One Company: The central unit for the British Army’s external engagement

So Army 2020 plans are slightly changing (I’ll blog about that later). But first, a short post on British Army deployments. To the average observer, hey there’s x or y regiment deploying for training or military engagement. People would assume it is a whole brigade/battalion-sized unit deploying for the operation/exercise. Nope. It’s actually (usually) one company-sized unit that deploys. Let’s take a look:

1) This article does clarify that only 1 Squadron (Royal Armoured Corps terminology), D Squadron of the Queen’s Royal Lancers was deployed. Some may it’s the full QRL but it is highly likely just one squadron given the number of vehicles and troops stated.

2) This one explicitly says it’s just one squadron from the 26 Engineer Regiment, namely 30 Armoured Engineer Squadron.

3) Even in the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) area in Canada, it’s just one squadron that’s deployed per regiment. You may say the tweet just shows just D squadron but the whole of the Queen’s Royal Lancers deploy. More often that not, it is one squadron from each unit type–armoured/light infantry, armour, armoured cavalry, Combat Service Support etc that forms a Battlegroup or Lead Armoured Battle Group (see the 2012 Army 2020 leaflet).

4) For overseas exercises like Exercise Silver Arrow, it’s also just a Company that deploys/is deployed. In this case, Chindit Company, 2nd Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. (Same exercise here). For Exercise Rapid Trident, it was not the whole of the Light Dragoons, but just B Company. (See also this tweet, same exercise). In Exercise Jebel Tarik, the Light Dragoons again only deployed B Squadron, while in EX JEBEL SAHARA, C Squadron was sent.

5) Training with the UK’s closest ally, the United States (US), also involved one squadron from the (really) rapid deployment unit, the Parachute Regiment. In this case, B Company, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment “integrated” with a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) from the 82nd Airborne Division. One UK Company with one US BCT (US BCTs, even airborne/infantry are larger than normal brigade-sized units).

6) The news and social media has been writing much about Exercise Black Eagle, the British Army’s Lead Armoured Battlegroup’s training with the Polish Army in Poland. Battlegroup is the key term here–in British Armed Forces’ definition, its one unit, plus others. In this case, it’s not even one full brigade. Rather, it’s “an armoured squadron of Challenger 2s, two Warrior armoured infantry squadrons and protected mobility infantry company” (see this link . There’s actually more than that, but it’s not the topic here). The Armour squadron mentioned is C Squadron, the King’s Royal Husssars. (Ok, this link says it’s D Squadron. And for 1 R WELSH it is at least A Company, definitely 1 Platoon)

7) The lead Air Assault Task Force is not made up of all the units of 16 Air Assault Brigade. It’s not even made up on all the units of 2nd or 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment. Rather it consists of companies/squadron-sized units from 16 AA, plus one, yes only one parachute-trained Rifle Company from either 2 or 3 PARA. In the latest Salisbury Plain Exercise, this was C Company, 3 PARA. Even the Lead Armoured/Mechanised task force in Exercise WESSEX STORM consists of a company-sized unit leading a battlegroup. In this case, it’s the Left Flank, 1st Battalion the Scots Guards (Left Flank is the name of a Rifle Company within 1 SCOTS).

8) Most recently, G Battery, 7th Royal Horse Artillery Regiment, partnered with the US 82nd Airborne Division’s Artillery to improve inter-operability so that both airborne forces can deploy together. See this link.

So the British Army’s exercises or deployments aren’t about whole Brigades/Regiments/Battalions. They are Company-sized units. What does this mean for the British Army in the future?

1) It obviously mean the onus is on the company. I’m not sure when the British started deploying their units via single companies–it could have been before or after the 2010 SDSR–but this certainly means the British Army and the UK armed forces overseas engagements rest with a company-sized unit.

2) It means that Majors (Major is the basic rank for British Army Company) and Warrant Officer Twos (W02s) (sometimes Warrant Officer One (WO1)) are give great responsibilities–they have to be the read to lead their units/be ready to move (RTM) and have to ready to engage with international partners/allies or even be ready to engage adversaries. Majors, ther 2ICs (Captains most definitely), and their RSMs will have to act as ambassadors during military engagements/training exercises (see example 8). They will have to be ready to talk to British media, foreign media regarding a range of military and non-military topics. As leaders of only a company, they will have to quikcly learn how to work with foreign militaries, especially those with different standard operating procedures (SOPs). I believe in most other militaries, only Lieutenant Colonels and above have the academic and army training to work seamlessly with other armed forces. This is not to say all British Army Majors and senior non-commissioned officers (SNCOs) are not able to work with other armies. However, since companies may or will be the main unit of defence engagement, their OCs and leaders must quickly learn how to engage and related with others

3) It means a hundred plus (depending of the size of the company) soldiers themselves have to learn how to engage with other militaries or citizens (suppose they get deployed for non-combat duties). They have to learn culture, languages, SOPs, even simple manners. Which every company/battery/squadron deployed overseas must train its men to know how to work with other armies/armed forces.

4) It means as a company they will have to present themselves with the image of at least a battalion/regiment to their foreign counterparts. I mean, given the size of British Army/Royal Marine companies/squadrons, they have to show their counterparts/allieds they are still a viable force. Of course as mentioned, this company may travel as part of a larger Battlegroup–they “tailored” unit in British Army’ operations. They may be complemented by HQ staff, support arms and others. Even so, they still need to present themselves as a force. And, should conflict break out, UK companies would be the first to deploy now, especially given the Army 2020 concept of A) the Lead Air Assault Task Force, B) The Lead Armoured Task Force/Battlegroup C) and NATO’s new Very High Readiness Task Force.

More points to be added later

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