NSS and SDSR 2015: My review of the military context

The National Security Review and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 has been published, rather late in the day but nevertheless published. One immediate difference from the 2010 reviews is that both the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) are combined together. That makes a big difference, but I’ll deal with the strategy part in a later post. First, the military (which forms the defence part):

The Royal Navy:

* Senior service in the NSS and SDSR 2015 stays almost as expected.
* Major ships in surface fleet stay at the small number of 19. But only eight/8 x Type 26 Global combat Ships will be ordered, the anti-submarine variant with Sonar 2087. Five more will appear later, but possibly more with a revised version for “General Purposes”. As many point out, this goes back to the original C1 and C2 variants. Would we thus get more than thirteen/13 type 26 frigates? What exactly will this GP variant be like? Will it have Mk41 Vertical Launch Silos (VLS)? Or are they copying my old idea?
* The graphic shows “up to 6 Patrol Vessels”. Batch 2 River-Class Frigates for sure, plus HMS Clyde, plus the two more that the document (page 31) that will be ordered. I suspect these two/2 additional vessels will also be Batch 2 River-Class? So goodbye to the Batch 1 Offshoere Patrol Vessels (OPV). All seems really good–These can help patrol the Caribbean to some extent and release Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels for other more pressing commitments. It well, also means the Scottish workers have more secured jobs for a while. Lucky them.
* No mention of other patrol vessels, especial the Gibraltar Squadron. Will there be any change?
* Only twelve/12 Mine-counter measure vessels are specified in the graphic, down from the fifteen/15 the Royal Navy has at present. No mention if these are the Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) future variant, though they are likely to be. That’s ok but only if they can extend their reach to the present commitments–the MENA area–or possibly elsewhere.
* Goodbye HMS Ocean. No mention in the graphic or elsewhere. Instead, “We will enhance a Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier to support this amphibious capability.” That, as I and many others point out, is not a practical use of the QEC but well has to be.
* The LPDs and LSDs will stay, ok.
* No mention of the Point-Class Ro-Ros, but they will likely stay.
* No mention of the Merlin HM4/Mk4 variants, oh wait, they put that under the Army graphic. Typo or just saying it’s Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) controlled?
* Royal Marines with Arctic capability. Well, not exactly new; they have operated in Norway for a long time.
* Six/6 Fleet Tankers. Is this four/4 Tide-Class tankers plus the two/2 Wave-Class fuel and support tankers/support ships? Will the Wave-Class ships be replaced in the distant future? Ok, not a worry.
* Three/3 Fleet Solid Support Ships. At present it is RFA Fort Victoria, RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort Austin. Will Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin be replaced by newer Solid Support Ships, again built in South Korea?
* No mention of a replacement for RFA Argus and RFA Diligence. So sad though you did say it it was to be considered. Liar.
* Likely or most likely no change in the number of Merlin HM2/MK2 ASW/ASAC helicopters. Which you know, means a tight Tailored Air Group (TAG). Boo…
*Type 45s may be part of a future Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD).
* Not forgetting the Queen-Elizabeth Class Carriers. Still no confirmation how they will operate, especially with HMS Ocean going away. The TAG is questionable even with the 138 F-35B order which will arise only in the distant future. There are still questions regarding the order. For example, this report says “It means the UK will have 24 F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft available on its two new aircraft carriers by 2023.” Does that mean 24 on one operational carrier or 24×2 = 48 on both carriers? Let’s take it as 24 on HMS Queen Elizabeth. What about the 138-24 others (besides OCU and OEU?) As Justin Bronk points out, could they be the A version?
* Of course, Successor-class, that is the SSBNs will be procured. The submarines that cannot do anything.

British Army:

* The Army 2020 model is no more; it is Army 2025. Instead of the austerity-linked but nice plan by General Sir Nicholas Carter (see this), the Army 2025 plan alters the Reaction and Adaptable Forces. Now there will be two/2 x Armoured Infantry (AI) Brigades, down from 3 from the original plan and a change from the typical division size. Wait, two/2 “Strike Brigades” that that could quickly deploy anywhere with independent logistical footprint.
* Strike Brigades?! They want to draw in the 589 Ajax (SCOUT SV) Brigades to form these brigades. But Ajax was to be for the original 3 AI brigades, not playing with a new fantasy fleet concept. What will these Strike Brigades consist of? Say one of the existing AIs and one brigade from the Adaptable Force (AF), maybe 7th Infantry Brigade. What else besides Ajax? Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) formerly UV, formerly FRES UV. Ok. But what else? How on earth are they independent in terms of logistics? And if you need to deploy a division, will the Strike Brigade (single) become a AI?
* A further question: What happens to the third Challenger 2 Armour regiment with these Strike Brigades? Will the disband/stay in suspended animation or will they be re-organised into the two other AI brigades? Good that Challenger 2 LEP will continue but well tank’s gun is outdated.
* Warrior CSP will continue–will all the six/6 Armoured Infantry battalions get the CTA 40mm gun?
* Upgraded helicopters–expected, nothing new.
* “Two innovative brigades comprising a mix of Regulars and specialist capabilities from the Reserves able to contribute to our strategic communications, tackle hybrid warfare and deliver better battlefield intelligence.” From the AF brigades? What will these be? MRV-P centred?
* 16 Air Assault Brigade stays but any change?
* Field Hospitals stay in the Joint Force (Command). See below.
* No mention of the Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicle (ABSV).
* No mention of upgrades or replacement for the Defender planes or Gazelle.
* No core mention of MIV and MRV-P and other key projects that will replace soon to OSD assets.
* Of course, the magical 77th Brigade will remain as a soft-power enabler.
* Hey look, Commander Land Forces is now Commander Field Army. Great priority change.

The Royal Air Force

* It gains the most as it did in the 2010 SDSR. Junior Service wins.
* 20 “Protector” RPAS, basically MQ-9 Repear upgraded. Not new, announced before.
* Nine/9 PBoeing P-8 Poseidon, the expensive US MPA, to be based at RAF Lossiemouth. The usual cheers around, and it shows how incorrect Mark Hookham is. But 1) They wont appear instantly; 2) RAF and the Royal Navy have no air-launched Harpoons left so they can’t conduct ASuW 3) UK Stingray torpedoes and MK 11 depth charges need to be integrated onboard. Its “overland surveillance capability” is questionable.
* Amazingly, Sentinel R1, the formerly to-be-scrapped aircraft, will stay on “into the next decade”. Possibly they will help the P-8s or act as interim aircraft until the P-8s reach Full Operational Capability (FOC).
* They “el-cheapo: Shadow R1 will stay on until 2030. Really not bad for a propeller plane that could be taken up be Defender (theoretically). And the UK will get two more of them, bringing the total to eight.
* Sentry E-3 and the Rivet Joint (not Air Seeker!!!) stay on till 2035. Any upgrades darling?
* Hey, you didn’t want to keep the C-130s before. Hey! You are keeping 14 of the J models. Plus still aiming for 22 A400Ms plus just only 8 C-17ERs. Suddenly there’s the money to keep the C-130s? Ok, the Special Forces are really happy. More on that later…
* Along with the P-8s and keeping of Sentinel R1, you get this new drone that “will fly at the very edge of the earth’s atmosphere and allow us to observe our adversaries for weeks on end”. As Beth Stevenson points out, it is likely to be the “Airbus Defence & Space Zephyr high-altitude pseudo-satellite”.
* T1 Typhoons to form additional 2 x Squadrons, but only around 12 planes each, down from the 13-15 as seen in FOIAs like this. It is yet to be seen where they will be based given that RAF Lossiemouth will be choked full of planes.
* F-35s as above. But with the great projected order, isn’t it time to given all light blues and all dark blues to Squadrons and dark blue FAA Squadrons?
* Voyager Fleet: You get Cameron Fore One or PM Force One. Save money, give prestige it works out well. But please UK, don’t abuse it.
* The Future UCAV research project with France will continue. Yay..

Joint Forces (Command):

* Special Forces will get the most high-tech equipment. But with a shrunken active force, you would (still) struggle to get enough people to operate this. More later…
* Will you even have enough reserve special forces personnel?
* Joint Force Command, particularly, PJHQ, will get more stars (my FOIA). With a shrunken force, don’t try a top-heavy leadership. Won’t sound out well with the lower ranks.
* Space Operations Centre–a mouthful. For non-military means as well?
* How much effort will be place on cyber, since it is a Tier One threat?

Larger questions:

* So much of the SDSR and NSS is on equipment. How about personnel shortfalls? Getting women and minorities into the armed forces is only one bit to gain strength. You won’t get enough personnel for these major high tech assets–the carriers, the surface ships, the submarines, the F-35s, the additional Typhoons, the Army units etc. Personnel shortages hasn’t but must be addressed.
* When will the new equipment and assets be ready?
* Buying Yank stuff. Do you have a plan if prices increase?
* Will you really spend 2% of GDP on Defence and ho much contingency money is there?
* Any plans to increase, not alter, the personnel size? Or will you make cuts to unit strengths? No use claiming to have a division-sized force when the companies or battalions are under-sized.
* Will the joint model between departments (not JFC), ie. DFID, FCO, improve?
* How much change will there be for this Joint Force 2025 between now and 2020?

Next up, reviewing the Strategy…

PS: Did I miss anything out?

Queen’s Speech 2015: The foreign affairs, security and defence parts

Well, not too shabby Brits may put it. The Queen’s Speech 2015, written by a Conservative majority government, did not just focus on Osborne’s cuts, debt and deficit reduction and the European Union (EU) plans or exit. There was a substantial but still not that detailed section on foreign affairs, security and defence. I paste the relevant part of the speech below, with my brief comments in bold:

My Lords and members of the House of Commons

My government will continue to play a leading role in global affairs, using its presence all over the world to re-engage with and tackle the major international security, economic and humanitarian challenges. (This is more a reference to the work and challenge of the Department for International Development (DFID), along with say the Stabilisation unit, the 77th Brigade, the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff.)

My ministers will remain at the forefront of the NATO alliance and of international efforts to degrade and ultimately defeat terrorism in the Middle East. (Note: Ministers, not military leaders.)

The United Kingdom will continue to seek a political settlement in Syria, and will offer further support to the Iraqi government’s programme for political reform and national reconciliation. (FCO work, along say with DFID but FCO first.)

My government will maintain pressure on Russia to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and will insist on the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. (FCO, plus maybe, just maybe, military might. No mention whatsover about a committment or some adherence to the NATO 2% target.)

My government looks forward to an enhanced partnership with India and China. (Military? Remember this post I made? There’s conflicting information which brigade is aligned to India. The British Army Journal said 11th Infantry Brigade but now 8th Engineer Brigade says 22 Engineer Regiment, a smaller unit. In any case, the “enhanced partnership” with India will primarily be foreign affairs, economic/commerical and non-aid development. China? No British Army units appear to be aligned with China. Links will China will be diplomatic and economic/commerical. Once in a while, maybe a Royal Navy ship visit or maybe, maybe RAF Typhoons.)

Prince Philip and I look forward to our state visit to Germany next month and to our state visit to Malta in November, alongside the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. We also look forward to welcoming His Excellency the President of The People’s Republic of China and Madame Peng on a state visit in October. (See the linkage with China will be diplomatic.)

My government will seek effective global collaboration to sustain economic recovery and to combat climate change, including at the climate change conference in Paris later this year. (Amber Rudd’s purview.)

My government will undertake a full strategic defence and security review, and do whatever is necessary to ensure that our courageous armed forces can keep Britain safe. (The famous and dreaded Strategic and Security Defence Review 2015. Cuts? Increases (haha), you name the gloom and doom.)

My government will work to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons, cyber attacks and terrorism. (Vague, but remember the Joint Cyber Reserve?)

Other measures will be laid before you.

My Lords and members of the House of Commons

I pray that the blessing of almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

Myths about UK/British Defence spending and Aid/ODA

Myth 1: The UK can only be a major global power through a large/strong military.

Reality: If this was the 17th to early 20th Century, then I would strongly agree with the above statement. This however, is the 21st Century. The projection of power via nation-states, especially large nation states, cannot and has not been via just via military means. The US may be the world’s superpower for decades after World War II, yet it was not just by their military that they projected power. American power was seen by the presence of American investment and economic expansion within the country and globally. Culturally, American power has been seen through American brand names like MacDonald’s. On this topic of culture, aid and the policies that come along side aid is a form of power, known as “soft power”. (See this lecture by Joseph Nye for general understanding of soft power). Soft power can be as influential as military might. Assisting countries in development can help plant the UK flag globally, similar to the case of sailing a Royal Navy task force to that region or deploying a battlegroup. Recent conflicts such as those in the Balkans, Sierra Leone (in the early 2000s), Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan have shown that some degree of development assistance is needed alongside or after military intervention. Even the US has realised that military might or hard power is not the only means to win wars or to project power. Former Defence Secretary Robert Gates in fact was a proponent of using US aid to complement US military power. Simply put, power in today’s world is not projected just by the barrel of the gun.

Myth 2: The UK needs to spend 2% of GDP on defence, no ifs no buts.

Reality: Yes and No. Yes, because that is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)’s target, supposedly set by NATO member states in 2002. Yes, especially since Prime Minister David Cameron urged other NATO members to meet the target in the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales. Yes because there are threats from Russia, Daesh (the proper name for ISIS/ISIL), Boko Haram, Syria, and many unknown unknowns.

Uh no. It should not be about a fixed target about 2%. You can jolly well “steal” the Department for International Development’s (DFID) budget and create enough for 2%, but that is about meeting targets, not meeting outcomes or addressing the external security environment. You can have your 2% expenditure or even more, but if you spend it say on the music bands of the four different branches or on personnel pay, that doesn’t mean a more secure UK. (Note, I’ve nothing against the Royal Navy’s, the Royal Marine’s, the British Army’s or the Royal Air Force’s military bands.) As Christian Mölling argues in his article, it should be about efficiency and outcomes not (just) about an abstract figure. Of course, the UK, being a “fixed” major power, needs a strong defence budget. But if it spends it unwisely, then its better off channelling that money to more practical uses.

Myth 3: The UK (since 2010) as spent too much on development aid.

Reality: The 0.7% target is of course hated by pro-military groups and individuals but for extreme reasons. First, noo, in terms of volume, the UK is not really channelling alot in aid or what they term as Official Development Assistance (ODA) (I’ll call it aid for in this post). The UK may have recently reached the 0.7% target, but the United States is still the world’s largest donor in terms of volume.

With regards to the itsy-bitsy 0.7% figure, I’ll let you read this post. Yes 0.7% is an outdated aid figure. Yes, it is as symbolic as the NATO target of 2% on GDP. Yes, it could be reduced. But British MPs have a fetish over this oudated and irrelevant figure.

Myth 4: Aid is useless, aid is wasted on corrupt governments/government figures. Stop aid!

Reality: You here is mainly from the Daily Mail, Dambisa Moyo or those who simply never understand the meaning of aid at all. It would take an essay long answer to explain the limited effectiveness of aid but to answer this myth, none of the extreme anti-aid groups have presented strong evidence of aid being wasted or aid being fully ineffective. To the contrary, British aid (only talking about British aid here) is heavily monitored by DFID itself before it is used to fund development projects or assist countries. The current (and soon hopefully gone) Coalition Government has been very keen on ensure UK aid should not be wasted. They initiated a Multilateral Aid Review and Bilateral Aid Review to re-focus where UK aid should be sent. Beyond DFID, there is the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) (formerly the Independent Advisory Committee on Development Impact (IACDI), which monitors the impact of British aid. ICAI has sounded alarms to DFID (and the UK parliament) if UK aid is inefficiently used. Of course, UK aid is not the golden child of global aid and there have been faults and wastage. But by and large, the myth cannot be substantiated.

Aid in fact is a tool for the UK’s national security. If you consider (or not consider) the issue of soft power, aid is a tool to secure conflict or near conflict zones. The Coalition government in fact has listed aid as a means to achieve its Building Stability Oversea Strategy.

Myth 5: Charity begins at home, development sucks defence rocks.

Reality: This again requires an essay long answer but it goes back to points raised above. As stated, conflicts or possible conflicts in the recent past, today and in the future cannot be simply solved by military force alone. Afghanistan is perhaps the clearest example. The US and NATO had a clear military advantage over the Taliban/Al Qaeda (even if you discount the nuclear arsenals of the US, UK and France). Yet, NATO or the West could not or has not beaten this/these adversary/(ies). It may be the case that Afghanistan can’t be easily developed, but external, non-military help has been noted to be another strong factor to stabilise the country.

Pro-military people or citizens might argue that in this era of economic uncertainty or downturn, one should withdraw from aiding others and focus at home (on defence). Nation-States like the UK (or major world powers) simply cannot at like a sick individual or a poor family. In the global arena, states still have to provide engagement and assistance when needed, despite their own troubles.

Myth 6: The UK military (or armed forces in general), knows better on how to deal with post-conflict or development in general. It has been called upon in development or humanitarian situations.

Reality: This is undoubtedly true as seen in the cases of Operation Patwin (UK response to Typhoon Haiyan), Operation Gritrock (response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone) or even the floods back in the UK. Praise must be given to all branches of the armed forces for aiding others in need. However, the armed forces still needed to work with those with the expertise of development or disaster relief in order for a successful mission. In response (to mostly the Afghanistan campaign), the British Army has grouped three (later four) sub-units to form the Security Assistance Group, now known as the 77th Brigade. This brigade/unit will work along side DFID and Foreign Office (FCO) personnel to stabilise or attempt to stabilise regions or countries. (See my entries on the 77th Brigade) So yes, there the British Armed Forces isn’t only “owner” of development expertise but instead should work with those with the knowledge. (Again, see the answer to Myth 4).

Myth 7: There shouldn’t be a DFID. What is DFID? No other country has a DFID.

Reality: To cut a long answer short, yes there should DFID in order to prevent wastage of UK aid. A good history of why DFID was created can be found in this article by Owen Barder. Yes, other countries have similar cabinet-level departments, Germany for example. Other’s have departments resting under their foreign ministries, such USAID. The issue of whether DFID should remain DFID is still debatable, but the usual answer in favour of having a cabinet-level development agency in the UK? The Pergau Dam affair (see the Barder Article or read up on it).

Myth 8: But ok, Defence still is the major duty of any UK government.

Reality: I agree, this can be said to be true for all independent countries. But as noted above, the security of the UK (and that of the world) cannot just depend on military might alone. Armed Forces may appear to be great (to pro-military nuts), but they ultimately cause destruction or create the opposite of development. Or put it this way: Your armed forces simply can’t stop individuals from being radicalised or leaders in other countries to kill their own citizens or neighbouring regions. Defence via military means can’t stop other non-military incidents or events such as climate change, radical militants, or even long term government failure. Defence and security today and tomorrow rests not just with missiles or troops, but with other means.

Myth 9: You can’t have both 2% of GDP on Defence and 0.7% of GDP for aid

Reality: Goes back to Myth 2 to 4. Personally, you can reach both symbolic targets if you sort out the economy properly. Oh yes, you can reduce the 0.7% target (and get cries from the NGO community) and hope that 2% helps secure your country. But again, reaching targets is just reaching targets. Making the most out of the money should always be the issue.

Myth 10: It’s DFID’s fault! Always target DFID!

Reality: I would blame those that caused the economic crises of the world and certainly DFID isn’t the major target to blame.

The Security Assistance Group, now the 77th Brigade Part 3

This third part of the series goes into simple question-and-answer mode regarding the 77th Brigade/SAG. I could write it in proper prose/essay style, but that would take a longer time and I have other committments.

1) Is the 77th Brigade a unit for Psyops? Will it really be a “Twitter Troops” unit, ie. “attacking” adversaries via social media?

A: A big No and Yes. As explained in the earlier 2 articles, the SAG, now re-titled as the 77th Brigade, was formed under the Army 2020 concept to match the UK government’s Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS). In simpler terms, it is a formation dedicated towards conflict prevention and (state/regional) stabilisation. Yes, 15 POG, one of its sub-units, and the MOG and the MSSG (to a lesser degree) are (or have been involved) in PSYOPS. Their grouping together DOES NOT mean that is is going to be one big PSYOPS family. Rather, in the course of stabilising areas or preventing large-scale conflict, psychological means might be a good or plausible means to reach objectives. Now, I am a critic of the BSOS concept. But that is a debate for a separate article. What the 77th Brigade’s mission will be is to help to tackle the non-conventional threats of the present and the future (as its units have done in Iraq and Afghanistan). Regarding social media, it is again undoubtedly a domain which the British Army (any other armed forces) will have to address. That does not mean “normal” media channels will be ignored. But yes, in the course of conflict prevention and stabilisation, “attacking” or influencing others via social or normal media can be a means to and end.

2) Even if the 77th Brigade is not a PSYOPS-only unit, is is a form of “Big Brother”?

A: Spare me the extremist anti-monitoring, anti-government control talk. The simple answer is no.

3) Why form the SAG or the 77th Brigade and have a Brigade-sized unit or a Brigadier, in the light of cuts to the armed forces?

A: As noted, several of the sub-units of the SAG/77th Brigade were from pre-Army 2020 units. The MSSG was broadly under the Royal Engineers; the 15 POG was under the 1 or 1st Military Intelligence Brigade. During the course of the Afghanistan campaign (and other simultaneous British Armed Forces operations), these units appeared to be addressing the same problem–non-conventional threats or (post)-conflict work. With the BSOS idea and the existing FCO-DFID-MOD partnership (especially through the Conflict Pool or in the future, the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund), a new unit dedicated towards BSOS objectives would further enhance the MOD’s work in stability and security. Placing it under the land forces/Army is/was a no-brainier, but drawing a talent pool from all three services would be practical.

4) But, this is the British Army which fight wars. Which other armed forces has created such a unit focused on this task?

A: Conflict prevention has been a historical issue, although no army or armed forces or country has solved it effectively. The end of World War II, the Vietnam War, Cold War conflicts, post-Cold War conflicts all drew out the issue of conflict prevention or pre-conflict prevention. The US Army, during or post-Vietnam War, has created several units dedicated towards the topic of conflict/post-conflict work. These are termed as (pretty cutely) “civil affairs units”. Such units reside under the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), not as a separate-brigade sized unit. You can view the Facebook pages of some units such as the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion – Airborne or the 8th Military Information Support Group – Airborne. There’s a U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), the (higher) command which teaches civil affairs units how to conduct their missions. Within the US Army’s Brigade Combat Team structure, there are teams dedicated to civil affairs (see US Army FM 390.6). Civil Affairs may not be as dedicated towards conflict prevention and stabilisation, so perhaps the 77th Brigade has the upper hand (the US armed forces has never been a great agency for development work).

5) If the 77th Brigade is not a PSYOPS unit, why was it said to be so?

A: Blame the media (the social and normal media) for casting in in an inaccurate perspective. Ok, blame the British Army and the Ministry of Defence for not releasing a full and proper media release on their websites (which aren’t very updated). Only if you read back through the articles I posted in the earlier 2 posts can you draw the connection between the SAG and the 77th Brigade.

This will probably not be the last article on the SAG/77th Brigade, but I hope I corrected all misconceptions. Note: As stated on twitter, facebook and here, I am not affiliated with the British Armed Forces, or the UK’s Ministry of Defence.

Thanks.

Update: The Brigade (@77th_Brigade) has blocked me (@ForcesReviewUK) for NO CLEAR REASON. May it never achieve it goals.

The Security Assistance Group, now the 77th Brigade Part 1

Well everybody across the 30th January-1st February 2015 weekend was (on social and normal media) talking about #twittertroops or the 77/77th Brigade, supposedly a “new unit”. So many have been wondering why should the “Chindits” unit be revived, why create a unit under Army 2020 (which was formed in 2013). Why use twitter/social media?

The fact is it is NOT A UNIT ABOUT Psychological Warfare, depsite what idiots on Wikipedia say it is. this is just a re-branding/re-naming of the Security Assistance Group (SAG), which was formed on 1 September 2014 and located under the new Force Troops Command. Below are a series of links related to the SAG/77th Brigade and its sub-units. Anyway, let’s take a look at the 77 Brigade units and I hope to argue its critical importance in UK defence  and security policy here, unlike what Tango Delta and its readers assert.

The 77th Brigade, former the SAG, officially consists of:

Headquarters Element
The Media Operations Group (MOG)
The Security Capacity Building Team (SCBT)
15 Psychological Operations Group (15 POG)
Military Stabilisation Support Group (MSSG)

Page 4 of the 2012 Army 2020 brochure shows that the SAG then was (and quite correctly) is a “regiment”-sized unit (it is shown with the III NATO symbol).
According to page 8 of this newsletter, it is commanded by a  1 * (Brigadier), with a headquarters (HQ) “41 military personnel (16 Officers, 16 SNCO, and 9 ORs).” The MSSG will have 60 military personnel (20 Officers, 40 ORs). A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by yours truly (yes me!) revealed closer details about each of the sub-units. As of October 2014, there are only 50 personnel in the HQ element (which means it is still understaffed), 50 in the 15 POG, 50 in the MOG, 10 in the SCBT, and 120. The FOIA replied stated these numbers will increase as the sub-units and the entire unit forms up.

The first and probably biggest question is: What is the 77th Brigade/SAG for? The Force Troops Command FTC) website states that:

Building on the recent cross-Whitehall International Defence Engagement and Building Stability Overseas Strategies, the Security Assistance Group (SAG) will have close links with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Stabilisation Unit.

General Role of the 77th Brigade/SAG

The Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) refers to this 2011 policy paper produced by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DFID). Basically BSOS is a general outline on how the UK will deal with conflict states/failed states or war zones. It is quite obvious that the FCO and DFID would be involved in preventing or solving any conflict state. The MOD, much to the displeasure of warfighting troops, has to be involvement in conflict destabilisation/stabilisation. Conflicts or growing conflicts such as Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq War I and II (yes both Gulf Wars), Afghanistan and even the Israel-Palestinian Conflict have included non-conventional actors. Battles or objectives are no longer just about militaries or armed forces verses each other. Battles are not not won by just hard aggressive force but also through information deception or the loose term of “psychological warfare”. In proper academic circles, it is the usage of “soft power”.

After all, page 27 FTC media release (another possibly fake document) mentioned the term soft power in relation to the then SAG. “[It] will deliver the application of Soft Power at the strategic and operational levels and soft effects at the tactical level…[the] SAG will provide Force elements to Reaction and Adaptable forces, and be the principal Defence partner for the Stabilisation Unit at the tactical level, contributing to the Coalition, Joint, inter-agency, inter-governmental and Multinational Approach.” In this manner the SAG is your MOD/Army tool to help secure, stabilise and rebuild societies, regions and even countries (if you want to use the layman’s terminology). This FTC release also stated at the intelligence-centred Land Intelligence Fusion Centre will be linked to it via a small section, possibly through the HQ element.

If the above paragraph still doesn’t sufficient describe the 77th Brigade, now the SAG, you should read pages 119, 121-122 of the 2014 British Army Journal gives probably the most detailed information on the SAG (then). Page 119 says the unit will be be focal point for levers of soft power (see the term again!) or persistent “engagement”. Pages 121-122 is a article by the CO of the SAG, then Colonel Alastair Aitken (now Brigadier). Aitken stresses how the boundaries between regular, irregular, political, economic and social activities have been blurred. As in the paragraph above, Aitken indicates the Army needs to address the blurred lines in order to gain the upper hand. A unit, and thus the SAG, is needed to deter pre-conflict events and post-conflict actions for the long term. Aitken also notes that the SAG will not operate with just its sub-units but with FTC’s 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade (1 ISR Brigade), especially 21 and 23 SAS Regiments, the new Human, Environment, Reconnaissance and Analysis (HERA) patrols.

These paragraphs thus show that the SAG and now the 77th Brigade is not a unit for psychological warfare, no matter what some on wikipedia or the mainstream or social media claim it to be. Yes, as shown above and below, several of the units are dedicated to psychological warfare, but this is not their only goal nor is it the primary mission of 77th Brigade. The unit is to aid in the mission of stabilisation. To further substantiate this point, the next section delves into the roles and part of the histories of 77th Brigade’s sub-units.

Update 1: A parliamentary written question by MP Jim Shannon finally revealed the role of the 77th Brigade. Minister Mark Francois stated that:

“77th Brigade is the new name for the Security Assistance Group. Its continuing role includes:
Providing support, in conjunction with other Government agencies, to efforts to build stability overseas and to wider defence diplomacy and overseas engagement;
Leading on Special Influence Methods, including providing information on activities, key leader engagement, operations security and media engagement;
Military capacity-building at various stages in the cycle of conflict, through mentoring, support and training, including providing training support to Force Elements to enable delivery of security assistance tasks.
There will be 440 military posts in 77th Brigade.”

Quite simply then, the Brigade is the renaming of the SAG and continues its stated objectives. IT IS NOT A UNIT FOR FACEBOOK WARRIORS OR JUST PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS.

Update 2: MP Kevan Jones asked about the number of reserves in the 77th Brigade. Answer by Julian Brazier:

“As the reorganisation of this formation is taking place, we do not yet have any figures for recruitment but at 1 January 2015, there were 160 members of the Army Reserve (Group A) in the Units that make up the 77th Brigade.
We intend to expand the number of Reservists to 235, some 53% of the total.”

End of Part 1

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.