1 April 2019 marks, no, not April Fools Day, but the re-formation of 28 Engineer Regiment (RE) which disbanded back in 2014. This reformation re-creates a Counter-Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment for the British Armed Forces, totally under British Army control. The unit used to command wide-wet river crossing squadrons in British Forces Germany.
History of CBRN capability in the British Armed Forces
The UK had some foresight in creating a unit to counter or at least detect CBRN agents. This was the result 1998 Strategic Defence Review, which foresaw such a need (see paragraph 35). The outcome was the Joint CBRN Regiment, which consisted of the then- 1st Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) and as well as reserve elements from 2623 Squadron RAuxAF Regiment and the Royal Yeomanry. In 2010, with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government came the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which saw military unit cuts due to a inaccurate prediction of a peace dividend after the Afghanistan campaign. Those cuts saw the removal of the Joint CBRN Regiment and the Fuchs vehicles, with all 11 of them slated for disposal, see also this answer in 2011. The 1st RTR would merge with its sister, the 2nd RTR, to form up a whole Challenger 2 Regiment. After some consideration, CBRN capability was retained at a smaller capability, from joint to purely under the RAF Regiment’s control. 27 Squadron RAF Regiment would join with 26 Squadron RAF Regiment (see this and this), and 2623 RAuxAF to maintain CBRN capability, with the Fuchs vehicles most definitely shelved.
Sniff, sniff. Then came the Arab Spring and then Syrian Civil War which saw Assad using chemical weapons on his own people and maybe the ISIS group. MPs questioned why the UK removed its essential CBRN capability in a debate. A couple years later, Falcon Squadron from the RTR was re-formed along side the other squadrons of the merged RTR. The squadron’s role was officially known as a ‘CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance Squadron’ and you can read all about it in this article. The Fuchs vehicles were recommissioned or regenerated at a price of £7,115,941 in 2015, with a simulator already ordered in 2014. The RTR official Facebook page later showed pictures of the vehicles in action, including a Husky and a unidentifiable vehicle – check out this picture, this picture and this one.
Ok, so Fuchs had returned and the RTR was proud of it. The RTR Association website used to have newsletters – its now updated and they are sadly gone – and one of them described the structure of Falcon Squadron:
CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance (AS&R) Capability
Falcon Squadron RTR provide defence’s CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance capability. Manned by the RTR they are under the command of 22 Engr Regt in Force Troops
Command. Falcon Squadron is equipped with two troops of four German Fuchs TPz vehicles. Each Fuchs is capable of chemical and radiological hazard detection and is crewed by four CBRN Specialists who are able to operate in CBRN hazard areas due to the vehicles
Ok, so the British Army restored its CBRN capability, and it would fall under 22 Engineer Regiment. Nevertheless, this was only a squadron or company-sized unit and the RAF regiment still held the bulk of CBRN capability. Fast forward to SDSR 2015, and if you look closely at the Joint Force 2025 graphics, you would realise the future RAF Regiment size would be slightly smaller. Yours truly guessed rightly and confirmed by a FOIA that the Army would fully take on the responsibility of CBRN. This was further confirmed in the Royal Engineers Association Management Committee minutes: 1) 23 February 2018 minutes stated the creation of “a Counter Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Regiment” by 2019 under the name and 2) this was also confirmed in the 29 January 2019 minutes.
Organisation and shape of things to come
Welcome back 28 RE and British Army Counter-CBRN! The first question that came to ‘wannabe military experts’ or ORBAT-crazy people (not me) was: What is the structure of this new regiment? Thankfully and quite willingly, the answer was revealed in this tweet:
64 HQ & Sp Squadron (C-CBRN)
42 Field Squadron (C-CBRN)
FALCON Squadron (C-CBRN)
77 Field Squadron (C-CBRN).
64 and 42 are former squadrons from the former 28 RE, Falcon we know where it’s from — will it get a number under its new parent regiment? 77 Squadron was from 35 RE which was a close support engineer regiment but under Army 2020 Refine, that regiment is now an Explosive Ordnance and Search (EOD&S) regiment. Beyond 28 RE, the Defence CBRN Centre at Winterbourne Gunner has shifted command from the RAF Regiment to the Royal School of Military Engineering (RSME) Group, further cementing the Army’s control of CBRN away from the RAF — you can see further tweets about the transfer here and here
This RAF to British Army control of Counter-CBRN and ‘new’ formation didn’t occur peacefully as Russia, mostly definitely through President Putin, released Novichok in Salisbury, nearly killing former GRU Colonel Sergei Skirpal and his daughter Yuulia and accidentally killing Dawn Sturgess and affecting Charlie Rowley. Falcon Squadron and the respective RAF regiments were in fact used in the cleaning up of Salisbury. So the British Armed Forces rightly restored its Counter-CBRN capability, but its adversaries are certainly moving at a faster pace.
So what next for 28 Engineer Regiment? For one, with the strained personnel shortfall in British Army recruitment, retention and training, the first challenge is whether there is really enough qualified – Counter-CBRN work is ‘rocket science’ – personnel to fully man each squadron as stated above. 28 RE, now sitting under 12 Force Support Engineer Group will not just have to deal with future CBRN attacks on British soil but help detect and clear paths for the Army’s single ‘warfighting’ division in any operation. The second most pressing challenge is which vehicle will replace the Fuchs vehicles, which are old and, via a FOIA, will likely go out of service (OSD) in 2019/2020. Oh yes, they did issue a Prior Information Notice in March 2019 to to upgrade 10 Fuchs and 1 simulator hoping to extend the OSD to 2024 or even 2027. A much newer vehicle would be rather welcoming. The Army is in the process of acquiring Ajax, Boxer and much later, the MRV-P Group 1 and Group 2 vehicles. MRV-P Group 1, which sadly or thankfully, will be the US-made Oshkosh L-ATV might be a possible choice, or even Boxer, in the same fashion as the US M1135 Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, Reconnaissance [Stryker] Vehicle. Or even something else. Personally, the personnel issue will be the most challenging part first. This discussion would require another post.
Anyway, welcome back 28 Engineer Regiment.