withams to be sold off about a decade ago. The fleet was cut from 156 to about 32 by these means IIRC.

July 22, 2016 11:22 am

CW. The Starstreak/Stormer was just an example. My idea is that Western members of NATO, check on their surplus stocks of still credible equipment & donate it to the Eastern members of NATO.

Peter Elliott
July 22, 2016 11:45 am

Good idea in principle but there is still the ticklish question of who pays?

Donated equipment isn’t actully free. There may be capital value to be written off, there will certainly need to be refurbishment and upgrades, and whoever receives it needs the budget to train and operate it at a credible level of readiness.

None of the problems is insuperable but unless you have both a willing buyer and a willing seller it won’t actually be a quick win.

stephen duckworth
July 22, 2016 12:35 pm

Very good article , a practicle what could be rather than fantasy forces. Long established organization’s are very difficult to change wholesale without a strong backlash from those affected and at considerable risk of f**king up those essential details that make organizations perform their task.
On the subject of the western powers donating older kit to our eastern allies , a good short term measure with the kit deployed with the units that operate and maintain them who over a year or so convert/train the new owners troops. Longer term this pool of ex – Warsaw Pact Nations need to be financed by the Western Nations to purchase their own and a surplus of the latest kit preferably European in origin. Then in time of an escalation western power troops could deploy by air to ‘sister’ units in the east ,who they regularly train with bilaterally , who use identical kit. The western power kit can then roll up by train/transporter weeks later ( months more likely).
This ‘surplus’ kit could be the forward deployed element but be regularly used and maintained by local forces and their visiting ‘sister’ units. Training to operate , fight and maintain the kit in local conditions would be an essential up skilling of western troops as the BAOR did. Your average Portuguese APC crews and sections might find a Polish winter a BIG eye opener for instance.
On keeping MBT’s in the British Army even if they may arrive late and are vulnerable to saboteurs during the long transport phase through Europe if a rapid breakthrough happens offloading and deploying them early (and the rest of the supporting division(s) ) is still useful as a checking/counterstrike force. My self I think such heavy and difficult to transport units ,inc the Ajax family , should be mostly toward deployed in a host Nation as we did with BAOR .Way back when somebody realised a new BEF launching from British bases may not get the kind of notice to build up as in WW1&2 . Guderian put paid to that idea a long time ago. Are our Eastern allies any less important than West Germany?

Corin Vestey
Corin Vestey
July 22, 2016 12:50 pm

I agree with a lot of the article. What about drones and EW though? The Ukraine-Russo war seems to imply an extensive need to locate the enemy using spoof-proof drones and jam his own to prevent sudden death by Russian steel rain. Do we have multiple layers of drone overwatch/recce plus embedded EW troops in our major units…

Peter Elliott
July 22, 2016 12:59 pm

Agree on drones and ISTAR generally. On the face of it we seem to have this well covered with Sentinel, Protector and Watchkeeper. But are we missing something more disposable and organic to unit and sub unit level…? As well perhaps as mast equipped vehicles to look over walls and tree cover: could be a fairly cheap quick win.

EW and jamming looks more essential than ever. It will however necessarily be kept very very secret. Fingers crossed someone somewhere is UK Land Forces is doing it.

Peter Elliott
July 22, 2016 1:07 pm

SD if we are serious about selling new army equipement to our Eastern Allies, even if we take a leaf out of the French book by financing it with soft loans, then we surely have to show the example of buying signicant numbers of MIV in a full range of variants.

When our exercising forces start rolling round the training areas of Poland and Romania in significant numbers of impressive new vehicles we will be in a much better position to encourage our allies to do likewise.

July 22, 2016 2:38 pm

Agreed, “war in the Ukraine” would have been much better. I didn’t mean to imply that the Russian army wasn’t involved. That mess is a war of secession with the neighbour that’s intent on annexing using but a few locals as proxies to generate some (implausible) deniability for its aggression with regular army forces.

July 22, 2016 3:17 pm

JH, you can give equipment, but “can they afford to maintain it” is a very big question. The eastern European countries tend to use cheap Russian evolved equipment, changing to a more expensive western standard might be more than they can afford. Think this happened in Afghanistan when they “got” US helicopters but after a period of time, could not afford to maintain them. So tossing them very high end tanks isn’t going to work unless you toss them a very high end budget and supply chain as well.

I’m not against keeping MBTs in the UK, At least this way, they are in a secured area and viable as a 2nd strike/counterstrike force. Keeping them too close to the border runs the risk of a sudden attack taking them out of the picture entirely.

July 22, 2016 4:37 pm

to provide a contribution to NATO’s Northern deterrence and defence

This is a credible scenario post Brexit, and one that I think we should focus on. Whilst the lessons of the Ukraine must be learned it doesn’t tell us anything about airpower, though something about the denial thereof. CAMM-ER is the key here though this already appears to be planned for.

The UK must avoid being dragged into such conflicts hence must be able to demonstrate sufficient deterrence and capability as to nulify any perceived advantages in armour or artillery. Artillery may be the king of the battlefield but naval artillery trumps it. Hence I’d be looking for manouvre from the sea with powerful installation strike and denial abilities. There’s a good opportunity to design the Type 31s with an AGS or AGS-lite for proper NGFS.

Personally I’d bin much of the huge array of odd vehicles the MoD has collected, giving them to the Eastern European nations as foreign aid would be the best use for them, particularly the Warrior / Ajax and maybe update the CR2 in small numbers. Leave the lighter vehicles and focus entirely on mobility and deployability. Lots of, possibly hybrid electric, motorbikes for the infantry such that infrastructure isn’t such a bottleneck. Not looking for pitched battles, more manouvre, bring indirect fires to bear and bug out. Standardise equipment on ISO containers with an amphibious vehicle capable of getting them ashore, build a heavy lift helicopter capable of lifting a fully loaded one.

I certainly wouldn’t be looking for a force designed to go deep inland or indeed help out all that much in Eastern Europe, we don’t have the logistical capability to sustain a large force. About time the Euro nations looked after their own defence on the continent.

The reserves would be turned into a sort of global constabulary / peacekeeping / nation building / disaster relief force. Use our foreign aid budget to fund it. In serious wartime they would become an addition to the rear areas logistics and security.

Oleg Yaroshevych
Oleg Yaroshevych
July 22, 2016 4:43 pm

Good point about artillery. What about cheaper wheeled options, like French CAESAR or Polish Kryl?

Another thought about Army Reserve is that it could not just prevent VDV/Spetsnaz operations, but also can be used against asymmetrical treats in areas like Northern Ireland / Scotland / Gibraltar. This is what we’ve learnt in Ukraine: Dnipro region was one of major targets for russian aggression, just on the border of the Donetsk region. What they did is they’ve (intentionally falsely) declared that they’ve deployed thousand troops in the Dnipro Battalion and other militia units, which had helped to prevent the invasion.

July 22, 2016 4:48 pm


Hohum, can you explain to a layman like me where Sven is mistaken and perhaps give some of your recommendations for how the UK should rebalance our land forces.

July 22, 2016 5:01 pm

I can’t help but feel that wheeled 155mm artillery is sort of a neither here nor there solution. It’s not as mobile as a SPG and does not have the capacity of towed artillery. I mean, since the base vehicle itself is wheeled, how different in capability is it from a towed 155/52 (~40km range) piece?

If you want organic fire support, my recommendation is probably for a LSV or Humvee mounted 120mm mortar (8 km range) detachment in place of a company’s mortar platoon. You get more ammo than you can manpacked, it’s an intrinsic part of the company so call for fire is faster and it can be underslung on Ch-47s so your heliborne infantry company can have their own “baby artillery” fly in with them. I think your 105mm Light Guns serve the same role though so it’s personal preference which one you prefer.

July 22, 2016 6:24 pm

Towed SPGs (though not really discussed in the article) have an advantage in evacuating the firing position and are typically cleared for higher speeds than towed arty (often only 60 kph).

Towed arty needs 1-2 minutes to leave a position, wheeled SPGs rather about 20-30 seconds.

Oleg Yaroshevych
Oleg Yaroshevych
July 22, 2016 6:27 pm

I may be wrong, but my the point in wheeled 155mm artillery is the cost of purchase and ownership. Mobility can be good enough for European theatre.

July 22, 2016 6:41 pm

Mobility seems more than shielding, an effective way to prevent possible fire from Russian counter-batteries. Another advantage of Caesar 8×8 in a context of high intensity, where the rate of fire is very high, the fully automatic loading of the shells prevents fatigue of the gunners. So a Caesar 8×8 has advantages on the self-propelled gun. In addition it is cheap. But each has its own point of view of course.

Peter Elliott
July 22, 2016 6:44 pm

The mobility constraint of 155mm Arty is not just the piece: it is the logistic supply of ammunition which is very bulky and heavy.

This is the reason why the British light forces have so far retained 105mm Light Guns.

July 22, 2016 7:06 pm

I doubt that. 105 mm can more easily be moved by helicopter, that’s the reason.

155 mm DPICM was more efficient in terms of ammo mass and volume than any 105 mm shells, 105 mm has only become relatively efficient with the Cluster Munitions Ban.
But the only interesting thing about 105 mm in the context of this article is that it doesn’t really convince me as a base denial standoff weapon for Norway. Hundreds of individual guided missiles that could be launched from a vertically erected storage/transport/launch canister similar to what the Americans planned for EFOGM would be much more survivable than the very few 105 mm guns.

The Japanese have Type 96, the Serbians ALAS-A and -B, the PR Chinese CM-501G and the Brazilians have FOG-MPM military off-the-shelf on offer, close to zero development costs required. These missiles could be used for coastal defence and later on for base denial IF you trust fibre optic guidance over 10+ km.

Alternatively, there are 122 mm single barrel rocket launchers on tripod for “guerilla” (harassing fires) use, no doubt usable with 122 mm guided rockets. This concept can be adopted for about any rocket calibre, for example the P44 missile which would be mule-portable and could easily be hidden and transported even in wintertime.

This ability to persist as a base denial force in the Norwegian landscape is the only one I’m missing for Norway defence. One doesn’t need to defend Norway if one deters the only semirealistic aggressor that he couldn’t make use of Norway as a base for further military operations. That’s my deterrence concept for Norway, and the relatively all round cold weather/mountain/amphibious/para troops approaches are simply not tailored enough to reach the highest possible efficiency for this deterrence purpose.

On the other hand, Norway could play less with expensive air force assets and questionable navy surface units and could get its mainland deterrence & defence done on its own with more emphasis on land forces, without extra spending.
The only area that Norway cannot possibly defend itself is Spitzbergen.

July 22, 2016 10:20 pm

Potentially classic German parochialism, arrogance and insulting language. Though conceivably a product of ignorance.
‘Great Power’ games they may seem, but that is indeed parochial in the extreme.

Speaking of which, granted the UK has its innumerable flaws, but its perspective is valid for it’s location. Ignorance of that does not help any critic or advice.

That said, some interesting ideas and a different perspective.
Cannot agree about CAMM, and frankly unless MICA-VL is having the money spent on it to convert it to ‘soft launch’ and sensor agnosticism in it’s ‘system’ then it is not ideal at all.

Can agree over the move to short range hypersonic anti-armour missiles.

Really cannot see the logic in creation of a BAOV (as opposed to a BAOR), this is really more a matter for Germany, Poland, Sweden and Finland, than the UK. Who should concentrate on keeping Russia from making trouble at your west.

Norway is no pushover, and even the current balance of UK forces is good enough to support Norwegian efforts. Effectively a Russian move against Norway would provoke Swedish, Danish and Finnish reactions.

Idea of a invasion of the UK is only relevant in the concept of harassment. In this SPECFOR is the threat.Anything more serious is highly dangerous as it invites the perspective of an existential threat….

Notable is the complete absence of the sea mine in these matters. How very much a landlubber. Force cannot reach the UK save by on, under or in the air above the sea. To fight the enemy on British soil is a sign of the complete failure of RN, RAF, and intelligence services.

Absence of EW is deeply concerning, this is an area Russia has not stopped working on the results are there for all to see. It is the chief failing of the UK and US to have allowed landbased EW to atrophy so.

July 23, 2016 1:31 am

SO, good point, I overlooked the setup time. Still skeptical but less so. IIRC the CESAR and the other pieces only carry about 18 rounds on board, an “urgent” fire mission uses up 4 rounds in 20 seconds (I know, it’s 3 in 20 but don’t forget the ranging round), so it’s 4 fire missions and they’re dry.

PE is actually right in that the 105mm’s logistics support is a lot better than the 155mm’s *per shell*! and that is an important point. While one ton of 155mm weighs the same as one ton of 105mm, you get more shots per ton though with less effectiveness per shell (which itself is a questionable metric since a round of any size coming down on an area effectively suppresses anyone there), so you can sustain the 105mm longer on the same weight of shell than a 155mm. This is the base shell though, once you add in things like incremental charges, all bets are off.

Zen, SO’s language is a bit off and the article does have a slant to it (“fixing” the UK Land power in the title already predisposes that it is “broken” in the first place), but some of his suggestions do have interesting points. IIRC he’s a big supporter of small company sized independent operating infantry units, so you have to look at it from his point of view that infantry is the prime mover in any conflict (which does have a certain logic to it) and hence he tends to go light on the armour. There is precedent for this kind of operating protocol, namely units like the Rangers or some Marine deployments where company sized forces operate on a shoestring supply line away from the FEBA, but as an operating protocol for a whole army, it is a very dangerous stretch since not everyone has the ability to self sustain. That is why units that can are often considered the elite. He’s wishing for an all elite army, which while ambitious and very nice to have, is not really practical in real life. This is why the brigade is often considered the basic building block of the army, not the company. It’s seen as the minimum logistical infrastructure needed to sustain a force and the minimum level structure where you mix and match line units and specialist units.

He isn’t “wrong”, more like “very optimistic”.

As opposed to my “very cynical”. :)
To me, there is always a reason things have evolved the way it has, sometimes the reason changes then it becomes time to change, but to know when to change, you must first identify the reason why it became like that in the first place.

I’m more of a fan of the 1:3 ratio of armour to infantry where the infantry screen the approaches defensively while the armour stands ready to counterattack any intrusion into the operating area and as the spearhead of any incursion into enemy territory backed by opportunistic platoon level raiding (if possible) on enemy supply lines. Fairly conventional I know but unless you are in a severely disadvantageous situation, there is no reason to go all out on a single throw of the dice. (Which might surprise some here since I advocated aggressive attack as opposed to Phil’s “stabilized situation” defence that he once brought up, that “front lines” will form and stabilize. I actually believe he is right, but considering the force disparity facing my country, a war of attrition does not favour us, so we have no choice but to attack.)

July 23, 2016 2:06 am

Rest assured, I wrote a “Fixing German Army brigades” article already. Whether or not something is broken is always a question of expectations. Mine maybe higher than yours, at least regarding cost efficiency.

I’m not infantry centric, though when thinking of infantry I usually think of platoons, which is easily justified by military history. The terrain in both Norway and the Baltic region is not favouring tank warfare nearly as much as the North German plains, particularly not high ground pressure MBT types.

To cite myself from a few weeks ago:

“Indirect fires (mostly artillery) are the main killer (80-95% of ground combat KIA), tanks are the main enabler for rapid manoeuvres in harms way and infantry is and will be the force of choice when difficult terrain and short lines of sight favour it.”

July 23, 2016 2:47 am

An interesting exhibition of limited military understanding. A few points:

1. The RAC is a combination of traditional cavalry regiments and the RTR, The former obviously inherit the titles and traditions of their cavalry predecessors, this situation exists in several European countries.

2. Developments, actual and foreseeable, in direct and indirect anti-armour weapons pose a threat to all armour in the medium term. Tanks are also part of the all arms battle, both in attack and defence. This emphasises a key point, land warfare is a combined arms business (and air is just another arm which is why the RFC should be re-created).

3. One of the few military certainties is ‘expect the unexpected’. UK is a significant global player and needs armed forces able to quickly adapt and operate anywhere. Sometimes its a matter of choice, sometimes it in not (eg 1982). Either way the options are needed.

4. Long range artillery, this can get slightly technical so widespread ignorance is to be expected. The problem is that as gun-target range increases so does dispersion of the fall of shot. This means this means that a lot more rounds have to be fired to achieve a required effect, greater dispersion also introduces own troop safety issues when artillery fire is being used to provide covering fire (a primary role). Obviously ‘smart’ munitions are a solution, albeit a very expensive one. Sensible armies have looked at longer barrels and longer ranges, but they also consider the advantages and disadvantages. AS-90’s key advantage is its rate of fire in situations where maximising casualties is the goal. Of course the elephant in the room is whether 155mm is a suitable general purpose calibre, particularly where support of dismounted infantry is critical. Having done my time on operations with footborne infantry I’d say ‘no way Jose’.

July 23, 2016 4:03 am

Obsvr, I agree but I’d like to know what you think are the shortcomings regarding the 155mm as a weapon for covering fire.

Personally, I don’t advise anyone to be anywhere near a 155mm target zone, it’s not the most accurate of weapons. Weapon of attrition, to soften up targets, sure. Just don’t call it anywhere near any friendlies.

IIRC, technically, doesn’t it take a minute and a half for a 155mm round to reach 30km? Hard to sustain an assault if you have to stop every minute for your own artillery.

“6 rounds HE, Fire for Effect! Fire when ready!”
“So what now?”
“Oh we wait about 2 minutes for the rounds”
“So what do we do then?”
“Still got those biscuits?”
“Sure, like some tea as well?”

As silly as that sounds, if you timed it, that conversation would take less than the 1.5 min needed for the round to fly to that location.

SO, was the casualty results for WWII split into the type of gun that causes the casualties? After all, “artillery” is often a catchall term used to describe any indirect fire ranging from conventional howitzers to 81mm mortars. And was there a separation between civilian casualties and military casualties? If I recalled, there were many instances of shelling of populated areas with associated civilian casualties. I would not classify civilian casualties as part of the effectiveness of artillery, though I strongly suspect they would form the bulk of casualties for any shelling of a city.

Brian Black
Brian Black
July 23, 2016 7:32 am

If I ever get around to writing my own opinion piece on ‘How To Fix Opinionated Articles’, it will certainly include advice to leave out petty personal bugbears such as irritating regiment/corps titles, and advice to avoid persistent repetition of metaphors like ‘toy soldiers’ in place of more usual terms like ‘expeditionary forces’.

Such things add wordage, but not necessarily value, and often detract from the point one is trying to put across.

And that shouldn’t be taken as a wholly personal attack on SO, who does come up with some interesting things once in a while.

There are a number of things that lack any explanation here; such as, if expeditionary forces beyond our European neighbourhood are derided as great power plastic toy soldiers, why keep the concept at all in an article intended to fix what’s wrong with land forces? And having kept them, why would they need to be modeled on the Foreign Legion?

Or, why do Paras & Commandos need to be combined to reinforce Norway? And the Marines are the UK’s leading mountain and arctic warfare units anyway. And why do we need more infantry in Belize? And if we send the Para/Commandos to Belize, how would that improve their Norway reinforcement role? And having created a British Foreign Legion, why wouldn’t the supposed need for infantry in Belize be delegated to them, rather than a formation apparently dedicated to reinforcing Norway?

And why are the predominantly heli-borne Parachute Regiment still named after such an obsolete and undesirable mode of vertical transport?

July 23, 2016 8:05 am

Going off at a tangent. Following the suspected attempted abduction at RAF Marham & the terrorist events in Nice & Munich, should the UK be looking at bringing back a “Dads Army/Home Guard”?
The whole thrust of this thread, is that the UK Army is now too small, so we will not be able to deploy a sizable force abroad & maintain security at home.
Perhaps we need to recruit solid, steady types, aged 35-65, to patrol near bases, armed with a .38 revolver? Nothing more than that. As long as there is at least two of them, patrolling together.

July 23, 2016 9:52 am


while technically correct about artillery dispersion one has methods of diminishing its effects. It’s common practice to keep artillery within 2/3 of max range of regular ammunition from the troops being supported. For 52cal the max range is about 23-25km and 39cal about 17-19km. One should think of BB and other extended range ammunition as limited resource and reserved for supporting recce troops in enemy depth. High ROF is standard nowadays and AS-90 isn’t unique in this aspect.


it’s certainly lot harder to keep momentum if you don’t use artillery to shoot your way through. Besides if you have to call for artillery every time you get in contact theres something wrong with the PL/CO.

But back to the topic whether AS-90 could/should be replaced by a 52cal artillery the answer is yes. Like I mentioned before the 52cal has significantly longer effective range for supporting troops in battle. If we presume that 39cal and 52cal have same dispersion at any given range one might think they’re equal in their ability to support the boots on the ground. While this might be true to some degree, 39cal has to move forward more often resulting in fewer guns supporting troops and it isn’t as capable of counter battery fire due to it’s innately shorter range. I can check the dispersion for 39 can 52 cal guns on Monday and tell you absolute truth.

July 23, 2016 12:22 pm

nothing – absolutely nothing – of what you wrote was new to me, so there was no display of limited understanding on my part, but rather on yours. You didn’t get the reasoning.

Great many fire missions don’t need accuracy at all, such as shooting at bivouacs or marshalling areas. Long range missions against small targets benefit greatly from rather simple and cheap trajectory correcting (air brake principle) fuzes such as SPACIDO; 2x to 10x munitions efficiency with HE. It doesn’t require an expensive guidance.

The range difference is substantial with no-BB, no-RAP HE. Even assuming a 100-150° field of relevance and identical minimum ranges, the area covered is much greater with 52cal pieces. This offers much more often the opportunity to mass many firing positions on one mission via digital fire coordination and offers more often the option of guns supporting friendly troops with flanking fires instead of overshooting them (with greater dispersion in range requiring a greater minimum distance to friendlies for overshooting).

Now I’m claiming that you were ignorant of this technicality, just as you pretended that I was ignorant of an even more simple one.

“AS-90’s key advantage is its rate of fire” is utter nonsense. AGM has the same RoF, and PzH 2000 exceeds the rate of fire of AS-90 by 33% in the first three minutes, for example.
The more powerful L/52 ballistics allow for more powerful MRSI ever a long zone even if the rate of fire was identical, since additional elevation/charge combinations would reach the target coordinate.

BTW, smart munitions are a solution for better effect, not necessarily for less friendly fires. A malfunctioning PGM has a much greater CEP than even poorly manufactured dumb rounds. In best case it doesn’t steer at all and falls long as predicted, in worst case it’s kilometres off.

there are statistics from WW2 battles that made a difference between mortars and artillery. There are also statistics from Korea, and Ukraine is repeating the pattern. It’s almost for certain that a conventional war between regular European armies would draw attrition 80+ % from indirect fires.

don’t jump to conclusions. German authorities consider the killings in Munich as a non-political, non-religious simple killing spree.

52 cal ordnance tends to be more accurate than 52cal ordnance, but the AS-90 is a special case since it’s little older than PzH2000, though not overtly better than the 1970’s GCT AUF1. I have never seen dispersion figures of AS-90, they may be equal to 52cal ordnances.
Dispersion for modern 155 mm guns is typically 0.4% of range in range and 0.1% of range in azimuth IIRC.

July 23, 2016 12:55 pm

Teh, yes, no artillery cover does make things a lot harder but the 155mm isn’t exactly used for “covering fire” in the method of the GPMG/M-240 is it? IIRC the most common usage in the attack for it is to simply pound the area until the infantry get close, then lift fire while the infantry go in, not as an overwatch role, which is more the forte of the GPMGs and 81mm mortars.

I’m not saying it is useless, I’m saying that it’s not really the safest weapon to use as overwatch. Something closer with less area effect, more accuracy and a smaller “no-fire” zone might be more appropriate to support an advance, like the Carl Gustav or RAW.

Long long time ago (in a galaxy not so far far away), grenades used to be classed as “defensive” and “offensive” grenades. Contrary to what people might think, the defensive grenades were actually more powerful than the offensive grenades, the logic being that in defensive positions, you can take cover against the grenade’s effects while an “offensive” grenade has its effectiveness reduced as troops on the “offensive” may not have the degree of cover against their own grenades. The logic is something similar, a call for fire is a 100m x 100m grid square (or at least it was in my time…when dinosaurs roamed the earth). It’s not exactly safe to assault into that area and +200m around it. It’s simply too powerful. Something like the RAW/Carl Gustav or NLAW/SMAW might be more appropriate for close in destruction of fortifications and mortars/40mm (A)GL for things like trenches.

Old joke over here:
The Air Force bombs the objective, the artillery pounds the target, then the infantry men go in with brooms to sweep up the remains.

I also suspect Obsvr’s objection to be that 155mm towed can’t keep up with the pace of mechanized infantry operations but I believe that can be solved with things like the AS90 and in rare cases, underslung helo leapfrog.

That said, the first thing anyone should do before assaulting an objective is to either bomb it or call 155mm on it. Makes your life a lot easier.

July 23, 2016 1:03 pm

: @Phil’s reserve article touched on a “new TA”, patterned on the Danish model of having full time regulars, supported by well trained reserves for the warfighting, plus a TA of sorts to act as a home guard.

July 23, 2016 1:06 pm

Brian Black,

I insisted on the toy soldiers thing because the anti-interventionist political message was half the message. It doesn’t distract from the message, it IS (part of) the message. I derided great power gaming intentionally.

I kept the concept of expeditionary component because
“The land forces can sensibly be expected to have several tasks:”
To change this expectation would be a gargantuan reform, not merely a patching of a few weak spots.

The Foreign legion as model is once about the equipment (armoured cars), and also about the foreign personnel aspect (which suits itself well to great power games and makes use of the legacy of recruiting good Gurkha recruits).

Paras & Commandos for Norway makes sense because planning to send them as urban or woodland fighters into Lithuania would be the only other realistic collective defence option, and that’s too unlikely from the political angle because these missions would produce very high casualty rates.

Belize’s terrain (as many others) is not fully cooperative with an armoured car-centric force, so I pointed out that existing light infantry could be added to great power games if a more infantry-heavy force is required. Such units would surely arrive late for a Norway emergency, but the UK is not alone and the U.S. or other countries might fill in. It’s rather unlikely that a few thousand light infantry being slowed down in their deployability by two or three days tip the scales in favour of war. Besides, we know how the UK thinks about it; it withdraw almost its entire navy and light infantry for the Falklands War adventure at the height of the Cold War, after all!

I didn’t propose to rename units, just expressed disgust at their misleading and anachronistic “traditional” names. (Interestingly, I have never seen any Napoleonic War units being called ‘longbowmen’, ‘crossbowmen’, ‘pikemen’, ‘huscarls’, ‘men at arms’ etc – names appear to have been frozen only during the 19th century).
A battalion’s nature should be understood by its name, not only by its icon. Yet I didn’t propose renaming, thus I left the “para” thing a “para” thing. To change names is not part of essential minimum patching.

July 23, 2016 2:06 pm

SO The full story of the Munich shooter will emerge shortly. It does not seem to be an IS/Daesh operation as such. Most likely a copycat by a mentally disturbed teenager.
However, when you are being shot/stabbed, I suspect the motivation/life story of your attacker, may not be your priority at that moment.
It seems from Orlando, Nice & now Munich, we have angry young men, split between two cultures, confused over religion, sexuality & which society they fit in.
They may have a history of depression, drug abuse, petty crime & even prostitution. Then something triggers them to explode.
It is unlikely we can identify every individual. Better to go after the ideology & those who spread it. Then put a kinder, gentler message in its place & reach out to those lost souls & let them know they are valued.

July 23, 2016 2:17 pm

I’ve long argued that every country has 5% dangerous idiots. Sadly, some particularly violent strains of salafism have provided brands and excuses for some such people to turn homicidal.

The great problem is that this enables other dangerous idiots (who have slipped into positions of influence they should never have gotten into) to cut down civil liberties and launch great power games that do much more economic and bodily harm to us than violent salafism.

July 23, 2016 2:18 pm


you’re right about what you said. Manuals say 155mm fragmentation range to be 150m for 1% unprotected standing upright friendly casualties, 100m for 120mm mortar and 50m for 81mm mortar. On top of that dispersion and target locating error and you need to be atleast 250-300m away from 155mm target hectar at max 10km range. The safety range quickly goes almost up to 800m or more when shooting over 30km away. Lifting artillery and continuing with mortars, followed by assault is ages old technique. What happens within the 100-150m from the enemy when neither can reasonable use indirect fire is a world of its own and has nothing to do with what I originally pointed out. It’s a world where fire and maneuver, machines guns and hand grenades rule, it’s the grunt’s world.

July 23, 2016 2:38 pm

HOW and what you shoot greatly affects the necessary distance to friendlies, as does terrain, the nature of friendlies (protected?) et cetera.
Afaik the lower register (<43°) has less dispersion in azimuth, more muzzle velocity has less dispersion (less wind influence), self-destructing ranging shots surveyed by arty radar or at minimum by muzzle velocity radar help to improve accuracy, climate control for known propellant temperature helps control MV, modern propellants are more insensitive to temperatures, known barrel temperature helps with fire control calculations etc.
To shoot from a flank position means that the 1/4 as large dispersion in azimuth matters instead of dispersion in range. Shells can be designed to concentrate their effect on a defined area instead of few per cent of it flying far to the sides.
Sometimes when much is done right the very same gun can shoot very much closer to friendly troops than on other occasions. I have seen simplistic figures in field manuals that are simply not adequate to the problem, and bound to provoke improvisation out of bounds when the troops in contact are screaming for help.

BTW, the Soviets were confident in that 300-400 m is enough for safety, for applying less arty may kill more by hostile fires than applying arty more closely kills by friendly fires. This kind of consideration is not being applied much in Western armed services any more due to the casualty minimization during great power games where the troops aren't that agitated to want to risk their lives for some nonsense purpose and politicians need to avoid drastic casualty reports or else they'd have their toys taken away and be sent home.
Progress has been made regarding accuracy and dispersion since 2S1 and 2S3 SPGs, of course, so on most terrains targets should either be in arty range or in small arms range.

Arty is the top killer, and an 80% solution is not the way to go when a 90% solution can be had for quite modest expenses.

July 23, 2016 3:03 pm

SO, you’re way too optimistic on the accuracy and utility of artillery. There are limitations. That is why no one, not even the US, blindly fires rounds into target grids and use a spotter.

Some of what you bring up simply don’t make sense. Self destructing rounds? Then what is the spotter going to look for? Imaginary rounds? There is a reason why SOP for us is the first round being PWP (plastic white phosphorous) so we can actually *see* where the shot is really going to land, not some computer “predicting” where it is going to land.

Not to mention the implications of a 1.5 min TOF at 30 km means that you can’t really directly engage mechanized targets. SOP is to designate a “killbox” and let them get into the killzone to pound them. 155mm is for stationary targets or in the very, very rare case, FPF (final protective fire) and these are pre-registered fireplans.

Your expectation of artillery is very, very optimistic. If you want to chase moving targets, you’ll need things like the Exactor/Spike, not the 155mm. If you substituted “unrealistic” for “optimistic”, it might be more accurate.

July 23, 2016 3:07 pm

BTW Teh, I used to work on a “rule of thumb” of 3 sec per km for time of flight, how valid is that still? (Yes I know, it depends on trajectory, just a rough comparison to the tables is fine)

July 23, 2016 3:19 pm


like you indirectly said artillery is science. Great deal of variables define where shot will land and accouting as many as possible reduce the risk of friendly casuslties. Old saying goes: when you only have a hammer everything looks like nails. Or more modern version: when you only got Javelin, everything looks like a tank. Having only one type of weapon supporting troops limits their tactical choices, be it 81mm mortar, 155mm arty or CAS. Regarding assault the more variety you got, the better results you’ll get.

Soviet guns at the time were much closer but had bigger dispersion resulting in similar safety range as today for shooting bit further with smaller dispersion.

July 23, 2016 3:33 pm

Observer, can’t say anything about that. It varies pretty much hence making MRSI possible. It depends on the firing unit which trajectory and charge they select for each firing mission.

July 23, 2016 4:00 pm

Can still “kinda” remember how to call for fire, though it’s been 20 years+. Thinking back, it’s kind of a relief not to get blown up by some clown of a recruit sending a round where it should not go.

One thing most people forget is that while artillery has a long range, it’s not omniscient, people don’t just “sense” an enemy in a grid square and simply fire off rounds. No matter how long artillery can reach, you still need a spotter to confirm that there is something in the area worth shooting. Your “spotter” might be a satellite marking a building on a map, a UAV or simply your LURPs or recce guys belly down in an OP, but the basic fact is that you must “see” the target and that is a very, very important factor of artillery. So no matter how artillery heavy your army gets, you still need infantry in front.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
July 23, 2016 4:43 pm

I admit I have been looking at this very much from a Baltic Republics Russian invasion or Ukraine goes full-on and drags us in kind of scenario, but I am really interested in the former in particular as there is a 0.0001 % chance that it might actually happen before the glaciers roll back over us.

If the Russians really wanted the Baltic states they are not as intrinsically vulnerable as they are often made out to be. The terrain is very much in favour of the defender and the distances involved are significant. The reason I advocated GMLRS is it can get somewhere quickly (HIMARS) and can cause terrific effect on target highly accurately with limited logistic support whereas with MLRS you would have needed immense logistical support. If one of your forward observers/stay behinds/partisans locates an enemy supply dump, FARP, battery of towed guns/command post/EW vehicle etc. one alternate warhead rocket would sort it for about the cost of a single Javelin ATGW (unless an S-400 shot it down at immense expense, giving its own location away in the process). GMLS also has the advantage of being much, much more survivable than air from a platform perspective as well as almost insignificant in cost compared to the latter.

Engaging moving armour (as in moving tactically) with 155mm or GMLRS isn’t going to happen, but the terrain in the Baltic Republics would enable the swift creation of choke points and kill zones into which SMART projectiles/rockets could be launched. The person who decided to axe our countermobility capability in its entirety a couple of years back should be taken out and shot along with the genius who sold our COBRA radars to the Turks. There needs to be a way of creating effective AT minefields on the ground fast. They could be covered with some kind of remotely controlled, networked directional fragmentation weapon. Another idea I would love to see come to fruition would be a bounding, remotely actuated GMLRS AW warhead which would be awesomely lethal and could pop up at suitable potential choke points meaning the Russians would have to clear vast swathes of forest of munitions. Another thing that could be resurrected is the US PIP Hornet networked AT “mine”.

Someone mentioned using guided 122 rockets from the single shot launcher developed for the Vietcong by the Soviets. Turkey and Israel offer GPS/INS guided 122s. One of those fitted with a mini version of the Alternate Warhead or something at least as capable as the DENEL prefragmented artillery rounds would be awesome and a very hard thing for the Russians to counter. I still think giving the Baltic Republics thousands of satphones and GPS would work. it would make potentially everyone a potential dicker (albeit much less obvious!). Every potential target location should have its coordinates catalogued down to a few centimetres by now or again someone should be tied to a post in front of a seriously pockmarked wall.

Like us, the Russians are now very reliant on UAVs for targeting. Something like a Kongsberg RWS fitted with a powerful non eyesafe laser and autotracking would make Russian use of UAVs a lot more problematic and could potentially be decisive.

Giving the Balts surplus kit pretty much a no brainer, as long as they don’t store it in vulnerable sheds at known locations. Giving them immense quantities of infantry weapons (including some N-LOS capable ATGW), demolitions, mines and MANPADs would make for a nightmare for the Russians as long as the will was there to use it. MBTs in comparison would be maintenance intensive and relatively easily tracked down and killed assuming they weren’t destroyed in their shelters by D+30. It is heartening to hear of their getting Pz2000s though and each one of those could be a real nuisance to the Russians and highly survivable if NATO can at least contest the airspace over them.

July 23, 2016 5:02 pm

Aviationweek published its estimate on the range at which the S-400 92N6E “Gravestone” radar can detect fighters. 13 miles (21 km) for F-22. 21 mi (34km) for F-35, 100-145 mi (175-235 km) for F/A-18E/F, F-16, SU-35, Typhoon, 195-215 mi (315-350 km) for F-15, SU-27, Tornado. Something to think about, if you want air support for your ground forces.

July 23, 2016 5:19 pm


please don’t let preconceptions guide you so much, and pay more attention to what I really wrote.

“That is why no one, not even the US, blindly fires rounds into target grids and use a spotter.”

I don’t think I wrote that we would blindly fire if friendlies are close, but shooting at marshalling areas has been normal for ages. Reports from WW2 indicate that more shells were fired at marshalling areas than during the actual defence against assaults, and more casualties were caused that way (confirmed by POW). The effects of firing at marshalling areas were also judged to have been more decisive in favour of defenders than the fires during the assault. Soviet attacks that entered close combat usually succeeded, their failed attacks usually faltered before closing with German troops to less than 400 metres.

“Some of what you bring up simply don’t make sense. Self destructing rounds? Then what is the spotter going to look for? Imaginary rounds? There is a reason why SOP for us is the first round being PWP (plastic white phosphorous) so we can actually *see* where the shot is really going to land, not some computer “predicting” where it is going to land.”

This may be a knowledge gap of yours. Our 110 mm MRL “LARS” had one self-destructing round per salvo, its trajectory was measured by arty radar to see the influence of wind etc and then without the target area warned the corrected real salvo was fired. The very same thing can be done with long range HE or practice rounds (BB and RAP) by 155 mm SPGs (using simple mechanic time fuzes). It’s particularly worthwhile with high zenith, long range dumb round shots when meteorological data is not satisfactory while good accuracy is important.
MRSI makes no sense with a ranging rounds that can be sensed in the target area!

“Not to mention the implications of a 1.5 min TOF at 30 km means that you can’t really directly engage mechanized targets. SOP is to designate a “killbox” and let them get into the killzone to pound them. 155mm is for stationary targets or in the very, very rare case, FPF (final protective fire) and these are pre-registered fireplans.”

Actually, our MLRS (“MARS”) can lay an AT-2 minefield to fix an entire mounted company (or reduce it if it moves nevertheless), which can then be pounded with HE (previously DPICM) shortly after. Other approaches for fixing moving targets exist, such as causing a traffic jam at a bottleneck.

Planned “killboxes” are obsolete pre-1990’s techniques. They tended to hardly ever be where the OPFOR went in exercises. Modern digitized arty fire control can do much better, quickly adapt to the situation with little if any previous planning. Look up FüWES Adler III, for example.

Besides, I don’t think I wrote explicitly about engaging moving targets in the article or comments here before, and there are plenty worthwhile rather static long range targets, including radars.

And TOF to 30 km isn’t anywhere near 90 seconds for 52cal guns in lower register. It’s 70 seconds for 45cal base bleed, and obviously even less with 52cal base bleed. I looked it up because it sounded implausible and offered this 45cal figure because it was the first source that I found:


“Your expectation of artillery is very, very optimistic. If you want to chase moving targets, you’ll need things like the Exactor/Spike, not the 155mm.”

Actually, several Western land forces are much more ambitious on this than you seem to be, and train to engage moving columns with dumb rounds. Maybe you just came from an army that’s not that ambitious or good at arty fire control techniques.

But again, I didn’t really write about moving targets before.

July 23, 2016 5:59 pm

SO…. it might not occur to you but being a forward observer was part of my job scope in the past? Sure, some things I have forgotten, but I do have practical experience in the job at least, so I know generally what is possible and what isn’t.

Your opinion on artillery is very optimistic, it’s very close to impractical though for what you think it can do.

July 23, 2016 6:02 pm

SO, got a 404 on your link, you sure you typed it correctly?

July 23, 2016 6:03 pm


You would like to think someone would try and remove the s400 battery prior to trying to conduct a close air support mission within its sphere of influence don’t you think.

July 23, 2016 6:34 pm

Sure, the Baltic region is suitable for defender but there aren’t enough terrain features that allow choke points to form naturally. The region is less forested and more cultivated than Eastern Finland which is great example for defencive infantry terrain.

GMLRS sure is good but it’s not a silver bullet. Mapping out every street corner is inpractical and still you’d need the skill to guide the rocket within the kill radius for given type of target. Guided rockets are useless if you can’t tell to the firing unit where the enemy is with CAT3 precision. AT-2 has some use against small target because of the dispersion of the mines or rocket expenditure would massive. I’m not too impressed about airborne/rocket launched minefields in general though they may have some utility when used properly.

The only kind of artillery I’ve heard of shooting a moving target is coastal artillery and I’m from Finland for gods sake, we’re renowned for our “largest artillery in europe”. Besides, I’m more of a mortarman.

What Sven wrote about shooting the russians in their staging area is absolutely true. At the battle of Tali-Ihantala in the summer of -44 the fire of 20+ artillery batallions and mortar companies were directed at the staging areas and several times the assault ended before it had begun.

July 23, 2016 6:47 pm

That brings me to another point. Minefields. For better or worse, minefields are now not “politically correct”, even AT mines that are allowed under the Ottawa treaty. While AP mines were supposed to be the focus, AT mines are generally seen as “mines” too and got roped into the bad publicity of the minefield ban.

Not sure if usage of such weapons would not provoke international outrage, so any usage of artillery or helicopter deployed minefields would probably be kept low key and on a small scale.

July 23, 2016 7:11 pm

Says who? Not using AT mines because of “public opinion” while being totally valid and legitimate weapon is stupidity. If R decides to attack F or B someone might “forget” that it’s not allowed to put a tripwire on claymore. What bad could come from breaking Ottawa treaty, are there sanctions? Our current defence minister is looking for possibility of resigning from the Ottawa treaty.

July 23, 2016 7:15 pm

Observer, you know the forward observer job from the inside FROM ONE ARMY. This didn’t educate you about what artillery in general can pull off today, and it shows. Besides, practitioners get only taught little more than what they need to know. That’s a far cry from understanding the whole thing or even the “why”.

The link is broken because it didn’t recognise the .pdf as part of the link. Copy & paste for the address.

And seriously, anyone who dismisses arty missions with dumb munitions against moving ground targets as impractical is behind the curve by approx. 80 years. This has been figured out in 1930’s exercises after preliminary work in the 1920’s (US, Germany) and is part of ordinary doctrine in the U.S.Army and German Heer at the very least. It’s much, much simpler than heavy AAA against 350 kph fast 3D targets.
The preferred application is about predictable routes (such as roads or valleys with hilltops impassable due to steep slopes or woodland) with observation over a long distance (or by multiple observers) before initiation, but then it’s fairly simple, even with pen & paper.
The efficiency of fires against moving targets is a bit of a gamble, but may on many occasions still be much better than against deployed forces that exploit terrain for concealment. To be able to engage moving targets is most important for delaying actions, since forcing advancing OPFOR off the road and to deploy and disperse is essential for slowing them down.

Any army that doesn’t teach & train this is ‘not making a good impression on me’. And you know that’s not what I’d call it elsewhere.

July 23, 2016 10:49 pm

Russia certainly has conceived of counters to the Javelin and other ATGWs, just look at the T-14 tank. Paying for them is a different matter. I am sure that the Baltic States have figured out that a large standing army with plenty of modern weapons is the counter to Russian aggression. The problem is paying for it.

I don’t see any reason to believe that there is any simple inexpensive trick that will make obsolescent tanks immune to modern anti-tank weapons.

Russia simply doesn’t have the money to be a match for NATO. They might achieve some success through surprise in the Baltic States, but they would never be able to hold on to it.

July 24, 2016 12:08 am

Teh, we never did sign it, but even then we were forced by PR to declare a “defensive use only” for mines, even AT ones. You don’t have to tell me it’s stupid, I think so too, but PR, especially American PR, isn’t known for its logic but its sensationalism and for better or worse, a lot of countries depend on the US for final deterrence.

SO, that’s the killbox method I was talking about…

So on one moment you decry other people’s lack of knowledge, the next you bring up a method that was already mentioned (and limitations described too) and propose that as a solution. I seriously have no idea what to do with you.

If you’re so against 3 countries armies, maybe the problem isn’t with the countries or the armies. Maybe the problem is with you.

There are a lot of “military reformers” out there, one of their characteristics is that they are never happy with any army unless their ideas are adopted. Which seldom are because their “solutions” are often idealistic to the point of being impractical. This is also part of the problem Hohum has with you when he said that you were out to tear up Western defences. I’m not going to go as far as calling you a Russian propagandist, but I’ve to say that I agree with him that your “brushstrokes reform” is going to be a mess.

One of the requirements for GCE A-level English exams is to write a GP or General Paper with both the pros and cons of an argument to give “balanced thinking”. You set out the advantages of your “solution”. Now you have to flip it around. Can you see the disadvantages? If you can’t, then you might want to consider that you have a heavy bias since there is no such thing as a perfect solution without flaws. If you can’t find flaws, it’s more likely you’re just too in love with your solution to see the flaws.

July 24, 2016 1:39 am

There may be a bit of confusion around artillery fire – ie the difference between ‘accuracy’ and ‘consistency’.
The former refers to the distance between the mean point of impact (the centre point of the rounds on the ground) and the target centre. The latter refers to the spread of the fall of shot from each gun around its aimpoint.

Assuming an accurate target location, then providing there is up to date data (ie MVs are up to date (UK guns have MV radars permanently fitted, most armies don’t) and meteor data is for the current period, typically no more than 2 – 4 hours) then the mpi will be fairly close (within 100 metres and usually a lot less – assuming a 8 figure grid ref was used (10 m precision)) of the ordered target location. If these assumptions are not valid then all bets on accuracy are off.

However, accuracy is really only a concern when predicted fire for effect is being used. If the fire is adjusted then the accuracy of predicted fire is irrelevant.

Consistency is gun dependent and varies with the range and propelling charge used. Data is in Firing Tables, it varies with the gun – target range, the gun type, the propelling charge used, excessive barrel wear is another factor.

July 24, 2016 4:26 am

I don’t see any indication of a confusion between accuracy and dispersion here.

Forward observer error in target coordinate determination alone can be expected to be up to 50 m even with modern equipment and GPS availability.

July 24, 2016 5:11 am

I can sort of understand it. It’s something like the zeroing of a rifle. The “accuracy” in this case refers to the deviation from the aimed point (center of the target zone) while the “consistency” is analogous to the “grouping” of the rounds fired.

You can have a tight group, but still be “inaccurate” if the shot grouping is far away from the aimpoint or “inconsistent” if the shot grouping is centered on the middle of the target area yet the rounds are widely dispersed.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
July 24, 2016 9:18 am

@JH Aviation Weekly would have been as well publishing the lottery numbers. No mention of target or aerial height, do they really know the RCS of any of the mentioned aircraft? I doubt it.
No mention of terrain masking etc, basically useless.

July 24, 2016 10:12 am

Aviation Week was using the claim that the S-400 92N6E “Gravestone” radar can detect a 4-m squared target at 250 km. Then they calculated from that.
Not sure if this is the direct link.

July 24, 2016 11:46 am

‘How to Fix UK Land Power’

Can’t see how this article has even remotely come close to doing that, am I missing something?

to provide a contribution to NATO’s Eastern deterrence and defence
to provide a contribution to NATO’s Northern deterrence and defence
to protect the UK territory at least against feeble invasion attempts

Why would the UK be threatened by only a feeble invasion attempt? If we are contributing to NATO’s Eastern and Northern defence (by which I am assuming the opponent would be Russia at present) would this not require capable forces that can defend against a peer enemy which would also in turn threaten our territory?

to provide a pool of great power game toy soldiers*

Are you referring to just Iraq or all out of area operations? would you class UNPROFOR, SFOR, KFOR as great power games? What about German forces in Mali and Afghanistan?

‘A combination of Royal Marines, “Para” and “Commando” forces could meet the Norway defence requirements.’

That’s pretty much the status quo now is it not?

‘Still, what should such forces look like?’

I can’t see what you really discussed here, other than it should be mechanised. And organisation wise it just seemed to me to describe how we operate at present.

July 24, 2016 11:55 am

SO and observer,

kill boxes exist mainly not for artillery but for weapon systems that can’t shift their fires kilometers away in an instant. They are a way of telling the artillery commander where the commander wants to be able to shoot at certain time because certain weapon systems are present near those killboxes. There might be three killboxes in a row and commander wants to conduct ambushes with ATGM platoon with arty support in these killboxes. This tells the artillery commander that he needs to be able ro fire that far and this close. They are relevant for towed weapons in forest because they dictate the need of clearing firing line of any trees and etc.

July 24, 2016 12:14 pm

Teh yes I know. We’re actually focusing only on artillery though. If you get technical, even a FPF (Final Protective Fire) plan is a “killbox”, just one very close to your own forces.

DN, I actually have no idea why he would write such a brushstroke article and treat it as a viable plan. Though to be fair, he seems to treat everyone the same way, US, Germany, UK.

Am half tempted to do a counter-analysis.

July 24, 2016 12:42 pm


more the merrier but remember that Sven makes many sound and no brainer propositions that any general would happily apply into practice. We’ve had many comments about artillery but none of them has shown that AS-90 shouldn’t be replaced or upgraded to 52cal barrel. He unfortunately forgets to mention my favourite topic, mortars! I’m no expert on GBAD so can’t say anything meaninful about those but I know my way around AT and can say having HVM would be great.

About defence of Norway… It’s a tricky situation since I’m not too familiar with their wartime structure but having brits there certainly would add to the deterrent and actual defence capability should the need arise.

Kind of on the same page with Sven about TA because we have sort of same structure and mission for homeguard troops in Finland. They make up 20% of wartime strenght and are sort of super reservist with higher readiness, train more often and have all their gear apart from weapons at home. They form local batallions and one company is made of these “super reservists” and there are about 15-20 of these batallions.

Mark II
Mark II
July 24, 2016 1:47 pm

This was very interesting, thanks Sven.

July 24, 2016 1:53 pm

Pitching in with a few comment with a large dispersion:
My reading on artillery suggests that the muzzle report is often heard before the the shell impacts, even with modern guns. To the extent that a projectile arriving supersonically (i.e. without warning) is remarked upon for its advantage. With that in mind, Observer’s 1km per 3seconds doesn’t sound implausible (speed of sound in standard conditions being 343m/s)

52 calibre ordnance on AS90s – it was tried but not taken up for some reason. Possibly dispersion at range made it ineffective, perhaps the nuisance of dealing with a barrel 2m longer was what did it.
While being outranged is bad, it isn’t the calamity often imagined. Prior to the 1991 gulf conflict, most of Iraq’s artillery handily outranged the coalition’s guns, but they played no part as the command and control was poor. In NWE much of the German artillery outrange the Royal Artillery’s guns, but the combination of numbers and ability of the gunners told to their advantage.

With regard to the British Army, I am slightly concerned that the Royal Artillery has been somewhat neglected over the past campaigns and not able to compensate for any technical deficiencies of their equipment*. Skilled guys with moderate equipment will win over unskilled guys with outstanding equipment most times, other things being equal.

*It is, of course, entirely possible that something seen as a deficiency is not when in skilled hands. “Outrange me? Who cares? If you can’t acquire the target and can’t hit it when you do, does it matter?

July 24, 2016 2:12 pm

We have something similar in Singapore though it’s damn hush hush that the only thing you can get out of people is that they are with the ADF (Advance Defence Force). They don’t even appear as a unit though rumors are that they are actually the nucleus of reservist divisions, basically “seeded” into the division so that at least someone knows what they are doing, as opposed to us old people. And it exists, I met people face to face that said they were part of the ADF but they sort of went around the topic when asked what they did there.

HVM, I’m not really sure if they are going to work or get fielded any time soon. I mean, even the CKEM project has been bouncing around for 17 years, more if you included the short lived MGM-166(?) LOSAT. I’ve been hearing about them for decades without anything to show for it other than demonstrators. I’m more of a fan of the current day top attack munitions since they are already working and in service, especially in the UK’s case of both the Javelin and the EXACTOR. An ATGM in hand is worth a few hundred on the drawing board and testing.

Mortars, I didn’t get much exposure to them, though I was part of the testing that eventually proposed the 120mm SRAM. We installed a 120mm mortar (think it was the K5 by Soltam) on an M113 and they took it out to the range to be tested, this was in “96. Wasn’t there for the testing but I met a uni friend who was. He told me that after the fire mission, they tried to drive the M-113 away but the repeated shock from the firing loosened the tensioner(?) on the tracks and the vehicle threw its tracks the moment someone tried to drive it off. This resulted in “low firing shock” being one of the requirements of the SRAM that was later developed. So now you know the reason for the “low recoil mortar”. :)

Things have evolved since then, we retired most of the M-113s before the SRAM came into service, so now we use the Bronco (lighter version of the UK’s Warthog) as 120mm platforms.

July 24, 2016 3:22 pm

There was repeated dissent about the home defence mission. I think the commenters took something for granted that’s not free. An invasion by a single VDV brigade is unrealistic BECAUSE troops are at home that could handily exterminate such an invasion force.
I described a minimum for how to retain this “BECAUSE” state of affairs – even at times when mechanised and light infantry forces were deployed for collective defence.

Typhoons alone would not be able to prevent a dozen Il-76s from slipping through with Suchoi fighter support. Deception, offensive CAP etc would allow for an intrusion scheme that would succeed. Keep in mind lots of Typhoons would likely be diverted to the continent in the event of a war.

It’s a mistake to treat something as for free when actually it requires at least a modest fee. Thus I didn’t omit this; I included the modest fee and kept it as modest as possible (not multiple regular army motorized brigades similar to what the Italians do about the same invasion threat).

you didn’t find some of my proposals in the text because you didn’t read it properly. An orientation of the Norway Defence mission on base use denial is very different deterrence strategy from what both British and Norwegians do so far, for example.

July 24, 2016 3:31 pm


I don’t think I am being overly harsh with my comment. Sven writes a blog that is very interesting and often provides some thought provoking and well researched articles he just seems to have had a swing and a miss with this one.

For one the main problem with our land forces as they currently stand is imbalance between infantry units and combat support and combat service support units which came about from the decision to spare cap badges. I would argue that we need to bite the bullet and create 4 or 5 Infantry cap badges through amalgamations in the vain of the Rifles and reduce Infantry Btns to spare up manpower to pay for artillery, Signals, EW etc.

I would combine the RM and Para units to create a sort of Rangers brigade that can supply the high readiness airborne and amphibious battle groups. We could create two light mech bdes with Foxhound mounted light infantry which could be used to provide an airmobile bde which sort of replicates the role of the old 24 airmobile and can be used as a force that can be transported around the battlefield that is AT heavy and can support heavier units if required. The second light mech brigade could be used as a basis for our amphib force with the RM concentrating on raids and brown water stuff from within the combined brigade suggested at the beginning of the paragraph.

A more balanced force structure IMO would be 2 light mech Bde’s, 2 Armoured Bde’s and a priority given to setting up 3 MIV bde’s which would supply the lead battlegroup replacing the current aroured one.

This would require a change in attitude within the Army and priority given to the creation of the MIV bde’s in terms of funds, but I think the medium weight formations would be the ones used the most considering all our operations since GW1 would have benefited from medium weight formations.

July 24, 2016 4:56 pm

There would appear to be two of us using the same name again going to get very confusing..

July 24, 2016 5:10 pm

We can always use Mark I and Mark II….

I’ll go stand in the corner now.

July 25, 2016 3:04 am

Interesting enough article, thank you to Sven and our glorious leader for publishing. I am not actually sure you do “fix UK land power” in the article though. Does it need fixing ? Depends what you want to do with it. Personally I think its badly broken after years of COIN-ops (not the local laundry) and while it has some highly experienced infantry that are probably very good at close quarters battle, budget cuts and years of neglect have robbed us of the ability to take on an armoured or even mechanised opponent, especially one with a decent air force / and or good ground based air defence that could negate our reliance upon air power. A Typhoon with 15 x Brimstone 2 has to survive long enough to bring them to bear after all…..

In the end it all comes down to money. Why do we have only half (or less) the AS90 we bought in service with a 39cal gun; because we couldn’t prioritise the funding to fit a 52cal. Why don’t we have a HIMARS equivalent on MAN SV/ HV – money. Why have we sold off our counter battery radars to the Turks as quoted in the comments, disbanded Starstreak air defence units, and not replaced venerable towed 105mm guns – lack of money.

On the face of it, things seem sort of sensible in the Future Force 2025 time frame. 2 Immediate Reaction brigades built around the Marines and the Paras. 2 Armoured Brigades and 2 Strike Brigades in the Reaction Force, and 2 Protected Mobility Infantry Brigades in the Adaptable force, but in reality it seems a pretty hollow force. Dropping down from 3 heavy armoured Challenger 2 MBT regiments to just 2, which will continue with an semi-upgraded vehicle with a main gun which remains suitable only as use in the “infantry support tank” role is just one problem that springs to mind.

There is certainly no move to “fix” our lack of coherent strategy for development or deployment of forces and certainly not for the defence of continental Europe. The so called “Strike” brigades are laughable. If they were an all wheeled brigade, they would have considerable theatre-strategic mobility within continental Europe’s NATO borders, but we will have to bog down their road march capability with low loaders carrying Ajax / FRES SV tracked medium weight armour, carrying just a 40mm gun. As lamented by ThinkDefence recently, still no “anti-tank” version in sight ?

Could we spend what we have got better ? Could we make the 2 armoured brigades heavier, and the 2 Strike brigades more useful ?

Whichever candidate wins the U.S. presidential race, perhaps we could persuade them that helping Europe defend itself would be enhanced by gifting us 400 M1A1’s out of desert storage (like they did for Greece) and spend our money on upgrading them, latest MTU “Europack” diesel and same vetronics and optics as Ajax ?At least with the new U.S. ammo its older version 120mm smoothbore should remain lethal until we can get the new Rheinmetal 130mm on something new…..

If we had 4 tank regiments, 2 in each brigade, and a medium armoured recce regiment on Ajax family, would we need to upgrade the turret on Warrior ? If your armoured infantry are really just Panzer-Grenadiers in a formation where there is a 1:1 MBT to APC ratio, do the APC’s need anything more than a dual RWS with 7.62 / 40mm GMG with air-bursting ammo ? If we took 700 Warriors without turrets and used them to replace all remaining Bulldog / FV432 variants, would we make enough in savings to buy a Ajax / FRES SV “APC variant” for the 4 armoured infantry battalions ? To Sven’s point, one of these heavy brigades should probably remain in Germany, or even better be based in Poland !

However the above might not save enough money from the Warrior upgrades, improved / reduced maintenance spend, and more commonality to do something with MIV for the Strike Brigades. Lets say, for instance if we went with VBCI 2 as the 8 x 8 APC of choice, then could we some how afford the version with a 40mm CTA turret and 2 x ATGW for 2 x Medium Wheeled Cav / Recce regiments ? Perhaps the Recce and AT platoons of the plain APC (dual RWS again) equipped mechanised infantry battalions could have the turreted version too ! Then the Strike brigades might be able strike something ( “stwike him Centurion, vewy woughly !)

Sigh, it will never happen, because we dont have any politicians who have strategic clarity, nor do we have even a modest budget to play with. Best we just re-form the “home guard” to protect nuclear power stations, air ports, ports and the like from home grown terror groups that could make the Provo’s look like reasonable chaps……. :-( Jed, channeling Gloomy Northern Boy, out.

July 25, 2016 9:50 am

I don’t think there are any major deficiencies with RA equipment, not forgetting that “the shell is the weapon of artillery” (and the L15 shell with a MRF is probably about as good as it gets). Extra range is always nice to have but with that goes increased dispersion, in some circumstances this can be a significant disadvantage – ie when engaging targets close to own troops. I’ve never been convinced that a 52 cal 155mm barrel is a ‘really good idea’, but I guess that’s because I’ve had 24 months on the two way range with 105mm, and properly understand that the primary role of artillery is suppression as part of the combined arms battle. Of course CB is another matter, but that’s what MLRS was acquired for.

Peter Elliott
July 25, 2016 10:52 am

Obsvr – during your time on the “two way range” did you find that all arms had sufficient access to overhead ISTAR? Not just for Brigade or Divisional Fire Control group tasking the artillary but also organically at Company, Platoon or other sub-unit level..? Genuinely curious as to how far down the tree access to this sort of capability goes.

July 25, 2016 12:15 pm

Just to chip in on the great artillery debate – on my NGS course at RM Poole over 20 years ago, we had an “effects” lecture by an RA Sgt who stated 105 and 114mm (4.5 inch) were for infantry and other sift targets. He showed us photos from US army tests of air bursting 155 HE were frag had penetrated MLB, BTR and M113 problem is I can’t remember the proximity of the burst. You gotta think that on top of the old advantages against heavier armour of making the crew button up, blowing off antennas and damaging optic, with modern active protection systems can that shrapnel shred unprotected radar antennas, laser warning sensor heads etc.

Conversely how is your Foxhound based “protected” mobility battalion going to fare against Russian 152mm and MLR’s ??

July 25, 2016 12:35 pm


This is definitely a worthwhile article. Until now, no one has openly said that the British Army is broken. That’s pretty inflammatory stuff, but actually the points you make suggest that this is true. We can disagree about exactly what’s wrong and what to fix, but you’ve correctly identified the elephant in the room that nobody wishes to acknowledge. UK Land Power has been the victim of years of neglect and needs a comprehensive overhaul if it is to be a credible force with real deterrent value.

If i may, I’ll just add my tuppence worth to the “Is the tank is dead?” debate. We still need tanks to neutralise the massive number of MBTs in service across the globe (100,000+ with only 20,000 belonging to NATO). Tank guns with APFSDS long-rod penetrators are still the most reliable and affordable means of defeat. We also need tanks to take and hold ground, which, as others note, cannot be achieved with aircraft alone. We all seem to agree that the problem with heavy armour is its deployability. So, unless we re-base troops in Germany or Poland, MBTs will never provide an immediate response. They’ll come later as part of a concerted counter-attack to defeat an invading force. Providing an immediate response will indeed require some kind of expeditionary force that can deploy rapidly over long-distance (1,000-2,000 km) but still deliver a punch. So conceptually, i buy into a mixed force of armoured brigades and strike brigades. However, the UK’s proposed Army 2020 force structure does no more than pay lip service to this due to a lamentable lack of resources. I find the idea of Ajax tracked reconnaissance vehicles operating with wheeled mechanised battalions ludicrous.

i believe we need two deployable divisions. One based around tracked heavy armour and one around 8×8 medium armour. The latter could respond much more swiftly if it were deployable by air, so any 8×8 vehicle we purchase would need to be air transportable in an A400M. We would probably need 40-50 of these instead of just 22 as this would allow us to deploy a battalion (100 MIVs) within 24 hours and a full brigade within 72 hours.

It goes without saying that artillery would remain a key enabler for both divisions. That means tracked and wheeled 155 mm SP guns. 120 mm mortars would also be useful as they can now hit targets with reasonable precision at 10 km.

The REALLY interesting idea contained in your article is the Mach 6 anti-tank missile. i am not sure we have yet seen a credible system, but it will come. If medium weight vehicles can reliably defeat MBTs at distance, i.e. indirectly firing long-range ATGMs beyond the range of their tank APFSDS rounds, then maybe, just maybe, the MBT will have become redundant. Drones / UAVs operating integrally with MIV / Strike brigades may be the new paradigm of modern warfare.

Peter Elliott
July 25, 2016 1:00 pm

Arguments can be made that both our tanks and the artillary no longer win at top trumps. But what we do have of both are still very functional and capable of delivering a very broad swathes of the missions likely to be demanded of them. We might also think we have too few transport aircraft but we still have a quite significant number. Ajax might be late and heavy and “only” 40mm armed but at least its ordered and is now coming. Apache E has been ordered and seems like it will get the Brimstone missile. We will be getting CAMM(L). So while its not all rosy we do still have heavy forces with a significant bite.

The light forces appear to have the ships and transport helicopters they need. Project Julius to sort out the Chinook fleet means we will be able to put significant numbers of Paras, Marines and their light equipment (Light Guns, Viking, Javelin) where they need to be. More investment would always be welcomed but there aren’t glaringly dangerous gaps.

The biggest worry must be where a “Big mission” matches up to a “Big Gap” in our force structure and equipment. And the wheeled 8*8 for the “Strike Brigades” looks like one of those. Until significant numbers of these vehiles are actually ordered we will not be able to evaluate their “deployability” and “fightyness” for real: Will they have an ATGW version? Or a 40mm version? In other words what will the mix be (if any) between APC or AFV? What will their TES weight actually be? How many, at fighting weight, will go into either an Atlas or a C17? What ‘wet gap crossing’ assets will the brigade need? Will they swim? How much fuel will they drink on a long road march? Until these questions get real world answers the “Strike Brigades” will continue to be paper tigers and the reduction in heavy armour from 3 brigades to 2 will feel like a straight cut.

Very crudely MIV now looks to me like the biggest gap now in need of filling.

July 25, 2016 1:48 pm

Yes, tanks are required for offensive manoeuvre and for holding ground but they are also essential for conducting mobile defence, another manoeuvre warfare tactic that seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years. Counter-attacks (note the plural) need a high degree of (tracked (in my opinion)) mobility and a lot of direct and in-direct firepower in order to be successful. This should then prevent you from becoming engaged in a traditional full-frontal static defence versus mobile offence pitched battle. In the mobile defence role I’m afraid Ajax and 8×8 is just not going to cut it, especially with the total lack of long range ATGW.

July 25, 2016 2:05 pm

@PeterElliot – actually that was my point, an pathetically upgraded Chally 2 probably wont be able to undertake large swathes of the potential mission set for the next 15 years or so.

– agreed. Long range “ATGW Overwatch” seems easy to rectify if there is cash, Brimstone 2 fired from new U.S. Multi-mission Missile System – 15 cells on the back of a MAN SV with an armoured cab, giving maybe 20KM range in the ground launched mode ? Perhaps the Ajax and MIV need a lightly armoured turret with the new RH 130mm or an existing long barrel 120mm as substitute for missiles in the direct line of site AT role – mobile AT Guns, much like Sherman FireFly ?

Upgrading 81mm to 120mm mortar is a no brainer to me, but again, no money …….

Peter Elliott
July 25, 2016 2:23 pm

Jed – how would you address the MBT issue then? What upgrades would you make? New gun? New turret? Or new rifled ammunitions developed for the existing gun? Or is it more about the sensors and electronics?

Or would you take a deep breath, bin Challenger 2, and order new Leopards? Off the Shelf or with UK specific developments? That has the potential to suck up a lot of money into the heavy brigades just when we say we need to be re-equipping the medium formations. Or do you not buy the value of the medium formations in Eastern Europe against Russia?

Peter Elliott
July 25, 2016 2:41 pm

One holisitc view is that our Land Forces contribution to NATO in Eastern Europe should be a new MIV based “Strike Brigde” rapidly deployed and supported by AH and a variety of heavy Artillary and mechanised ATGW. We would then be reliant on our “Big Army” allies France, Germany and of course USA for the traditional heavy armoured punch.

The Challenger 2 Tanks would be retained with minimal upgrade for use against non-peer enemies elsewhere in the world or for very specific support roles supported by missile equipped forces.

That would allow us to focus investment on the rapidly deployable medium formations. It would require us to accept that our land forces have a niche role within NATO. To be acceptable politically it would require heaving investment in air and sea power as well as the full spectrum of MIV varients to make the “Strike Brigades” credible and potent.

Corin Vestey
Corin Vestey
July 25, 2016 2:53 pm

Regarding MBTs, the Potomac Foundation’s report on the Ukraine-Russian war makes for frightening reading. Apart from the drone/EW elements of the problem NATO faces, the MBT factors are stark. Late Model T-72, T-90 and eventually T14/15 combinations look very dangerous to the best that the West has, let alone to Chally 2/Warrior/Bulldog. If we are going to maintain a credible heavy force (and there is no doubt in my mind that we must), then clearly the investment involved is going to be huge. Not only do we need a new MBT (and, I would argue, a new Heavy IFV modelled on the same base vehicle in the T14/15 mold) but we also once saw the need for anti-tank guns to protect infantry and armour. Given the resurgence of artillery these would need to be as mobile and survivable as the armour/arm. inf. That’s on top of EW requirements, organic UAS control, ATGM overwatch, CAS. Additonally some of that applies to a medium-weight force too (UAS/EW, tank destroyer, ATGM, plus river, flooded area swim ability, and a wheeled recce vehicle so the Ajax can actually do the job it was designed for the armoured brigades). This is going to cost huge money to produce a credible deterrant to Russia’s armoured forces.

July 25, 2016 3:09 pm

Just a thought. Does the UK still have the ability to make new Stormer family variants?

July 25, 2016 3:22 pm

Jed, I suspect the Foxhound would fair much better than the old M-113 at least! That thing was a tin can, anything above 7.62S would have made holes in it.

As I mentioned before, hypersonic ATGMs have been proposed for a long, long while. The Vought(?) was first proposed in the 80s, so that makes it about 30 years +/- that they have been playing around with the concept? Yet, until now, nothing much has come out of it. The KEM has taken 17 years and no one is optimistic enough to even give an in service proposal, much less a time estimate.

For safety sake, it might be better to work with current in service or at least close to in service hardware when doing proposals, lest you end up with a vehicle and no weapon.

PE regarding ISTAR, I can’t say much for the British Army but I suspect it won’t be much different. The “feed” and info, even from non-UAV sources, goes to the Recon Company commander and then to the S2/Brigade commander (theoretically, it should be S2->Commander, but practically, those guys are usually stuck in the same command post so usually when someone updates the map, both can see the data together. Same with the Air Force information integration console, in fact the two of them can actually even look over the poor operator’s shoulder to see the feed). Recon uses the manpacked UAVs while the Air Force uses things like Scaneagle and HALEs and the brigade CP is where it all comes together. The man on the ground? Good luck. Vision balls, 40mm camera rounds and mirrors for him. And micro UAVs like your nano-Hornet? Don’t underestimate the usefulness of a dental mirror in the field.

One big problem I see facing armies these days is the dual role that they are being asked to take up increasingly. The primary role of the army is the defence of the sovereignty of the country, I doubt anyone can argue against that (except maybe Vatican City), yet armies are being asked to increasingly take on “peacekeeping” tasks in countries that are beyond the borders of their home country. You may ask “What’s wrong with deploying beyond your own shores?” and true, there is nothing wrong with a forward defence strategy designed to keep an aggressor far, far away from your home. The problem comes from the “peacekeeping” part. Traditionally, armies have excelled in bringing wrath and ruin to other “uniformed combatants”, but much less so in COIN when the question of “Who the hell is the enemy??!!” or “Which one of the bastards do I shoot!!??” comes into play.

The requirements for COIN is massively different from the requirements for an outright war. One of the biggest examples is that of the Snatch Land Rover debacle. Land Rovers would have been fine as admin vehicles in a warzone where uniformed combatants can be kept at arms length through the setting up of a unit “FEBA” and the relatively clear areas behind the front line, but in a COIN campaign, problems abound. You can’t order out all the civilians in the area since they live there, you can’t identify the enemy unless he does something hostile and the enemy has access to all your routes of travel and can plant IEDs often. This resulted in losses from the underarmoured Land Rovers until MRAPs could be deployed instead. This itself clearly highlights the difference in equipment requirements between COIN/OOTW and …warfighting (I’ll go wash out my mouth later).

This means that armies now have 2 different equipment requirements that sometimes cannot be cross used. Split role equipment is also dangerous in that clueless or careless politicians may end up sending a unit that is not equipped properly for the type of warfare into wrong areas. This is a problem that each individual country has to solve for itself, I refuse to claim that I have a magic wand solution for this problem so I won’t. It’s up to individual countries to determine how to solve this divergence of role and equipment.


I would actually recommend the creation of a force of LSVs carrying traditional “heavy weapons” like the 81 or 120mm mortar, ATGMs and maybe GPMGs/0.5 cals. The advantages/roles of this force is as follows:

1) Reinforcement of allies under threat.

When we discussed helping our allies, for some reason or other, there is the tendency to try moving whole units to the area under threat. On the contrary, why not just provide the ally under threat with specialized force multiplier units and let them supply the manpower? (Yes, I know, that is the current paradigm). As I mentioned before, the population of a country can mobilize huge amounts of manpower on a scale not even shipping can match, so why not let them supply the manpower, and you supply the heavy weapons teams? No commander would say no if you told him you were going to double the number of mortars and ATGMs he was going to have, especially on the eve of possible battle. LSVs also have a much higher capability to be air/heli-transported than 8x8s or MBTs, which means that there is a possibility of you getting enough numbers into the area to make a difference in a very short time. Failing that, there is little difference between an LSV and a car. Driving to Poland from France should be a minor if tedious matter.

2) Motorization of your own forces.

Even if the scenario of you reinforcing your allies do not materialize, having your own infantry heavy weapons motorized would already be of benefit to your own units. Administratively, this could be a mess though as heavy weapons platoons are supposed to be intrinsic to the company, yet the purpose of the unit involves being “loaned” to another company or country even, so it is possible that the heavy weapons platoon might end up less intrinsic to the unit than at the present moment. It’s an administrative difficulty though and one that can be sorted out. Most likely through an umbrella organization that “collects” all the LSVs and “loans” them out on long term to the infantry companies and recalls them if there is an expeditionary need.

3) Creation of a possible raiding force.

During times of war, other than LSVs assigned to infantry units to provide fire support and reserves, “excess” LSVs can be utilized in a role similar to the Long Range Desert Group of WWII and sent behind enemy lines to raid and disrupt enemy lines of communication. With the LSV’s low weight, covert heli-insertion over enemy lines or via LCU coastal hooks is possible and considering the capability of modern ATGMs, even MBTs can potentially fall prey to a sudden LSV ATGM strike.

In short, there is some potential benefit and flexibility to the creation of an LSV force to supplement the regular army. In fact, I believe the SAS do/did operate an LSV force and this is but an expansion of the concept to a larger scale.

Just don’t use this in COIN. The last thing you need is Land Rovergate II. In COIN, MRAP or go home.

Peter Elliott
July 25, 2016 3:30 pm

JH – I’m sure we could in theory. The question would be why would you want to. Surely the base vehicle for any new missile carrier should be one of the new core vehicles: Ajax or MIV. For automotive commonality as much as any other reason.

July 25, 2016 4:03 pm

It seems that your organisation will look like to the French organisation, two light brigades, two heavy brigades and two median brigades.
The two median brigades in France are considered as the brigades that will be most used by the French army, so they are considered as fundamental.
They will do the external operations, around the world.
They will use vehicles that will be in the majority Jaguar and Griffon which will replace the AMX10RC and VAB.
This will be the forces all time and all climates. They will be heavily engaged in operations such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Mali, etc…
They will be adapted to crisis management, conduct operations from the sea which purpose is a ground mission in autonomy, in a 100km frame in 10 days, with safety missions, security or combat in an urban environment.
This is why Strikes Brigades have a primordial importance. I doubt very much an invasion of Europe by Russia, although the presence of heavy equipment to the Polish border is important.
So, in my humble opinion, your most important brigades will be the 16 Air Assault Brigade, the Royal Marines and the Strikes Brigades.
This is why the choice of the family of vehicles that will be dedicated to these brigades is very important, it does not need to be too heavy for a mobility issue, and not too lightweight for troops security issue against mines and IEDs. Therefore a vehicle from 20 to 25 tonnes would be sufficient.

July 25, 2016 4:12 pm


the MBTs won’t go. They may revert to the 1960’s situation when mobility was valued more and protection less than with the Chobham generation (example Leopard 1, which was really thin-skinned, but very much available, mobile and had a standard gun).

Corin Vestey
Corin Vestey
July 25, 2016 4:13 pm

Frenchie – I agree on the organisation. Isn’t a vehicle 20-25 tonnes actually lightweight these days? Can that vehicle handle IEDs , RPGs, technicals a la Boko Haram or whoever…

July 25, 2016 4:38 pm

@ Corin Vestey

I think we should find a balance between mobility and security, and 25 tonnes is already high weight for a vehicle that must cross bridges in Afghanistan. Otherwise in France we have a vehicle like the Aravis, which is used by engineer regiments and have a 4-4-4 STANAG protection, with a weight of 12.5 tonnes. The weight does not do all.

Peter Elliott
July 25, 2016 4:39 pm


I agree with most of your analysis but expect the combat weight of MIV to be much heavier. The governement today will specify the maximum proection levels for any troop carrying vehicle. So while the base vehicle used for training could be quite light maybe it could even reach 40 tonnes at Theatre Entry Standard, especially if we also bolt on ATGW or 40mm gun.

Until MIV is ordered by the UK we will not know what its true mobility, protection or logisitics will be.

Corin Vestey
Corin Vestey
July 25, 2016 4:44 pm

Thanks Frenchie. The French approach is interesting, the Aravis looks like a good vehicle.

Mike W
July 25, 2016 5:07 pm

@Mr. Fred

“52 calibre ordnance on AS90s – it was tried but not taken up for some reason. Possibly dispersion at range made it ineffective, perhaps the nuisance of dealing with a barrel 2m longer was what did it.”

I think the official reason given was that, while funding had been set aside for the re-barrelling of the AS90 with 52 calibre (giving ranges of 30 kms using standard ammunition and 60 to0 80kms with long-range ERA ammunition), there was a difficulty. That was that the inability of the selected bi-polar charge system to meet the requirements for sensitive munitions. Therefore the programme was put on hold. Whether such an obstacle could be overcome, I really would like to know. If the British Army does eventually get the Excalibur shell, would that be a suitable time to upgrade the AS90 to 52 calibre?

Can’t help but agree with Monty that the British Army is, in some respects, a “broken force”. As he says, “UK Land Power has been the victim of years of neglect and needs a comprehensive overhaul if it is to be a credible force with real deterrent value.” The rot really started with the reduction from 100,000 personnel to 82,000. Of course we still had people saying that that number was more than adequate, that 60,000 would be adequate, even 50,000 and so on. The folly of such a view has become only too obvious over recent times with the realization the present-sized force is simply inadequate to carry out the necessary tasks.

Then there is the matter of equipment. As far as I can see, the only significant procurement of new armour over the last twenty years has been that of the purchase of 600 new AJAX just recently. 600! Good grief, it is not so very long ago that we had 900 MBTs in BAOR alone! And the astounding saga of cancellations, changes of direction, confusion etc, to eventually get even those few has been brilliantly chronicled by TD already, so most of you will be conversant with that. As Corin Vestey says, “If we are going to maintain a credible heavy force (and there is no doubt in my mind that we must), then clearly the investment involved is going to be huge.”

The latest news is that the service life of the Gazelle helicopter has been extended out to 2025. (It was due to go out in 2018). A great little machine but we can’t even afford a replacement for that. Talk about an Army that is short of money! Our Land forces have been underfunded for far too long and we now have block obsolescence in terms of equipment. We have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

July 25, 2016 5:12 pm


Our future Jaguar and Griffon will not exceed 25 tonnes with a protection level 4 or 5, 40 tonnes this is madness, the Ministry of Defense is doing the same error that with Ajax, a reconnaissance vehicle with a weight very high, with a very small gun. I understand a Centauro, it makes sense, but Ajax without missiles for protection, it’s crazy. I do not understand.
The same error, the MIV must not weigh more than around 30 tonnes, otherwise it is useless in the field. It has no mobility.
I’m pissed behind my screen, sorry :(

Peter Elliott
July 25, 2016 5:39 pm

Frenchie – let us wait and see what is ordered and what armament they have!

July 25, 2016 8:17 pm

So a force which would fight on a continent with the densest road and rail network in the world by far should be configured to fly in and then have to fight a heavier force?

I appreciate this article tries to think at a fundamental level but it totally side-steps the fact that the Baltic states would be defended by an alliance. NATO forces are on their borders in significant force – they’re just not British forces. So I don’t see much point compromising by deploying a medium weight force against Russian heavy forces.

As upsetting as it is for the fantasy strategists and armchair generals, our biggest contribution to the defence of Europe sits on the CSAD. All this hybrid warfare stuff can be tackled with what we already have. What needs to happen is as usual, tis o increase our munitions stocks and incrementally increase our readiness as we need to. Everytime we focus on one area of the world which requires a particular posture we make sacrifices in other areas. It’s easy to state we should have a force ready to fight WW3 but that comes at a price in other more likely engagement areas.

I hate doctrine
I hate doctrine
July 25, 2016 8:54 pm

Interesting article – just to correct a few errors. In the event of a continental conflict, UK air defence will always take primacy. So that means a majority of Typhoon Sqns will stay at home and will form part of integrated AD along with AWACS, Surv posts etc. The assumption that we would deploy our most capable air defence asset to the continent is incorrect as it would leave us open to strategic strike and by that I mean good ol fashioned bombing. So with that in mind maybe the discussion should the steered towards UK land forces that may not have adequate fixed wing/fast jet air cover if working unilaterally?

July 25, 2016 9:04 pm

you don’t seem to have read the article (if you were referring to it with that deployment by air and alliance remarks).
Nothing in the “TWO” section rules out MBTs, and the article talking about UK land power liberating Lithuania or defending Norway does in itself acknowledge the presence of an alliance and a multinational approach. I didn’t write about Norway defending itself or Lithuania defending itself, after all.

So maybe figure out some criticism that actually applies to the article (unless you meant to reply to a comment, but your choice of words largely rules this out).

“NATO forces are on their borders in significant force”
is meaningless since the level where significance begins is up for interpretation, but you sure aren’t informed about actual troops in the Baltic and NE Poland region if you think those could withstand what the Russians could throw that way within a week (and this with the benefit of surprise!).
Sadly, the German army isn’t configured to be of much help in that region during the first week.

July 25, 2016 9:05 pm

Whenever I see comments that the CR2 is obsolete, I often wonder if the author knows what obsolete means. Obsolete is a musket compared to a breech loading rifle. A man-o-war against an ironclad.
A tank gun that is effective against all bar the top few percent of all tanks, let alone likely opponents doesn’t seem obsolete to me. Obsolescent, perhaps.
I wonder too, what these large swaths of missions that it will be unable to complete will be.

While it’s not in a desirable state of affairs, it’s not yet hopeless.

Also, to those claiming the end of the tank, I think that you are a hundred years late to jump on that particular bandwagon. If missile-armament makes the current crop of MBTs obsolete, what do you think the next generation of MBTs will be armed with?

Fixes based on equipment may help relieve the symptoms, but if the Army is broken, it may be more a lack of training in key areas rather than absence of shiny toys.
That said, the MIV is needed to provide protected mobility to the bulk of the army. Though thoughts of making it an all-singing, all-dancing go-anywhere do-everything should take a long, hard look at AFV programmes of the last thirty years and not do it. FRES is a four-letter word beginning with ‘F’.
A 40tonne IFV on wheels? Just say no.

July 25, 2016 9:14 pm

There’s several brigades (assuming next to do notice) which will have an umbrella of air-power all of which will last long enough to see the nukes fly. It’s that simple in the face of a conventional invasion. In reality there is likely to be a considerable build up of tension and military mobilisation as the Russians are in shit state despite their sabre rattling – they are in a position of fundamental weakness and NATO in a position of fundamental strength. It would not take long to reinforce the states and hopefully deter an invasion.

In the face of this “hybrid” war then the force structure we have now would likely be sufficient and deficiencies in manpower and munitions made good in 6-12 months or so. The whole scenario you’ve painted is a straw man scenario to justify your views on what an Army should look like. You ignore the reality of the situation which is Russia being weak, NATO forces are deployed very close to the Baltic states and capable of being reinforced quickly enough to deploy a trip-wire. Once that trip-wire is there Russia either goes balls-out and fights nuclear from Day One or she bottles it. Capability wise she’s no match for NATO and every day that NATO gets in warning sees her relative position weaken.

July 25, 2016 9:31 pm

Phil, you’re perfectly ignorant about what I think or take into account.

I have written several articles about how Russia actually is weak in the Western Military district, and as a whole compared to NATO or EU as a whole.
But my preferred scenario (against which I think deterrence should be oriented) is pretty close to those that published studies by RAND or the recent one have used.

The use of nukes against an invading force is a ridiculous idea nowadays. Russia may blow up a nuke over the Baltic Sea as a warning shot against a liberation of an already conquered Baltic region, but no previous nuke employment is anywhere close to believable.

And you’re poorly informed about how quickly NATO could reinforce the region. Airborne forces could arrive quickly, but would have little usefulness on their own despite the 1/3 woodland in the area.
The NATO Response Force (40k personnel) has a rating of deployment within 30 days only, and is a brittle multinational patchwork.
The puny Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (5k personnel only) has a rating of 2 days for advance logistic and liaison teams and 14 days for the full force.
Depending on sources, the Russians are believed to be able to push through Lithuania and connect with Kaliningrad Oblast within hours (if coming from Belarus) or at most a week (then as part of an occupation of all of the Baltic region and no participation of Belarus). The typical guesses from high ranking officials are 36-60 hrs for the whole coup de main. The border length (Belarus included) is comparable to the Cold War’s Central European front, the defences aren’t even a single corps equivalent.

Your use of the word “hybrid” makes no sense and looks like random buzzword use to me.

Overall, you Phil seem to be unfamiliar with the whole problem of Baltic defence.

July 25, 2016 10:13 pm

Sven I take your article for what has been written here. Apologies I haven’t read your back catalogue or absorbed it by osmosis.

The biggest chink in NATO armour would be the perception that we’d die in place to defend Central Europe but we’d not see the Baltic states as worth fighting for when push comes to shove. Russia knows this, NATO knows it hence the effort going into place to show that collective defence means collective defence.

So many states have come unstuck because they thought the other side wouldn’t fight for a peripheral territory. We went to war over Belgium and we went to war over Poland. Not only that, any serious thinkers know that if we didn’t behave in absolutist terms when it comes to the defence of the Baltic states then NATO may as well fold tonight. We have the capability to defend the Baltic states, we have the capability to defeat the Russian state and we are signalling strongly in proportion to the level of threat that that capability is backed by intent to do so.

I wouldn’t fancy the odds if I was Putin.

Hybrid warfare is indeed some terrible buzzword but it’s being used a lot in the context of Crimea and Ukraine with Russia so it’s used as shorthand for a largely non conventional attempt at take over via a stare backed insurgency and “peace force”. That’s about Russia’s only option and try walking that tightrope when it would be obvious they were attempting conquest by the backdoor.

The Russians are right in that NATO is quite aggressive. The biggest challenge is balancing proportional aggression and capability without pushing the Russians into a desperate move.

July 25, 2016 10:40 pm

Medium weight bollocks. If we want to deter the Russians, we need full spectrum heavy forces, and forward deployed ones at that. No, we don’t need divisions forward, but a rotating brigade sounds a great idea. And as says, if we have a great road and rail network, having a few hundred more Commanders is really a minimal expense compared to a whole new fleet of medium weight vehicles of minimal utility against anything heavier than the Taliban.

July 26, 2016 12:35 am

An interesting article that does critique the recent RAND exercises. Here are the main points I took from the article:

– The objectives RAND uses for a Russian snap invasion is to ‘undermine’ the collective defence of NATO. However this could by achieved without the escalation that could lead to the nuclear level.

– The exercise makes no mention of nuclear escalation as the Russian’s do seem to like the idea of offsetting any NATO hegemonic advantage with tactical nuclear weapons. The scary prospect of their nuclear ‘de-escalation’ doctrine comes to mind too.

– Increasing the force posture could lead to further escalation by the redeployment of Russia’s fighting divisions to the Baltic’s and Poland.

– The exercise states that Russia could ready its forces in ten days in Kaliningrad and their Western Oblasts for a full blown invasion. However there is no mention that these forces may have interoperable difficulties and makes no mention about any resistance by the Baltic members.

stephen duckworth
July 26, 2016 1:46 am

What defines ‘heavy’ armour? Ajax , the full fat version, starts at 38t with growth potential to 42t mounting a 2 man 40 mm armed turret. The bulk of the Russian kit is still the 41.5 t T-72 with its 125mm main gun. Are we defining heavy on the gun calibre or vehicle weight ? Ajax ,if even more lard is applied, could out weigh a T-72 .

July 26, 2016 1:55 am

Phil was a lot more eloquent and structured than I about the shortcomings in Sven’s article but he nailed it in general.

The article paints with a very broad brush and makes a lot of assumptions without supporting evidence, like “Russians would have worked out a counter to Javelin” without an analysis of what these counters are or if they would be effective against his suggested HVMs too, interspaced with name calling, dissatisfaction over historical names of units (I’d love to see his response to a name like the People’s Liberation Army Navy then) and hat waving to his ideology on non-intervention coupled with a super narrow focus on the use of the BA in a potential conflict with Russia and a lazy “technological” fix and a suggestion to do what the BA is currently doing.

Military “reformer” I tell ya. Military “reformer”.


These people tend to believe they have all the answers and everyone else is an idiot. Hence their suggestions of how to “fix” things. In 3 totally different armies to boot. After all, everyone in the 3 armies are idiots, right?

July 26, 2016 3:03 am

Interesting twists and turns in the discussion. I don’t think Sven’s “scenarios” on how the British Army can help in the defence of continental European NATO helps much. While Putin may be looney enough to try on something in the Baltic, why the hell would he invade Norway ?

Outside of these scenarios, I still say we are still largely broken. Whether the obsolescent Challenger 2, the lack of artillery and overall “fires” capabilities, or the demise of the Royal Corps of Signals as documented recently by he who shall not be named. The lack of clear strategy on procurement of FRES (medium-heavy fracked), Warrior upgrade (medium tracked), the MIV (medium wheeled?) and the MRV-P (light-ish wheeled); plus all those “UOR to core” fleets. Training apears to be a challenge, as does maintenance (“whole fleet management” anybody ?) and can manning even match the numbers that are much lower than most of us deem necessary. So there is much to worry about, when aligned to a political class that likes to meddle. Does the Army actually need fixing, depends on what they want it to do !

July 26, 2016 3:10 am

Observer – there are plenty of existing Western and Russian countermeasures to a Javelin type IR Imaging sensor based ATGW, from radar or optical missile launch / approach warners, laser “jammers”, multi-spectral smoke and hard-kill “anti-missile” projectiles. The Russians have deployed systems on upgraded models of tanks for years and there is plenty of analysis online of what the T14 Armatta might or might not be packing in all those tubes !

July 26, 2016 3:17 am

Jed, and he never analysed it to see if his solution would work on them too. That was the problem. IIRC, the CKEM uses laser guidance, which makes it a beam riding SACLOS type missile.