Optimising UK Strike Brigade Structures

 In UK

By Nicholas Drummond

Over the last 12 months, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall have shown various new Boxer mission module proposals that promise to expand the family of variants on offer and realise the potential of Boxer’s modularity. This article reviews some of these new options to envision what an ideal Strike Brigade might look like. This article will immediately be criticised for playing “fantasy fleets.” Is this a bad thing? Defining what an ideal Strike Brigade ought to look like sets a benchmark standard against which actual brigade generation can be measured. This allows the gap between what we would ideally like to acquire and what we can actually afford to be understood, so that the right trade-offs can be made. Overall, this exercise recognises that modernisation plans for the British Army must be rooted in a strategy that makes it relevant and credible while being affordable and sustainable. 

The Growing Range of Boxer variants.

Contents

01 Introduction
02 Strike doctrine
03 Strike brigade structure
04 The basic “must have” Boxer variants
05 Follow-on “highly desirable” Boxer variants
06 Third wave “optional extra” Boxer variants
07 Summary

01 Introduction

In his annual RUSI lecture in December 2020, Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, described the future force as one that would encompass an agile manoeuvre division. This implies that the UK’s Integrated Review strategy will reconfigure the Army around the emerging Strike Brigade concept. The goal is to create an army that is expeditionary by design, meaning that it can self-deploy and operate over long distances thanks to increased operational mobility and reduced logistical dependancy. It will also be a more flexible force, able to perform a variety of tasks and to switch between them easily and quickly. This suggests a wheeled future with the Army’s combat vehicle fleet built around Boxer and Multi-Role Vehicle, Protected (MRVP). 

Tracked armour, including Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) and Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) will definitely still have a place, although some defence analysts believe that heavy armour is likely to have a reduced role in high tempo, rapidly evolving contemporary mobile warfare scenarios. In some instances, however, tanks will remain essential to dislodge firmly entrenched enemies via set-piece attacks. It must also be remembered, that as good as 8×8 vehicles are off-road, they cannot match tracked vehicles when negotiating the most extreme terrains. So we will still need a mix of wheels and tracks.

If the pre-Integrated Review rumours are correct, the Army’s war fighting division will be configured around two Strike Brigades and one Armoured Infantry Brigade. That means one Armoured Infantry Brigade will be lost. The remaining Armoured Infantry Brigade will likely have two MBT regiments, two IFV battalions, plus a reconnaissance regiment.

Proposed Army 2025 plan which is likely to be revised by the integrated Review.

Behind the above structure is a growing recognition of the threat posed by Russia and, increasingly, China. The Army’s emerging strategy is based on the Integrated Operating Concept. This includes the need for UK forces to operate below the threshold of conflict, in the “grey zone.” While there is a need for soft power, it is no substitute for hard power. We forget at our peril that we still need the capacity to physically eject those who would invade our territory. The more that potential enemies perceive us as weak, the more likely they are to test our defences. The problem with hard power is that, like our nuclear deterrent, it is expensive to maintain and seldom used in anger. This makes it a costly insurance policy. While we must spend the money allocated to defence wisely – and there is much evidence to suggest that we waste too much – the overall structure of the Army must align a commitment to the tasks that are vital with a commitment to the tasks that are affordable. This will obviously require us to make hard choices about which tasks are mandatory and which are discretionary. We may be better off by trying to do fewer things well than by trying to do everything and only achieving a mediocre standard. In any event, having a potent army is not discretionary. There is a genuine concern that if the Army had to “fight tonight” it might struggle to generate an adequately equipped force. For these reasons, investing in substantial tracked armour formations that are difficult to deploy and expensive to maintain when forward deployed is seen as an inefficient use of scarce resources. Far better to invest in rapidly deployable ground forces that offer utility across multiple scenarios. 

There is also the issue that many of the people who insist that replacing obsolete capabilities is unaffordable have no idea what a credible force should look like. If we end-up with an Army built on technicals (Toyota pick-up trucks with heavy machine guns bolted on at the back), it will be inexpensive, but not credible. The other aspect is mass. The 1998 Defence Review suggested that the optimum peacetime size of the Army was 110,000. For those of us who served in the Army when it had 160,000 troops, the 82,000 we have today seems like tokenism. 

Even without increasing the Army’s current headcount, the British Army ought to be able to generate two deployable divisions, each with three brigades, within the existing cap of 82,000. If a brigade typically requires 5,000-6,000 personnel, then six brigades require a maximum of 36,000 personnel. Add an extra 8,000 personnel to each division for additional Combat Support (CS) and Combat Service Support (CSS) assets, such as Artillery, Aviation, Logistics, Signals and Engineer units, or 16,000 extra troops, and this adds up to a total of 52,000 personnel. This still leaves an additional 30,000 troops for other tasks, including HQs, training and admin roles. 

With two deployable divisions, one should be a Strike Division to perform expeditionary roles with the capacity to take its place beside other NATO forces and fully able to counter peer adversaries. The second deployable division should be a light role rapid reaction division. This could perform overseas roles across low and medium intensity scenarios. It could also conduct domestic security tasks at home. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for increased national resilience. The ability to protect vital UK infrastructure is paramount. Traditionally, home defence has been a major task of the Army Reserve. It should be again, but until such time that it is properly reorganised, then the Regular Army needs to assume this responsibility. In any event, the proposed structure would generate six combat brigades. 

Revised Army 2025 Proposal with two Strike Brigades and a single Armoured infantry Brigade.

An army with two deployable divisions is not necessarily unaffordable. Much of what is needed to generate it already exists. It simply needs a bit of reorganisation. Ultimately, affordability is a question of priorities. If we decide that a credible Army is necessary and important then we should to invest appropriately. The Navy and RAF have been very effective in justifying their existence; the Army less so. During the Cold War, the threat posed by the Soviet Union gave the British Army a very clear focus. Today, it faces multiple threats, so we need a multi-role army. If we can’t afford to do everything, where do we place our capability bets? Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have delayed a response to this question. The net result is that, more than the Navy or RAF, the Army needs urgent, wholesale modernisation. It has not been properly re-imagined since the end of the Cold War. 

The situation I describe was the inspiration behind the development of UK’s Strike Brigade concept. The Army has set-out a bold new vision that fulfils the four of the modernisation criteria listed above: relevance, credibility, affordability, and sustainability. 

02 Strike doctrine

There are plenty of articles on the UK Land Power Blog that explore the “Strike Concept” in more detail, so what follows is a summation that sets the scene for force structure re-design. The first point to make is that the Strike Concept is based on a doctrine or a way of fighting that is fundamentally platform neutral. It is not about Boxer or Ajax, but how the British Army would address the massive imbalance between the forces at our disposal and those of potential adversaries like Russia. It is a recognition that our previous Cold War approach to manoeuvre warfare would have been costly and unsustainable. Had the Strike concept been developed during the Cold War, it might have been implemented using reconnaissance regiments in CVR(T) and infantry battalions in FV432. 

Essentially, Strike doctrine is about locating the enemy and fixing him in place while air power, submarine launched TLAMs, and land-based tube, rocket and missile artillery are brought to bear. A key enabling capability is organic ATGMs. Anti-tank missiles like Javelin, NLAW, Hellfire, Brimstone, Spear, and Exactor are hugely capable and would impose friction and delay on an attacking enemy force. If there is one valid criticism of the Strike Concept is that it needs much greater investment in artillery. But this is coming, so we need to be patient. 

Strike achieves impact through several enabling factors. One is a network-centric fully digitised C4I system that connects entire formations. The ability to share information securely in real time via voice and data is a force multiplier that allows faster, better informed decision-making and thus more effective command and control. Connectivity will allow Strike brigades to out-think and out-manoeuvre enemy forces. It is the military equivalent of an ice hockey player skating, not to where the puck is, but where it will be. The Army has already updated Bowman so that it offers greater utility in this area, but it will substantially improve its ability to communicate through the LEtacCIS and Morpheus programmes that will deliver software-enabled C4I systems that are more reliable and secure over long distances. 

The second enabler is operating dispersed. Effective C4I systems allow units to be concentrated and dispersed easily and quickly, something that agile wheeled vehicles also facilitate. With individual platoons spread-out within their areas of responsibility, the enemy will not know where to prioritise artillery fire. If adversaries try blanket coverage, they will need to delete so many grid squares that they will rapidly run out ammunition. With Strike Brigades operating across frontages of 100 km, units will be hard to find and neutralise. 

The third enabler is ISTAR assets. Third-and fourth-generation sensors will offer the ability to detect enemy units at greater distances. This is one area where NATO has achieved a competitive advantage over potential enemies. Capabilities include satellite surveillance, UAVs and drones for reconnaissance, as well as the sights and sensors fitted to individual vehicles. Again, the network effect of multiple sources providing an overall picture of the battlespace will be a force multiplier.

The fourth enabler is a reduced logistical footprint. This is a benefit that flows from configuring combat formations around wheeled platforms, which require less maintenance and fewer spare parts. The aspiration is for individual units to be autonomous for at least 72-hours and ideally for 7-day periods. The British Army has always excelled at logistical planning and the way in which units will be supported is likely to be a key aspect of the doctrine’s effectiveness. When resupply becomes necessary, drones and AI-enabled vehicles will allow innovative solutions. This is a concept that the US has fully validated with its Stryker Brigades. Operational feedback shows that they can operate with much greater autonomy than traditional tracked formations. 

Boxer IFV with KMW RCT-30 Puma remote turret. This mounts a 30×173 mm Rheinmetall cannon , a coaxial 5.56×45 mm MG, plus twin Spike ER ATGMs in a side pod. Electro-optics are combined with glass optics to provide a reversionary mode in case the main weapon sights are damaged or compromised. (Image: KMW)

The fifth enabler is operational mobility, which is the ability of wheeled units to deploy rapidly from a theatre entry point to the area of combat operations. Boxer will not be dependent on Heavy Equipment Transporters (HETs). It will self-deploy. Modern wheeled combat vehicles have the added benefit of improved tactical mobility. Although they are ultimately less agile than tracked vehicles off-road, Boxer is capable of keeping-up with MBTs across challenging terrain. In many potential scenarios, Strike Brigades would deploy by sea in roll-on, roll-off ferries (as would tracked vehicles). Once in theatre, they would then self-deploy to the desired forward location. Rapid independent transit within a theatre of operations is something else that increases responsiveness and thus tactical effectiveness. 

This brings us to the sixth and most important enabler: artillery systems. As already mentioned above, investment is planned. Upgraded systems will include G/MLRS, tube artillery and air defence systems. We are starting to see extremely clever and sophisticated loitering munitions and other beyond-line of sight systems. Relying on advanced targeting technology to avoid counter-measures, troops concealed in foreword locations will be able to direct long-range fire on enemy units. In particular, we will see a greater reliance on rocket and missile artillery. New munitions developed for G/MLRS launchers offer impressive gains in lethality and precision. 

There is much more to Strike than this, but at its core it is about rapid manoeuvre to deliver infantry mass quickly and unexpectedly via pre-emptive movement to seize and control ground. The other essential component is long-range engagement. We first saw this trend emerge in naval warfare and then with combat aircraft firing beyond visual range air-to-air missiles. Now it is being translated to ground combat via a new generation of missiles. Ultimately, the Strike Concept reflects the old US Civil War maxim: he who arrives, with the most troops first, wins.

03 Strike brigade structure

UK brigades are already moving to a structure comprised of 12 separate unit types. Evolving from a triangular structure to a square structure means they will have four manoeuvre units.  This will be either two cavalry regiments plus two infantry battalions, or one cavalry regiment plus three infantry battalions. The latter is the structure used by US Army Stryker Brigade Combat Teams and is preferred. 

The four manoeuvre units are supported by three primary Combat Support (CS) units: these will include an Artillery Regiment with 155 mm guns, an Engineer Regiment with integral assault gap-crossing capabilities, a Signals Regiment (rather than just a squadron) that will not only support the Brigade HQ , but also provide offensive and defensive Cyber / Electronic Warfare capabilities.  

UK Strike Brigade Structure

Five Combat Service Support (CSS) assets will complete the structure. Logistics regiments and logistics transport regiments will be combined into a single logistic support regiment. This will be supported by a Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (REME) battalion. Some armies integrate equivalent units into a logistics maintenance regiment, but this is not considered to be necessary as the component expertise of such soldiers differs from logistical planning and replenishment. The next unit is a combined Royal Army Medical Corps regiment and field hospital. Finally, a Military Intelligence company and Military Police company will complete the structure. 

At divisional level, deployed Strike Brigades will rely on additional artillery regiments. These will include a G/MLRS regiment. This is likely to be HIMARS mounted on a 6×6 or 8×8 armoured MAN truck. It is planned that the UK will acquire a wide range of rocket munition types to support the defeat of different targets. In particular, it would be useful to include a PrSM missile with 500+ km range. Another essential artillery capability is a deep fires precision missile system. This would be a successor to the Spike NLOS / Exactor system. Something like a ground-launched Brimstone with a 30-40 km range would be pivotal in providing a timely and massive response to enemy breakthroughs. Next, each brigade would be supported a divisional VSHORAD and SHORAD regiments to provide a layered air defence system. VSHORAD batteries would have a mix of 30-35 mm cannons and Starstreak HVM missile launchers. SHORAD batteries would have Land Ceptor / CAMM ER missile launchers. Both air defence units would be supported by an integrated radar system designed for counter-battery and air defence roles. 

Also at divisional level, Strike Brigades would be supported by an Army Air Corps Apache AH-64E attack helicopter regiment, a UAV regiment, and a further Signals Regiment. Overall this structure would create a potent and responsive ground force able to perform a variety of roles against a peer adversary. It would match any equivalent unit fielded by any of our NATO allies. 

04 The basic “must have” Boxer variants

The basic range of Boxer vehicles ordered by the Army so far consists of four variants:

  • Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV)
  • Command & Control Vehicle (C2)
  • Specialist Vehicle (SV)
  • Battlefield Ambulance Vehicle (BAV)

The role of each of these vehicles is self-explanatory, except for the Specialist Vehicle (SV). This is the same as the Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV) except that it has removable seating allowing it to be used as a mortar carrier, engineer, reconnaissance and anti-tank vehicle. 

Most criticism of the UK Strike Brigades has centred on the remote weapon station that we plan to fit. It is therefore proposed that all infantry Carrier Vehicles mount an unmanned turret. Remote turrets offer important advantages versus standard crewed turrets. They are lighter and smaller with lower centres of gravity. They isolate ammunition stowage from crew compartment by storing rounds in the turret, so are safer if penetrated and enable the crew to benefit from hull protection rather than being exposed above by sitting in the turret. Remote turrets do not intrude into the crew compartment, so do not take-up valuable interior space. This also allow all crew members, including the driver, to exit easily and quickly through the rear of the vehicle. Finally, remote turrets tend to be less expensive than manned turrets. There are three remote turret options to choose from. One is Nexter’s 40×255 mm T40 remote turret. Then there is KMW’s 30×173 mm RCT30 Puma turret. Thirdly, there is Kongsberg’s 30×173 mm RT60 turret, which is a development of the same MCT30 turret fitted to the Stryker Dragoon vehicle. Of these, the Kongsberg RT60 is likely to be the least expensive. It can also readily incorporate Northrop Grumman’s new 50×228 mm cannon, a major advantage if increased lethality becomes essential. 

The Four Initial UK Boxer Variants

A few words need to be said about calibre choice. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the ammunition costs of CTAS 40×255 mm cannons are all but unaffordable. A HE airburst round costs £250. An APFSDS round close to £1,000. In contrast, a 30×173 mm HE round costs less than $50 and an APFSDS round less than $150. A 30 mm cannon plus ATGM may be a better solution than a CT 40 mm cannon alone. One reason to go with a 30×173 mm is that it might allow an easier upgrade path to 50×288 mm, should a larger calibre be needed. Right now, 30×173 mm is more than sufficient engage most targets. In any scenario, a 30 mm or 40 mm cannon is preferable to a 12.7×99 mm heavy machine gun. If all infantry battalion section vehicles had a turreted Boxer, all concerns about firepower would evaporate. 

Boxer with a Kongsberg RT60 remote turret. This mounts a 30×173 mm Bushmaster cannon, a coaxial 7.62×51 mm machine gun, a 12.7×99 mm HMG in a remote weapon station and twin anti-tank missiles in a recessed box.

In case, a remote turret is genuinely unaffordable – which is more about the cost of the ammunition than the turret itself – then a second option could be the Northrop Grumman 30×113 mm M230LF chain gun (which is the same weapon fitted to the Apache AH-64E attack helicopter). A UK firm, AEI Ltd.,makes the 30×113 mm Venom cannon. Based on the old Royal Ordnance Aden cannon, this is a low recoil weapon that offers the same benefits. 30×113 mm ammunition combines the velocity and accuracy of the 12.7 mm HMG with the explosive payload of the 40×53 mm automatic grenade launcher. Fitted to a remote weapon station, like the Kongsberg RS4 with a coaxial ATGM, it would be credible if not ideal. With new natures including an air burst round under development, this could be a good compromise choice. 

Two other basic Boxer variants are also needed as a matter of necessity. One is a dedicated repair  and recovery vehicle. The German company FFG, which makes the Wisent 2, a dual Armoured Recovery and Armoured Engineer version of the Leopard 2 MBT, has developed a Boxer Repair & Recovery mission module. This has a crane with a 23 tonne lift capacity, which is enough to lift any mission module off the Boxer driveline module. This is needed to enable under-armour recovery missions under fire. 

The second additional variant is a dedicated mortar vehicle. Developing a mission module able to carry the Patria NEMO 120 mm breech-loaded mortar would be a significant step-up from the legacy 81 mm mortar. 120 mm mortars offer double the range of 81 mm mortars (10-12 km versus 5-6 km). They also pack the same explosive content as a 155 mm shell. Breech-loaded mortars have a direct fire mode, making them an ideal support weapon for taking out bunkers. It also important to remember that the concussion effect of firing even 81 mm mortars through the roof of an APC is undesirable. Turreted mortars avoid this problem while offering higher levels of crew protection. The protection and firepower of a turreted 120 mm mortar system makes this a highly desirable system. 

FFG Boxer Repair & Recovery module. The crane has a lift capacity of 20 tonnes, enough to lift all current and proposed mission modules. It has a capstan winch which can also pull 20 tonnes.

Finally, attaching a boxer blade or mine plough to a standard ICV variant would be a very useful asset for Engineer units. Add a bridgelayer variant and you have an ideal basic set of Boxer variants: 

  1. Standard ICV with a remote weapon station
  2. Standard IFV with a remote turret
  3. C2 with a RWS
  4. Mortar variant
  5. Ambulance
  6. Repair & Recovery variant 
  7. Engineer variant
  8. Bridgelayer variant

These eight variants would create an extremely potent brigade that would be more than capable of taking-on peer enemies.

The Eight Essential Boxer Variants

05 Follow-on “highly desirable” Boxer variants

The next set of Boxer variants seeks to add additional firepower. This set consists of four variants. The first is a L/52 calibre 155 mm self-propelled howitzer. This weapon is needed to provide fire support between 10-50 km. This could be something like the Bae Systems Archer or Nexter Caesar. There is also the KMW Boxer RCH155, which is a fully automated system. This will come with an ammunition resupply vehicle that can reload the automatic turret from under armour. The advantage of this system is very rapid in to action and out of action times – less than a minute to execute a fire mission of five rounds. It can deliver multiple rounds with a simultaneous impact (MRSI). It can also negotiate terrain that would leave gun on truck (GOAT) competitors stranded. 

The second variant is a mobile gun system for the cavalry regiment attached to each brigade. Mounting something like the John Cockerill Defence (formerly CMI) 3105 turret mounting the L7 105 mm gun, this would be an ideal direct fire support vehicle for assaulting infantry. It also has the added advantage of being able to defeat MBTs up to T72 (including T73 B3 with 2-3 hits). It can also defeat other IFVs at longer ranges than a 30 or 40 mm cannon would allow. The Italian Army has recently acquired the Centauro 2 which mounts a 120 mm gun. If such a weapon could be mounted on Boxer, it would be worth considering above a 105 mm gun, as this can neutralise a wider range of armoured vehicles including MBTs. 

Revised Boxer RCH155 with compact turret and Boxer Ammunition Resupply Vehicle.

The third system is precision fires missile launcher for carrying loitering munition or long-range ground-launched NLOS ATGM. This could be an overwatch vehicle for cavalry regiments, a modern day equivalent of the old CVR(T) Striker which fired Swingfire ATGM missiles. If all infantry battalions have a turret or RWS capable of firing ATGMs, then a separate anti-tank platoon would no longer be necessary. If an anti-tank platoon is retained, then it could potentially have an NLOS missile launcher. This could be something like Spike ER, a ground-launched version of Brimstone, or a new missile with 10+ km range. On balance, this capability might be better employed by cavalry reconnaissance or artillery regiments, allowing infantry battalions to focus on delivering dismounted mass.

The fourth system would be an air defence capability. Something like Rheinmetall’s 30 mm or 35 mm SkyRanger with Starstreak HVM would be ideal. A launch set could include one radar vehicle, one Starstream HVM vehicle and one cannon vehicle. Alternatively, all three systems could be integrated on a single platform. A radar carrying vehicle is certainly needed for a counter-battery tasks. The Royal Artillery presently has an STA regiment, but it might be worth adding an STA battery to each artillery field regiment to support target acquisition. STA batteries would have a counter-battery radar troop, a surveillance troop, and a UAV troop with quadcopter drones and a light UAV with a 20-30 km range, possibly with an offensive capability. In any event, UAVs need to become a regimental or battalion-level asset. In summary, the need for follow-on Boxer variants  creates a list of six additional Boxer mission modules: 

  1. Self-propelled L/52 calibre 155 mm howitzer (SPH)
  2. Ammunition resupply vehicle (ARV)
  3. Mobile Gun System with a 105 mm or 120 mm gun (MGS)
  4. Precision Fires Missile Launcher (PFML) 
  5. Short Range Air Defence vehicle with 30 / 35 mm cannon plus Starstreak HVM (SHORAD)
  6. Short Range Air Defence Radar / Counter Battery Radar vehicle (CBR)

Some might suggest that the air defence version should form part of the initial set of eight variants. This view would be hard to disagree with. 

The Six Follow-on Boxer Variants

06 Third wave “optional extra” Boxer variants

Beyond this initial set four further Boxer variants could be developed. An obvious future development is a high-roof command variant. This would offer more interior space so that operators could stand inside the vehicle. It would also be able to accommodate more C4I equipment. A Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Reconnaissance vehicle will eventually be needed to replace the Fuchs. An armoured logistics vehicle might also be useful for resupply in high risk areas. Another future option could be a dedicated engineer variant with interchangeable dozer blades, mine plough and a hinged-arm excavator. This could be based on the Repair and Recovery mission module, substituting the crane for the digger arm. Finally, we could consider mounting a high energy laser on Boxer. This would be ideal for neutralising drones or could be used as a non-lethal weapon. 

  1. High roof command vehicle (C2)
  2. Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Reconnaissance Vehicle (CBRN)
  3. Logistics Vehicle
  4. Armoured Engineer Vehicle (AEV) 
  5. High Energy Laser Vehicle (HEL)

While this list is extensive, it represents a range of vehicles that could be steadily acquired over time. What is significant about the modular approach of the Boxer concept is that it allows new variants to be easily developed as needs dictate, shortening the time required to bring them into service. It also means that vehicles can be “recycled.” For example, a new type of platform could be introduced simply by swapping the mission modules of an older version. Similarly, when Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology matures, the diesel engine driveline module of existing versions could easily be swapped for an HFC driveline.   

Five Additional Boxer Variants

07 Summary

In an ideal world, the Army would have three identical Strike Brigades based on the above structure. In the short term, it will have two Strike Brigades and one Armoured Infantry Brigade. It is hoped that Ajax will be repurposed, so that the AI Brigade becomes exclusively tracked. In addition to being a reconnaissance vehicle, mounting an unmanned turret on Ajax could allow it to be an IFV substitute. The AI brigade would have two MBT regiments, two Ajax IFV battalions and a reconnaissance regiment. 

In all scenarios, Boxer is a multi-role armoured vehicle that replaces the protected mobility fleet (Mastiff, Ridgeback and Wolfhound), and the FV432 family. Ajax replaces Warrior, as well as the CVR(T) family. This leaves the Rapid Reaction division to be built around MRVP, Jackal, and whatever ultimately replaces the BVS10 Viking. The latter vehicle is important because it ensures that the Army could conduct out-of-area operations in extreme terrain. 

The Strike Brigade structure that is proposed becomes the British Army’s primary war fighting formation. The mix of variants described would ensure it was able to take-on peer adversaries. Within a defensive context, such brigades would have sufficient capabilities to counter MBTs, but it should be remembered that the primary tank killing responsibility devolves to precision artillery and aviation assets, including Brimstone-armed Apache and F-35 JSFs. 

There are two controversial aspects to this proposal. One is the need for Strike Brigades to have an ability to kill tanks using kinetic energy APFSDS rounds – which makes a Boxer Mobile Gun System more important than we previously imagined. However, it should be possible to attach tank regiments to Strike Brigades when the need arises. This is the French approach. 

The second contentious issue is whether wheeled Strike Brigades have sufficient mobility to provide utility across all of the most likely deployment scenarios? In Southern and Central Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, wheeled platforms are unlikely to encounter significant mobility problems. Operating in Northern Europe in Winter may be more problematic. The question is whether we should acquire additional BVS10 or whether we should leave a Northern European Winter role to our Scandinavian allies, so we can focus on Central and Southern Europe? 

Summary Mechanised Infantry Battalion Structure

For me, the one significant issue connected to the UK’s acquisition of Boxer is platform weight growth. When the MRAV programme was originally conceived in 1998, we aspired to emulate the US Army Stryker’s sub-20 tonne weight, so we could airlift British 8x8s via C-130 Hercules. As the IED threat in Iraq and Afghanistan evolved, we added extra protection, particularly ballistic floor plates. The US Army’s Stryker vehicle now weighs 28.5 tonnes. But Boxer GVW has grown to 38.5 tonnes. In developing the platform further, the challenge is not to increase GVW, but to reduce it. We can do this with lightweight armour technology. A Boxer weighing closer to 30 instead of 40 tonnes would have much better off-road performance. In the meantime, tyre technology helps to offset weight growth. This reminds us that an important advantage of 8x8s is that they can lose a wheel on each side and still limp home. Once a tracked link is broken a vehicle is stranded. 

Overall, Boxer does an excellent job of balancing a range of complex requirements, and makes sensible compromises. It offers unprecedented mobility and protection for infantry soldiers. A Boxer with a 30 mm or 40 mm remote turret is a highly capable and flexible platform. Once the British Army is equipped with it, it will acquire increased relevance and credibility while being affordable and sustainable. 

Boxer GBAD variant with Starstreak HVM mounted on a MOOG RiWP remote weapon station. A 30×133 mm Bushmaster M230LF chain gun could be added to this variant enabling it to engage drones (like the US Army’s VSHOARD Stryker). (Image: KMW)

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