The Anatomy of Strike

 In UK, Defense, Uncategorized

By Nicholas Drummond

This is an updat­ed ver­sion of an arti­cle pub­lished on the Wavell Room blog in January 2020.  (Header image: UK Ministry of Defence)

Contents
01. Introduction
02. The prob­lem of deploy­a­bil­i­ty
03. Origins of the Medium Weight force
04. Britain’s long jour­ney to acquire a Strike capa­bil­i­ty
05. Emerging Strike con­cept
06. Force struc­ture and com­po­si­tion
07. Can Strike brigades pre­vail against peer adver­saries?
08. Conclusion

AAA Boxer UK MIVARTEC Boxer ICV vari­ant

01. Introduction

The aim of this dis­cus­sion is to pro­vide a clear and unam­bigu­ous descrip­tion of what Strike is, how it works and why it is impor­tant. So far, there has been only lim­it­ed UK com­mu­ni­ca­tion that artic­u­lates the British Army’s intend­ed approach. This is because the con­cept is still a work-in-progress, but also because much of the doc­trine and its tac­ti­cal appli­ca­tion need to remain con­fi­den­tial.

Before attempt­ing to describe what Strike is, it may be help­ful to say what it is not, to avoid con­fu­sion and cor­rect mis­con­cep­tions. Strike cer­tain­ly encom­pass­es a medium weight capa­bil­i­ty, but is not defined by its vehi­cles, per­son­nel, and equip­ment. At its core, Strike is not a for­ma­tion type. It is a way of fight­ing.

What makes Strike cred­i­ble is not the weapons mount­ed on infantry and cav­al­ry vehi­cles, but the respon­sive­ness of brigades as a whole, thanks to enablers such as C4I sys­tems, ISTAR sen­sors, engi­neers, logis­tics, REME and med­ical assets. Even so, Strike will not be a tooth­less animal. Brigades will have potent organ­ic fire sup­port, includ­ing a large number of ATGM launch­ers. They will also deploy with sub­stan­tial divi­sion­al artillery assets includ­ing deep fires and ground-based air defence sys­tems.

Criticism of Strike is based on two objec­tions. One is that infantry lack organ­ic fire­pow­er, because Boxer will only be fitted with a 12.7 mm HMG in a remote weapon sta­tion. The other is that mixing wheels and tracks is sub-opti­mal. There is a high risk of Ajax not being able to keep pace with Boxer on long road deploy­ments, which means it not achieve its fun­da­men­tal pur­pose: to pro­vide organ­ic fire sup­port. These con­cerns are valid, but do not inval­i­date the Strike con­cept. In time, a tur­ret­ed Boxer recon­nais­sance vari­ant with a 30 or 40 mm cannon will almost cer­tain­ly be added to the mix. A wheeled mobile gun system with a 105 or 120 mm gun could also be includ­ed. As far as Ajax is con­cerned, the UK’s fleet of 90+ Heavy Equipment Transporters (HETs) will be suf­fi­cient to move recon­nais­sance reg­i­ments wher­ev­er needed. The Army is also eval­u­at­ing com­pos­ite rubber track solu­tions. Banded tracks, which have a ser­vice life of 8,000+ kilo­me­tres, are trans­form­ing tracked vehi­cle per­for­mance through increased road speed, fuel econ­o­my, and reli­a­bil­i­ty, while reduc­ing reduce noise, vibra­tion, and crew fatigue. Any per­ceived con­cerns about Strike capa­bil­i­ties reflect a short-term lack of resource, Long-term, the brigades will have every­thing they need to be fully cred­i­ble. But from the start, when an ini­tial oper­at­ing capa­bil­i­ty (IOC) is declared in 2023, Strike Brigades will enable the Army to do things it has never been able to do before.

Boxer IFV with Puma turretARTEC Boxer with a 30 mm Puma turret. In time, the British Army will acquire a tur­ret­ed ver­sion of its Mechanised Infantry Vehicle. This could be an IFV ver­sion used by Mechanised Battalions or a ded­i­cat­ed recon­nais­sance vari­ant issued to Cavalry Regiments in place of Ajax. (Image: Krauss Maffei Wegmann)

Ultimately, Strike is a response to evolv­ing threats and a more com­plex future oper­at­ing envi­ron­ment. Strike is the means through which the Army will remain flex­i­ble and com­pet­i­tive across a wide range of sce­nar­ios, includ­ing against peer adver­saries. Strike is how the Army moves beyond the enhanced for­ward pres­ence model that has guided its doc­trine, struc­ture and equip­ment since 1945.

02. The prob­lem of deploy­a­bil­i­ty

Have you noticed how straight­for­ward it is to deploy a Navy frigate or Air Force jet? During the 2019 stand-off in the Strait of Hormuz British war­ships were hur­ried­ly dis­patched to deter Iranian aggres­sion. As soon as the oper­a­tion was sanc­tioned, crews were mus­tered, ships were pro­vi­sioned, and away they went. HMS Montrose and HMS Duncan ensured the safe pas­sage of UK mer­chant ves­sels. When the crisis died down, they sailed home. It was a case of job done. Similarly in 2018, when the Assad regime used chem­i­cal weapons in Syria, the RAF sent Tornado jets to destroy weapon stor­age facil­i­ties. Within hours the mis­sion was planned, exe­cut­ed and com­plet­ed. Again, job done.

If only deploy­ing the British Army was as easy. When Britain sends ground forces to a trou­ble spot, it’s like assem­bling an orches­tra. Regardless of the mis­sion, they need to be sus­tained by an exten­sive array of combat sup­port (CS) and combat ser­vice sup­port (CSS) ele­ments making land oper­a­tions com­plex and expen­sive. Just look at the recent UK deploy­ment to Afghanistan. Camp Bastion in Helmand Province cov­ered 32 km², an area larger than Reading, while air oper­a­tions made it the UK’s fifth busiest air­port. Counter insur­gency oper­a­tions are not a quick fix either. British Troops were offi­cial­ly deployed from June 2002 until December 2014, but, at the time of writ­ing, a small con­tin­gent still remains in the­atre.

The sig­nif­i­cant human and eco­nom­ic cost of ground forces deploy­ments means the under­ly­ing strate­gic objec­tives need to be extreme­ly worth­while and achiev­able. It’s why gov­ern­ments have become reluc­tant to fight “dis­cre­tionary wars,” where we choose to get involved instead of only fight­ing wars that are vital for nation­al secu­ri­ty. When a response becomes nec­es­sary, we increas­ing­ly utilise small­er groups of Special Forces or Specialised Infantry bat­tal­ions to per­form sur­gi­cal strikes or mentor local forces from behind the scenes, rather than send­ing exten­sive brigade-size forces. But what hap­pens when we need to think big, not nec­es­sar­i­ly to fight, but simply to deter aggres­sion? If the effort required to project power is too great, we may post­pone action until it is too late, at which point a much more sig­nif­i­cant and costly inter­ven­tion will be required.

Some people would argue that if using boots on the ground is so prob­lem­at­ic, why not rely on the Navy and Air Force instead? But we forget at our peril that all con­flict is ulti­mate­ly resolved on the ground, so while ships and air­craft can degrade an enemy’s capa­bil­i­ty to wage war, they cannot seize and hold vital ter­ri­to­ry. While the results achieved in Iraq and Afghanistan are dif­fi­cult to quan­ti­fy, two pre­vi­ous deploy­ments stand-out as text book inter­ven­tions: the Balkans in 1999 and Sierra Leone 2000. With a civil war taking place in both regions, the British Army’s con­tri­bu­tion to inter­nal secu­ri­ty helped to restore power to demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-elect­ed gov­ern­ments, dis­armed insur­gent forces and restored peace and sta­bil­i­ty to these regions. The suc­cess of these lim­it­ed inter­ven­tions reminds us that land force oper­a­tions can be a rel­e­vant and effec­tive tool of Government for­eign policy.

While recent deploy­ments have mostly involved low-inten­si­ty peace sup­port oper­a­tions, or medium inten­si­ty counter-insur­gency cam­paigns against ter­ror­ist organ­i­sa­tions, the threats we face have evolved. Islamic extrem­ist ter­ror­ism remains a prob­lem at home and abroad, but Russia’s annex­a­tion of Ukraine ter­ri­to­ry and its build-up of forces adja­cent to the Baltic States have reignit­ed former Cold War ten­sions. China is expand­ing its armed forces well beyond any ter­ri­to­r­i­al defence needs. Iran con­tin­ues to spon­sor ter­ror­ism, as well as posing a direct threat to its Middle East neigh­bours. Consequently, there is an increased risk of Britain need­ing to fight a major high-inten­si­ty con­flict against a peer adver­sary and at a time when we have not invest­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly in high-end land war­fare capa­bil­i­ties since 1998, when Challenger 2 first entered ser­vice.

The prob­lem with heavy forces is that they cannot move quick­ly. The prob­lem with light forces is that they lack the lethal­i­ty and resilience to take-on peer adver­saries. For this reason, during the Cold War, the UK pre-posi­tioned heavy armour and artillery units in for­ward bases in Germany to counter a poten­tial Soviet attack. Notwithstanding its deter­rent effect, a Corps-sized UK force that remained large­ly unused for the best part of 65 years was not an effi­cient use of lim­it­ed resources. Ironically, having decid­ed to bring the Rhine Army home, it became nec­es­sary to pro­vide an enhanced for­ward pres­ence in the Baltic States. The effort required to deploy troops 1,500 kilo­me­tres meant we were only able to gen­er­ate a single armoured infantry battle group rather than an entire brigade.

As things stand, if the UK wants to deploy ground forces it has two choic­es:

  • Send a heavy armour force that is lethal and resilient in combat, but takes time and effort to deploy
  • Send a light infantry force that deploys quick­ly, but has less in the way of lethal­i­ty and stay­ing power

If only we could rapid­ly deploy a more sub­stan­tial mobile force.

03. Origins of the Medium Weight Capability

Faced with the same dilem­ma in 1999, the US Army was unable to deploy an armoured task force fast enough to make a mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tion to the sit­u­a­tion in Kosovo before it was resolved.1 The US Army’s Chief of Staff at the time, General Eric Shinseki, described the US Army as being either “too fat to fly or too light to fight.” Referring to its mix of heavy armour and unpro­tect­ed HMMWV (Humvees), he believed that there had to be some­thing in between these two extremes. Thus, a new con­cept was born, the “Medium Weight” force, which offered increased mobil­i­ty, but with­out sac­ri­fic­ing pro­tec­tion or fire­pow­er.

The blue­print for Shinseki’s vision was found in the United States Marine Corps’ recon­nais­sance bat­tal­ions. These used the LAV-25, a 13-tonne 8×8 wheeled armoured vehi­cle, which had been acquired in the early 1980s. Chosen in pref­er­ence to the UK’s CVR(T) family, it was intend­ed to give the USMC an expe­di­tionary capa­bil­i­ty. LAV-25s first saw action in Panama in 1989 where they proved invalu­able in sup­port­ing dis­mount­ed units before M2 Bradley IFVs arrived in the­atre. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, a single USMC LAV-25 bat­tal­ion was able to hold-off an entire Iraqi armoured divi­sion equipped with BMPs and T‑72s.2 Shinseki’s new “Objective Force” was built around a revised LAV plat­form, the LAV III or Stryker. This offered improved pro­tec­tion and an increased car­ry­ing capac­i­ty. Growing in weight to 17 – 18 tonnes, the M1126 Stryker became the basis of a new class of armoured vehi­cle and a new type of for­ma­tion called a “Stryker Brigade.” Infantry car­ri­er vehi­cles were sup­port­ed by a range of addi­tion­al vari­ants includ­ing recon­nais­sance, anti-tank, mortar and artillery plat­forms to create a capa­ble yet adapt­able mobile force.

LAV25Origin of Species: The LAV-25  was co-devel­oped by MOWAG & GD Land Systems to create an amphibi­ous 8×8 for the US Marine Corps in the early 1980s. Mounting the same 25 mm chain gun as the M2 Bradley IFV, the LAV-25 has been one of the USMC’s most suc­cess­ful vehi­cles, giving it an expe­di­tionary capa­bil­i­ty long before other nations recog­nised a sim­i­lar need. (Image: USMC)

The first oper­a­tional use of a Stryker Brigade was in Iraq between 2003 and 2004. A com­plete brigade sailed direct­ly from the USA to Kuwait. Upon arrival, it deployed as a single unit moving 900 kilo­me­tres in a single bound with every­thing needed to sup­port oper­a­tions for 72 hours. What was notably absent from the column was the usual logis­tics tail that accom­pa­nied armoured for­ma­tions. En route to its ini­tial area of respon­si­bil­i­ty, the Brigade was re-tasked to a trou­ble spot, Samarra. The unex­pect­ed arrival of such a large armoured force wrong-footed insur­gent forces and meant that the sit­u­a­tion was sta­bilised with sur­pris­ing speed and effi­cien­cy. The Brigade then pro­ceed­ed to relieve the US 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, its orig­i­nal task. Upon arrival, it found that a force a third of the size of a light infantry divi­sion could dom­i­nate the same area of ground with less effort. Over a 12-month period, Stryker vehi­cles cov­ered an aver­age of 32,000 kilo­me­tres each with units achiev­ing readi­ness levels of 96%. Post-oper­a­tional analy­sis sug­gest­ed that the Stryker Brigade con­cept was noth­ing short of rev­o­lu­tion­ary in the impact it achieved.[3]

Stryker M1126The US Army’s M1126 Stryker ICV is a devel­op­ment of the same Piranha chas­sis used by the LAV-25. Larger with an increased car­ry­ing capac­i­ty, this vehi­cle has become the basis for an exten­sive range of wheeled combat vehi­cles used by US Army Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (SBCTs). (Image: US Army)

The per­for­mance of the US Stryker Brigade in Iraq inspired other NATO armies to acquire a sim­i­lar capa­bil­i­ty. Polish forces deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 used the Patria AMV. This was a better pro­tect­ed vehi­cle than the LAV III and mount­ed a 30 mm cannon, giving it sig­nif­i­cant­ly greater fire­pow­er. By this time, address­ing the threat posed by mines and impro­vised explo­sive devices (IEDs) had become para­mount. A fur­ther evo­lu­tion in vehi­cle design result­ed in higher levels of blast and kinet­ic pro­tec­tion. The German-Dutch Boxer and French VBCI raised the per­for­mance bar higher. With GVW increased above 32 tonnes, both plat­forms are direct­ly com­pa­ra­ble to tracked IFVs. Germany’s employ­ment of Boxer in Afghanistan in 2011 was an unqual­i­fied suc­cess. No Bundeswehr sol­dier riding in one was killed or injured. The French Army’s deploy­ment to Mali in 2013 was anoth­er text­book inter­ven­tion in Africa. A VBCI for­ma­tion trav­elled 2,400 kilo­me­tres in 3 days, sur­vived 450 RPG and 11 major IED attacks with­out casu­al­ties or unre­pairable damage, and vehi­cles remained mobile even with three flat tyres. These advan­tages enabled French troops to sta­bilise a poten­tial­ly explo­sive sit­u­a­tion in a matter of weeks.[4]

04. Britain’s long jour­ney to acquire a Strike capa­bil­i­ty

Around the same time that the US Army was devel­op­ing its Stryker con­cept, the British Army was a plan­ning its own Medium Weight capa­bil­i­ty via the Future Family of Light Armoured Vehicles (FFLAV) pro­gramme and later the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV) pro­gramme, which ulti­mate­ly pro­duced Boxer. After mis­guid­ed­ly exit­ing MRAV, a third ini­tia­tive, the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) was pro­posed. All three projects were mired by inde­ci­sion and a lack of resources, espe­cial­ly after the global finan­cial crisis of 2008, but at their core they sought to make the Army more deploy­able in a post-Cold War world. With Britain heav­i­ly involved with fight­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan, the urgent need to pro­cure MRAP vehi­cles sucked-up much of the budget allo­cat­ed for the pur­chase of future combat vehi­cles. Despite the can­cel­la­tion of both MRAV and FRES, the Army still recog­nised the need for a fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tion, but it was not until 2016 that mod­erni­sa­tion once again became a pri­or­i­ty. The delay worked in our favour as many of the UK’s pre­vi­ous medium weight beliefs had now been refined by the expe­ri­ence of other armies.

As the British Army starts to become expe­di­tionary by design, the ubiq­ui­ty of wheeled combat vehi­cles is seen as being increas­ing­ly rel­e­vant to the way we will need to fight in future, includ­ing oper­a­tions in denied and dan­ger­ous envi­ron­ments. Potential adver­saries have estab­lished mul­ti­ple layers of stand-off that seek to pre­vent us from clos­ing with and destroy­ing them. These Anti-Access/ Area Denial (A2/AD) strate­gies have made get­ting to the fight as chal­leng­ing as the fight itself.

The evolved nature of modern war­fare means that tra­di­tion­al heavy armour risks not deploy­ing fast enough to con­tribute a deci­sive effect. This does not mean that tanks, tracked artillery and infantry fight­ing vehi­cles are redun­dant; their resilience and fire­pow­er still have an impor­tant role to play. But 70-tonne main battle tanks are imprac­ti­cal. The real­i­ty is that all armour, tracked or wheeled, will need to weigh less, not only to get where needed, but to move around the bat­tle­space.

ECaRGUEUwAAiScrBoxer Repair & Recovery vari­ant. (Image: FFG)

05. Emerging Strike con­cept

So, what is the emerg­ing UK Strike con­cept? The require­ment is to field a medium weight capa­bil­i­ty that com­bines the mobil­i­ty of light forces with the lethal­i­ty and sur­viv­abil­i­ty of heavy forces, but it now encom­pass­es full spec­trum util­i­ty across low, medium and high inten­si­ty sce­nar­ios. There are four core char­ac­ter­is­tics of Strike:

  • Rapid Reaction
  • Operating Dispersed
  • Integrated Effect
  • Reduced logis­ti­cal foot­print

Rapid Reaction is the abil­i­ty of Strike Brigade to deliv­er a deci­sive effect at dis­tances of up to 2,000 kilo­me­tres. It is about get­ting there first and fast. The abil­i­ty to react quick­ly is defined by three ele­ments: Agility, Autonomy and Reach. Agility is a unit’s speed of move­ment across all ter­rain types, includ­ing oper­a­tional mobil­i­ty (moving from the the­atre entry point to the area of combat oper­a­tions / moving out-of-con­tact), and tac­ti­cal mobil­i­ty (moving around the area of combat oper­a­tions / moving in-con­tact). It’s about on road speed and off-road per­for­mance. Autonomy is the capac­i­ty of a for­ma­tion to self-deploy and oper­ate as an inde­pen­dent force. Reach is the abil­i­ty to pen­e­trate deep within denied and dan­ger­ous envi­ron­ments to achieve the desired oper­a­tional goals.

Rapid Reaction incor­po­rates the con­cept of “pre­emp­tive manoeu­vre.” This is the land war­fare equiv­a­lent of an ice hockey player skat­ing to where puck is going to be, not where it is. This is an entire for­ma­tion respond­ing in unison to an evolv­ing tac­ti­cal pic­ture, moving in a coor­di­nat­ed fash­ion, with every unit con­nect­ed to what is hap­pen­ing in real time. This kind of joined-up oper­at­ing model relies on good C4I capa­bil­i­ties, but with them it can achieve a “force mul­ti­pli­er effect” that out-thinks, out­flanks and over-match­es a larger enemy force. It’s like moving a knight in chess to cover the squares around a king. Just occu­py­ing a cer­tain posi­tion acts as a deter­rent because it offers mul­ti­ple attack options.

The second key char­ac­ter­is­tic is Operating Dispersed. This encom­pass­es the sep­a­ra­tion and re-con­cen­tra­tion of Strike units to aid manoeu­vre and to avoid being tar­get­ed by the enemy. When Strike for­ma­tions oper­ate well for­ward, e.g. to con­duct search and destroy mis­sions, they will infil­trate in small de-cen­tralised pack­ets. Size will depend on the task at hand, but will seldom be larger than com­pa­ny or squadron groups. This is because larger for­ma­tions tend to become a focus for artillery and air attack. Groups of 14 – 16 vehi­cles will manoeu­vre into a posi­tion that allows accom­pa­ny­ing assets, such as mis­sile and rocket artillery, to neu­tralise enemy assets. Operating dis­persed is essen­tial for resilience, but also to pre­vent con­ges­tion, espe­cial­ly in built-up areas. A fully digi­tised and net­worked Strike force can easily and quick­ly be con­cen­trat­ed or re-focused to achieve a “Schwerpunct” effect. Overall, Strike brigades can be expect­ed to cover a frontage of 100 kilo­me­tres and a depth of 100 km.

The third char­ac­ter­is­tic is Integrated Effect. This is how joint force capa­bil­i­ties such as air assets, joint fires and other multi-domain resources are com­bined with Strike to achieve a con­cen­trat­ed effect. It means that Strike Brigades will not be solely reliant on their own organ­ic fire sup­port capa­bil­i­ties. They will be sup­port­ed by divi­sion­al fires, e.g. 155 mm artillery, MLRS, deep strike mis­siles, long-range pre­ci­sion effects, GBAD sys­tems; by air assets, e.g. Apache AH-64 and F‑35B combat air­craft; and even by naval assets, e.g. air­craft car­ri­ers and sub­ma­rine-launched land attack mis­siles. Strike brigades can also call upon cyber and EW units or task spe­cial forces.

By acting as a for­ward screen, Strike units will pro­vide enhanced secu­ri­ty for the main force, deliv­er­ing infor­ma­tion and intel­li­gence. Working in con­junc­tion with Armoured Infantry, mech­a­nised infantry Strike units will enable divi­sion­al manoeu­vre. Even when Strike Brigades are oper­at­ing inde­pen­dent­ly from other UK for­ma­tions, they will seldom be alone. They will usu­al­ly be part of a larger coali­tion. When deploy­ing with allies, we will rely on neigh­bour­ing units to pro­vide sup­port and they in-turn will rely on us.

Screenshot 2020-04-08 at 16.28.18Key Strike Brigade enablers. Funding con­straints mean that many of these capa­bil­i­ties will not be avail­able ini­tial­ly, but are expect­ed to be acquired in due course.  

The fourth char­ac­ter­is­tic is a Reduced Logistical Footprint. For Strike Brigades to be effec­tive, reduc­ing the effort required to sus­tain them in the field is essen­tial. In this respect, wheeled vehi­cles are more effi­cient, more reli­able and less expen­sive to oper­ate than tracked ones. They con­sume less fuel and can travel longer dis­tances faster. Using a common mod­u­lar plat­form like Boxer will reduce main­te­nance require­ments and con­sume fewer spare parts. In par­tic­u­lar, units will travel with suf­fi­cient ammu­ni­tion, fuel, rations, bat­ter­ies and water, so that they can oper­ate for up to 7 days between resup­ply.

Another aspect of a reduced logis­ti­cal foot­print will be stream­lined sup­port process­es. This may include autonomous con­voys for last-mile deliv­ery, resup­ply by air, and the clever pack­ag­ing of materiel to speed-up col­lec­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion. Real-time auto­mat­ed data col­lec­tion that mon­i­tors fuel con­sump­tion, ammu­ni­tion usage and so on, will allow needs to be pre­dict­ed aiding logis­ti­cal plan­ning.

The essence of con­tem­po­rary US Stryker and UK Strike doc­trine can be found in American Civil War his­to­ry. Confederate General, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, attrib­uted his abil­i­ty to snatch vic­to­ry from the jaws of defeat by con­sis­tent­ly “arriv­ing first with largest number of troops.” When dis­persed units can travel long dis­tances inde­pen­dent­ly, manoeu­vre into a posi­tion of advan­tage, and then quick­ly regroup to assault an objec­tive, it deliv­ers a crit­i­cal mass of force at the right moment that denies the enemy any oppor­tu­ni­ty to respond until it is too late.

What is new about Strike is that the com­bi­na­tion of ben­e­fits it brings allows com­man­ders to shape the bat­tle­space proac­tive­ly. One exam­ple of Strike Brigade util­i­ty is coun­ter­ing A2/AD bar­ri­ers. Ground-based air defence bub­bles, e.g. Russia’s S‑400 sur­face-to-air mis­sile system, are designed to pre­vent NATO forces from gain­ing air supe­ri­or­i­ty. In response, Strike units might con­duct sur­prise infil­tra­tions deep into enemy ter­ri­to­ry to find and neu­tralise them. Another exam­ple is using Strike Brigades to seize and hold vital ground in coup de main oper­a­tions. Airborne or Air Assault forces can be used in con­junc­tion with Strike Brigades. A para­chute drop to gain con­trol of bridges, air­fields, or supply dumps can be rapid­ly rein­forced by wheeled units moving along ground routes to link-up. It’s what we tried to do at Arnhem, but couldn’t because tracked for­ma­tions couldn’t move fast enough. We can also use Strike Brigades as a deter­rent. Instead of using an Armoured Infantry Brigade to main­tain an enhanced for­ward pres­ence, when ten­sions ramp-up or prepara­to­ry move­ment is spot­ted, a Strike Brigade will deploy. The aspi­ra­tion is for an entire for­ma­tion to travel from the United Kingdom to, for exam­ple, the Baltic States within 2 – 3 days. In case this sounds unre­al­is­tic, US Stryker Brigade have already proven that this is entire­ly pos­si­ble, through oper­a­tional mis­sions and exer­cis­es.

Strike Brigades will be inher­ent­ly flex­i­ble. They are designed to exe­cute mul­ti­ple mis­sion types with vehi­cles that require min­i­mal recon­fig­u­ra­tion. Charles Krulak, a USMC gen­er­al, devel­oped the con­cept of the three block war.[5] This posit­ed that ground forces should expect to per­form a vari­ety of roles wher­ev­er deployed. One moment they might be required to dis­trib­ute aid, the next to per­form low-level counter-insur­gency roles, and, third­ly, to con­duct high inten­si­ty oper­a­tions against a peer enemy, all within a three-block radius. It places an empha­sis on low-level lead­er­ship and adapt­able force struc­tures. With units oper­at­ing dis­persed inside enemy-held ter­ri­to­ry, junior NCOs will be required to take com­mand deci­sions that direct­ly influ­ence the suc­cess of the mis­sion. But it is the key char­ac­ter­is­tics of Strike that will most enable multi-role oper­a­tions.

zbl-092Chinese ZBL-08 8×8 IFV. China is invest­ing in a sig­nif­i­cant expe­di­tionary capa­bil­i­ty.

As armies across NATO build their Medium Weight capa­bil­i­ties, poten­tial adver­saries are doing the same. China has been par­tic­u­lar­ly active devel­op­ing a range of 8×8 vehi­cles, includ­ing the ZBL-09 Snow Leopard IFV and ZTL-09 105 mm Fire Support Vehicle, which it intends to pro­duce in large quan­ti­ties. Russia is sup­ple­ment­ing its BTR-70 and BTR-80 mech­a­nised fleets with the new VPK-7829 Boomerang 8×8 family. The sheer ubiq­ui­ty of 8×8 plat­forms con­vinces some ana­lysts that medium weight armour will even­tu­al­ly render tra­di­tion­al heavy tracked armour obso­lete. For the moment, the sheer number of MBTs that remain in ser­vice – the IISSS Military Balance 2019 esti­mates that there are 70,000 MBTs glob­al­ly – means we need to main­tain exist­ing tank num­bers to counter them. In the long-term, how­ev­er, it seems likely that medium weight wheeled forces will offer more options across more sce­nar­ios than legacy heavy tracked plat­forms.

06. Force struc­ture and com­po­si­tion

Strike Brigades are expect­ed to be com­prised of two mech­a­nised infantry bat­tal­ions equipped with Boxer plus a recon­nais­sance reg­i­ment equipped with Ajax. Each brigade will be sup­port­ed by an artillery reg­i­ment pro­vid­ing indi­rect fires. They should also have an air defence bat­tery attached, plus ISTAR ele­ments, includ­ing UAVs, and counter-bat­tery radars. An Engineer reg­i­ment will pro­vide obsta­cle clear­ance and gap cross­ing sup­port. Strike brigades will have ded­i­cat­ed Logistics, REME and Medical reg­i­ments. Mechanised Infantry bat­tal­ions will each have about 150 vehi­cles, includ­ing 100 Boxer MIVs. In total, strike brigades are expect­ed to have close to 900 vehi­cles and 5,000 per­son­nel.

For Strike to work, it will be depen­dent on four key enablers:

  1. C4I sys­tems which offer increased range, secu­ri­ty and fideli­ty of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, allow­ing infor­ma­tion to be shared via voice and data up, down and across the chain of com­mand
  2.  ISTAR sen­sors, includ­ing optics, radar, laser range find­ers, acoustic direc­tion find­ers and other modern tech­nol­o­gy that allows the enemy to be locat­ed
  3. Wheeled combat vehi­cles, includ­ing 4×4, 6×6 and 8×8 plat­forms, which com­bine on-road and off-road mobil­i­ty
  4.  Long-range mis­siles and artillery sys­tems, includ­ing rock­ets, mis­siles and smart artillery muni­tions, non-line of sight ATGMs and ground-based air defence sys­tems.

The above enablers will make Strike a “system of sys­tems.” While many people attach impor­tance to wheeled combat vehi­cles, per­haps the most cru­cial ele­ment is net­work-enabled C4I sys­tems. Highly con­nect­ed units on the ground rely­ing on mul­ti­ple advanced sensor types will be able to share infor­ma­tion across the Brigade. Commanders will be able to make better informed deci­sions and imple­ment them more quick­ly. The Battle of France in 1940 is anal­o­gous to the advan­tages pro­vid­ed by modern C4I sys­tems. The German Army’s light Panzer units were equipped with radios where­as French Army Char B1 tank units, which were more heav­i­ly armed and better pro­tect­ed, relied on flag sig­nallers and car­ri­er pigeons. Faster, more reli­able com­mu­ni­ca­tions enabled the Wehrmacht to rapid­ly bypass the French defen­sive line and pen­e­trate deep into their rear area. This cut-off their supply routes and forced a with­draw­al. Network-enabled con­tem­po­rary Strike units will have a better abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate and share infor­ma­tion allow­ing them to respond rapid­ly and in-con­cert, making the under­ly­ing tac­ti­cal doc­trine as trans­for­ma­tion­al as “Blitzkrieg” tac­tics were during WW2.

The LEtacSys / Morpheus C4I system that will replace Bowman will from the outset be designed for high fideli­ty and low laten­cy. It will be easier to inte­grate into the dig­i­tal elec­tron­ic archi­tec­ture of new vehi­cles. It will pro­vide combat net radios with a longer range, increased secu­ri­ty, reduced power con­sump­tion and a small­er phys­i­cal foot­print. Integrated mobile data net­works and satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems will give the Army more reli­able voice com­mu­ni­ca­tion and data-shar­ing capa­bil­i­ties. An inte­grat­ed bat­tle­field man­age­ment system (BMS) will enable the posi­tions of each sub-unit within a brigade to be shared in real-time. This will enhance com­mand and con­trol as well as pro­vid­ing an evolv­ing view of the bat­tle­space. LEtacCIS / Morpheus is a funded pro­gramme on-track to deliv­er from 2023.

UAVs like Protector and Watchkeeper work­ing close­ly with Strike Brigade sig­nals units will ensure that infor­ma­tion is fed to all units on a con­tin­u­al basis. Smaller quad­copter drones with longer loiter times and high fideli­ty sen­sors will aug­ment the battle pic­ture. Radar sys­tems, laser range find­ers, fire con­trol sys­tems and other optics will be enhanced by AI. This will ensure enemy threats are iden­ti­fied more reli­ably and faster than human oper­a­tors can do alone.

At the heart of UK Strike Brigades will be the 8×8 plat­form we tried to acquired 20 years ago, the ARTEC Boxer. This third-gen­er­a­tion vehi­cle rebal­ances the iron tri­an­gle in favour of mobil­i­ty, but with­out sac­ri­fic­ing pro­tec­tion. Its unique mis­sion module design allows the vehi­cle to be re-roled within 60 min­utes. It can mount a wide vari­ety of weapons. Above all, it acts as the “mother ship” for a full infantry sec­tion of 8 – 10 sol­diers. When field­ed, the British Army will never have had more a flex­i­ble or better pro­tect­ed infantry car­ri­er.

Boxer IFV Puma interiorInterior view of ARTEC Boxer IFV vari­ant. 

The Ajax recon­nais­sance vehi­cle is a worthy replace­ment for the obso­lete CVR(T) family. While Ajax might be better employed in the Armoured Infantry Brigades, oper­at­ing along­side Challenger 2 and Warrior, its 40 mm cased-tele­scoped ammu­ni­tion cannon will pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant direct fire sup­port. No other cannon in ser­vice can neu­tralise the BMP‑3+ at 1,000 metres. While Ajax will rely on Heavy Equipment Transporters (HET) for long road deploy­ments, once in the­atre mobil­i­ty will not be an issue. In any event, using Boxer and Ajax togeth­er will not the uneasy com­pro­mise that many per­ceive it to be.

Strike Brigade units will also get the Multi-Role Vehicle Protected (MRVP). This will be a family of vehi­cles includ­ing the Oshkosh JLTV, as a Command & Liaison Vehicle (CLV) and Tactical Support Vehicle (TSV); and, either the Thales Bushmaster or GDELS Eagle, as a Battlefield Ambulance (BFA) and Troop Carrying Vehicle (TCV). These plat­forms will ensure that infantry will have a much higher degree of pro­tect­ed mobil­i­ty. Logistically, units on the ground will be sup­port­ed by the Army’s fleet of MAN trucks. Available in 4×4, 6×6 and 8×8 con­fig­u­ra­tions, these offer excep­tion­al util­i­ty and have proved to be the logis­ti­cal back­bone of the Army.

In terms of fire sup­port, it needs to be empha­sised that Strike units will have a sig­nif­i­cant number of ATGMs at their dis­pos­al. NLAW and Javelin will be car­ried at pla­toon-level. All Boxer sec­tion vehi­cles will have the capa­bil­i­ty to mount and fire Javelin from under armour. Javelin’s top attack capa­bil­i­ty is extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to counter, even with the latest APS sys­tems. Additionally, Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLOS) mis­siles will be avail­able to sup­port for­ward-deployed brigades. The Army already has Exactor (Spike NLOS) and is eval­u­at­ing ground-launched Brimstone.

The Army intends to acquire a new mobile fires plat­form with a 155 mm L/52 cal­i­bre how­itzer firing new ammu­ni­tion types. This will offer a 70-kilo­me­tre range. Additionally, sys­tems like the Lockheed Martin HIMARS with G/MLRS rock­ets and, poten­tial­ly, the new Deep Strike mis­sile, with a 499 km range, will aug­ment exist­ing capa­bil­i­ties in this area. The mix of offen­sive fire­pow­er at a Strike brigade’s dis­pos­al will enable it to destroy a large number of point tar­gets simul­ta­ne­ous­ly or to delete entire grid squares.

Boxer variantsThe Army hopes to acquire a large number of Boxer vari­ants for its Strike Brigades. As of March 2020, four vari­ants have been ordered, but a fur­ther eight are being inves­ti­gat­ed. 

With most of the above equip­ment types already on the Army’s shop­ping list, UK Strike Brigades are well on the way to achiev­ing General Sir Nick Carter’s Strike 2016 vision. There are three miss­ing pieces of the jigsaw:

  • Organic Direct Fire. Introducing with a tur­ret­ed Boxer recon­nais­sance vehi­cle or infantry fight­ing vehi­cle would imme­di­ate­ly aug­ment the lethal­i­ty of Strike brigades. Mounting a 30 or 40 mm cannon plus ATGM would enable such a plat­form to engage mul­ti­ple target types, includ­ing MBTs and IFVs. Additionally, mount­ing the 30×113 mm M230LF chain gun in place of the 12.7 mm HMG would com­bine the range and accu­ra­cy of the HMG with the explo­sive effect of a 40×53 mm grenade launch­er. Fitting this to the Kongsberg Protector RWS with Javelin inte­gra­tion would not be sig­nif­i­cant­ly more expen­sive, but would do much to sup­port infantry when advanc­ing on foot to seize an objec­tive, espe­cial­ly as new ammu­ni­tion types enter ser­vice.
  • Organic indi­rect fire. Infantry bat­tal­ions need 120 mm mor­tars mount­ed on a ded­i­cat­ed Boxer vari­ant, because dis­mount­ed 81 mm mor­tars will be out-dis­tanced by fast moving rifle com­pa­ny vehi­cles as they advance. Something like the Patria NEMO tur­ret­ed 120 mm mortar system would be ideal. NEMO has an indi­rect range of 10 – 12 kilo­me­tres. It also has a direct-fire capa­bil­i­ty which is ideal for bunker-bust­ing.
  • Ground-based air defence sys­tems (GBAD). The drone threat is such that the Army needs to rethink ground-based air defence. The new Sky Sabre system is superb. This com­bines the Land Ceptor / CAMM mis­sile with Giraffe AMB radar. The prob­lem is we have too few launch­ers. Similarly the Starstreak HVM is a great short range system, but can we afford to shoot down €1,000 drones with €100,000 mis­siles? Instead, we need a cannon-based 35 – 40 mm anti-air­craft system, again mount­ed on Boxer. The Thales RapidFire system with a 40 mm CT cannon would give us com­mon­al­i­ty with Ajax 40 mm CT can­nons. Alternatively, Rheinmetall / Oerlikon’s 35 mm Revolver air defence cannon with AHEAD ammu­ni­tion has an unri­valled air­burst capa­bil­i­ty.

07. Can Strike brigades pre­vail against peer adver­saries?

As Ajax and Boxer start to re-equip the British Army, the burn­ing ques­tion is how effec­tive will Strike Brigades be versus a peer enemy, espe­cial­ly one equipped with T‑90 MBTs and BMP‑3 IFVs? Modern 8×8 vehi­cles are well pro­tect­ed, but don’t offer the same level of pro­tec­tion as an MBT. The 40 mm CT cannon will defeat IFVs and older MBTs, but not the frontal armour of T‑72 or T‑90. This means we will rely on ATGMs like Javelin. There may be case to acquire a 105 mm or 120 mm mobile gun system. These are essen­tial­ly wheeled MBTs, except that they lack pro­tec­tion. If a Centauro 2 mobile gun system engages a Russian T‑90 MBT, it had better destroy it with a first-round kill, because if it doesn’t, it will almost cer­tain­ly be oblit­er­at­ed when the tank returns fire.

If 8x8s cannot sur­vive against MBTs, how can they pos­si­ble make them redun­dant? Part of the answer lies in the belief that 8×8 units should never be direct­ly set against tank forces. Ensuring that wheeled units are not sur­prised is about effec­tive ISTAR – obtain­ing prior knowl­edge of enemy dis­po­si­tions that gives you an infor­ma­tion advan­tage, allow­ing you to choose when and where you will fight. Behind this lies a reliance on new tech­nol­o­gy and the idea that future bat­tle­field encoun­ters will be decid­ed by sen­sors as much as weapons. An increased focus on field­ing third gen­er­a­tion sen­sors, e.g. FLIR gun sights, will allow friend­ly forces to locate, engage and defeat enemy forces before they can do like­wise. In case this view seems naive, it is exact­ly what the German Wehrmacht did in WW2 with the Sturmgeshütz III assault gun. Originally designed to sup­port dis­mount­ed infantry, it proved adept at tank destruc­tion in defence. This is because its optics were supe­ri­or to those of the Panzer III and Russian T‑34, allow­ing StuG III crews to engage the enemy before they them­selves were locat­ed. For the moment, it may be a stretch to sug­gest that the tank is obso­lete. An Australian Army gen­er­al recent­ly said: “Tanks are like dinner jack­ets, you don’t need them very often, but when you do, noth­ing else will do.”6 For exam­ple, when defend­ing a cross­roads or other key posi­tion that offers gen­er­ous fields of fire, an MBT can be extreme­ly hard to dis­lodge.

Across many antic­i­pat­ed sce­nar­ios, Strike Brigade Joint Fire Controllers (JFCs) will recon­noitre enemy posi­tions using drones and satel­lites and then feed enemy coor­di­nates to artillery locat­ed well back. A vari­ety of mis­sile and tube artillery sys­tems will then be used to neu­tralise enemy forces prior to the attack­ing Strike force clos­ing on its objec­tive. This reflects anoth­er doc­tri­nal con­cept: “defeat­ing at dis­tance,” which is anal­o­gous to the RAF using Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) or long-range cruise mis­siles. We should expect Strike Brigades to use Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLOS) mis­siles. Whatever the system, the goal is destroy the enemy beyond the dis­tance they are able to return fire.

In defence, drone recon­nais­sance or for­ward OPs will enable a phased response to an attack­ing enemy. At 100 km, Long-Range Precision Strike Missiles will be used to deplete con­cen­tra­tions enemy armour. At 50 – 70 km, MLRS and 155 mm artillery will be used. At 30 – 40 km, BLOS ATGMs comes into play. At 8 – 10 km, organ­ic 120 mm mor­tars and LR ATGM will open fire. Then, at 3 – 5 km ATGM like Javelin / MMP will pick-off the rem­nants. Ideally, an enemy should seldom close to within 1 – 2 km of a Medium Weight force’s defen­sive posi­tion. If they do, dug-in dis­mount­ed infantry will use hand-held ATGMs, like NLAW, plus vehi­cle can­nons and small arms to defeat what­ev­er is left.

Independently of armoured vehi­cle devel­op­ments, we’re seeing an evo­lu­tion in the tech­ni­cal capa­bil­i­ties of artillery sys­tems. These are gain­ing increased range, improved accu­ra­cy and greater lethal­i­ty. Feedback from Ukrainian forces engaged by Russian artillery should leave us in no doubt about the abil­i­ty of modern artillery to degrade heavy armour. Even if it doesn’t achieve an out­right kill, it will often achieve a mobil­i­ty kill or neu­tralise a tank’s main arma­ment by knock­ing-out its optics.

If an enemy bunch­es its forces, they will imme­di­ate­ly become a target. And vice-versa. With poten­tial adver­saries invest­ing in quan­ti­ty as well as qual­i­ty of artillery, the abil­i­ty to move quick­ly around the bat­tle­space is fun­da­men­tal to the sur­vival of all com­bat­ants. Effective fire and manoeu­vre remains a core tac­ti­cal skill. What Strike changes is that instead of this being a low-level unit activ­i­ty, it will increas­ing­ly be exe­cut­ed at brigade- and divi­sion­al-level.

08. Conclusion

To sum­marise, UK Strike Brigades will allow the Army to deploy agile, lethal and con­nect­ed ground forces with rel­a­tive ease. This is trans­for­ma­tion­al. They will be self-con­tained, respon­sive and have reduced logis­ti­cal sup­port needs. Strike units will be inter­op­er­a­ble with our NATO allies, but also with our own heavy armour and light role infantry units. Strike Brigades will ensure that infantry mass is deliv­ered wher­ev­er needed, and we should remem­ber that dis­mount­ed infantry are the deci­sive ele­ment in the close battle. Strike changes the risk cal­cu­lus for oper­a­tional deploy­ments. It means we will be able to do things we couldn’t do before, like deploy­ing troops in pro­tect­ed vehi­cles where pre­vi­ous­ly we were only able to deploy them in unpro­tect­ed Land-Rovers and trucks. Potential adver­saries will no longer be able to defeat them using small arms, RPGs and basic IEDs.

The Strike con­cept is a future direc­tion of travel, not only for the British Army, but for NATO. The French L’Armée de Terre’s Scorpion pro­gramme reveals sim­i­lar mod­erni­sa­tion efforts. Tracked IFVs have been replaced by the 8×8 VBCI. Mechanised for­ma­tions will get three new wheeled vehi­cles, the 6×6 Griffon VBMR infantry car­ri­er, the 6×6 Jaguar EBRC recon­nais­sance vehi­cle, and the 4×4 Serval VBMR‑L. The only remain­ing tracked plat­form will be the Leclerc MBT.

As much as wheeled vehi­cles pro­vide new deploy­ment options, tracked vehi­cles will still be needed to fight across the most extreme ter­rains, such as Northern Europe in winter, where snow, ice, and soft soil create chal­leng­ing off-road con­di­tions. So it is not a ques­tion of wheels versus tracks, but an endur­ing need for both.

In the final analy­sis, Strike rep­re­sents the most rad­i­cal mod­erni­sa­tion of the British Army since 1945. It is a new approach to fight­ing and lever­ages new doc­tri­nal approach­es, new tech­nolo­gies and new organ­i­sa­tion­al struc­tures. At a time where absolute num­bers of troops remain lim­it­ed, Strike will allow us to do more with less. Above all, it will make the Army more deploy­able and thus more usable. The think­ing behind Strike is still a work in progress, but given the bap­tism of fire it has received via the US Army and French Army oper­a­tions in Iraq and Africa, we can be con­fi­dent that it will mature into win­ning for­mu­la.

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Footnotes

1. Source: Operation Joint Guardian – The US Army in Kosovo, Jeffrey Clarke, Chief of Military History, US Army
2. Source: LAV-25, The US Marine Corps Light Armoured Vehicle, James D’Angina, Osprey Publishing, 2011
3. Source: From Transformation to Combat, The First Stryker Brigade at War, Mark Reardon and Jeffrey Charlston, US Army pub­li­ca­tion, 2007
4. Sources: French Army brief­ing Shivenham Close Combat Symposium, July 2016; Lessons from France’s Operation Serval in Mali, Major-General Olivier Tramond; France’s War in Mali: Lessons for an Expeditionary Force, by the RAND Corporation, Michael Shirkin)
5. Charles C. Krulak, “The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War.” Marines Magazine, January 1999
6. Major General Katherine Toohey, Head of Land Capability for the Australian Army, speak­ing at the RUSI Land Warfare Conference, June 2019

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