The first open thread here, looking for volunteers to manage it
So, about that shipbuilding strategy
The first open thread here, looking for volunteers to manage it
So, about that shipbuilding strategy
Last Friday I let everyone know of my intent to shut up shop and close Think Defence. I also said I would pen a more considered farewell by way of an explanation and look forward.
The reason I started Think Defence was simply to provide a forum for (hopefully) sensible conversations about UK defence and security.
I actually received the inspiration to ‘do something’ from Dr Richard North at EU Referendum who at the time was campaigning on the Snatch Land Rover issue against a great deal of negativity. Richard was thoroughly vindicated and eventually spun Defence of the Realm out from the main blog and so one might consider DOTR as the ‘granddaddy’ of UK Defence Blogs although I think Tony McNally has been blogging at Rogue Gunner since 2006. Richard Beedall’s site, Navy Matters, was also an early inspiration, I owe them all a debt of gratitude for showing the way.
With a broader subject spread, Think Defence was born in February 2009 with a post about the A400M.
The format and publishing platform has changed a number of times, first Joomla (painful) and then on to WordPress. I wanted total control so decided against Blogger or Typepad. With increasing traffic, the demands of a high volume site dictated the need for much more robust hosting arrangements.
WordPress is a great platform for content creators but don’t underestimate the learning curve.
On hosting, after going through several, the adage that you get what you pay for is apt, if you want security and reliability that is. Advertising through Google and several contributions from the TD community has enabled this high quality hosting and a number of additional enhancements to the basic platform.
A few nerdy stats…
Totting up, that is approximately 3.5 million words across over just under four thousand posts or pages.
When I live blogged the 2015 SDSR, traffic went through the roof, about 45,000 page views that day. Otherwise, traffic has grown steadily with an average of about 10,000 page views per day until fairly recently when I slowed things down. Current traffic is about 6,000 page views per day.
In total, Think Defence has garnered approximately 13 million page views.
There has been a few a few shenanigans; others stealing content and passing it off as their own, legal threats from a certain mythical think tank, a constant battle against spammers and the odd intemperate bitchfest in comments, but despite these, it’s been a hoot!
A collection of great guest writers have also added enormous value.
The real strength of Think Defence however, is not the content, it is the comments, all 164 odd thousand of them.
On Twitter, as you may know, I also kept an active presence, over 8,000 followers now, although not quite in Justin Bieber territory!
The reason for my decision, which has been coming for some time, is simply one of time. To keep things going at a level of quality that I set myself means a lot of time. Whilst it has been possible to slow the post rate down, time spent researching and collating information from different sources still means a large commitment.
It is also much harder than one might imagine to ‘slow down’, the temptation is always there. Better to remove the temptation altogether.
The three things I have taken most pride from are;
Keeping a loyal and hugely knowledgeable gang of commenters who continually invest their own time to join the conversation and make Think Defence a friendly and interesting place.
Being able to attract guest authors and provide them with a platform to say what they want, Think Defence would be much the poorer without its guest authors or contributors.
Finally, inspiring a few guest authors to go on and start their own blogs, Thin Pinstriped Line and Defence with a C for example.
What started out fairly low key has turned into a bit of a monster because I think there was a ‘market need’ for it.
Let’s be clear, typing words into a computer is in no way comparable to the problems that defence professionals face in the real world, or indeed, former server service personnel.
I have also tried, not always successfully, to avoid being too judgemental from a position of comfort, people in the MoD and industry don’t get up in morning and decide to make poor decisions. They are working within the bounds of a larger system with financial, political and operational constraints we cannot know. FRES or Type 26 problems are not the result of one pivotal decision made by a single malignant person.
That said, problems can sometimes be seen from outside with a clarity not possible when dealing with the day to day, so defence blogging (and defence journalism of course) is a valuable means by which decisions can be examined and those in power held to some form of account.
Hopefully, other and future defence bloggers looking outside in will try and keep that in mind.
Where I think defence blogging can have significant value is to link current decisions to past decisions. We know the MoD has a predilection to change project names in order to compartmentalise previous problems, the FLAV >> FFLAV >> MRAV/TRACER >> FRES >> SV/UV >> Ajax/MIV journey being a case in point.
I feel privileged to know the authors of blogs such as Jedibeeftrix, Chuck Hills Coast Guard Blog, Mental Crumble, PsyWar, Quill or Capture, Bring the Heat, Defense and Freedom, Military History Now, Defence in Depth, Weapons Man, Save the Royal Navy, Eagle Speak, Steeljaw Scribe, Angry Staff Officer, Snafu, Thin Pinstriped Line, Defence with a C, Fall When Hit, CDR Salamander, Defence of the Realm, Kings of War, War on the Rocks and many more, even if only virtually.
There is a fantastic community of defence writers outside of Think Defence.
When it comes to UK defence blogging specifically, MoD policy, whether written or unwritten, puts many constraints on serving personnel or civil servants putting their thoughts online. In 2016, the British Army Review is still closed from the public and those serving personnel that have contributed to Think Defence and other blogs have generally done so under a nom de plume. This is stark contrast to US forces where writing and public debate seems (at least from this perspective) to be positively encouraged.
The MoD’s social media policy will change as times change, slower than many want, but it will change. Hopefully, the forces culture will follow.
Over the years a few things have remained constant at Think Defence;
My hope is that these themes remain as defence writing evolves, especially the last one, obvs!
Think Defence will not disappear overnight, this is the current plan…
First, I will start to thin out the database and remove content that has not aged well, was topical to a specific time point, or frankly, a bit rubbish.
Second, the Parliamentary Questions and Answers will be deleted, these are held in Hansard and easily accessed with keyword searches etc.
Third, I have a Flickr Pro account that I will maintain, all the media from the site will be migrated. If anyone is looking for an opportunity to help, tagging and grouping would benefit from ‘many hands makes light work’. Please let me know if you are interested.
Finally, I intend to migrate the long form content into downloadable PDF’s. This will mean losing the YouTube videos but I will link to those as appropriate from within the document. The PDF’s will be fully indexed, with a tables of content and all the media. Whether these remain hosted at www.thinkdefence.co.uk or somewhere else remains to be decided, am having a number of conversations about this. Other options include migrating to a WordPress.com site as a means of archiving older content.
As this processes progresses, I will keep you all posted, it might take a while.
After nearly eight years , time to call it a day.
Has been a hoot, made some great friends and had the honour to interact with current and ex service personnel, academics, people from industry and members of the great British public who care about the defence of this nation, plus of course, the same from other nations.
A special mention to the big bunch of commenters and guest authors, without which this place would be much the poorer, and not forgetting those that have thrown a few quid into the jar over the years to cover hosting costs.
Nothing is happening overnight and the long form content will live on in another form, not yet decided how though.
Will post more details in the near future, with perhaps a look back over the years.
Thanks all, it has been an honour.
I know many of you don’t appreciate all the Sapper and Logistics stuff I write about, but hey, not everyone can be perfect 🙂
A GUEST POST FROM JED
It appears to this humble arm chair general, that the British Army has a fundamental problem, or three.
After over a decade of constant deployment and action in a counter-insurgency role, there appears to be a resurgent interest in “high intensity” operations against so called peer level adversaries, perhaps fueled by Mr Putin’s Russia making it’s forays into Georgia, and Crimea and the eastern part of Ukraine. I don’t want to argue geopolitics, but the world wide threat assessment is what drives our governmental security policy, which in turn shapes the missions of our armed forces, which of course drives their size and shape, and their equipment procurement.
I would also suggest that Government after Government, of whatever political stripe eschews any grand strategy in favour of short termism and that in causes great problems for the armed forces. This shows itself in strategy and concepts of operations which although dressed up in flowery political language often appear to be budget driven. Hence, review after review we have man power cuts and capability cuts (oh, sorry “capability holidays” !). Yet even the army senior leadership seems to think we retain a broad and well rounded army capable of as many missions as the politicians can dream up. While I am sure it is very, very difficult as a serving head of the Army to tell the PM of the day that they are insane, that does not at the same time absolve the senior generals from coming up with their own not well thought out concepts !
Which brings us to the matter in question – the Strike Brigade. This beast seems to be vexing many an arm chair general, so I thought I would give TD my thoughts on the subject and let you all way lyrical in the comments section.
The last great plan, which actually seemed quite sensible and workable to me, from the outside looking in basically split the forces available by role, “weight” and availability criteria:
Basically instead of the previous plan for 5 identical deployable brigades, this plan cut the cloth to meet the budget and yet still produced 5 brigades for rotation through an enduring deployment. While maybe not perfect, personally I thought this was a “good enough” and in many ways quite sensible structure. With UOR procured vehicles taken into the core fleet, the final appearance of the Ajax family of vehicles, Warrior upgrade progamme etc. it actually seemed a balanced plan that could provide a force not just for long term peace keeping / peace enforcement / COIN tasking, but also a heavier force for NATO or coalition ops against a peer / near peer enemy.
Not that there were not problems, Challenger 2 upgrade needed funding, the cuts in the Royal Corps of Signals (my beloved Corps) seemed to be impacting on the number of HQ’s that could be supported in the field, and similarly the Royal Artillery seemed to be in a somewhat parlous state with cuts to the AS90 fleet and reliance on towed light guns etc.
Fast forward to the latest and greatest of the so called strategic reviews, and we get a new force structure before we are anywhere near achieving the last one. This time we aspire to provide a division for a high intensity fight, and as part of the force structure we are bringing back the idea of an 8 x 8 wheeled armoured vehicle last seen as FRES UV and now known as the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV). It would appear from comments made that we would aim to pull together a division based on:
As part of the newly minted force structure it appears that the Armoured Infantry brigades would be cut to 2, while 2 new formations based on the MIV would be created. These would be known as Strike Brigades, a somewhat obvious homage to the U.S. Army’s “medium” Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) aka the Stryker Brigades, named after their ride the GD Stryker 8 x 8 evolution of the LAV .
The Chief of the General Staff, Sir Nick Carter did not provide a great deal of detail as to the size and shape of the Strike Brigade, nor the impact of it’s creation on other formations. Discussion ensued and details started to appear, for example although the number of tracked FRES Scout (Ajax family) would not be increased, they would now be spread across four brigades instead of three. Also the role of the MIV became somewhat more clear as the MOD / Army stated they would be looking at an off the shelf 8 x 8 APC.
So what do we think is the concept of operations behind a Strike Brigade?
Well in many respects we are just jumping on a band wagon that many (if not all ?) of our allies jumped on some years ago. After the Russians zoomed into Kosovo in a long and fast road march in wheeled BTR type vehicles, the theatre-strategic mobility of wheeled armour seemed to grab western army imaginations. The French and Italians did not need to be sold on the concept, they had been using wheeled light armoured vehicles alongside their tanks for decade. The French particularly have a long history of the use wheeled armoured cars and APC’s in 40 years of colonial and anti-terrorist operations, largely in Africa. Stryker brigades made some long range and high speed movements across Iraq’s road network that also impressed U.S. Army leadership.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this concept of a wheeled armoured force, who’s main advantage is theatre-strategic mobility, the so called ability to self deploy. In the self defence of continental European NATO, the ability to use an extensive road network offering many different routes from A to B, mostly (?) under a secure air defence umbrella to enable speed of movement seems like a worthwhile objective. For our larger European allies, this may even mean rapid deployment within their own borders. For light to medium weight armoured vehicles, the advantage over heavy armour which needs to be deployed via wheeled heavy transport vehicles (tank transporters) or by rail, is one of getting into action at the point where it is needed more rapidly.
In a rather more British expeditionary scenario, theatre-strategic mobility could still be of great utility even if the purely strategic transport function for both heavy tracked or wheeled medium weight armoured vehicles as both would likely be deployed by sea; however the ability to move swiftly from the point of debarkation to the area of need, remains and advantage.
So if the concept of wheeled medium armoured formations is sound, why do so many of us seem to think the British Strike Brigades appear to be an unmitigated dollop of fudge dressed up with some out of date whipped cream ?
As far as we know it would appear that a Strike Brigade will consist of:
If we thin out the Ajax numbers on order, including the 245 Ajax Scout with the 40mm CTA to equip 4 regiments (one each for the 2 remaining armoured infantry brigades and the new Strike brigades) that could give us a “type 56” Ajax regiment, echoing the format of a Challenger 2 regiment, but this would appear to be sole fire power of a Strike Brigade. Let’s be clear, the army has said it might be looking for 300 to 350 MIV, and that they will be APC’s so expect an armament of at most a dual weapon RWS. There has been no mention of an Anti-Armour Ajax variant as yet, although we have seen one displayed with an un-armoured Javelin clipped on to the Protector RWS. So it would appear, that to provide some hitting power we would need to deploy AS90 155mm howitzers, which are “heavy” and tracked. For long range hitting power with GMLRS rockets, we would need the M270 launcher vehicles, which are heavy and tracked….. So we can see where the standard British fudgery is coming into play here, right ?
Basically it appears that after decades of throwing good money after bad on FRES, if we are going to buy a certain number, which really is not that large, and obviously is no where near as large as originally envisioned, we would look stupid if we cut them to buy something else. So lets eek out the ones we have got to include these weird Strike Brigades, just to give them something with a turret and a gun. Do we even have enough tank transport type vehicles to deploy the Ajax equipped regiment, a couple of batteries of AS90 and a battery of M270 plus some engineering vehicles and plant on a fast road march across Europe to rapidly reinforce a threatened ally ?
Do we think the rail links, offering less alternative routes, could be secured against action by saboteurs / terrorists?
Personally I find it hard to believe our current army senior leadership does not see the issues with the wheeled medium / tacked medium to heavy mix. There was talk recently at DVD 2016 reported by various military media outlets that the Royal Artillery would like to find money for various firepower projects, included wheeled 155mm guns, specifically to match the theatre-strategic mobility requirements of the Strike Brigade. However, money is going to be a problem, as ever. So the cynic in me wonders if the Strike Brigade is just PR smoke and mirrors to disguise cuts to the armoured force, and the budgets allocated to upgrades. If we have only 2 armoured infantry brigades we need less Challenger 2’s and less Warriors upgraded, in fact we might need to cut the money from these programs just afford the MIV APC’s !!
So the current prognosis seems to be a poor one: Less tanks, less AIFV, and mixed tracked / wheeled brigade that negates the advantages of a wheeled only formation, and with very little combat power. There are alternatives though, many of which might not actually need additional investment. So let us investigate some alternative options, what we could do with a little extra money, or even better perhaps with none at all ?
If we are going to reduce the number of Challenger 2 and Warrior to be upgraded, could we afford to make the Strike Brigade all wheeled? How might this work? Well if we keep all the 32 – 40 tonne Ajax family vehicles in the Armoured Infantry brigades, and spread them, say 16 each into the Armoured Infantry battalions (8 in a Recce Platoon, 8 in a direct fire support platoon) then go with an upgraded Warrior which is a turretless “heavy” APC with a 40mm GMG / 7.62mm MG only, we reduce the firepower of the heaviest formations, but we use the investment to upgrade the Striker Brigades.
Well at DVD 2016 Lockheed displayed the export version of their Warrior turret on a Patria AMV. The Export version even packs an armoured box launcher for a Javelin. So take the Warrior turrets contracted for, and apply them to a suitable 8 x 8. If we can find a MIV cheap enough, perhaps we can buy enough for 2 wheeled medium armour recce regiments (so upping the total requirement to 6 battalions worth).
It would appear that VBCI2, Piranha 5 etc can carry 6 dismounts with a turret basket protruding into the main compartment. So putting your guns into the recce regiment MIV’s, the infantry battalion recce and AT platoons, and running the “standard” MIV as an APC with the RWS, at least gives a fully wheeled formation with a fair number of medium calibre auto-cannon and if we could afford the export version of the turret, a Javelin “up and ready”.
An 81mm mortar carrier, firing through open roof hatches would be better than nothing, and for harder hitting artillery the French CEASAR 6 x 6 155mm gun on a MAN armoured cab chassis is probably the cheapest option, although the Donar 155mm turret on the Boxer chassis remains an interesting option.
A long term affordability plus that might help fund the extra MIV would be enough Warrior ABSV conversions to finally get rid of all the remaining FV432 variants, that must a considerable drain on maintenance budgets. Finally if money were no object then I would see if our preferred MIV could take a CMI turret and deploy a 120mm gun as the anti-tank over-watch vehicle, rather than a missile system. Call them anti-tank guns, put them in the AT platoon of infantry battalions and hope against hope that this means politicians wont deploy them as “tanks” !!
In the end, could we afford to go fully wheeled by shuffling the existing budgets around ?
After a decade of tests, experiments and deliberations (sounds familiar eh?) the French have finally ramped up their Scorpion project to revamp their entire Army. There structure is somewhat like that for which we are aiming – light rapid intervention brigades (Marines and Paras), heavy brigades based on Leclerc MBT and VBCI 8 x 8 AIFV, and medium “mechanised” brigades which will benefit most from the new vehicles. The scale of the French programme leads me to believe that if we jumped in now, there could be considerable advantage in price to getting involved as a joint program.
The French are to replace their venerable 4 x4 VAB with the 6 x 6 VBMR “Griffon” 20 tonne APC with a crew of 2 and carrying an 8 man squad. With over a 1,700 required, with all the variants the British Army could ever require already designed / developed including mortar carrier, Command vehicle, ambulance, engineer and recovery vehicle, could we work with this solution? A boxy 6 x 6 APC might not seem as sexy as an 8 x 8, but as we only intend to run the said 8 x 8 as a lightly armed APC, are the French on to something we have missed ? Don’t forget the French run their VBCI with a 25mm gun equipped turret as their main AIFV alongside their MBT’s.
The other requirement is for 600 plus 6 x 6 EBRC “Jaguar” armoured recce vehicle.
A 25 tonne specialist recce vehicle with the Anglo-French 40mm CTA cannon and the new MMP missile, it seems to me that equipping 2 x armoured recce regiments, and the recce and AT platoons of the Griffon equipped battalions would give a “French Style” Strike brigades some teeth. Of course the artillery would remain French too, with either the original manually loaded CEASAR 6 x 6 or perhaps the new CESAR 8 x 8 with it’s auto-loader and higher capacity magazine, on a MAN armoured cab chassis.
Ahhh I bet you thought I was going to say go with the new Stryker Double V-Hull as the MIV. Wrong.
Apparently we are very interested in the Oshkosh L-ATV (JLTV) as the light end of our Multi-Role Vehicle (Protected) requirement, again largely due to the price being driven by the massive scale at which the U.S. will purchase these vehicles. What does this have to do with the Strike Brigades ? Well perhaps they could “go light” in that the heavy end of MRV-P could also be a MIV ? The L-ATV as a 7 tonne, 4 to 5 crew vehicle, capable of carrying RWS or weapons stations with M230 30mm medium velocity cannon (used on our Apaches) or a Moog reconfigurable weapons platform that can take 2 Javelin in protected launchers for example could equip the recce regiment.
It’s bigger brother the M-ATV which is available in long wheelbase 4 x 4 APC (up to 11 seats) at a 16 tonne curb weight, or 6 x 6 APC (up to15 seats) with a 19 tonne curb weight; and in many existing available variants such as command and ambulance vehicles might provide a vehicle which maybe at the low end of a MIV specification sheet, but eminently affordable. If you take the TAK4i suspension and the improved engine of the L-ATV and add it to the M-ATV, the mobility might not be all that much less than an8 x 8, which would really seem to be the real concern. The M-ATV was churned out by Oshkosh at 1,000 vehicles a month at its peak !
In massive use with the U.S Army and Marines, this could turn out to be the cheapest option, even if it seems a bit “lower spec” than an 8 x 8 like a Patria AMV, Boxer or a GD Piranha 5, it can for example still be fitted with an active protection system, as well as providing basic protection from small arms / medium MG fire and artillery frag.
Keep the existing 3 armoured infantry brigades as they are! If there is a need to politically save face, then rename them as strike brigades and replace the Mastiff ride for the Mechanised infantry battalion with a lower number of the cheapest 8 x 8 you can find. With this option we keep one third more Chally 2 in the front line inventory, and we make up a little for reducing the upgraded Warrior to 6 dismounts (or Panzer Grenadier’s as I like to call them) by providing an 8 x 8 APC which can carry 8.
We can still build a division around one of these brigades, plus an Adaptable Force “Protected Mobility” infantry brigade, and we can add an allied brigade, say Danish or Dutch or Norwegian to provide more AIFV. Sure it still might be better to replace at least some AS90 with 52 calibre 155mm guns with say a CEASAR 8 x 8, and even the remaining 105mm LG with the manually crew served CESAR 6 x 6 for support less than divisional level deployments based around the Adaptable Force Protected Mobility battalions. Yes we would deny ourselves of the wheeled armoured high theatre-strategic mobility option for future operations, but plenty of our allies can provide this capability, while we can concentrate on backing them up with heavier tracked forces. Perhaps we would actually need to keep one of the Armoured Infantry brigades in Germany, or even Poland, to demonstrate our commitment and reducing the potential distance to deploy to continental European hot spots – ok lets face it, the Baltics……
Before I complete my rant thinly disguised as an essay; I would like to note there is a further variant of Option 1 – lets call it “1 Heavy”;
If we were to reduce Armoured Infantry brigades to 2, why not make them Armoured Brigades ? Get rid of the Mastiff based mechanised infantry battalion and convert an armoured recce regiment to Challenger 2. So the Armoured Brigades would be 2 Chally regiments, and 2 Warrior Regiments with the Ajax recce regiment. With 2 regiments of tanks, and lots of Ajax spread around the Warrior’s would definitely just be in the APC role with no turreted medium calibre cannon. We have enough Challengers to upgrade, and as the rest of our formations are very definitely infantry heavy, and not all 4 regiments would be online and at high readiness, does it not make sense to increase tank numbers, not reduce them ?
We have not heard much officially about the Strike Brigades, how they will be equipped or setup, or doctrinally how they might be used. In my opinion they are a typical massive fudge and pretty much good for nothing as the plans now stand. I will happily be proved to be an idiot arm chair general by the Army’s senior leadership, but I am fairly confident that won’t happen. My preferred option from those I outlined above is to stay with the last plan, retain the FF2020 orbat, and if someone feels they need to save face then buy 200 8 x 8 APC’s to replace the Mastiff and just rename the existing brigades as strike brigades, then the government could even say they have created 3 of them instead of the originally mentioned 2 !
So, what do you think ?
Excellent news, I have been a long time proponent of experimentation without specific fully worked up statement of user requirements.
The Army Warfighting Experiment 2017 will build on the success of previous similar initiatives that were more tightly focused on dismounted close combat. The concept is to encourage corporate organisations, SME’s and even individual innovators to bring forth their products and concepts against a series of broad requirements. The RAF Regiment and Royal Marines will also be there, as will a team from the US Army.
[box type=”custom” bg=”#F5F5F5″ color=”#” border=”#” radius=”0″ fontsize=”14″]Industry first have to progress through a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style phase, where they have 10 minutes to pitch the benefits and capabilities of their product to a Military Judgement Panel (MJP). Those successful will then have their equipment or system tested by experts from the Army’s Trials and Development Units (TDUs), the Royal Air Force Regiment, the Royal Marines and also a squad from the US Army. This operationally representative exercise will take place on Salisbury Plain over a six week period early next year. Finally, at the end of March, a VIP day will be held to give industry and their products/systems visibility to senior members of the British Army.[/box]
Read the full article, at the link above, but whilst this may seem small beer, it is hugely encouraging and hats must be doffed to those in DE&S and the RN and British Army.
Come on RAF, where is your similar event!
Can we just bloody stop with this Warfighter nonsense, it is an Americanism that makes us sound like fawning fools, desperately following US military fashion in a pathetic attempt to be trendy.
Like Dad dancing and middle aged men with ponytails, it is cringeworthy.
With most of the UK’s stock of anti-tank Barmines either expired or used for Explosive Means of Entry (EMOE) in Afghanistan there is somewhat of a dilemma when it comes to the ‘return to contingency’, or conventional combined arms combat.
The cupboard is bare.
The Barmine Layers are currently being disposed of.
Described by the disposal agents as;
[box type=”custom” bg=”#F5F5F5″ color=”#” border=”#” radius=”0″ fontsize=”14″]These were designed to be towed behind FV 432`s, Stalwarts, Saracens, CVRT Spartan, AEC Trucks, Bedfords and even Landrovers !! Obviously now obsolete but will make a fantastic display piece for a show or museum. Or even a possibility for conversion I.E. potato planter! Trencher for cables etc.[/box]
So although it may seem surprising, the MoD might be back in the market for them.
[box type=”custom” bg=”#F5F5F5″ color=”#” border=”#” radius=”0″ fontsize=”14″]Defence Equipment and Support is responsible for procuring and supporting the equipment and services for the UK’s Armed Forces. The DE&S Technology Office seeks to understand Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) and near COTS counter-mobility technologies in the land domain. Both mines other than anti-personnel mines (MOTAPM) and other novel / innovative technologies are within the scope of this call. MOTAPM refers to anti-vehicle mines. Unlike anti-personnel mines, this type of mine is activated by a vehicle driving over it, rather than a person stepping on it. MOTAPM includes anti-tank mines. Expression of Interest (EoI) will be used for MOD informative purposes to gain market understanding and are not in competition or subject to any formal assessment.[/box]
Mines remain an emotive and sensitive subject with the MoD, as in most Western nations, anti-personnel mines are long gone and the whole subject fraught with legal scrutiny.
And yet they remain an effective capability.
A guest post from ‘Monty’
This article is intended to be a high-level discussion of the issues and potential fixes that would address the manifold problems faced by the British Army. It isn’t a deep-dive supported by detailed budgeting, planning and implementation considerations. So I trust readers will judge it for what it is rather than what it should be. I hope that the concepts presented below will inspire other ideas that could transform UK land power capabilities and its deterrent effect.
In 1984, when I was a young platoon commander, there was a feeling of constantly being asked to do more with less. If a lack of resources was a problem then, the constraints placed on the Army today are in an entirely different league. In its heydey the British Army of the Rhine numbered more than 160,000 soldiers, it had four armoured divisions, including 12 MBT regiments and a full complement of supporting assets. It was a time when we had not forgotten the war-winning potential of artillery, so we had an extensive array of Royal Artillery regiments that were all properly resourced, including one equipped with the Lance tactical nuclear missile. Today, we can barely muster a single division and have only three regular MBT regiments. A reduction in headcount to 82,000 has seen a huge loss in combat ability as accumulated knowledge and experience have exited the service.
Since the Cold War ended in 1989, there has been a very little impetus to re-equip the British Army. I remember Think Defence in another article noting that when the FV430 series of AFVs came into service in the mid-1960s, the English Electric Lightning was the primary air defence asset. This was superseded by the Phantom, then the Tornado and, most recently, by the Typhoon. Despite four generations of combat aircraft passing through Royal Air Force hands, the FV430 has resolutely remained the only tracked APC in service with British land forces. Warrior was a half-hearted attempt to replace it, but the money to equip all armoured infantry formations with it was never made available. The so-called peace dividend resulting from the end of the Cold War halted any significant AFV platform investment after the last Warriors were delivered in the 1990s.
Since then, the combat capability of the British Army’s AFVs has slowly atrophied.
Challenger 2 and Warrior were brief flashes of promise. When they first arrived, they offered an excellent capability against peer enemies, but, unlike the Bundeswehr’s Leopard 2, were not constantly upgraded to ensure they remained relevant and potent. With the UK only deploying a full armoured division on two occasions since the end of WW2 (during each of the two Gulf Wars), the global financial crisis in 2008 provided a perfect catalyst to bring an obsolete Army back to the UK from Germany. Our few remaining armoured units were content to rust in peace. Indeed, if Liam Fox had had his way when he was UK defence Secretary, we would have retired all of our Challenger 2s.
Since 2002, deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have required us to practice counter-insurgency techniques supposedly honed over many post-war decades, particularly in Northern Ireland. Our failure to achieve significant or lasting resolution in Iraq or Afghanistan, and possibly in Ireland itself, are further reflections of the broken nature of British Land Power. The failure to build an Army capable of fulfilling multiple roles may have more to do with foreign policy and doctrine than equipment or manpower levels. That said, our failures to replace Snatch Land-Rovers quickly or to provide adequate body armour led to needless casualties. We also spent billions acquiring a multitude of different MRAP vehicles which proved to have little utility beyond our most recent operational deployments.
In a post-Afghanistan world, the Army now eagerly anticipates the arrival of Ajax, not because it somehow anticipated the new threat posed by Russia, but because at last, after many decades, it finally has a new AFV. For all its benefits, I can’t help feeling that the acquisition of Ajax is an act of pure nostalgia, akin to building a brand new steam locomotive in an age of electric trains. The last time the UK had a 40-tonne tank with a 40 mm gun was in 1942 when we had the Churchill. Perhaps a better analogy is that Ajax is similar to the type of tanks we bought just before World War 2. The Vickers medium and light tanks were hopelessly out-of-date when the BEF deployed to France in 1939. Despite valiant efforts, the BEF’s inability to manoeuvre in a way that delivered a concentrated effect forced it to conduct a haphazard rearguard action that ended in defeat at Dunkirk. I wonder whether the state of the Army today reflects a similar unpreparedness should we again face a serious and unexpected threat? Senior army officers who’ve finally seen Ajax in the metal after a 16-year gestation period are asking whether it is still the right platform. It seems too small to be a medium tank but too large to be a reconnaissance vehicle.
In Ajax’s defence, it is part of a larger modernisation effort and may yet have a valid place in a revitalised Army. When it comes to MBTs, the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme is disappointing, because it seems to be no more than an obsolescence management exercise. There are no plans to upgrade its lethality, survivability or mobility. The UK’s rifled 120 mm gun is no longer as potent as Rheinmetall’s 120 mm L/55 smoothbore gun. Meanwhile, the Germans are developing a new 130 mm smoothbore, which will comprehensively overmatch all existing tank guns. Meanwhile, the Warrior CSP programme is another cut-price upgrade that seems to be an uneasy marriage of old hulls with new turrets. De-lamination issues with Warrior’s aluminium armour mean that we may not have enough hulls to upgrade the whole fleet to the new build standard. I believe there’s a strong case for a new MBT and tracked IFV.
As Think Defence’s extensive white paper on FRES shows, the UK still has no wheeled medium capability to complement its tracked heavy armour formations despite spending some £300 million over almost 20 years. Our artillery systems are also approaching the end of their useful lives. In short, the Army is faced with block obsolescence where a lack of investment over many years has completely degraded its capabilities.
The extraordinary lack of resources extends beyond equipment to training. Soldiers simply do not spend enough time shooting on ranges compared to 30 years ago. Military housing is another problem area and needs wholesale refurbishment. A major problem related to bringing the Army back to the UK from Germany, and which was also a factor in the decision to reduce troop numbers, was not having sufficient accommodation to house them. Who else decides the size of their army based on the number of available barracks?
Perhaps we were right to prioritise the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force above the Army. The benefits they bring to UK defence are immediately apparent. Both services have played an essential role over the last decade, whether it is Tornados bombing terrorist bases abroad, or Frigates conducting anti-piracy patrols on the high seas. Our aircraft and ships have proved to highly flexible and capable of performing a variety of mission types. In contrast tanks and tracked AFVs are less adaptable. It needs to be said that we are paying a high price for the F-35B and CVF. Both are first-class assets, but their massive price tags undoubtedly beg the question whether we could have acquired comparable capabilities by purchasing less expensive substitutes? Paying £7 billion for two ships and £120 million per aircraft for 148 F-35s could be described as profligate. It looks like we will need to purchase a less capable fleet of frigates to compensate for the extra billions we’ve spent on CVF. But, this is crying over spilt milk. If CVF and F-35 cannot be scrapped now, it doesn’t make sense to question them further – so long as they deliver everything promised of them.
It is easy to criticise the Army’s ability to procure new vehicles as being the reason why it is less capable than it should be, but the truth is the piecemeal allocation of the equipment budget and long development and manufacturing lead-times have totally hamstrung its ability to think big. For all of the above reasons, it is entirely appropriate and desirable to question what the Army does next.
We need to answer four essential questions:
The Army’s primary role is to protect the UK against a direct land attack. While an invasion scenario is highly unlikely, the prospect of home-grown terrorism conducted by extremists with their own political or military agenda could require a response beyond any that our national Police forces could provide. We certainly cannot discount the need for home defence or the unexpected need to deploy British soldiers on British streets.
What seems more likely is the need to deploy UK forces within Europe or further afield in support of our treaty obligations. What Brexit means in terms of supporting our European neighbours is not yet clear, but should any EU member state that is not a member of NATO be invaded, e.g. Finland, it seems more than probable that the UK would step-in to support military action to defend our combined interests.
We face three primary peer or near-peer threats. It hardly needs to be reiterated that Russia is the most obvious hostile player. Putin appears to want to recreate the Former Soviet Union and remains a real and present danger. China is happily building its armed forces beyond any territorial defence needs. It is also running out of real estate. How would we respond if China started expropriating territory in Africa or elsewhere, such as Taiwan? Thirdly, there is Iran, which only this week was reported to be adding long range anti-aircraft assets to defend its nuclear facilities. Although Iran insists that it has halted the development of nuclear weapons, this may not be the case. Iran’s deep-rooted dislike of the West and Israel means that it cannot be ignored.
In terms of asymmetric threats, Islamic extremist terrorism is perhaps the most existential danger we face, but our reluctance to deploy “boots on the ground” in countries where terrorist groups originate questions the level of commitment and the political resolve we would bring to bear if called upon to support military action in the Middle East or closer to home.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, it is possible that we may need to deploy in a policing, peacekeeping and aid distribution role, on behalf of the United Nations. If the situation in Syria deteriorated further, this might also require some kind of military response.
When it comes to predicting future conflict scenarios, we have a perfect record: we haven’t gotten it right once. If we cannot successfully anticipate specific threats, we need to focus on the type and nature of deployments we must be resourced and equipped to undertake.
Since the creation of the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the formation of NATO after World War 2, there have been four primary defence commitments that have defined UK policy. Although these have remained constant, in a climate of enduring budget austerity, the role of global policeman may have become unaffordable. This will require us to trim our aspirations so that we are resourced strictly to counter the most serious and likely threats.
The Three Block War concept developed by US Marine Corps General, Charles Krulak, which envisaged a need for highly versatile forces able to switch easily between three core operational roles, has led to most NATO forces including the UK to divide deployment types into low, medium and high-intensity operations. Dividing our four principal defence commitments across the four primary pillars of commitment and by conflict intensity type gives us 12 basic threat scenarios. We can prioritise each one according to how probable the threat is and how serious it would be in terms of its political, military, and economic impact. The primary roles we must equip ourselves to perform can be grouped as follows:
The need to deploy forces domestically within the UK for Home Defence is not likely to be problematic with forces based domestically, not least because the local population is likely to support whatever missions were deemed necessary. UK based battalions should be easily able to deploy within the United Kingdom, using a wide variety of transport types.
Problems arise with a need to deploy troops thousands of miles from the UK in an expeditionary role. This is important because, traditionally, we have always deployed forces abroad to counter threats before they become too large and unmanageable on our doorstep. It is possible that we might be called upon to deploy within Europe, e.g. to deter or repulse an attack against the Baltic states. Similarly, we might need to deploy to Africa to protect against large-scale incursions by Boku Haraam, Al-Shabaab or other similar terrorist organisations that could threaten UK interests in Kenya, Nigeria and elsewhere. A Middle East situation might arise that required us to deploy within this region, e.g. Turkey, Iran or Syria if the situations were to deteriorate unexpectedly. For these reasons, an adaptable and autonomous long-range expeditionary capability is highly desirable.
My fundamental belief is that the UK needs two deployable divisions, plus an air mobile brigade, a commando brigade and a pool of reserves. We certainly have the manpower to staff an army of this size, even with total headcount restricted to 82,000.
The current cap on manpower was based on having a readily deployable reserve of 30,000 soldiers that could be easily and quickly integrated into the regular army. In reality, this plan has not worked as well as anticipated. There is a shortfall in both regular and reserve troop numbers. We may be better off with a regular army of 100,000 and a reserve that can quickly grow into larger separate units in time of war. Historically, we’ve been able to afford a peacetime army of well-above 100,000 and this number may make sense again given the many non-core UK roles we still ask the Army to perform, including peacekeeping and humanitarian relief on behalf of the UN. No one is asking for a return to 150,000+ soldiers, simply a realistic total number of soldiers.
The revised Army 2020 structure is not yet finalised, but it appears that we will reduce the three heavy armour brigades of the Reaction Force structure previously proposed in 2010 to just two armoured brigades plus the two new medium weight strike brigades.
We need to maintain a heavy armoured division with a three-brigade structure envisaged by the original Army 2020 plan. Without it, we risk not having a division that is fully capable of taking-on peer or near-peer enemies or one that can fight in parallel with an allied formation.
The heavy armoured division would be equipped with MBTs, IFVs and self-propelled guns. It would also need anti-aircraft artillery, engineer, signals, logistics, and other supporting units. Large heavy armour units take time and resources to prepare and deploy. Typically, UK Armoured formations need a lead-time of about 6 weeks to deploy and this is usually by sea. In any future conflict, we are unlikely to have the luxury of waiting so long before committing combat-ready assets to the fight. Although we maintain an air mobile brigade at high readiness, this only has two battalions and no heavy support weapons.
A second deployable division that could be rapidly deployed in an expeditionary role would allow a more immediate high-impact response. A wheeled medium weight division could deploy by road over 1000 kilometres within 72 hours, based on US Stryker Brigade experience. Assuming it had sufficient offensive firepower to deliver a solid punch against an enemy, it would be a substantial force with significant reach and punch, as well as a formation that would give us time to prepare a more deliberate heavy armoured response.
Some observers may suggest that we can get round the need for a second deployable division if we stockpiled MBTs and IFVs in forward supply dumps. I do not believe we can afford to base units or equipment abroad because there is the inevitable risk of them being in the wrong place when we need them or being over-run or expropriated before we can access them.
In summary, the primary division should be a heavy armoured infantry division comprised of three brigades. Each brigade would have 1 x MBT regiment, 1 x Recce regiment and 3 x IFV battalions and be supported by 1 x artillery regiment. Each division would have dedicated engineer, signals, medical, UAV, and other supporting units attached to it.
I would prefer to have two tank regiments per brigade, instead of only 1 x MBT regiment plus 1 x Ajax Recce regiment. An ideal configuration could be achieved by reducing the total number of Ajax Recce variants and acquiring additional IFV versions of Ajax (ASCOD 2) to replace Warrior. This would ensure that all non-MBT regiments used the same platform.
The second deployable division should be a medium weight 8×8 wheeled mechanised infantry division. This would also be comprised of three brigades with each one having 1 x Cavalry regiment with an 8×8 fire support vehicle, 3 x mechanised infantry battalions in an 8×8 APC / IFV, plus 1 x artillery regiment with something like a 120 mm breech-loaded mortar.
Current manpower levels would allow an additional independent brigade with 4×4 light protected vehicles to be created while adding an additional battalion to the air mobile brigade.
In terms of weaponry, I would ensure that all UK MBTs had the L/55 120 mm smoothbore gun, which has become a de facto tank calibre across NATO, even if this meant acquiring Leopard 2A7 or Abrams M1A2 MBTs. I would junk the troublesome and unaffordable 40 mm CTAS cased-telescoped ammunition cannon used for Warrior and Ajax in favour of the 30 mm MK44 Bushmaster II cannon mounted in a remote turret, although at this stage of development, this would seem unlikely.
A new wheeled artillery system using a 155 mm gun should be purchased – something like Archer or Caesar 8×8.
There is an interesting debate on the relative merits of 120 mm breech-loaded mortars versus 105 mm guns; deployability, effects and cost.
To support the 50 x Apache attack helicopters and 50 x Chinook support helicopters we have already purchased, a purchase of 50-100 Blackhawk utility helicopters to replace Puma and older Lynx would provide a serious uplift in mobility and utility, perhaps arming Wildcat and/or Blackhawk, another uplift in firepower.
Perhaps even a purchase of 15-20 Reaper UAS for use by the Army to support land operations with UAVs directly allocated to each brigade to provide overwatch and fire support, although the issues with Watchkeeper and overall capacity may result in these being RAF operated.
All mechanised and armoured infantry vehicles would carry integrated externally-mounted Javelin launchers. I would also expedite the development of HVMs. A Mach 6 anti-tank missile with some kind of long-rod APFSDS penetrator that could reliably deliver kinetic effect beyond the range of any known tank’s own APFSDS rounds would be transformational.
Part of the rationale for retaining tank fleets is that heavily protected vehicles excel at line-of-sight engagements thanks to their survivability and the lethality of their direct fire weapons. However, if HVATGMs could be fired indirectly from a vehicle like MIV or MRV-P (as well as from strike aircraft, attack helicopters and UAVs) beyond the visual and actual range of the tank’s main armament, they would neutralise the fundamental advantages of heavy armour.
Anti-tank weapon development has always outpaced protective technology development. The APFSDS round fired by Rheinmetall’s L/55 120 mm smooth bore gun can defeat the frontal armour of any known tank at this time, including the Dorchester plates fitted our own Challenger 2, Leopard 2 and Abrams M1 tanks. The T-14 Armata may be better protected than these, which is why MBDA is developing new ATGMs and Rheinmetall a new 130 mm smooth bore gun.
We are reaching a point in AFV evolution where protection levels are increasing the weight of tanks to unacceptable levels. I doubt that we will ever see 100-tonne MBTs – because the mobility limitations of 62-tonne tanks are already significant. Moreover, the unit cost of a next generation tank is likely to be €10-12 million while the unit cost of a wheeled medium weight vehicle fitted with ATGM is €3 million. The economic case unequivocally supports the latter platform.
Adding additional protection to tanks will be pointless if they can still be defeated, so we need an alternative approach. We need to reinvent the traditional iron triangle of firepower, protection and mobility. If it is reasonable to describe the Apache as a tank analogue, it prioritises mobility and speed above protection and firepower. An 8×8 MIV fitted with ATGMs would also prioritise mobility over protection and firepower, the difference between the two is cost. This is why wheeled vehicles with ATGMs have been such an equaliser.
With more than 104,000 tanks in use across the globally and only 20,000 of these belonging to NATO, countering enemy tanks is likely to remain an essential requirement. Since well-protected tanks with kinetic anti-tank rounds excel at defeating other tanks, it may be some time before we see the last of the MBT.
The CONEMP for MIV is likely to mandate the avoidance of direct confrontations with tanks in favour of indirect engagements. However, when MIV units can effectively neutralise tank formations of equivalent size through indirect ATGM fire, the tank may well have reached the limit of its development potential. Instead of direct confrontations with other AFVs, wheeled vehicles will be able to outmanoeuvre them or counter them using UAVs and other air assets.
All this assumes air superiority. One element of the mix that has also taken a serious “capability holiday” is anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). We need sufficient anti-aircraft missile systems to be integrated and deployable with both heavy and medium armour divisions.
We also need cannons with ammunition that is capable of shooting down helicopters and drones.
In addition to the two primary divisions, we have sufficient manpower to create a third independent brigade that would essentially be a pool of reserves. These troops would be mounted in light protected patrol vehicles, such as Jackal and Foxhound. I envisage five battalions plus a single cavalry regiment. If a fire support version of Jackal or Foxhound could be developed mounting something like the 30 mm M230LF chain gun, this would provide a worthwhile fire support element.
The above structure provides 23 infantry battalions with protected mobility. Indeed, the only battalions with protected vehicles would be the three air assault battalions and the five permanently committed forces battalions.
Finally, I would return 1 Para to the Air Assault Brigade and establish a separate Ranger Regiment as a dedicated Special Forces Support Group (SFSG).
We cannot extend the Army’s capabilities at the expense of the Royal Navy and RAF. Instead, the UK needs to recognise the need to increase defence spending in the short-term to plug the capability gaps created by austerity measures. We previously cut our forces to the bone in order for the economy to recover. Now that it has partly done so, we simply cannot afford to say: we survived without X or Y or Z, so we no longer need them. The 2010 Defence Review was a gamble. Just because we got away with it once doesn’t mean we should roll the dice again.
I should also mention that I am a firm believer in retaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent. However, bringing the cost of the Trident Successor into the main defence budget instead of keeping it as part of the treasury budget was a misleading tactic designed to disguise the true extent of the cuts imposed on all three forces, and especially the Army.
The most serious capability gap is the block obsolescence of the British Army’s AFV fleet. The piece-meal acquisition of different vehicles over time for individual deployments has resulted in an unsustainable variety of different platforms. Most were acquired hurriedly, at high cost and with little long-term utility beyond the missions they were required to fulfil. We need a carefully planned and implemented AFV strategy to underpin the Army’s ability to manoeuvre.
It is a reality of modern warfare that anti-vehicle mines (including IEDs) are here to stay. The concept of a Forward Edge of the Battlefield Area (FEBA) has become an anachronism. Consequently, we need protected mobility at every level.
We presently have Foxhound and Jackal as light protected 4×4 platforms. They are both excellent vehicles. We intend to acquire a third 4×4 platform, MRV-P, when we also already have Husky, Pinzgauer and Land-Rovers. I believe that all 4×4 vehicles should be based on a single common platform. That could easily be Foxhound or Jackal.
We need new MBTS and tracked IFVs. I favour Leopard 2 and ASCOD 2.
We need a multi-role medium weight wheeled 8×8 platform. I favour the Patria AMV.
We need new anti-tank missiles.
We need new artillery systems. Something like the Patria AMV with NEMO 120 mm mortar would be excellent.
We need new communications platforms. Morpheus is coming and it should be excellent.
We need to use UAVs more widely and to integrate them into brigade formations. We have already planned to buy more MQ-9 Reapers from General Atomics.
We need still need more helicopters if we want a credible air assault brigade. Puma is ancient. Wildcat is too small. NH-90 has problems. Blackhawk is proven, works well and is inexpensive.
The fact that we don’t have these resources today is because successive governments decided not to spend what is required to deliver them. Today, however, we go to war with what we have, not with what we would ideally want. If we don’t rebuild and reinvest in UK Land Power, we risk not being able to deploy at all or until after we have acquired what is needed to do the job – but that could be too late.
We have learned many times in the past that prevention is better than cure: deterrent is always preferable to having to use direct force. So let’s hope our politicians recognise the pressing need to re-equip our ground forces.