Sunday, July 9, 2017

Trying to correct Army 2020 Refine

The cost of the official Army 2020 Refine

The King’s Royal Hussars lose actual tanks in favor of inexistent “Medium Armour” platforms, which are Ajax recce vehicles somehow posturing as tanks.

The number of Warrior-equipped battalions drops from 6 to 4.

There won’t be Light Mechanised Battalions on Foxhound. All six are reverting to Light Role infantry and only receive some Foxhounds on deployment. A portion of the Foxhound fleet is handed to the RAF Regiment which is building two permanent Light Armoured sqns, 1 Sqn and 34 Sqn.  

The Army intends to move from 3 Mastiff-mounted battalions to 4 MIV-mounted ones.

102 Logistic Brigade will vanish, and its units will be redistributed / robbed of manpower to rebuilt other units

32nd Regiment Royal Artillery will disband in 2021 with the withdrawal from service of Desert Hawk III. The provision of battle-group level ISTAR beyond 2021 is a floating question mark: cavalry regiments are arguing that mini-drones should be part of their role and equipment, but I’m not aware of any definitive decision in that sense, while the Joint Mini UAS programme, strongly wanted by the Royal Marines who do not consider the Black Hawk to be adequate for use in the littoral environment, is not funded and has failed to take off. As of today, after DH III there is just a black hole.

A “new” 26 Regiment Royal Artillery ceases to be a Close Support Regiment and becomes a “Divisional Fires” regiment by taking under command all of the Precision Fires batteries from 19 RA and 1 RHA as well as from the current 26 RA.

35 Engineer Regiment will become an EOD regiment, but it is not clear if any new EOD or Route Proving & Clearance (TALISMAN) squadrons will stand up as part of the move. The Army is making a U-turn on hybrid EOD regiments and will stand up a “new” 101 Regiment in which all reserve squadrons will be contained. 35 Regiment will go to supplement 33 Regiment (and 11 RLC). In the process, two of the current squadrons of 35 RE will be re-subordinated to 21 and 32 RE respectively, to bring these two regiments up to strength (under Army 2020 they were cut down to just 2 regular squadrons each) so they can support the Strike Brigades.

Headquarters 64 Works Group Royal Engineers will disband. Not clear yet if all STREs currently commanded by 64 Group will survive and resubordinate, or if they will disband as well.

2 Medical Regiment will disband,

Headquarters 4th Regiment Royal Military Police will disband

33 Field Hospital will disband

104,105 and 106 Battalions of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers reserve will be rationalized by “merging” them in 101, 102 and 103. In reality, it seems that their manpower margin will be used up in favor of other reserve units (including possibly the two extra infantry battalions formed with A2020R).

Overall, these cuts underline a drop from 3 + 2 deployable brigades (the two light brigades from the Adaptable Force were admittedly always quite threadbare) to 4.
The resulting Army has:

Two Armoured Infantry Brigades (20 and 12 Bde) each on one Type 56 tank regiment and 2 infantry battalions on Warrior, with no recce cavalry

Two “Strike” Brigades (1 Bde and another to be chosen later, initially know as Strike Expeditionary Group) on 2 Ajax regiments (one in recce role, one in “medium armour” role) and 2 infantry battalions on MIV.

All four brigades are in 3 Division, the only deployable division the army will have.

Strike Brigades: what for?

These half-tracked mechanized formations are a huge question mark. Nobody has yet given a credible indication of what they are for. The cost for setting them up is massive, while the gain is at best questionable. Carter wants these brigades to be highly independent and mobile, able to move “2000 kilometers” on their own, moving quickly back and forth across a vast and contested environment.
How, and for achieving what, against what kind of enemy?

Half the brigade is tracked (Ajax) and half is wheeled. It is honestly quite hard to imagine the tracked half coping well with a 2000 kilometers movement. At best, it will slow down the entire brigade because, remember, the tracked half brings the firepower, since MIV is unfortunately expected to be an APC, not an IFV with turret and heavy weaponry. Ajax is also tasked with recce, so, by definition, it will be scouting ahead of MIV.

The lack of firepower and the presence of just two battalions of infantry also make it inevitable to ask what these brigades are supposed to achieve once in place. How much maneuvering do you expect to do with 2 infantry battalions in a “vast and contested” battlefield? What kind of enemy can you face, when the biggest direct fire weapon available is a 40mm CTA gun?
The brigade will do well enough in a low intensity scenario (think Mali), but won’t fare well in any more challenging situation. Even in a “Mali-like” scenario the brigade might finds itself outgunned: the French have found out that the ubiquitous ZSU 23 mm guns and 14.5 machine guns can become pretty dangerous when you try to fight back with a .50, outranged and outweighted. They ended up hastily rolling back out the old 20mm gun and put it on the back of trucks to complement their Sagaie (90mm), AMX-10RC (105mm) and VBCI (25mm).
The French themselves do not seem to have learned their lesson very well since they are replacing both Sagaie and AMX-10RC with the EBRC with the 40mm CTA, shelving earlier plans and studies which had brought around the Nexter 120mm Low Recoil. I think the absence of something more punchy than the 40mm will be felt loud and clear going ahead. Compared to Ajax, the EBRC has the saving grace of carrying two MMP long-range anti-tank missiles for launch under armour.

The French “Strike Brigades”, clearly one of the inspirations behind the british ones, come with the same number of cavalry regiments (2, both with EBRC) but with more infantry (3 regiments, and French regiments are individually larger to start with, on 4 rifle companies rather than 3) and more firepower (120mm mortars, 155mm howitzers, and the missiles on EBRC).
The Royal Artillery does intend to acquire a wheeled 155/52 howitzer, thankfully, which might well be the French CAESAR, but funding (and consequently timelines) for that ambition to become reality is far from certain.
Another key development in the french army is the addition of 175-strong combat squadrons to logistic regiments to protect convoys and secure routes. If you want to manoeuvre in a "vast, contested, congested" environment, you can't really do without this particular capability. The British Army probably hopes to use Light Cavalry and extra infantry from the remaining infantry brigades for this (and other) roles, but this further exacerbates the problem of what happens after six months or so, when the deployed force has given what it could and there is next to nothing left for a follow-on. 

What is the Strike Brigade actually good for? I feel that this is an entirely legitimate and very key question, and the Army hasn’t given an answer.
Despite all the hype, considering that Army 2020 Refine is all about putting in the field a Division of 2 armoured and 1 strike brigades, it looks to me like the whole brigade is some sort of super-sized divisional reconnaissance cavalry formation. A mobile screen.
But even so, its composition (primarily the lack of firepower) brings to mind questions about what is the concept of employment and how the formation will face the enemy weaponry, in both "low" and "high" intensity scenarios. 

Is it worth it?

From the above comes the key question: is the Strike Brigade a revolution?
Honestly, I fear the answer is no.
Is the formation of the Strike Brigades worth the cuts elsewhere in the Army needed to (try to) fund MIV?
Again, I think the answer is no.

The army is consciously turning itself in a one-shot, short-term silver bullet. A division in the field, until it lasts, and then, maybe, but only maybe “put together something to maintain a presence at up to brigade level”. And the maybe isn’t mine, is general Carter’s. He is well aware that the Army will very much struggle to put the division effectively in the field and even more so will struggle to keep a fielded brigade after that.
Army 2020 Refine maintains “six infantry brigades”. These are what remains of the Adaptable Force of Army 2020 after robbing away all supports and converting 4 infantry battalions in Defence Engagement-roled “Specialised Infantry Battalions”. These brigades have nothing but riflemen and some Jackals for light cavalry work. There is no artillery, no logistic group, no signals, no engineer, no medical elements. A huge proportion of the Army’s manpower and several key resources will continue to be pumped into these “almost-brigades”, which can, of course, help, but cannot quite deploy anywhere as they are.

Alternative priorities

I advocate a different approach to the problem. Instead of focusing on equipment, namely on MIV, I want to focus on structures and on making the best possible use of what there is. Of all what there is.

-          The Army should not condemn itself to being a one-shot gamble by design. A two divisions structure is key.
-          The Army cannot afford to have 6 “half-brigades” of dubious deployability.
-          Communications are key to combat in contested environment. The current shortage of signal support must be corrected.
-          Combat Support and Combat Service Support cannot be cut ad infinitum because government doesn’t want to take the flak connected with shutting down an infantry battalion. The army is completely out of balance.
-          16 Air Assault and 3 Commando should not be “wasted” as brigades by being barely resourced to support a single battlegroup on rotation from within their structures.

Alternative Army 2020 Refine 

Below, I’ve provided tables detailing an alternative army structure on two Divisions, with each containing one armoured, one mechanized and one light / air assault brigade. 3 Commando brigade is restored to full combat strength as well, and the reserve force is organized in four “shadow brigades” supporting the main body of two armoured and two mechanized brigades.
The Army already has most of the pieces needed to make it happen: most of the changes are needed in CS and CSS units which have been cut back by Army 2020 Refine.

The guiding principle is that each brigade should be able to field three battlegroups, built from within the brigade itself.
Armoured brigades employ Combined Arms Regiments replacing the separated Infantry and Tank formations.
The 3 tank existing tank regiments are each split into two “battalions” of 2 tank squadrons (14x) and 1 recce squadron. 
The six existing armoured infantry battalions all lose one rifle company. This cut is unavoidable unless more money can be found to upgrade more Warrior IFVs, as 245 are not enough for 6 complete battalions.
The resulting combined arms regiments will each have 2 armoured infantry companies, each supported by a tank company (Every company of 14 Warrior accompanied by a squadron of 14 MBTs), plus one Support Company (mortars, ATGW, snipers etc) and one large recce company (at least 8 Ajax, plus a dismounted element).
Compared to Army 2020 Refine as currently envisaged, this approach:

-          Cancels the reduction in the number of operational MBTs (168 active tanks, the same as 3x Type 56 regiments, spread on 12 squadrons of 14 rather than 9x18 plus RHQs. Wouldn't hurt to have tanks in the recce cavalry as well, if possible.) 
-          Forms 2 extra square battlegroups. The amount of rifle companies is the same as in the official Army 2020 Refine, but 2 extra support companies survive. 

Army 2020 Refine armoured infantry brigades will only be able to field 2 square battlegroups each, by task-organizing the remaining 2 tank regiments on six “demi-squadrons” of 9 tanks, allocated to each rifle coy.
I’m merely forming permanent battlegroups, with the tank regiment split becoming a daily reality, with more tanks retained.

The Mechanized Infantry Brigades will continue to employ Mastiff and Ridgeback for longer, adding a fourth battalion to the 3 that were always part of the original Army 2020 Refine.
The third battalion in each mechanized brigade will be lighter and equipped with Foxhound. This is partially because there might not be enough heavier vehicles for more battalions (some Mastiff and Ridgeback are used in CS and CSS formations, after all) and in part due to the need for six infantry battalions to rotate in and out of Cyprus. The units involved in the rotation should ideally be Light Role, at most Light Mechanized. Trying to keep six battalions in a pool to sustain the Cyprus rotation was one of the most complicated factors in working out this structure, because the Guards already have their rotation in and out of Public Duty; the Gurkhas have to cover Brunei and the PARAs are busy. Doesn't leave much room to wiggle into. The British Army is burdened by all of these lateral tasks. 

16 Air Assault brigade gets a Foxhound-mounted Gurkha battalion, and 4 Brigade is built up as a light / air assault formation with 2 Light Role and one Foxhound battalions. 16 and 4 Brigade won’t have a “shadow brigade” of the reserve in support, but will include a reserve battalion directly into their structure (4 PARA and 4 PWRR).

All Light Role and Light Mechanized battalions receive a manpower uplift towards an establishment of over 600, rebuilding the lost companies that were dismantled under Army 2020 (the 2010 one). Note that also the official Army 2020 Refine includes this correction, an implicit admission that what was always clearly bound not to work (binary companies counting on reservists being there to form the missing platoons) did not, in fact, work.

Each “shadow brigade” of the reserve gets three infantry battalions, one cavalry formation and one artillery regiment. This should ensure that there is a good and timely availability of reinforcements. Again, the official Army 2020 Refine partially does this by coupling 4 reserve battalions to the regular armoured infantry battalions; by reinforcing the Royal Wessex Yeomanry and by tipping 104 and 105 Royal Artillery for support to the Heavy, armoured artillery. I’m pushing on further with the concept.

I also encourage the formation of Combat Aviation Brigades under Joint Helicopter Command, to synchronize resources and readiness mechanisms. The deployable aviation HQs to make it happen already exist: JHC 1 is routinely generated from the Attack Helicopter Force and JHC 3 is generated from the RAF Support Helicopter Force, while JHC 2 is provided by the Commando Helicopter Force.
Ground supports would be reorganized accordingly, forming Aviation Support Groups combining elements currently spread over Joint Helicopter Support Squadron, Tactical Supply Wing and 132 Sqn RLC.
The fleets to be used already exist, but I encourage the formation of an additional Chinook squadron, to enable a more regular distribution of the tasks and the permanent allocation of one squadron to maritime ops (as done within the Attack Helicopter Force with 656 Sqn).
In general, I’d recommend 7 Sqn to use the Chinook HC5 for Special Forces support and long range operations; one squadron with up to 8 HC6 as primary actor in maritime tasks (as I understand that this mark comes with foldable rotor blades) and two large “green” squadrons using the remaining HC6 and HC6A (the HC4s’ new name once retrofitted with Digital Flight Controls).
One Combat Aviation brigade will support each deployable division while the third brigade, essentially Commando Helicopter Force expanded with 656 AAC and the new Chinook sqn, supporting operations at and from the sea.

In order to build up this structure, a number of changes have to be made, including the sacrifice of two infantry battalions: without additional manpower forthcoming, the adjustements have to be made within what is already present, and while the Combined Arms Regiments and the Specialised Infantry Battalions release a significant number of posts, the many holes in CS and CSS require a larger shift.
A particularly massive hole exists in communications, and in order to close it I recommend rationalizing deployable HQs and the attached Signal resources. The UK created a Standing Joint Task Force HQ and a Standing Joint Force Logistic HQ, and there also are two small early entry elements, supported from within 30 Signal Regiment.
22 Signal Regiment is tied down by ARRC needs, but I’m recommending a review of whether this is an appropriate use for finite and invaluable resources already in short supply. ARRC is just one of 9 deployable Land Corps HQs in the European side of NATO. A lot of HQs without deployable Divisions. The Army should not cling on to ARRC just for pure vanity. It might be sensible to seek out the help of a smaller country which might be willing to replace 30 Signal Regiment in the supporting role. A number of the other existing HQs are multi-national, and the ARRC might well take that path too. Or vanish entirely. 30 and 22 are needed elsewhere.
Joint Standing Task Force HQ should really become one with the Division HQs. Early Entry has its most obvious home as part of the deployable command elements of 16 AA and 3 Cdo. Rationalization is key.
Standing Joint Logistic HQ should not be disjointed from 101 and 102 logistic brigade, as these are the main supporting formations the UK has and would be the core of the whole logistic element in any case.
As a consequence, with the signal regiments assigned directly to the formations they support, 1st Signal Brigade will be disbanded, leaving 11 Signal Brigade in charge of the reserve element and of the technical support for networks and infrastructure as well as specialisms such as ECM.

1st Artillery Brigade will also vanish, replaced by strong Div Arty cells aligned with the deployable divisions.
Instead of building a Division Fires regiment, I recommend adding a fourth Precision Strike battery, so that each armoured and mechanized brigade has one. Ideally, an Exactor element should be made available to the Light brigades as well, but it will probably be impossible due to manpower and resources constraints.

The other changes, detailed in the tables, are primarily in CS and CSS. Missing squadrons must be rebuilt (as in 21 and 32 Engineer regiments, for example), REME resources expanded and better distributed, logistics assured to each formation.

The end result

The end result is a more complete and sustainable army, which makes good use of every major formation it has. The Force Generation Cycle could try to replicate the ambitious 2:2 model pursued by Army 2020 Refine, with one armoured and one strike brigade at readiness at all times, but doubts about the sustainability of such a rhythm suggest that a different approach might be favorable.

I suggest that each Division should be at readiness for 18 months; with each of its brigades generating a battlegroup at readiness for 6 months. In every moment of the year, the UK would be able to deploy a 2-star command element overseeing a brigade including, from the start, an armoured battlegroup, a mechanized battlegroup and an air mobile battlegroup including a parachute company group. 3rd Commando adds an amphibious battlegroup.
Every single battlegroup would be at readiness for six months.
Each Division would force generate from within its formations: its three combat brigades, its logistic brigade and its aviation brigade.
The air mobile battlegroup and the amphibious one are notionally held at 5 days notice to move; while the others are at 30 days (as already happens). The balance of at least one, and possibly two brigades would follow over another 60 days. 

What could not be fixed

As all plans, my Army 2020 Refine proposal is a compromise. It prioritizes mass, sustainability and deployable formations over equipment (MIV delayed to better times), vanity (ARRC at all costs, because playing Corps without having Divisions is politically tasty) and, in part, capability. Mastiff has well known problems off road: its tactical mobility is inferior to any realistic MIV candidate. Mine is, however, a wider assessment: I do not believe the costs of the current Army 2020 Refine are in any way justified by a more tactically mobile MIV. There are too many holes elsewhere.

In an ideal world, Mastiff would still be replaced by a capable 8x8, and at least a quarter of those should be well-armed IFVs, not just APCs. Because being able to move a lot, and quickly, means nothing if you can’t fight, and win, once you are there.
In an ideal world, the “Medium Armour” element would be delivered by 8x8 with 120mm smoothbore, rather than by Ajax trying to be two very different things at once.
In an ideal world, the Mechanized Brigades would not use Ajax (tracked) for reconnaissance.

This is not an ideal world. The dramatic change of heart of the Army, which in 2010 prioritized tracks and heavy armour just to change its mind less than 5 years later, means that the Ajax contract is now effectively an hindrance, not a benefit. With the Strike Brigade idea, Ajax is suddenly the wrong vehicle. And this is eloquent about how confused the army is, because the damn thing isn’t even being delivered yet.
There used to be a Medium Armour variant of FRES SV in the plan. It was cancelled. Now, a few years later, the Army wants two regiments worth of medium armour, but will pretend that the Recce variant can double up as medium tank. This is rather extraordinary and extremely depressing: the Ajax contract was announced in September 2014. General Carter was there already, not yet CGS but in charge of Army 2020 and tipped to replace general Wall. Army 2020 was there. The need was for three armoured reconnaissance cavalry regiments.
A year later, the Army says it wants two wheeled brigades, and since it is now stuck with an expensive Ajax contract, it puts tracks into those wheeled brigades, and since it only has recce vehicles with 40mm guns it pretends that half of the same fleet can cover recce and the other half can somehow magically become two regiments of “medium tanks”.
This is an extraordinary mess. Extraordinary. Within one year, Ajax, which was bought to do recce for the armoured brigades, ended up hijacked so badly that it now won’t even be part of the armoured brigades (save for small numbers assigned to armoured infantry battalions and tanks regiments replacing Scimitar in the scout platoons, unless these vanish as well). Within one year. One year. It is almost impossible to believe, yet it is what is happening under our eyes.

My proposal includes two (mostly) wheeled brigades because there is merit to the greater on road autonomy of these formations. Moreover, there are not enough resources for an army with an armoured division of three (tracked) brigades and one mechanized division of three mechanized brigades. I wanted a symmetric force, because it allows for evenly spreading of the tasks, and so of the burdens.

From whichever direction you look at it, however, Ajax becomes, at least in part, the wrong vehicle.
In Army 2020 Refine as proposed by general Carter it is completely out of place; in my proposal two of the regiments are in the right place and two… not so much. You’d ideally want to halve the number of Ajax on order in favor of 8x8s with the same turret, to put tracks with tracks and wheels with wheels.

The army has completely messed up its own plans and its own internal balances. It has Warrior to upgrade, Ajax on the way, and a big number of ancient FV432 to replace with ABSV, but this last program has been in the limbo for years and it is not clear if, when and how it’ll finally move onwards. And then there is MIV.
It is almost impossible to fix the mess now, because the Ajax contract is huge and probably cannot be modified. It ties up a lot of money and does not deliver quite what is needed.
In a better world, the Army would sit down with General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin and find a reasonable arrangement to change current contracts. Basically, it would have to say “look, we messed up. Here is what we need to do to remedy”:

-          Cancel Warrior CSP (which is continuing to encounter problems with the new turrets)
-          Reduce the purchase of Ajax from 245 to 140 or so (two Cavalry regiments plus 6 scout platoons of 8 vehicles each for the six Combined Arms Regiments)
-          Cancel the Warrior FV514 upgrade for the Royal Artillery, replace with Ajax Joint Fires sub-variant, increasing the number of these
-          Introduce an IFV variant of Ajax and purchase 245 to replace Warrior instead of going with the CSP for it
-          Remove the turrets from existing Warrior and convert the hulls into ABSV variants (APC, Command Support, ATGW, Mortar Carrier…)

And then, eventually, get on with MIV, purchasing a number in IFV configuration and a number armed with 120mm for the direct fire punch.

But this is the real world, and that would probably never work out. There’s a big contract signed, and the Army can only blame itself for the mess it now is into. It cannot change its mind every five minutes. It cannot purchase a new, expensive vehicle after years of suffering to trial it, define it, get it funded, and then decide that it is not what it wants. Pretending that said vehicle can be what it clearly isn’t will only make the mess worse, and more painful.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Type 26: where does the money go?

The MOD has announced the signature of the Type 26 Manufacture Phase 1 contract, covering the first 3 of 8 planned Type 26 frigates. First steel will be cut in the next few weeks, and perhaps we'll hear about names too. 
The latest, and presumably final CGIs released show "fat cheeks" on the superstructure that give long passageways around the bridge, good for situational awareness and for the placement of small weapons for anti-swarm, anti-FIAC defence. The mast design has been further refined, and the Sea Ceptor cells arrangement has been finalized, with the launchers being the same "mushrooms" tubes used on the Type 23s refitted with the missile. The number of cells has not changed, while the export design targeted at Canada (and, with further modifications, at Australia) has been shown replacing the CAMM cells with an additional MK41 module (from 24 to 32 cells).

The latest images show what Type 26 will look like

This model of a Type 26 proposal for Canada shows an extra MK41 module instead of CAMM cells. 

The contract is described as a 3.7 billion pounds deal, but this figure urgently needs to be clarified. Government seems to be playing games by using it: on one side, it is giving the impression that it is committing more money than it actually is; on the other it makes it impossible to figure out how much each of the three vessels is costing. Unfortunately, whatever the exact amount, the answer is: a bloody lot.

The confusion is due to the MOD having already signed contracts worth more than 1.9 billion pounds to get to this point.
The first big Type 26 contract dates back to 2010 and was a 127 million, 4-years contract for designing the new vessel.
In February 2015 this was followed by an 859 million Demonstration Phase deal, which included selection of suppliers and long lead items orders, plus the construction of three shore-based test facilities to de-risk key parts of the vessel. David Brown built a test facility to demonstrate the new cross-connect gearbox developed for the Type 26; General Electric Power Conversion built the Electric Power Generation and Propulsion facility to de-risk the power segment of the ship; and the Combat System Land Based Integration and Test laboratory demonstrated the entire Combat System. This investment should pay dividends later on by ensuring that all works as intended, preventing many of the teething issues associated with new systems in new ships.
In march 2016, contracts for 472 million in long-lead items including side doors, helicopter handling system, bow sonar domes and other parts was announced.
In July, 183 million pounds were added to procure the MK45 gun systems (including automated ammunition handling, gun fire control system and ammunition) for the first three ships; plus another system to be installed ashore as integrated training facility.
In December 2016 another large contract followed, for 380 millions, covering chilled water plants, hangar cranes, hatches and watertight doors, membrane sewage treatment plants, steering gear and stabilizers.

The long list of suppliers and systems already under contract and at work due to earlier Demonstration Phase contracts 

Most, but not all, of these almost 2 billion pounds, which have been converted in a long list of parts already on order / delivered / being delivered for the first three vessels, have effectively been announced a second time, because they are included in the 3.7 billion deal.
A part of what was already expended is counted separately: probably the non-recurring cost of setting up the shore test facilities, the gun training system, and other voices of expenditure.

Whatever the exact division of costs, the pricetag of the Type 26s remains disconcerting, because most of its known systems and capabilities are non-developmental, funded by different budget lines, or straight out recycled.
The ship will have a newly designed gearbox but will use well known MT30 gas turbines already used all around the world; and it will have a CODLOG (Combined Diesel or Gas) which is arguably the simplest configuration involving a gas turbine. A well understood, definitely non innovative propulsion system and, arguably, in some ways a step back from the Type 23’s CODLAG (Combined Diesel and Gas) which allows the ship to exploit all of its installed power for obtaining max speed.

The ship’s main defensive weapon is the CAMM / Sea Ceptor missile, which is developed and acquired under the Complex Weapons budget line and which is already being procured for the Type 23 life extension and capability sustainment project, with three vessels already refitted.
Type 26 will have more Sea Ceptor cells (48 in two well separated silos, fore and aft, of 24 cells each; versus 32 all on the bow for Type 23), but will essentially inherit most of the arsenal from the retiring Type 23s.

The ship’s gun is new to the Royal Navy, but is the latest iteration of a system which is decades old and used in hundreds and hundreds of exemplars on US Navy and other nations’ vessels all around the world. The only developmental addition is the automated ammunition handling system and depot, but similar systems are already operational around the world and hardly break the bank.

The main radar is planned to be the Artisan 3D, already operational on Type 23, from which it will migrate to the new hulls.

The Type 26’s main offensive power will entirely depend from three 8-cell MK41 vertical missile launchers. Again, a new system in Royal Navy use, but well over a thousand such VLS modules are operational in the US Navy and elsewhere. Their cost is far from prohibitive, and they are non developmental and well understood.
What is not well understood is what, if anything, the Royal Navy will put into these VLS. It currently has no weapon, in service or planned, which is ready for MK41. The Tomahawk is an obvious candidate, but the small Royal Navy stock of the missile is all in the encapsulated variant for submerged launch from submarine’s torpedo tubes.
Harpoon is going out of service next year, leaving the Royal Navy bare of any heavy anti-surface missile, and the Type 26’s offensive power is entirely dependent on “Maritime Future Offensive Surface Warfare capability”, a programme which is funded under the Complex Weapons budget (so entirely additional to other Type 26 costs) and which only appeared in the Equipment Plan in the 2016 edition. We know absolutely nothing of its exact aims and of the timeframe associated with it.

Light guns for ship’s self defence will come from retiring Type 23s, as will a good part of the decoy outfit, including the S2170 anti-torpedo system.
The towed array sonar Type 2087 also comes straight from the Type 23s. We don’t yet know about the hull-mounted sonar on the bow. Maybe this, at least, will be new. Or maybe no.

The exact details of how equipment will migrate between Type 23s and Type 26 is not known. The MOD was asked about it in a few occasions, but offered very little in terms of answers. It is obvious that a Type 23 will have to leave service early to be dismantled and robbed of parts to enable the fitting out of a new Type 26 unless a few new sets of equipment are purchased.
According to admiral sir PhilipJones, three such “extra” sets have been procured, for the first three vessels, to ensure that there is no need to shrink the fleet early to fit out the first new Type 26s. After that, the equipment for the following vessels will come from the withdrawn 23s.

Admiral Sir Philip Jones: Yes, that is absolutely true. One of the things that we think will de-risk the Type 26’s entry into service is the fact that much of its equipment will have been tested and proved by operating on the Type 23 frigates, in particular the Sea Ceptor missile system, the Artisan Type 997 air surveillance radar and a number of other things.The Type 23 that we bring in to pay off has to be the donor platform to the next Type 26. We’ve bought new equipment for each of the three first Type 26s, to sort of get the class going, if you like; that is part of the long-lead items we have procured. So we will then have, as it were, a residue of decommissioned Type 23s’ equipment, which we can return and recycle, and deliver to the builder to fit into the Type 26. We won’t have to bring one in and stop it operating before we send it north; we’ve deliberately factored that in. I think that means that we will have much more resilience and already-tested equipment in that ship, which will bring it into service much faster than we’ve seen before.

Exactly what these “extra” sets include is not clear. It seems highly unlikely that there will be extra Type 2087 sonars, for example. Probably we are only looking at the essential pieces.
In theory, the extra sets could afterwards ease the fitting out of the Type 31e frigate if it will ever actually come together and if there will ever be more than 5 of them. In theory, purchasing three extra sets of parts gives the Royal Navy enough kit for 16 frigates instead of 13. Whether this benefit is ever realized is anyone’s guess.

The Type 26 introduces very little in the way or truly new systems to the fleet. There is a hope that the Royal Navy will be able to improve the crucially important self-defence decoy fit by replacing current fixed-tube launchers with something like the CENTURION trainable decoy launcher, which can adjust to fire the decoy in the best possible direction for maximum effect, without the entire ship needing to change course first. This is extremely important in light of the development abroad of faster and faster anti-ship missiles which will not wait for the ship to manoeuvre into a new position. But even this very, very modest development is currently a mere hope: data about Type 26 so far makes no mention of this and earlier attempts by the RN to invest in this area were frustrated by lack of funding.

CENTURION trainable decoy launcher 

It even seems that the Type 26 will not carry ship-launched anti-submarine torpedoes. For years now there has been no mention of migrating the Type 23’s magazine torpedo launchers. In absence of a vertical launch anti-submarine weapon such as the American ASROC, the Type 26 will be entirely dependent on the embarked helicopter for prosecuting the submarines it picks up on the sonar.
While the limitations of the ship-launched light torpedo are well understood (being close enough to a submarine to employ it probably means the submarine has already fired its own much larger torpedoes), it seems rather disconcerting to do away with them entirely. And if they aren't fitted, this is another capability the Type 26’s budget is not funding.

How the ship can be quite so expensive despite all of the above is mysterious. We are light years away from the affordable pricetag that had been the target of the programme, yet many of the big-ticket items are not even contributing to the cost. 
We are left to wonder whether spreading the build on two shipyards (Scotstoun and Govan) is at least partially responsible. Earlier plans included spending serious money on finally building a single, capable “frigate factory” plant, but this would have meant closing one of the current two yards, and this was unpalatable. One look at the two-site Type 26 construction strategy, however, is enough to see how much more complication, risk and waste of time (and, inexorably, cost) it adds.

Above, the single-site shipyard proposal. 

BAE Systems two-shipyards Type 26 assembly strategy. 

The Type 26 is also now described as a 157 men ship. Earlier, the “Core Crew” had been given as 118. To be fair, however, 118 probably excluded elements such as the embarked helicopter flight, which are very much an integral part of what makes a warship work. Probably, 157 is not sign of a step away from automation, but merely a more complete and realistic indication of what it takes to make the warship operate. In 2012, the Royal Navy described the 118 core crew as needed for mere “Float, Move and Self Protect” activities, with ASW specialist “packets” coming separately, along with all other teams needed for the mission.  There is space for a further 51 souls (208 bunks in total) to be embarked to operate systems carried in the Mission Bay or as reinforced boarding teams or for other necessities.

The MOD is being very vague about timeframes for entry in service. What once was 2021 had already become 2023 and might now be closer to 2025, with the MOD talking of “around the middle 2020s”. It won’t be earlier than 2023, might be 2025. This is bad news as it means shrinking the fleet or delaying further the exit from service of the aging Type 23s. HMS Argyll was meant to bow out in 2023, followed by the others roughly with a yearly drumbeat. This will have to change unless the fleet is to dramatically shrink.

While we wait for the Shipbuilding Strategy and for a plan for the Type 31e frigate that is supposed to complement Type 26, it is hard to rejoice for Sunday’s announcement. It was a key, much delayed and long expected development, definitely overdue, but it brings forth unpleasant questions. How can this ship cost so much? How can british shipbuilding go on if this is the best price it can offer?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

F-35 split buy idea is nonsense.

Press reports suggest that the RAF is again urging an early split buy for the F-35 programme, with the number of F-35Bs curtailed in favor of land-based F-35A. 
The idea is unworkable and highly damaging, and represent the fastest way to turn the carriers into literally wasted money by not having enough squadrons to ever fill up one. 

It takes a minimum of 4 (and arguably 5) squadrons to be able to deploy a full one enduringly on a long term operation. And it would take 3 full squadrons of 12 aircraft just to fill up one carrier (forget about filling two at once, that was never going to happen). 

Current F-35 plan is for 4 frontline sqns, we were told last year, plus OCU and OEU. And in fact, there is no manpower for more unless the services grow or Typhoon squadrons move to F-35. 
So there is literally no room for a split buy. Unless the UK turns the carriers into a complete waste of money by literally not having the sqns to fill up one. 

On current plans, the F-35B fleet of 4 squadrons will support one sqn at sea for every deployment of the carrier, and a two-squadron deployment at least every two years. This is already a significant demand to be met with just four squadrons. Any reduction will result in the feared empty decks. 

138 aircraft are arguably too many for 4 sqns, but too few for a split fleet of any relevance if we accept a minimum requirement of 4 B Sqns plus an adequate training and sustainment fleet behind them. To have a long-term sustainable F-35A force, you'd need another 4-5 squadrons, and you are never going to have money and men for those unless Typhoon goes. Considering current squadron numbers, it is already evident that the two SDSR 2015's "additional Typhoon Tranche 1 Sqns" are placeholders for F-35 3rd and 4th squadrons. 

Looking at planned peak Typhoon usage (assuming a 7 squadrons fleet, or even a 8 sqns one), from 160 purchased aircraft, the UK bought 20 to 22.8 aircraft per frontline squadron. The extra aircraft cover training and attrition and sustainment. 
Applying the same ratio to 138 F-35 suggests an achievable fleet of 6 to 6.9 frontline squadrons. Then again, we should keep in mind that in recent years no RAF squadron has ever actually developed a deployable strenght of 12 aircraft, while F-35 squadrons, supposedly, will have to. This requires larger squadron allocations of aircraft. 

Even if the F-35 ever grows to 6 squadrons (hard to say, as we have literally no idea over how many years government proposes to spread the 138 purchases), the question will still be, should we go for 4 + 2 or 6 of the same type? I'd still tend to say 6 of the same type give you a better deployable output. Gives you a comfortable 1 in 5 ratio for enduring ops and some space for reinforcements / another small, temporary operation elsewhere. 
2 squadrons give you a very limited output. Not terribly much unless you come up with a very specific role for them. SEAD by buying AARGM ER, the one weapon i'd really like the UK to get and carry internally for obvious reasons. But that is all in a distant future, with too many SDSRs in the way. 

Now and for probably all of the 2020s, nothing should distract the programme offices from aiming for at least four B squadrons. Then, after that, there might or might not be space for more and different variant, depending on how Typhoon will be doing. Typhoon and FCAS, too often forgotten in this discussion. 

The RAF is working on FCAS, an unmanned combat aircraft for the 2030s, and while the UCAVs have no pilot on board, we all know that UAVs squadrons are actually very manpower intensive, as multiple shifts of crew are needed on the ground to cover the very long missions, which can last from a minimum of 12 hours (with a loaded up Reaper) to, in future, well over a day with Protector. FCAS will not be exactly lean-manned, even expecting greater automation to be part of its capabilities.
So, i really don't see where the room for an F-35A fleet is. A split fleet of 2 squadrons and 2 squadrons would be a disaster: neither of the two would be large enough to be truly relevant.

2017 Fast Jet Fleet (frontline squadrons only) 


3(F) Sqn
1(F) Sqn
XI Sqn
6 Sqn
II(AC) Sqn

Tornado GR4

IX(B) Sqn
12(B) Sqn
31 Sqn


617 Sqn (building up)

Near future plans, beginning with first additional Typhoon Sqn build up in 2018 

Typhoon grow to 7 / 8 Sqns (the RAF apparently wants 3 additional Sqns, even though initial post SDSR reports were for 2. The third is subject to feasibility)

Tornado GR4 bows out in 2019

See how the overall number of Sqns remains, essentially, unchanged. The additional Typhoon Sqns and then 809 Sqn on F-35B in the early 2020s essentially absorb the manpower released by the demise of Tornado.
It is easy to see that the additional Typhoon squadrons are effectively placeholders for the 3rd and 4th F-35 squadrons to be built up in the late 2020s.
The aim is to continue hovering at around 9 / 10 fast jet squadrons. It is hard to see how more sqns could ever be formed without an (unlikely) growth of the services in terms of manpower (and budget).

Unless the number of A squadrons to be created 1) does not impact the construction of a sustainable and effective B fleet and 2) comes with a realistic and useful number of squadrons, i'd always recommend additional F-35B squadron(s) rather than splitting the fleet. 
A small number of F-35A squadrons are not in the UK's interest in the current and foreseable force structure, especially considering that: 

1) The UK has literally no weapon, in service or planned, which could give a sense to the A's slightly larger weapon bay. The weapons either fit the B or are too large to fit even the A. We can fill our mouths with speculation about new weaponry to fit in the larger bay, but there is no evidence of anything of the sort, nor any evidence of a real need to pursue such weapons. 

The F-35B has had its weapon bays shortened by 14 inches compared to the A and C variants. The stations 2 and 10 are rated at 1500 rather than 2500 pounds. Yet, both these factors are of zero relevance to the UK, which does not have weapons, in service or planned, hampered by these factors. 

2) The UK is not equipped to air-refuel F-35A. While probes for the F-35A are a possibility, so far nobody has actually paid for them and requested them, having Booms on the tankers instead. Arguably, the UK too should go for the boom on Voyager rather than the probe for F-35A, considering the boom would also benefit Rivet Joint, P-8, C-17 and allies. Either option has a cost that eats into any saving enabled by the A being cheaper than the B. As does having two logistic and training lines, even though they are closely related and partially overlapping.  

The F-35A has space reserved for the AAR probe but so far no one has taken up that option.

3) An additional small fleet below "critical mass" is essentially a part-time tool, or a full-time tool at small number of deployable airframes (well below Sqn level). Not very helpful. An additional Sqn of the same type can actually affect the number of force elements at readiness a lot more. I'd rather have more deployable F-35Bs, even with their slightly shorter range, than two fleets locked in a fratricide battle for insufficient manpower and money.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Building on strengths: what happens to the amphibious force?

1- Introduction and Air Manoeuver 
2 - Amphibious force and the Royal Marines cut
3 - what happens to the amphibious force?

What happens to the Royal Marines, exacty? The honest answer is that we don’t yet really know. Very few details have been provided about Commando Force 2030 and the exact shape that 42 Commando will take as it loses its amphibious assault role.

The Royal Marines provide force protection for the fleet as well as “green” boarding teams, trained to undertake complex assaults on ships that oppose resistance. In 2010, these roles were grouped within 43 Commando, in addition to the main role of this unit which remains protection of the nuclear deterrent and related installations. Two squadrons within 43 Commando initially delivered the fleet roles: P Squadron and S Squadron. P was actually largely manned by the Navy, and used to be around 167 strong. It provided force protection teams for deploying RN and RFA vessels, but it did not last long: formed in April 2010, it disbanded 31 December 2013 when the manpower crisis within the Navy made it indispensable to recoup all posts for other needs. At that point, the Force Protection task was given to the Commando in its “Standing Tasks” year. 45 Commando was the first to be given this responsibility.

40, 42 and 45 Commando have so far operated to a 3-year Force Generation Cycle: one year in “Standing Tasks” position; one year in “Generate” position, training for high readiness; and the third year in “Operate” condition, with responsibility to deliver the Lead Commando Group at 5 days notice to move, with vanguard elements at 48 hours notice.
Standing tasks include defence engagement abroad, training and assistance, and, since 2013, ships Force Protection.

Ex Black Aligator, 2015 

S Sqn, still part of 43 Commando, provides the Fleet Stand-By Rifle Troop (FSRT), the Fleet Contingent Troop (FCT) and the Maritime Sniper Teams (MST). The Fleet Stand-By Rifle Troop provides 16 “green” boarding teams, complete of sniper pair from MST, which are cleared for boarding Non-Compliant ships. The Contingent Troop provides four teams, supported normally by two sniper pairs, trained for Opposed boarding. They are called upon in the most complex situations.

Where does 42 Commando fit in? It is pretty likely that S Squadron will move across from 43 Cdo. The rumor that has started to circulate says S Sqn joins, Juliet Company disbands, Lima and Mike companies re-role for ships force protection. Kilo company’s fate is not mentioned.
Manpower reductions can be expected especially in the HQ and Logistic companies, as the unit, in this new role, will not need its 81mm mortars, Javelin missiles, HMG and GMG and medium machine gun troop with GPMG. It might retain some machine guns, but certainly in reworked structures. Logistic support in the new role will also be very different and will probably require a lot fewer men.

43 Commando, if S Sqn moved out, would remain with just O and R squadrons, in the nuclear deterrent protection and Faslane / Coulport recapture roles. What impact on politics, if men move out of Scotland, though? 

The Lead Commando Group responsibility will fall on 40 and 45 Commando alone, in a two-year force generation cycle. The ambitions for the LCG are unchanged: 5 days notice to move and ability to insert two company groups (one by helicopter, one by landing craft) within a 6 hour window of night darkness. The Commandos, unless the new 2030 plan changes their structure, have 4 combat companies each, plus Logistic and HQ coy, the latter incorporating the fire support role with Mortars, AT Platoon and GPMG SF.

It seems that the Special Purpose Task Group, a company-group unit of up to 200 personnel, will actually come out of the Lead Commando Group and serve as its forward-based vanguard, with the shortest reaction time (provided it is close to the right area of operations, obviously). It is planned  that a SPTG will always be embarked on the aircraft carrier out at sea, along with at least one “Unit of Action” comprising 4 Merlin HC4 helicopters.

According to what Jane’s report, the Commando Helicopter Force will assign 12 Merlin to 845 NAS, which will form three “Units of Action”. 846 NAS will have nine helicopters, mainly tied to training and operational conversion plus the provision of a couple of helicopters at high readiness for the Maritime Counter Terrorism reaction force. Four helicopters at any one time will be in the sustainment fleet.
847 NAS, with 6 Wildcat, will provide two 3-strong units of action.

The first Merlin refurhished to HC4 standard, with FLIR not yet installed. The carriers are an opportunity; the loss of Ocean a big issue; but focusing too much on "lighter, by helicopter" would be a huge and painful mistake. 

The Lead Commando Group, yearly formed upon 40 or 45 Cdo, will include either 59 or 54 Commando Engineer squadrons, rotating yearly into readiness, plus a Logistic Task Group from the Commando Logistic Regiment; a formation from 30 Commando IX providing air defence, police, reconnaissance and communications plus EW teams from 14 Royal Signal Regiment.
29 Commando Royal Artillery provides a gun battery with L118 and Fire Support Teams from 148 Meitkila Bty. As yet unannounced, but pretty much certain, is the disbandment of one battery within the regiment, between 7, 8 and 79. With one Commando less to support, the 12 guns can be expected to concentrate within two 6-guns batteries, exactly as happens in 7 Royal Horse Artillery within 16 Air Assault Brigade.
7 Bty, based in Scotland, has hung in the balance since 2010, but with 45 Cdo, also Scotland based, staying in the amphibious role and with the know political implications of any manpower shift in the area, the pain might suddenly shift on someone else. 

The Royal Marines have a long-standing requirement for UAS support and would probably kill to have a dedicate UAS battery, but the decisions about 29 Commando Royal Artillery are in army hands and Land Command will want to shift as much manpower as it can into other areas.
The Royal Marines have resorted to double-hatting their Air Defence troop, training it on Desert Hawk III mini-UAS, plus a little reserve element as 289 Commando Troop, 266 Battery, 104 Royal Artillery regiment. However, 104 Regiment will cease to be a UAS unit as part of Army 2020 Refine, converting to close support with L118 and AS90.
The Marines have also tried to work with the army to launch a Joint Mini UAS programme for procuring a replacement, but the programme was denied funding several times in a row and to this day no one knows what will deliver Battlegroup-and-below ISTAR after Desert Hawk III goes out of service in 2021. The Army already plans to disband 32 Royal Artillery regiment, the main DH III user, and give its spaces over to 5 Royal Artillery regiment as part of the Defence Estate reduction.

News reports have included news of a possible reduction in the landing craft inventory as well, and it is probably a certainty. For a start, the Royal Marines disbanded 6 Assault Squadron in 2010 when one of the LPDs was mothballed. Only 4 Squadron remains, moving from Albion to Bulwark when the ships alternate into the operational phase.
When next year HMS Ocean leaves service, its 9 Assault Squadron and its four LCVP MK5s will also go. A number of the 21 LCVPs are almost certainly going to go out of active service as the number of active davits shrinks. Hopefully, an Assault Squadron will be formed to provide LCUs and LCVPs for the Bay class LSDs, at least.

The Royal Marines have for years attempted to replace part of the LCVP fleet with a flotilla of combat boats for force protection, surf zone and riverine operations. Swedish CB90 boats were loaned and extensively trialed, but no visible progress has been made towards procuring any hull. A squadron of these boats would provide a lot of capability in a range of roles, including counter-piracy, extending the reach of a Bay class acting as mothership by hundreds of miles in every direction. Money, however, is just not there for anything.

Another important requirement that has run aground is that for a fast landing craft to replace the very slow LCU MK10. A faster craft is an absolutely key requirement for the future as it would enable the amphibious ships to stay further away from the beach, keeping out of harm as much as possible. Unfortunately, despite a rather successful test campaign with the PACSCAT prototype LCU, more than 3 times faster than the MK10 when laden, no purchase has materialized.

On the vehicle front, the Marines have a requirement for replacing the old and unprotected BV206s in their many supporting roles within the brigade. The All Terrain Vehicle Support ATV(S) or Future ATV calls for up to 233 vehicles in a range of variants including troop carrier, mortar carrier, ambulance, command, repair and logistic flatbed. The vehicle would replace the BV206 and serve alongside the Viking, with the latter being more protected and combat-oriented.  The Support vehicle should come with a max protection to Level 2 standard. The first attempt at launching the programme dates all the way back to 2008, yet no progress can be reported to this day, almost a decade later.

The Viking itself has had a bit more luck, securing funding for a substantial upgrade and refurbishment, worth more than 37 million pounds. 99 vehicles have been refurbished, and two new variants introduced: 19 vehicles in Crew Served Weapon carrier configuration and 9 in Mortar Carrier configuration.
The British Viking vehicles originally came only in Troop Carrier, Command and Recovery variants, but in 2008 field conversions of some troop carriers into ambulances were carried out in Afghanistan. They might not have been retained into long term service, however.

The Royal Marines originally ordered 108 Viking vehicles in the early 2000s, as part of the Commando 21 reorganization. The Viking All-Terrain Vehicle (Protected) was meant to provide armoured, amphibious mobility to the Commando groups, and it hit its IOC in 2005, with deliveries completed by 2006.
The Royal Marines took 33 of the new vehicles with them in Afghanistan during their tour in October 2006, and the all terrain mobility of the Viking proved incredibly precious during operations, so much so that the British Army asked to retain a Viking presence in theatre in the long term as Herrick 6 began. The Army obviously had no Viking-trained personnel, so the new big mission of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group became the support of the Afghan effort, in parallel to the deployment of the vehicle at sea on amphibious operations, including a raid inland in Somalia last year.
Further orders for Viking vehicles were made during the years of service in Afghanistan: in June 2008, for example, 14 new vehicles were ordered.
Eventually, 24 Viking of the much improved MK2 type were also ordered during 2009, with deliveries completed in 2010: these were 22 troop transports and 2 command vehicles.
In 2007 a separate order was placed, for 21 Vikings which will be part of the Watchkeeper UAS system , carrying the Tactical Party that will enable ground forces and HQs to access the data from the unmanned aircrafts and assign missions to it.
In total, more than 160 Vikings have been ordered by the UK, but at least 27 were lost during operations. 21 are Army systems within the Watchkeeper batteries, and 99 remain in Royal Marines service.

The 9 Mortar Carriers should be at the same standard as that showcased at DSEI 2011 by BAE Systems, including a turntable for mounting the 81mm L16 mortar and space for the stowage of 140 rounds.
The 19 crew-served weapon variants come with a protected mount for an additional weapon on the rear car, in addition to the MR555 weapon mounts already present on all front cars. These shielded mounts can take any weapon, from a 5.56 Minimi to the HMG .50 and the GMG. The mount weights some 380 kg complete with the .50 HMG and offers STANAG Level 2 ballistic protection to the gunner.
The Viking Crew Served Weapon variant showcased by BAE Systems as a very impressive, all-inclusive mobile fortress meant to provide fire support and ISTAR to the forces on the ground: it was in fact shown fitted with a Remote Weapon Station with a .50 HMG mounted over the front car, a shielded ring mount mounted on top of the rear car, Boomerang III acoustical shooter detection system and retractable, mast-mounted EO/IR sensor payload. It is not clear if the 19 CSW vehicles for the Royal Marines will any of the more advanced features.  

The upgrade improved protection on the older Vikings bringing them in line with the latest MK2 standard. The gross weight grew up to 14 tons, and front and rear hulls were rebuilt to integrate the latest generation V-shaped mine-resistant protection (with the exception of the rear cars of Repair and Mortar variants). Modifications to brakes and suspensions and to all other affected components were part of the overhaul. Unfortunately, not enough money was available to replace the powerpack of the older Vikings to fully match the MK2, but wiring and mount modifications were carried out to simplify later adoption of the more powerful engine. The MK1 and 1A employ a 5.9 litre Cummins engine, while the MK2s use a 6.7 litre one. The MK2 has greater electrical power output, increased to 260 amperes.
The vehicles are equipped with blast-protected seats, hung on rails, and come with four-point seat belts.
The vehicles can take add-on armour kits and can be fitted with a cage armor to resist to RPGs, but with these additions they are no longer amphibious. Extra protection kits were procured as part of the refurbishment.
The Full Operational Capability of the renewed Viking fleet was announced in April 2016. At the time, the upgrade was said to secure the Viking’s future out to 2024, at which point another upgrade would extend that possibly to 2034.

It is not clear exactly how the 99 vehicles are distributed and employed. A recent news report says that the “Viking Squadron” is a 167-strong formation, formally under control of the Commando Logistic Regiment. Based in Bovington, where work started in 2013 to build a permanent Royal Marines facility, the unit has a trials and training cell plus supports and is structured on 3 Troops of 16 Vikings each, plus mortar section with 4 vehicles.
Two Troops are kept at 5 days notice to move and can provide lift to half of the Lead Commando Group, while the third Troop is kept at 28 days notice. Under Commando 21, half of the strength of a Commando unit was meant to be tracked, and half wheeled. Jackals are also part of the Royal Marines inventory. In general, 19 Crew Served vehicles and 9 Mortar carriers suggest that the objective of the Viking refurbishment programme was to provide protected mobility essentially to the sole Lead Commando Group.

Despite the hard work done in the field, the Royal Marines have not had a good time at home and in the budget battles of the last decade and more. Their priorities for the future remain almost completely unaddressed and the amphibious shipping has, since 2010, taken some savage hits. It is not a good time for the amphibious force, and there is no telling when things could look up.
In my opinion, the Marines need to try and position themselves differently: the Special Purpose Task Group is not a bad idea, but it is a dangerous example of shrinkage of what amphibious forces are good for. Fighting light and inserting by helicopter is just a tiny percentage of what makes amphibious forces important, and it is the least “special” bit of their job. There are already Light Role infantry and Parachute troops for that.

What makes the amphibious force unique is the ability to carry out a forcible entry carrying a lot of heavy equipment. If the amphibious force loses its ability to kick down the door and go ashore with vehicles and stores in quantities adequate to support maneuver even against well equipped enemies, their purpose is lost. If the Marines become nothing more than Light, airmobile infantry, the next cut will be a lot more painful, because they will no longer be unique, but just another infantry formation in the pile, just more expensive.

Arguably, instead of procuring yet another articulated, light, all-terrain BV-X vehicle, the Royal Marines should seek to become heavier. The Commandos never operated a combat vehicle like the US AAV-7 or the LAV, but it is probably high time for them to begin doing that. Arguably, Viking is the All Terrain Support vehicle and the actual gap is in the combat role, where a new, amphibious 8x8 vehicle would give a lot more bite and purpose. Money is of course the problem, but the Corps should begin to consider its future in new ways. They could have, and perhaps should have, positioned themselves as a true Strike Brigade candidate, even if that meant accepting greater army control. Because the truth is that 3 Commando Brigade already depends heavily on Army’s decisions through its Logistic, Engineer and Artillery component. It risked to lose a lot of those in 2010, and next time might not be able to parry the blow, especially because it cannot expect financial and even less manpower help from Navy Command, which is by now the image of despair, trying hard not to fall off the knife’s edge.

BAE - Iveco ACV swims ashore from an italian LPD during trials for the USMC ACV programme. The ACV can be equipped with an unmanned turret with 30mm gun; or carry a 120mm mortar, as well as come in Troop Carrier configuration. This is the field the Marines should aim towards. 

Going lighter is not going to help. The british armed forces are already overloaded with light and poorly supported formations. The Air Assault task force experimented in Joint Warrior with air-inserted light armour in the form of Foxhound, and this is a very welcome development.
The Royal Marines, however, need to reconsider with attention what makes them special, which is their ability to deploy a significant, well equipped force, much heavier than any force that can move in by air. The Corps should work to go heavier, not to go lighter. The field of “light” is already overcrowded. The “Medium” field should have been the Marines’s realm. Trials have begun with the Ares variant of the Ajax family to prove that it can go ashore from LCU MK10, but this is not enough, and might be too little, too late.

Ares goes to the beach 

In my opinion, the top priority for the Corps is to procure a faster, large landing craft, indispensable for littoral maneuver as part of a wider effort to build itself a role in the Medium weight arena, working together with the Army. 

More of this work alongside the army is what really sets the amphibious force apart. Air Assault is someone else's job, and going there means losing capability... as well as the Corps, in the long run. 

The UK does not need the Marines for helicopter-borne raids; it needs them for littoral maneuver and for opening doors for the Army. And the Corps, if it wants to survive in the age of constant cuts, needs to realize this. It is not an easy position to hold, between an Army short of manpower but needed for key supports; and a Navy even more desperate for manpower but that has the amphibious ships that make it all possible. 
It'll take courage and wisdom to hold that ground.