Monday, 27 September 2010

Future British Army

The British Army currently has 36 "in role" infantry battalions and 9 "in role" armoured regiments.

These units are divided into a mixture of subtypes.

Armoured regiments can be either heavy tank units (effectively armoured horse artillery) or formation reconnaissance units (effectively light cavalry).

Infantry Battalions can be armoured infantry (effectively medium cavalry),mechanised infantry,light role infantry,air assault infantry.

As it takes 5 units to maintain 1 unit deployed it makes sense to have the army's units and formations to be divided into multiples of 5.

These 45 battalions and regiments can be formed into 5 divisions each of 9 infantry battalions or armoured regiments.

A division of 9 battalions can be organised into 2 brigades of 4 battalions with 1 battalion as the divisional reconnaissance unit.

Alternatively the division may have 3 brigades,each of 3 battalions with 1 battalion in each brigade being reconnaissance roled.

In either case the army will have 5 divisions each of 9 battlions and regiments.

An army of 5 divisions should be able to sustain 1 division on operations indefinitely or surge several divisions for short term major warfighting operations.

This supply profile is well matched to the historic demand for British ground forces in wars since 1945.

However,sustaining divisional deployments will require some changes to how overseas non combat postings are dealt with with regard to harmony guidelines.

Currently the British army has role specific brigades such as 16 Air Assault Brigade and 7th armoured Brigade but is lacking in role specific divisions.

This is despite having sufficient assets to maintain such formations.

Consequently the capabilities of the different types of unit within the army cannot be exploited to the full.

A particular situation might best be dealt with by the deployment of a light infantry/air assault division,for example:Kosovo 1999;Afghanistan 2001;Northern Iraq 2003.

The British Army has sufficient light infantry units to deploy such a division but it does not have suitable lightweight divisional support assets as its divisions are effectively general purpose structures.

Similarly there may be situations which require an all heavy armoured division,such as the liberation of Kuwait in 1991,or an all medium division.

This deficiency may be corrected by reorganising units into type specific divisions.

The 9 in role regular Royal Armoured Corps regiments may be formed into a single armoured heavy cavalry division.

A single light air assault division may be formed from 9 light infantry battalions.

The remainder of the infantry may be formed into 3 medium infantry divisions of 9 infantry battalions each.

These divisions may be mixed at all levels as the situation requires but their role specific divisional assets permit the deployment of homogenous formations when needed.

At present divisions are made up of 2 types of armoured regiments (tank and formation reconnaissance) and 4 types of infantry battalion (armoured,mechanised,light role,air assault).

The divisional reorganisation suggested above requires only 3 types of unit:armoured heavy cavalry;medium infantry and light air assault infantry.

With all armoured formation reconnaissance regiments being consolidated within the heavy cavalry division,there is a need to equip them with heavier vehicles more suitable for the higher threat density they will operate in,such as the Warrior.

Within the infantry division the formation reconnaissance role will be taken over by reconnaissance roled infantry battalions equipped with the same vehicles as the division they are supporting.

This completely eliminates the need for any role specific "reconnaissance vehicle",such as the Future Rapid Effects System Specialist Vehicle (F.R.E.S. S.V.).

It also ensures that each type of division has a reconnaissance capability best suited to the level of threat density and terrain density it is most likely to encounter which is not possible with the present homogenous light cavalry formation reconnaissance regiments.

The following new vehicles would be required in the long term to equip the three new division types:

A new heavy cavalry vehicle to replace Warrior and Challenger II in the heavy cavalry division.

A new medium armoured personnel carrier to replace the FV432 Bulldog (Nee Trojan),Scorpion series and others in the medium infantry divisions.

A helicopter portable,front engined 4 and 6 wheeled vehicle to replace Landrover,Pinzgauer,Supacat H.M.T.,Panther and M.A.N. HX within the light infantry division.

In the interim the armoured cavalry regiments in the heavy cavalry division would be equipped with Warrior and Challenger II vehicles pending development of a new heavy cavalry vehicle built around an internal footprint shared with the medium infantry carrier.

The medium infantry battalions in the medium division would be equipped with a mixture of FV432 Bulldog (Nee Trojan),Scorpion series,Mastiff and others pending the arrival of the new medium armoured personnel carrier with a shallow vee hull,non hull penetrating Horstman Hydrogas suspension and capacity for up to 2 pallets or 8 dismounts in addition to a 2 man crew.

The light infantry units in the air assault division would be equipped with Landrover,Pinzgauer and Supacat H.M.T. pending the arrival of new front engined 4 and 6 wheeled helicopter portable vehicles,the latter with the same internal capacity as the medium infantry's armoured personnel carrier.


jedibeeftrix said...


Very interesting bit of writing, particularly so because you focussed on the divisional level rather than the briagde as I did here:

Was there a particular reason for this?

I ask as a novice whose limited knowledge suggests that the brigade level would be the most sensible way to arrange land combat power in future.

This is largely due to several documents that state the brigade as the principle combat unit of the British army in future (general Dannatt notwithstanding) as well as the fact the FAS(NS) also broke things down to a brigade level.

So what persuaded you to look at restructuring from a divisional level?

Very interesting read, thank you.

GrandLogistics said...

Hello jedibeeftrix,

there are a number of reasons why I always think in terms of the division as the army's primary deployable formation.

Firstly there is supply and demand.

There are sufficient (frontline at least) units to maintain a deployed division.
Though there are difficulties doing this at present due to the way non combat postings,including some training activities,are handled.
I believe changes ahould be made in this area,harmony guidelines are important but when we are losing men because we can't keep even one fifth of our strength deployed some adjustments are needed.

With regard to demand,since 1945 there have been many very minor operations,which the marines and navy should be able to deal with without troubling the army.
The army is needed for more important matters.
Demand for army units consists of surging for large scale warfighting and sustaining for long term lower intensity conflict.

The former includes the liberation of Kuwait and invasion of Afghanistan.
Air assault and armoured heavy cavalry units are in highest demand for these operations which are likely to focus on manoeuvre warfare.

The latter includes Northern Ireland,the Iraq occupation and current operations in Afghanistan.
The need here is primarily for medium infantry,heavy cavalry being in only limited demand for ground control operations.

Short term operations tend to require a division or larger force.
Arguably the British army had a division to do the job of a corps in Iraq in 2003,the results being seen on the world's television screens.

Long term operations either had a division sized force sustained for long periods in Northern Ireland or needed a division but only had a brigade such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are also questions of both cost and effectiveness when we get down to deploying on the brigade level.
A brigade is a small force which can do very little.
A Brigade is incapable of controlling a small province in a third world country when faced with a poorly trained and equipped enemy.
It is also incapable of seizing even a small city in major warfighting operations.

Reply length exceeded,continued in next reply...

GrandLogistics said...

Is it worth maintaining the expensive capabilities needed to deploy overseas if all we get for that expense is a brigade which cannot keep control of a small city and which would be incapable of taking on even a small third world army?

The army is all about seizing and exercising ground control and in a world of ever increasing populations a brigade can acheive ever less ground control.

There are also other problems at the brigade level.

A brigade is such a small formation that a disproportionately high amount of it's assets will be tied up in support and service functions as well as securing supply lines.
It lacks the economy of scale of a larger formation.

Given the ever increasing range of modern weapon systems,the area which a formation needs to control in order to protect it's bases and supply lines is also increasing.
Which in turn increases the critical mass required for a force to be effective.

There is also the question of whether a brigade can exploit the qualities of the different units.

Often we will need a mix of unit types but if we have just a single armoured regiment in a single mixed brigade for example we will not be able to utilise the heavy cavalry's speed of advance if the rest of the units in the brigade are incapable of keeping up with it let alone securing it's supply lines.

We end up spending large amounts of money fielding specialised armoured and air assault capabilities which are then neutered by the force structure's inability to exploit their advantages due to a lack of critical mass.

All things considered,a brigade level expeditionary warfighting capability is acceptable for minor tasks and spearheading the landing of larger forces (the marines role).

However,without the ability to field a division sized or larger army force when needed,our expeditionary warfighting capability becomes a very expensive way of acheiving very little.

We could end up redefining the acronym R.D.F. as Rapid Defeat Forces.


Jedibeeftrix said...

Many thanks, makes a lot of sense.