Where’s your new Shadow Team, Labour?

The anti-nuclear weapons/Trident Scottish National Party has finalised their front bench teams–seethis link. The infamous/famous Angus Roberston, who used to ask a gazillion questions on defence, has handed the role to a certain Brendan O’Hara. Along with him aresome other SNP Members of Parliament. Their backgrounds? I don’t know.

What I do know is the SNP has a group of MPs ready to shadow defence and other key government topics. Labour? Labour has only chosen Shadow Ministers in the Commons and in the House of Lords. The big-sized Vernon Coaker is still Shadow Defence Secretary. But where is his team? (as of 22 May 2015 ) I know two former MPs, Gemma Doyle and Alison Seaback lost their seats in the 2015 General Election. But there are still 200 plus other old and new Labour MPs. Hurry UK Labour, form form your front bench team for defence and other departments.

Musings of the Foxhound Regiments/Battalions

Towards the end of the Afghanistan Campaign, the British Army fielded the Foxhound or Force Protection Ocelot vehicle as one of its final means to protect personnel from Taliban/insurgent Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). In its 2012 Army 2020 brochure, Foxhound was stated to be part of the 1st (United Kingdom) Division or the Adaptable Force (AF). In total, six infantry regiments would become Light Protected Mobility Regiments, with troops primarily mounted in these vehicles (more details below). Each of them will be paired with an Army Reserve (AR) (formerly Territorial Army) battalion. These Light Protected Mobility Battalions will be :

1) 2 YORKS, paired with 4 YORKS (4th Infantry Brigade)

2) 2 R ANGLIAN, paired with 3 R ANGLIAN (7th Infantry Brigade)

3) 1 R IRISH, paired with 2 R IRISH (7th Infantry Brigade)

4) 1 WELSH GUARDS, paired with 3 R WELSH (or any of the Guards regiments on rotation) (11th Infantry Brigade)

5) 3 RIFLES, paired with 5 RRF (51st Infantry Brigade)

6) 3 SCOTS, paired with 7 SCOTS (51st Infantry Brigade)

Now, the 2012 brochure gave only a vague idea idea what a Foxhound/Light Protected Mobility Battalion would be like. It showed the generic Infantry structure: 3 Rifle Companies, 1 Support Company, and missing but needed, a Headquarters company. That’s fine. Yet, unlike the Armoured Infantry (Warrior) and Heavy Protected Mobility Regiments, no number of vehicles per Rifle Company is specified. (These mentioned regiments have the long standing 14 vehicles per regiment). The Foxhound/Light Protected Mobility unit is a new British Army unit. Looking at the not-so-updated armedforces.co.uk website (see this), there is no former equivalent to a Light Protected Mobility Infantry unit. The Warrior Armoured Infantry remains, and the Mechanised Infantry Regiments/Bulldog Regiments will be the Heavy Protected Mobility/Mastiff unit. Each of these will have a basic 14 vehicles per Rifle Company. But there is no stated number in the 2012 or 2013 Army 2020 brochures/documents.

There was a MOD news article that stated more Foxhounds were purchased, bringing the total to 400. There could be less in service, as there usually are with British Army/MOD numbers. But let’s assume for the moment that there are enough for all six regiments (excluding the paired AR units). Let’s do Assumption 1: 14 Foxhounds per Rifle Company. That means plus Support and HQ Companies, multiply by six, say about 300 needed. That rests comfortable within the 400 figure. But wait, this ignores the number of personnel in each Foxhound Rifle Company. A 3 September 2012 written question by the very active Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Angus Robertson revealed a rough number for Army 2020 units. Foxhound battalions would have 581 men. However, this number includes “All unit strengths include other arms attached to the units such as Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Royal Army Medical Corps, Adjutant General Corps (Staff and Personnel Support), Royal Logistic Corps, Royal Army Physical Training Corps and Royal Army Chaplains Department personnel.” Another written question by the same MP revealed a figure of 505 men, excluding personnel from other branches.

Now, the official General Dynamics Lands Systems (GDLS) Ocelot or Foxhound and the Army Recognition datasheet says a Foxhound Protected Patrol Variant/Vehicle (PPV) seats a 2 (driver and commander) and 4 troops/personnel/passengers. I assume with confidence Army 2020’s Foxhound regiments will be the PPV variant and not the recce or utility variant (perhaps these still will be used). Now, one section in the British Army’s infantry consist of eight men, although a Warrior armoured infantry section is seven (eight I guess if you counted the vehicle commander .) A Mastiff 2/3 can hold up to eight soliders, but I’m guessing it will be seven like with the Warrior section vehicle. (It might be less, since the Combat Capability for the Future document said 30 men in 4 Mastiffs.). Given a 2+4 configuration for the Foxhound, that covers half to three-quarters of a section, depending if you consider the driver and the vehicle commander as part of the section. There would be at least two to four soldiers missing, possibly making it two (2) foxhounds per section, meaning at least six (6) Foxhounds per platoon. Giving that there might be only two platoons of Regular Army platoons per Rifle Company (if we trust the Combat Capability document.).

That means at least 18 Foxhounds per Company, 54 per Rifle Company…that will almost burst the 400 vehicle mark. So ok, 1 Foxhound is 1 infantry section of 6 soldiers the most. Maybe the driver may have to dismount for close combat operations–I can’t imagine the section being just five men! So that reduces to three (3) Foxhounds per platoon, six (6) per Rifle Company, 18 per battalion (excluding Support Companies), and at least 108 for all six regiments. That’s not bad.

I’m not sure if the AR platoon joining each Rifle Company will mount on a Foxhound or a maybe a RWMIK (Revised Weapons Mounted Installation Kit) vehicle (which sits only three.). Nah, could be be a Foxhound. I can’t imagine them “torturing” the AR platoon by making them walk…There is still a fourth Regular Army Platoon in each Rifle Company, but its not mounted on Foxhounds. Instead as the 2 YORKS November 2014 update states, the third platoon in each Rifle Company will be a re-roled as a machine gun platoon (“re-roling the third platoon in each rifle coy as a machine gun platoon”). Following from the Combat Capability document, this machine gun platoon (possibly using the Heavy Machine Gun while the normal Foxhound gets a GPMG) will be mounted on RWMIK vehicles.

This mention of AR platoon shows that the The Foxhound Light Protected Mobility unit is unique and one of the distinguishing features of the Army 2020 concept. The Army Reserve ORBAT shows that AR infantry units will contain three companies, down from four. Beyond just providing a platoon to Foxhound they have to provide “sections to Support company [platoons]”. This is very general–is it one section of AR troops to the assault pioneer, reconnaissance, sniper, mortar and anti-tank (Javelin) platoons, or some of these units. This pairing would mean an increase in the overall Foxhound Light Protected Mobility unit to beyond the basic 505 or 585 figure.

This of course assumes that the AR infantry units attached to the regular Foxhound units are at full (100 %) staffing. As noted above, I can’t see the AR platoons/personnel walking on foot while the regular army guys (and girls) ride on Foxhounds and other vehicles. After all, the Combat Capability document states “Initially, all PM vehicles will be held in the Regular [Light Protected] battalions but as capability increases it may become possible to transfer elements to Reserve units.” So maybe they will get to ride on Foxhounds. But more crucially, the AR personnel have to be there to fill the gaps. Foxhound or no Foxhound, or even if there’s no other vehicles like the Ridgeback or Husky , the AR troops numbers must be there, especially for the Support Company. I can’t imagine deployments where there aren’t enough pioneers, reece, sniper, mortar, or anti-tank troops. (If there’s no AR Rifle platoon no so bad, since there’s 2 x Foxhound platoons and 1 x machine platoon in the regular force.)

I wish the British Army updates it’s website to inform interested people like me on the Foxhound Light Protected Mobility battalion.

The Royal Tank Regiment: Back in the CBRN game

NB: An edited version was published here: http://www.defenceviewpoints.co.uk/defence-news/british-armys-cbrn-capability . I thank defenceviewpoints for publishing the article.

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review mentioned a clear role for the/a Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear (CBRN) unit as part of the future high readiness force. Yet, on one of the lesser known impacts of this SDSR was that the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear Regiment (not the best link, do search the archive yourselves) would cease to be a joint unit. Instead, the 1st Royal Tank Regiment would transfer all CBRN authority/work/equipment to the Royal Air Force, specifically the RAF Regiment’s 27 Squadron. This was formally announced by the Royal Tank Regiment on 05 August 2011 and in the 2011 CBRN newsletter.

Personally, there is nothing wrong with shifting the CBRN role from a joint Army-RAF unit to just a RAF unit (27 Squadron is actually backed up by a RAF Reserve Regiment, 2623 (East Anglian). Together, they make up the “Defence CBRN Wing”, or 20 Wing RAF Regiment.) After all, 1 RTR was slated to merge with 2 RTR under the Army 2020 plan. It could be argued that this transfer out removed the key vehicle for CBRN, Fuchs, as seen in this House of Commons Written Question by MP Angus Robertson (Robertson loves to ask a heck load of defence-related questions as compared to front bench shadow ministers!) That would mean despite having the CBRN Wing, the CBRN capability might be reduced–one wonders which vehicles the wing used/uses now. However, Fuchs or no Fuchs, CBRN wasn’t exactly removed from the British Armed Forces, as so idiotic blogger suggested.

Fast forward to 2013/2014. The Royal Tank Regiment became the full RTR in August 2014. But before then, the Colonel-in-Chief issued this statement about the RTR’s structure:

We have therefore decided that, upon amalgamation, the three armoured squadrons in the Royal Tank Regiment will be known as AJAX, BADGER, and CYCLOPS. Command and Reconnaissance Squadron will be known as DREADNAUGHT, and Headquarters Squadron will be known as EGYPT. Should there be a future CBRN Area Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AS&R) Squadron, it will be known as FALCON…Finally, I should take this opportunity to say something about the formation of the CBRN AS&R squadron. As I write this message, there is a strong possibility that the RTR will be invited to generate an additional squadron to meet this task, over and above our Type 56 Armoured Regiment role. But the Defence Board has not yet made a final decision, so the task may yet fail to materialise, or (less likely) could be given to some other unit to perform. I have been involved in a host of high levels discussions about this task, both as your Colonel Commandant and as a member of the Army Command Group. My position throughout has been that the Army and Defence need an AS&R capability, that the RTR has demonstrated the ability to provide it, and that we stand ready to do so again. My one proviso has been to say that it would not be sensible to double-hat this capability with that of an armoured sub-unit: it needs to be a squadron in its own right. Hopefully, we will know the outcome on this issue within the next few months.

(see the full news article.)

And then came another House of Commons Written Question, this time by MP Nicholas Soames. Minister Mark Francois replied with a hint:

Under the Army 2020 structure, the Royal Armoured Corps will be formed of 10 Regular Regiments made up of three Armoured Regiments, three Armoured Cavalry Regiments and three Light Cavalry Regiments with the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment continuing to support public duties and ceremonial commitments; four Reserve Regiments and one independent Regular squadron providing a Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Area, Survey and Reconnaissance capability.

(see the full parliamentary reply.)

And true enough to the above statements, the British Army news release (above) stated that the new RTR would consist of “three Main Battle Tank squadrons (AJAX, BADGER, CYCLOPS), a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Area Survey and Reconnaissance squadron (FALCON), a Command and Reconnaissance squadron (DREADNAUGHT) and a Support squadron (EGYPT).” So in effect, the CBRN role is back under the British Army’s control again.

Several questions still remain. First, will this squadron be joined back with the RAF CBRN Wing or remain separate? The news release states that the RTR will be under “part of 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade and 8 Engineer Brigade.” We know from the old Army 2020 orbat that the RTR will be under 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade. But the report stated “8 Engineer Brigade”, a Force Troops Command unit. Could FALCON squadron be under 8 Engineer Brigade, and which unit specifically? Second, what vehicle(s) will FALCON squadron use? A quick search reveals that actually the Fuchs vehicle is “back”, unlike what then Minister Peter Luff said. So could they be back on Fuchs? The Fuchs vehicle is ageing and will need a replacement. Perhaps a version of the SCOUT SV/PMRS? Third, and back to structures, how will FALCON squadron operate? Will it be part of the capacity building part of Army 2020? Will it remain under Land Command or come under Joint Forces Command? These questions still linger as we welcome the RTR back into the CBRN game.

Note: To correct the silly mainstream media reports, the British Army is NOT “reduced to a single tank regiment” (I dont want to hyperlink the media sites) Army 2020 plans (see my ORBAT or the British Army Orbat), states that there will be 3 Type 56 Challenger 2 Regiments–The Royal Tank Regiment (as above), the Queens Royal Hussars and the King’s Royal Hussars. These will be backed up by a single Yeomanry regiment (Army Reserve), the Royal Wessex Yeomanry. Understand this!