The Strike Brigade – what, why, how?
A GUEST POST FROM JED
It appears to this humble arm chair general, that the British Army has a fundamental problem, or three.
After over a decade of constant deployment and action in a counter-insurgency role, there appears to be a resurgent interest in “high intensity” operations against so called peer level adversaries, perhaps fueled by Mr Putin’s Russia making it’s forays into Georgia, and Crimea and the eastern part of Ukraine. I don’t want to argue geopolitics, but the world wide threat assessment is what drives our governmental security policy, which in turn shapes the missions of our armed forces, which of course drives their size and shape, and their equipment procurement.
I would also suggest that Government after Government, of whatever political stripe eschews any grand strategy in favour of short termism and that in causes great problems for the armed forces. This shows itself in strategy and concepts of operations which although dressed up in flowery political language often appear to be budget driven. Hence, review after review we have man power cuts and capability cuts (oh, sorry “capability holidays” !). Yet even the army senior leadership seems to think we retain a broad and well rounded army capable of as many missions as the politicians can dream up. While I am sure it is very, very difficult as a serving head of the Army to tell the PM of the day that they are insane, that does not at the same time absolve the senior generals from coming up with their own not well thought out concepts !
Which brings us to the matter in question – the Strike Brigade. This beast seems to be vexing many an arm chair general, so I thought I would give TD my thoughts on the subject and let you all way lyrical in the comments section.
Future Force 2020
The last great plan, which actually seemed quite sensible and workable to me, from the outside looking in basically split the forces available by role, “weight” and availability criteria:
- Immediate Reaction forces – the very high readiness elements of the Royal Marines and the Para’s / 16 Air Assault Brigade.
- The Reaction Force – 3 Armoured Infantry Brigades with 5 maneuver units (Armoured Recce, Armoured (MBT), 2 x Armoured Infantry (Warrior), 1 x Mechanised Infantry (Mastiff)
- The Adaptable Force – Infantry and light recce units that could be pulled together to form not less than 2 deployable brigades of 4 maneuver units (1 recce, 3 infantry)
- Force Troops – Artillery, Engineer, Signals and logistics units brought together / deployed as required to support the deployable brigades.
Basically instead of the previous plan for 5 identical deployable brigades, this plan cut the cloth to meet the budget and yet still produced 5 brigades for rotation through an enduring deployment. While maybe not perfect, personally I thought this was a “good enough” and in many ways quite sensible structure. With UOR procured vehicles taken into the core fleet, the final appearance of the Ajax family of vehicles, Warrior upgrade progamme etc. it actually seemed a balanced plan that could provide a force not just for long term peace keeping / peace enforcement / COIN tasking, but also a heavier force for NATO or coalition ops against a peer / near peer enemy.
Not that there were not problems, Challenger 2 upgrade needed funding, the cuts in the Royal Corps of Signals (my beloved Corps) seemed to be impacting on the number of HQ’s that could be supported in the field, and similarly the Royal Artillery seemed to be in a somewhat parlous state with cuts to the AS90 fleet and reliance on towed light guns etc.
Fast forward to the latest and greatest of the so called strategic reviews, and we get a new force structure before we are anywhere near achieving the last one. This time we aspire to provide a division for a high intensity fight, and as part of the force structure we are bringing back the idea of an 8 x 8 wheeled armoured vehicle last seen as FRES UV and now known as the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV). It would appear from comments made that we would aim to pull together a division based on:
- An Armoured Infantry Brigade (one of two)
- A Strike Brigade (one of two)
- A (Protected Mobility) Infantry Brigade (one of two ?)
The Strike Brigade – what is it, what is it for ?
As part of the newly minted force structure it appears that the Armoured Infantry brigades would be cut to 2, while 2 new formations based on the MIV would be created. These would be known as Strike Brigades, a somewhat obvious homage to the U.S. Army’s “medium” Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) aka the Stryker Brigades, named after their ride the GD Stryker 8 x 8 evolution of the LAV .
The Chief of the General Staff, Sir Nick Carter did not provide a great deal of detail as to the size and shape of the Strike Brigade, nor the impact of it’s creation on other formations. Discussion ensued and details started to appear, for example although the number of tracked FRES Scout (Ajax family) would not be increased, they would now be spread across four brigades instead of three. Also the role of the MIV became somewhat more clear as the MOD / Army stated they would be looking at an off the shelf 8 x 8 APC.
So what do we think is the concept of operations behind a Strike Brigade?
Well in many respects we are just jumping on a band wagon that many (if not all ?) of our allies jumped on some years ago. After the Russians zoomed into Kosovo in a long and fast road march in wheeled BTR type vehicles, the theatre-strategic mobility of wheeled armour seemed to grab western army imaginations. The French and Italians did not need to be sold on the concept, they had been using wheeled light armoured vehicles alongside their tanks for decade. The French particularly have a long history of the use wheeled armoured cars and APC’s in 40 years of colonial and anti-terrorist operations, largely in Africa. Stryker brigades made some long range and high speed movements across Iraq’s road network that also impressed U.S. Army leadership.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this concept of a wheeled armoured force, who’s main advantage is theatre-strategic mobility, the so called ability to self deploy. In the self defence of continental European NATO, the ability to use an extensive road network offering many different routes from A to B, mostly (?) under a secure air defence umbrella to enable speed of movement seems like a worthwhile objective. For our larger European allies, this may even mean rapid deployment within their own borders. For light to medium weight armoured vehicles, the advantage over heavy armour which needs to be deployed via wheeled heavy transport vehicles (tank transporters) or by rail, is one of getting into action at the point where it is needed more rapidly.
In a rather more British expeditionary scenario, theatre-strategic mobility could still be of great utility even if the purely strategic transport function for both heavy tracked or wheeled medium weight armoured vehicles as both would likely be deployed by sea; however the ability to move swiftly from the point of debarkation to the area of need, remains and advantage.
So if the concept of wheeled medium armoured formations is sound, why do so many of us seem to think the British Strike Brigades appear to be an unmitigated dollop of fudge dressed up with some out of date whipped cream ?
Where exactly is the Strike in the Strike Brigade ?
As far as we know it would appear that a Strike Brigade will consist of:
- Medium Armoured Regiment – Ajax
- 2 Mechanised Infantry Battalions – MIV 8 x 8 APC
- 1 Protected Mobility Infantry Battalion – Mastiff
If we thin out the Ajax numbers on order, including the 245 Ajax Scout with the 40mm CTA to equip 4 regiments (one each for the 2 remaining armoured infantry brigades and the new Strike brigades) that could give us a “type 56” Ajax regiment, echoing the format of a Challenger 2 regiment, but this would appear to be sole fire power of a Strike Brigade. Let’s be clear, the army has said it might be looking for 300 to 350 MIV, and that they will be APC’s so expect an armament of at most a dual weapon RWS. There has been no mention of an Anti-Armour Ajax variant as yet, although we have seen one displayed with an un-armoured Javelin clipped on to the Protector RWS. So it would appear, that to provide some hitting power we would need to deploy AS90 155mm howitzers, which are “heavy” and tracked. For long range hitting power with GMLRS rockets, we would need the M270 launcher vehicles, which are heavy and tracked….. So we can see where the standard British fudgery is coming into play here, right ?
Basically it appears that after decades of throwing good money after bad on FRES, if we are going to buy a certain number, which really is not that large, and obviously is no where near as large as originally envisioned, we would look stupid if we cut them to buy something else. So lets eek out the ones we have got to include these weird Strike Brigades, just to give them something with a turret and a gun. Do we even have enough tank transport type vehicles to deploy the Ajax equipped regiment, a couple of batteries of AS90 and a battery of M270 plus some engineering vehicles and plant on a fast road march across Europe to rapidly reinforce a threatened ally ?
Do we think the rail links, offering less alternative routes, could be secured against action by saboteurs / terrorists?
Personally I find it hard to believe our current army senior leadership does not see the issues with the wheeled medium / tacked medium to heavy mix. There was talk recently at DVD 2016 reported by various military media outlets that the Royal Artillery would like to find money for various firepower projects, included wheeled 155mm guns, specifically to match the theatre-strategic mobility requirements of the Strike Brigade. However, money is going to be a problem, as ever. So the cynic in me wonders if the Strike Brigade is just PR smoke and mirrors to disguise cuts to the armoured force, and the budgets allocated to upgrades. If we have only 2 armoured infantry brigades we need less Challenger 2’s and less Warriors upgraded, in fact we might need to cut the money from these programs just afford the MIV APC’s !!
Doom and gloom
So the current prognosis seems to be a poor one: Less tanks, less AIFV, and mixed tracked / wheeled brigade that negates the advantages of a wheeled only formation, and with very little combat power. There are alternatives though, many of which might not actually need additional investment. So let us investigate some alternative options, what we could do with a little extra money, or even better perhaps with none at all ?
Option 1 – Full on wheeled
If we are going to reduce the number of Challenger 2 and Warrior to be upgraded, could we afford to make the Strike Brigade all wheeled? How might this work? Well if we keep all the 32 – 40 tonne Ajax family vehicles in the Armoured Infantry brigades, and spread them, say 16 each into the Armoured Infantry battalions (8 in a Recce Platoon, 8 in a direct fire support platoon) then go with an upgraded Warrior which is a turretless “heavy” APC with a 40mm GMG / 7.62mm MG only, we reduce the firepower of the heaviest formations, but we use the investment to upgrade the Striker Brigades.
Well at DVD 2016 Lockheed displayed the export version of their Warrior turret on a Patria AMV. The Export version even packs an armoured box launcher for a Javelin. So take the Warrior turrets contracted for, and apply them to a suitable 8 x 8. If we can find a MIV cheap enough, perhaps we can buy enough for 2 wheeled medium armour recce regiments (so upping the total requirement to 6 battalions worth).
It would appear that VBCI2, Piranha 5 etc can carry 6 dismounts with a turret basket protruding into the main compartment. So putting your guns into the recce regiment MIV’s, the infantry battalion recce and AT platoons, and running the “standard” MIV as an APC with the RWS, at least gives a fully wheeled formation with a fair number of medium calibre auto-cannon and if we could afford the export version of the turret, a Javelin “up and ready”.
An 81mm mortar carrier, firing through open roof hatches would be better than nothing, and for harder hitting artillery the French CEASAR 6 x 6 155mm gun on a MAN armoured cab chassis is probably the cheapest option, although the Donar 155mm turret on the Boxer chassis remains an interesting option.
A long term affordability plus that might help fund the extra MIV would be enough Warrior ABSV conversions to finally get rid of all the remaining FV432 variants, that must a considerable drain on maintenance budgets. Finally if money were no object then I would see if our preferred MIV could take a CMI turret and deploy a 120mm gun as the anti-tank over-watch vehicle, rather than a missile system. Call them anti-tank guns, put them in the AT platoon of infantry battalions and hope against hope that this means politicians wont deploy them as “tanks” !!
In the end, could we afford to go fully wheeled by shuffling the existing budgets around ?
Option 2 – Go French (or “low end of medium weight”)
After a decade of tests, experiments and deliberations (sounds familiar eh?) the French have finally ramped up their Scorpion project to revamp their entire Army. There structure is somewhat like that for which we are aiming – light rapid intervention brigades (Marines and Paras), heavy brigades based on Leclerc MBT and VBCI 8 x 8 AIFV, and medium “mechanised” brigades which will benefit most from the new vehicles. The scale of the French programme leads me to believe that if we jumped in now, there could be considerable advantage in price to getting involved as a joint program.
The French are to replace their venerable 4 x4 VAB with the 6 x 6 VBMR “Griffon” 20 tonne APC with a crew of 2 and carrying an 8 man squad. With over a 1,700 required, with all the variants the British Army could ever require already designed / developed including mortar carrier, Command vehicle, ambulance, engineer and recovery vehicle, could we work with this solution? A boxy 6 x 6 APC might not seem as sexy as an 8 x 8, but as we only intend to run the said 8 x 8 as a lightly armed APC, are the French on to something we have missed ? Don’t forget the French run their VBCI with a 25mm gun equipped turret as their main AIFV alongside their MBT’s.
The other requirement is for 600 plus 6 x 6 EBRC “Jaguar” armoured recce vehicle.
A 25 tonne specialist recce vehicle with the Anglo-French 40mm CTA cannon and the new MMP missile, it seems to me that equipping 2 x armoured recce regiments, and the recce and AT platoons of the Griffon equipped battalions would give a “French Style” Strike brigades some teeth. Of course the artillery would remain French too, with either the original manually loaded CEASAR 6 x 6 or perhaps the new CESAR 8 x 8 with it’s auto-loader and higher capacity magazine, on a MAN armoured cab chassis.
Option 3 – Go American (or “light weight”)
Ahhh I bet you thought I was going to say go with the new Stryker Double V-Hull as the MIV. Wrong.
Apparently we are very interested in the Oshkosh L-ATV (JLTV) as the light end of our Multi-Role Vehicle (Protected) requirement, again largely due to the price being driven by the massive scale at which the U.S. will purchase these vehicles. What does this have to do with the Strike Brigades ? Well perhaps they could “go light” in that the heavy end of MRV-P could also be a MIV ? The L-ATV as a 7 tonne, 4 to 5 crew vehicle, capable of carrying RWS or weapons stations with M230 30mm medium velocity cannon (used on our Apaches) or a Moog reconfigurable weapons platform that can take 2 Javelin in protected launchers for example could equip the recce regiment.
It’s bigger brother the M-ATV which is available in long wheelbase 4 x 4 APC (up to 11 seats) at a 16 tonne curb weight, or 6 x 6 APC (up to15 seats) with a 19 tonne curb weight; and in many existing available variants such as command and ambulance vehicles might provide a vehicle which maybe at the low end of a MIV specification sheet, but eminently affordable. If you take the TAK4i suspension and the improved engine of the L-ATV and add it to the M-ATV, the mobility might not be all that much less than an8 x 8, which would really seem to be the real concern. The M-ATV was churned out by Oshkosh at 1,000 vehicles a month at its peak !
In massive use with the U.S Army and Marines, this could turn out to be the cheapest option, even if it seems a bit “lower spec” than an 8 x 8 like a Patria AMV, Boxer or a GD Piranha 5, it can for example still be fitted with an active protection system, as well as providing basic protection from small arms / medium MG fire and artillery frag.
Option 4 – Just don’t do it !
Keep the existing 3 armoured infantry brigades as they are! If there is a need to politically save face, then rename them as strike brigades and replace the Mastiff ride for the Mechanised infantry battalion with a lower number of the cheapest 8 x 8 you can find. With this option we keep one third more Chally 2 in the front line inventory, and we make up a little for reducing the upgraded Warrior to 6 dismounts (or Panzer Grenadier’s as I like to call them) by providing an 8 x 8 APC which can carry 8.
We can still build a division around one of these brigades, plus an Adaptable Force “Protected Mobility” infantry brigade, and we can add an allied brigade, say Danish or Dutch or Norwegian to provide more AIFV. Sure it still might be better to replace at least some AS90 with 52 calibre 155mm guns with say a CEASAR 8 x 8, and even the remaining 105mm LG with the manually crew served CESAR 6 x 6 for support less than divisional level deployments based around the Adaptable Force Protected Mobility battalions. Yes we would deny ourselves of the wheeled armoured high theatre-strategic mobility option for future operations, but plenty of our allies can provide this capability, while we can concentrate on backing them up with heavier tracked forces. Perhaps we would actually need to keep one of the Armoured Infantry brigades in Germany, or even Poland, to demonstrate our commitment and reducing the potential distance to deploy to continental European hot spots – ok lets face it, the Baltics……
Go big or go……..
Before I complete my rant thinly disguised as an essay; I would like to note there is a further variant of Option 1 – lets call it “1 Heavy”;
If we were to reduce Armoured Infantry brigades to 2, why not make them Armoured Brigades ? Get rid of the Mastiff based mechanised infantry battalion and convert an armoured recce regiment to Challenger 2. So the Armoured Brigades would be 2 Chally regiments, and 2 Warrior Regiments with the Ajax recce regiment. With 2 regiments of tanks, and lots of Ajax spread around the Warrior’s would definitely just be in the APC role with no turreted medium calibre cannon. We have enough Challengers to upgrade, and as the rest of our formations are very definitely infantry heavy, and not all 4 regiments would be online and at high readiness, does it not make sense to increase tank numbers, not reduce them ?
We have not heard much officially about the Strike Brigades, how they will be equipped or setup, or doctrinally how they might be used. In my opinion they are a typical massive fudge and pretty much good for nothing as the plans now stand. I will happily be proved to be an idiot arm chair general by the Army’s senior leadership, but I am fairly confident that won’t happen. My preferred option from those I outlined above is to stay with the last plan, retain the FF2020 orbat, and if someone feels they need to save face then buy 200 8 x 8 APC’s to replace the Mastiff and just rename the existing brigades as strike brigades, then the government could even say they have created 3 of them instead of the originally mentioned 2 !
So, what do you think ?