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 hey 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.

The Light Strike Brigade – Concept and Requirements

The Light Strike Brigade – Equipment

The Light Strike Brigade – Vehicles


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 air mobile 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 ramp and internal dimensions, ramp breakover 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 type) 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 air drop 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 have 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 foure 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 that 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 utilsing 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 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 it’s under floor 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 manufcaturers.

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 includes 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 described below.

Category A

Can be internally carried in all listed helicopters with a rear ramp, fits on a 463L pallet, all air drop 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 air dropped 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 the 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 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 earth moving equipment, either self-propelled or towed; all self-mobile, self-steering, purpose made cranes, cable laying ploughs; all industrial and agricultural and rough terrain fork lift 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 will 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 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.

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[/tab] [tab title=”Wheel Replacement”]
[/tab] [tab title=”Tracks Over Wheels”]
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An amphibious capability may potentially be an important requirement but even that would require further qualification such as wave height tolerance or 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)

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 vary enormously but in many situations the current light cavalry/infantry mix of GPMG/HMG/GMG may well find itself outranged and outgunned.

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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.

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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.

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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.

[tabs] [tab title=”RBS-17″]
[/tab] [tab title=”RBS-17 Video”]
[/tab] [tab title=”Hellfire and DAGR”]
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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.

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

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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 characteristic of mortars are 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 in 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 now available in a 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 produce 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 mounted on 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 maximum range of 4,200m. It is also in service with China as the W99 and an improved form, the PCP001.

[tabs] [tab title=”Elbit SPEAR Mk2″]
[/tab] [tab title=”OSTARA FAMOS”]
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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, 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.

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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 the 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 guides 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

[tabs] [tab title=”SPARC Mk2 Trailer”] SPIKE NLOS SPARC Trailer
[/tab] [tab title=”Polaris MRZR”] Spike NLOS Exactor Polaris ATV
[/tab] [tab title=”Light Utility Vehicle”] HMMWV-SpikeNLOS-launch-wsc-1
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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 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 launcher (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.

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.

In the ground launch role, LMM can make use of any of the launching systems used for the Starstreak High-Velocity Missile. Thales have 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.

[tabs] [tab title=”LML”] LML Image 3
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Artillery rocket systems might not be best suited to sustain prolonged fire because of their reload times but for 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 the 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?

Which 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 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 ideal system for short range aerial observation but it seems that is going to be replaced. This kind of relatively low cost and 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 as a compromise between endurance and mobility, they are in effect, a very long elevating sensor mast.

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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.

Which 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 follow 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 fork lift 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 pallet 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) data sheet 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 vehicle 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 air drop pallet. At lower weights longer outreach distance is available. A number of accessory attachment 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 make 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.

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

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Hiab Crane

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HIAB Hooklift

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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.

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In Afghanistan, US forces deployed the Container Unitized Bulk Equipment (CUBE) for water delivery to remote locations, using air dropping 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 have 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 have a system called the GXS Rapid Deployable Gap Crossing System. It is aimed at larger vehicles, up to 2.5 tonnes but 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 are 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 Light Strike Brigade – Concept and Requirements

The Light Strike Brigade – Equipment

The Light Strike Brigade – Vehicles


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February 21, 2018 10:29 am

One correction I would like to make is the ability of artillery rocket systems to support a heli-mobile force. For one, any 227mm rocket system is, to my knowledge, too heavy to be heli-inserted, which means that it will not be going where your forces are going. For another, the range for the M240 IIRC is only about 70km give or take. I do not think any heli-borne ops is going to take place at such a close range, heli-borne forces are designed to range a lot further than 70km and rockets to support that kind of range is pushing into ballistic missile territory, not rocket artillery.

February 23, 2018 7:41 pm

Now that you mention that very much might be the case. They are going to need to haul all their fire support with them or the few mortars and/or light guns that is.

February 24, 2018 1:00 am

We had some experiments with flying indirect fire, the Pegasus Howitzer I linked in the other page was one of them. The other concept was a 120mm mortar mounted light strike. But in the end, both did not pan out. Sure, hardware was produced and in use even now. However, it was simply too cumbersome to have dedicated heavy artillery and its associated ammo lifted into the area unless it is static/ rushed defense close to your lines, especially since a raiding force must -move-!

The Pegasus went to line artillery while the 120mm was fitted onto Bronco/Warthogs as a mortar platform to conventional support companies.

These days, fire support for a raiding force is provided by AH-64s (if they’re available) or intrinsic Spike MR launchers on light strike vehicles themselves.

So, sure, on paper, airmobile artillery sounds like a good idea but in practice, they end up tying down the deployed force, either to a supply line (120mm) or to a fixed artillery position (155mm). You might be better off doing neither and just accepting the lower range and lethality of long ranged ATGM instead while keep your mobility.

Rocket Banana
February 24, 2018 3:15 pm

I guess that is why we still use the two-tonne L118.

Also the 15kg 105mm shell rather than the 45kg 155mm shell – much easier to manhandle and shift by copter.

February 24, 2018 4:56 pm

The problem is to think of the helicopter to transport the equipment, while we can carry heavier and more suitable equipment by C-130 aircraft, a Caesar 6×6 is very easily transportable by C-130 and once on the ground is very mobile.

February 24, 2018 6:32 pm

I wonder how much that modified Landy that TD featured (from Spain, with a 120 mm v quick to set down, fire, and run away with mortar – while it is still lifting the plate – and with 48 easily accessible rounds) would weigh in comparison, RE:
” that is why we still use the two-tonne L118.

Also the 15kg 105mm shell [ x 48] ”

… and would it be a single lift (not just for Chinooks, but thinking of the RM as well, for their newly received, carrier modified Merlin lifters)?

February 24, 2018 6:59 pm

If you can only lift one mortar then it isn’t worth the hussle. Platoon or none.

February 25, 2018 2:37 am

The problem with the 155mm was the mobility, but the problem with the mortar was not with mobility or numbers (not directly) but with the limited ammo. The mortar strike only carried 4 rounds and needed a supply vehicle following it, and even then it sucked up ammo at a ferocious rate, which means you have to keep flying in supplies or it just becomes a mounted club. An Exactor strike on the other hand, carried 11 missiles (the 11 rounds I personally counted, got curious one day) just on the ‘firing’ unit itself.

Frenchie, PADS (parachute air delivery system) dropping a CAESER is fine but have you considered how to get it back home? lol. These kinds of assault tend to work behind enemy lines and once their job is done, they need to get home. Heli-borne equipment can be flown back out but equipment that can’t will have to be abandoned or destroyed, so air dropping heavy equipment from cargo planes is a do or die mission for the equipment. You either link up with friendly forces that breach a defense line and drive home or the equipment is gone. I believe the British still remember Market Garden and what happens when all the cards do not line up right to link up with a raiding force that cannot self extract.

February 25, 2018 2:00 pm

Observer, the French army does not drop Caesar, it makes assault landing .

February 25, 2018 5:28 pm

Frenchie, I think we use light units differently than you do, the light airmobile units for us are intended to be used behind enemy lines for search and destroy raids, not territory seizure. That would make it hard to use the CAESER since there isn’t going to be an airfield to unload or load from.

That was the reason why we made the howitzer heli-portable to avoid the need for airfields, but in the end, it needed more than heli-portability to make it viable, it needed mobility and a robust ammunition supply too. This was a case of the equipment meeting needs, only to find that the needs did not meet the operational requirements. Not the engineer’s fault, no one expected it to be that difficult until they tried it out. Consider it a learning experience for us. Now, we just use flying artillery aka Apaches and Spike guided missiles.

Rocket Banana
February 27, 2018 8:55 am


You have Chinook cabin length at 6.7m.

I thought it was 9.3m?

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
March 9, 2018 11:56 am
Ian Gray
Ian Gray
April 12, 2020 6:51 am

The use of motorbikes should be increased a hundred fold, these mobile, nippy machines,can transport men and equipment vastdistance, quickly, quietly, cheap, airmobile, light, rpg,grenade,morters, drones..vastly under rated..get some every area of ops.

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