Final Thoughts

If you have read all this, I salute you!

My final thoughts are as follows;

Let me start the summary by saying I am not an offshore or geotechnical expert, just someone interested in the subject. This should be viewed in that context, an interested party with no great expertise.

I make number of assumptions that would need to be tested, even assuming the basic premise of the proposal is correct, which is equally open for debate.

We should absolutely recognise though that such expertise does exist, and exist in the UK and Europe. Whether that is in military bridging, port construction, offshore engineering or geotechnical surveys, the UK has a rich vein of research, technical and engineering capability as a result of decades of experience in the oil and gas and renewables industries which to mine for solutions.

It is in these organisations that we must look for solutions, not BAE or Lockheed Martin.

We benefit from an embarrassment of riches in offshore and port engineering.

This is based on a couple of opinions; first, the changing nature or shorelines and ports, and increasing proliferation of access denial weapon systems means raises the barriers to entry for future amphibious operations. If we are honest with ourselves, the UK cannot afford to play with the USMC.

This means we need to think differently.

Part of that different thinking is the Strike Brigade concept, entering theatre at some distance from the area of operations and then, driving longer distances to it.

This places a greater emphasis on ports, exploiting existing ports or bringing our own.

Link this with the building stability agenda and Overseas Defence Engagement brings another budget into our orbit.

There is no way the UK can use ODA/DFiD funding and budgets for amphibious combat systems, but port repair and augmentation is a perfect example of a capability that sits underneath the wholly combat oriented level but has defence utility.

I therefore propose to fund this capability using budgets from both the MoD and DFiD.

Requirement 1 is achievable within the context of a UK only budget. The equipment described is all commercially available off the shelf and apart from maintaining a high readiness survey capability, not especially challenging from a personnel perspective. There may be some additional personnel but with some reprioritisation and imaginative use of reserves, MoD civilians and contractor could be achieved without breaking the bank.

The building blocks are already there.

Requirement 2 is largely the same. Existing capabilities are there, but again, with the addition of additional personnel and off the shelf equipment, a powerful capability can be realised. This capability is perfectly suited to the defence agenda and development/disaster response. It would be a UK signature capability, declared to allies/NATO and a number of NGO’s or the UN.

The building blocks are already there.

Requirement 3 is slightly different in that the justification is weaker and nothing really exists to meet it. It would be expensive to develop and maintain, although much of the technology does exist in the offshore engineering industry.

The potential is definitely there.

Impossible, no, difficult, yes.

As Europe seeks to become, even a little, more self-sufficient in military enabling capabilities some shared or pooled arrangement would also be worth exploring with NATO and/or European allies.

So there you go, hope you enjoyed reading and commenting on this series as much as I enjoyed writing it.



The Changing Coastline and Port Environment

The Defence and Overseas Development Context

Defining the Requirement

Requirement 1 – Design, Contract Management and Rapid Response Survey

Meeting Requirement 1 – Port Survey and Design

Requirement 2 – Port Opening

Meeting Requirement 2 – Port Opening

Requirement 3 – Enhanced Coastline Access

Meeting Requirement 3 – Part A

Meeting Requirement 3 – Part B

Meeting Requirement 3 – Part C

Final Thoughts

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D Smith
D Smith
May 30, 2017 7:35 am

Excuse me but done we already have the capability to provide this (although in a somewhat limited way due to recent cuts) via 17 Port & Maritime Regt RLC at Marchwood on Southampton Water. This unit proved its worthiness in 1982 in the Falklands, in 1990/91 in the first Gulf war yet again in the second Gulf war in 2003, the Balkans, Sierra Leone and hurricane aid in Haiti. If the regiment was allowed to be at the same strength it was in 82 with the same amount of plant/ heavy plant & vessels / mexefloat along with 20 Maritime Regt (allowed to reform) we would be able to conduct amphibious operations over any beachhead/Port.

May 30, 2017 7:33 pm

I commend the author for a well-researched and informative piece. Don’t be too self-depreciating, you’re clearly someone with expertise! The article builds upon the Conservative proposal to redefine how we utilise the ODA budget, incorporating and formalising more of what the MOD can deliver as part of a joint enterprise. I fully support that. Delivering a X-Govt (MOD-DFID) Port Opening Capability is a good example of where those interest could align. The two departments could/should certainly come together to better codify a range of likely tasks and roles and responsibilities once the ODA budget is more broadly defined. When it comes to ways and means being packaged and held at specific readiness I’m a little less convinced that the ambition will ever be realised. For the MOD’s part we pretty much still retain a full spectrum Port Enabling Capability, with ends defined as being able to project over a bear beach, through austere ports to off loading at a well-found one. We have survey capability (STRE), ship-to-shore capability, EOD and dive experts, plant and lighterage. What’s new, and not covered in your article, is that we have harnessed a wider array of commercial options with the requirement and partnership we have with Solent Gateway Ltd. There is a Whole Force aspect to this new contract that enables us to supplement existing military means. We have plenty of precedent of being able to work as a supporting department to DFID (and their funding) when required, bringing the all-important Port Enabling capability to bear: Op PANLAKE (Haiti) and Op ZEST (Tristan da Cunha). We can already support the STRIKE concept in the manner you describe. Achieving Speed of Assembly (Port Enabling – Open, Activate, Sustain) is germane to Deterrence and vital ground for Defence. The MOD’s focus must be here and thus we are unlikely to have sufficient extra capacity to act as an insurance policy for others or triple hat it.

May 30, 2017 8:34 pm

excellent read and an interesting proposal. However I question wether you would need to stand up an additional Engineer regt for the role.

Would it be just as effective to increase the manpower in 65 FS Sqn? by adding a port infrastructure design cell and the neccessary manpower and specialist equipment such as Piling (civilian piling teams are usually 2-3 men) to the sqn. If we say we add the capability of having 3 piling and soil stabilisation teams within the squadron so they can then be deployed with any of the other sqn’s within the regiment on a port opening op.

The field sqn’s within the regiment are already construction centric and runway construction and base infrastructure construction will have overlapping capabilities with whats required for port opening such as mass concrete pours etc. What is really missing from the regiment is the small amount of specialist plant and pumps etc with the added benefit that soil stabilisation and piling etc is still a good capability to have for civil engineering and runway construction which we don’t really possess at the moment.

So in essence 39 Engr regt becomes our heavy civil engineering capability with sqn’s capable of supporting air support, land and port construction requirements without the need to stand up a new regt and all the associated costs.

June 2, 2017 7:06 pm

Gents, it is important to remember, even in smaller and “general” ports, that the magnitude of forces, volumes of material, sizes of piles, ship to shore cranage etc and the complexity of working with tides, waves and the involved in port infrastructure engineering. You need a lot of heavy plant but even more so you need a lot of specialist skills PQEs and support staff who are working in this special environment day in day out. Those of us who work in this environment know that, for thing other than minor repairs it is inevitable that large, expensive and specialist kit will be needed and the ability to source, deliver, manage and operate it is a key factor. This is a well researched paper and sets out many possible solutions. 509 STRE (Port Infra) have studied many of these on more than one occasion in recent years. How often have I heard the “Couldn’t we just..” phrase. Unfortunately, it is all about being able to resource what we want to deliver when we want it.

I look forward the setting up of a Port Infra Wks Gp in parallel with 20 Wks Gp as well as a new Port Repair Regiment RE.

I am in complete agreement that this needs to be looked at a lot harder as the nature of proposed deployments change and the potential synergies with ODA increase.

Yours from the world of failing linkspans, collapsing cranes, dodgy jetties and silt filled channels – oh, and increasing sea levels!

June 4, 2017 12:29 pm


I’m still failing to see the need to stand up a new Engineer regt for the requirement. I understand the requirement for specialists such as yourself which we already have within 509 STRE (Port Infra) with support from the other STRE’s which will have overlap.

I also understand the need for some heavy specialist plant requirements, but I can only see them in small numbers and in addition to the plant and civil capabilities we already posses.

12 (Force Support) Engr Gp already possesses 5 Engr regt’s to draw from with 39 being construction and heavy plant centric (and possibly 71 being an ex ADR unit, although I am not too sure about the present make up)

As with most capabilities within the army that would be out of the spotlight the most important factor would be gaining relevant experience and regular’ish use for the small numbers of specialist operators of the equipment. Perhaps sending some individuals (of all ranks) on secondment to one of the nations specialist contractors would be something worth looking at?

I do however see the need to possibly stand up a small engr resources and plant unit at Marchwood so as to have the larger pieces of equipment available to load without having a complex logistical road movement of outsize loads on UK roads.

While I have mentioned Marchwood, would a small contribution from DFiD for the port’s cost be worth considering?

June 6, 2017 6:02 pm

Blimey that was a bit dense in places… :-) What fantastic work sir !! Were you an engineer once by any chance…. ??

Whether current strike brigade, or older medium brigade structure, your being far too strategic, thinking far to “connectedly” for our political and military leaders, crossing domains from land to sea, as if you were just building a pier across a beach…. oh wait…..

And between you and David, you have already allocated a Regiment and organized at least part of the capability. You really need to run for office so you can be Minister of Defence you know !

June 11, 2017 12:40 pm


And ye shall receive!

Excellent read, thank you boss. I like it.

Regards, Jbt.

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