Monday, November 28, 2016

Strike Brigades, the short version

"You know the tank, that we invented and we just finished to celebrate? We are going to cut a third of them so we can use Ajax out of role instead, converting a tank regiment into a "medium armour" thingy."

"We're going to leave the armoured brigades without recce cavalry so we can pretend Ajax is a medium tank and put it in an otherwise wheeled brigade, because we don't have the money to put the 40mm gun on MIV itself. We used to plan a Medium Armour variant of Ajax armed with a 105 or 120 mm gun, but we cancelled that and there is no money to resurrect it now. Instead we have ordered 245 Ajax in recce configuration and sub-variants, plus supporting variants. No problem: we build Ajax to be the reconnaissance element of armoured brigades, but we can just squeeze it into another role instead. But don't worry, we won't use it as a tank. Well, yes, we will, but only if there is no enemy MBT around, i guess. If there is, surely the air force can think about it, or Javelin, perhaps...?
Our Medium Weight force will be half tracked and with a firepower deficit, but these are details.

Direct Fire / Medium Armour variant: one of the Ajax variants that did not make it into the contract. 
Ajax Medium Armour might still see the light, but it will be on the other side of the Atlantic. The Griffin, based on the Ajax hull and armed with a 120mm smoothbore, is GD's entry for the US Army Lightweight Protected Firepower requirement. If the British Army could change the Ajax order to include a number of these, the Strike Brigade would make at least a bit more sense. 

Maybe, just maybe, we will do something for the Royal Artillery. Something very innovative. So innovative that the Royal Artillery has tried to do the same things for more than a decade, without ever getting the money for them.
In the meanwhile, we are probably going to cut a regiment's worth of AS90 self-propelled howitzers.

General Sir Nicholas Carter: Yes. The strike idea is designed to meet two outputs. The first output is what I described earlier: being able to project land power in a self-deployable fashion over greater distances, up to, say, 2,000 km.The second thing that strike is designed to do is to be able to dominate a battle space that is increasingly larger and perhaps has more population on it, that is more complex and is also able to concentrate and disperse rapidly within that battle space. The capability is being built on a vehicle piece of equipment—

 Phil Wilson: Is that the AJAX?

General Sir Nicholas Carter: Yes, it is. It is being constructed in south Wales. They start to roll off the production line, not in south Wales, but initially in Europe, come next year. We are building the capability in a methodical and deliberate fashion over time, as this equipment rolls off the production line. Rather like we did in the 1930s, the idea is to test it to destruction and to experiment with it, in the same way we did with the mechanisation of force in the 1930s, so that we get the doctrine and the concept right at the forefront and so that we understand what the structure should look like. We test it and we veer and haul from it, so that, come 2021, we have an initial operating capability. I know that may sound a long way away, but that is the rate at which these vehicles are rolling off the production line.                

Phil Wilson: How many vehicles in total will you be looking for in the end?

General Sir Nicholas Carter: Well, a regiment equipped with AJAX will have around 50 to 60 AJAX vehicles within it. Each of these brigades will have two AJAX regiments and probably two mechanised infantry battalions as well.

General Sir Nicholas Carter: Well, it (AJAX) is a completely different capability. We initially felt that we needed to buy it to replace what is called CVR(T)CVR(T) had the Scimitar, and the Spartan series of vehicles, which was a tracked reconnaissance vehicle. Of course, what we have now discovered, because technology has advanced significantly, is that it is a much more capable platform than just simply a recce platform and therefore what we are now looking for is something that can fill a capability gap at the medium weight. Although weight is a bad way of describing things, it puts it into perspective for you.

"Then we are going to do stuff with these new half tracked and half wheeled and lightly armed brigades. I have no real idea what, but we'll call it "joint land strike", because i like the sound of that and it makes us sound like the air force."

Video of Nick Carter talking of the Strike Brigade to the Defence Committee, June 2016. 14:52:00 onwards.

"Cutting a tank regiment and stripping of heavy armour all supporting units as we downgrade an armoured brigade is not going to save enough money and manpower on its own, but i really want the MIV. We have too many small and unusable infantry battalions, but government doesn't want to get bashed about the loss of capbadges so we can't disband any.
So we are going to turn 5 infantry battalions into "Defence Engagement" units of just about 300 to 350 men each, and put them in Aldershot, so we can move some men out of them and into the Strike Brigades.
Mechanized Infantry battalions are 709 strong, and we have 3 of them right now. We need to reinforce another battalion for the same role, and make adjustements elsewhere too, in some supporting elements. New Gurkha sub-units worth more than 600 men are already planned; Gurkhas are handy because you are pretty much guarranteed to meet any recruitment target you set."

General Sir Nicholas Carter: Putting that smartly to one side, what it actually means goes back to when I talked about specialised infantry battalions in answer to the very first question. These creatures, which will only be about 300 strong, allow me—because they will be built from battalions that are 550 strong—to be able to reinvest over time the 250 saving which you make into the other infantry battalions around them to make them more resilient.

Mrs Moon: They are very small though.

General Sir Nicholas Carter: But I want them to be small; I want 300-man battalions, because I want them to conduct these very specialised tasks. I want them to have more non-commissioned officers and officers. I want them to be linguists. I want them to have cultural expertise. I want them to have very professional skills, so that they are able to perform a number of outputs. I want them, for example, to be able to go into the heart of Nigeria and be able to train a Nigerian division to go into the fight against Boko Haram. I want them to be able to train the Kurds to go and fight against Daesh in Iraq. I want them to be able to train the Ukrainian armed forces to be able to provide an effective deterrent to Russia. I want them to do tasks that are at the higher end of risk, and to be able to really do something that is quite specialised. I won’t be able to create that many. I don’t want them any larger than they actually are. Oddly enough, they look very similar to some of the things that other nations have and I think that is probably a case in point.

[The above quote was the origin of the press stories a while back that described these "specialized battalions" as the british answer to the US's Green Berets. Whether they will actually be that ambitious, considering the costs of such a venture and the recruitment difficulties that come with specialists, is anybody's guess] 
General Carter oral evidence to the Defence Committee

"But that won't be enough either, so we are going to dismantle 102 Logistic Brigade. Forget about a 2-division ambition, we'll be perfectly fine with a one-shot, six-month best effort structure of a single division. The "Adaptable Force" will continue to contain a whole bunch of orphaned infantry and light cavalry formations that we aren't really able to use because we are lacking in support elements for them. We'll just say that it is a wonderful example of "golf bag approach", and that they can be "pieced together" as needed. Yes, that sounds good."

General Sir Nicholas Carter: Yes, by 2025 I want to be able to field two manoeuvre brigades—armoured infantry brigades, as we call them—and, ideally, a strike brigade. I would like to have some manoeuvre support—as you know far better than I, basic infantry to be able to protect things and guard prisoners—and, of course, all the combat service support necessary to represent the full orchestra.

Bob Stewart: Which brings in the sustainment thing. You used the term “one-off” there, so we deploy up to three brigades in a war-fighting division for a one-off campaign of probably six months, but we cannot replen, as it were, or we might be able to cobble together a brigade but we would not be able to put together a division to back it up. We could not replace it.

General Sir Nicholas Carter: No. You would not be able to replace the full division. You would probably be able to find a replacement divisional headquarters at readiness and you would probably be able to have a brigade there on an enduring basis, but if you had to go larger than that, it would be challenging.
General Carter oral evidence to the Defence Committee

"We need a gucci name for this whole thing. We'll call it "Integrated Action". Yes, that will do."

"All our doctrinal studies since 2010 have said that we need deployable Division HQ for strategic handling and we have again and again concluded that mixing tracks and wheels is bad. But we will ignore our own findings again, because i really want the MIV."

And Army 2020 Refine, or Army 2025 if you prefer, is born.

I hope it dies soon, because the cost of those MIVs is going to be a great burden on the rest of the army. Fast forward to a new chief of staff and a new SDSR, please. There are better ways to use the money.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What support for the families of reservists?

The armed forces have been hit by terrible cuts in 2010, and in an attempt to contain the damage they have been directed to better and more extensively use the Reserve. This change has brought reservists closer to the spotlight, but not so their families: what can be done to better support the families of reservists, as part of the wider plan? If reservist are to successfully expand their role and face more frequent deployments, it will be important to ensure they get the support they need. 

FRAME-SW (Families of Reservists, A Mapping Exercise for Support and Welfare) is a research project that is attempting to gather information about the support provided to reserve families. The research will only be effective if it reaches the largest possible number of families, so i've welcomed the FRAME-SW call for help and i'm providing a signal boost. Below you can find the details about the project and an example of e-mail that can be used to involve other people into the survey.  

The Government and the MOD have a publically declared obligation to support all members of the Armed Forces and their families, through the Armed Forces Covenant. Defence recognises the importance of understanding and supporting the needs of families. However, there has been relatively little research on the families of Army reservists to date.

Around nine in ten volunteer Reservists agreed that their family supports their Reserve service and a higher proportion of Reservists than regulars were satisfied with the support their family received when they were last deployed on operations. This is a positive view from the Reservist but it would be useful to know how much Reservist families are aware of all the support and welfare provision that is potentially available to them. This would help to best target support and welfare for the future and to identify if there are any current gaps in provision.

Most Reservists are not employed full time and their families may have little to do with military life until their family member takes part in operations or extended training. Therefore, it can be difficult to reach the families of Reservists through traditional study recruitment methods. Reservist family members may not tend to think of themselves as part of the service community. This can prevent their views being heard. We have set up an online survey on the web and are running a social media campaign to reach out to reservist family members. However, if you are a Reservist we would like you to please help us by passing on details of our study to your family members. This also includes the family members of Full Time Reserve Service (FTRS) personnel.

The study is open to all adult family members aged 18 or over of a Reservist - mother, father, husband, wife, partner, in-law, child, sibling, relation, and friends who are considered to be part of the family. There are several ways for family members to share their opinions, including completing an anonymous online survey at , taking part in a focus group, or by phone. Please visit the website for more details , email us on, or call the team on 01865 48 2988.

This study is funded by the Ministry of Defence and is being carried out by researchers at Oxford Brookes University, King’s College London, and Aberdeen University. The study has received ethics approval from the Ministry of Defence Research Ethics Committee. Reservists and their family members can also visit our website for a signposting guide to the current welfare services for Reservists and their families. We are always after some feedback on our survey, website and signposting guide so please do have a look and contact us.

This example e-mail can be used to help spread the word among reservists: 

FRAME-SW: Families of Reservists, A Mapping Exercise for Support and Welfare.

Would your family members like to have their say on the welfare and support provision for Reservists’ families?  
We are inviting the family members of UK Reservists to complete a survey about the welfare and support offered to the families of Reservists currently serving as part of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army, or Royal Air Force. 
Your family members can take part if they are at least 18 years old and a Reservist’s parent or step-parent, brother, sister, step-brother, step-sister, grandparent, spouse, civil partner, long-term partner, child, step-child, aunt or uncle, cousin, or close friend. 
The aim of the study is to help us to understand what is important to your family. We want to understand how much families know about their entitlement to welfare and support services, their experiences and opinions about these services, and their views on ideal levels of welfare and support services when you are deployed, and on a day to day basis. We will use this information to make recommendations to the Ministry of Defence.
Please ask a family member to follow this link to complete our survey or email; or telephone us on 01865 482988. It can be completed in about 15 minutes online.
We will also be looking for family members to take part in focus groups or telephone interviews. Full details are on our website and how they can register their interest.
You can also follow us on Twitter (Frame-SW) and can message us on Facebook (

Yours sincerely,

The FRAME-SW team,
Professor Vince Connelly – Oxford Brookes University
Professor Nicola Fear – Kings College London
Dr Zoe Morrison – University of Aberdeen
Dr Sarah Hennelly – Oxford Brookes University 
Ms Joanna Smith – Oxford Brookes University