Welcome back 28 Engineer Regiment and British Army control of CBRN

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.

Doing more with less or rather higher quality

This post by the pretty famous aviation-centred geek Foxtrot Jalopnik takes a critical view of a graphic presented Contemporary Issues and Geography. The picture as show below shows a graphic or rather ORBAT of almost all or all the UK’s active military aircraft, combat, combat air support and even training.

UK military aircraft Feb 2016

UK military aircraft Feb 2016

(All rights go to http://cigeography.blogspot.fr/)

Foxtrot Jalopnik (henceforth FJ) goes on to say:

The Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm and the Army Air Corps have shrunk dramatically over the last decade, but the recent Strategic Defense and Security Review has ordered the UK begin to reinvest heavily into its air arms…Of particular note in this case is just how small the UK’s front-line fighter force is…Even the Army Air Corps helicopter transport fleet looks particularly small…

It does however end on a positive note:

This graphic will dramatically change once again in the coming decade as the F-35 is introduced into the Fleet Air Arm and RAF inventory, as well as other aircraft such as the P-8 Poseidon. Still, its unlikely that the UK’s air combat end-strength will ever look anything like it once did as recently as 2003 invasion of Iraq. Then again, the same can be said for America’s air combat aircraft inventory.

If FJ’s post could be said to be critical, the commentators below are far more acerbic. Sxay91 bring up the common swipe that previous (Labour) governments have destroyed the UK military. Buzz Killington is even more biased, using the “usual” line hat the UK (and European nations) have to spend more on welfare (than the Us, which by the way, has some sort of welfare system in certain areas) and now has to tend to (Muslim) refugees. JohnDiz cites his (possible) own experience saying that UK Special Forces needed UK rotary and aviation support (damn the Special Relationship?), FSBCyberPropagandaDivision calls the UK’s future carriers “useless” (not exactly about UK aviation) the list goes on and on. To sum up, These commentators who I guess are mostly American or Brits who want to jump on the bangwagon, agree the UK military aviation is shrinking, lousy, useless (insert your own negative adjective here).

Ok, fine, it is a small force. It’s smaller than it was during World War Two (where by the UK did get US help through the Lend-Lease Act and the wider Commonwealth), it’s a smaller force since immediate post-World War Two, it’s a small aerial force since the Falklands, Gulf War One, Operation Telic. But ok, since FJ brings up the 2003 invasion. Back then, the UK just did have the Tornado Gr4 and the classic Harrier, but it did not have the high accurate Brimstone missile. It ha only the Tornado ADV, the air defence fighter which was definitely less agile and deadly as the Eurofighter Typhoon or its USAF counterparts. In 2003, the Nimrod was was certainly in the ORBAT and in more than one squadron, but not that it was really need for anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The Harrier version in Op Telic was the GR7, not the GR9. There was at best one Army Air Corps (AAC) Regiment there, but not the famous Apache. The UK used its old Lynx AH7 and Gazelle AH1s in the initially campaign. As for Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA) assets, Op Tellic saw the ageing Sea King, not the Merlin helicopter.

The bottom line is, in 2003 Iraq War (or previous campaigns), the UK did have a numerically larger force of aviation assets and a larger variety. What it did not have back with those numerical quantity was quality. Today, even with a smaller FAA, AAC, and Royal Air Force, it has far better equipment and weaponry. The UK has Apaches (and soon to be upgraded AH-64s), Merlin HM2 and later HM4s, Lynx Wildcats, Eurofighter Tranche 1/2 and later versions, as well as other support and ISTAR aircraft. One most common touted weapon by politicians and the media is the Brimstone missile, used in Op Ellamy and the present Syria/Iraq campaign, Op Shader. Everyone wishes for a larger force and FJ did mention that the US aviation force is smaller than it was in Gulf War One and Two. Power doesn’t just come through quantity alone. Ok fine, quantity does matter, but as I’ve quickly shown, it matters at best with high quality.

It’s a good ideal world to have large quantities of forces, aerial, maritime or land-based. But that’s an ideal world. For now, a good quality force helps more than just a larger quantity.

What you will likely and may not get from SDSR 2015

I never like rumours or hearsay but I guess it’s not harm jumping on the pre-Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015 bandwagon.

What will likely be mentioned (in terms of Strategy and Security):

Strategy:

* Government will mean 2% of Gross National Product/Income (GDP/GDNI) of spending on defence.
* Budget (for maybe just equipment) will rise to rise in real terms – 0.5% above inflation – every year during the Parliament (as stated previously in the July 2015 Budget statement )
* NATO will be the core alliance the UK will work with for eternity (or for the super long term), not the European Union (EU)
* Government will also mean the (oudated) Official Development Assistance aka foreign aid target of 0.7% of GDP.
* Focus will be on core areas such as the Middle East (Daesh/ISIS/ISIL), Africa (North and Central)
* Falklands Garrison will stay with no immediate change
* US will be the main strategic ally
* Lancaster House treaty will continue
* Focus will be on value for money–efficiency savings as MOD budget is not ringfenced–but value for strong output
*Linking to above, people such as the Reserves will play a core role in Future Force 2020

In terms of armed forces:

Royal Navy:

* 2 Queen Elizabeth-Class aircraft carriers will be built
* The Type 26 Global Combat Ship/frigate will be built
* 4 x Successor Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear) (SSBNs) will be built to retain the UK’s strategic deterrent.
* 7 x Astute Ship Submersible Nuclear (SSN) Astute-Class boats
* 3 x River-Class Batch 2 Patrol Boats (likely to replace the older 3 Batch 1 boats)
* The Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) will be considered to replace current Mine-countermeasure vessels
* Merlin and Wildcat numbers will remain
* The Response Force Task Group (RFTG) annual COUGAR deployments will continue, with either Queen Elizabeth-Class carrier joining the RFTG post-2020.
* Unmanned aircraft, surface craft (USV) and undersea craft (UUV) will form the main R&D projects in the future Royal Navy

British Army:

* Army 2020 will continue with some unit changes and some units changing barracks. All units in Germany will return to the UK.
* Ajax (formerly SCOUT SV) production and numbers will continue and stay the same.
* Warrior upgrades aka Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP) will continue, except that only 245 of them will receive the CTA 40mm gun/cannon (see this article). That is, not all of the six Army 2020 armoured infantry vehicles will gain the new gun/cannon
* Money will be set aside for the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (former Utility Vehicle, former FRES UV) and the Multi-Role Vehicle-Protected (MRV-P) programmes.
* 50 Apaches will be upgraded to the E version.

Royal Air Force:

* 20 new “Protector” Remotely-Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) will be acquired, a double of the existing number. Basically, updated version of the MQ-9 Reaper.
* F-35Bs will be purchased.
* Trance 1 (T1) Typhoons will be retained to create additional Typhoon Squadrons for UK Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). Tranche 2 and 3 aircraft will thus be free for air-to-ground operations (that is, Operation Shader) (see this link)
* Sentinel R1 aircraft will be replaced.
* Other Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft to be upgraded, except the E-3s.

Joint Forces:

* The range of UK Special Forces will gain new equipment.See this news article
* There will be a Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA), not just a new Maritime Patrol aircraft. (see again this link
* Cyber defences will be strengthened, and the Joint Cyber Reserve will be a key part of this.
* The 77th Brigade (I put this under Joint since it consider of personnel from all services and civilians from other ministerial departments join it) will be a create part of soft power or mechanisms to stabilise or prevent conflict.

These are some of the top issues and assets you may get from SDSR 2015. What you MAY NOT GET or MOST LIKELY WON’T GET:

Strategy:

* Government will not have spare cash or large amount of spare cash to boost the Defence budget beyond 2% of GDP. It may gain funds from the Treasury Reserve, the Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). The MOD may not have enough money to contribute to the Deployed Military Activity Pool (DMAP), which is a contingency fund within the CSSF, used to support the UK’s emerging in-year security, diplomatic and aid priorities.
* The UK may not, and has not recently been, the second highly country with the largest number of deployed troops in NATO. This level will unlikely be an issue in SDSR 2015.
* The UK will have to depend largely on the US and France should it find itself in a Iraq (Gulf War I mean) or Afghanistan-style conflict. Daesh seems to creating one. SDSR 2015 may not throw in money or personnel into this.
* Personnel shortages may be addressed but not solved in the short or long-term. It would mean lots of equipment without people to operate. More below.
* Chasing targets like 2% and 0.7% would be lots of changing goalposts and a fixation on money not quality. No change in SDSR 2015 for sure.

In terms of armed forces:

Royal Navy:

* SDSR 2015 will not increase personnel strength so that both carriers will operate simultaneously. In fact, snippets indicate that only 450 more sailors will be added to the Royal Navy’s strength. It might mean that HMS Queen Elizabeth won’t operate at full strength, even minus air group. One carrier at all times will most definitely be in port aka extended readiness.
* There will be no definitely confirmation that 13 Type 26 frigates will be ordered. Mybe there could be, but in “drips and draps”.
* There might be, as there always has been, delays to the Astute SSNs boats coming into service. Same with the never to be used Successor SSBNs.
* HMS Ocean may not or never be replaced as a like-for-like. The Royal Navy will have to depend on an aircraft carrier as a strike carrier and a LPH.
* The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) eldery ships may not be replaced like-for-like.
* The Royal Navy may only end up with the 3 new River-Class Batch 2 ships and HMS Clyde with the Batch 1 ships decommissioned early.
* The MHC project may be delayed.
* Not change in the Merlin HM2/MK2 numbers, so not enough for ASAC and carrier-based ASW roles.
* 809 NAS may have more RAF pilots than Fleet Air Arm (FAA) pilots

British Army:

* No change to Army 2020 in terms of units and personnel. Big adverse implications for units and the Special Forces–see below.
* There may be some removal of 2*s aka Major-Generals or even 1*s Brgadiers who don’t command units. But the Army may still be top-heavy.
* Army Command will change–Deputy CGGS and Commander Personnel Support Command, but that means more money for top commanders not units.
* Challenger 2 will be updated but may not improved or replaced anytime soon unlike this report. So this report is more likely.
* MIV and MRV-P may not appear in the short term.
* No change in CTA turrets or guns/cannon numbers.

Royal Air Force:

* No large order of F-35B aircraft. The orders may likely be in “drips and draps”.
* AMRAAMs may be kept in the long term and there may not be larger numbers of Meteor missile produced or ordered.
* As noted above, there may not be upgrades for all UK ISTAR aircraft or C2 aircraft such as the E-3 which is critical for QRA an operations.
* RAF may end up with more aircraft and still not solving its manpower shortage. This might affect not just the manned aircraft but the 20 new Protectors.

Joint Forces:

* The MMA or at least MPA will not be the highly expensive yet operational P-8 Poseidon. The yet unknown aircraft may not appear in the short term (say 2-4 years) after it is announced.
* The Joint Cyber Reserve may not likely become a full cyber unit despite cyber threats being a Tier 1 threat as identity in the 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS).
* Special Forces will et their new equipment but with the shrunken Army 2020 and Future Force 2020, the various SF units may not be at full strength.

So there you have it folks!!! We wait the announcement around 1530 UK time 23 November 2015.

From SDSR 2010 to 2015: The “positives”

Well the Conservatives are in full power and they will dominate the decision making for the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). People of course will remember the Treasury-led 2010 SDSR which was more of a review to find monetary savings, not to instruct defence plans and to consider security threats. Inasmuch as it wasn’t really a review, the years after until 2015 saw several “positives” for UK defence assets and policies. Below is a (quite incomplete) list of UK defence procurement and initiatives that hae take place, due to the 2010 SDSR as well as the security threats subsequently.

Royal Navy/Royal Marines

* The creation of the annual COUGAR task force/the Response Force Task Group (RFTG)

See for example COUGAR 11

COUGAR 12

COUGAR 13

COUGAR 13

* The ordering of the four MARS Tankers (under the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA))

* The ordering of the Lynx Wildcat

* The ordering of the Sea Venom and Martlet missiles

* The planning of the Type 26 Frigate

* Bringing both QECs into active serivce.

* Arming up to 4 x Type 45 Destroyers will Harpoon ASuW missiles

British Army

* Forming Army 2020

* Bringing Herrick Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR)s into core

* SCOUT SV planning and contract

* The ordering of the Lynx Wildcat

Royal Air Force

* Planning and ordering of support aircraft such as the Voyager, A400M, Rivet Joint

* Typhoon enhancements

* Chinook JULIUS project

* The Taranis demonstrator/Unmanned Combat Aircraft (UCAV) project

Joint Forces

* The creation of Joint Forces Command (JFC)

Defence 

* Levene Reform (which resulted in the the creation of the JFC)

To be updated

The Other Merlin: Merlin HC3/4 numbers

Most people have fallen in love with long serving UK military aircraft like the Harrier, the Spitfire and perhaps the Sea King Helicopter. The Sea King Mk4 (the troop carrying version) will soon leaving active service and will be replaced by the Merlin HC.3/HC.4.

Under the Future Force 2020 (not really SDSR 2010), 25 RAF Merlin HC.3s would be modified and transferred to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Army (also see this). Or more specifically, the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) of, or rather for the Royal Marines. The plan has sort of proceeded smoother than most other post SDSR 2010 projects, with 846 NAS being the first squadron to gain these aircraft and then next, 845 NAS. In fact, 846 NAS just returned to RNAS Yeovilton (HMS Heron) with six/6 of these new helicopters. I believe, as the Defense Industry Daily article says, that there were to be at least seven/7, so maybe one more will join it (more on this below). At around the same time, the UK MOD announced a sustainment contract for both Merlin Helicopters. Some may say this is typical Conservative/Tory PR for their General Election 2015/GE2015 campaign, but you still do need investment to create and sustain helicopters.

The whole new Royal Navy/FAA Merlin Fleet will specifically consist of

…845 NAS and 846 NAS each operating 10 Merlin HC.4s, with five aircraft in the maintenance fleet. Each squadron will operate three flights. 845 NAS will have three deployable, go-anywhere flights, with each flight deploying with four Merlins. 846 NAS will have the Operational Conversion Flight, Maritime Counter Terrorist Flight, and a deployable flight to bolster 845 NAS if required.

Now that immediately seems strange. 10 aircraft per each active medium-lift squadron, but you want 4 x Merlins per flight? That would mean 12 x Merlins per Squadron. I guess the extra 2-4 will be drawn from the five/5 helicopters in maintenance? Or would this four/4 per flight configuration only occur during active operations/wartime? Pro-military people would of course still argue this 20 + 5 configuration is too small. I say it’s not bad consideration the fleet size is smaller than it’s counterpart, where 30 HM2 or Mk2 have been ordered and possibly eight more may be converted. Possibly.

Now, let’s go even deeper into the helicopter itself. As said above, it is replacing the veteran Sea King helicopter Mk4. The Sea King supposedly is able to carry 28 troops while these Merlins will only carry carry 24 equipped troops. (I’m not so sure the Sea King’s were able to carry that many soldiers. The Agusta-Westland site says the Merlin can carry up to 38 troops but that’s only possibly without gear). There’s a good description on the upgrades of the Merlin HC.3/HC./3A to the Merlin HC.4 in this Naval Technology article. It is pretty well-written so I shan’t summarise it here.

Overall, the Merlin HC.4 plan seems pretty alright, except how the FAA will detail the number of aircraft per flight. The maximum of twelve/12 Merlins for 845 NAS (as you see 846 NAS ultimately is for training and counter-terrorism, with only one flight for troop transport), means the CHF alone can only life a small almost company-sized force from ship to shore or from land to land. This is the stark reality of Future Force 2020.

This post will be updated later.