Sweeping changes to the structure and capabilities of the Armed Forces – the most significant since the end of the Cold War – have been announced by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
The integrated review of foreign and defence policy will see £23 billion spent on making the Army more cutting-edge and lethal. It will result in a more expeditionary force which will operate globally on a more persistent basis.
The Service’s structure will reorganise into seven “brigade combat teams”. These differ from brigades because they will have more of their own supporting elements such as artillery, engineering and surveillance. A security force assistance brigade and a special operations brigade will also feature in the line-up.
This will all mean that more soldiers are deployed across the globe for more of the time, making better use of existing bases in Oman, Kenya, Brunei, Belize and Germany. However, this will happen with fewer personnel – a new force size of 72,500. This is 4,000 below current levels and 6,000 less than the fully manned figure. Unlike previous restructures, though, there will be no redundancies or loss of cap badges.
Introducing the plan in Parliament, Wallace – a former Scots Guards officer – said: “The Army’s increased deployability and technological advantage will mean that greater effect can be delivered by fewer people.” He explained the change was needed as potential adversaries modernised. But he insisted the government had taken a considered approach to ensure the right balance. “In defence it is too tempting to use the shield of sentimentality to protect previously battle-winning but now outdated capabilities,” he said. “This, coupled with over-ambition and under-resourcing, leads to even harder consequences and endangers the lives of our people, who are truly our finest asset.”
Electronic warfare, air defence, uncrewed aerial surveillance and offensive cyber will all get more cash and troops. And a raft of fresh kit will include new long-range rocket systems.
Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, described the changes as a “transformative opportunity” for the Service. “What’s being announced is the blueprint of a world-class British Army,” he added. The Service’s most senior Reservist confirmed the plan would see the voluntary contingent remain at 30,100 and become “even more capable”. “This is an inspiring and stimulating time for the Army Reserve as it prepares to take a greater role in UK defence,” Deputy Commander Field Army, Major General Celia Harvey, said. “It will be an extremely effective organisation, fit for purpose and playing to its strengths, leading on UK resilience operations, supporting overseas deployments and providing specialist expertise to combat hostile competition.”
One purpose of the change is to make the Service more expeditionary, with the plan of having more soldiers deployed across the globe more of the time, with the focus on a persistent forward presence in the places that are deemed to matter most to the UK. With this in mind, the Service will capitalise on its network of bases in Oman, Kenya, Brunei, Belize, and Germany, with other destinations also in the mix.
Brigade Combat Teams
The new-look Army focuses on seven so-called “brigade combat teams”:
- Two light;
- Two heavy;
- One deep recce strike;
- One air manoeuvre (16 Air Assault Brigade); and
- One combat aviation.
In addition, there will be a new security force assistance brigade to help build the capabilities of the UK’s partner nations (in train, assist, and partner roles).
A special operations brigade will further bolster these efforts by operating alongside partners in high-threat environments.
Providing a global response force for conflict and crisis handing, 16 Air Assault Brigade will be bolstered with more ‘sharp-end troops’ and uprated attack helicopters.
The special operations brigade will be based around four new Ranger battalions, established from the Specialised Infantry Group.
These are the:
- 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment;
- 2nd Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment;
- 4th Battalion, The Rifles; and
- 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland.
There has been at least one public concern that the effect the new Ranger Battalions may have on recruitment for other elite units, for example the Paras.
“WILL the new Ranger battalions prove to be the death knell of The Parachute Regiment? I can’t see how they will recruit or retain troops as well as they used to with the new Special Forces support role given to some of the Royal Marines and new Ranger battalions. The Paras have lost out in this respect and I think they’ll have a lot of trouble attracting or keeping the best personnel because they will want the status of being a Ranger.” (Buckley, 20210, p.53).
The Infantry will be made leaner and more specialist, restructured around four divisions.
The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Mercian Regiment will merge into a Boxer-equipped force.
Meanwhile, the war-fighting capability of 3 (UK) Division is being reworked around 148 upgraded Challenger tanks and a range of Ajax and Boxer vehicles.
These forces will be supported by new air defence and cyber capabilities plus a raft of new kit.
A war-fighting experimentation battlegroup focusing on hybrid and conventional threats will also be created in the future-facing line-up.
Buckley, G. (2021) Paras Could Freefall. Soldier: The Magazine of the British Army. April 2021.