The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy is due any time soon and I have no doubt it will reflect the hard work and smart thinking of its contributors. There will be much discussion after its publication as everyone digests the decisions and implications. Various rumours and leaks have already hinted at the outcome for the British Army, we will see how close to the reality they were. Whilst we are all waiting, this is my view of a possible alternative for the British Army, how it can change and what it might change into, although I doubt the end product will look anything like this.
The last time I wrote about the Integrated Review was in September 2020 (click the link for a recap) but not much has changed in the wider world since. The focus of the review will fall not just on geopolitics with a likely shift to the Indo-Pacific but technology and the UK’s prosperity agenda in a post-COVID post-Brexit world. We should not forget that the Integrated Review is about more than just defence and more than any one service and whilst cyber, robotics, lasers, uncrewed systems and artificial intelligence will likely be the beneficiaries of increased spending, what does this mean for the British Army and other services?
It is obvious to me that both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have executed a coherent long-term strategy in recent years, especially when compared to the British Army. They have stability and focus. I absolutely hate saying this but the Army seems to have struggled to find the same, embarking on equipment plans that are clearly unaffordable, regularly changing organisational structures, moving between being a reference customer fighting the Russians with a warfighting division one day and operating below the threshold in an era of constant competition another, and then saving elephants, reducing carbon and extolling the virtues of grey zone information operations. Whilst both the RAF and RN have a strong industrial base with UK primes that contributes significantly to the UK economy and does much of their lobbying for them, the Army has the remnants of a land equipment industry that largely survives on the crumbs from others tables. This is perhaps harsh, and maybe I am guilty of hyperbole to make a point, but it we all know there is a kernel of truth there.
And yet despite this, the British Army is a magnificent organisation that always digs out when needed, full of the best of us all, and one which we need to do well. If any of this article feels critical, it is friendly criticism.
The current selective leaking and pre-review media reporting points to a reduction of Army personnel but despite the concern, does anyone have a better idea? Can anyone see an alternative to a reduction in headcount, put emotions aside, is there an alternative that works that doesn’t involve fewer soldiers? There are smarter people than I looking at this but I just can’t see it.
It is not a new, unique, or complex idea, but reducing headcount to make financial space available to regenerate a residual but credible capability whilst addressing the many personnel-related issues seems to be unavoidable (my previous article linked to above made exactly the same point). It is not free or quick either, redundancy and shrinkage of the estate or cancelling contract will cost more than any savings in the short term but over a period of time, a smaller force with a similar budget means more money for other things.
The Army should put aside concerns about relevance within international organisations, falling below credible minimums and the loss of status. Instead of viewing change as something that others are doing to it, grasping the opportunity to regenerate by using the Integrated Operating Concept 2025 as a roadmap.
It is easy to put the IOpC into the same box as the numerous other examples of the genre that have gone before it, concept fatigue is a real danger and the impenetrable language does not immediately endear either. There also remain many questions whether the MoD is getting ahead of itself, pushing into other departmental domains with uncertain outcomes but despite this, it does at least signpost what a future force (equipment and people) might look like;
- Have smaller and faster capabilities to avoid detection
- Trade reduced physical protection for increased mobility
- Rely more heavily on low-observable and stealth technologies
- Depend increasingly on electronic warfare and passive deception measures to gain and maintain information advantage
- Include a mix of crewed, uncrewed and autonomous platforms
- Be integrated into ever more sophisticated networks of systems through a combat cloud that makes best use of data
- Have an open systems architecture that enables the rapid incorporation of new capability
- Be markedly less dependent on fossil fuels
- Employ non-line-of-sight fires to exploit the advantages we gain from information advantage
- Emphasise the non-lethal disabling of enemy capabilities, thereby increasing the range of political and strategic options
Many of the current programmes and hot topics do not show much alignment with some of these indicators so hopefully, the work that results from the Integrated Review will begin that alignment. As this transition begins, it would also be satisfying to see the British Army adopt three guiding principle for change; simplification, stability and sovereignty.
A simpler Army should be able to generate more combat power by concentrating intellectual energy and physical resources on a fewer number of outcomes. This might have echoes of ‘front line first’ but do we really generate enough output from a force of over 70k personnel?
Simplification comes in three parts; tasks, processes and organisation.
Not all of the Army’s tasks are in the gift of the Army to change and it is always easier to swish them away with a lazy flick of the keyboard than in the real world but there should still be a serious conversation about a reduction of scope. The Army should encourage a re-evaluation of its roles in ceremonial and public duties, conflict reduction and upstream engagement, civil resilience, capacity building, cadet forces and music. This does not mean they cease to exist but potentially delivered in a different manner, one that requires fewer regular Army personnel.
Could ceremonial, public duties and music be delivered by an MoD agency that had some regular personnel but drew the bulk of its strength from former service personnel on multi-year contracts, Full Time Reserves, members of commonwealth forces, or even civilians in uniform? The more horses than tanks path is well trodden and the idea often casually dismissed, but it is true isn’t it?
As much as I think the Specialist Infantry concept is a sound means of building partner capacity and reducing the likelihood of conflict, does it need regular soldiers to do it? The FCDO and Army could use private military contractors and more integration with industry, finance, diplomacy, and development areas of the government.
Home Command and Regional HQ’s; could they be made tri-service, do we need so many, should the tasks also be shared with operational brigade HQ’s, can we use smaller terms and lower ranks, and could they be centralised given the widespread adoption of homeworking techniques during COVID? If civil resilience tasks are divested, as I think they really should be, do we need Regional HQ’s to match English regions and their Regional Resilience Partnerships (we have six, plus London for England, but only one each for Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland).
Ranks and Regiments, another sensitive subject but are there too many spans and layers (even accounting for resilience in the face of combat losses). On the Regimental system, everyone’s favourite whipping boy, it is quite easy to find different and passionate viewpoints from those inside and out. Even its most passionate supporters mostly understand that it can sometimes create an impediment to change and negative behaviours. Whilst the notion of a Corps of Infantry is alluring, not sure the disruption would be worth the gain, perhaps more sensible to evolve it and create a series of large infantry and cavalry regiments to forge their own new identities, build career opportunities by virtue of their size and simplify the 1,300-page long dress regulations manual, swapping the associated clothing costs with ensuring female service personnel have PPE and uniforms that fit.
Existing internal systems like allowances and personnel performance evaluation seem from the outside to be hugely complex with a tendency to generate negative outcomes of a greater magnitude than the problems they are solving. When it comes to the Field Army, again, would a simplification of the structure provide greater efficiency, I think there is certainly potential there. Look at ORBAT’s and we seem to make a virtue of complexity compared to others, integrating reserves into regular structures and field army brigade HQ’s also having regional brigade tasks being just two examples that spring to mind. I would also note the great strides in HQ staff reduction being made by the Royal Navy, it has yet to be proven, but at least they clearly understand the political and financial environment so making a start is a big win for them.
Finally, the written word must be as simple as possible. Many documents that the MoD and British Army produce really do have far too much management jargon and ‘big words’ that very few understand. Nothing wrong with having a wide vocabulary or using the richness of the English language but much of it is simply poor communication.
I love the quirkiness and tradition of the British Army, but at this stage, it is starting to look like self-indulgence for an organisation with so many issues to attend to. Make no mistake, simplification is the most challenging of organisational change. Vested interests and traditions have enormous gravity, and often, change simply cannot be executed from within, it has to be imposed externally (see various reforms in the past).
Maybe this is the only way it can happen.
If we don’t change we become obsolete but change fatigue is real, especially if our concepts change faster than our ability to adapt. Making the Army resistant to the often fickle winds of military fashion is no easy task because it requires a limited denial of whatever today’s hot topic is.
An organisation design that can bend without breaking is the first means of achieving stability, if this organisation can blend task organisation with formed units it should be consistent over time.
Another means of achieving stability is to recognise that equipment programmes will overrun and be more expensive than predicted, higher risk margins and contingency might insulate the core equipment plan from short term reshaping caused by problems in the wider plan. Basically, build more fat into the budget rather than everything being drum tight. The equipment plan would therefore be smaller than the likely budget and would require a great deal of internal discipline to maintain this headroom. There would also need to be a formal means of responding to windfalls when projects do outturn lower than expected (see the details on experimentation below)
Finally, we should reflect on how we sometimes fetishize novelty, thinking every new conflict is game-changing. Much of this is fuelled by think tanks seeking relevance and a defence industry trying to convince everyone they are obsolete without the new gizmo they happen to be selling.
The irony of talking about stability whilst also talking about change is not lost on me but change can still happen whilst managing that change in predictable and measured increments, to an agreed plan.
Which brings me on to an agreed plan.
The MoD and British Army are famously opaque when it comes to change plans and especially the equipment plan. Journalists have to resort to FOI’s to get basic financial data, the Defence Select Committee has to drag information from witnesses and milestones or changes tend to fly by without any public explanation. We publish SRO appointment letters but they are tremendously vague and the lack of detail in the equipment plan reports (now the NAO Major Project Report is no more) stands in stark contrast with our peers in the USA or France. Some of this may well be due to national differences in funding models but if the Army is to embark on a significant transformation as many have indicated is coming, a published and detailed plan is needed. This plan must be ‘good ideas’ resistant, programmes must be managed by appointees who are there for the life of the programme (not generalists on a posting) and above all, there has to be public accountability and explanations for when things don’t go according to plan.
If COVID has taught us anything it has taught us the value of onshore research and manufacturing capacity. Again, much of this might not be wholly in the gift of the Army but it should implement a Land Equipment Industrial Strategy that recognises the value of onshore research, design, and manufacturing. This might include portfolio or category approaches like the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force do with their complex weapons. These portfolios might include utility vehicles, weapons, sensors, computing or infantry equipment, or anything else. One of the reasons for the comparative success of the MBDA led complex weapons portfolio is an assured pipeline and long-term view, see my point on stability above.
Does this mean I am proposing the UK go its own way on everything, of course not, it simply a suggestion that the British Army needs to anchor its equipment plan on British industry as much as it can. It should absolutely recognise the value of having equipment that exists within a large international user base but balance this with a sensible industrial strategy.
The next generation of British main battle tank is unlikely to be of British design so if we want to influence that design we either have to buy lots of them or be able to offer something unique. It seems unlikely it will be the former. We still have some cutting-edge capabilities like armour and suspension, but hard to see what else. Therefore, the Army should actively seek out technologies that the MoD has invested public funds in; artificial intelligence, cognitive load reduction, human-machine interfaces and electronic warfare in the Tempest programme for example, no doubt there are others.
An Army of 2025 and Beyond
In all of the above there has been zero mention of objectives, what we want the British Army to do, where, and to whom. I think we endlessly obsess over this but simply put, the British Army is there to conduct expeditionary warfare in support of political aims and has to be scaled and equipped as needed for that and within realistic budgets and wider context.
This isn’t anything as grand as a ‘vision’, just a few thoughts on how the Army might evolve over the next few years in order to promote debate.
Spending More on Soldiers
Education, vocational and adventurous training are key aspects of the offer, they need better funding. Spending more on soldier education during their early career is also a must now we are moving increasingly to complex equipment, just look at the difference between CVR(T) and Ajax for a good example.
Although we only see the negative stories it does seem service accommodation and food are still an ongoing source of dissatisfaction. These are retention negative issues. There may be opportunities to replace the single monolithic provider contracts with localised arrangements that allow smaller businesses, veterans-owned, non-profits, and others to compete. We have to recognise that any improvements in pay and condition, welfare, mental health and wellbeing will come with a price tag, and with a fixed budget, will come at the expense of other things, no way of getting around that.
I deliberately put this section first, ‘people are our strength’ has to mean something.
The Army Reserve
People join the Army Reserve for many different reasons and the amount of commitment in time can also vary significantly. Some like to use their civilian skills in an Army context and some don’t. Bank managers as tank commanders or NHS doctors as Army doctors for example. As the Army becomes increasingly technical, starting from scratch in the reserve to attain required skills (without having a head start by virtue of their civilian career) might become impossible given the time available. Maintaining those perishable skills, especially in light of rapid equipment and technology change, also increasingly difficult.
Specialist functions have always worked well in reserve forces because they often exploit the reservists civilian skills in a military context; signals, engineering, logistics and medical. Specialist Team Royal Engineers (STRE) is an excellent example of this, providing the Army with skills it would find almost impossible to maintain alone, these models should remain unchanged.
Many change proposals for the Army Reserve seem to hinge on changes to employment protection legislation and greater commitment from individuals but I think this is both politically challenging and only suitable for a small number. Perhaps a remodeled regular reserve might serve as a useful means of providing reserve skills and availability, especially if this was formed as part of a flexible exit package, greater use of sponsored reserves also. Another suggestion that I think warrants consideration is limiting reserve roles to those found in the adaptable force and fully integrating reserves into the regular infantry and cavalry units found within it, disbanding the majority of reserve units as separate entities.
Army Support to 3 Commando
As the Future Commando Force evolves it would seem sensible to re-evaluate the support to 3 Commando provided by the British Army.
A Sustainable ORBAT
The British Army should maintain an ability to both sustain enduring deployments and react in force to an emergent crisis, thus providing decision-makers with a range of options. The former is likely to be at a lower intensity than the latter but credibility and effectiveness is just as important for both.
There is an enduring debate on organisational constructs; do you permanently assign support units to a brigade, or do you assign them from a pool. Do you task organise every time you deploy or generate formed units against a known and predictable force generation cycle. It would seem common sense that units that train together will perform better when deployed but task organisation is inherently flexible, no right or wrong answer exists.
Another active debate is that of unit size in a contemporary operating environment, does new technology and changes in societal and political environments mean smaller, self-contained units can now exert an influence that equals that of the larger but more traditional force? Making Brigades the principle organising structure certainly has lots to offer and may well better suit future conflicts. For now though, I think being able to fight multiple brigades in concert remains a capstone requirement for the British Army, even if some of those brigades might not always be British.
I tire of the endless trite ‘projectile fired by the navy’ analogies but at its core, the British Army should be deployable at a range of speeds over significant distances, self-sustaining and able exploit the technological advantages afforded by the advanced economy and huge research base that the UK enjoys. Many point to the fact we are not a continental power and the Army should be wholly expeditionary (and by this they usually mean very light) but I think having a modest heavy armour capability and a ‘bulked out middle’ is actually a good compromise, and an Army of 60-70 thousand personnel is not that large anyway.
In the pre-ISDR speeches and promotional material, it does seem to hint at a return to enduring forward deployments which might bring into question the split between the reactive and adaptable division but for now, have based my thoughts on some change, but not a revolution.
Strike is a concept that has created a great deal of debate, perhaps because of its roots in the ill-fated FRES programme, because it is not well understood outside of the Army, because it has the audacity to mix wheels and tracks, and is seen as a distraction when there are so many capability gaps elsewhere. Personally, I think is a very smart concept from my meagre understanding of if it, and believe it matches the UK’s aspirations really quite well. If we go back to its inception, it was always intended to shape the way the British Army fights and is much more than a pair of vehicles. The problem with a lot of discussion on Strike is it centres on vehicles and their weapons, not sensors and communications, indirect precision fires, integration with attack helicopters or logistics, all of which are more important.
Simply put, Strike is a screening and exploitation force that will enable divisional forces to counter-attack or manoeuvre more effectively and at a lower cost than without it. By operating in a dispersed manner, exploiting its ISTAR strength, making extensive use of precision fires, robust command and control, concentration where and when needed, and integration with airpower, it is an enabler for heavier forces.
And it can also operate alone.
But there is a problem with strike…
It is easy to criticise anyone talking about its lack of organic precision fires because it will exploit those of the division, but what if the division doesn’t have any, what if the division it is enabling doesn’t have sufficient air defence, or arguments about wheels and tracks operating together being moot because we don’t have enough transport to get any of them anywhere anyway. In short, it is all about the reality of a fixed budget that isn’t getting larger any time soon, and what does exist is being spread over increasingly large capability holes. As of today, Strike as a divisional enabler is a concept that does not look rooted in resource reality so some change might be sensible when viewed in the round.
The very nature of enduring deployments means they will likely not include the heavy metal, but threats like IED’s and proliferating ATGW, loitering munitions, UAV’s and sophisticated sensors mean light role infantry cannot now be the only answer, 1 DIV must be more than that.
None of this changes the fundamental need to have both enduring and reactive capabilities, but the nature of evolving threats means we have to have a re-evaluation of structures within that organising principle. Above all, and I mean absolutely above all, it needs to be self-sustaining without begging, stealing, or borrowing from allies. Much better in my mind to have a hard as woodpeckers-lips brigade-sized force that is not a burden to others than an all fur coat and no knickers division that is such in name only, failing to kid anyone except ourselves.
In all the years of writing at Think Defence, I have never produced a fantasy ORBAT, so anyway…
Home Command is generally about the ‘UK firm base’ and a range of support and organisational services that are mostly for service in the UK although do have deployable elements. I posed questions about ceremonial, public duties, music, and regional brigades above, accepting these are not easy changes but for the purposes of this section, assume that the Army has managed to reduce its commitment to civil resilience, enact some form of reorganisation of the regional brigades, and moved the significant resource burden of ceremonial and public duties to a hybrid staffing model that whilst still utilising regular personnel, does so at a dramatically reduced rate. London District will also be merged into the Regional Command as part of this. Standing Joint Command would remain for those civil resilience tasks that are still required.
Recruiting and initial training, defence fire and rescue, army personnel, staff and personnel support, and directorate children and young people would remain, and the Army Legal Service, Educational and Training and Provost. Consistent with the simplification principle, a significant review will examine the requirement for many of these activities to be covered by uniformed personnel, with a view to absolutely driving that number down.
1 DIV (ADAPTABLE)
This is the Army’s campaigning and forward-deployed force, and also includes a number of logistics, engineering, medical, and other support capabilities. 1 DIV is currently light role infantry heavy, 4 brigades worth. If the Army has to reduce in size, which I think is inevitable, the preponderance of light role infantry in 1 DIV might be seen as most likely to reduce although the current trend of ‘light infantry’ bashing just because they don’t have vehicles or organic support capabilities needs to stop.
Given the variability of enduring deployments, I think flexibility to task organise is key, and so 1 DIV would move to a non brigaded model, simply a group of independent light role infantry battalions and light cavalry with a number of regenerative HQ’s and supporting capabilities. If we need an enduring deployment to Kabul or Mali, for example, the force would be generated from this pool with tactical command falling to one of the HQ’s, and equipped with vehicles from a non-committed pool. The existing protected mobility fleet (including Foxhound) and large parts of the light tactical vehicle fleet (e.g. Jackal) would be retained in 1 DIV.
1 DIV would also contain forces for Cyprus, Brunei, and the Falkland Islands, and also a medical brigade, a logistics brigade, logistics support brigade, an engineer brigade, and a military police brigade, largely unchanged from now.
3 DIV (REACTION)
The Army’s main reactive fighting force should be capable of operating against peer and non-peer enemy forces in conjunction with allies.
First, merge the two existing armoured infantry brigades into a single, square, armoured brigade to create a credible and hard hitting force. Concentrating armour into eight 18 tank squadrons (four troops of 4 tanks plus 2 for HQ) and two regimental HQ also allows a two year higher readiness/lower readiness cycles to be maintained. Armoured Infantry battalions would be re-organised on the same basis, eight companies (A/B/C Platoon and Support Platoon) and two Battalion HQ’s. It is uncommon to move an entire division at once (not that we could anyway) so the aversion to mixing wheels and tracks is somewhat moot but relative deployability is a factor and terrain access differentials do become important, IFV’s must match the mobility of MBT’s, especially in poor soil conditions and those which have been repeatedly trafficked. Tracked vehicles also tend to have a lower profile and better protection (especially across the frontal arc) than wheeled vehicles meaning in the context of heavy armour, are better suited. The reason to have heavy armour is to concentrate in the attack, using their protection mobility and firepower to inflict dislocating shock on enemy forces, they are not called the battlefield bullies for nothing.
Reduction to a single armoured brigade means the number of support capabilities could be equally reduced although retention of the same armoured bridging and combat engineering resources means the brigade can improve mobility (I bet you knew I was going to say that). It may also be advantageous to forward deploy some elements of the armoured brigade, perhaps in Poland (Żagań or Świętoszów) and Oman, rotating a battle group into these areas as required.
Second, generate a Wheeled Strike Brigade with an aspiration for two. A wheeled Strike brigade has more deployability than a tracked armoured brigade but retains excellent levels of protection, whilst having the dismounted infantry strength to operate in complex and urban terrain, it requires fewer logistics resources and is able to operate for longer periods without maintenance. It is obvious that tracks and wheels can mix, with each providing a range of advantages and disadvantages, but in the context of this article, have decided to try and simplify brigade structures and support requirements so the Strike Brigade would be exclusively wheeled (save for some engineering plant). They would be based on three vehicle families, MIV, MRV-P, and MAN SV, comprising three mechanised infantry battalions and one cavalry regiment, plus support.
Whilst a medium-weight wheeled force attacking a heavy tracked force on open terrain is likely to fare poorly, in the defence, they are likely to perform much better, especially when using their engineering, ATGW, ISTAR, and artillery resources in complex terrain, plus fast air and AH if available. This is also where their speed of deployment over distance becomes very useful, especially in providing route security for a deployment of heavy armour. It must also be noted that they can be mixed, heavy armour supplementing a wheeled brigade should it be needed. The one thing often missed from discussions on Strike is it is also a way of thinking, changing from a mix of tracks and wheels to just wheels might not be as much of a change as thought, perhaps, especially if the wheeled force has the same level of ISTAR as Strike as currently envisaged? The second Wheeled Strike Brigade is certainly aspirational, with MRV-P being used as an interim vehicle.
Third; Current support structure remains largely as is but reflecting the changes described above. Consistent with the simplification agenda, secondary HQ responsibilities will cease. There may be some merit in moving some ISTAR and very short range air defence, especially C-UAS, down to brigade level. I would also like to see some form of dedicated deception capability introduced to 3 DIV. There is no doubt that logistics remains a challenge for 3DIV and it would be a focus for future investment, as would artillery, electronic warfare, ISTAR, and precision fires (the list is long).
To summarise, 3 DIV would remain as a reaction force but evolve to a mix of heavy armour in a single brigade and a modified strike brigade (with an aspiration for another), together with support capabilities that will also attract significant investment.
6 Division currently comprises a signals brigade, an ISTAR brigade, 77th Brigade and the Specialist Infantry Group. As per comments above on specialised infantry, these would be removed from 6 DIV.
A combined force comprising 1 Regiment of Wildcat, 2 Regiments of AH64 Attack Helicopter and the UK’s Watchkeeper TUAS, supporting ISTAR and attack, and some element of support to carrier strike. Work on introducing AH-64E and deciding on weapon options for it, continuing to develop the Wildcat/AH-64 partnership and integrating Watchkeeper will likely be the majority of development work for the aviation brigade.
Expanding the role of the aviation brigade into logistics support for deployed forces, having an open mind on re-introducing small fixed-wing aircraft or uncrewed rotary aircraft, and exploring how Army aviation can deploy uncrewed ground vehicles in support of the experimentation brigade would also be an interesting set of new challenges once AH-64E is in service.
As the name suggests, this would be a new force dedicated to experimentation, especially for emerging technologies and to act as a rapid fielding and training force. It would also look at how the British Army can more effectively work in a changing physical and social environment, not just new technologies. The brigade will establish relationships with industry, academia, DSTL, the other services and allies in order to shape the future of the British Army, combining parts of the Army Warfighting Experiment, Innovation Army, and the Strike Experimentation Group. There might be some crossover with the various trials and development units across the Army and bringing these under the experimentation brigade might generate a number of advantages.
A key part of the Experimentation Brigade would be agility in acquisition, although it would of course be subject to financial governance, it should be able to obtain equipment quickly from within a reasonably large budget and able to spend any windfalls from project underspend elsewhere. Speed is central to its success.
Special Forces and Support
Largely self-explanatory but with a larger support function that would include 2 and 3 Para. Although parachuting is an important part of the Parachute Regiment history, ethos, and training process, its maintenance would be at a lower level than now, with more time spent on other skills. The Parachute Regiment seems to be under eternal siege but they remain extremely well recruited and should be developed into something more akin to their unique skills, still retaining the high readiness and tactical air landing aspect. There are some areas of non-infantry parachuting that still remain important; signals, airfield repair and enablement, medical and air operations for example, these would also be maintained in this group but 16AAB would be disbanded. This is perhaps the most significant change in this article.
Air Mobility Force
With 16AAB withdrawn from the ORBAT, there remains a demand for a helicopter mobility force to deliver anti-tank screening, route security, counter SF/Para, as a strategic reserve, and support to forward recce. In many ways, this is similar to the older 24 Brigade (although the new Aviation Brigade now has its insignia), conventional light role infantry, optimised for helicopter transportability and mobility on the ground with light vehicles. It would own no vehicle or equipment that cannot be lifted by Chinook. The new force would certainly not be at brigade strength because it would have to reflect the ability of the RAF’s Support Helicopter force to provide lift, and this is always in high demand. It might also look to taking some aspect of personnel recovery. It would not be an independent command and likely be placed in the reactive force, although making it part of the aviation brigade would also be a possibility.
Army contribution to Strategic Command and HQ ARRC
This is relatively small but worth noting.
The Equipment Plan
It is vast and unaffordable, that much we know, we also know nothing is quick or cheap, even those quick and cheap solutions we hear so much about. We can look at public information and gain some insight but we can never know the full story of contracts, spending profiles, sustainment costs, and budget availability discussions. Therefore, we should only ever really talk in terms of broad themes, concepts, and priorities.
Rather than individual silos the British Army needs to generate a whole force development programme over a decade with spiral developments and technology insertion planned against an agreed timeline to avoid industry feast and famine that is so damaging as individual programmes never seem to align. There is no reason why this cannot be articulated in simple terms (See Project Scorpion in France)
Am going to discuss the enablers first, then vehicles and firepower.
I may use the word agile in this section, apologies in advance
You don’t hear much about THEIA, Trinity, Land Environment Tactical Communication and Information Systems (LE TacCIS), MORPHEUS, and other information and communications related programmes but they are critical to success and will likely consume an increasing percentage of the equipment plan finances. To put this into context, just one aspect of building a digital backbone and tactical cloud, the evolution of Bowman to Morpheus is over £3billion. And there is a whole lot more to information manoeuvre than just a robust end-to-end network.
Agile command and control capability that can always be on the move or hiding. Pervasive surveillance and precision attack is no longer the sole preserve of highly advanced peer enemy forces, we need to get this right. Similarly, the ‘finding things’ area has to be improved, and this will also be expensive. We know the Army does not have brilliant EW systems and limited ISTAR in several areas but I think does seem to be being addressed, the new Dismounted Joint Fires Integrator and Thundercat programme for the Light Cavalry being two good examples.
There needs to be a sustained increase in funding for logistics, stocks and theatre entry.
We need to see investment in improving packing density and efficiency so that what transport equipment that do we have is maximised. For example, a Role 3 medical facility, Brigade HQ or engineer stores are all likely to consume a huge amount of logistics so every single element of them needs to be subject to a design engineering study to determine how it can be packaged better. This is just a few examples, there are hundreds more.
Maximising the efficiency of logistics personnel should also be a priority investment activity, better mechanical handling equipment, uncrewed vehicle ‘platooning’, higher payload trailers, modularity in packaging, and integrated intermodal systems, are all avenues for improvement.
We can also look at reducing demand, especially for fuel, ammunition and maintenance spares. Fuel demand might be decreased by investing in hybrid technologies, ammunition demand decreased by improving lethality or precision, and reducing spares by virtue of having fewer variants of vehicles and equipment, especially in the same brigade.
To improve port accessibility, the UK should invest in an enhanced port repair and operation capability and rely less on over the beach logistics.
Vehicles and Firepower
Despite the first two categories being less visible, taken together, they will consume increasing quantities of a finite budget, which leaves much less for vehicles and firepower. If we look at the key areas, there are so many gaps, they will be impossible to fill quickly and would take a hundred articles of this length to adequately cover without descending into wish lists, which let’s face it, we could all do.
So, am just going to cover at the high level.
Challenger 2 Upgrade
A wholesale change from CR2 to another vehicle is not likely to be cost-effective across all lines of development and would require at least three engineering variants and a driver training vehicle. Existing designs are also likely to be replaced in the next 10-15 years. Therefore, confirm CR2 upgrade for about 150-160 vehicles; address equipment obsolescence and spares management issues, upgrade electronics and sighting to current standards and ensure it is ready for future implementation of active protection systems. To keep costs down, review whether an upgrade to smoothbore can be shelved (pending ammunition stocks for the rifled 120mm remaining viable). Start long-term CR2 replacement studies, especially with international partnership and innovation streams as described above. Move the remainder of fleet to a strategic reserve and some to the experimentation brigade.
Warrior, Ajax and Medium Calibre Turrets
Warrior CSP does not have a manufacturing contract, Ajax does; this is the first reality we need to recognise. It would also appear from press reports and evidence submissions to the defence select committee, both Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics have struggled with their respective programmes (Lockheed Martin also supply the Ajax turret also). We can sit here all day long and mull over past decisions and what might have been but it doesn’t help anyone.
A few options;
- Carry on with both, ideally, this is what we would do and then in the longer term, replace Warrior with an Ajax derived design
- If the 40mm CTAS is the cause of all problems, proceed as above, but with a change to the medium calibre cannon, most likely a Bushmaster 30mm that has a growth map to 50mm
- Cancel Warrior CSP and put CSP turrets on a Boxer, pretend that Boxer is an IFV, and change doctrine to suit equipment
- Bin the lot and buy a load of CV90’s (like perhaps we should have done in the first place (Am looking at you FFLAV)
All these are possible, and no doubt there are other combinations and permutations, but none of them address FV432 replacement, another can that is being kicked down the road. We need to simplify, we need to drive down future support effort, and we need to have a coherent future fleet of capable vehicles that look and act the part alongside CR2 (and a bit).
/THIS SECTION ASSUMES AJAX MEETS ALL REQUIREMENTS AND IS ACCEPTED INTO SERVICE
Ajax is that future, at least for the Armoured Brigade as described above
Cancel Warrior CSP; although it is actually great value for money in the round and has been used to develop a turret integration facility and electronic and electrical architecture that will be the basis for future vehicles, against a proposal to reduce to a single armoured brigade and a desire to simplify logistics to lower costs, not so good. This leaves us with a developed IFV turret and Lockheed Martin that will likely up-stick from Ampthill with associated job losses (their recent hinting makes this obvious).
We should view Ajax as a strategic platform for the British Army and plot out a future for it, supporting UK industry, skills, combat vehicle integration and the supply chain for many years to come. As part of that longer term plan we can also address some of those IOpC points as spiral developments.
It would normally be one of the great sins to change an already in progress manufacturing contract but there might be some scope to do so with Ajax. We deleted the Ajax ambulance variant as a cost saving measure but it was a relatively mature design. There is no mortar or IFV variant of Ajax, the turreted Ajax version is not an option for IFV due to a much larger turret ring/basket and moving the ring back towards the rear (I think). But look at the ASCOD 2 concepts and prototypes being marketed by General Dynamics, there is scope to create an IFV. One option would be to integrate an uncrewed turret onto Ares or a new design with the Warrior CSP turret. Lockheed Martin have accrued considerable turret expertise over the last decade and have started to talk about export, various developments such as integrating ATGW and UAS, and something called the ‘Urbanfighter’ uncrewed turret.
So whichever of the options taken for IFV, investing in Ajax to replace CVR(T), FV432 and Warrior such that the only two tracked vehicles in an armoured brigade would be CR2 and Ajax, simplified.
/THIS SECTION ASSUMES AJAX MEETS ALL REQUIREMENTS AND IS ACCEPTED INTO SERVICE
As above, we should simplify, withdraw MLRS and create a MAN truck-based version using the same rocket, not dissimilar to the South Korean K239 Chunmoo. Doing the same with AS90 would also reduce the vehicle type count, the BAE wheeled Archer a good example of the type. Combine this with the emerging concepts from MBDA on Land Indirect Fires and artillery could well enjoy somewhat of a renaissance after so many years of relative neglect. We might even dust off Fire Shadow now loitering munitions are back in fashion. This does sound like checking all of the optional extras tick boxes.
It is great news that the British Army has committed so heavily to Boxer, a truly excellent vehicle and one which we can develop for many years, introducing new variants and technology as needed. Again, the key is to set out a long-term plan and develop an industrial capacity to support it. I think it makes sense to make Boxer a recce vehicle (like the Australian CRV), supporting both the wheeled Strike brigade and armoured brigade described above, perhaps even integrating the very advanced Ajax turret onto Boxer if weight and power allow, or some variant of it if not.
MRV-P is the one vehicle family that I think needs a major rethink and something that will allow the Army to anchor itself with British industry, much more than either CR2, Boxer, or Ajax. It is also a vehicle family that could satisfy the ‘dramatically reduce dependence on fossil fuels’ objective, especially as it is likely to be much more numerous over time than Ajax, CR2 and Boxer combined. A modern-day Saracen family has much to offer, the UK certainly has the automotive design skills and manufacturers to make it a success.
Am going to stop this article here, there is so much more to write about in detail and it is long enough. This is a relatively conservative proposal, and the equipment section is nothing more than a few relatively uninformed ideas but hopefully interesting enough to generate some debate.
And thanks to the many people that helped me to formulate my thoughts and correct my numerous errors
See you in the comments (or on twitter)