The British Army in the future: Regional Alignment

The world’s so-called superpower, the United States, has long had its units deployed globally. Even with the US Brigade Combat Team cuts and overall US Army cuts, the US Army is still poised to project itself globally. Certain units such as the 2nd Infantry Division are of course deployed beyond US shores. In fact, the US Army has aligned several of its other divisions/corps to certain regions, see this link.

The British Army does have troops and equipment deployed globally in key areas such as the South Atlantic Islands, Brunei, Cyprus, Canada and other countries. These are of course for tranining and deployments and defence. With the onset of Army 2020, one key theme was to have “overseas engagement and capacity building”. (See page 3 of the July 2013 Army 2020 report and This conversation with then Lt. Gen. Nicholas Carter.) In the future Army 2020 format, this goal for the Army would be undertaken primarily by the “Adaptable Force”, or in the British Army’s ORBAT terms, the 1st (United Kingdom) Divsion (see my ORBAT). Such an explanation has been vague until the British Army released its 2014 edition of its British Army Journal. Page 140 has a map on which of the brigades in 1 UK Division will be aligned to which region. I’ve kindly provided a summary below:

Alignment of Adaptable Force Brigades:

4th Infantry Brigade: Northern Africa (from Western Sahara (or so) to Libya)

7th Infantry Brigade: Egypt

11th Infantry Brigade: India, Pakistan and Afghanistan (or so)

42nd Infantry Brigade: East Africa (from Sudan to Kenya and Somalia (or so)

51st Infantry Brigade: Arabian Peninsula (Entire Arabian region including Iraq, excluding the Western side, ie., Israel, Lebanon, Syria)

160th Infantry Brigade: Central and Eastern Europe (up to Kazakhstan)

102 Logistics Brigade: Western Africa (appears to cover North-central Africa, from Senegal to Chad, excluding Mauritania, which is under 4th Infantry Bde’s region)

Alignment of Force Troops Command Brigades:

11th Signal Brigade: Southern Africa (from Angola in the West to Tanzania and Mozambique in the East down to South Africa and including Madagascar)

8 Engineer Brigade: Southeast Asia (excluding the Philippines–maybe)

The above does not cover as much of the globe as the US plan does. First, there are no forces aligned with Central or Southern America, nor with the wider East Asian region (I exclude Russia for quite obvious reasons). There’s also a big blue “blob” in the African continent–there is not Brigade/Brigade aligned to countries from the Chad to Congo region. (I’ll touch on this below).Even so, this alignment uses up almost all of the brigades from 1st UK Division, excluding 38 (Irish) Brigade, which definitely must remain in Northern Ireland in the future to curb any troubles. With 38th (Irish) Brigade remaining at home, the plan draws 2 brigades from the new Force Troops Command, namely 11th Signals Brigade and 8 Engineer Brigade to parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. This thius leaves the remaining FTC Brigades to work with the Reaction Force Brigades. 1st Artillery Brigade for example, can’t really be involved with defence engagement since its units are in support of 3rd UK Division’s brigades (Light guns, AS-90s, GMLRS, air defence). Neither can 1st Signal Brigade be involved since it is in support of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. Similarly with 1 Intelligence and Surveillance Brigade. The remaining FTC brigades such as 2nd Medical Brigade, 104 Logistics Brigade are not included in the map but could possibly be needed to support the Reaction Force.

A second issue regarding this alignment is the specifics of each brigade to each region. One wonders for example, why the lightly armed 160th Brigade is targeted at Eastern to Central Europe, especially with the intensifying crises in Ukraine/Eastern Europe. 160th Brigade in the future will contain 1 and 6 RIFLES, as well as at least 1 R IRISH, a Foxhound battalion. There’s no need to aim for direct conflict. but this is lightly armed compared to the armies of allies and adversaries of that region. Still, that’s just adequate for defence exercises with countries or UN/NATO/whatever IO-backed peacekeeping forces. In the case of 4th, 7th and 42nd Infantry linked to North and East Africa and Egypt, well not all of either brigade will be able to participate in regional engagement/peacekeeping/intervention.

This is due to the fact that several units, namely, 1 and 2 LANCS, 2 YORKS, 2 PWRR, 1 and 2 R ANGLIAN will be rotated to Cyprus. Or maybe these Cyprus-based units will deploy to the regions when required. As with 160th Brigade, a lightly staffed brigade, 11th Infantry (resurrected), gets to focus on the volatitle area(s) of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It could be that the UK just wants minimal engagement in that area of the world, regardless of how volatile the region becomes. post-2014 The unit will the most number of “stable” troops in the Adaptable Force, 51st Infantry Brigade, gets the Arabian Pennisula and maybe even Iraq. Not really enough for engaging new factions like ISIS/ISIL, but well none of the A Force brigades are properly staffed or armed with equipment for direct conventional warfare. Interestingly, 8 Engineer Brigade gets SEA, where, despite the dynamic economic growth, is still a region with potential and existing hotspots. Maybe its role there is post conflict or local reconstruction/training. As with some A Force/FTC units. not all of the brigade can be deployed to the region. The 25 Close Support Engineer Group units are need to support the Reaction Force Brigades (well at least the regular units).

A third area from this alignment is the overall context. The UK appears to be, well nautrally, concerned with the African and Middle Eastern region. Whether the near or distant future, it is expected these areas will face some form of conflict, whether in one area, country, between countries or worse region wide. The brigades centred towards thme may not be sufficiently shaped to engage with them, but it is a small start. As noted, the map shows there is not engagement to the Latin/South American region or the wider Pacific. The wider Pacifc of course is a bit too far away geographically. The A Force is too small to cover all the globe so I guess Latin America was left out, even though is is not conflict-free. Still, engagement to Latin America can happen via other government departments such as the FCO, DFID, DEFRA and others. Plus, the MOD always has its wide range of Defence Attaches, and almost all Latin American countries have a UK Defence Attache attached.

So in conclusion, the Army 2020 plan is more than just cutbacks and the formation of the Reaction, Adaptable Forces and the FTC (and Support Command). The map in the British Army’s 2014 Journal shows there will be regional (Europe, Africa, Middle East and SEA) engagement, with A Force units and FTC units targeted towards a specific region. The wait now is to see how this is implemented and whether the next UK government after the 2015 government changes this plan.

Update:

The 2015 British Army Journal has provided inaccurate figures regarding the alignment. Yours truly made a FOIA request and this is the accurate list:

4th Brigade – Northern Africa
7th Infantry Brigade – Western Africa
102 Logistic Brigade – Southern Africa
42nd Brigade – Eastern Africa
51st Brigade – Gulf Region
8th Engineer Brigade – South Asia
160th Infantry Brigade – Europe and Central Asia
11th Infantry Brigade – Southeast Asia

Thanks.

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