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.

British Army Vehicles OSD–Out of Service…

More often than not, the House of Lords doesn’t churn out interesting defence or foreign affairs-related debates or questions-answers. A recent question by Lord Moonie however, breaks the norm. Check it out below :

Armoured Fighting Vehicles
To ask Her Majesty’s Government which of the following vehicle types are still in service with the British Army and what were or are their anticipated out of service dates: Challenger 2, Driver Track Training Vehicle, Challenger Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicles, Trojan, Titan, Warrior, Saxon, Samson, Spartan, Scimitar, Samaritan, Sultan, Snatch Land Rover, FV430, Mastiff, Jackal, Vector, Bulldog, and Panther.

The out of service dates of the vehicles specified are as follows:

Vehicle Type Planned Out Of Service Date
Challenger 2 2025
Driver Track Training Vehicle 2025
Challenger Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicle 2040
Trojan 2040
Titan 2040
Warrior 2025
Saxon Out of service
Samson 2026
Spartan 2026
Scimitar 2026
Samaritan 2026
Sultan 2026
Snatch Land Rover (1, 1.5, 2 and Vixen variants) Out of service
Snatch Land Rover (2A and 2B variants) 2024
Snatch Land Rover (Vixen Plus variant) 2024
FV 430 Out of service
Mastiff 2024
Jackal 2030
Vector 2015
Bulldog 2030
Panther 2037

Well, the above say “anticipated Out of Service Dates (OSD)” but planned may well just be actual. Whatever it is, the table raises worries for the whole Army 2020 and Future Force 2020 equipment plans. Reaction Force (RF) vehicles seem to be leaving pretty early–Challenger 2 and its “Driver Track Training Vehicle” will be OSD by 2025, along with the British Army’s only Armoured Personnel Carrier, the Warrior. These two vehicles are part of the Armoured Infantry (AI) Brigades in the RF. Of course both variants are to upgraded–the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP)and the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP). Neither programme is completed and both are facing challenges. A key issues is also the firepower of the Challenger 2 tank–the L30 rifled gun is great, but eventually it should be replaced with something like other NATO armies smoothbore guns in order to tackle adversaries such as the Russian T-90 or the new Armata tank.

Moving down, the Mastiff was to continued be part of the “Heavy Protected Mobility Regiments”. The Mastiff 2 or 3 vehicle is great but the table says “bye bye” to it by 2024. Mastiff is to be replaced by the yet-to-be-shown Utility Vehicle (UV). UV was originally FRES UV, which was to be a similar design to the FRES SV (now SCOUT SV) vehicle. So it is crucial that the UV programme stays on track, or either the Mastiff 2/3 continues beyond 2024.One positive note from above is that the Bulldog armoured/mechanised vehicles will stay at least till 2030. Originally the FV 432, these upgraded vehicles serve as mortar carriers in the Warrior Armoured Infantry Regiments, possibly troop-carrying vehicles for Support Companies and medical armoured vehicles in the Medical Armoured Regiments. If the UV vehicle fails to materialise, perhaps the Bulldog could be an interim. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… Bulldog may also help as an interim vehicle until the Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicle (ABSV) is finalised. A Warrior without its 30mm/40mm gun, this vehicle is suppose to act as a mortar launching vehicle/sniper/anti-tank troop carrier, recovery and repair and even medical evacuation vehicle. Another programme that must be kept on track.(Also see page 184 of this NAO report regarding the ABSV).

The CVR (T) family will all go by 2026 but they have a stated replacement in the form of the SCOUT SV variants. This heavy armoured infantry fighting vehicle seems to be on track, but one may never know. The Royal Engineers (those supporting the RF) may heavy a sigh of relief as their vehicles wont go out until 2040. These mine clearing, route-clearing vehicles are great, not just in conventional warfare but counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. The Challenger 2 recovery vehicle will still stay around till 2040, so maybe the upgraded Challenger 2 will. Or its successor…

Moving down to the Adaptable Force (AF) vehicles, we see that the Jackal Vehicle (and perhaps its longer Coyote variant) will bow out by 2030. So the Light Cavalry Regiments are fine for a while. Jackal/Coyote is also used in the Mastiff/UV regiments, so that’s also not too bad. They are also crucial reconnaissance vehicles for the Royal Marines and the 16th Air Assault Brigade/Air Assault Task Force. This is especially so for the 16th AA Brigade/AATF, since this unit no longer has Scimitar vehicles supporting it. The lighter-than-the-SCOUT-SV (or even ABSV) Panther Command & Control  vehicle appears to have long “shelf life”, OSD-ing only in 2037. Some commentators I have talked to says this is an over-exaggerated target date. Exaggerated or not, it ensures that AF (and possibly some RF battalions) have some Command and Control vehicles. Panther is nice, though a new variant or vehicle should be procured. One that allows more command staff to sit at the back–2 at the back is far too little. What else? ah, of course the hated Vector vehicle gets OSD this year, 2015. One of the many creations or Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) during the Afghanistan Campaign, it wasIED-prone despite its supposed armour and hated by troops. It’s supposed replacement is the Truck Utility Medium Heavy Duty. Hopefully it will far better in conflict–if it is used in conflict.

Conclusion: The table above, if the data is correct, means the upgrading programmes for the Challenger 2, the Warrior, the UV programme and even the SCOUT SV programme need to be on track. The Defence Equipment and Support (DES) will have lots of pressure on their hands. With a highly possible defence budget decrease, some numbers of these upgrades will be cut, as seen in this IHS Janes report regarding the Challenger 2. That’s pretty sad. Many other key vehicles such as the AS-90, the Alvis Stormer (for the Starstreak HVM), the Foxhound Light Protected Mobility vehicle aren’t in the above table. It would be interesting to see their OSDs, as they are part of Army 2020 or Future Force 2020.

Update: I made and received an FOIA regarding other other key Army 2020 vehicles. Part of the FOIA (I will not publish the full document) is reproduced below.

A search for the information has now been completed within the Ministry of Defence, and I can confirm that information in scope of your request is held. The answers to your questions are in the table below:

Vehicle Out of service date
FUCHs 2020
Warthog 2024
L131 AS-90 Self Propelled Artillery 2030
M270 GMLRS 2030
Alvis Stormer 2026
Ridgback Battlefield Ambulance 2024
Husky TSV 2024
Foxhound 2030

Well it looks like the major artillery pieces for 1st Artillery Brigade’s Close Support regiments will stay on till around 2030. There is a high probability that the UK will replace the M270 GMLRS with whatever the US Army replaces theirs with, or even buy the (better) HIMARS. As for the AS-90, well I would recommend they just improve the calibre or the type of artillery shell.

The UOR bought from Singapore, (yes Singapore, an ex-British colony), the ST Kinetics Bronco ,or Warthog in the British Army, will will serve in the Watchkeeper WK450 regiments–they act as launching platforms. More specifically, they will probably be allocated in 47th Regiment, Royal Artillery (RA), the regiment for RF brigades. The Bronco/Warthog served well in Op Herrick, and transferring it to a UAV role, is well, the least they could do. With an OSD in 2024, the RA or rather DES needs to find a replacement vehicle or work with ST Kinetics to extended the lifespan of this vehicle. Possible replacements could be the BvS 10 Viking (which means ordering more), or using the yet-to-be seen Utility Vehicle (UV).

The earliest vehicle about to exit is the FUCHS (in 2020). This as stated in an earlier post (or here) returns to be be the primary vehicle of Falcon Squadron, Royal Tank Regiment (RTR). With CBRN being a hot issue for UK defence (or rather suggested as a key topic by the HOC Defence Select Committe), nine FUCHS vehicles will be refurbished. Yet, with the vehicle predicted to be OSD by 2020, it possibly has no replacement (a A letter by the RTR Commandant suggests it may be replaced by a UAV ). I personally would want a FUCHS-like vehicle replacement for the FUCHS, possibly a modified UV.

Next, the Alvis Stormer will bow out in 2026. Although not spelt out directly in the Army 2020 document, it is used to give mobility for the Starstreak HVM missiles in 12th Regiment Royal Artillery. I can’t immediately think of what can be used to replace the Stormer; the SCOUT SV base for example is too heavy for a mobile SAM platform. Thy might want to buy the US AN/TWQ-1 Avenger vehicle from the US or mount them on Coyotes. The wheeled ambulance, the Rigdback Ambulance exits in 2024. Don’t worry, the UV medical variant might replace it, maybe. The Husky TSV, another piece that sprung up from Afghanistan, is important to both the RF and AF units. I hope there’s a replacement in the works, or it gets extended beyond 2024. Finally, the good ol’ Foxhound, which will dominate six regiments/battalions in the AF. 2030 eh? Matches its friends the Jackal and perhaps the Panther. Still sometime to think of a better replacement, hopefully one that can sit more than four soldiers.

OK folks, that’s it for now!

The Royal Tank Regiment: Back in the CBRN game

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

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

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

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

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

(see the full news article.)

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

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

(see the full parliamentary reply.)

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

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

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