Monday, 6 September 2010

The Bare Bones Of A Modern British Expeditionary Force

An armed force is by it's nature an accident of history.

Military equipment can be in service half a century after it was first ordered.

The people who order it are rarely in post for half a decade.

Generation after generation of soldiers,sailors,airmen,civil servants and politicians spend their time trying to craft a future force from the half finished work of those who went before them.

The end result is a hodge podge of men and equipment rather than a well designed war fighting machine.

But what if we could start with a clean sheet of paper?

What would a modern armed force designed for expeditionary warfare look like?

The following is the bare bones of such a force.

For the sake of brevity there will be as little mention of numbers or detail as is practical.


Strategic mobility is an inherent requirement of expeditionary war fighting.

For a continental power such as Russia,strategic mobility may mean the movement of forces over land to fight in neighbouring countries.

However,for Island nations such as the United Kingdom,expeditionary warfare is synonymous with fighting overseas.

As the sea is the cheapest and quickest way to move air and land forces around the World,this is a huge military advantage.

It is the military and economic advantages of being an island nation which led to the United Kingdom becoming the centre of the greatest empire the World has ever known,despite the small size of it's armed forces.

Today,it is possible to move around the World by air,however,the cost of moving an armed force this way can be several orders of magnitude greater than the cost of moving that same force in the same time by sea.

Thus,for the United Kingdom,strategic mobility is inherently seaborne mobility.

As the cost of applying air power increases exponentially with range,a reliance on long range land based air power is financially prohibitive.

Consequently expeditionary air power must also be deployed by ship.

In order to deploy these land and air assets it is neccessary to be able to protect them.

Thus the Royal Navy will require sufficient fighter aircraft,helicopters,submarines,minehunters and frigates to ensure the safety of the shipborne air and land forces.

They will also require sufficient replenishment vessels to provide logistic support.

As the expeditionary force approaches enemy territory,the tyrrany of distance dictates that the threat level increases.

While air,surface and submarine assets can all provide defence to the expeditionary force at sea,it is primarily the seaborne air assets which can find and kill the enemy on his own ground to reduce the threat level to a point where a landing is feasable.

Light ground forces,have the ability to assault by air from beyond the horizon and have more potential landing sites than surface landed ground forces.

Hence such forces can be landed before the general threat has been diluted sufficiently for heavy units to be put ashore.

Being weak in the offence (both in the air and on the ground),light infantry "Hits 'em where they ain't",landing in areas of low local threat and expanding it's area of influence until it meets stronger opposition.

Thereafter the light force's ability to use the concealment and protection of the terrain,combined with it's low logistical vulnerability makes it well suited to the defence of territorial gains.

Light weight makes these units well suited to air mobility which gives them the speed neccessary to seize ground before the enemy can get there,thus negating the inherent weaknesses of light infantry by allowing them to be operationally offensive but tactically defensive.

However,due to the inherent overtness of offensive operations and vulnerability of light forces,only heavy units with their very high levels of protection and firepower are suitable for seizing ground in high threat environments - heavy cavalry "hits 'em where they is".

Once air power has diluted the threat level,neutralising the more easily detected,heavier,platform mounted weapon systems and light forces have secured lower threat areas,heavy cavalry units can be landed by surface means,initially from beyond the radar horizon.

Both landing craft and armoured vehicles can be built to withstand fire from the inherently limited man portable weapon systems which air power assets are unlikely to be able to find and kill in a timely manner.

They are thus well suited to initial beach assault in an environment where the threat has been diluted but not entirely eliminated by air,sea and light air landed ground forces.

Being less able to use the concealment and protection of the terrain,heavy units on the offence are inherently more overt than light units on the defence.

Hence they are reliant on establishing local dominance and thus need to be used en masse for major warfighting operations.

This dictates the need for large ships capable of transporting large numbers of heavy cavalry vehicles and their crews and supplies.

To deliver these heavy units to the beach in quantity from beyond the horizon also requires a substantial lighterage capacity which is sorely lacking in all current Western navies.

Acquiring and operating such large ships is relatively inexpensive and,due to the economies of scale they provide,may be far cheaper in the long run than the combination of small ships and air lift which is used at present.

Once the heavy cavalry forces have been landed,the need to maintain momentum in the advance (which is after all the whole point of deploying a heavy unit) dictates that they spend the practical minimum of time conducting slow moving clearing operations.

As light airmobile forces are both expensive and highly vulnerable in the advance and heavy forces expensive and hence too limited in number to both seize ground and secure it,there is a need for a third type of unit which is both cheaper than the heavy cavalry but better protected than the light infantry.

This is the role of the medium infantry force.

In terms of procurement and operating costs,a simple,machine gun armed,armoured infantry carrier is inherently cheaper than a vehicle designed for mounted combat as it has little need for the heavy weapons,sensors and mounted combat training which a heavy cavalry vehicle needs to maintain momentum.

Such a vehicle may not be suited to the mounted advance but it is more than capable of dealing with the slower paced clearance operations in the wake of such an advance where it may operate in a more circumspect manner than would be the case for the heavy cavalry spearhead.

In this more moderate threat environment the medium armoured infantry carrier is not likely to be exposed to the heavier weapons the heavy cavalry vanguard may encounter and has the time and situational awareness to rely on fire from other weapon systems where neccessary.

If the heavy cavalry force is the tip of the spear then the medium infantry is it's shaft and necessarily makes up the bulk of the force not least because it is also well suited to sustained,long term,post major war fighting operations.

However,the limitations of a medium unit must be understood,while medium forces may be able to operate in terrain denied to the heavy cavalry,such terrain is inherently canalising and hence exposes the mediums to a higher level of threat which they are not well suited to dealing with.

Any attempt to create medium armour for the offensive mounted cavalry role in a high threat environment (including the reconnaissance role) will result in a vehicle with all the cost of a heavy cavalry vehicle but with none of it's capability.

Financial considerations dictate that the simple,cheap but flexible medium infantry makes up the majority of the frontline ground forces despite it's limitations.

Beyond major warfighting operations,sustained,long term low level combat operations are well within the capability of medium infantry.

More highly trained heavy cavalry and light infantry can also be adapted to the less specialised medium role.

This is particularly important in terms of efficiency as it may take five units to sustain one unit on long term operations.

Thus one medium unit may be sustained on operations indefinitely by three medium infantry units,one heavy cavalry unit and one light infantry unit.

Rather than the five medium units which would be required in addition to the heavy cavalry and light infantry if the latter were less flexible.

For an expeditionary force of five divisions,the ideal force might thus consist of one heavy cavalry division,one light infantry division and three medium infantry divisions.

Holding each type of unit at division level allows them to have specific to type support and service support  assets,maximising the benefit of each particular capability.

How big those divisions should be is beyond the scope of this piece.

What is within the scope of this piece is an overview of the elements required to perform the above concept of operations.

The Escorting Ship

The escorting ship or frigate is a combat vessel intended to operate independently in moderate threat environments and as part of a task group in high threat environments.

The frigate is a cruising ship which conducts long range patrols as well as providing escort to civilian and naval vessels.

The requirements of speed,range,endurance and power generation for these roles dictate that the frigate be a ship displacing around 10,000 tonnes.

To perform it's guardship roles the frigate must be able to stand up to any hostile unit it might encounter though it has no need to defeat a major force single handedly.

As the frigate may face the full spectrum of land,sea,air and submarine threats so it must be equipped to deal with all of those threats.

The comprehensive weapon and sensor fit of the frigate distinguishes it from the more limited,lesser combatant,the sloop.

In addition to accommodation for a pair of mutirole medium helicopters,the frigate carries a first rate sonar suite and heavyweight torpedoes for use against both surface and submarine targets.

It is also equipped with a first rate multifunction radar and local area missile system able to engage hard to kill air,land and sea targets out to the frigate's sensor horizon.

The frigate also carries a 5.5" gun able to engage out at least to the ship's 20 mile sensor horizon with unassisted projectiles in order to provide low cost,high volume fire against short range,short notice,low value and area targets on land,sea and in the air.

For close protection the escorting ship carries two stand alone defensive systems capable of engaging air and surface threats within five miles radius.

Incorporating space to carry large boats and substantial accommodation also allows the frigate to perform many of the roles of the less warlike utility ships.

If required it can be fitted with more specialised equipment such as long range land attack or anti-ship cruise missiles though it would not routinely require such things.

The destroyer is a more capable escorting ship than the frigate.

The principal difference between the two types is the destroyer's longer range missile system and the volume search radar which supports it.

This additional capability over the frigate's local area defence system is of only limited benefit in the absence of carrier aircraft to provide over the horizon sensor coverage as the destroyer will be no better able to detect threats from below it's radar horizon than the frigate.

When airborne early warning is available the destroyer's longer range missiles allow it to defend a much wider area than the frigate.

However,the proliferation of ballistic missile threats may make longer range,higher altitude missile engagement more important in future.


The Flying Ship

The flying ship,the aircraft carrier is the single most useful vessel in any navy and consequently sees more combat than almost any other asset in a nation's inventory - American carriers have been continuously conducting combat operations since 1990,their surface combatants have barely fired a shot over the same period.

It is the platform from which air attacks and air assaults are launched and the base for airborne surveillance assets of all kinds.

It is large ship with substantial accommodation balanced with it's aviation facilities permiting the flexibility to carry any mix of air attack and air assault capability.

The flying ship is the primary means of defence for all other vessels as well as landed forces and the base for all long range attack and reconnaissance capability.

Without the flying ship no other vessel can survive in a hostile air environment and consequently nor can the army.

In addition,the flying ship is the logical platform for the sophisticated command systems needed to support air attack,air assault and beach landing operations (and initial land operations ashore).

Equally,the flying ship's aviation facilities make it the ideal location for afloat medical facilities.

The Landing Ship

The landing ship moves ground forces (other than light air assault units carried by the flying ship) quickly and cheaply around the World and delivers them across a beach.

It is a large simple vessel as big as a flying ship,designed to be escorted,it has a high level of survivability but lacks expensive fighting systems.

Using it's size to realise economies of scale,the landing ship may transport a force as large as a complete heavy brigade in a single lift and put it ashore across a beach from beyond the horizon in 12 hours by using it's large weatherdeck to carry far more landing craft than any dock ship can carry.

A small fleet of such ships can transport a division with a month's supplies in a single lift and there after provide logistical support.

By transporting men as well as equipment and supplies the Landing Ship helps to pay for it's self by reducing peak demand for expensive air transport assets.

Although not a fighting ship,the landing ship is armed with two stand alone defensive systems capable of engaging air and surface threats within five miles radius.


The Replenishing Ship

The replenishing ship is a large vessel similar in size and speed to the landing ship and flying ship,with which it shares it's machinery.

It is able to replenish two alongside vessels while underway.

The ship is designed to transfer large containers to flying ships and landing ships (vastly speeding up transfer times and reducing peak manpower demands) but may also transfer palletised cargo to smaller vessels.

In addition it has a large flight deck with hangar space for at least four multirole medium helicopters.

This allows it to conduct vertical replenishment where neccessary and many other tasks but it also allows the replenishing ship to carry the flying ship's helicopters,freeing up space for fixed wing aircraft,and to provide more comprehensive helicopter support to escorting ships whose own facilities are limited.

The large size of the replenishing ship permits it substantial accommodation which enables it to carry out a wide range of tasks such as carrying reinforcements out to an amphibious task group or conducting an on station crew change with an escorting ship.

On board medical facilities not only support the ship's crew and passengers but also allow the replenishing ship to perform an ambulance role for wounded from other vessels or ground forces.

The replenishing ship's great size and speed allow it to remain on station with a task group for extended periods of time benefitting from the task group's escort.

This minimises the frequency of "shuttle" trips between the task group and the nearest source of resupply,consequently reducing the demand for escorting ships to support shuttle groups and allowing fewer vessels to support the task group.

The replenishing ship's primary cargo is fuel as precision weapons and smaller crews reduce naval forces demand for dry cargo.

However,the replenishing ship does have sufficient dry cargo capacity to support small scale amphibious operations.

The large range and endurance of the patrolling escorting ships and utility ships allows the replenishing ship to be designed primarily for task group support.

Although not a fighting ship,the replenishing ship is armed with two stand alone defensive systems capable of engaging air and surface threats within five miles radius.

A single replenishing ship can act as station ship for a task group.

Another replenishing ship is required for the shuttle group and a further vessel is needed to guarantee availability during refits.

Thus a fleet with three flying groups,a landing group and a shuttle group would require six replenishing ships.

The Submarine

The submarine is a terror weapon.

It strikes fear into the heart of sailors more than any other anti ship system.

While an enemy,or potential enemy may fear the presence of a surface ship,he fears the reputation of a submarine.

The stealth of a submarine allows it to influence the actions of an opponent even when it is not there.

For the enemy does not know whether it is there or not and must assume the worst and act accordingly.

The submarine is a nuclear powered vessel of great stealth,range,speed and endurance.

It is armed with heavy torpedoes and cruise missiles.

It may sink ships,attack airfields,lay mines (including floating anti-aircraft mines),gather intelligence and land special forces.

It's land attack capability forces the enemy to deploy anti aircraft defences as well as anti submarine defences and mine hunters.

The submarine may operate independently or in support of a task group.

Another type of submarine has non-nuclear propulsion but this limits submerged range,speed and endurance to such an extent that this type of submarine is useful only to a navy with local,primarily defensive interests rather than the global interests of the Royal Navy.


The Utility Ship

The utility ship is a lower cost vessel intended to perform a wide range of naval tasks but is not primarily intended as a combatant vessel.

The utility ship may be a brig or a sloop.

The brig is not capable of defending itself but can perform minor roles such as mine warfare (using off board minehunting boats),survey,patrol,fire support,special forces insertion and assisting damaged vessels.

Likely to be a ship of around 5,000 tonnes,designed to be escorted and as fast and long ranged as the warships it must depend on for protection,it's primary tools are it's large boats,helicopter facilities,accommodation and main gun.

A more capable utility ship,the sloop,differs from the brig in that it carries at least one (ideally multipurpose) weapon and sensor system giving it a limited combatant capability allowing it more flexibility at the expense of greater cost than the brig.

However,the sloop lacks the full range of combat capabilities found on the frigate.

Effectively a specialised surface combatant,the sloop is more useful to a task group than a brig and able to operate independently in the face of limited threats.

The sloop may be an uparmed brig,a razee frigate or a purpose designed ship.

For close protection,when required,the utility ship may be fitted with a stand alone defensive systems capable of engaging air and surface threats within five miles radius.

The Heavy Cavalry

The role of the heavy cavalry is to seize ground in high threat environments and exercise control of that ground.

A tool of both the attack and the counter attack,it's role can be performed by no other element of the armed forces.

The limits of air power were amply demonstrated by the Serbian army when it marched out of Kosovo largely unscathed after 78 days of intensive bombardment by the combined assets of the World's most capable air forces.

In future wars ground forces will face threats which have not been neutralised beforehand by air and artillery assets.

Unlike overt attacking forces,the defenders will have the benefit of the concealment and protection of the terrain allowing them to see first and shoot first.

Ground forces advancing into such an environment must be able to withstand such fire and quickly return it to neutralise the threat.

This requires heavy armour and the ability to deliver a large explosive warhead against a target on a reverse slope or behind heavy cover.

Medium armour is completely inadequate for such situations.

The heavy cavalry will also require it's own dismounts to provide an immediate organic ability to clear infantry positions.

When not needed for it's primary role,heavy cavalry may operate in the medium and light roles with appropriate vehicles.

The Light Infantry

The role of the light infantry is to seize ground in a low threat environment and exercise control of that ground.

It is also well suited to defensive action using the concealment and protection of the terrain and benefitting from it's low logistical requirements.

It is very poorly suited to offensive operations in high threat environments.

Light weight makes the light forces ideally suited to air mobility.

This in turn allows them to be operationally offensive but tactically defensive.

Thus negating the offensive weakness of light forces.

Light infantry may also perform the role of medium infantry during long term sustained conflicts.


The Medium Infantry

Medium infantry is the backbone of the ground forces.

It lacks the firepower and protection needed for the offensive heavy cavalry role.

It also lacks the high degree of training of the light infantry air assault units.

However it is still suitable for a wide range of other roles.

On the high threat battlefield it can clear,control and defend the moderate threat areas left in the wake of the advance of the heavy cavalry formation.

Faced with less capable opponents it may operate independently and conduct offensive operations of it's own.

In low threat density terrain it may use light vehicles or operate in support of light units.

In high terrain density environments,or on the defence,medium infantry can operate in the foot role.

Medium infantry is very flexible but also very low cost.

It uses a simple mass produced medium tracked armoured personnel carriers rather than complex and expensive helicopters or heavy cavalry vehicles.

The vehicle provides protected mobility in the face of man portable weapons and mines but the medium infantry fights on foot relying on it's own organic man portable weapons and third party fire support systems.


The Fighting Aircraft

The fighting aircraft finds,identifies and kills targets on land,on the sea and in the air.

It may operate from the deck of a flying ship or from a half mile stretch of road.

It's long range and endurance reduces the demand for aerial refuelling.

The Supporting Aircraft

The supporting aircraft performs a wide range of roleas in support of other air land and sea assets.


The Helicopter

On land the helicopter is the means by which men,machines and supplies can be set down or picked up and moved by air without the need of a runway.

In difficult,high density terrain the helicopter will often be the only practical means of transport.

No other asset can perform this role.

At sea,the helicopter is the only platform which can perform the find and attack roles as well as the wide range of other roles required of an aircraft flying from a surface combatant operating independently.

However,the helicopter is increasingly vulnerable due to it's inability to keep pace with the proliferation of precision threat systems.

Thus the helicopter is inherently a system for use in low threat environments.

As a transport asset for use in low threat density environments,the helicopter must be able to move the ground forces which are predominantly used in such environments.

Thus the helicopter must be able to carry the foot soldiers,light vehicles and towed artillery of the light infantry forces.

It is the lifting capacity of the helicopter which defines the weight and hence capability of the light forces equipment.

The helicopter cannot match the transport capacity of surface transport but it is well matched to the low logistic demands of light units.

Being essential for combat on land and sea,the helicopter must be fully marinised and small enough to operate from a warship as well as being large enough to meet the lift requirements of the light forces.

The helicopter will also perform search and rescue tasks in both civil and military service.

The requirements for this task are much the same as those which the helicopter must meet for warfare.

The helicopter will have a single airframe which can meet all three of these roles with the minimum of (bolt on) modification.

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