SDSR 2015 is published: What it says and what it does not detail
Strike brigades: a big deal?
The Strike Brigades: a big deal?
The “Strike Brigades”, which seem actually destined to be mechanized infantry brigades, fantasy-titles aside, represent a far great change for the army than most appreciate from the SDSR document, which is completely devoid of details.
What is the extent of the change, and what are the implications?
What is a strike brigade?
Answer: we don’t yet know exactly what shape it is supposed to have. It will include the Ajax family of tracked vehicles and the new Mechanized Infantry Vehicle (a wheeled, 8x8 armoured vehicle) to be procured in the coming years.
It is also expected to have the full range of supports, from logistic to artillery, from medical regiment to REME to combat engineers.
Where do the strike brigades come from?
One Strike Brigade will be obtained downgrading one of the current three Armoured Infantry Brigades; the other will come from the upgrading of one of the seven Adaptable Infantry Brigades.
The end result is a force with 2 armoured infantry brigades, 2 strike brigades, 6 infantry brigades.
The key questions are: how will Ajax be distributed? The most likely answer is in a single Cavalry regiment for each brigade. The implication: the Ajax fleet has been ordered under the Army 2020 plan, which would have seen Ajax replace the ancient, light CVR(T) vehicles in the reconnaissance regiments and in the recce platoons within tank regiments and armoured infantry battalions.
The assumption was that the vehicles would equip 3 cavalry regiments and 9 recce platoons (in 3 tank and 6 armoured infantry units).
Now we must assume that the cavalry regiments will be four, one for each armoured and strike brigade. In addition, Ajax will continue to be required for the recce platoons in the Tank and Armoured Infantry regiments and battalions.
The Ajax fleet on order is not expected to be expanded: it should be possible to squeeze four cavalry regiments out of the fleet, but it might take some Whole Fleet Management magic: the number of the specialized variants is carefully thought out for 3 regiments. Adding a fourth might mean that there are not enough vehicles for everyone, and regiments are only given access to all the vehicles on the ORBAT only when deploying.
Next, how many MIV? Until yesterday, the Army required the MIV as a replacement for the Mastiff and Ridgback MRAPs employed by 3 battalions of “Heavy Protected Mobility Infantry”.
One such battalion is present in each armoured infantry brigade.
Now the MIV could be required to equip as many as 6 battalions of infantry, or as few as 2, or 4. We have no real idea what the plan is. A Strike Brigade will have, one would expect, the canonical 3 infantry battalions. But how will these battalions be configured? They could be all mounted on MIV, or 2 or even just 1 on MIV and the rest on Foxhound, or some battalions might even be of the Light Role type, with no section vehicle at all and soldiers on foot.
What will the Engineer regiment of the brigade use? The description of the brigade’s concept would appear to rule out the massive Titan bridgelayer and Trojan AVRE vehicles, so the 30 tons Terrier will be the main item, with the truck-mounted ABLE and REBS bridging systems as likely complement, plus wheeled excavators, trucks and all the rest.
REME? We can expect no Challenger recovery vehicle for the same reason. Ajax recovery variants, MIV recovery variants, MAN Wrecker are the most likely tools.
Medical regiment: a MIV ambulance variant is a most likely fit.
Artillery: AS90 is excluded by its weight and logistic tail. The Light Gun is the most likely initial solution, although it really is an underwhelming weapon for use in a mechanized formation: a 155 mm system such as the French CAESAR would be ideal later on.
Direct Fire: armoured infantry brigades enjoy the firepower of main battle tanks. Traditional Mechanized Infantry Brigades also have tanks, but the “strike brigade”, as described, seems destined not to have tanks as they are too heavy and difficult to deploy.
If money wasn’t a problem, a MIV Direct Fire variant, sporting an MBT-class main gun but on wheels, would be procured, but it takes quite a bit of optimism to imagine the british army being able to afford this.
Italian Medium Brigades, which are mounted on Freccia 8x8 vehicles, enjoy the presence of the Centauro 8x8 tank destroyer with a 105mm gun, and its eventual replacement, the Centauro 2 with the 120 mm. The Centauro is used in the reconnaissance cavalry role.
Being the result of endless change of plans, the british Strike Brigades, despite being almost entirely wheeled, will instead end up using the tracked Ajax for reconnaissance and combat screening. Not exactly the best of solutions.
Logistic: the RLC element for the Strike Brigade will not be as large as that associated with an armoured infantry brigade, but nonetheless will have to be much larger than that found in an Adaptable Infantry Brigade.
For the Full Size image click here
For the Full Size image click here
Mechanized Infantry Battalions are only slightly smaller than armoured infantry ones in manpower terms (709 versus 729, in Army 2020). They are however some 150 men larger than a Light Role infantry battalion (709 versus 561). Since the Army’s overall manpower is not increasing, the larger units needed to transform an Adaptable Brigade into a Strike Brigade will require other infantry battalions to get even smaller.
Supporting elements will become smaller as they move from armoured to mechanized, but again we must assume that current "light" supports will have to grow to account for the other strike brigade, and this will require even more manpower.
Sure enough, the SDSR says that “a number” of infantry battalions will be “reconfigured for mentoring and defence engagement”: another way to say that they will shrink further as manpower goes in other directions.
Mind you, it is not necessarily a bad thing: in earlier posts I’ve argued for this kind of approach (I actually suggested closing down entire battalions rather than keeping a lot of tiny, understrenght units, but I knew all too well that the government wouldn’t have the guts to face a “disappearing capbadge” outrage scenario), but the SDSR uses nice words to announce the change without making it explicit.
The armoured infantry brigades remaining will have to change in some way. How, we don’t yet know.
Everything is possible, in theory. Two fairly safe assumptions are that the brigades will continue to have their own cavalry regiment on Ajax but will lose their Heavy Protected Mobility Infantry battalion in favor of the Strike Brigades.
The six armoured infantry battalions could all stay and be spread 3 and 3 into each brigade. Logical, but expensive, especially if another six battalions get mounted on MIVs.
Similarly, what happens to tank regiments? Now 3 (+1 reserve): tomorrow? Will they become two, but larger? Two, same size? Four, smaller?
GMLRS: difficult to even guess. Its precision and long range is key, and its weight class isn't far from Ajax or what we can expect for the MIV itself. It could go both ways: we could see a fourth precision fires battery formed, or we could see a reduction to two. Hard to say.
AS90: how many will be cut? It seems an unlikely fit for the Strike Brigades, and, as of march 2015, the OSD of AS90 is 2030. The Army is already thinking about replacing it, perhaps with the french CAESAR (which 1st Royal Horse Artillery has extensively trialed). GMLRS OSD is also 2030, but this will probably not hold true, while it might for AS90.
Titan & Trojan: how many will be cut?
Assuming each armoured and each strike brigade gets a Cavalry regiment on Ajax, a fourth such regiment has to be created. It could be obtained by re-roling one Tank regiment, or by re-roling a Light Cavalry regiment, in theory. It seems far more likely that a tank regiment will be re-roled, sadly, because this would free up some manpower (although not terribly much: a Challenger 2 regiment has an establishment of 587 versus 528 for an Ajax cavalry regiment, in army 2020) and money.
Infantry brigades and enduring deployments
The British Army currently works according to the Rule of the 5: it takes 5 man to keep one constantly deployed, as this allows said man to enjoy a 24 months interval between one 6-months operational deployment and another.
Army 2020 delivers the ability to sustain a brigade-size enduring deployment by means of 3 armoured brigades and 7 infantry brigades. The latter, which are really “containers” of deployable regiments and battalions, can deliver two deployable brigades to deliver the fourth and fifth deployment in an enduring operation. The rhythm works out as: armoured, armoured, armoured, adaptable, adaptable, and again armoured and so on.
The air assault battlegroup and the amphibious battlegroup are in addition.
Will Joint Force 2025 deliver the same kind of capability? If the answer is yes, how?
We can assume that, from the six remaining infantry brigades, a third 2-brigade, 2-year force generation cycle could be sustained, delivering each year an infantry brigade at readiness. Supports elements would be available for a single deployment, assuming that the current “5 of everything” approach is maintained.
There currently are 5 artillery regiments, 5 signal regiments, 5 engineer, 5 REME, 5 logistic elements and so along. Will Joint Force 2025 cut back from 5 to 4?
Or perhaps will Harmony Guidelines be changed to account for a 1 in 4 rule, meaning 6 months deployed at intervals of just 18 months?
We don’t yet have an answer to any of these questions.
The Strike Brigades have profound implications for the Army. They are extremely likely to cause further losses in heavy armour assets and in heavy, self propelled artillery, despite the relevance of these systems having been dramatically reaffirmed in Ukraine.
The formation of the Strike Brigades will send ripples across the entire army and its procurement plans. Depending on the structure of the brigades, the numbers of the MIV programme can change dramatically. The requirement for ABSV will become smaller as one brigade moves from tracks to wheels.
Each Corp of the army will be touched in some way. And there are enormous implications in terms of force generation cycles and potentially of harmony guidelines.
The army might finally get its long dreamed Medium Brigades and new 8x8 armoured vehicles, but how much it will have to sacrifice to get to them is not yet clear.
Army 2020 is no more: a new plan needs to take shape, and we can only hope the Army knows more than we do. The SDSR provides no answers: let’s hope the Army has an actual plan about the way forwards.