Army 2020 Refine: My views

In Part One, I listed out the structural changes or unit changes that are occurring under the Army 2020 Refine plan. In this part, I give my perspectives on the changes in the whole Army 2020 Refine plan and how it might affect the British Army or HM Armed Forces as a hole.

1) Army 2020 Refine, however it is phrased, is about cost-cutting and efficiency. They claim that “continue to sustain a regular Army of 82,000, a whole force of 112,000 regular and reserve troops” and that “existing regimental cap badges will be retained”. Yet, it is a distinct fact that units “rationalised” means units cut and a limitation in power projection. This plan may not be as harsh as the retrenchments during SDSR 2010 and the original Army 2020 plan, but still further reduces the overall combat scope of the British Army. Of course, such personnel shifts and unit disbanding could be said to be due to recruitment challenges as a result of either system problems or low morale. Whatever the reason, it should be stated publicly that Army 2020 Refine plan is about cutting and reducing firepower, inasmuch as that would generate constant criticism. Politicians and leaders should definitely not hide behind the usual soundbites.

2) This smaller-sized British Army is reflected through the placing of the bulk of British army units in 3rd Division or what they call the Reaction Force. The original Army 2020 plane separately out the only two British Army Divisions–3rd Division as the Reaction Force and 1st Division as the Adaptable Force. Despite 3rd Division being the division that could conduction major land warfare, 1st Division’s structure could still be argued to be worthy as a ‘warfighting’ division, with of course from Force Troops Command (FTC). Under Army 2020 Refine, 102nd Logistic Brigade disbands and several Army Reserve units and regular army units get transferred over to 3rd Division, essentially removing 1st Division’s CS and CSS capability and reducing it to a hodge-podge of units only for commitments other than war. Even if deployed as a whole, which is highly unlikely, 1st Division would not be able to successfully contain a given area without assistance from 3rd Division or allied support. This risky move of really place all units in one basket, that is, 3rd Division, negatively affects the image of the British Army as a whole.

Army 2020 Refine indicates that even with “a whole force of 112,000 regular and reserve troops”, the UK can only produce one division-sized unit for defence or external operations, whether just British or allied operations, especially if allocated to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC). Second, it means the British Army can only sustain this size for a shorter period of time than say under the original Army 2020 plan, possibly complicating operations as a whole. It further will cause criticism on social media, the wider mainstream media and the British people when they realise that the mighty British Army, after Brexit, and facing what are deemed as state-based threats, is fighting with just one division-sized force.

3) Army 2020 Refine places too much hope/trust on the Ajax vehicle, once titled Scout SV. This vehicle has its origins from the Future Rapid Effects System programme and in turn the whole search for British Army medium weight capability. There has been much criticism and praise over the Ajax by commentators such as Think Defence so I shan’t repeat it over here. What I’m pointing towards the the constant praise by senior military figures like CGS or UK politicians over this vehicle–see for example how many times the Ajax vehicle was hailed by UK parliamentarians or the constant emphasis on AJAX by CGS in this . It does have its strengths over veteran British Army tracked vehicles, but as defence commentators point out, placing it as a ‘medium tank’ and as a tracked vehicle mixed with the wheeled MIV (now revealed as Boxer) isn’t a wise decision. Senior figures should realise one new vehicle is not the golden rod or mighty sword for the future British Army.

4) The new Reaction Force design also places much emphasis on the Strike Brigade concept. Beyond the problems of mixing tracked and wheeled vehicles, the exact question is more about full potential or firepower of this brigade. For starters, as pointed out above, the Ajax vehicle, armed at best with a 40mm cannon, cannot really be act as a ‘medium tank’. At best yes, it can counter light to somewhat medium armoured vehicles but not high-end adversaries, definitely not the Armata MBT and its associated vehicles. As noted in my earlier entry, the CS and CSS areas of the Strike Brigade are still missing, placing the exact effectiveness of the brigade or brigades in doubt.

A distinct example is the grouping of all the GMLRS batteries in 26 RA under Army 2020 Refine. This may be similar to the US Army’s Field Artillery Brigades (formerly Fires Brigades), but more importantly, there is a lack clarity what future vehicle would replace the M270. Also, 26 RA in the future will provide fire support for both the Armoured Infantry (AI) brigades and the Strike brigades. In that case, will it have all tracked rocket batteries, all wheeled rocket batteries or half wheeled and half tracked units? Will the MOD purchase the M142 HIMARS as a possible replacement? Recently, 38 (Seringapatam) Battery, a TAC battery under 19 RA disbanded. With TAC batteries disappearing across all the key CS RA regiments, how can 1st Artillery Brigade successfully provide fire support to the two types of brigades in 3rd Division? Also, what sort of engineering vehicles will support the Strike Brigades? Will they continue to use the current range of Royal Engineers and Argus, the Engineering variant of Ajax, or will there a wheeled engineering variant from the MIV?

5) Following suit, the focus on creating Strike Brigades indicates that two remaining Armoured Infantry (AI) brigades will lose their organic reconnaissance battalions/regiments; all the Scimitar-to-Ajax regiments get transferred over to the Strike Brigades. Don’t start crying yet as there still might be Ajax reece vehicles left in the AI brigades–there might be some Ajax vehicles in the Challenger 2 Regiment Command and Reconnaissance squadrons and similarly in the recce troops in the four remaining Warrior AI regiments. However, it extremely daring for the Army 2020 Refine planners to remove the organic reconnaissance regiment from the AI brigades. This naturally means almost no dedicated scouting units at the brigade-level, reducing the commander’s intelligence ability in the field. Oh yeah, they will say that British forces would harness the use of allied reconnaissance units during operations. However, it is definitely more reassuring for AI brigades to operate with their own dedicated scouting unit rather than depend on allied support which still may be alien to them, despite years  of interoperability. There may be some method in their madness in this planning, that is, just depending on squadron or troop-level scouting units, but it is clearly not stated on paper. Perhaps the AI Brigades will ‘share’ the reconnaissance regiment/battalion from the Strike Brigade but that again is a big question mark. What have the planners actually devised?

6) Back to the Strike Brigade: Another novel idea for the Strike Brigades is for two RLC brigades to merge with two REME brigades to provide a mega CSS brigade. This is clearly a move to reduce costs and/or improve efficiency despite all the claims it helps meet the rapid deployment of the Strike Brigades. The first major question is how exactly will it be structured given that (supposedly) no cap badges will be lost? Second, there are undoubtedly be two Lieutenant Colonels in each RLC and REME unit–will both act as co-commanders or will one lose his post? Third, how will the sub-units within this merged unit appear like? Will some sub-units disband as a result?

7) The removal or disbanding of 32 Regiment Royal Artillery means that the whole of Field Army (funky name for a small one warfighting division force) will lose a short to medium range UAV for ISTAR capability. This is extremely damaging especially since they removed the platoon-level Black Hornet from service in 2017. Once again, this disbanding could be attributed to low recruitment and troop retention levels in this regiment, but you don’t throw away a good axe just because you can’t sharpen it well. A Janes report said they are looking for a replacement for Desert Hawk III but that is not a confirmation there will actually be a replacement. Therefore, the British Army or what they term as ‘Joint Force 2025’ will be stuck with Reaper, later Protector and the the much-delayed Watchkeeper as Unmanned ISTAR in the future. Update: Protector’s in-service date has also been pushed back to 2024. Yours truly made a FOI request and learnt that they have not decided if the batteries in 32 RA will actually disband/placed in suspended animation. This still does not provide any comfort that there will be an organic medium-range UAV capability at all. Yours truly also asked about the personnel strength and established strength of 32 RA before Army 2020 Refine was announced. The answer was 509 for the former and 550 for the later. This doesn’t really suggest that 32 RA was slated to disband because of low personnel recruitment. In any case, the loss or impending loss is definitely a big worry, again indicating that Army 2020 Refine reduces the capability of the future British Army.

8) Before Army 2020 Refine, there were several equipment projects run by Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S)  that were aimed to create a more lethal British Army. As in the case of many big corporations, there are always ineffective and delayed projects. Unlike such corporations, such delayed projects do cause massive worry amongst defence analysts and commentators likely yours truly and should worry senior military leaders and politicians. A core example is the Warrior Capability Sustainment Project (WCSP) which has been marked Amber/Red in the
latest Major Project Portfolio Data Report. WCSP is critical for the two future AI brigades but its delay or constant delays could mean the two AI brigades would operation 1980s-type Warrior vehicles well into the middle of the 21st Century. The Major Project Portfolio Data Report also indicate that the Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicle (ABSV) was removed from the WCSP. ABSV is crucial vehicle–basically a turretless Warrior that would serve as a mortar-carrying vehicle replacing the FV430 Mk3 Bulldog and a medical variant for the remaining two armoured medical regiments as well as perform other support roles–think something like the US Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle. This removal of the ABSV (also see the difference in the 2015 and 2016 Defence Equipment Plans) opens queries about the fire support or medical evacuation for the two remaining AI brigades. The last known information is that Bulldog has an out of service date of 2030. Surely the British Army isn’t going to stick with a nearly fifty year old vehicle into any future operation?

9) From the rise of Strike Brigades, gutted AI brigades and equipment delays, there is also the question about the simple structure of the Field Army (again a terrible name for a small force). What has not widely broadcast since 2015 is that 42nd Infantry Brigade is no longer a brigade but a Regional Point of Command (RPoC) under British Army Regional Command (the brigade was ‘removed’ in around late 2017). The full name is simply Headquarters Northwest (all this information is via a FOI again). That thus reduces the number of brigades under 1 Division by one, leaving 4th 7th, 11th, 38th, 51st and 160th Infantry Brigades. Yet, they want to have two Strike Brigades, meaning they have to ‘move’ a HQ from 1st Division into 3rd Division. That would leave 1st Division with only five brigades. At the same time, they want a Specialised Infantry Group–that is currently command by a 1-star officer according to Gulabin. So what will be the formal title of the second Strike Brigade and/or Strike Experimentation Brigade and how many brigades will there actually be in 1st Division? Update: the question is partly answered here but if 4th Brigade remains in 1st Division, then a new brigade name must be allocated to the second strike brigade.

10) Re the Specialised Infantry Battalions/Group: This is a really novel idea, which eases the burden of regular British Armed Forces units from training other weak militaries (or may not since). The SIG/SIB isn’t just a British Army concept; the US Army for example has its Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB) and aims to create six such SFABs. The first main problem, however, is that creating SIBs for the British Army or 1st Division or the Adaptable Force further reduces the number of active regular infantry units. Look at the image below:

Army 2020 Refine Regular Infantry Units

(Take from The Rifles twitter account)

The number of armoured infantry (Warrior) units have been reduced to 4 (originally 6 under the original Army 2020, the MIV units increase from 3 to 4, the Light Protected Mobility concept has been removed, and crucially, the number of light infantry units decrease by 4 (not counting the air assault infantry but including the Gurkha Rifles regiments). This means 1) there won’t be enough light infantry units to sustain a major COIN conflict like OP HERRICK, 2) there will be a smaller pool of infantry soldiers to choose from for the Special Air Service and 3) again, the lethality of 1st Division has diminished. This re-structuring might improve recruitment for the specific regiments that produce the SIBs, namely: The Rifles, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Princes of Wales Royal Regiment and the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. This however is not certain.The second problem is how effective the SIB/SIGs will actually be in training foreign armies. In my view, these defence engaging units should no just be infantry units but a host of infantry, signals, engineers and other CS units so that the armed forces targeted are not just trained in simple infantry.

11) As noted in my previous article, there are no more Light Protected Mobility Regiments; instead infantry regiments on operations will receive the Foxhound and perhaps the MRV-P Group 2 vehicle only if necessary. Again, this is for the increasing efficiency and save up money. It is not exactly a wise move, as it means all the light infantry units will have to be trained to operate the Foxhound/MRV-P. Perhaps there will be massive training for all but that would result in a) shifting personnel to a particular training ground b) spending more money that was otherwise allocated for saving. Also, if any light infantry regiment/battalion can be allocated such a vehicle, are there enough drivers in each battalion? I made a FOI request (yes, you can see that I love sending FOIs) and got the answer that a light infantry unit under Army 2020 Refine will have a strength of 628 soldiers, not including attached personnel. Will these battalions gain attached drivers (likely from the RLC) or will the drivers come from amongst the 628 soldiers?

12) Again, due to the “piling” of CS, CSS and Army Reserve units in 3rd Division, 1st Division is ’emptied out’, with basically scattered light cavalry and light infantry units. This was already the case in Army 2020, and Army 2020 Refine hasn’t improved the sub-unit structure at all. As before, the majority of light cavalry and light infantry units are located in 4th, 7th and 51st brigades, while the others are just scattered in the remaining brigades. With the ‘demise’ of 42nd Infantry Brigade, this again really means 1st Division is constrained in fielding whole brigades for operations, even simple peacekeeping or HADR. My suggestions on how to re-structure 1st Division can be seen below.

13) There are many excellent qualities of the Wildcat AH1 reconnaissance helicopter but there can be much more for it in terms in firepower. It’s naval counterpart will be armed with two missile variants: the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Light) FASGW(L) or what they call the Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) or Martlet and the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) FASGW(H) or Sea Venom. If you look at Think Defence’s article, LMM does have a ground-launch capability and can penetrate extremely-light armoured vehicles and useful to take out buildings. As I see it, the British Army could expand the Wildcat AH1’s capabilties by including a missile launcher and similar load of LMMs as with the naval variant, the Wildcat HMA2. They must work with DE&S and DSTL to re-structure the LMM into an air-to-ground missile. This would provide some form of additional strike capability for the Army Air Corps, freeing up the 50 Apache Es on actual anti-armour duty. LMM might even be a future air-to-air missile to shoot down UAVs but give the Wildcat some missile capability first.

14) 16 Air Assault Brigade (16 AA) comes under Commander Field Army’s operational control now and there was no actual specific mention of it in Army 2020 Refine, well indirectly we know that 21 (Gibraltar 1779-83) Air Assault Battery might disband, leaving 16 AA with out a reconnaissance UAV. 16 AA seems to be partnering with allied forces since 2010, namely from across the pond and across the English Channel. This partnership could be expanded. Suggestions for 16 AA detailed below.

15) The whole set of senior officers for a future army aimed at 82,000 soldiers is still too many. I do not subscribe to Andrew Mark Dorman’s weird idea of putting Captains instead of Majors in charge of Rifle Companies, but seriously, even post-Levene, more reforms are needed to balance the number of high-ranking officers and British Army positions.

My recommendations for Army 2020 Refine and the Modernising Defence Programme:

A big note: As you might gather, besides listing the Orbats of the three main services, I don’t like to play the role of a ‘keyboard warrior’, inasmuch as I’m a junior defence commentators. I know some defence commentators are such as have fantasy ideas of what the British Army and Armed Forces should look like but I’m not like them. I a good spirit, I shan’t name them but you can problem guess who. Anyway, here are my not-play-fantasy-fleet (or should it be army?) recommendations and I should also say I submitted these to the Modernising Defence Programme consultation.

1. The Army 2020 Refine plan/exercise is about cutting the size of the Army and the government should be clear about this. The original Army 2020 plan was much better in terms of structure and lethality.
2. Even if the MOD/British Army wishes to place the bulk of units in 3rd Division, it should not just have a single warfighting division. This is quite insulting for the UK as a NATO member and one claiming to have a very close relationship with the US.
3. 1st Division should still be classified as a warfighting division, with 3 RHA and 4 RA still tasked to support 1st Division brigades (when not supporting the Strike Brigades). Ideally, 1st Division should re-structure to have 2 to 3 infantry brigades with 1 x light cavalry regiment and 2 x light infantry battalions, both with paired Army Reserve units. The remaining infantry brigades should contain 2 x light infantry units, again paired with Army Reserve infantry regiments, all trained in helicopter airborne assault. Army Reserve engineers and signals units, even though allocated to 101 or 104 Logistic Brigades, should be tasked to 1st Division to provide it with credible CSS support. 1st Division HQ should also be deployable for Peacekeeping or COIN missions, as was the case for HQ 6th Division during the Afghanistan campaign.
4. There needs to be a wider top-level restructuring. The role of a Deputy CGS is questionable and possibly unnecessary as it keeps a separate 3* in Army HQ with no clear counterpart in the Royal Navy or RAF. Merge this role with, for example, Commander Home Command to cut down senior officers and actually save money.
5. Commander Home Command as a 3* is too high a rank for the Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) commander. Give this position to Commander Regional Command and slowly merge the roles of Home Command with Regional Command to cut the number of high-ranking positions.
6. Similarly, HQ London District has a 2* and 1* mainly for ceremonial roles. This is what maybe be termed as a ‘ sacred cow ‘ that need to be changed. HQ London District could be more financed by non-MOD funding such ass from Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) or the Cabinet Office rather than the pressured Defence Budget. The number of ceremonial units should be reduced in HQ London District and it should be turned into a deployable unit to support 16 Air Assault Brigade or the Lead Armoured Battle Group.
7. Merge or restructre the Army Personnel Centre, the Sandhurst Group and the Army Training and Recruiting Division. This helps to reduce the number of 2*s.
8. The British Army might want to revamp the Other Ranks structure so senior WO1s have a distinction in terms of responsibility.
9. I see nothing wrong with Majors commanding company-level troops but more Captains in CS and CSS units.
10. As with the Royal Navy, it is extremely essential to close the gap between equipment that will go out of service (OSD) and their replacements. Some UORs brought into the core budget still do have capability such as Panther Command and Liaison Vehicle and the Mastiff variants. This doesn’t mean they should be kept for a longer period but they can be retained perhaps for the Army Reserve units.
11. On this point, paired Regular-Army reserve units must have similar equipment, especially those allocated to 3rd Division. It is not right to have Army Reserve units without, for example, Warrior APCs or Artillery and only allocated them when on operations.
12. Some Army/Land projects are stalled or falling behind schedule, for example, the Warrior CSP and the Watchkeeper UAV. It may be time to consider alternatives than may not be cheaper or are cheaper. The UK cannot afford to have an outdated force.
13. The British Army should rethink the positioning and role of the Ajax vehicle as a medium tank, especially since it means mixing tracked vehicles (Ajax) with wheeled vehicles (MIV). Ajax should just revert to the role of reconnaissance and a separate vehicle (MIV variant) used as anti-armour/quick strike.
14. MIV variants (now Boxer) should include mortar (a wheeled variant of the Bulldog armoured vehicle), anti-tank/ATGM, HMG, CBRN (for Falcon Squadron), anti-aircraft (replacement for Stormer). The Strike Brigade MIV battalions should not use MRV-P for these roles, especially mortar. Mortars must be able to be fired on the move.
15. The Army should rethink the 2 x Armoured Infantry Brigades and 2 Strike Brigades concept. Even in the 2003 Gulf War, it had a better structure of heavy and light tracked vehicles. I suggest reverting to all tracked vehicles for 3rd Division, 3 battlegroup-sized units and allocate the Strike Brigades and MRV-Ps to 1st Division to have all wheeled battalions/battlegroups there.
16. 16 Air Assault Brigade should ready 2, not just 1 x air assault and parachute-capable companies on stand-by. They should expand the P Company parachute course.
17. The Army must increase its size. Possible quick areas to increase personnel numbers include bringing back 42nd Infantry Brigade (while cutting 2* and 3* posts) and by changing 5 SCOTs from a ceremonial company into a mixed Regular-Reserve Battalion.
18. There are far too small number of infantry regiments, cut further by Army 2020 Refine. The Specialised Infantry Group is a great idea, but it should not be just for the infantry, which is heavily-tasked. Instead, a mixed force of infantry, engineers, signal and other CS personnel should for a Specialised Unit to train other militaries.
19. Section sizes in the future should be a minimum of 7 or best 8. A section size of 6 is far too small.

Army 2020 Refine was largely General Nick Carter ‘s idea, constrained by SDSR 2010 and SDSR 2015. Now that he will be CDS, it will likely carry on, unless the new CGS, who we do not know who as yet, has the courage and refine it (but don’t call it Army 2020 Refine Refine or Refine 2.0) to better structure the small/82,000 (or less) British Army to meet today’s and tomorrows threats.