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

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SCOUT SV: Are (my) numbers correct?

I know this is news from last year but its been bugging me again lately. The much delayed Future Rapid Effects Systems (FRES) (Scout Vehicle) (SV) became the SCOUT SV and finally had a contract signed last year. The Coalition Government of course used it as a sign to say they were really spending on and focused on defence. What is interesting, or more interesting to military nuts are the exact break down of numbers. The good old JANES.com website broke down :

589 SCOUT SV vehicles to be built for the British Army.

244 of the turreted Scout SVs, which holds a three-man crew, in three variations: 198 Reconnaissance and Strike variants, designed to operate as armoured cavalry; 23 Joint Fire Control variants, for use by artillery forward observers; and 24 Ground Based Surveillance variants, equipped with a man-portable radar system.

The remaining orders are for the [Protected Mobility Reconnaissance Support] (PMRS) type, which holds a crew of two and four passengers. These include: 59 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) variants; 112 Command and Control (C2) variants; 34 Formation Reconnaissance Overwatch variants; and 51 Engineer Reconnaissance variants, which have specialist engineering equipment but cannot carry dismounts.

Another 88 engineering vehicles based on the PMRS type have been ordered for use by the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). These comprise 38 Recovery Variants, designed to recover and tow damaged vehicles, and 50 Repair vehicles to support the remainder of the fleet in the field. The Recovery variant holds a three-person crew, with space for a fourth, while the Repair variant carries a four-man crew.

 

 

What has been bugging me are whether the numbers above match the numbers for the Army 2020 units, especially those in the Reaction Force (RF). Let’s look at the turreted and PMRS types, including the cutely named Formation Reconnaissance Overwatch variants. The old 2012 Army 2020 brochure, 1 x Armoured Cavalry Regiment (Reconnaissance Regiment in the RF) is suppose to have 3 x Sabre Squadrons of 16 vehicles each, and a Command and Support Squadron. The no longer posted on the British Army website, possibly a fake article, Combat Capability for the future, provides a more detailed ( or perhaps too detailed) organisation of the Army 2020 Calvary Regiment. The Document states that:

Each Armoured Cavalry regiment will be structured around three Sabre squadrons, optimised for reconnaissance tasks, a Command and Support squadron and a Headquarters squadron. The Sabre squadrons will have three Reconnaissance troops, each with four vehicles, and a Support troop. The Command and Support squadron will contain three Guided Weapons troops and a Surveillance troop (p.4)

Working on this “information”, it means that 1 Troop will have 4 x SCOUT SV turreted vehicles. 3 Troops, 12 x SCOUT SV (this excludes the Support Troop, which will be covered shortly). 3 Troops (excluding the Support Troop) makes 1 x Squadron. 3 x Sabre Squadrons makes 1 Armoured Cavalry regiment, or 36 SCOUT SVs. Multiply that by another 3 (the total number of Armoured Cavalry regiments in the Reaction Force), and you get 108 SCOUT SVs. But that’s not all the trurrets SCOUT SVs. The Command and Reconnaissance Squadron of the Challenger 3 Type 56 Regiments also have reece vehicles. So far as I can gather, there are 8 of them (Scimitars CVR(T) at present then SCOUT SV). So 8 x 3/4 Type 56 Regiments (including the Army Reserve Royal Wessex Yeomanry). This meansĀ 108 + 32 or 108 + 24 meaning, 140 or 132 turreted SCOUT SV.

SCOUT SV (turreted version), according to the Combat Capability for the future document, also is found in the Reconnaissance Platoon in the Support Company of Warrior Armoured Infantry Battalions (see this link). The link says 8 x recce vehicles, so with 6 armoured infantry battalions, that means another 48 x turreted SCOUT SV vehicles allocated. This brings the total to 140+48= 188 turret vehicles, or if you ignore the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, that means 180 vehicles. Against the total order of 198 matches. Of course, the Battation HQ squadrons in each regiment would probably get 2 or 3 turreted vehicles, meaning 189 or 197 active turreted vehicles.

Let’s skip down to the cutely named “Protected Mobility Reconnaissance Support (PMRS)” units. The 2012 Army 2020 plan and its final 2013 version gave the impression that 1 armoured cavalry squadron would have 16 turreted SCOUT SVs. We now know from the unofficial Combat Capability for the future document that there is 1 Support Troop in each squadron. This is similar to this old layout, where there are 4 x Spartan Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) (CVR(T)) vehicles in a support troop. It is therefore inferred that there are 4 x PMRS vehicles in each support troop. That means for a full regiment, 12 PMRS. And for all three cavalry regiments, 36 x PMRS. With and order of 59, that 23 for spares, training, etc. (Perhaps they will still be allocated amongst the RF units). Or do any PMRS vehicles go to the HQ Squadron of the Armoured Cavalry units (HQ meaning HQ Squadron not the Battalion HQ).

That’s ok for the moment. But there’s still the Command & Support (C&S) Squadron vehicles to worry about. The old ORBAT by armedforces.co.uk says “Expect the Command and Support Squadron to include a ground surveillance troop, a TACP/FAC party and an NBC protection troop in addition to the normal command and control elements.” Well, I don’t think the Army 2020 ORBAT or even present ORBAT includes a NBC troop. Instead, the Combat Capability report says “[the] Command and Support squadron will contain three Guided Weapons troops and a Surveillance troop“. Now, within the PMRS numbers ordered, there’s also another variant with an even cuter name–the “Formation Reconnaissance Overwatch (my acronym FRO)” variant. Official sources have not identified what a FRO does or contains, but chatter online by “experts” say that it is for anti-tank personnel, or colloquially, Javelin troops.

Now, the order is for 34 FRO PMRS vehicles. With a total of 9 Guided Weapons Troops amongst the 3 cavalry regiments, that would be either 27 FRO PMRS (3 SCOUT SV vehicles per troop) or 18 FRO PMRS (2 vehicles per troop). It can’t be 4 vehicles as per the old ORBAT where there were 4 x Striker CVR(T)s, because that would demand a total 36 FRO PMRS, 2 more than the total order of 34. These suggested numbers mind you just over the “Guided Weapons Troops”. There’s the “Surveillance Troops”, one per C&S squadron. In the CVR(T) world, I’m not sure which of the variants were used as ground surveillance, or whether that existed. But the SCOUT SV ordered “24 Ground Based Surveillance variants” under the turreted version. With 3 “Surveillance Troops” in the RF, that means around 12-18 surveillance variants. (What exactly is ground surveillance will be ignored for now, I may write another short entry on it). It should be noted that the surveillance variant comes under the turreted group. I don’t believe that type of SCOUT SV would have both the CTA 40mm gun and a man-portable radar. Perhaps the gun part will be a dummy gun.

Any other numbers? 112 Command and Control PMRS. That’s a mouthful, covering enough for the RF 3rd (United Kingdom) Division core regiments/battalions, and possibly even 101 Logistic Brigade Regular Army units, if you spread them out. SCOUT SV weighs a pretty heavy basic weight of 38 tonnes, but the PMRS version sits four (4), one more than thePanther Command Liaison Vehicle, which it will definitely replace in the RF units. So that’s a plus, even though 4 personnel in my view is still to small for a C2 vehicle. Then there’s “51 Engineer Reconnaissance variants”, most likely going to the Close Support Engineer units in 8 Engineer Brigade under Force Troops Command. If you divide equally, that might man around 15 such Engineer variants in operation amongst 22, 26, 35 Engineer Regiments. Finally, 88 PMRS types for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). There are distinct REME units in 101 Logistic Brigade, and REME Light Aid Detachments (LADs) in the armoured cavalry, armour and warrior armoured infantry and even heavy protect mobility units. These 38 Recovery Variants and 50 Repair vehicles could either be spread between the REME units and the LADs or just stay in the REME units. 88 such vehicles should be just sufficient for the RF.

Anything else? 23 Joint Fires Control variants, again under the turreted variant. Divide by the close support artillery regiments, say about 7 such vehicles per regiment, again the gun as a dummy. One missing variant is the ambulance variant. Some debate whether there could be a SCOUT SV ambulance variant, but it has to hold more than 4 personnel and needs medics inside. 38 tonnes is rather heavy for a medical armoured vehicle. Others say that the future medical vehicle could be from the yet-to-be finalised Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicle (Warrior without turret) or (in my view) from the FRES/SCOUT Utility Vehicle (UV) variant.

In any case, I hope my numbers are correct.

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.