The British Army – Transformation in an Age of Complexity

I know, more retirements than Sinatra, as I might have mentioned, decided to keep the current site as is but do the odd long form post, maybe three or four per year.

This is a lead in to a number of subsequent posts on British Army transformation

Comments in the second part please

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
November 3, 2018 10:10 pm

Which infantry fighting vehicles exist within the SV contract? The current count is zero, as far as I am aware.
The concept for an IFV based on the ASCOD 2 chassis has a 30mm rather than the CT40 that the army apparently wants as its standard weapon in that class.

If MLRS and AS90 are withdrawn, what replaces them? Does the armoured force borrow from the Strike Division? If so what sort of systems would you be looking at?

With the armoured force, I’d be inclined to say that if you’re going to penny packet* it, don’t bother and cut the lot. If that leaves you lacking a capability you need, then perhaps a reconsideration would be in order?

I fear that we have invested a great deal in the SV contract that doesn’t fill any need we have, particularly if we move away from the armoured force and focus on the wheeled rapid intervention force.

* yes, you predicted it

November 4, 2018 4:04 pm

Hi TD, glad to see you back (and out of the box, as per usual!).

So far, not buying much of it, but keeping an open mind. This part (in effect a third “strike ” bde) should proceed, regardless of the rest. As the cmmander of the French Special Forces said: SF Ops often take much more than just the SF
“The Parachute Regiment and specialist capabilities like parachute medical, logistics and especially airfield engineering would be combined in a new SF Support function, with 16AAB disbanded as a single entity.

Air Mobility Brigade [:] With no parachute capability, this brigade would be solely reliant on air transport and support helicopters for inter and intra theatre mobility. The force would also be wheeled, with each vehicle capable of being lifted by the Chinook helicopter.”

November 4, 2018 6:31 pm

Have to say I agree with a lot of this. Particularly I think the role of the Reserve army taking over ceremonial and operation temperer you could have full time people in a few key positions but on the whole it could be the role of the reserves.

I think those hard decisions need to be taken by defence as a whole. Unless we plan to have fwd positioned equipment at scale in a few places then the majority of our deployment capability for any future conflict needs to come from the UK by either land sea or air.

I’ve thought for a while that a global small scale capability or a regional medium scale cability is about what 2% of gdp buys us. If you want to increase we need to go up the % of gdp scale. It’s proably all we have the helicopter and transport a/c and ships to support at significant range from the uk

The prevention is better than cure force is an interesting one and one that arguably used to be at least part the role of SF. A growing role I think which includes the fight against irregular forces, I may of mentioned before I would have this as a role for the SF support group who would expand. I would go back to history and reform the independent companies we formed in 1940. Perhaps 12 such formations as our primary global deployable capability , with all the army capability as you describe but of a footing up the sophistication scale.

I will quote a Scottish submarine captain, “when Cortez reaches the new world he burned his ships as such his men were well motivated” I think your plan for the main body of the army is still hedging bets. As an airforce loves a bomber the army loves a battle tank! Keeping a token heavy armour unit will mean maintaining a hanckering for their favourite toy and funding will be channeled accordingly and commitment to wheels less than enthusiastic. So I would go for 5 brigades of boxer with all variants imaginable to create a proper strike brigade and loose the armour and the light brigade. Wheeled vehicles give us the greatest spread across different conflicts and be it Europe or North Africa the easiest force to deploy over distance and look after itself while doing it. We won’t be doing a head long charge against the red army over the fulda gap with such a force, but it will be capable of using missiles and the like to inflict damage on armoured forces. As Urbanisation grows the requirement to operate against peer or peer backed insurgents in built up areas or cities will grow and wheels are proably better than tracks for this.

November 6, 2018 8:37 am

“meet our NATO commitments on spending and nudge those in delinquency to do likewise”
Those non-binding “commitments” are stupid, though. They shouldn’t play a role in any proposal.

About NATO defence in the East; keep that M3 pontoon bridge engineers unit in Germany!

November 6, 2018 7:00 pm

Likely (if not for the manning part of it?) “keep that M3 pontoon bridge engineers unit in Germany!”
as it is today a joint unit… or was that only for the duration of the Brits being the lead for the very high readiness force
November 6, 2018 8:12 pm

As an interested amateur observer, frankly, I think the idea of the British army launching a thousand mile extended charge of the light brigade all the way across Europe in the hope of meeting the red hordes somewhere in central poland to then get blown to smithereens because were no where near our logistical bases is, well, interesting. Theres also that bit of water in the way – its a good thing Ivan doesnt have any submarines

The reality is the BAOR doesnt exist anymore. We no longer have the support footprint in continental Europe, we are leaving the EU and we are reverting to our traditional role of a small high qulity relatively lightly armed expeditionary force. Germany is alot closer to Estonia than we are and if they cannot be bothered stumping up the ground forces then Estonia aint gonna get defended thats just the reality. The Franco German uro-army has 150million people to draw on the eastern front is their turf. We can supply QRA Typhoons TLAMS AWACs the nuclear deterrent and a link to the US nuclear umbrella, but realistically thatsabout it.

IMHO the best thing we can do with our heavy armour is donate it to Poland or the Ukraine who can man it and park it close to the Russkis far more cheaply than we can.

November 6, 2018 8:12 pm
November 10, 2018 12:31 pm

Another interesting piece TD

Create money by reducing mass.

I think this is inevitable but needs to be done properly and by that I mean taking the decision to actually cut infantry cap badges so as to reinvest (not as a source of money for the other services) the money and and some manpower to the abilities that allow us to deploy and sustain the combat power we retain.

More Infantry regiments modeled on the Rifles (do we need Irish, Welsh, Scots along with grenadier and coldstream guards or could we just have Guards?) with the ability of members to move across btns to differing roles such as light and medium etc to allow for a fair crack at the whip for career progression and aid retention (boredom kills enthusiasm). The pain will only be short lived and should allow future organisation of the forces to be a little simpler for both expansion and contraction if a btn is going but the the cap badge is retained by others. The corps units of the army have been constantly reduced and expanded in other areas as when required since options for change, with little political outcry in part because the capbadge is being retained.

I would also establish a parachute platoon (possibly coy?) for all infantry cap badges along with cavalry/armoured units so as to open up all avenues to everyone and to encourage recruitment into SF.

Spend More on Our People.

Absolutely but just spending more money on housing and welfare will not aid retention or recruitment imo. Firstly we need to stop the pure wreak of desperation that is emanating from the armed forces in terms of recruitment. Draw a line, set your standards and keep them, we are a fully developed nation and that should be mirrored in our recruitment of the armed forces and therefore means no GCSE’s as a minimum then no entry. At the moment the army spends time and money on individuals to gain the minimum qualifications that should be gained through the already funded education system, education within the military should be seen as purely further, higher and vocational these need to be improved and encouraged.

This does not mean that the armed forces do not offer such individuals the opportunity to gain entry. If an individual does not meet minimal education requirements they can be mentored etc at minimal cost but this should be done in concert with the civilian structure in place and used as a way of signalling to others (especially academia) that the armed forces are not an occupation of last resort, if you want to compete for the best and brightest then you need to be seen to be competing for them.

If there was a reduction in manpower coupled with the opening up of all roles to females it may be the time to make the adjustment.

This is just a tiny start before you look a t lateral entry and other retention and recruitment tools but I think retention, recruitment and readiness levels are a large problem at the moment.

(As a side is the problem with obesity within the armed linked to the introduction of pay as you dine? I would argue it is one of the causes.)

Modular Armoured Force

The concept is sound and is similar to what I have menioned elsewhere I think (or here maybe?). At the moment combined arms maneuver requires a heavy element to conduct fully and allow complete freedom of movement. Could this be organised into a single brigade based on the famous 79 armoured div from the second world war and battlegroups added to medium/light units as and when required but which can also be massed and used together if required, they would however need to come as a complete package including elements of logistics to alleviate the extra requirements on the hosting unit.

Medium wheeled is without a doubt the area in which the mainstay of our combat power should be focused and prioritised although should we go one step further and count our firepower in deployable battlegroups. I think we should go for a step up and step down concept by which I mean that all formations are organised into a logistically self contained battlegroup that is as feasably possible so as to allow battlegroups to be bolted onto either a heavier or lighter formation without an increase in the logistical demands (especially for the lighter unit) required most notable fuel and bridging.

As usual all of the above is up for derision or debate.

R Cummings
R Cummings
November 10, 2018 1:24 pm

I don’t think the central premise of wheeled mobility replacing heavier formations is the right way to go at all.

Specifically, the Strike brigade is not designed or intended for use in combat against heavy forces, including MBTs, heavy artillery or modern attack helicopters. If we look at the timeless and enduring ‘iron triangle’, the central element of Strike, Boxer:-
– does not have the cross-country MOBILITY of a tracked opponent and would be out-manoeuvred all too easily
– does not have, at Stanag 4, the PROTECTION levels to be involved in a peer level contest
– does not have the FIREPOWER to take on enemy tanks or artillery.

It doesn’t have these features in spades because its job is to transport infantry up to the front line and to protect them in a low-intensity, COIN-type conflict. The German army accurately terms them armoured TRANSPORT vehicles, they are in effect routemarch taxis. It is notable that the Dutch order for 200 doesn’t include ANY APCs or IFVs, they are all battlegroup support vehicles – command, ambulance, repair, cargo etc.

The picture gets murky when Ajax is factored in. Because it’s tracked, many see it being up-gunned to be a serious armoured fighting vehicle. That is neither the need nor the intention. It is there to provide reconnaissance and fire support for the Strike brigade, not to take on enemy heavy forces with its little 40mm gun. There is however the danger that politicians and some Generals start to see Strike as an armoured fighting force, which it certainly isn’t.

The value of our heavier Challenger 2, supported by AS-90, Warrior and Apache, will again be self-evident if NATO calls for heavy forces to be deployed to eastern Europe or some other part of the globe to deter or contest against near-peer forces, as per Iraq or the threatened forced entry to Kosovo. Next time – there will inevitably be a next time – it might be Iran or Ukraine or some other sudden trouble spot.

The army is working on having a balanced force of two heavy bdes (Challenger/Warrior), two mechanised bdes (Boxer/Ajax) and two light bdes (3 Cdo and 16 Air Assault), which sounds plausible and balanced. I do not personally believe it is either.

To play any useful NATO role, it is inconceivable that we would field less than an armoured infantry division. That is pretty small beer to back up the Polish army or do our allotted job in Estonia, the need is for 4 heavy brigades, which is currently reduced to 3 and is reducing to 2 to to man these Strike brigades. This really is ass about face, as the latter would be rather peripheral in any peer v peer contest.

What the army should be doing as its first priority is upgrading the Challengers and Warriors, but the Challenger 2 LEP and Warrior CSP have been dragging on for years now with no results so far and much foot-dragging. These equipments are 20 and 30+ years old and the Bulldog coming up to 50! As we apparently cannot afford to replace them, we should at least get on with upgrading what we’ve got and pushing on with the Warrior ABSV version, which appears to have slid left in the procurement programme.

One can make many excuses for the dllatory progress – sure, the army’s AFV budget has been raided again and again to balance the MOD books , the vanity Carrier and Dreadnought programmes have totally swamped the defence budget, etc. But the key question to Gen Carter and his successor as CGS is: why are you racing away ordering expensive new kit like Ajax, Boxer and the Oshkosh LTV, before spending the necessary pennies on upgrading the armoured infantry force, which is the sole battle-winning element in the land forces armoury?

We all like shiny new toys, because they are fun, but the Chiefs don’t have the luxury of playing at it. If the call comes from UN or NATO or Commonwea;th partner and our armoured vehicles have to take to the battlefield, it will likely be a serious national embarrassment as our kit is not up to date and not up to peer engagements.

I would personally scrap the 2nd planned Strike brigade, given that we are most unlikely to rush into another low-intensity war any time soon, the public mood would simply not buy it after Afghanistan and Iraq. If we can only have 6 brigades, including 3 Commando, it would be far better to bolster the Armoured Infantry Division. One Strike brigade with say 3 battalions of Boxers would be enough to handle smaller engagements like Mali.

There is much else that I disagree with in the blog, but enough from me for now!

Peter Elliott
November 10, 2018 9:53 pm

Yes for this proposal to work there would have to be a bonfire of the capbadges, to pay for the CS and CSS in the Strike Division.

Just for clarity: what artillary would the Strike Division have? Towed M777? And I must have missed the bit where you canned the Watchkeeper air vehicle and turned spotting over to the RAF…? ;)

Captain Nemo
Captain Nemo
November 19, 2018 2:16 pm

Would your requirements for light strike not be achieved simply by giving 16AAB something like the AGM-V 1.1? I’d buff them to para commandos as I think they’re kind of defined by their parachutes at the moment, but give them their third para battalion and create another ‘special’ for SFSG (I’d possibly look at a unit to net people coming out of SF too and use that for training), maybe cut the artillery so they’re a little lighter on their feet. In general though I think 16AAB is a thing to have even if we never drop it, because not a lot of people can do it.

Similarly I think an armoured division is probably a thing to have, both as a unit of currency and because we know that it works and I think you’ll struggle to convince anyone to give that up while we spend time perfecting strike; another reason would be that we’ve basically just paid for half an armoured division but it’s the half that doesn’t mean very much without the other half.

I think any development of ‘strike’ will be strangled by the cost of Boxer, anything you want to do basically seems to start at about six million pounds, so if you want a Nemo on a Boxer you start at six, but if you want a Nemo on a Patria 6×6, well you’ve already done it before you even get to Boxer; you could possibly pad it out out by bringing MRV-P (2) up to middle weight with something like the Griffon if you were willing to mix it up a little ; Belgium picked up 382 Griffon and 60 Jaguar for a billion pounds only last year, but if we were to go along that route I think I’d prefer to look at a Patria 6×6/8×8 solution, I think the 6×6 starts at a million and I’ll be interested to see how much Slovakia pays for its 8×8 AMVXP.

I am in no way sponsored by Patria.

November 21, 2018 1:43 pm

Well, first of all let me apologize for the lateness of my comments. Been very busy recently.

Let me say that I think the post from R Cummings is an excellent one. I must state that I have been surprised in the extreme that two of the outstanding pundits on the military blog/website scene (yes, TD being one of them) seem to be so unreservedly sold on the Strike idea. R Cummings’ comments provide the necessary refutation to many of their arguments and a much needed counterbalance to their accompanying enthusiasm.

In a beautifully structured and expressed series of points, the writer effectively demolishes the idea that the main emphasis in our armoured forces should lie with Strike and Boxer. He is right to assert that the Strike brigade is “not designed or intended for use in combat against heavy forces, including MBTs, heavy artillery or modern attack helicopters.” He then goes on to subject Boxer to the scrutiny of the “timeless and enduring ‘iron triangle’.

I would not like to argue too closely that Boxer is lacking in the first element of that triangle: i.e. Mobility, because experts like Nick Drummond (yes, the second pundit mentioned above) have argued so cogently that modern wheeled 8 x 8s are so vastly improved in that area. However, as far as the second constituent of the triangle is concerned,: i.e. Protection, then Cummings is absolutely right to assert that Boxer “does not have, at Stanag 4, the PROTECTION levels to be involved in a peer level contest” And he is further correct in affirming that Boxer “does not have the FIREPOWER to take on enemy tanks or artillery.” Even if a reconnaissance version with a 40mm cannon were to be acquired, it would still, while hardly being a mere “pop-gun”, be grossly inadequate to take on enemy heavy armour equipped with 120mm tank guns. Boxer is essentially an armoured transport vehicle and unless we procure a whole range of variants (not just the usual command, ambulance, recovery, etc. but direct fire, anti-tank missile, artillery, mortar, anti-aircraft, bridgelayer, etc,. etc.), then I am afraid that the whole concept of the Strike Brigade will simply not cut the mustard.

I have sent in several contributions to blogs etc. in which I have argued that the whole concept of Strike is still largely experimental and that the sensible thing to do, given the present circumstances, would be to cancel the second Strike brigade and to stay with three Armoured Brigades.

As R Cummings says, one Strike brigade should be enough to handle smaller engagements like Mali. It the concept proves successful then, yes, by all means procure more wheeled 8 x 8s in the future.

November 23, 2018 7:34 pm

There’s a certain degree that when I see “Strike” I read “FRES”, the arguments in support of both being quite similar.

November 24, 2018 11:28 am


I cannot speak for TD himself but I do not see where you are getting the evidence that he has been in some way lured to the 8×8 darkside.

The need for a medium weight capability that is more startegically mobile has been known and was on the cards for the British armed forces for decades. MRAV (which was wheeled) was earmarked to replace the 432’s in service years prior to FRES was even concieved, our experience from operations after the first Gulf war has just reinforced the requirement.

The argument for having a medium capability that can be deployed and supported cheaper than heavy armour but with the capability of supporting heavy armour (term support is the crucial word in this discussion) in a meaningful way I think has been had and decided already.


When I see “Strike” and “FRES” I just read medium mech. Terms like networked enabled etc are platform agnostic in my eyes are in a majority of cases just the improvements in comms and data technology etc that have constantly been happening.

November 24, 2018 1:46 pm

@David Niven

Hello there David. Always read your comments with interest so will do my best to provide a satisfactory reply.

“I cannot speak for TD himself but I do not see where you are getting the evidence that he has been in some way lured to the 8×8 darkside.”

I would have thought the answer to that was contained in TD’s own article. See when he says in the section on the “Strike Division”: “I think STRIKE is a brilliant concept . . .” So he thinks that Strike is an outstanding idea. He goes on to say, however, that (Strike) “ is hamstrung by a shortage of funds and saddling it with a supporting role for the heavy armour.” That latter point rather contradicts yours about how Strike comes with the “the capability of supporting heavy armour”, which you appear to cite as an advantage.

Furthermore, I don’t quite know what you mean by the phrase “lured to the 8×8 darkside.” “Dark side” suggests to me something distinctly disadvantageous and I don’t think that the concept of Strike is really like that. It might be able to serve the function of dealing really rapidly with relatively nearby brushfire wars and low intensity conflicts or its vehicles (e.g.Boxer) could be called in to support heavy armour. That’s why I say retain one Strike Brigade. However, it is a concept still at a very early stage.

I think that the new Chief of the General Staff, General Mark Carleton Smith, has it just about right. He believes that the greatest threat to British security has now changed. He says in an interview quoted in the “Telegraph” today that Russia is now “indisputably” a greater threat to the security of Britain and her allies than extremist groups. He was apparently speaking after visiting British troops stationed in Estonia as part of a battlegroup that was deployed to deter Russian aggression against the Baltic states.

If he is right, and Russia does pose the greatest threat, then surely the MOD/British Army must place far more emphasis on the strengthening of heavy armour than on the Strike concept. We might be involved in far more than low intensity or COIN warfare if he is correct.

November 24, 2018 3:20 pm

@DavidNiven Putting aside “dark side” arguments, I think it’s instructive to check on the experience of the US Army, which decided on 8*8 as it’s medium and strategically mobile solution, then had endless issues with the practicalities. Firstly, they had to effectively buy new vehicles, since the initial version had poor mine resistance, necessitating first slat armour, then new hull, then a new engine and suspension. Now, it’s lack of utility against peer enemies requires 30mm cannon and ATGM, and the weight is approaching 30 tonnes. This vehicle is no longer cheap and mobile.

Boxer at least shouldn’t require hull upgrades, but it’s already well north of 30 tonnes, and our current plan of no significant armament won’t last more than 5 minutes. So, it’s not going to be cheap, and although it’s certainly mobile on motorways, it will reliably bog down once a battlegroup’s worth try to move cross country.

In the context of NATO tasks, prioritizing a road mobility over all else is effectively nonsense: there’s no way any significant formation can reach say the Baltic’s in time to make a difference unless we fit them with wings and a lot of rockets. If we want a rotationally deployed formation like now, there’s no advantage to having wheels.

As you cycle through the arguments, it’s clear none of them stack up. Wheeled combat vehicles are neither cheap nor hold a strategic advantage, and have severe mobility tactical shortcomings.

November 24, 2018 3:51 pm

Hi Mike

Thanks I’m pleased you find some of my ramblings interesting but am generally just calling things as I see them. So likewise I’ll try for a satisfactory reply.

‘I must state that I have been surprised in the extreme that two of the outstanding pundits on the military blog/website scene (yes, TD being one of them) seem to be so unreservedly sold on the Strike idea’

Sorry if I misconstrued what you meant by this statement, I read it as a negative therefore my remark of the ‘8×8 darkside’. TD like many others is also arguing for the full range of vehicles to be procured for Strike at the expense of some light and heavy units so I don’t think he is championing the current Strike set up.

‘That latter point rather contradicts yours about how Strike comes with the “the capability of supporting heavy armour”, which you appear to cite as an advantage.’

And which I wholeheartedly stand by. There may be some differences in how people view the Strike brigades but when the term allow div manoeuvre is stated I immediately read this as the capability of the medium formations to channel, block and delay a heavier armoured force. This does not mean a toe to toe slug fest which as everyone points out in relation to Boxer it is not capable of but by other means, by which I am refering to the medium force trading physical mass for an uplift in CS units especially ISTAR, fires , EW and counter mobility.

This also means that by using a heavier vehicle in the way I presume the medium units have better protection to weather the storm of fires that a heavy armoured unit can range against them, the base line protection of Boxer may be Stanag 4 but this can be added to, by way of its growth potential and does include top attack armour for protection against bomblets if desired.

‘If he is right, and Russia does pose the greatest threat, then surely the MOD/British Army must place far more emphasis on the strengthening of heavy armour than on the Strike concept.’

Is that not more of an argument to have a larger medium weight capability?. The Russians are not geared for a protracted conflict but rely on their high readines levels and anti access etc to achieve a short sharp victory before NATO can fully mobilise. Once again this leads me to my previuos statement in regards to the Strike brigade concept of deploying as fast as possible to degrade the opposing force before the rest of our heavy armour can arrive and the full combined arms manoeuvre capability by way of the heavy brigade/s can begin supported by the strike brigades.

I think above all these sort of conversations in regard to Strike show how poorly the concept has been explained and both arguments in it’s utility and therfore usefullness can be rightly disputed.

Hopefully TD will shed more light on his concept in the future and hopefully so will the Army!

November 24, 2018 4:34 pm

The US chose Stryker firstly as an interim vehicle before the all singing and dancing future combat systems etc were produced. They also wanted it to be able to be carried by the C130 which for them was sensible considering the post cold war drawdown from Europe and the amount of transport aircraft they have at their disposal.

The current upgrading of the vehicles armour is due to the emerging threats they now face and were not foreseen when the vehicles were acquired in much the same way as all similar vehicles had to be uparmoued in the recent operations. The 30mm cannon is not intended for all Stryker vehicles (I think it is going to be used by cavalry units?) but for some so as to bring some more firepower in a supporting role to the rest of the formation and is again in response to an emerging threat.

All wheeled vehicles have less capability cross country than tracks as we all know but I don’t think they will be as bad as you suggest and everything is a compromise. I do however think that wheled vehicles are not as forgiving to inexperienced drivers and commanders as tracked vehicles which for the most part are point and press, which will require more opportunity to train the crews.

I will add that in terms of mobility Boxer has what most other 8×8 vehicles do not and that is it uses skid steer to take tight turns and does not use a rear steer axle to achieve the same goal. This means that in theory we could apply an over tyre track system to Boxer in more demanding terrain.

I don’t think we need to meet them at the Baltics but contain them inside the Baltic region until we and NATO can mass our forces the battlegroup we have there now is a trip wire and source of training and has deterrent value in that respect I don’t think it has a chance of trully stopping a determined and resourced attack in the traditional sense.

I disagree in relation to your statement in regards to wheeled vehicles not being cheap and having no strategic advantage. In terms of cost of ownwership the wheeled vehicle is cheaper than tracks in fuel consumption alone before we consider the other factors that make tracked vehicles more expensive to own and maintain. The strategic advantage is also self evident in my opinion, in terms of time alone to transport to a place of embarkation it is hand over fist greater than a similar tracked unit.

November 24, 2018 6:34 pm

We do also have to remember how small the armed forces and the army have become, the ability to deploy above medium scale and by that brigade size up is very limited. We are effectively a contributor to a large force with the ability to command it.

While I’m sure many would like the ability to field a full all arms heavy armour capability we simply do not have the budget or likely to have to equip as such. To that end a wheeled force with apache allows us to cover a much broader range on missions that a pure heavy armoured one. Which in a nato context those closest to Russian provide the heavy armour and we provide the forces that can rapidly be deployed from the uk to reinforce and support.

November 24, 2018 7:44 pm

Hi David,

“I’m pleased you find some of my ramblings interesting”

For “ramblings” substitute “penetrating comments”.

“TD like many others is also arguing for the full range of vehicles to be procured for Strike at the expense of some light and heavy units so I don’t think he is championing the current Strike set up.”

I did not really know that. Did TD suggest that in his article? I certainly agree that we need the full range. However, I don’t agree that extra (and very necessary) variants should be procured at the expense of heavy units. We shall need all of the latter we can put together and more! I think it was Nathan Forrest, an American Civil War general, who said that his strategy was to “get there the fastest with the mostest”. The Strike Brigades would certainly do the first but most certainly would not achieve the latter. For that you need heavy armour. I very much take, though, your point about “an uplift in CS units especially ISTAR, fires , EW and counter mobility.” What has happened to our minelaying capacity, for instance?

“‘If he is right, and Russia does pose the greatest threat, then surely the MOD/British Army must place far more emphasis on the strengthening of heavy armour than on the Strike concept.’

Is that not more of an argument to have a larger medium weight capability?”

No, in a word!

“I think above all these sort of conversations in regard to Strike show how poorly the concept has been explained and both arguments in it’s utility and therfore usefullness can be rightly disputed.”

Well, I would agree absolutely with that. More and better information needed all round. Would probably still hold my view, though.
David, all this is very interesting and worthy of a full-blown debate. However, I’m not sure that I can enter into one, as my time is very limited at the moment. Might possibly find some but not much! Best regards, Mike

November 25, 2018 10:26 am

Hi Mike

‘I did not really know that. Did TD suggest that in his article?’

Some of it is but it’s more of a nuanced hint, such as these:

‘This points to an all wheeled force that exploits the operational mobility vision of FRES and the contemporary STRIKE concepts of distributed operations’

‘The force would be based on Boxer, MAN trucks and a recast MRV-P programme’

If however you look into the archives of TD towers (time permitting) within the discussions that were had over the years in regard to all things medium wheeled and Strike etc you will see that there is a lot of views stating Strike should consist of a common wheeled platform to cover all roles within the brigade including the CS and some CSS units.

‘I think it was Nathan Forrest, an American Civil War general, who said that his strategy was to “get there the fastest with the mostest”’

Which was part of the thinking for FRES and the US Stryker brigades etc. We cannot get our heavy armour there fast enough and light forces do not have the mass in firepower or protection to be anything more than a nuisance, a medium capability allows us to get there fast enough and with reasonable firepower and mass to provide a challenge to the opposing forces in a peer near peer environment and overmatch in the lower end of the spectrum.

What weapons we mount on Boxer to achieve the firepower side should be reconsidered as a .50 is not going to cut it but on the other hand do we need to turn Boxer into an IFV with a 40mm? I would argue not and something like the m230LF remote weapon station with Javelin would be overmatch for the lower end and good enough to provide firepower at the higher end with less of a cost (maybe?) and reduction in carrying capacity. If Warrior upgrade is running into funding issues I would rescope the project and fit the same mount to the Warrior and increase the dismounts to eight and use the weight saved to add armour and use it as a heavy’ish apc for the armoured infantry.

‘What has happened to our minelaying capacity, for instance?’

I think the British army is out of the minelaying business for the moment so we will have to rely heavy construction plant which we reduced again, but don’t worry the cap badge of a poorly recruited infantry regiment has been saved and they can get to the area of operations in coaches and MAN trucks with a few, and I mean a few NLAW and Javelin to earn some posthumous VC’s (which they’ll only recieve if we win).

Which brings me to another point when people argue for forward deploying our armour etc. We withdrew from Germany so as to save money after the dissolution of the USSR and most of the facilities have gone. Rather than having armoured brigades forward deployed would it not be more usefull to have the war stocks and some CSS units for the brigades forward deployed instead? If we had the fuel, ammo etc in Germany along with some logistics, Engineer and medical capabilities so as to allow a UK based brigade to just drive to the area to collect its stores rather than transporting the entire brigade how much time and resources would this save? and would it be a better use of reources than keeping entire armoured brigades there?

In relation to the CS and CSS units forward deployed this would allow them to move forward using civilian transport ahead of the units following and start defensive preparations ie counter mobility (with a shed load of heavy earth moving plant and PE4). None of the units are classed as offensive but purely defensive and so it would be hard for the Russians to argue against their deployment but would be an uplift in how fast we can deploy.

Anyway more ramblings up for debate etc kind regards.

November 25, 2018 10:51 am

RE: The 30mm cannon is not intended for all Stryker vehicles (I think it is going to be used by cavalry units?) but for some so as to bring some more firepower in a supporting role to the rest of the formation and is again in response to an emerging threat.
– something we should also pay attention to? I know that we have (other fire-support vehicles planned)

Mark adds, in his comments, Apaches to widen the area of influence of a Strike bde -type of formation – in itself designed for distributed Ops.
– well, I agree. And someone else does, too, as we are putting 3x the money reserved for a much more modest MBT refresh into remanufacturing (most? of) the Apaches
– survivability, against a peer enemy, is a question mark though. Would they count more as flying cavalry than flying artillery/ tanks?

Captain Nemo
Captain Nemo
November 25, 2018 3:41 pm

I think the main problem with ‘strike’ was calling it ‘strike’ and inferring somewhat magical abilities which lent itself to gold plating right off the bat (if we were talking about mechanised infantry this discussion would be a lot more muted), when the army could have proposed something that showed the treasury that it gets it, that 2% of GDP has gotten so much press that it’s pretty much carved in stone at this point, that the public think they’re covered for everything from collision damage up to and including invaders from Mars and that the other two services are never going to be cheap, which leaves it to the army to be practical. I’m probably in favour of reducing mass (I know a figure of 62,000 is thrown around), the question for the army would be the quid pro quo because I think we’ve been here before, if the army can show itself to be reasonable to the bean counters and it takes the pain, then you’d hope it would see the gain, bit of a leap I know.

I don’t fully understand the wheeled versus tracked argument that has developed (other than TD’s positing a USMC style add-on arrangement) if we take the need for an armoured division as a given (which seems to be the consensus) then everything else will have to be on wheels, purely because of the money available and the need to provide mass. The problem I have is the choices we’re making, with competing platforms in the medium weight 8×8 category being much of a muchness I’m not sure that x percentage more capability for y amount more money will matter in a peer conflict and isn’t really relevant anywhere else, the numbers for the Australian Boxer purchase are absolutely eye watering and followed to its logical conclusion those hoping for a single strike brigade will be in luck because we’ll have just have purchased something very expensive that’s very easy to cannibalise.

Heavy weight is going to be expensive for us, it’s as simple as that (if anything I’d make it more so by having done and doubling down on ajax), but we should try to find a solution to middle weight that ensures it meets its potential, that potential I think lays in numbers, though with £18bn on the table for the next ten years I don’t see why both an armoured and a mechanised division shouldn’t be an aspiration within that time frame.

Apropos of nothing, I note with interest that the Poles are looking to buy the rights to the Patria AMV.
I am in no way sponsored by Poland.

November 25, 2018 5:34 pm

Like I said: “Strike” really does seem to be sold like “FRES”.
Rather than simply being a light/medium mechanised force, it’s blown up into this super formation that is able to do all sorts of things. In most presented scenarios this is due to the cooperation of the enemy, which I’m not convinced can be relied upon.

December 1, 2018 8:42 am

Has TD just hinted that he is off to ‘’?! or is it worse than I imagine and he’s wrote a piece for the ‘Phoenix Think Tank’ in regards to the disbandment of the RAF and reduction of the Army into either a home guard force or copy of the USMC ( all controlled by the Navy obviously)?

If that’s the case then I’m sorry TD there are some places that any sane person with an interest in UK defence should really never venture.

December 1, 2018 8:50 am


Here’s a piece by William F Owen written for RUSI in regards to Strike that does a pretty decent overview of the Strike concept and a decent base to debate from.

‘Explaining the British Army’s Strike Concept’

In simple terms, Strike is neither FRES nor a Medium Force. The FRES programme was intended to ‘meet the Army’s long-term needs for new medium-weight armoured fighting vehicles’, but Strike is about so much more than platform replacement and should be considered a highly deployable infantry force able to sustain movement, manoeuvre and long-range patrolling, under armour, for distances that a ‘heavy’ tracked force cannot match.

December 9, 2018 8:35 pm

This comment, taken from the article, is a key component to it all:
“In fact, Strike as a concept is predicated on the absence of an enemy’s mounted heavy weapons,”
So you’d have to question any logic that suggests divesting ourselves of our capacity to conduct operations in the presence, or risk of, an enemy’s mounted heavy weapons.
I’ve got no problem with a force with high operational mobility gained by reducing firepower and protection, just lets not sell it as something that will work without the enemy’s cooperation. You might be able to engineer his cooperation in some fashion, but one shouldn’t rely on it to the extent of removing those forces that expect resistance.

December 10, 2018 7:50 pm

Here is the full paragraph that the comment was taken from to provide context.

‘Ajax will provide effective direct fire support for MIV’s dismounted personnel in Strike’s concept of employment. The real advantage of Strike lies in its difference to the heavy force and its resilience compared to the light force Given the reduced likelihood of the Strike Brigades encountering enemy MBTs, Ajax provides an economy of both force and investment, regardless of how accidental that potential may appear. In fact, Strike as a concept is predicated on the absence of an enemy’s mounted heavy weapons, which would necessitate altogether higher levels of protection. Exceptions do exist and examples include the Soviet-era 57 mm S-60 anti-aircraft gun widely fielded by irregular forces, as well as the 122 mm D-30 howitzer in the direct fire role and various heavy weapons mounted on light 4×4 vehicles (so-called ‘Technicals’). However, these are extremely vulnerable to return fire. If intelligence suggested the enemy did possess a capable combined arms force with MBTs and IFVs, then the UK may need to deploy the heavyforce, but context would be critical.’

The last sentence is crucial in regards to the following comment.

‘just lets not sell it as something that will work without the enemy’s cooperation. You might be able to engineer his cooperation in some fashion, but one shouldn’t rely on it to the extent of removing those forces that expect resistance.’

Strike is not FRES, it does however allow a higher % of our armed forces to be more useful and capable of a broader range of operations including aiding div manoeuvre which our current set up of just light and heavy, which has always hampered us since the fall of the wall and our pivot to more expeditionary operations at scale.

December 22, 2018 5:55 pm

I really do not understand how Owen’s article contradicts my comment. His summation assumes that a heavy force is available to take the lead where warranted while I caution against removing our heavy force capability, which is what TD has suggested in his article.

Strike is not FRES? Despite its genesis with two programmes previously known as FRES SV and FRES UV? Owen’s take on it is as a mechanised infantry force, but others are selling on the idea that it removes the need for any other capability.

December 24, 2018 11:35 am

‘I caution against removing our heavy force capability, which is what TD has suggested in his article’

Thats not my understanding of what the article said at all.

‘Modular Armoured Force’

‘The eventual size of this force would be open to debate but I would envisage an oversize armoured infantry battlegroup consisting of CR2 and Ajax’
‘The engineering CR2 variants would remain’

‘Strike is not FRES? Despite its genesis with two programmes previously known as FRES SV and FRES UV? Owen’s take on it is as a mechanised infantry force, but others are selling on the idea that it removes the need for any other capability.’

I’d argue that as soon as the deployability by C130 was dropped it reverted back to the MRAV programme especially given that Boxer is known as MIV and not FRES UV.

It pretty much is a mechanised force and so was FRES in its basic form. The confusion that I think occurs is due to the naming of the brigades as ‘Strike’ rather than mech brigades.

December 25, 2018 11:05 pm

The purpose of the “modular armoured force” seems to be penny packeting into other formations rather than being capable of being a full combat formation in its own right.

FRES SV is now called Ajax, but it certainly started out as FRES and the change in name didn’t involve any changes in requirements or solution.
FRES UV is now called MIV. The “trials of truth” for FRES involved vehicles akin to Boxer, so FRES existed after the C130 requirement was dropped.

If it were just a mechanised force, then the “Strike” nomenclature would be unnecessary. That it is used implies some slight of hand.

December 28, 2018 10:33 am

‘The purpose of the “modular armoured force” seems to be penny packeting into other formations rather than being capable of being a full combat formation in its own right.’

I disagree, it allows heavy units to be bolted onto smaller units as and when needed such as Warrior and Trojan were used on Herrick or massed into a single large unit for operations such as Op Granby.

‘FRES SV is now called Ajax’

Sort of, FRES was cancelled sometime after the trials of truth and it was pretty much dead as a concept after operational experience and the realisation of the C130 requirement.

‘Mr Kevan Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps his Department is taking to procure a class of Future Rapid Effects System Utility vehicles as part of the Armoured Vehicles Programme. [208112]

Mr Dunne: The Ministry of Defence is no longer pursuing a “Future Rapid Effects System” programme. The capability that the Future Rapid Effects System was intended to deliver is now being delivered through other projects, principally the SCOUT Specialist Vehicle (SV) and the Utility Vehicle (UV). SCOUT is the transformational project that will refresh our entire armoured capability and allow us to remain a global first-tier military force.’

A £3.5 billion contract to procure 589 SCOUT (SVs) was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Michael Fallon) on 3 September 2014, Official Report, column 20WS.

MIV was not announced until 2015’ish (if my memory serves) and is a different programme to FRES UV and is more in line to the original MRAV programme.

‘If it were just a mechanised force, then the “Strike” nomenclature would be unnecessary. That it is used implies some slight of hand.’

Maybe Or just a bad choice.

Ian Gray
Ian Gray
December 7, 2019 9:48 pm

Resistance to change is the hardest to deal with , the biggest being an Adaptable monarchy, less salutes,parades,horse,carriages, stables, start with royal haussars,horse,cannon,barracks, stables, training, all gone. Big savings, more tri service involvement, TA for public duties, cerimonial, uniforms, like yomanry..ex personal, use boatmen, archers, gentlemen at arms for security…. Do not let any serviceman leave, keep on books, Multi role brigades are best. Accept US tech options, less research for us, but royal horse artillery and household cavalry must go as antiquated relics of a bygone age..remember the word. Modernize.!!!!!

December 8, 2019 11:25 am

Interesting Article and I confess I don’t understand much of the technical difficulty or subtlety of the discussion below. Your view on the future of the Reserve, which is only a sentence long, is, in my opinion, unfairly insufficient. You seem to have considered restructuring the entire Regular Army with a couple of ‘can’t be arsed so the Reserves can do it’ tasks given to the 30,000 odd Reservists. The classic is Public Duties on which I have spent many unhappy an hour and after the first few, couldn’t be arsed, so I really do understand the siren song of offloading this, and letting Regular soldiers soldier.

Before I continue I want to be clear. I’m not being a parochial Reservist or a buttoned up Guardsman. I’ve got over a decade of Regular Service and a bit less than Reserve Service now. I’m not a 50 year old TA soldier (Not Reservist – very important distinction) advocating for the continued status quo of Birmingham/Cardiff/Manchester Gun Club. They sadly still exist and are usually the most vocal opponents of any change to the Reserve, usually hiding behind the ‘The Reserve Ethos’ to forgive them, and every other Reservist (who of course they have checked with about their ethos), for having no commitment to the Nation, but still being able to go skiing and get paid for it.

My problem with your ideas around Public Duties, Territorial Defence etc. is that that isn’t why many people now join the Reserve. Worth you reading ‘’. The report states that their motivations centre on ‘want to be, and feel, useful to the military and the epitome of this is to experience the thrill of deploying on operations’. With your suggestion, you’d end up with Dad’s Army. Very few would join, gaps would appear as evidence for further cuts and the self fulfilling prophecy of needing a smaller and smaller Reserve would be complete. Then, using the shrinking Reserve for the tasks that you propose such as Public Duties would fall back to the Regular because, there aren’t any Reservists to do them but they aren’t discretionary, and you are back to square one with Tommy Atkins stagging on outside Buck House. Furthermore, in the current legal construct, as a Reservist I can walk away when I want and no compulsion to turn up. You can’t charge me with AWOL so your Public Duties solution doesn’t stack up when you think about it. There would be no draw for the people that you might want to call on for backfilling a Regular Force over exploited by Politicians with eyes bigger than their operational stomach.

Lets also remember that the only time in recent memory that Regular Forces have only been fully manned around the height of HERRICK when young people were drawn to the idea of serving on operations, a similar motivation to why people join the Reserves. There is a lag to training and when the inevitably undermanned Regulars need support, you’ll look to the Dads Army Reserve that you advocate. So in this regard I think your wafer thin view is a poor one (and to be clear I understand that you didn’t set out to examine the Reserves so you are fully justified in staying wafer thin).

Your approach was a common one, advocated by people like me when I served in the MOD as a Regular Officer. We would treat the Reserves is a useful cash machine to bail out the Military’s over ambition in everything from individuals pay and entitlements to their equipment programme. So just as I recognise Reserve protectionist parochialism, so this parochialism exists with the Regular Forces who, with some justification, see the Reserve as a poor, less professional, weaker cousin and therefore a suitable target to pillage. Given I have worked in both organisations I hope I can give a balanced view from both sides of the fence.

I wrote a three piece article for The Wavell Room called ‘Reimagining The Reserves’. In it I proposed a legal requirement for service (100 days and 6 months within a 5 year period), stopping specialising and improving the experience. An Economics Professor I studied under used to tell us ‘A lot of a little but not in the middle’. So either be small and high end or pack em high and sell em cheap. A good example of this would be how M&S and Waitrose (A little) food survives as do Aldi and Lidl (A lot) but Tesco and Sainsburys (the middle) have been losing market share to both. My view is ‘a lot and a little and nothing in the middle’. The Reserves either need to be very specialised/niche (a little – not necessarily by size though) such as Med Staff, Civil Engineers, Police Special Invesigators or very Generalist soldiers, by and large Generalist Infantry Mass.

The intellectual basis for my argument does jive with yours, I think. We both think we need mass but we can’t afford it. We just see things in a different way. You say we can’t afford it so cut to be able to. I reckon if we had a good base of cheap generalists (no housing, no weekend pay, small pension which for Regulars is very is expensive and you don’t mention) who had a legal obligation to deploy we can. It needs to be flexible so they can choose, so as not to do irrepairable damage to their primary career and discourage them from joining.

Although my Infantry brethren would hang, draw and quarter me for saying this, much low level Infantry soldiering isn’t that hard. The essence of the work is ‘I’ll shoot and you run, and then we swap’. Accepting that, when expand that with indirect fire, combined arms etc. you add more coordination points, which does inevitably make things more complex, but in essence that’s kind of it. But things like Mortaring, Anti Tanks, Recce are hard(er). In my opinion. too hard to be proficient at with only 2 weeks a year. If they weren’t all Regular courses would be two weeks long and that would be a real saving. Trying to specialise like this draws focus away from being a decent Generalist Infantry soldier. An example I hadn’t considered before reading your piece about above which focuses heavily on vehicles, could be to reconfigure Regular Armoured Regiments to drive/command/gun AFVs to with their dismounts coming from Yeomanry Regiments. Trying to get Yeomanry soldiers to be able to drive, gun, command a tank is hard in two weeks a year with skill fade etc. is hard

That being said there are definitely savings to be made in the Reserve. Reserve and Regular units have the same structures (four ish sub units usually) with (usually) Reg CO, Adjt and a shed load of cheaper, but not free FTRS. Then each sub unit has a PSAO and a full time admin staff – really! Consider an Infantry Company (c.100) and an Intelligence Corps Company (c.50) are scaled the same and you can begin to see there is some waste to be got rid of. Before I left I commanded a Regular Company and was scaled for two clerks and had one because of manpower shortages and we seemed to manage. And a Reserve sub unit has two full time dedicated Admin staff. Something cannot be right.

Then consider the HQ – CO and Adjt (Usually Reg). There is NO WAY they have the same workload as a Regular Unit. The there are QM, RSUSO, RCMO, RQMS etc. How about expanding Reserve Units to 6 or 8 sub units reducing the fixed cost overhead per Reservist soldier, freeing up money for more Reserve Service Days (RSDs)per man for better trained Generalists. Consider your average Lt Col (OF-4) is paid c.80k and the Adjt is c50k. Remove both of those, give that money to RSDs for soldiers (c.200 per Battalion) and each soldier has another c.11 RSDs paid for. You could use that money for better training, more ammo, better facilities for training (SATTs in more locations, better gyms) etc. Even some back of fag packet maths shows another way to get better trained Reservists who can provide mass. But without legal changes all this will be moot. In my view if you take the Queens Shilling you should have a commitment to go and this is beyond world war 3.

As I said above, I know you didn’t set out to examine the Reserve but a single sentence for 30,000 odd people is insufficient and a little unfair to the folk who give up their weekends and in a few cases their lives on recent operations. Would be interested to hear more from you on this subject if you have the time.

Andrew Campbell
Andrew Campbell
December 31, 2019 8:18 pm

@DavidNiven. Spot on re minimum standards of education. It’s absurd doing this in-house taking guys away from their roles for a couple of weeks to get them up to grade C GCSE standard – only for a large proportion to sign off down the line. Definitely time to get them up to speed beforehand – what about using the learning credits system before they join?

Wrong re the cookhouse. PAYD is fantastic. The cookhouse on the old days was hardly used just as now. Bin the cookhouse completely, put cooking gear in the blocks and let them crack on. Regular fitness and instilling a love of fitness is the way forward. How about financial incentives for those who maintain their standards paid for out the pocket of those that don’t – especially the Seniors & Officers who should be leading by example.

January 24, 2020 10:30 pm

Just popped in on the off chance and I see that people are still commenting!

@Andrew Campbell

In regards to education the army should only be funding technical/further and higher education and not the basics, that should be the burden of the education system. How you would fund it i don’t know but it cannot fall wholly onto the defence budget to correct the failings of either individuals or institutions.

If it became known that the army is no longer the last chance saloon then maybe the perception of the armed forces within wider society would change for the better. I think that the hounding of armed forces pers in regard to claims over Iraq etc is due to the perception of the Army within some sections of society, I’m pretty sure if another community was being treated this way the outcry from the media etc would have been deafening.

Further training in the form of either industry recognised tech quals or A levels to degree’s should be encouraged among the other ranks and placed along side the same pedastel that sports is within the army.

To further the understanding of civilian industry on the capabilities and quals of the armed forces I think all our tech/skills training should be co located with the UK sectors center’s of excellence or national colleges such as the Construction Industry Training college. This would allow best industry practice to transfer to the armed forces faster and the civ industries to have confidence in ths skills and value the training given to the armed forces and hopefully reduce some of our training costs if co located etc.

I’m not going to agree re PAYD, I think it was an ill concieved project that is still not delivering in quality or health. I don’t think finacial incentives should be given for just doing the job you already agreed to do for the pay you are receiving in regards to fitness but maybe a loss in pay should be considered for failling your phys tests, after all the reserves lose their annual bounty if they do not pass theirs every year.