The Development of the Forces - Army Pt1: The Infantry

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by Union-Jack, Apr 3, 2007.

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  1. _____________________________________________________________


    What's this all about? Well, the short version is that I'm on the verge of finishing at uni, where I've been studying to become a writer for the past three years. I currently have one novel on the go ("The High Cliff", about a former British soldier working as a private military contractor in Baghdad) which should be finished sometime in the next two or three months, and I'm starting to look into ideas for the next book. (For the benefit of anyone wondering, neither novel is anything to do with uni.)

    The basic premise for the next novel is that at an unspecified point in the not so distant future, a political party wins a general election with defence as their main platform. In an attempt to ensure his re-election later on, the new PM decides to appoint a military historian (for simplicity's sake I'll refer to him as "H" as I haven't got around to naming any characters yet) as the new Minister for Defence, rather than some life-long politician who knows SFA about the Armed Forces. H is offered the job and carte blanche, and after accepting is shown his office and told to get on with it.

    With this in mind, I thought it might be worthwhile asking some questions here, starting threads to cover various areas of the Armed Forces in order to discuss what could realistically be done to improve the current situation, what someone at the top of the pecking order would be able to do with regards to the procurement of equipment and weaponry, and the changing of various operational and organisational practices. "The Development of the Forces" is the name for a document that I've begun compiling to contain the various possible measures that could be implemented. I'm interested in any opinions, ideas, theories etc. if you're interested in discussing them.

    A bit about myself: I'm very pro-Forces, have taken a greater interest than my peers ever since I began reading a mix of Douglas Reeman, Bernard Cornwell and Captain W. E. Johns at the age of eight. I was later very fortunate to be taught by an excellent history teacher in secondary school. (Not many - if any - teachers would, when examining the Vietnam War, discuss the various tactics developed and the pros and cons of the strategies of both sides, then compare and contrast it with Britain's efforts and experiences in the Borneo War.) My health is permanently shot to hell: my muscle coordination is down the spout, the soles of my feet are flat as pancakes, and I have reduced effectiveness in all five senses. You might say that I have a few tiny little doubts that I would be suitable material for the Forces, hence my decision to pursue a rather different career.

    End intro.

    [align=center]The Infantry[/align]

    If I’ve got things right, currently we have the following infantry structure:
    - 9 x armoured infantry battalions (using Warriors and FV432s)
    - 6 x mechanised infantry battalions (using Saxons)
    - 4 x airmobile infantry battalions
    - 17 x light infantry battalions (later to become 16 x light infantry battalions, 1 x Commando battalion just as soon as 1 RIFLES gets reroled)

    This gives us a total of thirty-six infantry battalions. Each infantry battalion has the following Unit Establishment strength (according to Charles Heyman’s “The British Army: a pocket guide 2006 – 2007”):
    - 3 x Rifle Companies
    - Headquarters Company
    - Support Company
    - 12 x ATGW
    - 6 x 81mm mortars
    - 9 x GPMG (in sustained-fire role)

    However, if a battalion is to deploy, then it needs a number of units attached to it to bring it up to the following strength, the Warfighting Establishment (WFE):
    - 4 x Rifle Companies
    - Headquarters Company
    - Support Company
    - 18 x ATGW
    - 9 x 81mm mortars
    - 12 x GPMG (in sustained-fire role)

    (I don’t know how many of the new Heckler & Koch 40mm GMGs/AGLs will be deployed in future at either strength, or what happens with a battalion’s sniper platoon, whether that increases in size as well.)

    Now am I just showing my ignorance, or would it be worthwhile binning the peacetime Unit Establishment strength and simply expanding infantry battalions in size to meet the current WFE strength, so that the only attachments needed are engineers, artillery, armour, aircraft and other specialists?

    I think it was back in the 1960s that it was decided to cut the size of infantry battalions (I may well be wrong) rather than axing battalions or regiments, as the government of the time weren’t up to facing the outcry that would have ensued. But in doing so, the result seems to be that whenever a battalion goes on a tour of duty nowadays it does so with roughly a quarter or so of its troops coming from outside the battalion – people they haven’t trained with very much and don’t know very well, and it also means that the parent battalion(s) the attached units come from are essentially unavailable for operations themselves, so for all intents and purposes it seems that we can only ever deploy a maximum of twenty-seven infantry battalions, and then only under extraordinary and disastrous circumstances.

    Other possible changes with regards to the infantry:

    - Saxon: I’m given to understand that Saxons can’t withstand a hit from an RPG-7, which is the man-portable anti-tank weapon we’re most commonly up against these days. Would it be worth binning our Saxons and converting the six mechanised infantry battalions to a light or armoured infantry role? (Or a mix, perhaps?) Or is Saxon rather more useful than I realised? (For example, are they more manoeuvrable and faster vehicles than Warriors?)

    - Infantry are vital to any military force, and right now we just don’t have enough. Firstly, would it be practical to form/reform five infantry battalions in the light infantry role and have them ready for operations in less than six years? (I thought we could bring back the three battalions that got the chop in the last round of cuts – 1 Para still exist after all, they’re just not ‘line infantry’ anymore so they can’t be ‘brought back’ as such – and either reform two infantry battalions axed in a previous white paper, or form two new ones.) These new battalions would become part of various ‘super regiments’.

    - If forming five battalions almost from scratch would be impractical, might it be easier to form four from near-scratch, and take the three suspended animation companies of the Foot Guards – Nijmegen Company Grenadier Guards, 7 Company Coldstream Guards and F Company Scots Guards – to be amalgamated into 6th Bn The Regiment of Foot Guards? (Would it be worth mentioning to the Guards that in future developments of the Armed Forces it may be possible to expand the 6th Battalion into two separate battalions, then later into three as a sweetener? It would mean they’d have the potential to restore 2nd Bn Grenadiers, 2nd Bn Coldstream and 2nd Bn Scots Guards.)

    - Recce platoons: would it be worth expanding these in size and making it a matter of course to train them all in COP duties? Would a strength of forty be a good size to expand to? Should it be more or less than that?

    - Warrior chainguns have proven problematic in the past – would it be worthwhile or practical to look into replacing the current chainguns with something more reliable, like GPMGs? Or should they just be left alone?

    If all of my above suggestions were to be implemented, we’d end up with the following infantry structure:

    - 9 x armoured infantry battalions
    - 1 x Commando infantry battalion (1 RIFLES, assigned to 3 Commando Brigade)
    - 4 x airmobile infantry battalions
    - 27 x light infantry battalions
    Total: 41 x infantry battalions

    (Alternatively, if we were to convert all of our mechanised infantry battalions to armoured infantry battalions instead we’d have 15 x armoured, 1 x Commando, 4 x airmobile and 21 x light.)

    And the following permanent battalion establishment strength:
    - 4 x Rifle Companies
    - Headquarters Company
    - Support Company
    - 18 x ATGW
    - 9 x 81mm mortars
    - 12 x GPMG (in sustained-fire role)
    - 6 x H&K GMG/AGL

    Does this sound reasonable? Should battalions be even larger, or if Saxon gets given the shove should we re-equip two or three former mechanised battalions with new Warriors rather than convert them to light infantry battalions? Would it be practical to recruit for larger battalions? Obviously pay, allowances and other recruitment and retention policies would have a big part to play in that (I'll blather on about the various crackpot ideas I've come up with for those later) but are there other factors that would negatively or positively affect such recruitment?

    Thanks for reading.


    Edited to add the introduction.
  2. The main problem is that the Army is under-strength; people are leaving at too high a rate and cannot easily be replaced.

    This then put a further strain on the serving blokes who have less time to rest between tours, do more of them and get further fed up and leave.

    Vicious circle.

    BTW, what paper are you from?

  3. None. I don't have the interest required and I doubt I'd be any good - I work better on long-term stuff. To be honest, I have a low opinion of most journalists, and papparazzi... that lot are just beneath contempt.

    I get why you'd be concerned about journos, so no worries - I know how irritating they can be. (Try having to study in the same uni as a load of wannabe journos for close on three years - they're a nightmare to put up with. Most of 'em think that all they have to do to get a BAFTA is hand in a badly-written piece about a local car-boot sale.) I'm not like them. I know you don't have any particular reason to trust my word on that score. When I approached Mr Happy about posting these threads, he was okay about it. I'm guessing he wouldn't have given me the okay if he'd thought I was a journo. I honestly can't do any better than that.
  4. Saxon is just a battlefield taxi to get troops into the fight, then they are light infantry. Mechanised is just a method of transport and not a method of fighting
  5. Thanks for getting back to me, CunningLinguist.

    I appreciate that at the end of the day vehicles are just the different ways infantry get to work. My main reason for asking about the Saxon's usefulness is that it doesn't seem to be as fast and nippy as the Land Rover Snatches whilst not being as well armoured as the Warrior. I appreciate that there's a possibility that there are advantages to the Saxon being something of a 'halfway house' between the Land Rover and Warrior, but I just don't know for sure - if it's there, I've missed it.

    I know Warriors aren't completely invulnerable to RPG-7s either, but they seem to be a bit better able to cope with the effects of getting hit by such weapons than a Saxon would. Both vehicles have the same difficulties in their deployment from a logistical perspective - ideally they need a railway link or motorway and dedicated tank transporter trucks to reach the area they're to operate in.

    As for Land Rovers, they offer wider fields of fire to the dismounts than the Saxons do, and it's certainly easier for the dismounts to get out in a hurry. Fit a Land Rover with a WMIK kit, and unless I'm mistaken it actually has more firepower than a Saxon: in addition to the GPMG that both vehicles have fitted, a WMIK Land Rover comes with a .5in machinegun on the back.

    I understand that we do need a mixture of heavy armoured infantry fighting vehicles and lightweight kit like Land Rovers - each type of vehicle has its own pros and cons and can do things that the other can't. But the Saxon seems to be halfway between them - I'm just not sure what it offers that the Warriors and Land Rovers don't. (Well, other than that it can carry ten soldiers as dismounts whereas Warriors can only carry seven and Land Rovers can fit no more than four or five people onboard if they're to be able to fight effectively.)

    It's just an idea. I know, a lot of people have their own preferences with regards to the mobility vs. armour debate - it's something I'm curious about.
  6. Saxon is a clanking heap of scrap with the off road capabilities of a pair of roller-skates. The only topcover is the commander, who generally has other things to think about, the driver can hardly see a thing and it's it not exactly RPG proof. However it's big, smelly and ugly and fairly good at scaring rioters.

    I don't like it.
  7. Okay... so, ideally a crew operating a Saxon need to debus and leave it behind rather than allow it to get in any serious harm's way, then? I mean, it sounds as though it's pretty good for crowd control, but if you can do the same job with a Warrior, does that make the Saxon more than a little superfluous?
  8. Warrior is a bit OTT for crowd control! I mean - 30mm is making a bit of a statement isn't it?
  9. Well, I didn't say it had to open fire - if you're on foot and your only weapon is, say, a golf club/cricket bat/table leg/Molotov Cocktail and a heavy great armoured vehicle comes trundling towards you... you're not going to hang about, right? Getting squashed isn't something people do for their own entertainment. (Well, at least not as far as I know...)

    Anyhow, that's what I meant. Sorry about that - I should've been a bit more clear about it.
  10. Have you looked at:

    Myatt, F. (1983): The British Infantry: The Evolution of a Fighting Force, Blandford Press, Poole.
  11. Thanks! I hadn't heard of this one before... I'll hunt a copy out sometime and have a butcher's. Cheers for that!