The following paper outlines some thoughts as to how the British Army could be more readily constructed for the future without the need for any more dramatic changes.
For context there are some comments about how we appear to have arrived at this place.
This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Geoffrey Roach. Please note that the opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect that of the UK Defence Journal.
Geoffrey Roach has a work background in features, publicity management and more recently digital marketing. Geoffrey advises that his interest the armed forces started with his Dad who served with Captain Johnny Walker on HMS Stork and then HMS Starling during the war, mostly in the Atlantic and the Arctic. His own own interests developed into defence and foreign affairs and he took that brief on joining the National Advisory Committee in the eighties. Geoffrey is currently a member of RUSI and SSAFA and in the process of taking up a position as leader of a policy forum advisory group.
The Governments main thrust, post Brexit, is to turn Britain into ‘Global Britain’ with eyes on trade in the Indo-Pacific. So we start with the fact that the Royal Navy will need to be provided with all that it needs to achieve an impressive presence, wherever it is deployed.
The army inevitably faces cuts so how might it respond. A look at a report prepared for the Cameron Government may help.
The report indicated that were twelve threats facing the United Kingdom Ranging from terrorism to nuclear attack. However only four mentioned how the army might be involved in conventional warfare.
They were a full scale conventional attack against the UK mainland; the UK getting drawn in to a war between two foreign states; insurgency or instability affecting a Commonwealth nation and finally an attack on a British protectorate.
The first threat is really more to do with an attack on NATO. The second can be read as another Afghanistan or Iraq. Would we want to go down that road again? The third brings to mind Operation Palliser in Sierra Leone and the forth the Falkland’s War.
Even five years ago the army, perhaps through no fault of its own, seemed confused and blinded by the need to try to do everything. A poor re-equipment schedule and falling recruitment only added to the problem.
So, how do we make the best of the army and give it a real role for the future? We start with the premise that we are an island nation and that we do not need to provide the same armed forces as our continental allies. We do not need to rebuild the army so that we can be seen to follow the United States into the likes of Iraq.
We build for rapid response and specific power projection. The army budget is finite and is likely to remain so once the restructuring has taken place.
The current arguments are ‘Armour first, Strike to the fore’, tracks or wheels, Ajax or Boxer? Chicken or egg. Where are we going? The facts are simple. An Armoured Brigade without a recce screening force is blind. A Strike Brigade without armour risks being destroyed by enemy armour and either brigade without FIRES support risks being overwhelmed.
The answer is simple.
If we want both types of brigade we can have them organised within an all regular 3rd UK Division. Pairing of regular and reserve forces is inefficient and can slow deployment to the extent that regular units may be forced to deploy alone. NO other major western army operates this way.
The starting point of a revised schedule should be the use of the Ajax variants necessary to form one or two traditional ARMOURED BRIGADES each with an armoured cavalry regiment with 32 Ajax; an armoured regiment with 36 Challenger or Leopard depending on cost; two armoured infantry battalions with 90 Warriors and integrated anti-tank units; two artillery batteries each with 12 AS90s and an anti-air battery with 24 Starstreak.
Form a wheeled Strike Brigade made up of Boxer variants.
Alterations to the current contract should not prove difficult at this early stage. The STRIKE BRIGADE to consist of a cavalry regiment with 32 Boxer IFV with remote turret and 30mm/40mm cannon; a regiment with 36 Boxer with 105mm gun and two battalion of infantry with 90 Boxer IFV and integrated anti-tank units.
A decision will need to be made on anti-air, perhaps a boxer with chain gun or integrating Starstreak into a Boxer hull. Both brigade types should work to achieve a rapid response capability for a battle group at least. This is particularly true of the Strike Brigade which should be looking at 30 days. Both would benefit from having a battle group forward deployed. Armour to Estonia? Strike to Oman?
Develop and improve the capabilities of the 16TH AIR ASSAULT BRIGADE. Based on the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the parachute regiment and currently a Royal Gurkha Rifles battalion. By adding another Gurkha battalion we could achieve two operational strike groups… each with a Lead Assault Force headquarters unit.
Pathfinder platoon and a lead company group, all on two days notice followed by the rest of the Parachute Battalion on four to five days and finally the Gurhkas after eight to ten days. Two batteries of 105mm light guns; two batteries of 24 Starstreak.
Each Strike Group supported by an AAC regiment with Apache and Lynx helicopters. All anti-air and anti-tank units and logistical elements would be a permanent part of the brigade.
Each brigade would have it’s own home base and training companies and be the link between the all regular 3rd Division and the Army Reserve providing additional manpower as necessary after deployment. Logistical and engineering support should wherever practical be attached permanently to its brigade allowing for the closest possible co operation.
A dedicated ARTILLERY BRIGADE to support another brigade or battle group or in its own right should the circumstances demand. Three artillery regiments each with three batteries of 16 Archer (?) 155mm howitzers and three regiments of depth fire- 16 GMLRS
The British Army will continue to roll out its Sky Sabre missile defence shield. The air defence of the UK against all aerial attack could be further enhanced by the acquisition of the Aster SAMP/T ABMDS
A new opportunity would be a regiment of land launched anti-ship missiles based in Scotland and/or the North of England, a game changer in tackling Russian naval activity.
In conclusion, may I thank all who take the time to read this paper. It is in no way definitive but does, I believe, offer a sensible and cost effective way forward.