I have been reading recently about the British Army’s proposed Strike Brigades, perhaps best paraphrased as an attempt at recovering a medium weight capability which hopes to fill a big brother’s shoes against a background of Treasury driven financial penury.

This article was submitted by Stuart Crawford, a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. Crawford now works as a political, media, and defence and security consultant in Edinburgh and is a regular commentator and contributor on military and defence topics in online and other media, including the UK Defence Journal.

My main references have been the recent RUSI paper ‘Strike: From Concept to Force‘ by Watling and Bronk, two research fellows at the Institute with admirable academic credentials, and the other being Nicholas Drummond’s piece from over a year ago on the UK Land Power website.

There is neither the time nor space here to dissect either document forensically, but the references are below for those who might wish to read them in detail. I certainly learned a lot from both.

A quick bit of background; Strike Brigades morphed out of the 5 Multi-Role Brigades which were announced back in 2011.

Almost as soon as folk had got to grips with the idea, SDSR replaced them with the concept of Strike Brigades as part of what is politely called ‘Army 2020 Refine’.

Structure of the British Army after the reform, click to enlarge.

This new postulation seems to have been born of two fathers; an attempt to claw back a medium weight capability in the light of Russian military resurgence and decades of fighting insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan; and an admiration for how quickly and effectively French forces deployed to counter the Mali insurrection in 2013-14.

The Strike Brigade requirement eventually called for and ability to:

• Self-deploy rapidly over a distance of up to 2,000 km to NATO’s borders
• Be able to defeat light forces on arrival
• Have the resilience to sustain combat effectiveness against irregular forces
• Have sufficient recce and surveillance capacity to monitor a wide front
• Have adequate SHORAD assets to protect itself against manned and unmanned aerial attack
• Be able to deter heavier forces using organic weapons systems

This is now, apparently, under development by the Strike Experimentation Group (SEG) which has a whiff of the kick-the-can-down-the-road consultations so beloved of governments in the UK. We don’t really know what we’re on about so let’s set up a study group to report back in a few years’ time. It’s all very reminiscent of the Experimental Mechanized Force of the late 1920s/early 1930s which foundered on the altar of conventional military group think. But not in Germany, of course. Messrs Guderian and von Manstein seemed to have taken notice.

On top of this doctrinal constipation, the army’s equipment update programme was already on a different course. The tortuous and seemingly endless attempts to replace CVR(T) eventually presented us with Ajax, which at 38 tonnes plus is essentially a bloated light tank and will probably be regarded as such by most militarily illiterate commentators.

AJAX, the Future Armoured Fighting Vehicle.

At the same time, the army was humming and hawing for far too long over which MIV should equip the Strike Brigades to best enable self-deployment over long distances as previously noted. Having jumped in and out of various equipment programmes the MoD and British army eventually plumped for the German Boxer series of 8 wheeled MIVs.

I would summarise this sorry saga, perhaps slightly unfairly, as a fairly vague and wishful strategic and operational aspiration based on little or no doctrinal foundations, coupled with two deeply unimpressive and yet to be detailed equipment programmes with fundamental flaws. Doctrine seems to have followed equipment procurement, not the other way round as it should be. In other words, a classic British military lash-up, for want of a better description.

As for how Strike Brigades might operate, the RUSI paper suggests that being equipped with the Boxer MIV will allow rapid self-deployment by road and, where necessary, off-road. This, I think, is probably correct, although the chances of air interdiction disrupting this movement increases with the length of the deployment.

However, Ajax cannot claim the same road mobility and speed, and in case the wear and tear on tracks and suspension would be counterproductive. It requires, therefore, to be ferried into location by transporter, or HET (or MLET) as some might have it, aping the Americanisms as we seem to do increasingly in British military parlance. And, guess what? The British army hardly has sufficient transporters to move its ever decreasing number of MBTs let along the Strike Brigades’ Ajax. Answers to this conundrum on postcards to the MoD, please.

I have to say that one or two of their ideas on how a Strike Brigade might operate when in situ are problematic. The bald statement, taken no doubt from discussions around the SEG experiment, that “in the face of massed enemy artillery, the brigade will need to be able to fight dispersed” and will do so in small, autonomous “combat teams” which might comprise 8 or so vehicles overall, has a whiff of naivety about it.

Another view of Ajax.

My gut instinct here is that dispersed units lend themselves to being fixed and destroyed by more powerful formations, or possibly bypassed to be mopped up later. This would seem especially so if they would be operating in conditions where air supremacy is not guaranteed against a sophisticated peer enemy – which the Russians clearly would be. Disaggregated operations where forces only concentrate when needed is, I would suggest, a high risk strategy.

There must also be concerns about the logistic implications of the tracks/wheels mix. The disparity in deployment option has already been mentioned. As any military person will tell you, simplicity is key to success. Messrs Watling and Bronk’s additional suggested equipment mix within combat teams seems to exacerbate the problem. Too many equipment options across the board complicates matters to the detriment of operational capability in nearly every case. We have learned this lesson multiple times before.

In summary, everything I read and learn about Strike Brigades gives me the whiff of ‘designed by committee’. The doctrine for their employment, when it emerges from the SEG experiments, will be interesting. It appears it will be part driven by the need to shoehorn existing equipment orders into a different operational context, which is hardly ideal.

We have been here many times before in the British Army’s long history, and we should know better by now.

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Steve Martin
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Steve Martin

It’s like we live on a different planet to the rest of the world sometimes. From what I’ve heard simple requests by the guys who work on keeping these machines maintained are being ignored completely, with their units being severely undermanned (25% strength manpower in one case I know of). The are pulling off minor miracles daily which reinforces their skill, but also makes the top brass think they can cope with less men/women. All this equals experience leaving the army in droves.

Mike Saul
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Mike Saul

The strike brigade concept is deeply flawed.

The army needs to be flexible to meet any possible threat on the battlefield, sometimes the enemy behaves in ways you do not expect to.

I wonder how strike brigade would cope with meeting a tank heavy formation with excellent air defence and artillery capability? Retreat with all speed it would seem.

Steve Martin
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Steve Martin

But potentially not in good order with a combination of wheeled and tracked vehicles.

Herodotus
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Don’t forget the ‘Dunkirk spirit’…there is always the option of just leaving all your kit behind!

Steve Martin
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Steve Martin

Yikes

Animal
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Animal

Hello Mike, Can you Elaborate on your Statement here please. ? Those of us still Serving would be fascinated to know.

Simon m
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Simon m

I don’t think strike is flawed it is just we simply do not have the resources to pull it off particularly at the same time as renewing the heavy forces at the same time. My personal opinion is someone in government needs to take ownership of this and look for at least a significant short term expenditure boost to get it done and done properly. If warrior CSP does work then serious work needs to be done on realigning Ajax procurement to ensure Boxer has the variants it needs. Then look to use Ajax to start replacement of fv432. If… Read more »

BB85
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BB85

It is probably my ignorance, but I struggle to understand why we went for this tracked version over boxer to begin with.
France has a much more balanced structure from light to heavy armour while we have 3 vehicles in the Ajax, Boxer and Warrior that can call fit into the same category.

Ian
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Ian

Ajax and Warrior are not the same type of vehicle at all. They are designed with very different tasks in mind. Ajax is an ISTAR asset, Warrior is a battle taxi.

DaveyB
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DaveyB

The Strike Brigade concept does work. The Yanks and French have battle tested the idea. I think the French were really the first to use it to its full potential in Gulf War 1, with their left hook move. The Yanks followed this up in Gulf war 2. However, they did loose quite a few LAV/Strikers in the process, mostly from RPG ambushes. Both France and the US have developed the “wheeled” concept to be an independent highly mobile force. They are not designed to go toe to toe against heavies, but to exploit gaps and outflank the enemy. The… Read more »

Patrick O'Neill
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Patrick O'Neill

Thank you DaveyB, that’s a great summary. Nothing more to be said.

Trevor
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Trevor

The issue was also covered in another blog based on the same report. It supported the idea with Boxer. Plus using more 155mm artillery. Seemed plausible. Air power is vital it seems to me … in a wide range of scenarios. And we have for whatever reason committed to giant aircraft carriers. We cannot do everything and salami slicing is wasteful. Striker would fit with an expeditionary role. However it seems hard to justify full on armoured division when other allies are closer to the real theatre of action. Modern air power. Maritime support/ intervention. Our land force being secondary… Read more »

Bob
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Bob

Hi Trevor, With the stripping down of 3 brigades assets and 42 RM doing fleet protection, I am not sure how much help we could offer Norway. Climate change may also change warfare in Northern Europe soon, meaning light units may not be appropriate. During the Cold War our armour was predeployed to the front line. With our withdrawal from Germany we are now 2000 miles from any front with Russia. I read reports that it would take us 2 months to deploy our armour to the Baltic. An all wheeled mechanised brigade would allow us to get some troops… Read more »

Trevor
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Trevor

I think the point about the argument given about Strike Brigades in the other blog (which sorry I cannot put to hand) is that we would not get involved with wheeled vehicles in main Europe, just associate tracked Ajax with a suitable allied unit (with it being suitable for recon). Thus give up on heavy armour and leave it to some one else, as they would leave us to do something else meaningful. To me this means special / elite forces and powerful air power. (not least also carriers) Of course this air power can support allies in Europe. The… Read more »

Mike Saul
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Mike Saul

In Gulf war 91 the French deployed over 50 AMX30 battle tanks to support its efforts.

The question remains what would happen if a strike brigade met an heavy armoured tank force.

DaveyB
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DaveyB

Agree, the point being the French Foreign Legion was able to travel 250km in just a couple of days, bypassing the main defensive line set up near the border. The AMX30s were not a heavy tank and could maintain speeds over 40kph in the dessert, so even though they couldn’t keep up with the ERC90/AMX10s, but weren’t far behind. Their main objective was to secure the As-Salman airfield, which they quickly did, then move on to protect the NW and W flanks. I’m pretty certain a strike brigade would be decimated if it got into close contact with a competent… Read more »

John
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Not a great article IMHO. Somewhat meandering and I’m not really sure what point was trying to be made other than a repeated negative critique.

Stuart Crawford
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Stuart Crawford

Thanks for your feedback. I tried to keep it under 1000 words. To do the topic justice would take 4 or 5 times that at least. But I think it’s worth a serious discussion and I’m sorry if you think I’m just being negative. I can assure you that’s not my intention.

Nigel Collins
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Nigel Collins

It’s always interesting to hear from someone with a degree of expertise on a particular subject than the usual uninformed armchair Generals.

Thank you for taking the time to enlighten us on this topic.

Frank
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Frank

Thanks for the article Stuart. If we really ever did learn from our mistakes, we wouldn’t be where we are now. As usual it will take the loss of many lives before our leaders accept military realities, usually very late & reluctantly.

John
Guest

I hope you dont take it personally. Most people don’t have the in depth understanding and level of expertise that you have in this subject, myself included, so won’t understand a lot of the background to this article. Also there are quite a lot of people who do talk our armed forces down so it can be something people can be sensitive too until they understand the author. Jolly glad to hear your not one of them, I also appreciate that this website and your efforts were probably done for free so thanks for the time. No hard feelings

PapaGolf
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PapaGolf

Stuart, thanks for writing the article. It would be great of you could do a follow up article where you layout your thoughts on what the armoured and strike brigades should look like and any thoughts on their operation. Strike is clearly not meant to go toe-to-toe with heavy armour but how would you see a strike brigade working alongside a armoured one. Someone with your experience would bring credible insight into the situation.
Thanks

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

1st we really need to get away from this mentality of using small formations. In any potential conflict we would need to deploy no less then a division to have any meaningful impact. Such as in the 1991 gulf war. 2nd ajax has no place in a strike brigade and is wasted within one. Personally i would create a 2nd armed division. Given each armed division, two armed brigades with infantry in ajax, challenger MBTs and formation reconisance using jackal. And one strike bridge with boxer equipped infantry and procure boxers with direct fire support capabilitys which could go to… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

As we talked about Strike on the Challenger II thread I have little to add, but a good article, thank you. I don’t think the concept is flawed. What is flawed is the kit thrown together to make it so. Lets have- All wheeled Strike Brigade on Boxer. Multiple Boxer variants, turreted versions for fire support, ATGW vehicles, Mortar, Air Defence variants with Starstreak and AA guns for UAV, and so on. Move the Ajax back to the Armoured Brigades where they were intended. Buy a Wheeled SPG, maybe on the Boxer hull, to replace the ridiculous RA contribution of… Read more »

Stuart Crawford
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Stuart Crawford

Yep, I agree.

T.S
Guest

I agree too

peter french
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peter french

It seems to me that the Strike Brigade concept is merely a stratagem to cover the lack of sufficient heavy Tanks , in other words keep the spend to a minimum, For a Military Power to have just 300 or so Challengers which are now outdated compared with other current main battle Tanks is a disgrace. The defence Budget is spread too thinly over the three services and primarly due to the spend on the Nuclear Deterrent funding Subs. missiles Aldermarston and Faslane etc WE have to fund the Budget adequeatly , but then this has been said so many… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

It was designed to hide cuts, and a nice headline grabber for the PM to announce. Apart from the raft of cuts to other support units announced at the time, it is ironic that in supposedly increasing our deployable brigades from 3 to 4, as Fallon claimed in Parliament, the teeth arms regiments and battalions that make up those brigades have fallen. 3 brigades had 15 units. 4 Brigades will now have 14 Some of us saw through it and alarm bells rang the moment it was realised an armoured brigade was going to get it to pay for it.… Read more »

Reaper
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Reaper

The top of the tree live on a different bloody planet. How’s army 2020 shaping up… 🙄

JohnHartley
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JohnHartley

I am an armchair amateur on this, but I fear a “Strike Brigade” needs to have some serious mobile, deployable firepower with it, or it will be vulnerable to enemy forces with tanks, artillery, MRLs & SSM. Even aging tanks such as T72, M60, Leopard 1, Chinese T59 & 69, could cause a strike brigade problems if it lacks tanks itself. I thought it a shame that the New Labour government did not give the British Army Warrior 2000, or a few Vickers Mk 3(M), 39 tons, 105mm gun, ERA armour, developed for the Malaysian Army, circa 1997. Nowadays you… Read more »

Steve
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Steve

My view is that the strike ideal is very needed. The days of lining up tanks in a known location and blasting your way through are over. Additionally we are never going to go to war with a peer army, as it would have gone nuclear way before the tanks arrive. That leaves war with emerging states and non state actors. The army does however need a way to punch through tanks, since tomorrows threat will be using handed down weaponry from today’s armies. Tracked doesn’t really work with modern warfare ideas of min collateral damage and max mobility. Additionally… Read more »

JohnHartley
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JohnHartley

“we are never going to war with a peer army” Wow, I wish I had your crystal ball. Is it the same one that said in the 1980s, that Britain would never fight in the desert again, so sold all our desert uniforms to Iraq. However in 1990…….

Steve
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Steve

When was the last time we faught such a war, probably ww2. Strike would have been much more useful in Suez, Falklands, Iraq, bosnia, afgan etc etc

JohnHartley
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JohnHartley

I think the last 20 years would have been easier if the British Army had got some Warrior 2000 & Vickers Mk3M. Iraq & Afghanistan might have seen reduced casualties & ironically less fighting, had such vehicles been available. The few Leopard 1 that Western powers took to Afghanistan showed that.
There are a large number of minor nations that still have large stocks of tanks. Just because they are not the latest, does not stop them being lethal. Lightly equipped forces against tanks tends to not end well. Think Paras at Arnhem 1944.

Steve
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Steve

We had tanks available but we choose not to use them, that is my point.

Upgraded Warriors might have been useful but again being tracked i doubt they would have been utilised.

DaveyB
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DaveyB

You cannot include the two Gulf wars in that equation. The first one was nearly a rehearsal for the Warsaw pact vs NATO tank battle. Except Saddam massively failed strategically, but also tactically. He allowed the allied forces time to build up and map out his positions. Whereas, he should have pushed on through Saudi. For some reason he didn’t use the Russian armoured warfare doctrine and basically let the allies determine the time and tempo of the battles. The first Gulf war did however, highlight the differences between the latest NATO tactics of dealing with large armoured brigades and… Read more »

JohnHartley
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JohnHartley

Well yes but, unless there is some magic uplift in the defence budgets of Britain & Germany, said “strike brigade” in the Baltic States, is going to look vulnerable unless it has some mobile deployable firepower with it. If they have a large US force with them, then they will be fine, but if US attention is elsewhere, they will be vulnerable on current plans.

Steve
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Steve

We can’t take on Russia or China alone (ignore the nukes which would for sure come into play before any of this). We would need lots of allies. We are an island nation, meaning we need to plan around moving our assets by air or sea, which pushes us more towards the light end of the capability whilst leaving the more land lased allies to bring the heavy assets. We can’t think of UK operating alone in anything other than a seriously minor conflict. We should plan on the basis of what we can bring best rather than spreading our… Read more »

JohnHartley
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JohnHartley

I would not put any British troops, at Putin’s mercy, unless they are backed up by heavy weapons. As you say, anything we have, needs to be deployable in a hurry, so kit such as Centauro 2, HIMARS, M777 & even the latest, long range version of TOW, ought to be on the MoD shopping list, even if we cannot afford much. (Or their equivalents).

Bob
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Bob

The US have chosen Leonardo to equip Strykers as a short range air defence platform. Should be able to fit the same to boxer.

https://www.defensenews.com/land/2018/06/28/us-armys-interim-short-range-air-defense-solution-crystallizes/

Clive Holloway
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Clive Holloway

Has anyone thought that the Strike brigade is the army version of the Through Deck Cruiser (how to keep Aircraft Carriers in the fleet without telling our MPs they’re Aircraft Carriers)? Don’t tell the public the truth, tell them we need 4 “Strike” Regiments equipped with Ajax and along with four MIV Battalions, we will no have two brand new “cheap” brigades (sorry 1 now). Our MPs like this idea as it make them look strong that they are spending money on something without really spending. Plus “STRIKE” sounds scary. But its always bothered me: we will have two Armd… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

“we will have two Armd Inf Bdes (Challenger / Warrior) that do not have a Recce screen?”

As far as I’m aware the Warrior Battalions and Tank Regiments of those 2 Brigades will still have their integral Recc platoons, presumably on Ajax.

The 4 Regiments of Ajax will be 2 per Strike Brigade. 1 in recc and 1 in “Medium Armour” role. Means pretending to be Tanks and all the dangers that entails with politicians about.

Mike Saul
Guest
Mike Saul

The modern battlefield is still dominated by firepower, mobility and protection.

I cannot see how a strike brigade can deliver the necessary fire power against an opponent that is equipped with heavy weapons.

If it is to only be used against lightly armed insurgents wearing flip flops in pick up trucks and RPGs then it seems a very expensive way to achieve it.

It seems to me with have purchased equipment and are now looking for a strategy and organisation to use it.

That is not something new in UK military thinking.

Bob
Guest
Bob

Is the main issue that we have ordered 589 versions of Ajax, but we only need half this number. Treasury will not let us cancel order, so we are trying to fit them in some where.

Possibly some should be converted to 155mm and rocket artillary to give our armoured brigades more fires.

Trevor
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Trevor

I think this just show how the army are not focussing on a clear objective. Cap badges are ruling where we slice up the resources. Our aim is not clear. Labour built these carriers and we now have to make use of them. It seems to me this must inevitably lead to a rationalisation of what the army does with armour. As an aside and in the context of what someone else has said… Strike Brigades are not intended to be in the arena of heavy armour, but it should be strong on 155mm artillery. It’s job is to deal… Read more »

Elliott
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Elliott

The Strike Brigade concept could be salvaged but there needs to be the following changes: Acquisition of a Ajax with a 120mm turret (the best option available is a unmanned one from Cockerill). Boxer Artillery Gun Module – KMW has developed one but currently has no orders Boxer 120mm mortar variants should be procured. Make sure either sufficient 30 or 40mm turrets are purchased. Make provisions for all vehicles to mount ATGMs are made or that sufficient orders made to arm dismounted infantry (cheaper but not nearly as mobile) Ensure that Apache gunships for fire support and Chinooks for reinforcement… Read more »

IKnowNothing
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IKnowNothing

Given those logistics issues, could you argue that artillery/ mortars aren’t the best choices? Maybe guided weapons are more suitable options for this type of organisation? A lot of that could and perhaps would have to be provided from the air.

Elliott
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Elliott

Air can’t be depended on 24/7 or as quickly as artillery fire. Also precision fire by artillery and heavy mortars is the best way to compensate for lack of numbers. Especially when the weapons are vehicle mounted and therefore mobile to avoid counter battery fire.

Chris
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Chris

Just an armchair. Any merit in considering an IFV version of Ajax as a Warrior replacement? Pro would be one fleet (rationalisation), increased firepower with the 40mm CTAG and could be designed to hold the full 8 man Section. Cost is the main con I guess but reduction in types would be attractive. Im an outsider but I’d look to have 4 Regular Armoured Battalions (re-role the RSDG back to Armour) and 2 TA Armoured Battalions to allow either 1 Division (3 regular Armoured brigades) to be ready immediately and a 2nd (1 regular, 2 TA) to be mobilised fairly… Read more »

Jeremy Stocker
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Jeremy Stocker

Why does the Army remain wedded to the concept of pre-formed brigades? In practice, whenever a brigade is deployed it leaves some stuff behind and takes other stuff with it. Why not recognise this sensible reality in doctrinal and organisational terms? The Army needs an ORBAT of battalions and regiments of many types. Why not keep them at various readiness states, together with some pre-formed brigade HQs. Then, when you need to deploy on a task, form the brigade from the high-readiness HQ and select whichever mix of units is right for the mission. That could be ‘heavy’, ‘medium’ or… Read more »