Future Army Structure – A call for papers Part 2

In the previous paper this blog set out some tentative ideas, in the hope of attracting comment more than anything else, and fortunately plenty of comment was received, all of it useful. DominicJ, Jed, Jackstaff and Steve Coltman all have the gratitude of this blogger, much was learned, many ideas rethought, and now its time to have another stab at the matter.

So what is the aim of the exercise, what capability is desired, and how should it be sustained?

First the assumptions used as a starting point:

1. The reality that even if Britain is not to become a COIN force per-se, the nature of conflict for at least the coming generation will require persistent effect, and we should be prepared to commit to that through NATO.

1.1. The primary fighting unit of the British Army is the brigade, so the battle-groups within that formation should work-up, deploy, and work down, as a unit, otherwise the brigade is merely an administrative formation.

2. Britain has the skill and experience to act as the ‘door-kicker’ in modern conflict, and a desire to maintain sovereign & strategic force projection, so the permanent ability to intervene in medium scale operations is desired.

2.2. To borrow a phrase from elsewhere; unless we wish to be permanently tied to US logistical apron-strings this requires ships, and in particular the RN amphibious fleet to deploy and sustain brigade level forces.

3. The accepted maxim for persistent force is considered to be at least a six month operational deployment followed by twenty-four months on work-up, work-down, and low-intensity activity, so a four-to-one ratio overall.

3.1 The accepted maxim for a permanent capability, i.e. one that does not have to be sustained to the detriment or rest and recuperation is a two-to-one ratio better known as work-up > deploy > work-down.

4. In addition to a continuous state of sustained force in support of multilateral operations of choice, Britain has both an obligation to keep forces ready for Nato Article 5 events and/or matters of British national interest.

4.1. In addition to maintaining forces both for sustained multilateral operations and medium-scale operations in support of Article 5 or British interests, it will be desirable to maintain a deployable battle-group in support of larger brigade level operations or to quell small-scale military events.

To meet the above requirements of permanent and persistent force available on both a brigade level and a battle-group level, and do so within the proscription of a ground force that numbers no more than 80 combat units, this blog has made the following compromises:

a) While it is accepted that larger and more specialised brigades are desirable, the need to keep the brigade as the primary battle formation necessitates smaller brigades given the limited numbers available to sustain the above capabilities.

b) While it is accepted that a four-to-one ratio is most efficient to sustain persistent effect, the desire to maintain persistent and permanent requires a five-to-one ratio in force structure.

c) While it is accepted that a two-to-one ratio is most efficient to sustain permanent effect, the desire to maintain permanent and persistent requires a eight-to-one ratio in force structure.

d) While (b) and (c) above might seem confusing, it results from a desire add additional permanent effect to persistent forces, and likewise incorporate some limited level of persistence in permanent forces.

The result of this is a slightly mathematical approach which includes six medium brigades comprising an armoured regiment, armoured infantry, a mechanised battalion and a light-infantry battalion, in addition to three rapid-reaction brigades comprising of three light-infantry battalions:

Each Line represents a battle-group within the highlighted brigade, usually built around a battalion or regiment.

A red “D” represents an active deployment, whereas a black “D” represents a potential deployment / reserve.

As is hopefully clear above the medium brigades rotate through two cycles of work-up > deploy > work-down with the second deployment held as a (permanent) reserve against Article 5 events or matters of British national interest, thus maintaining a regular schedule conducive to the welfare of the troops.

Likewise, the rapid-reaction brigades would not expect to be routinely deployed, kept as they are for what is notionally to be termed as Strategic Raiding, but would instead collectively maintain a battle-group persistently deployable at all times.

The seventh RUSI paper notes that of the following 98 major ground units listed below we might need to trim this down to circa 80:

Armoured regiments – 10 (presumed to include Armoured & Formation Reconnaissance)

Infantry battalions – 36 (presumed to include Armoured, Mechanised and Light)

Artillery regiments – 14 (presumed not to include home defence or training regiments)

Engineer regiments – 11 (presumed not to include 2x RAF support & 2x training regiments)

Signals Regiments – 12 (presumed not to include training regiment)

Royal Marine – 4 (inc Fleet protection)

RAF Regiment – 3

Special Forces – 7

The proposal outlined here would reduce this to the following:

Medium brigades –

6x Armoured/Formation Reconnaissance

6x Infantry (Armoured)

6x Infantry (Mechanised)

6x Infantry (Light)

6x Signals

6x Artillery (AS90/GMLRS)

6x Engineers (Combat)

Rapid-Reaction brigades –

4x Marine

2x Airborne

3x Infantry (Light)

3x Signals

3x Artillery (105a/120m)

3x Engineers (Combat)

Other –

7x Special Forces

1x RM Force Protection

2x RAF Regiment

3x Light (Local)

2x Artillery (Air Defence)

1x Artillery (UAV)

1x Artillery (Training)

1x Engineering (Training)

1x Signals (Training)

1x Armoured (Training/CRBN)

This is nominally 80 major ground formations, and within the RUSI proscription of ~80 to meet the requirements of an expected budget cut of 15-17 percent. While the brigades are smaller than might be otherwise desirable, persistent reinforcement can come from the rapid-reaction battle-group, or alternatively, brigade level reinforcement can be temporarily provided by either the non-deployed medium brigade or the ready rapid-reaction brigade.

The end result appears flexible, as at any one time a brigade and battle-group can be sustained persistently, and a permanent capability to deploy a medium brigade and a rapid reaction brigade can be maintained temporarily. The persistent medium brigade deployment would include a 2-star / Northag style headquarters as part of a Contributory operation.

While it would be possible to surge the deployment to two medium brigades, this would be time limited to an operation enduring no more than three years, and likewise a continuous deployment of the rapid-reaction brigades could last no longer than eighteen months. This is deemed an acceptable trade-off for a Strategic Raiding / Contributory posture.

While it could be argued that rapid-reaction brigades composed of only three principle fighting formations are too small to achieve strategic effect, it should be remembered that there will always be a second, non-deployed, medium brigade in rotation able to provide a tailored battle-group for the situation at hand.

The matter of whether the six medium brigades should be uniform is entirely open, given the rotation through two deployable phases it is entirely possible for the reserve brigade to provide specialist function or reinforcement to the active brigade.


1. Are medium brigades composed of four primary combat formations an effective compromise to provide the flexibility of a larger number of brigades?

2. Will reducing the rapid reaction brigades to three primary combat formations grossly inhibit their effectiveness?

3. Is it still grossly unrealistic to expect to operate nine brigades in an army of 80,000, or to use RUSI FDR7 parlance; ~80 major ground formations?

4. Would it be better to ditch the idea of six small medium brigades, and substitute three large multi-role brigades on the understanding that persistent brigade level deployments would be impossible.

5. How would you provide a permanent capability for sovereign and strategic force projection (i.e. Strategic Raiding), without having three light rapid-reaction brigades?

6. Is the description of permanent and persistent force understandable, and does it make sense?

7. This UKDF article is very keen on the idea of maintaining a two-star headquarters along with a brigade to act as a useful spine around which multi-lateral missions can be coordinated, how is this different from Northag or ARRC?

Your thoughts are welcome…………….

Update – 06/08/10

A very interesting article written for RUSI by Major General Chris Wilson titled; Enhancing the UK’s Rapid Intervention Options: The Joint Medium Weight Capability. It is looking at how Britain’s medium weight forces can be reconfigured to provide a joint package capable of deploying Medium scale forces (brigade level?) at High Readiness for Focused Intervention and Power Projection, and also Small scale forces (battle-group?) at Very High Readiness for Peace Enforcement and Focused Intervention. It would indicate that I am at least on the right track with my proposal above, even if off-target on its implementation.

Again my thanks go out to DominicJ and Jackstaff, for injecting a little realism into my nine-brigade wunderforce.

And my sincere thanks to the excellent resource that is Think Defence for their ideas here, here, here, here, here, here & here.

21 responses to “Future Army Structure – A call for papers Part 2

  1. Wizard. Will reply properly later on. Re 2.2 borrow freely 😉 I was just quoting generations of frustrated national-security specialists anyway. Wonderful graph.

  2. Interesting Stuff

    Point 5.
    A major uplift in the assault capability of the Navy, a couple of additional bays and half a dozen plus spares of Ocean type ships.

    Point 6.
    I dont really get it.

    If 1Cmdo Brig deployed today, on your FoC it would be ready to deploy again in 18 months, are you saying it wouldnt be deployed again
    Is that just to the same theatre?
    Or at all?
    A 6 month deployment 01/01/11 – 31/06/11 would then leave us with a predictable capability gap 01/07/12 – 31/12/12, for anyone who cares to to exploit.

    Or would 1 Cmdo Brig simply not do 6 month deployments, it would be deployed as a door kicker / head stamper and be relieved by 1 (or 4) Mech Brig and be back at barracks ASAP, so it would be “ready to deploy” for 6 months, but would never “be deployed” for 6 months?
    Or have I completely missed the point?

    Point 7.
    I’m hoping that Command will be a lot easier in future Brigades.
    An Officer joins 1 MechBrig at the start of your table, he has a 6month work up, a 6 month low intensity deployment, a 6 month work down, a 6 month work up and then he’s ready for his first high intensity deployment. For the past 2 years he’s trained with the same junior officers, commanded the same ranks, listended to the same NCO’s and been commanded by the same senior officers.
    By the same logic, the Brigadier has served with (or commanded) his Colonels for nigh on 20 years, his majors for 10 and his captains for 5.
    These men should know each others capabilities and lack thereof better than they know their own.

    A current Brigade is quite possibly staffed by men who barely know each other, that is bound to lead to misunderstandings, delayed responses and disruption.
    A Future Brigadier wont have to monitor his own forces in any detail, leaving him free to ensure the Danish Contingent is getting along, a job that conventionaly, would require a whole extra layer of leadership to manage.

    • A persistent capability is one that can be maintained indefinitely, hence the 6 month deployment / 24 months off-deployment maxim, or in my case 6 month / 30 month as the train-up > deploy > train-down routine allows a constant reserve within this persistent operation.

      A permanent capability is one that is available 356 days a year, but is not maintainable indefinitely, so working to the train-up > deploy > train-down rule you would need three brigades in constant rotation [ready] to deploy, but the the 6 month / 24 month maxim means that ones light-weight rapid reaction forces could not be deployed each and [every] six months.

      There would be no gap in capability, it just couldn’t be used non-stop, on the other hand given that each of the three brigades has three small battle-groups they can maintain between them a persistent battle-group within that permanent brigade level capability.

      The problem I am working around is that if you just have the RM as the ‘door-kickers’, what happens when they aren’t available to deploy because they are working up, or working down, which is two-thirds of the time……?

      • “There would be no gap in capability, it just couldn’t be used non-stop,”

        I’m not sure how that works, either a capability can be used, or it cant.
        Using my example before.
        01/01/11 – 1 Cmdo is moved to the ready Brigade slot
        02/01/11 – Argentina invades the Falklands
        03/01/11 – 1 Cmdo is deployed to evict them.
        01/07/11 – 2 Cmdo is moved to the ready Brigade Slot
        01/01/12 – 1 Para is moved to the ready Brigade slot
        01/07/12 – ?
        02/07/12 – Venezuala Invades the windward islands
        03/07/12 – ??

        Are 1 Cmdo moved to the ready brigade slot on the first and deployed to throw out the Chavs on the third?
        If so, then arent we breaching the deployment limits?
        And if not, we who would we deploy?

  3. It could be clearer from the diagram above, but there are two entirely different rotations between the medium brigades and the rapid-reaction brigades, though it possible for each to reinforce the other.

    Strategic Raiding does not envisage or require that we will be launching a brigade to different parts of the world [every] six months, therefore while the capability needs to be permanent to be credible, it does not need to be persistent, because in all likelihood it would be surprising if there were more than one every eighteen months.

    There is also a requirement to provide a persistent capability for ongoing and open-ended multi-lateral operations, which must be sustained beyond the 30 month cycle of a 6 month deployment followed by a 24 month wind-down, thus there are the six medium brigades which [can] be endlessly recycled in and out of theatre.

    Why have three rapid-reaction brigades that aren’t intended for regular use? Because they are needed for Strategic Raiding, but they aren’t useless outside that role as between them they can [also] maintain a battle-group persistently in support of larger brigade level operations, or on minor ops.

    Why have six medium brigades rather than five for the most efficient rotation of persistent forces? Because the work-up > deploy > work-down routine fits in six better, and leaves the potential for the non-active deployment period to provide a battle-group to temporarily reinforce either your Strategic Raiding op or your persistent op.

    If I were creating a force modelled around Global Guardian I would create a force of ten larger brigades rather than nine smaller ones, as I would be able to keep two large brigades persistently deployed from now until the end of time.

    • The roatations are separate, but they exist over the same general time frame, 1 Cmdo, 1 Mech and 4 Mech will all be “active” in one 6 month block, 2Cmdo, 2Mech and 5Mech will be in work down and 1 Para, 3 Mech and 6 Mech will be in work up

      “Strategic Raiding does not envisage or require that we will be launching a brigade to different parts of the world [every] six months, therefore while the capability needs to be permanent to be credible, it does not need to be persistent, because in all likelihood it would be surprising if there were more than one every eighteen months.”

      But its very possible we could be required to.
      Three “raids” over 5 years could all be carried out by 2 Cmdo Brig whilst the other two rapid forces sat about doing nothing.
      There doesnt appear to be any way to flex around that

  4. 1 Mech and 4 Mech may have aligned training routines, but they would operate at opposite ends of the persistant deployment spectrum, with the former on active deployment and the latter on reserve.

    likewise 1 Cmdo only has a three way rotation, rather than six above, but it is not anticipated that it would be deployed for six months, rest up while another Strategic Raid comes along taken care of by 2 Cmdo, which is then followed by a third Raid covered by 16AAB, and then a fourth which requires 1 Cmdo to get deployed again after only twelve months of ‘rest’.

    You only need persistence if you intend to take part in enduring and ongoing operations, in which case they wouldn’t be available for Strategic Raiding anyway as they would already be in the pipeline for the next roulement to something’istan.

    I do thing its pretty flexible, to give an example:
    Say we have a 1 Mech and 2-star HQ deployed long-term in A-stan and a partner pulls out or there is a requirement to increase numbers for a ‘surge’ then we can also sustain a small battle-group, from the 1 Cmdo initially, for as long as is needed.

    Six months later, Sierra Leone occurs, so we deploy the ready 2 Cmdo brigade to the region, but it requires a little more weight, so a large battle-group from the reserve 5 Mech brigade is added. Likewise, because 2 Cmdo is tasked already it won’t be able to provide a battle-group to bolster 2 Mech, now on rotation in A-stan, so the other battle group from 5 Mech is sent to A-stan too.

    Six months later we are having trouble finding a partner to run the stabilisation mission in Sierra Leone, so the reserve 6 Mech brigade is deployed to assist 3 Mech, and the battle-group from the ready 16AAB can bolster A-stan.

    All this happens while we maintain a reinforced brigade in A-stan for as long as needs be.

    • I get that, but if a fourth crisis then happens, 1 commando will be deployed as the active rapid reaction force, despite only having 12 months between high intensity combat deployments (Afghanistan, work down, work up, Afghanistan again), not 30 months.

      Does that make sense?

  5. The problem with small brigades is that casualties, minor injuries and even leave have a large impact on combat power generation so you end up scratching around all over the place for replacements

    • Yes, I am beginning to appreciate the perils of small brigades, though there is more that I fail yet to understand.

      I guess what i am most curious about is the best trade-off, given Britain’s predicament, between a large number of brigades for operational rotation, vs larger brigades for combat effectiveness.

      Your thoughts on that would be appreciated……….? 🙂

  6. Are Casualties an issue?
    The Mecahnised Brigades have 4000ish front line combat troops, and several thousand more support staff.
    Just how many men are we expecting to lose?

    Would it be possible to not permit leave during certain times?
    I’d be surprised if at the moment you can receive a deployment order to Ghanners and think, bugger that I’m booking a month off.
    I thought “work down” was more or less “time off”.

  7. As Jackstaff and TD have also made clear, these small brigades are over-lean, so i guess casualties are a issue.

    Leave can always be cancelled, but I am ever mindful of the need to obey the five-to-one ratio of six month operational tours, as the need to maintain persistent force in recent conflict means you cannot constantly rotate units into and out of theatre for reasons of exhaustion and ptsd.

  8. minor injuries are pretty common and leave may be granted for all sorts of reasons, we need bigger brigades not smaller

    With the greater need for all round force protection, combat logistic patrols are a good example, the actual combat personnel, even in a large formation are surprisingly small and remember, much activity has to be manned on a 24×7 basis. The RAF REgiment have just formed another couple of units because they were facing personnel shortages that the Army could not fill

    • Yes, I am beginning to understand that larger brigades are a necessity.

      Likewise it is starting to become clear that there is a difference between a deployable brigade sized unit (with the HQ and support that entails), and the units necessary to comprise a brigade themselves.

      What I am toying with mentally is whether it makes sense to differentiate between deployable combat brigades, and organisation units (larger regiments / brigades) which can be used to roulement battalion sized units through the combat brigades.

      It is a learning exercise, and as always comment is appreciated. 🙂

      Six (of) does appear to be the optimum however, as it meets (and exceeds) the 6 month / 24 month requirement, because of the useful rotation of one unit deployed and one unit reserved at any point, it just becomes an exercise in how best to achieve this ratio…………

  9. I suppose it depends on your view on what sort of war we should be doing.

    I think war should roughly go along the lines
    Day 1 – British Interest infringed
    Day 3 – Diplomacy fails, task force sails
    Day 10 – Preliminary Strikes decapitate enemy leadership, Enemy Leadership vows to fight to the last man against imperialist aggressor.
    Day 13 – Landings sucessfully carried out by Light Brigade and beachead secured, airwar in full swing, enemy losses extensive
    Day 15 – Mechanised Brigade successfuly landed and moving towards key objectives already secured or under harresment by light Brigade
    Day 17 – Enemy Airforce wiped out, mobile ground forces in full retreat, dug in troops under heavy assault.
    First Heroes bodies repatriated
    Day 21 – Enemy ground forces in ordered retreat on all fronts and government near collapse due to mass protests and general strike.
    Day 25 – Enemy counter attack routed in 2 day running battle, Republican Guard refuse to break and are destroyed entirely
    Day 26 – Enemy Capital Building Stormed by protestors
    Day 27 – Provisional Government sues for peace, accepts war guilt and makes economic/military/territorial concessions
    Day 31 – Victorious Task Force sails home.

    I dont think the British Public have the stomach for anything that doesnt go broadly along those lines, and I dont think leave/sickness/injury/death are going to cause too many problems within it

    Obviously, COIN/Peacekeeping ect has different needs.

    • That’s an extreme example, but yes that is broadly where I am headed.

      Persistence is desirable, but not at the brigade level because you will find that all available units are tasked and there is nothing in the cupboard with which to go Strategic Raiding.

  10. I’m working to write an overarching Strategy guideline for the UK, which will also involve a revised Army structure. Your article here is of great help, and i want to thank you.
    I hope you’ll have the same pleasure in reading my own try when i complete it… and perhaps it’ll be possible to learn something from each other’s ideas and considerations.
    Very good work, by the way. Congratulations!

    • cheers, i shall look forward to it.

      in truth my work above is massively simplified, but then that was the purpose of the post as; to get a greater understanding from you guys on the inside.

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