A proposal for a British Army cavalry brigade structure that will be helicopter mobile

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We know that the British Army’s Strike Brigade is built around the concept of disaggregated operations across a large area where forces concentrate at points in time and space to deliver a range of meaningful effects. They are based on a collection of ‘medium weight’ tracked and wheeled vehicles, none of which can exploit the mobility advantages of support helicopters because they are too heavy.

The Light Strike Brigade is therefore based on the core principles of the joint land strike concept but with much lighter vehicles that can exploit the mobility afforded by UK Support Helicopters. It is not about deploying inter-theatre by air, but within a theatre over a large area. Exploiting its mobility, firepower and low logistics demand, it would have applicability in both  conventional and non-conventional conflict.

Beyond the general concept, this article will also make a proposal for a change to the UK force structure, especially for the 16 Air Assault Brigade (16AAB), the Light Infantry and Light Cavalry.

Equipment and vehicle options will be described in detail.

The Controversial Bit Where I Talk About Future Structures

Writing about UK Amphibious Capabilities recently I suggested that given the range of challenges (all requiring lots of cash to meet) and lack of investment priority for the amphibious force, the UK should make significant changes to 3 Commando Brigade. In the debate that followed, and reinforced by recent output from the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, there was/is a tendency to see amphibious capability as a discrete item that lionised and bathed in over-emotional superlatives, but not in any way connected to the funding and manning realities, actual operational challenges or linked to wider operational capabilities like the Army’s emerging Strike Brigade concept. I think we need to take a deep breath, stand back and not indulge in unrealistic viewpoints that always see funds appear from somewhere, or what seems to be the general position of many, cut the Army to pay for the Royal Marines. Many childishly see my view as some sort of anti RM/RN bias, but that could not be further from the truth.

The proposal articulated in the linked article above would result in a smaller Corps of Royal Marines as a result of disbanding 3 Commando Brigade. Divested of much of 3CDO’s British Army Combat Support/Combat Service Support the Royal Marines would still retain their unique ethos and training system. The new organisation would concentrate on existing roles such as maritime and littoral security, SF support, cold-weather training, and small to medium scale raiding but would develop into new areas such as combat search and rescue (personnel recovery)and littoral dominance that would enhance carrier strike and complement investments in emerging unmanned capabilities for shallow water ASW, mine countermeasures and survey. Incidentally, there would still be a major role for HMS Albion/Bulwark in this vision, more on this when I get round to developing these ideas further in a future article.

In this article I suggested that Norway has little need for an understrength amphibious light infantry brigade with modest mobility and even more modest artillery support but instead, would certainly welcome an ability to secure some of their airbases from infiltration by enemy special forces, dovetailing with the littoral security focus I suggested above. In another long-form article, I argue that an enhanced Joint Port Opening Capability would be an invaluable complement to the British Army’s Land Strike concept. This is where the UK’s expeditionary land power should be focussed.

These are all connected and they are all a pragmatic recognition of the reality of the UK’s defence budget. It is quite easy to simply suggest the MoD should have a larger budget but whilst I might agree, I think it unlikely. Every single of one these proposal style articles is therefore rooted in financial reality and a desire to at least suggest some hard choices, however people might disagree.

You might be thinking, hang on, what does this have to do with airmobile vehicles?

The answer comes in two parts.

First, I am going to cast a similarly critical eye over 16 Airborne Brigade and the Parachute Regiment, making similar observations about the contemporary operating environment and likely future operating requirements. Light cavalry and infantry will also form part of this discussion. Many of the conclusions are similar.

Second, carrier enabled power projection will benefit from some of the same equipment capabilities as described below. The Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines and British Army will be evolving the carrier enabled power projection concept that will centre on the new carriers.

This proposal should be seen in that wider context.

Air Manoeuvre – What is it?

So what do we mean by air manoeuvre, and how is this different from air mobility, or air assault?


Mobility is a fundamental role of airpower; across a range of military and disaster response operations it allows ground forces to exploit two of the three principal advantages afforded by airpower; speed and reach.

To quote from Joint Doctrine Publication 0-30;

Speed; allows the rapid projection of military power and permits missions to be completed quickly, generating tempo and offering the potential to exploit time, the fourth dimension.

Reach; seventy percent of the world’s surface is covered by water, but all of it is covered by air, providing air power with unrivalled reach, usually unimpeded by terrain

There is a significant disadvantage though; the payloads that can be carried by aircraft are limited in comparison with ships or vehicles.

Specifically describing the characteristics of support helicopters, it says;

Support helicopters are the lynch pins of tactical mobility.  Typically operating at lower heights and speeds than fixed-wing aircraft, they enable rapid tactical movement of personnel and materiel over difficult terrain. They are the fundamental enablers of ground manoeuvre, adding speed and surprise and allowing forces to leapfrog difficult terrain and bypass ground threats.  Support helicopters are invariably in great demand and short supply

Joint Doctrine Note 1/16 defines the UK’s approach to Air Manoeuvre.

JDP 1/16 first notes that air manoeuvre is not solely about helicopters, transport aircraft play a key role and it specifically defines air assault and airmobile operations and their fundamental dependence on Support Helicopters.

Air assault and airmobile operations. Air assault and airmobile operations are specifically designed to be inserted, resupplied and extracted using support and attack helicopters as their normal means of operation

The image below shows the air manoeuvre spectrum;

Digging deeper into the definitions;

Airdrop delivery involves the air movement of personnel and/or cargo by aircraft into an objective area and their subsequent delivery by parachute.

Air land delivery involves the air movement of personnel and/or cargo which are landed on or near their objective by a fixed-wing aircraft.

Airdrop delivery reduces aircraft exposure to threats at the objective because they remain in flight. This has to be risk balanced with the cost of a relative dispersal of the ground force and cargo, and an increased risk of injury. Air land delivery offers greater unit integrity and usually maximises the use of aircraft cargo capacity. However, air landing requires a suitable airfield or air strip, and exposes the aircraft to threats at the objective

An air assault operation is defined as: an operation in which air assault forces, using the firepower, mobility, and total integration of helicopter assets, manoeuvre on the battlefield under the control of the commander to engage and destroy adversary forces or to seize and hold key terrain.

An airmobile operation is defined as an operation in which combat forces and equipment manoeuvre about the battlefield by aircraft to engage in ground combat.  Examples include moving engineers to clear a defile ahead of an advancing ground force; or moving a ground force to establish a hasty defensive position to block an enemy advance

Independent helicopter tasks are those which can be carried out by helicopters independently of other arms, though they may be part of a broader ground scheme of manoeuvre. They are primarily focussed on offensive actions. These are most likely to be shaping tasks but may be mission-decisive tasks in their own right.

Like many similar UK documents, this is a very clear description of the various components and terminology involved. Also like many similar UK documents, it is somewhat removed from resource availability and arguably, downplays risks in a contemporary operating environment.

Contemporary Issues

As Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Iranian air defence missile systems increase in capability and are seemingly proliferated with abandon, the risk to slow-moving support helicopters and transport aircraft rises. The threat from AAA also endures. Countermeasures continue to improve, tactics likewise, and of course, offensive systems are also there to assist but on balance, the risk is still significant.

The odd MANPADS and 23mm automatic cannon-armed technical is one thing, but a modern integrated Russian air defence system in Eastern and Northern Europe is entirely another. In any major conventional operation in the Baltics, Russia would seek to prevent reinforcement by NATO forces. The Missile Threat website provides an excellent interactive mapping tool that plots Russian strike and air defence missile range on a map of Europe.

The circles in the diagram above are S-300 and S-400 engagement ranges which shows why a group of Chinooks flying across the Suwalki Gap in response to a Russian incursion into the Baltic States is rather unlikely, likewise a Company level airdrop into Lithuania. In an operational environment that is not as dense with AA systems then, of course, the risk is reduced, but by how much?

Published missile ranges tend to be maximum ranges in ideal conditions against non-manoeuvring targets with no countermeasures or means of evasion. The actual engagement envelope is also dependant on radar performance and radar horizon. The reason anti-air warfare destroyers put their radars atop as tall a mast as possible is to maximise the radar horizon. Radar and visual horizon are not the same things (this article is a decade old, it provides a good explanation).

Terrain masking provides low flying aircraft with an effective means of reducing the air defence radar’s engagement envelope. Long-range surface to air missiles is particularly prone to radar horizon issues if the aircraft is flying at low altitudes and the terrain advantages the aircraft. Modern defence tactics negate this by placing shorter-range systems in concentric layers to catch any low level penetrating aircraft which makes combinations like the S-400/Buk/Pantsir so fearsomely effective.

This is the fundamental problem with an air assault and to some extent, air-land delivery. The same can also be said for an airdrop. Equally unlikely is either of those large aircraft carriers coming anywhere near shore and the problems of Support Helicopter vulnerability are amplified by the lack of terrain masking opportunities as they fly over the sea toward land.

So we have to be prepared to ask the hard question, why do we maintain capabilities for an increasingly narrow range of operational scenarios that rely on enemies being cooperative? This leads to the conclusion that we should keep slow-moving support helicopters and tactical air transport aircraft as far away from potential enemies as possible.

It could be argued there are some scenarios where maintaining a small capability to airdrop or air-land is perfectly sensible but they tend towards the niche, specialist areas. French operations in Mali demonstrated just such a capability. The first part of Operation Serval was to secure Bamako, strike enemy rear areas and to prepare for Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) troops called Mission Internationale de Soutien au Mali (MISMA). With Bamako secured and MISMA starting to arrive, the second phase saw operations switch to the north of the country, the destruction of enemy forces and restoration of border integrity. A French spearhead column retook Gao and supported by a parachute landing that cleared the airport, Timbuktu was retaken soon after.

A small number of personnel and engineering plant, linking up with already on the ground forces, cleared and prepared the way for air landings. This is a perfect example, but one that was small scale and with very little threat to aircraft.

Accepting the view that both amphibious assault at scale and much of the air manoeuvre spectrum is increasingly unlikely, there is a case for change, a compelling case for change in a resource-constrained environment.

Towards a Change Proposal

What are the drivers for change?

The Royal Navy is going to struggle to resource Carrier Strike, its surface and subsurface fleet AND 3 Commando. The Royal Navy cannot afford to subsidise the British Army by providing a manoeuvre brigade and the British Army cannot afford to subsidise the Royal navy by providing pretty much all of 3CDO’s CS/CSS. Much of the rationale for 3CDO is weak and future challenges demand investment it is simply not going to receive.

Much of the Air Manoeuvre spectrum is increasingly unlikely to ever be used and yet 16 Air Assault Brigade is maintained against these increasingly unlikely scenarios.

In the recent ‘Towards SDSR2018’ series I suggested that the UK should note that whilst the Russian threat is often oversold, it is not to be ignored either. Also, there is likely to be an enduring engagement with efforts to reduce instability in the Middle East and Africa that pushes conflict to Europe. In short, the UK must address issues to the North, East and South of Europe within sensible limits and various alliances, based on three general principles; demonstrate leadership in NATO on spending, work with our allies to improve their capabilities and finally, to have skin in the game.

Like the Royal Navy, the British Army has manning problems and numerous budgetary issues. With a very large set of aspirational capabilities and many obsolete items of equipment, of all three services, the British Army is in the poorest material state. An enduring land power lesson is the need to maintain light, medium and heavy, each with overlapping and complementary capabilities that play to their respective strengths.

There does seem to be a prevailing view that the British Army’s light role infantry are sacrificial lambs for whatever favourite future structure is proposed but not only is this ignorant, it is also blind to the fact that infantry is always in short supply, that dismounted infantry has significant utility in difficult terrain and the urban context, and that light role infantry is a specialism of itself. But like all matters of organisation and capability, if we can evolve in order to meet contemporary challenges or exploit technology, then that is a good thing.

This article at the Wavell Room quite rightly noted that recent operations have never really been light role in the truest sense, vehicles have always been a constant feature. The author makes an argument that Light Role Infantry has no future, and he is in the Light Role Infantry. Commenting on vehicles;

They enable increased firepower, manoeuvrability, protection and sustainment across a larger operational area. They contribute to increased tempo and allow greater inherent flexibility, as well providing organic means to concentrate or disperse forces as desired. Vehicles provide a mobile platform for crew-served weapon systems and increased ammunition carriage; the firepower that such systems can inflict and sustain is far greater than light role infantry. The manoeuvrability of combat elements to arrive at speed, gain surprise and seize initiative as well as generate mass, can also be increased as vehicles allow mounted infantry to travel at greater speed and cover more ground than their light role peers. Importantly the vehicles are organic to the unit. There is no reliance on aviation to be prioritised, fit to fly and weather suitable. Vehicles also serve as integral casualty evacuation and resupply platforms, which has become more important following the transition away from Afghanistan and Iraq where dedicated aviation platforms were assigned to such a role. The current expectation for contingency operations is that casualties will be moved by ground forces, and that units will facilitate resupply of water, food and ammunition.

This is an important article I think, and the author makes a number of excellent points but the obvious barrier to greater mechanisation is cost. Where I think this can be achieved is if whatever comes next from the argument is relatively low cost, not quite light role but not quite medium either, and it has a specific set of roles within the overall Land Strike concept.

Concepts like Specialist Infantry and Strike Brigades are sound, yes there are details we might disagree with and yes there might be looming resource issues and problems ahead, but fundamentally, Army 2020(R) is going in the right direction. The Army has also recognised the need to re-focus on fighting in urban areas and has started various study programmes to inform change, no doubt light role infantry will be part of this.

The Op HERRICK Campaign Study noted that a Brigade Reconnaissance Force (whose roots lay in 3CDO Patrols Troop and 16AAB Pathfinder Platoon) was of great utility because of their ability to use vehicles or helicopters to achieve tactical surprise to gather useful intelligence and facilitate strike missions. It also notes that in the future, this will be delivered by the Light Cavalry Regiments. Op MOSHTARAK was highlighted as a significant air assault operation and that this capability, now practised by the wide-field army, should be retained outside of 16AAB. Am not sure this is achievable though.

With the withdrawal of CVR(T), a vehicle that is helicopter transportable, and replacement with Ajax, that most certainly is not, the rapid response helicopter transportable light armour capability that has been a feature of a number of operations in the past is no longer available, even if it has been dropped from 16AAB for a while.

The British Army has over the last few years experimenting with light mechanised and light protected mobility forces but in Army 2020 Refine, seems to have reverted back to traditional light role infantry. Whilst many like to point to this as a failure, I see the opposite, an organisation willing to experiment and change tack when the experiment does not work. I suspect the reasons for the lack of success lie in the vehicles chosen rather than the concept itself. Using Foxhound and Husky meant the crew to dismount ratio was high so the total number of vehicles in a given size unit was also high. This comes with a bill, and without the combat service support resources in place, in units that were traditionally very vehicle light, there were bound to be sustainability issues. So I think the issue was sustainability, driver training and the lack of service support resources.

The Light Cavalry in the Royal Armoured Corps is also a relatively new function, regular on Jackal 2 and Coyote, and reserve on Land Rover R-WMIK. There are three regular (Scottish, Welsh and English) and three reserve Yeomanry regiments (Northern Ireland, Scotland and England). This regional distribution is good, and one of those political realities that must be dealt with.

With all these in mind, any proposal for change must be realistic, achievable and take into account wider issues of politics, change fatigue and the current defence environment.

But I do think there is a case for change, best buckle up!

The Light Strike Brigade – A Proposal

Having spent time above going around the houses and plucking up the courage, am going to get on with it.

Disband 16 Air Assault Brigade.

There, I said it!

Put the outrage bus back in the garage though, am not suggesting the Parachute Regiment is disbanded. The Parachute Regiment should continue to act as a lead into Special Forces like the Royal Marines and maintain a training cadre for air assault and air landing operations, like the Royal Marines, would with Arctic operations. These are invaluable roles in themselves but the bulk of their new operating model would consist of providing support to Special Forces and the Specialist Infantry Group. There is an enduring demand for SF in the Middle East and Africa, let alone Europe, logically this is an area the UK should expand and increase investment in.

Whilst this would still have a need for wider Army provided CS/CSS, nature and scale would reduce, thus freeing up a range of personnel and equipment for ‘redeployment’. There would also be the 3CDO Army CS/CSS to consider as well.

Hold that thought for a moment.

The proposal is to generate a Light Strike Brigade, or two if we fully integrate Army Reserves. With the proposed Strike Brigades shaping up to be on the heavy end of the medium weight scale I think there is a need for a logistically light force that dovetails with the Joint land Strike Concept. The pieces of the jigsaw are there, Light Role Infantry, Light Cavalry and the remainder of the 16AAB/3CDO CS/CSS.

If we accept that A2AD threats will result in a greater need for disaggregated operations where forces only concentrate when needed the need for increased mobility becomes obvious, it is after all at the root of the thinking behind Strike. A lighter version would therefore focus on mobility, both on the ground and in the air, the latter being crucial to the concept.

Speed is all, speed is a fundamental advantage of air power (see above) and so the Light Strike Brigade is predicated on exploiting air power in all its forms and especially the air mobility part of air manoeuvre. Of all the tasks that comprise air manoeuvre, I think the only one that has any kind of justifiable applicability in a contemporary operating environment beyond niche and special forces is that of airmobile.

But air mobile also has a problem, those defence systems described above.

To manage risk from enemy air defences, airmobile operations must consider landing at an increased distance from their objective. When they land their personnel, that personnel will be required to conduct a longer approach march. If that approach march is on foot, the advantages afforded by helicopters start to be eroded. Speed, agility, the ability to rapidly concentrate and manoeuvre are degraded by the requirement to march for several hours or days.

Making this even worse is the burdens that infantry soldiers now routinely carry, see the previous article on this. Not only are we increasing the infantry burden, in this case, we are also asking them to march further before fighting. In order to restore speed and agility, there is no practical option but to use that oldest of man invention, the wheel.

Instead of…

Fly, march a short distance and fight

The new reality is…

Fly, drive, march a short distance and fight or even fight mounted

Lightweight wheeled vehicles to improve on the ground mobility are essential, not an optional extra. Therefore, making the case for air mobility requires one to make the case for vehicles that can be carried by helicopters and the infantry and cavalry forces that can use them.

The Light Strike Brigade would therefore exploit the UK excellent Support Helicopter fleet to achieve stand-off distances and a range of light vehicles to ensure the Support Helicopters remain out of the effective range of enemy air defences.

It is also important to note that this deployment scenario may be one of many.

The Light Strike Brigade could be used in a conventional defence of Europe context or providing support for the Specialist Infantry Group, with all points between. Defining features are mobility and firepower but slimmed down logistics. Because it would not be able to hold the ground it would instead exploit its mobility to engage at a time and place of its choosing.

Disrupting lines of communication and supply locations, delaying enemy forces with hit and run tactics, careful observation and reconnaissance, emplacing unattended sensors or ECM jammers, anti-tank or even anti-aircraft ambushes and route security should all be within its operational palette.

Even in a European Article V NATO context, such high mobility has relevance. Given that suppressing the S-400’s in Kaliningrad Oblast would be a NATO strategic objective that would receive the attention of everything from Polish artillery to RAF F-35’s with SPEAR Cap 3’s, it is not a ridiculous suggestion to observe that in this context, getting an airmobile package quickly into the proximity of the gap to provide some security for an advancing Strike Brigade or heavier force is not that outlandish.

Sustainment would be a challenge, deploying by helicopter is one thing, but sustaining a force by helicopter is entirely another. And yet there are mitigation measures without increasing risk to unacceptable levels. Pre-emplaced caches, air despatch and local supply can be used, or perhaps limit durations to what can be achieved.

There are some examples below that might provide food for thought.


In the mid-eighties, at the height of the Cold War and with lessons from the Falklands Conflict still fresh, the British Army formed 6 Air Mobile Brigade. In response to the intelligence of an impending Warsaw Pact invasion, reconnaissance teams would fly forward to determine the optimum positions to establish tank-killing zones using rapidly deployed Milan ATGW teams. Once the positions had been determined, the Support Helicopters would deploy teams where they would hand dig field defences and lay in wait. TOW missile-armed Lynx helicopters would also integrate and overlap with these positions.

Because of the expected intensity of Warsaw Pact artillery fire that we predicted to be deployed on a ‘just in case’ basis against the more obvious position, the whole thing depended on having sufficient notice to dig fire positions with sufficient overhead cover. Each battalion had 42 Milan ATGW firing posts but not for nothing was it called a speed bump.

Despite this, 24 Air Mobile Brigade was established and the concept developed further, specifically to improve mobility.

Developed towards the end of the early nineties, the Multi-National Airborne Division (MNAD) concept was designed to be held in reserve, until Warsaw Pact intentions and direction became clear. Then, using a combination of helicopters and fast vehicles the force would quickly establish ambush positions. The force was very light but armed to the teeth, with a very high percentage of ATGW firing posts. It was only scaled to operate for 48 hours at a range of 150km and after a very brief combat period would quickly withdraw to, hopefully, fight another day.

MNAD consisted of British, German, Dutch and Belgian forces, including 24 Air Mobile Brigade. Vehicles included British Land Rovers, Longline Fast Strike Vehicles, Supacat All Terrain Mobility Platforms, Fox and CVR(T); German Wiesel’s and Krakas; Belgian Iltis and various motorcycles and other light vehicles. The Longline Fast Strike Vehicle was based on the US Fast Attack Vehicle but heavier and with a number of UK specific modifications.

It was a promising concept but as the Cold War started to wind down, it was not progressed and as force sizes reduced across Europe, not repeated either.

Many years later, in Kosovo, a completely different military environment, but one that would also exploit the speed and reach of support helicopters enhanced with underslung vehicles. Operation AGRICOLA was the name given to the UK contribution to KFOR. KFOR entered Kosovo on the 11th of June 1999. UK forces were responsible for securing a route to Pristina from Macedonia. This route included the crucial Kacanik Defile, a narrow gorge with a series of bridges and tunnels. The plan called for an airborne insertion to secure the key points in the defile followed by an armoured advance through to Pristina. Airborne forces (5 Airborne Brigade) securing bridges and the Irish Guards Battle Group advancing over them, the similarities to Market Garden were obvious to all.

5 Airborne Brigade consisted elements of 1 and 3 PARA, reinforced with the 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles. In addition to 657/659 Squadron AAC Lynx helicopters, the main lift was supplied by eight RAF Chinook and five Puma helicopters. First over the border were four Lynx helicopters from 659 Squadron AAC, followed by five RAF Puma’s escorted by a pair of US Army AH-64 attack helicopters.

RAF Chinook helicopters then carried the main force forward, deploying them in key positions in the Kacanik area. 99 lifts were carried out including 38 with underslung loads, moving a total of 1,260 personnel.

The lead battle group entered Pristina the next day, accompanied by the traditional arguments about who was there first.

During these initial deployments, the ability to sling load CVR(T) and Supacat ATMP by Chinook was also exploited to great effect.

We know that the British Army’s Strike Brigade is built around the concept of disaggregated operations across a large area where forces concentrate at points in time and space to deliver a range of meaningful effects. They are based on a collection of ‘medium weight’ tracked and wheeled vehicles, none of which can exploit the mobility advantages of support helicopters because they are too heavy.

The Light Strike Brigade is therefore based on the core principles of the joint land strike concept but with much lighter vehicles that can exploit the mobility afforded by UK Support Helicopters. It is not about deploying inter-theatre by air, but within a theatre over a large area. Exploiting its mobility, firepower and low logistics demand, it would have applicability in both a conventional and non-conventional conflict.

Beyond the general concept, this article will also make a proposal for a change to UK force structure, especially for 16 Air Assault Brigade (16AAB), the Light Infantry and Light Cavalry.

Equipment Discussion

Everything in this section is about trade-offs and compromise.

By insisting that every single piece of equipment can be carried by in-service Support Helicopters the Light Strike Brigade will self-evidently be lacking in protection and firepower, trading much of this away for the sake of mobility.

Equally, it must also be noted that it would not always operate completely alone and out on a limb, devoid of support from other services and capabilities. In the context of a larger operation, it could certainly exploit aviation, ISTAR, artillery and communications capabilities provided by other deployed and non-deployed forces. Although parallels with 24 Airmobile Brigade might be obvious, and a good starting point, modern technology and concepts make it very different.

One of the key issues to be finalised is the degree of combat support and combat service support that must be organic to the force; does it need its own artillery, what about unmanned systems or combat engineering. How much logistics support would it need, a key question that might not be simple to answer definitively?

The guiding principle for the Light Strike Brigade is to have a small footprint, be fleet of foot and exploit opportunities and technologies to operate in smaller disaggregated groupings.

We should also be wary of trying the build the perfect mousetrap but never getting there. An integrated mortar system might be the desired end state but if all we can afford is to use what we already have, that should not be the end of the matter entirely.

Neither am I going to get into detailed organisation specifically, again, would this be the outcome of experimentation with different group sizes? Given that dispersed operations is the most likely outcome, semi-autonomy at platoon/troop or company/squadron level should be the focus but aggregation at a higher level should also be part of the concept of operations.

Because of this, the sizes of those lower-level units might be larger than normal in order to provide some measure of resilience. This might be provided by integrating reserve components into the force structure or simply making units larger but less numerous. I make no specific claim to whether future Army numbers could support two Light Strike Brigades or one, but there is no reason why two should not be our aspiration, on the flip side, we might also conclude that spreading our jam slightly thinner and putting together three smaller Light Strike Brigades would make more sense from a sustainment and readiness cycle perspective.

Equipment and organisation options will be subject to numerous factors but they can be visualised at three layers of function; combat, combat support (engineer and artillery) and combat service support (logistics, equipment support, medical etc.).

With these observations in mind, the rest of this article is a look at options, not a definitive proposal.

Vehicle Requirements and Constraints

Because this whole concept is predicated on exploiting mobility it is logical that it uses vehicles, aircraft and helicopters, the three are linked and must be considered together.

Dimensions and weights are the main defining characteristics of airmobile vehicles. Support Helicopters are expensive and always in short supply so sizing vehicles to maximise lift capacity and dimensions of in-service helicopters and aircraft increases overall efficiency by increasing packing density.

There are numerous other factors to consider; maintainability, reliability, the need to be amphibious or not, types of terrain it would normally operate in, speeds and manoeuvrability, protection, equipment fit, capacity, ability to make use of trailers, power generation capacity, fuel type and consumption, and equipment fit options, to name but a few.

Although this article is about a Light Strike Brigade concept, the factors described below also have wider utility.

Helicopter Interior Dimensions

Vehicles can be carried inside helicopters or sling loaded externally, each method has advantages and disadvantages. Sling loading imposes limitations on speed, range and manoeuvrability and vehicle might need to be de-rigged once on the ground. A vehicle carried internally will utilise volume that might otherwise be used for low-density cargo like people and if the vehicle is (likely) a tight fit, it might also take some time to unload (very carefully)

The UK only operates two helicopters that are equipped with a ramp and therefore potentially used for the internal carriage of vehicles and whilst I think it unlikely the UK will be flying either a V-22 or CH-53K in the future, we do often operate with US forces and so, along with NH90 and even a Mil-8, useful to also consider. Seat arrangements, differences between the ramp and internal dimensions, ramp break over dimensions, cargo floor equipment and other internal obstacles might ultimately result in a vehicle not being able to actually fit inside so the dimensions shown below and indicative only, from open sources.

  Width (m) Height (m) Length (m)
Merlin 2.0 1.8 6.5
Chinook 2.1 1.9 9.3
NH90 1.7 1.5 4.8
Mil 8 2.3 1.8 5.3
CH-53K 2.7 1.9 9.1
V-22 1.8 1.8 7.4

Helicopter Sling Loads

Using a Support Helicopter (SH) for external loads is quite commonplace but it is a complex and potentially dangerous business where the limits and operating procedures have evolved over many years.

All UK helicopters (except AH and some training types) have external lift capabilities.

Simply saying X vehicle weighs Y and will therefore be able to be slung load from Z helicopter might not be strictly true in the simplest terms, clearance will depend on many factors and in general terms, more weight equals less range or ability to operate at higher altitudes. The table below shows external load clearances obtained from open-source data but it is only indicative.

  Sling Load Clearance Notes
Wildcat 1,000kg equipped with a Drallim Semi-Automatic Cargo Release Unit (SACRU) No 2 Mark 1 cargo hook with a design load of 1,497kg
Puma Mk2 2,250kg has a SACRU Number 1 Mk3 with a safe working load of 2,724kg
Merlin HC3 4,100kg has a Talon SACRU with a safe working load of 5,443 kg
Chinook 11,300kg the centre hook has a safe working load of 11,300kg
Mil 8 3,000kg  
NH90 4,000kg  
Blackhawk 4,082kg  
CH-53K 15,900kg  
V-22 Osprey 6,800kg the single hook is rated at 4,536kg although, with a two hook system, this is increased

Strops, slings, spreader bars, nets and other equipment falls into the general term of Helicopter Underslung Load Equipment, or HUSLE. Taken together, these can weigh up to several hundred kilograms so in addition to operating margins, it is also important to take these into account.

Other Weight and Dimensions Constraints

Taken together, helicopter dimensions and weight limits are the two main constraining factors but others are also important.

Air Despatch Platforms

When considering vehicles for airmobile forces it does make sense to also look at air despatch, despite everything I said in Part 1

In order to airdrop vehicles using parachutes, they need to be suitably rigged to a platform. Platforms are available from Aeronet and Capewell, the latter of which has two designs, the Type V and a smaller system used for quad bikes and side by side ATV’s called the Multi Drop Platform. Triton has also developed a composite platform although it is not clear if it is in production or commercially available. Each of these have specific weight and dimension limits but they are generally aligned with the C-130J.

Considered by many to be the most advanced is the ATAX Platform from Airborne Systems in Wales. This is a modular system that can be combined for heavier and longer vehicles or boats. It also features an airbag system for the heavier loads and integral shock absorption, and the flexible nature of the platform allows the platform to easily cope with ground undulation.

Each ATAX module supports a 4-tonne load and up to four modules can be combined for a maximum weight of 16 tonnes.

As with helicopter sling loading, air despatch is a very complex and potentially very dangerous business. Platform characteristics often change with aircraft type and payload figures tend to be given as inclusive of rigging. Aircraft have ramp limitations and minimum weights for various types of platforms.

The UK has purchased a small number of French Aeronet platforms and is evaluating others.

Tactical Transport Aircraft

With luck, the UK will be able to retain in service the C-130J in addition to A400M and C-17. Although it might be obvious that the kind of light vehicle envisaged in this article will fit, it is still important to understand capacities in order to determine multiples of vehicles in a single lift that allow aircraft volume and payload to be efficiently utilised.

Exactly the same as with helicopters, the closer the aircraft gets to its maximum payload, the more performance (especially range) will be reduced. So when we talk of vehicle weights we must also talk about aircraft range/landing altitude and consider what might be ‘normal’ weights, not theoretical maximums in the brochures.

The maximum payload of the A400M Atlas has yet to be fully released but the design objective was 37 tonnes. For planning purposes, I would tend to a figure of 30-32 tonnes, compared to 15-16 tonnes for a C-130J. Likewise with the C-17, a more sensible figure to use is 60-64 tonnes rather than the absolute maximum. Even with these weight limits, there are many factors that might reduce the actual cleared figure; weight distribution, floor loading limits, uniformity of shape, securing practice and safety considerations for example.

  Width Height Length Payload
C-130J 3.12m 2.74m 12.1m 15-16 tonnes
C-130J-30 3.12m 2.74m 17.0m 15-16 tonnes
A400M 4.00m 3.85m 17.0m 30-32 tonnes
C-17 5.50m 3.80m 26.0m (inc. ramp) 60-64 tonnes

Packing density is important for inter-theatre lift and given a finite number of aircraft sorties available in a given time period,  it will determine the force build-up speed when utilising aircraft. Am I suggesting the UK has the lift capacity to move a Light Strike Brigade completely by air or that this would be the objective? No, but the more you can push into theatre the quickest, the better. Air transport therefore matters.

Aircraft Pallets

Vehicles would normally be driven on and off tactical transport aircraft so ordinarily aircraft pallets and load containers would not be a consideration, but for smaller and lighter vehicles, using aircraft pallets instead of driving on and off aircraft in the inter-theatre phase can lead both to space efficiency and open up opportunities for using non-tactical transport aircraft. Tactical aircraft will be at a premium in any deployment, rapid or otherwise, so if we can provide options to avoid using them and use the thousands of civilian freight aircraft available, all good.

The 463L and ULD are two key systems used in the air carriage of goods.

The 463L pallet (also known as the HCU-6/E) is the main component of the 463L Materials Handling Support System. The pallet and handling systems are designed with rolling in mind, a Euro pallet is lifted and shifted, a 463L is rolled. Constructed of balsa wood with an aluminium skin the 463L is 88″ by 108″ and 2.25″ thick. An empty pallet weighs 290 lbs (131kg) or 355 lbs (161kg) with the net fitted which also needs a couple of inches of space around the pallet edges to secure.  Each pallet can carry up to 10,000 lbs or about 4.5 tonnes. Useable space is therefore 2.13m by 2.64m and two pallets can be linked together with couplers.

Pallets would not be used for tactical landing but if the vehicle can fit within the 2.64m length of a 463L and under 4.5 tonnes they could be loaded across the width of the cargo bay rather than longitudinally. An A400M can carry 9 such pallets, a C17, 18. They need offload equipment at the far end but it does demonstrate how working within existing constraints can enhance capacity and speeds. If the vehicle was no higher than 1.62, even an RAF Voyager could carry 8 such 463L pallets in its underfloor cargo deck.

The term Unit Load Device is a catch-all for a collection of pallets and containers used in the civilian air freight business. There is a great deal more variety in dimensions and configurations than with the 463L system as they are often designed to be aircraft specific in order to absolutely maximise volume efficiency. Specialist vehicle transport ULD’s are available from a number of manufacturers.

The RAF’s Voyager and all civilian transport aircraft use ULD’s, above bottom left is an RAF Voyager lower deck.

Containers and Flatracks

The standard ISO containers’ numerous advantages of protection, reduction in handling and compatibility with ships, trains and vehicles are obtained when the container changes mode of transport i.e. intermodal. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) defines standards through an International Classification of Standards (ICS), ICS 55 is for the packaging and distribution of goods and within that, 55.180.10 – General purpose containers include a range of standards for containers, with ISO 668 being the main one that defines dimensions and characteristics.

If the vehicle can fit within the most commonly used ISO containers it makes deployment to theatre that much easier, although not any quicker.

  Door Width Door Height Interior Length
1F (5ft) Quadcon 2.34m 2.28m 1.5m
1D (10ft) Bicon 2.34m 2.28m 2.8m
1C (20ft) 2.34m 2.28m 5.8m
1A (40ft) 2.34m 2.28m 12.0m
1AAA (40ft) Hi Cube 2.34m 2.56m 12.0m

Although the interior width and height are commonly quoted, the door aperture is more important for loading vehicles. Stacking multiple vehicles to maximise the volume of a container would also be advantageous. Flatracks are commonly used to transport vehicles and for planning purposes, width and length dimensions are roughly similar to 20ft containers.

Landing Craft and Hovercraft

The UK does not have any hovercraft that can transport vehicles but there is an aspiration for the Griffon 8100TD which has a vehicle ramp and deck that is sized for a 12-tonne maximum weight and 20ft ISO container dimensions. Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) Mk5 can carry an approximately 6-tonne payload with a ramp width of 2m. The much larger Landing Craft Utility (LCU) Mk10 have a large payload and ramp width in excess of 3.5m

Driving Licences

No, am not joking.

One of the problems with recent experiments with light mechanised forces was the training overhead for the heavier vehicles that required higher classes of driving licence than commonly found in infantry units. Vehicle weights and driving licences require management and training, it is important. As an example, a Class B car licence qualifies a person to drive a vehicle with a Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of up to 3,500kg with up to eight passenger seats. On a Class C1 licence, vehicles with a MAM between 3,500 and 7,500kg with a trailer up to 750kg. With a C1E, the combined weight of a vehicle and trailer is 12,000kg.

Break Points and Vehicle Categories

With so many constraining factors to consider it would be easy to overwhelm any logical thinking so in order to try and make some sense of them all a series of logical groupings might help

  Width Height Length Weight
Category A 1.1m 1.5m 2.3m 500kg
Category B 2.0m 1.8m 3.5m 990kg
Category C 2.0m 1.8m 3.5m 3,500kg
Category D 2.0m 1.8m 3.5m 10,000kg
Category E 2.34m-4.0m 2.28m-3.85m Not specified 10,000kg

Informing each of these categories are a series of evaluations and trade-offs that try and balance the constraints and needs. Some will have greater weight than others, for inter-theatre transport, helicopter limits are absolute but where they can be flexed slightly to improve efficiencies in inter-theatre transport that is also considered.

The rationale for each one is described below.

Category A

Can be internally carried in all listed helicopters with a rear ramp, fits on a 463L pallet, all airdrop platforms and the LCVP. In transport aircraft and ISO containers, multiples can be generated by placing 2 per 463L pallet which would allow an A400M to carry 18, or a C-17, 36. An RAF Voyager could also carry 16 on 463L pallets in the under floor cargo area. In an ISO container, they cannot be double stacked high unless they were smaller than the gauge but they could be placed two wide for a total of four per 20ft container.

At a push, with the assistance of some ramps and plenty of mandraulics, one could even be internally carried in a Puma or Blackhawk. Volume might limit multiples inside a Chinook or Merlin, if carried externally, two can be carried externally by a Wildcat, four by a Puma Mk2. Using a suitable platform, a Chinook could theoretically carry up to twenty. Volumes permitting, forty could be carried in a 20ft ISO although in practice, this would be closer to a quarter of that because the height does not make stacking permissible.

Category B

This is primarily for internal carriage in a Merlin or Chinook but light enough to be sling loaded by a Wildcat at under 1 tonne. The width also allows it to be carried by an LCVP and future hovercraft. It can be airdropped using multiple platforms and on two 463L’s clipped together. Although length can be somewhat flexible, 3.5m allows one per ISO container (not space-efficient, 4 in an A400M and 7 in a C-17. This Category would typically be an off shelf side by side ATV although there are some other alternative possibilities.

Category C

Also for internal carriage in a Merlin or Chinook but with a maximum weight of 3.5 tonnes can be sling loaded by NH90, Merlin and Blackhawk, but not Wildcat or Puma Mk2 Dimensions are otherwise the same as Category although some extension of length is permissible in order to maximise the interior space of Merlin and Chinook or to utilise a trailer/towed gun. The 3.5 tonnes weight means there is also a licence/training benefit. Two could be carried externally by Chinook with some margin.

Category D

Internal or external carriage by Chinook only, although the dimensions are the same as for Category E, the weight is much higher than can be lifted by Merlin. For weights, one can be carried by a C-130, three by A400M and six by C-17 although it is likely volume and dimension limits would reduce that number.

Category E

Dimension limits would be based largely on transport aircraft dimensions because they would be externally carried by a Chinook only, the larger airdrop platforms, landing craft and ISO container/flatracks. There are a number of decisions to be made on which one of these would take precedence. Keep to ISO container and it is 2.34m wide and 2.28m high but this would fail to take advantage of the width of the Type V platform (3.53m) and A400M (4m) for larger vehicles that might still be perfectly applicable for air mobility. To recognise this potential elasticity in the specification I have defined the limits in the table above. This demonstrates the inherent complexity with trying to define norms for the wide variety of in-service transport and logistics equipment.

Other Vehicle Considerations

In order to maximise SH lift, the majority of the vehicles used should be Category C because it allows two inside a Chinook, or two external plus personnel. This is how you maximise mobility, not by pushing the majority of the vehicles into Category D and E. Category D and E should generally be for support or logistics vehicles.

Which brings me on to the next item, role.

The British Army already has a well-established vehicle categorisation system, it doesn’t specifically denote role, but it is a good shorthand.

  • A Vehicle; a tracked or wheeled armoured combat land vehicle primarily designed for offensive purposes and a specialist vehicle derived from these basic designs
  • B Vehicle; a soft-skinned tracked or wheeled land vehicle, self-propelled or towed, commercial or general service which is not primarily designed for offensive purposes but which may in some cases be armoured for defensive purposes, and which is otherwise specifically defined.
  • C Vehicle; a wheeled or tracked item of earthmoving equipment, either self-propelled or towed; all self-mobile, self-steering, purpose-made cranes, cable laying ploughs; all industrial and agricultural and rough terrain forklift tractors, excluding warehouse tractors

This is a very good system; fighty, loggy and diggy!

For mobility characteristics, again, there are existing categories but in general terms, soft snow, muskeg/bog, intertidal areas, swamps and mountainous areas are challenging for vehicles but may well be perfect operating environments for the Light Strike Brigade.

Within the Category and Role definitions above, vehicles may well look very different if different terrain mobility is needed. The enduring ‘tracks v wheels’ debate is just as valid for airmobile vehicles as it is for any other. It is generally accepted that for serious mobility, especially where low surface compaction or high tractive force is needed, tracks are superior to wheels. Another generally accepted fact is that tracks have higher running costs, create more vibration, are noisier and have higher fuel consumption than wheels. Extra-wide tracks can reduce ground pressure even further but the additional width might push a vehicle from internal to an external carriage. Small wheeled vehicles can also be fitted with track units and tracks over wheels are also a common means of extending the mobility of normally wheeled vehicles.

An amphibious capability may potentially be an important requirement but even that would require further qualification such as wave height tolerance or the ability to climb out of a river for example. Reliability should be a very high priority because of the unsupported nature and relatively short duration of the most likely airmobile operation. On the reverse of that is recoverability. Being able to tow a trailer or weapon system allows a single vehicle to expand its capability for the same number of crew.

Hopefully, this demonstrates the complex and interconnected factors that go into vehicle selection (and this is far from the full picture)


Quad Bikes and Motorcycles

Quad bikes (ATV’s) and motorcycles meet the requirement of Category A. A quad bike with a trailer, Category B

There are recent articles on both motorcycles and quad bikes so will not repeat them here.

Military Quad Bikes (ATV’s)

Military Motorcycles

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Quad bikes are derived from civilian vehicles, market mass is, therefore, able to drive down costs and support load carrier action but there are some interesting ultra-lightweight vehicles long since out of service that was specifically aimed at military markets and might provide some measure of inspiration for modern versions, usually because they have features unlikely to be found on civilian designs.

  Length Width Height Weight Category
Faun Kraka 2.78m 1.51m 1.28m 735kg B
Lohr Fardier 2.27m 1.26m 1.28m 680kg B
Mechanical Mule 3.00m 1.27m 1.27m 361kg B

With no suspension but 6 or 8 wheels, the skid steer all-terrain vehicle has also been available in both civilian derived and bespoke military designed versions. The most obvious is of course the Supacat All Terrain Mobility Platform (Think Defence long read on it here)

Suapact ATMP

Despite the many qualities of the ATMP, in the interests of looking at alternatives, the MoD is currently trialling the Hippo-X from Multipower, supported by Pardus Defence and Security. Multipower is a US manufacturer of mobile power systems and Pardus is a former soldier and commander of the UK Infantry Trials and Development Unit (ITDU).

Neither manufacture the Hippo-X, it appears to be a Mudd Ox XL but in the marketing literature for the Hippo-X there is a description of the power export capability which one would assume is by virtue of the Multipower system. Specification seems broadly similar to the ATMP; although the ATMP can perhaps carry more it does not have the very useful power export capability of the Hippo-X. Like the ATMP it can be fitted with ‘over tracks’ to improve mobility in extreme terrain. Both are amphibious but the Hippo-X would appear to be better suited in this area and can be used to cross wet gaps without preparation. The 5Kw power export system would be very useful with the marketing material suggesting it could be used in the radio rebroadcast role or with a tethered UAV. It also suggests hydraulic power could be used for a crane or small excavator. An unmanned version is also being trialled, in conjunction with Pearson Engineering and Torc Robotics.

Where the ATMP would seem to be more capable and versatile is cargo carrying and the maturity of the various options and clearances. It would certainly be interesting to see an ATMP with a similar power unit and a side by side trial conducted in scenarios that cover the infantry mobility support and logistics roles.

Mudd Ox specification and price sheet.

There are a number of other manufacturers of similar small utility vehicles designed for high mobility; Argo, MXI and Hydratek.

The MXI Buffalo Trucker is a 6×6 amphibious unit with a tilting load bed, 500kg payload on a 500kg highly durable polyethylene body. With a payload of between 411kg and 479kg, the Argo Conquest range can be fitted with a tipping load bed, roll cage and other accessories including a number tailored specifically for medical evacuation. Hydratek recently acquired Land Tamer and between the two ranges, have a broad range of 3 and 4 axle vehicles including tracked models. The South African LMT-1 Gecko, now owned and produced by LMT Holdings. It weighs 1.2 tonnes, can carry 900kg and pull a 1 tonne trailer.

There is certainly no lack of choice and most confirm to the Category constraints.

In addition to the ATMP and Hippo-X unmanned conversions described above, both Land Tamer and Argo have also created unmanned variants. The Squad Mission Support System (SMSSS) is actually a Land Tamer base vehicle and Argo have a complete line of 2, 3 and 4 axle unmanned platforms for use in industry, mining and defence applications.

I remain scpetical of these unmanned platforms but it will be interesting to see how they develop.

Side by Side ATV’s

This type of vehicle has seen a great deal of interest and uptake in the last few years with the market evolving from modest adaptations of agricultural machines to much more specialised military designs.

The early adaptations were from agriculture and outdoor management industries; John Deere, Kawasaki, Polaris, Can Am, Yamaha and Arctic Cat for example. Finding one with the specific payload and weight range is not that easy but the John Deere HPX for example has a 600kg payload with an empty weight of 700kg. In common with all these side by side ATV’s, the load bed is not particularly large. The larger XUV 855D has a diesel engine, the weight of 770kg, payload of 635kg and a towing capacity of 680kg. A number of the 3 axle variants have been used by various forces in Afghanistan. JCB produce a military version of their Workmax all-terrain vehicle which has a payload of 600kg with an unladen weight of 900kg but they no longer produce them.

Polaris seem to be the established market leader with orders and customers from many nations, recently including Canada and Latvia.

  Length Width Height Weight Category Payload
Dagor 4.62m 1.88m 1.84m 2,040kg C 1,474kg
MRZR D2 2.93m 1.52m 1.87m 737kg B 450kg
MRZR D4 3.35m 1.52m 1.87m 952kg B 680kg

Some of the category boundaries are quite close, height for example, but some of the vehicles can have parts collapsed to reduce height for carriage.

These are popular designs but might struggle in extreme terrain (although they may be fitted with wheel replacement type track systems) and have a fairly low payload, they are more people carriers than cargo carriers.

The US Army is currently in progress with its unmanned Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET) programme. Polaris, ARA, and Neya Systems have submitted an optionally manned version of the MRZR platform, General Dynamics with its multi-utility tactical transport (MUTT), HDT with the Hunter WOLF (Wheeled Offload Logistics Follower) and Howe and Howe with the RS2-H1.

It must be said, none of these have a particularly high payload.

If we can get over the fact that this type of vehicle is normally to be found shifting manure and mowing grass, there is potential, after all, the uber-cool Polaris MZR’s have their roots in vehicles used for maintaining golf courses and going duck hunting!

Caron make a series of articulated load carriers, the smallest of which is the EVO 4 Series 100. The roll bar is foldable so it could easily be lower than the 1.8m needed for internal Merlin/Chinook carriage. It is powered with a diesel engine (not petrol like many ATV’s) and equipped with tipping load bed that can take a standard NATO pallet and PTO if needed, the best of this vehicle is the payload figures though. Unloaded, it weighs 1,460kg but can carry 2,040kg and tow up to 5,600kg. The larger Series 600 can carry up to 3,300kg payload and tow 5,600kg. So they might look like a cross between a sit on mower and tractor, but it they are real load movers, not very fast though. The Grillo P600 AWD weighs 1.8 tonnes and can carry 1.8 tonnes, at 1.5m wide, it can be carried inside a Chinook or Merlin, as long as the cab was foldable.

Grillo PK600 AWD

Don’t look at how uncool they look, look at the spec sheets.

The Unitrac 72 from Lindner, with a folding cab, could be internally carried by a Merlin or Chinook, weighs just under 3 tonnes empty and yet can have a maximum payload of over 4.5 tonnes. It also has a number of hydraulic tool attachment points, four-wheel steering, Perkins diesel engine and can have a tipper body fitted. An interesting feature of the Unitrac is its ability to quickly de-mount its load bed, like a European swap body container. The larger Unitrac 1 12 L Drive is 5.07m long, 2.08m wide and 2.47m high.

With an empty weight of 3,475kg it has a maximum payload of just over 6,000kg. It can also tow a maximum weight of 10,000kg.

Lindner Unitrac

AEBI make a similar range of vehicles, the VT450 for example. These are versatile vehicles that generally fall under 10 tonnes maximum weight and all have multiple tool attachment options such as loading jibs, tipping bodies and hooklifts. For snow and soft terrain, they can also be fitted with tracked wheel replacement units.

All of these are of course completely unprotected but the KMW Mungo is actually based on the Multicar M30, a similar municipal maintenance vehicle like those described above.

The Group Vehicle weighs 5.3 tonnes and can carry 10 personnel and their equipment whilst being small enough to fit inside a CH-53 or Chinook. Designed for carrying cargo, the Multi-Purpose Vehicle has a payload of 1.5 tonnes and uses a skip loader rather than a hooklift in order to reduce height. The Large Capacity variant has STANAG Level II protection and is slightly heavier at 5.9 tonnes and the final variant, the NBC Recce.

Pickup trucks, Vans and Land Rover Style Vehicles

As we move into this vehicle category the choice expands dramatically.

First of course, the iconic Land Rover Defender. Numerous models and revisions of the venerable vehicle, short and long wheelbase, winterised/waterproof and not, fitted for radio and general service and with different engines, the basic types are below. Payload is approximately 600kg and the short (Truck Utility Light (Higher Specification) – TUL(HS)) and long wheel base Truck Utility Medium (Higher Specification) TUM(HS)) variants weigh 2.7 tonnes fully laden. The ambulance (Ambulance Battlefield (Higher Specification)) is slightly heavier, approximately 3 tonnes fully laden. The Truck Utility Medium (Higher Specification) TUM(HS) Revised Weapons Mounted Installation kit (R-WMIK), weighs approximately 3.8 tonnes fully laden.

Land Rover

There are also various combinations of hard and soft top Pinzgauer vehicles, maximum payload is approximately 1.4 tonnes, 2 tonnes for the three-axle. Truck Utility Medium (Heavy Duty), two-axle, approximately 4 tonnes fully laden. These are also used to tow the L118 Light Gun, when lifted together, weighs approximately 5 tonnes with a maximum of 6 tonnes if more ammunition is carried. Pinzgauer 6×6 TUM (Heavy Duty), three-axle, approximately 5 tonnes fully laden. Filling a Pinzgauer shaped shoe is a tough job, simple, reliable and highly mobile they have served in numerous conflicts with great distinction. Ricardo have proposed a number of solutions that replaces the engine and transmission with an Iveco engine and DC722 transmission, upgrades the electric system and increases payload to 1.5 tonnes whilst adding basic mine and ballistic protection.

The Bucher (now General Dynamics) Duro is used for satellite communications equipment carriage. The base vehicle weighs approximately 4 tonnes. The bearer modules also have a similar weight.

They would fall across Category C and D

All these are in service and could be selectively upgraded as needed, they would probably make the Light Strike Brigade cut quite easily. The problem of course, as we all know, is that neither the Defender nor Pinzgauer is in production so there is an expiry date for them.

Toyota, Ford and Isuzu pickup trucks are an obvious alternative and can be discretely armoured by many systems integrators such as Jankel and Penman. They can also be carried internally in a Merlin/Chinook and fit easily within Category D. Supacat have taken the Land Rover Discovery drive train and created the LRV400 and LRV600 reconnaissance vehicles. With a slightly reduced payload, the LRV400 sits at Category C and the LRV600 at Category D, the former liftable by Merlin and the latter, by Chinook. Both could fit inside a Chinook. Ovik Crossway have a number of options, including the Crossway vehicle


Not as well-known as some of the above, the Brazilian Agrale company make several Land Rover style vehicles. Achleitner makes the Volkswagen Geson, Speedfighter and Mantra vehicles, available in single and double cab designs. An Austrian engineering and automotive production firm called Oberaigner use Mercedes Sprinters to create off-road versions. Their 6×6 Sprinter has the loading height of a standard Sprinter but with its twin rear axle the maximum weight is 7000kg. This gives a payload of the best part of 4 tonnes.


The Iveco Daily 4×4 is a versatile platform, Oviks created the Cameleon. The Cameleon is certainly a low-cost option but it is nonetheless innovative and reliable. The UK manufacturer, Ibex, make 4×4 and 6×6 vehicles with double, single and crew cab configurations.

Quantec AWD in Devon have recently launched a walking beam 6×6 Defender.

Other Light Trucks

The next obvious choice is a Mercedes Benz Unimog

The Unimog is available in two major variants, the implement (or tool) carrier and the all-terrain, each having a number of models and options. The implement carrier can be fitted with numerous attachments for many different industries and the all-terrain is optimised for load carriage in difficult terrain.


Both would be pushing the 10-tonne boundary when fully loaded but I wanted to include them to demonstrate the extent of similar light vehicles, and of course, the lightest of  MAN SX/HX SV currently in service would also be around that area.

Supacat HMT Family

Getting into a more military-oriented family of vehicles, the Supacat HMT family has quite a long heritage and has achieved great success with a number of nations in addition to the UK. Although the HMT is a family of adaptable vehicles the two main versions are the HMT400 and HMT600, called Jackal and Coyote in UK service.

With a payload of 2.1 tonnes, the Jackal has a maximum weight of 7.6 tonnes. The Extenda is a version designed specifically for Sf use and internal carriage in Chinook with the ability to add a self-contained third axle unit to extend the length. The HMT platform has also been used for a number of variants, none of which entered service, the Soothsayer ECM system, GMLRS and 155mm M777 portee.

All of the HMT vehicles would be broadly defined as Category D or E.

Tracked Vehicles

All of the vehicles above are wheeled, and although some can be converted into ‘tracked like’ vehicles with the addition of tracked wheel replacement units if one wants extreme mobility in the softest of ground tracks are the obvious choice.

3CDO in particular has a problem here because the Merlin cannot lift a Viking even if it is split apart and in order to lift their relatively old Bv206’s, they need to split. This of course means the two halves of the vehicle have to be manoeuvred and linked together once on the ground. A Chinook can lift a Bv206 in one piece but given a Chinook is not common at sea, and not optimised for carrier operations (blade folding etc.) it might be a good idea to seek alternatives. The Royal Marines have been in the market for a Bv206 replacement for some time but the programme seems like many to be continually extended, recast and delayed. Many seem to assume the BAE Beowulf would be the natural replacement but are there alternatives that address the Merlin transportability issue, given it weighs 15.5 tonnes?

The British company Loglogic make a range of compact tracked all-terrain vehicles, some of which are actually used by the MoD on range management duties. The Softrack is slightly too wide for internal carriage but with narrower tracks and a collapsible roll cage/cab would fit easily. It weighs 2.2 tonnes and can carry 2 tonnes. The Larger Softrak 120 weighs 2.9 tonnes and can carry 2.4 tonnes.

Alltrack and Track Industries, both from Canada, produce a range of tracked high mobility work vehicles. The Track Industries HT 40S weighs 5.4 tonnes and can carry a 1.8 tonnes payload, enough for a single NATO ammunition pallet, although this would not be a sling load carried by a Merlin. The larger HT 60WB weighs 9 tonnes but has a 4.1 tonnes payload.

The Alltrack AT 20HD is only 1.5m wide and weighs 2.1 tonnes but can carry a 1.1-tonne payload.


The larger AT-50HD weighs 3.8 tonnes and can carry a payload of 3.2 tonnes, two NATO ammunition pallets in a basic vehicle that can be sling loaded by a Merlin (or two with a Chinook) and carried internally in either. The largest model, the AT-150HD can carry a 15 tonnes payload in a footprint no longer than a BV206, it can also be internally carried inside a C-130 Hercules without preparation. These are excellent machines.


With an emphasis on amphibious capability, the 2.6 tonnes Hydratek D24488B can carry a 1.4-tonne payload.

All these manufacturers eschew the articulation and twin cab approach taken with the Viking and BV206.

Other manufacturers of tracked all-terrain vehicles for use in demanding terrain include Lynx Technologies, Gilbert, Pinroth, UTV, Fecon and PowerBully. Some of these exceed the maximum weight constraint but are included for information and to demonstrate that there is plenty of choice for those seeking all-terrain mobility.

What characterises all these designs is a complete lack of protection, instead, they focus on mobility and payload, as might be expected for civilian equipment.

There are very few sub 10 tonnes tracked combat vehicles, the two most notable are the UK CVR(T) and German Wiesel families of vehicles.

The new CVR(T) Mlk2 vehicles go over the 10-tonne limit and their future is uncertain, seems likely they will all go out of service as Ajax enters. Whether the UK has access to enough 30mm ammunition for the RARDEN or the basic vehicle could be upgraded with new optics, band tracks and electronics but still keep under 10 tonnes is not clear, it would be an interesting project though. Going up to 40mm CTA or even down to something like a 25mm might would still be a firepower improvement over the GPMG/HMG/GMG combination that the Light Cavalry currently has and using one as a carrier vehicle for Javelin, Exactor or Brimstone would also be a significant firepower uplift.

A number of manufacturers have made various attempts and squeezing more life from the CVR(T) platform, Oviks and AVST. Kembara Suci Sdn Bhd announced an upgrade package to the Malaysian Army CVR(T) Scorpions a couple of years ago that includes a new Deutz engine and replacing the 90mm Cockerill gun with a 20mm Oerlikon automatic cannon. The King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB) has partnered with UKROBORONPROM to upgrade CVR(T) Scimitar and Scorpion vehicles with both manned and unmanned turrets. The 1.5 tonnes unmanned turret is the ‘Kastet’ that includes a ЗТМ-1 30 mm automatic cannon, KT 7.62mm machine gun, KBA-117 30mm GMG and a pair of Barrier ATGW’s.

The Rheinmetall Wiesel 2 is a slightly larger version of the original, with an extra roadwheel. The family of vehicles includes a Light Reconnaissance Vehicle, air defence systems, command post, ambulance, mortar and personnel carrier. Depending on the variant, the original weighs up to 4 tonnes and the Wiesel 2, no more than 4.8 tonnes. They have also been used in unmanned trials and as a carrier vehicle for C-IED ground penetration radar.

Mounted and Dismounted Firepower and Protection

For the dismounted infantry, there is nothing specific to the Light Strike Brigade that would necessitate deviation from in-service equipment. The vehicles will of course allow more to be carried off the soldier, allowing them to fight light.

For the vehicles, it is likely there will be a mix of cavalry and personnel/logistics carriers to provide flexibility. Given the weight limits, protection is of lower priority than mobility but towards Category D and E there may well be some scope for relatively light protection levels, CBRN, automatic weapons etc. These are not vehicles that will patrol known and predictable routes such as those in a counter-insurgency context, IED protection is not therefore a significant priority at the lower weight classes.

Avoiding detection and observation must be a high priority so any vehicles would need a system like the Saab MCS and as quiet engines as possible for example.

What about the enemy?

Potential enemy vehicles to be found in both a conventional

and non-conventional context varies enormously but in many situations, the current light cavalry/infantry mix of GPMG/HMG/GMG may well find itself outranged and outgunned.

Mounted firepower for lightweight vehicles has generally meant light automatic weapons and missiles as recoil forces of anything larger would be impractical. The image below shows the types of very light vehicles typically used in airmobile operations going back several years with the antitank weapons of their era, except the last one, where it seems the Javelin missile is operated dismounted.

Mounting a complex anti-tank ambush will mean operating inside the 2,500km maximum range of Javelin ATGW. Although longer test shots have been reported it is understood these did not use the top attack profile so a longer range alternative would support staying out (where line of sight permits) the range of tanks and their supporting infantry. Javelin is in service and would be zero net cost, it has also been demonstrated on a number of vehicle mount options.

One of the Light Strike Brigade’s roles is anti-tank ambush so it needs to maximise capability in this area.

The MBDA MMP would be ideal; 4,000m range, man in the loop if needed or fire and forget if not. It also has a lock on after launch capability and can accept third party designation.

Another option would be to look at Brimstone. In this particular application it has a number of interesting advantages; loads of range and firepower, already in the supply chain but mainly its radar seeker and target recognition features. It was designed for anti-tank attack, to recognise the shapes of high priority targets after being launched into a kill box and only go after those high-value targets, ignoring others.

The RBS-17 missile is in the same class and is also available in a ‘semi-portable rail launched ground-launched configuration which provides an illustration of how it might be deployed.

The old TRACER vehicle was designed to mount Brimstone and it has been demonstrated firing from fixed launchers. Hellfire and DAGR have also been demonstrated on lightweight launchers.

There are many possibilities beyond dismounted Javelin, and not all of them unobtainable or prohibitively expensive.

At 50kg each, the missiles are not light but with the features described above, provide the Light Strike Brigade with unprecedented effectiveness, supporting an ambush and then run away quickly model brilliantly.

Remote Weapon Systems (RWS) provide additional capabilities and in some cases, the ability to mount heavier automatic weapons like the Orbital M230LF, from the same family as that mounted on the Apache attack helicopter. The M230LF is also available in a manual mount from Nobles.

The UK wants to increase defence trade opportunities with Australia, EOS have a very good RWS, the R-400S Mk2, that mounts the M230LF. The 30mm M230LF does not have the range of more conventional 30mm cannons but it is still a big improvement over the HMG.

An even more interesting option would be the Moog/Leonardo Reconfigurable Integrated-weapons Platform (RIwP) that allows a broad range of weapon systems to be fitted, including the HMG, GMG, Javelin and M230LF.

Leonardo/DRS has recently been awarded a US Army contract to develop the RIwP into a Counter-UAS system. Click here for the image gallery.

RWS add a great deal of height, which for internal helicopter carriage is not ideal, they also add weight, cost and complexity. Manual mounts provide greater situational awareness and immediacy so one is not necessarily better than the other.

For longer range, direct fire perhaps re-using RARDEN or even the CTA40 in a manually loaded system would be a practical option to provide longer range fire without having the penalties of RWS and automatic cannons.

The last subject in this section to discuss is mines. Of course, victim initiated anti-personnel mines are no longer allowed under The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, but this does not, and should not, apply to anti-tank mines or remotely initiated anti-personnel mines. Off route, anti-tank and ‘Claymore’ type anti-personnel mines should be part of the equipment mix.

ISTAR and Indirect Firepower

Support fire for airmobile and light forces has historically been provided by a combination of mortars and towed mortars/artillery. Some airmobile forces at the heavier end of the spectrum have also made use of mounted systems.

Any mortar or artillery system is intrinsically demanding on the logistics pipeline and whilst precision may help to reduce requirements in some circumstances, it doesn’t in others. Whether it is used for helping to break contact, laying illumination and smoke rounds, suppression or more destructive matters, the fundamental demands of indirect fire make it difficult to resource in a very lightweight context. Indirect firepower, therefore, is as much subject to compromise and trade-off as anything else in this article.

The simplest form of indirect fire (beyond rifle and 40mm low-velocity grenades) is the mortar. The three defining characteristics of mortars is simplicity, lethality and immediacy. Mounting them on vehicles with complex aiming systems, whilst providing many benefits, does eat away at these.

For the Light Strike Brigade, the quickest route is simply to carry the in-service 81mm mortar as ‘cargo’ to be used in the dismounted role. The L16 81mm mortar is reliable, proven, lethal and in service with a wide range of ammunition natures. With a range of just over 5,000m, it needs to be operated from a position relatively close to enemy units which is a scenario that requires high mobility would demand constant moves. Given it is not mounted on a vehicle, this might mean delays and an overall reduction in mobility and so mounted or towed systems might provide the kind of agility needed.

120mm mortars average a maximum range of 10,000m but are obviously heavier and require more crew to operate. Towed 120mm mortars and heavy vehicle-mounted mortars are conventional systems with plenty of in-service options to choose from. A number of manufacturers are now selling lightweight vehicle/trailer mounted systems.

The Elbit SPEAR is a well-known 120mm vehicle-mounted system in service with a number of nations and is now available in an Mk2 version that reduces recoil impulse even more than the original.

The General Dynamics 120mm Expeditionary Fire Support System uses the well-proven rifled mortar system from TDA.

EXPAL in Spain produces the EIMOS 60mm/81mm system that can be mounted on light vehicles. First-round can be away in under 10 seconds after the vehicle has stopped and has a fully automatic fire control system.

From Lithuania, the Ostara FAMOS ATV mounted mortar uses a Hirtenberger 81mm mortar and emphasises simplicity.

Another Spanish manufacturer, NTGS, produce the Alakran mortar system that can use either 81mm or 120mm tubes and is mounted on a Land Rover class vehicle.

Although developed for the African market, the Thales Scorpion is a versatile system that can also mount 107mm rockets.

Although we are unlikely to purchase it, the 2B9 Vasilek (Cornflower) 82mm mortar from Kazakhstan is a hybrid gun/mortar with a sustained rate of fire of 120 rounds per minute using a four-round plastic clip system and a maximum range of 4,200m. It is also in service with China as the W99 and an improved form, the PCP001.

Moving to artillery, the UK still has the towed L118 105mm Light Gun in service, another easy choice to make for the Light Strike Brigade. It is in the supply chain, has a range of natures and although getting on in years, is widely considered to be at the top of its game. It easily outranges any 120mm mortar system but obviously will require some time to get ready from the halt. Because it is towed and has a rotating feature it is surprisingly ‘transportable’ with two in an ISO container or inside a Chinook for example or towed by pretty much anything from Bv206 to ATMP.

Not much to say about the L118 that hasn’t already been said but if there is any room for additional systems, without going to the extreme of the M777 155mm Howitzer (which I think is not applicable in this context), there are a handful of more modern low recoil 105mm systems available which allow them to be mounted on light vehicles including the Hawkeye shown below, from the Mandus Group.

Good rate of fire and the ability to use NATO standard 105mm natures makes this a versatile system.

Another indirect system to discuss is EXACTOR, an over horizon man in the loop missile that would be excellent in the armour ambush role. The Rafael Spike NLOS Mk5 (EXACTOR) is a non-line of sight missile with a dual-mode electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) camera seeker. With an effective range of between 25 and 30 km, it weighs 71kg in its canister and the real-time data link enables the operator to guide the weapon, confirm target identity and abort if necessary. The Mk5 missile has straight wings that pop out after launch, shown here in South Korean service.


Targets can be acquired post-launch and use a data link guided onto the target from the launch post, or other location with suitable equipment. By having that all essential ‘man in the loop’ guidance system many of the complex and challenging Rules of Engagement (ROE) constraints can be addressed, reducing response time considerably. The use of a radio data link also enables initial targeting information to be passed by off-board systems such as other ground units, UAV’s, helicopters or other aircraft and then the operator basically picks up from that point and flies the missile onto the target. The missile flies to a waypoint and the operator guide it for the final 3km. Separating the launch point from the initial gatherer of targeting information is a significant advantage.

South Korea uses a four missile arrangement on a Ford F550 vehicle, the SPARC trailer also houses four missiles on a 360-degree rotating assembly that can be operated up to 500m away as a semi-mobile base defence system.


The SPARC trailer configuration has also been shown in models and illustrations on a lightweight all-terrain vehicle like the Polaris MRZR

Spike NLOS Exactor Polaris ATV

Already in service and in the supply chain, EXACTOR-2 is another relatively easy decision to make.

In a conventional operation, a Light Strike Brigade will be operating at range and somewhat exposed. It would therefore be a high-value target for enemy attack helicopters and aircraft and so needs to be able to defend itself. Whilst mobility and low signature might go a long way, being able to shoot back is never a bad thing. Likewise, an offensive anti-aircraft system for use against enemy aircraft and helicopters.

Looking at in-service systems, the Thales Starstreak HVM is the obvious solution, it is an extremely lethal weapon system;

  • When combined with ADAD, detection is completely passive and can operate in day or at night
  • It can be networked and separated from the detection system using a simple cable
  • The missile has extremely high speed, if an aircraft does detect the launch, it has very little time to do anything about it
  • The missile guidance system cannot be jammed and is immune to countermeasures
  • The ‘hitiles’ have both a great deal of kinetic energy but also a delayed action fuze that initiates inside the target

The Mach 3.5 missile is 1.4m long, 0.27m in diameter and weighs 16.8kg in its sealed launch tube. Starstreak HVM operates at a very high speed, Mach 3+. This high speed is designed to allow the system to be used against pop up and fleeting targets. It also reduces the possibility of detection and counter-attack. Guidance is as per Javelin S15, laser beam riding. The operator places an indicator on the target and the tracking system maintains the aim point on the target. No countermeasures are possible, flares and chaff are ineffective. Starstreak II (HVM A5) increases maximum range to ‘beyond 7km’

The lightweight multiple launchers (LML) can be fitted with up to three missiles to enable multiple targets to be quickly engaged, one after the other. It uses a standard aiming point with IFF and Thales ASPIC automatic fire control system. The tripod weighs 16kg, traverse head 19.5kg, sighting system 9kg and thermal sight, 6kg. The Thales Air Defence Alerting Device (ADAD) is a passive infra-red detection, classification and prioritisation system used in conjunction with both the LML and SP launch systems. Operating in the 8-14micron waveband, it can detect fixed-wing targets at 9km and helicopters at 6km. Multiple display units can be connected, up to 500m from the scanner.

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Thales unveiled a new Lightweight Multiple Launcher in 2015 that reduced the missile count by one but reduced weight. It also has the capability to use the Lightweight Multirole Missile and thermal imaging optics, together with full network connectivity for integration with other air defence systems, it would be a good upgrade.

LML Image 3

In the ground launch role, LMM can make use of any of the launching systems used for the Starstreak High-Velocity Missile. Thales has demonstrated firing an LMM from the Stormer HVM system, Thor, and later Rapid Ranger launch turrets equipped with an Ultra Electronics servo system. Thor became the Multi Mission System.



Artillery rocket systems might not be best suited to sustain prolonged fire because of their reload times but for the quick weight of fire in, for example, an ambush, means they do need to be considered as part of the equipment matrix. The UK already has in service the 70km range GMLRS which may be exploited by the Light Strike Brigade. The US is currently in the process of replacing the 300km ATACMS with the 300-500km range Long Range Precision Fire (LRPF) which would be an ideal pairing, in effect, the Light Strike Brigade acts as another set of eyes and ears that can direct the long-range precision fire.

The UK did look at air mobile rocket and gun artillery a while ago but projects (LIMAWS(R) and LIMAWS(G)) were cancelled. The former used a single G/MLRS pod and the latter, an M777 155mm system in a portee arrangement. Smaller rocket systems are widely available but is it worth introducing a completely new system just for this application, which puts the decision back to either a lightweight GMLRS/HIMAWS style approach, or nothing.

It might be great to bring a 155mm and GMLRS battery along but if you can only lift one and pallet of ammunition, is it really better than half a dozen mortars with plenty of bombs and CAS or long-range rockets on tap from elsewhere?  It could also be argued that given the increased range of rocket and artillery systems they need for artillery to actually fly with the airmobile force can be reduced or eliminated, as long as there are organic mortars and good communications links. The same could be argued for airborne ISTAR, does the airmobile element need its own or just the ability to utilise a feed from a system launched from the rear?

This brings me on to ISTAR in general.

ISTAR and connectivity is probably the most important capability for the Light Strike Brigade.

It might be a clichéd thing to say, but building a ‘combat cloud’ of interconnected sensors and effectors (sorry about that) provides not only huge power but also great survivability.

The equipment used will be the same as in service with the Light Cavalry and Infantry, already in the supply chain and familiar to all, so no great changes.

The Desert Hawk UAV would be an ideal system for short-range aerial observation but it seems that is going to be replaced. This kind of relatively low cost and the simple system would be valuable to have integral to the Light Strike Brigade. Of course, in many situations inputs would be available from all manner of alternative sources, Watchkeeper for example.

Small ‘quadcopter’ type unmanned systems would be an easy addition, they are light and cheap enough to bring into service without a huge effort, perhaps even tethered UAV’s like a compromise between endurance and mobility, they are in effect, a very long elevating sensor mast.

Every single thing that has its place on a helicopter needs to be analysed to ask whether the effect it delivers can be delivered ‘from afar’ and thus not needing to hitch a ride.

This brings me, finally, to

Logistics and Support

Logistics for an airmobile force poses a number of fundamental challenges because Support Helicopters are not unlimited. Yes the UK has 60 odd Chinook, 20 something Merlin HC’s and another twenty-something Puma Mk2’s, equalling a total single lift capacity of around 750 tonnes but let’s have a reality check. Helicopters will always have more things to do than time to do them, risk will play a part, some of those helicopters are part of the CHF (not that this should matter) and availability and in theatre, limits will apply. If we can work on a third of that being available it would be optimistic.

Which means we have to be both logistically frugal and realistic. Supportability will therefore dictate operational reach and duration. It follows therefore that the Light Strike Brigade needs to be as self-sufficient as possible and equipment must be reliable (not necessarily simple).

Can it expect rapid casualty evacuation or should it take its own medical facilities, is it better to take duplicate equipment or a REME force with spares? What about the level of risk that is acceptable for resupply, how much food, water and ammunition should it operate with before needing resupply or withdrawal? Pre-positioned caches, airdrop resupply and creative pilfering might be possible, but what if not, how much can be resupplied by helicopter. What degree of combat engineering support would be needed, bridging, route clearance, route denial or even the use of explosives and mines? Perhaps some very lightweight bridging equipment or earthmoving equipment would be appropriate.

The answers to these questions would come out of experimentation and would evolve over time but the guiding principle should always be to go light.

In basic terms, commodities are either liquid (e.g. water, fuel, oil) or solid (e.g. ammunition, spares, food). Liquids can be handled in bulk or packed, solids in boxes, pallets and containers. Packed liquids can also be handled in ‘boxes’, pallets and container loads. For the most part, a deployed airmobile force will not exploit containers but pallets and boxes would be the norm, although ‘back at base, normal rules on mechanical handling equipment, containers and pallets would apply.

The deployed force will need to take a certain level of supplies with it but if regular resupply is not possible then it will simply have to take more with it initially. This results in a need for some sort of logistics vehicles alongside the cavalry and infantry vehicles. If any form of artillery is part of the deployed force, support vehicles will be needed for the ammunition. An airmobile logistic vehicle will therefore be a basic requirement for the Light Strike Brigade and this vehicle will also likely be the basis for additional variants.

In the logistics support role, an airmobile vehicle must focus on load carriage, and just as importantly, load unloading. Loads may be palletised or loose, either way, they are likely to be secured with a cargo net or ratchet straps, loaded and unloaded by hand. Given potential operating use, a convenient forklift truck might not be readily available but there is no reason why STANAG 2828 compliant and Euro pallets could not be loaded. Stretcher posts and simple bench type seating must also be available, as should an ability to mount a shelter. Load bed and carrying capacities must be closely aligned with the weights and dimensions of standard pallets and unit load devices. Euro boxes are dimensionally compatible with these and the NATO standard ammunition pallet is a wingless wooden construction type, 1,200mm x 1,000m (EUR 2), weighing a maximum of 1.814 tonnes.

A NATO pallet is allowed to be 1.6m high. Various other types of pallet can also be used, collapsible, box and post for example. Ideally, vehicles would be capable of self-loading and self-unloading a single NATO (max 1.8 tonnes) pallet;

  • 120mm, 560kg, 33 bombs
  • 105mm, 1,300kg, 36 rounds
  • 81mm, 900kg, 128 bombs
  • 62mm, 1,500kg, 38,400 rounds
  • 56mm, 1,500kg, 96,000 rounds
  • Fuel Jerry cans, 500kg, 21 x 25litre
  • Rations (24hr), 860kg, 420 boxes
  • Bottled water, 750kg, 352 x 2 litres bottles

Various other types of pallets can also be used, collapsible, box and post for example. . A number of palletised systems, such as the Cube from Dytecna, could also be used, although the footprint is slightly larger than a EUR2 pallet. For anything but Category E vehicles, there is no opportunity to carry pallets side by side unless they are EUR 1 or EUR 6 and they are placed on the load bed short dimension across.

Unit loads are used for the storage and transport of ammunition and the standard 1-tonne wingless pallet is the most common type but ULD’s do not necessarily have to use pallets, as long as there is access for forks, the actual dimensions and design may vary. The Unit Load Specification (ULS) datasheet will contain information such as assembly, security, weights, dimensions and strapping requirements for various types of stores, ammunition and explosives, rations, Petroleum Oils Lubricants (POL), general and other stores.

Moving loads from logistics vehicles to other vehicles would be carried out manually but some means of rapidly unloading or loading might be useful so mechanical systems would be needed, a hydraulic jib or demountable rack for example.

A typical example of the former is the 410kg HIAB XS022CLX that can lift a NATO ammunition pallet at 1.8 tonnes to 1.4m outreach, enough to lift it directly from a cargo vehicle load bed, a DROPS rack on the ground or even an airdrop pallet. At lower weights longer outreach distance is available. A number of accessory attachments are also available to extend the utility of the basic lifting device such as rotators, buckets, weighing systems and pallet forks.

Demountable systems have conventionally only been used on larger vehicles but the technology has moved on and the benefits of DROPS like systems are now available on smaller vehicles. Again, HIAB makes a range of suitable devices, the lightest only lifts 2 tonnes.

If the 4 NATO ammunition pallet payload is taken as an absolute maximum, the HIAB X8RS has a lifting capacity of 8 tonnes and weighs a tonne itself. It requires a hydraulic feed and would add to the vehicles overall height but it certainly is quick for moving multiple pallets at once. Smaller systems even that this are readily available even including trailer-mounted system that can be towed by a quad bike.

Hiab Crane

A hooklift does not add a great deal of weight but it does increase the height, raising the centre of gravity.

HIAB Hooklift

An alternative is a skip loader as used by the German KMW Mungo, so used because the height is critical by virtue of CH-53 internal carriage.


Pallet trailers can be used to lift and towing without the use of external MHE.

Pallets and boxes can be used for equipment, ammunition, commodities and even electronic systems.

The basic plastic box is subject to thinking on packing density and how they fit on pallets and in containers. A good example is the Peli ISP2 case (previously Hardigg Industries) that are available in 64 dimension options. All of them have a grid pattern on the lid and base so they interlock, which reduces case movement when stacked without strapping. Already in service with deep trousered NGO’s, and the MoD, is the Zarges Euro Container, again available in size combinations that are optimised for Euro Pallets.

A number of palletised systems, such as the Cube from Dytecna, could also be used, although the footprint is slightly larger than a EUR2 pallet.

Cube 2

Cube 1

In Afghanistan, US forces deployed the Container Unitized Bulk Equipment (CUBE) for water delivery to remote locations, using airdropping or conventional transport. CUBE is actually a conventional solution that has been available for many years, a flexible liner for a rigid fold-down pallet box, it is still a clever solution with a different liner used depending on whether the liquid is fuel or water.

In between the large fuel tankers and jerrycan, there is not a great deal. Although multiple jerrycans can be pallet cage loaded an IBC size fuel container offers a useful intermediate size that would be useful for smaller locations and reduce manual handling. The offshore and mining industries have provided the impetus for development in this area. Western Global of Bristol has a full range, from plastic injection moulded to steel construction. Forklift pockets or top lifting lugs provide handling flexibility. Portable water purification systems are widely available and invaluable if raw water is accessible. GKN make the Air Portable Fuel Containers, currently in service in the Mk5 guise. The ballon-like, Kevlar-reinforced containers, can hold up to two tonnes of fuel. When full, the containers are 1.37m in diameter and can be towed, slung load under a variety of helicopters and parachuted from tactical transport aircraft.

To close, a word on bridges.

The Air Portable Ferry Bridge and Medium Girder Bridge, REBS and even the Quad Bike Bridge are all in service and would be ideal but an even more useful bridge system might be the GSX. Where the gap is longer, wet and where the banks are relatively low to the water a floating pontoon-style system can be used. MSS Defence in the Netherlands has a system called the GXS Rapid Deployable Gap Crossing System. It is aimed at larger vehicles, up to 2.5 tonnes but is still useful for quad bikes.

It is available in 5m and 10m kits with both, deployable very quickly, less than 10 minutes. The system comprises inflatable floatation elements, a road mat and various ancillaries.

As can be seen from the above, there is a myriad of options to consider when looking at equipment options and many in-service options can be enhanced with a relatively modest investment.

The next and final section will look at vehicles.

The final part of this article on a concept for a lightweight version of the current Strike Brigade concept is to look at the vehicles that it would comprise of. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have diminished interest in lightweight vehicles simply because protection, rightly, had a greater priority than mobility. Nothing at all wrong with this but as the focus is returned to operations in Europe and Africa, mobility is somewhat back in fashion, or at the least, a more realistic balance between mobility and protection.

The British Army is also currently in progress with the Multi-Role Vehicle (Protected) which, looking at the headline specifications, might fit within Category E but given their roles and likely weights, I am not going to specifically look at the contenders, will do so in a separate article.


As can be seen from the brief scratching of the surface above, there is a smörgåsbord of vehicles to choose from; everything from a motorcycle to a tracked armoured fighting vehicle. So when it comes to setting a specification there are many factors but if the Light Strike Brigade is to maximise on-air mobility there is a long list of compromises that have to be taken.

The British Army already has many of the building blocks in place and the Light Strike Brigade concept could conceivably be realised with an initial investment of very little. As it then evolved, firepower and logistic support would follow.

This is not a proposal for an air deployable force, it is one for an Air Mobile force, the two are very different. It really doesn’t matter that their vehicles are relatively lightweight, it would still need much more airlift to get them in theatre en-masse than we possess.

And yet.

The French experience in Mali does show that as part of a wider plan, pushing light forces into an area quickly, to be joined by medium weight forces after, is not impossible and certainly in that case, desirable. People may like to remember that even at the height of the ‘Go Fast Go Light Go Home’ trend that resulted in FRES, there was still ONLY an aspiration for a small battlegroup to deploy quickly by air.

Is the whole concept achievable or desirable, you decide?

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Change Date Change Record
 17/02/2018 Initial issue
 22/07/2021 Format refresh
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