Sunday, September 5, 2010

Future British Army

The shape and future direction of the British Army is one of the main focuses of the current SDSR. While parts of the army are more over stretched than every fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, other parts especially the armoured brigades have seen little action since 2003.

Much of the criticism of the army is aimed at so called Cold War Relics such has heavy armour and artillery. The main formation that is likely to be chopped in the SDSR is the British Forces Germany. This unit currently consists of the 1st Armoured Division made up by the 7th and 20th Armoured brigades. The formation has around 56,000 personnel based in Germany including RAF and civilians. The prime focus for the unit is Britain's  commitment to NATO under article 5. It is estimated that BFG contributes £1.5 billion to the German economy each year.

Further criticism has also been levied at the Army over its attachment to its historic regiments and battalions. Many have argued that this historic system is out of date in the modern age.

In the wars that we have fought in the past decade 2 formations have been used on every occasion. Especially in the initial phase of kicking in the door. These formations are 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade. Indeed both of these formations have proven invaluable both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many feel that the Army should now move away from its World War 2 style heavy and armoured brigades and move its formations into lighter more easily deploy-able formations.

The SDSR is tasked with looking at what is the right structure for the British Army in the post cold war world where conflicts are likely to be far away from home and fought against asymmetric threats.

Expeditionary Warfare

Before World War 1 and 2 the British Army was always considered to be an expeditionary force. With a strong Navy the UK had little need of the type of large conscript army that France or Germany required. It is my view that the British Army should return to its roots. Shed much of its heavy fixed forces and form lighter rapidly deploy-able brigades and Divisions.

European Defence

With the demise of the cold war Europe now faces a zero chance of a land invasion. Russia now only has a population of 140 million people verses Europe with a population of over 400 million. The EU spends EUR 200 billion a year on defence. It has 1.5 million active personnel with a total force including reserves of 6 million men. In total accounting for around 25% of world military spending. That's more than the rest of the world excluding the United States.

With no conventional threat to Europe from outside and no threat to the UK from inside Europe we can afford to look at re-basing our armed forces for expeditionary warfare. We can rely on the Europeans for heavy land forces and in turn give Europe the type of expeditionary warfare force it so desperately needs.
This will give the UK the leading role in European foreign and military affairs. It will also allow us to maintain and enhance our 2nd in command relationship with the USA.

How to achieve this?

In order to achieve this goal we first need to look at what type of large forces are required. RUSI has studied the UK's future land force requirements. They have come up with two doctrines concerning UK force projection.

The first is the Global Guardian. Under this doctrine we would maintain the ability to conduct a lagre scale operation deploying a Division Sized Force to a theatre. Examples of this would be Desert Storm 1991 or Iraqi Freedom 2003.

The second is Strategic Raiding. Under this doctrine we maintain the ability to rapidly deploy a brigade sized force from the sea if necessary. Not unlike the Falklands campaign.

Sustaining Forces

The other key fact to consider is our ability to sustain forces. While the British Army has had little problem surging forces for door kicking operations like Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, it has found it very difficult to sustain a brigade in Afghanistan. Much of the reason for this difficulty is the unsuitability of major parts of the British Army. Heavy mechanised brigades have not been rotated through putting more pressure on the light infantry units such as the Commando's of 16AAB.

In order to maintain a Brigade sized force with out over stretching these units the Army needs six fully deploy-able Brigades. That would see each Brigade rotated once every three years into a long running war. Further more it would allow us to stand up a brigade for rapid reaction as well.

Maintaining Ability

We also need to maintain our ability to perform other types of operation. As part of a coalition force we need the ability to send atleast a Division Sized Force. The US military is based on Divisions. If we can only deploy a brigade it means our commanders and politicians will have little say in how operations are fought. In addition to these requirements there is also the need for small detachments of peace keepers to be deployed in battle group size formations to numerous hot spots around the world and low intensity conflicts.

Learning from Others

Looking around the world we can see very few examples of what type of force is necessary. Most Europeans as well as the Russians and Chinese have only large non deployable conscript forces. Even the US Army is still a large heavy force which is difficult to deploy.

The best example for the British Army to follow is probably the US Marine Corps. While it specialises in assault from the sea the US Marine Corps has over the past two decades become a second land Army. With lighter more deploy able forces they have generally been the first force to be deployed in every conflict since the Second World War. They have also performed well in the COIN operations of the last decade. While a light force they were sent in on a head long charge against the main body of the Iraq Amry in 1991 and the First Marine Expeditionary Force was one of the main units that was sent into Iraq in 2003. In short they have been able to make a large contribution to every war fought since World War II. It is also likely to be a preeminent force in the types of war we will face in the future.

While Marine Divisions are primarily infantry forces they do also have a battalion of tanks attached to them as well as their own artillery. The Marines deploy around a Marine Expeditionary Force. This constitutes 1 Infantry Division supported by a Marine Air Wing and Marine Logistics Group. In total the Marines have three active Divisions and can deploy a single Expeditionary Force.

Force for the British Amry

While the British Amry has to perform a wider role than the US Marine Cops we can see that in every operation fought Since World War II the Marines structure and ability would be just what we required. Light, deployable but capable of hitting hard when needed. For the future British Army I would recommend a very similar structure. 

Firstly I would return the Royal Marine Commandos to the British Amry. The Commando Brigade would be split into three Battalions. Each would be spread across one of three Amphibious Infantry Brigades. The Royal Marines would revert back to being a smaller ship board force tasked with Navy security and interdiction as is was before WWII.

Secondly the British Forces in Germany would be disbanded. Three armoured battalions would be spread across three Mechanised Infantry Brigades.

The British Amry would have 3 Amphibious Brigades and 3 Mechanised Infantry Brigades. These Brigades would be spread across 3 Division's so each Division would have 2 Infantry Regiments, 1 Armour Battalion and 1 Amphibious Battalion as well as artillery and support battalions.

The RAF should be stripped of its helicopters and these given to 6 aviation regiments of the British Army. Each Regiment would have Apaches, EH101, Lynx and Chinook helicopters. Each Brigade would have an aviation attachment formed principally by one of these regiments. In addition 6 logistics groups would provide each Brigade with its own logistic support. 

This force would allow us to deploy a Division sized force rapidly as well as sustaining an actively deployed Brigade in the aftermath.

The Territorial Army

The UK presently has around 56,000 par time soldiers in the Territorial Amry. These forces along with active reservists are designed primarily to give the UK additional man power in times of crisis. Essentially the force's main aim is as a strategic reserve against the invasion of UK or mainland Europe. However with zero chance of the UK or Europe being invaded the service looks less relevant today than ever.

I would recommend disbanding the TA and instead replacing it with a new reserve force. Better paid part time soldiers who would be based around a single heavy armoured division. This force would be available for 6 month deployments as wee seen in 1991 and 2003. It would be used along with an Expeditionary Force from the British Amry for door kicking operations. This would allow the British Amry to employ 2 divisions as part of the global Guardian requirement under a Three Star General giving us an enhanced command capability  in coalition operations. This type of operation would likely happen once a decade. Being part of this type of once a decade conventional deployment would be very attractive for members of the current TA as well as ex regular army personnel. These type of people would likely be very unwilling to be part of a dirty difficult type of COIN operation such has the current Afghanistan operation. While a part time force there is no reason why these troops can't be every bit as capable and professional as the current Army. The reduction in size would allow us to pay these troops better as well as improve the quality of their equipment. Indeed the US deploys its reserve forces both Air, Sea and Ground in a similar way. Largely relying on ex service personnel as well as so called weekend warriors simply looking for extra money or to be part of the military while pursuing a career in civilian life.

Peace Keeping

In addition to the current deployment the British Army has a number of peace keeping commitments. These commitments are often small however they add additional stress to already over worked infantry battalions. It could also be said that using a highly trained and paid professional soldier to perform low level policing missions is a waste of resources.

Rising instability in the world means that we are likely to perform more of these manpower intensive operations. Quite simply the British Amry with its focus on high tech war will be unable to cope with an increase in these type of operations. 

In order to give the Army the ability to cope with this I would recommend establishing a new International Assistance Force. This force would come under the command of the British Army however it would be separate in its structure. The Force would have lightly armed policing battalions able to be deployed and sustained in a force of up to a light brigade. The force would recruit from across the world giving it a true multi national presence. Importantly as a none combat force recruited primarily from the third world we could cut salaries in half of the regular army but still have a wide pull too recruit from. To prevent accusations of being mercenaries this force should only be deployed under United Nations sanctioned missions. Four small Brigades constituting 28,000 men should be a sufficiently large force to allow upto four battalion's to be deployed at any one time and sustained indefinitely. The force would be primarily a police force and would rely on the regular army for certain specialisations such as Engineers and Aviation as well as the RN and RAF for deployment.

The force would be based abroad closer to potential areas of operation such as Kenya or Sierra Leone as well as Asia. It would help us boost the economy of allied nations as well as increase our diplomatic influence. Basing troops abroad would allow the soldiers to maintain a high standard of living on a reduced salary.


By shedding off many of the cold war missions the army still performs we could reduce its size whilst increasing its capability. Disbanding the TA as a Strategic reserve force in favour of a deploy-able armoured division could allow us to maintain an armoured capability and increase our ability to deploy a force in the kind of once a decade large scale operations we might face. The money saved could be used to fund an international peace keeping force better able to operate in long running low intensity operations.

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