This will look outside the narrow perspective of the Strike concept as I think it is important to see them in context.
At the risk of repeating myself, current plans are in flux, but currently, they are to try and balance combat power and resilience with deployability and supportability by moving to a balanced force of two Armoured Infantry brigades and two Strike brigades with a number of light role infantry battalions and supporting forces.
An Armoured Infantry Brigade will move to 1x Type 56 Armoured Regiment with CR2, 2x Armoured Infantry Battalions with Warrior and 1x Armoured Cavalry Regiment with Ajax.
A Strike Brigade will be 2x Armoured Cavalry Regiments with Ajax and 2x Mechanised Infantry Battalions with MIV. One of the Ajax regiments will fulfil the ‘Medium Armour’ role.
The two Armoured Infantry and one of the Strike Brigades will form the UK’s deployable major combat division, 3 (UK) DIV, with various supporting capabilities. This means the UK will move to a divisional major combat capability that has both wheels and tracks for its armoured combat vehicles.
The Future Force 2025, for the Army, built on the adaptable force/reactive force model will comprise:
We know pretty much what the Ajax programme is, we also know that a programme exists for Warrior Capability Sustainment[tabs] [tab title=”Ajax”]
[/tab] [tab title=”Warrior CSP”]
Less clear is what is happening with the Challenger 2 Life Extension, the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) and the Multi Role Vehicle – Protected.
Much still seems open despite varying degrees of information known about those.[tabs] [tab title=”Challenger 2″]
[/tab] [tab title=”MIV Contender – Boxer”]
[/tab] [tab title=”MIV Contender – AMV”]
[/tab] [tab title=”MIV Contender – AMV with Warrior turret”]
[/tab] [tab title=”MIV Contender – VBCI-2″]
[/tab] [tab title=”MIV Contender – Piranha V”]
The Multi Role Vehicle (Protected) Group 1 (Package 1) is possibly to be met with and off the shelf purchase of the Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) via a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) arrangement. This surprised many given that JLTV had been rejected by the pre-cursor to MRV-P, the Operational Utility Vehicle System (OUVS).
The larger vehicle, Group 2 (Package 2) could be decided by competition with either a 4×4 or 6×6 vehicle with the two variants being the Troop Carrying Vehicle (TCV) and the Future Protected Battlefield Ambulance (FPBFA). Manufacturers in the down-select are BAE Systems Land (UK) with a design from Penman, General Dynamics with the MOWAG Eagle 6×6, Rheinmetall with the Survivor-R, and Thales with the Thales Bushmaster.
Also shown below is a Supacat HMT600 based recovery vehicle to meet the requirements of the Light Weight (Air Portable) Recovery Capability (LW(AP)RC) programme.[tabs] [tab title=”Oshkosh JLTV/MRV-P”]
[/tab] [tab title=”MOWAG Eagle 6×6″]
[/tab] [tab title=”Bushmaster”]
[/tab] [tab title=”Penman”]
The woes of the Warrior CSP are well known, CR2 LEP has yet to be awarded, MRV-P does seem rather unfocused and MIV, again, is subject to numerous rumours about conflicts for which acquisition strategy is favoured. Will it be a competition or a direct award, well that depends on which rumour you want to believe.
Observations and Issues
The biggest elephant in the Strike Brigade room is one of affordability set against a backdrop of ever increasing budget pressure and continuing rumours of reductions and amalgamations.
When comparing the UK to others such as France, Italy or the US it is important that we first realise the UK is not France, Italy or the USA.
It is also important to note that the Strike Brigade concept is the result of a lot of careful thinking and experimentation about how to balance the need for strategic and operational deployability with combat strength and resilience. Trying to achieve this balance is difficult, Ajax for example will provide both support to Strike and also the Armoured Infantry.
The Army leadership deserves credit that they won’t get for doing the experimentation and thinking to bringing it this far.
It does however rest on a number of assumptions that are worth testing and a funding requirement that may be difficult to meet.
Strike works if it has sufficient logistics strength and indirect/direct firepower is available, but let’s be honest, the British Army’s vehicle fleet is in a very poor state, it demands funding across the board. Together with Apache E and other draws on the budget I remain pessimistic that we will be able to resource.
Or put another way, the jam get too thinly spread over multiple priorities without being fully able to cover the full sandwich.
We see this manifested in the lack of transport assets, artillery, air defence and equipment support for Strike.
The assumption that Strike can deploy further and faster with a lower logistic footprint than traditional forces seems worth exploring, given the inclusion of Ajax, a traditional tracked vehicle with traditional suspension and traditional double pin tracks. Simply put, the assertion that Ajax will be able to keep up with MIV on a long road march seems questionable at best.
If Ajax does conduct a long road march in Europe, it will need equipment transporters, something the British Army is not particularly flush with. If it tries to do the road march on its tracks, the rate of breakdown and maintenance stop requirements could lead to a big difference in deployment rates between it and the rest of the Strike brigade in MIV, and crew fatigue will be a significant issue.
The current plan seems to be to use the Oshkosh Interim Light Equipment Transporters (ILET) with a new trailer, but again, nothing firm on this has been released and it is difficult to see how the very limited numbers of ILET’s would be able to transport two Regiments worth of Ajax in a single move. Civilian trucks are another option but despite the Whole Force approach, this may not be effective in the face of aggression from unconventional forces as the Strike brigade got closer to the area of operation.
In many deployment scenarios for Strike, a HET or ILET with Ajax may well exceed the bridge and road capacity to take it, complicating deployment further.
To reduce support demand there also needs to be a very high degree of commonality across the brigade, especially if deployment distances are extended. Looking at current plans it is also difficult to see how this will be achieved unless MRV-P really does replace the motley collection of wheeled vehicles currently in service with the British Army.
Does Ajax have sufficient firepower to act in the Medium Armour role against Russian ‘tourists’, perhaps, perhaps not. There is no doubt the 40mm CTAS is a powerful system but it is not a 105mm or 120mm gun. It might be sufficient against T-55’s but given the proliferation of modern tanks and upgrades for older ones, a Strike Brigade looks to be somewhat lacking in direct firepower. Perhaps indirect fire or ATGW could compensate; mounting Exactor or Brimstone 2 would bring a serious firepower boost but whilst there have been some initial work on this, there is nothing in terms of a formal programme.
Dispersing over greater distances and using the dispersal to avoid enemy fires requires coordination facilitated by communication, another question for Strike will be bandwidth on the move over longer ranges than traditional battlefield networking and communication systems.
Likewise for artillery, current plans will see Strike with towed 105mm Light Gun. The Light Gun is about as perfect as you could hope for, but it is nowhere near enough for a highly mobile brigade that needs a lot of firepower to compensate for its relative lack of protection.
Mobility support will require not only a wide range of transport vehicles but also significant bridging capability, whether that will be REBS, some form of Air Portable Ferry Bridge or MIV/Ajax launched is also subject to future funding. Will it be enough, we will have to see.
None of these issues are revelatory, the Army understands them full well and has programmes in place to address them, but at the moment, very few of them look like coming to fruition soon.
So whilst I think Strike is very good, am not sure it is affordable because Strike is very far from just a handful of new vehicles and together with everything else the British Army needs to fund, here lies a significant risk.
The risk is that Strike remains an incomplete vision without the funds to fully finish it. There seems to be a pervasive view that Strike Brigades budgets will focus on Ajax and MIV, but without the Combat Support and Combat Service Support, they deliver little value.
The British Army is facing block equipment obsolescence and huge sums are unlikely to be forthcoming to address it, let alone fully fund Strike.
They just aren’t.
And we all know it.
To summarise, the Land Joint Strike concept is perfectly sound, it is the result of a lot of thinking and experimentation and will continue to evolve. It avoids hard edges between medium and heavy, spanning both to make maximum use of available and on order resources.
However, its critical flaw lies not in concept or even execution to date, it is a simple one of the likelihood of resources to ‘do it right’.
Perhaps we need to rethink.