SDSR reforms British Army – more questions than answers
The British Army is getting a new medium weight deployable force under plans announced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).
But it means that a significant re-structure will need to take place and this will have implications for force generation.
Changes announced in SDSR hopefully have already been decided and approved within the Army command – but these have not been briefed to the Army. Usually the Army is briefed in detail on the same day the parliamentary/public announcement is made. This is yet to come.
The 2015 SDSR is basically an attempt to correct the mistakes of the 2010 SDSR, which damaged UK capabilities and was a waste of five years at a time when the security challenges in the world were getting much worse.
The creation of two new ‘strike’ brigades is basically two medium weight mechanical infantry brigades common to many other modern militaries comparable to the US Stryker Brigade Combat Teams and the French and Italian medium brigades.
It is not a very good name and was probably chosen for public appeal, but these will run alongside two Armoured Infantry Bdes, which are reduced from three (1, 12 and 20) to two.
These changes will take place within the existing Army of 82,000 and the maximum effort that the UK can deploy will remain a division of three brigades drawn from 3 Commando Bde, 16 Air Assault Bde, the two Armoured Infantry Bdes and the two strike brigades. The more brigades deployed the longer the mobilisation time.
The structure of two Armoured Infantry and two strike (medium) brigades poses an interesting readiness/force generation challenge. One brigade of each type will be at high readiness with one or two battle groups in each at high readiness. So, not all brigades require a full set of equipment.
The initial question is where the two strike brigades will come from? It looks like one of the seven Adaptable Force Infantry Brigades (4, 7, 11, 38, 42, 51 and 160) will be re-roled as one of the strike brigade but will one of the three Armoured Infantry Bdes be re-roled to form the second strike bde? If so then what will happen to the Challenger 2 (CR 2) armoured regiment with in the Armoured Infantry Bde?
After the SDSR 2010 the Army 2020 reforms stated that for the regular Royal Armoured Corps there will be three armoured regiments with CR 2 main battle tanks and three armoured cavalry regiments with Ajax – there would be one of each type in the three Armoured Infantry brigades.
But under the new structure does the British Army lose one of the three CR 2 regiments or are all three regiments maintained for the two remaining Armoured Infantry Bdes?
A brigade can have either one CR 2 regiment and two AI battalions; two CR regts and one AI bns (often referred to as triangular brigades); or be a square brigade with two of each.
If the third CR 2 regt is not but back into the remaining two Armoured Infantry Bdes it could be re-roled as an Armoured Cavalry Regt.
The reason this could be an option under the new structure is because when the new Ajax armoured reconnaissance (formerly Scout) family of vehicles was bought it was to equip three Armoured Cavalry Regts and replace the Spartan variant of the CVR(T) in the existing recce regiments.
The vehicles are designed to be configured for either Major Combat Operations (MCO) or Peace Support Operations (PSO) but not enough kits have been bought to equip the whole fleet for both.
It is expected that one or two Ajax Armoured Cavalry Regts would deploy at any one time. To deploy the third would require stripping the training fleet and maintenance pool, which would be a significant challenge.
Under the new structure with two Armoured Infantry Bdes and two strike bdes the question is if there still be three Ajax Armoured Cavalry Regts or will they be split into four regts with one in each of the four brigades?
There are ways this can be done without buying more vehicles by changing the ORBAT: fewer squadrons in a regiment, fewer troops in a squadron, and fewer vehicles in a troop. But it may make more sense to re-role the third CR 2 regt as armoured cavalry instead as a fourth regiment to supplement the three existing Ajax Armoured Cavalry Regiments, which may fit better into the new structure.
The Ajax family of reconnaissance vehicles are not Armoured Personnel Carriers. Although there is an APC variant, called Ares (which was originally called the Protected Mobility Recce Support – PMRS vehicle) but it only carries four personnel for recce tasks, not the maximum number of infantry.
The four troopers are specialist recce soldiers with specialist equipment (laser designators, radios, small radars, etc) used for surveillance, observation posts, security for recce support tasks. This specialist equipment takes up room inside the vehicle. So it is a specialist APC designed specifically for recce not infantry use.
Therefore the strike brigades could also include a mixture of Armoured Infantry battalions equipped with Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles (which are lighter than the Ajax) and mechanised infantry battalions with the future wheeled Mechanised Infantry Vehicles (MIV) to replace the Mastiff.
With 40mm cannons the Armoured Infantry battalions will provide firepower as the MIV is only meant to have an RWS with machine gun or grenade launchers. The end result is that these strike/medium brigades will give the UK the ability to mount an operation comparable to France’s Operation Serval in Mali.
The US and British armies are very impressed by what the French did and rather than either the very heavy or very light forces the British Army possesses now it will give the UK a proper pre-existing medium weight force ready to deploy – unfortunately not until 2025!