Punching Below Our Weight: How Inter-Service Rivalry has Damaged the British Armed Forces

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Be the first to ask a question about Punching Below Our Weight. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3. Rating details. All Languages. More filters. Sort order. Britta rated it liked it Jul 28, Edward Jones rated it it was amazing Dec 17, Godfrey Robinson rated it really liked it Jan 31, Dave Merson rated it really liked it Jul 26, Andrew Sinclair rated it it was amazing Dec 30, Mr M J Wells rated it it was amazing Jan 12, Alexander Giles rated it liked it Aug 17, Seb Brady rated it liked it Nov 16, Mr WR Jones rated it really liked it Apr 15, Nick Good rated it liked it Aug 19, The Light Strike Brigade is therefore based on the core principles of the joint land strike concept but with much lighter vehicles that can exploit the mobility afforded by UK Support Helicopters.

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It is not about deploying inter-theatre by air, but within a theatre over a large area. Exploiting its mobility, firepower and low logistics demand, it would have applicability in both a conventional and non-conventional conflict. The Light Strike Brigade — Equipment. The Light Strike Brigade — Vehicles. Writing about UK Amphibious Capabilities recently I suggested that given the range of challenges all requiring lots of cash to meet and lack of investment priority for the amphibious force, the UK should make significant changes to 3 Commando Brigade.

I think we need to take a deep breath, stand back and not indulge in unrealistic viewpoints that always see funds appear from somewhere, or what seems to be the general position of many, cut the Army to pay for the Royal Marines. The proposal articulated in the linked article above would result in a smaller Corps of Royal Marines as a result of disbanding 3 Commando Brigade.

The new organisation would concentrate on existing roles such as maritime and littoral security, SF support, cold weather training, and small to medium scale raiding but would develop into new areas such as combat search and rescue personnel recovery and littoral dominance that would enhance carrier strike and complement investments in emerging unmanned capabilities for shallow water ASW, mine countermeasures and survey.

In this article I suggested that Norway has little need for an understrength amphibious light infantry brigade with modest mobility and even more modest artillery support but instead, would certainly welcome an ability to secure some of their air bases from infiltration by enemy special-forces, dovetailing with the littoral security focus I suggested above. It is quite easy to simply suggest the MoD should have a larger budget but whilst I might agree, I think it unlikely.

Every single of one these proposal style articles is therefore rooted in financial reality and a desire to at least suggest some hard choices, however people might disagree. First, I am going to cast a similarly critical eye over 16 Airborne Brigade and the Parachute Regiment, making similar observations about the contemporary operating environment and likely future operating requirements. Light cavalry and infantry will also form part of this discussion.

Many of the conclusions are similar. Second, carrier enabled power projection will benefit from some of the same equipment capabilities as described below. So what do we mean by air manoeuvre, and how is this different from air mobility, or air assault? Mobility is a fundamental role of air power; across a range of military and disaster response operations it allows ground forces to exploit two of the three principle advantages afforded by air power; speed and reach. To quote from Joint Doctrine Publication ;. Speed ; allows the rapid projection of military power and permits missions to be completed quickly, generating tempo and offering the potential to exploit time, the fourth dimension.

There is a significant disadvantage though; the payloads that can be carried by aircraft are limited in comparison with ships or vehicles. Airdrop delivery reduces aircraft exposure to threats at the objective because they remain in flight. This has to be risk balanced with the cost of a relative dispersal of the ground force and cargo, and an increased risk of injury.

Air land delivery offers greater unit integrity and usually maximises the use of aircraft cargo capacity. However, air landing requires a suitable airfield or air strip, and exposes the aircraft to threats at the objective. An air assault operation is defined as: an operation in which air assault forces, using the firepower, mobility, and total integration of helicopter assets, manoeuvre on the battlefield under the control of the commander to engage and destroy adversary forces or to seize and hold key terrain.

An airmobile operation is defined as an operation in which combat forces and equipment manoeuvre about the battlefield by aircraft to engage in ground combat. Examples include moving engineers to clear a defile ahead of an advancing ground force; or moving a ground force to establish a hasty defensive position to block an enemy advance. Independent helicopter tasks are those which can be carried out by helicopters independently of other arms, though they may be part of a broader ground scheme of manoeuvre.

They are primarily focussed on offensive actions.

These are most likely to be shaping tasks but may be mission-decisive tasks in their own right. Like many similar UK documents, this is very clear description of the various components and terminology involved. Also like many similar UK documents, it is somewhat removed from resource availability and arguably, downplays risks in a contemporary operating environment. As Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Iranian air defence missile systems increase in capability and are seemingly proliferated with abandon, the risk to slow moving support helicopters and transport aircraft rises.

The threat from AAA also endures. Countermeasures continue to improve, tactics likewise, and of course, offensive systems are also there to assist but on balance, the risk is till significant. The Missile Threat website provides an excellent interactive mapping tool that plots Russian strike and air defence missile ranges on a map of Europe.

In an operational environment that is not as dense with AA systems then of course, the risk is reduced, but by how much? Published missile ranges tend to be maximum ranges in ideal conditions against non-manoeuvring targets with no countermeasures or means of evasion. The actual engagement envelope is also dependant on radar performance and radar horizon.

  • Table of contents;
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  • Reassessing the Revolution in Military Affairs.
  • Punching Below Our Weight: How Inter-Service Rivalry Has Damaged the British Armed Forces;
  • Shoot the Rehearsal!: Behind the Scenes with Assistant Director Reggie Callow.
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The reason anti-air warfare destroyers put their radars atop as tall a mast as possible is to maximise radar horizon. Radar and visual horizon are not the same thing this article is a decade old, it provides a good explanation. Long range surface to air missiles are particularly prone to radar horizon issues if the aircraft is flying at low altitudes and the terrain advantages the aircraft.

This is the fundamental problem with air assault and to some extent, air land delivery. The same can also be said for airdrop. Equally unlikely is either of those large aircraft carriers coming anywhere near shore and the problems of Support Helicopter vulnerability are amplified by the lack of terrain masking opportunities as the fly over the sea toward land. So we have to be prepared to ask the hard question, why do we maintain capabilities for an increasingly narrow range of operational scenarios that rely enemies being cooperative?

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  4. This leads to a conclusion that we should keep slow moving support helicopters and tactical air transport aircraft as far away from potential enemies as possible. It could be argued there are some scenarios where maintaining a small capability to airdrop or air land is perfectly sensible but they tend towards the niche, specialist areas. French operations in Mali demonstrated just such a capability.

    With Bamako secured and MISMA starting to arrive, the second phase saw operations switch to the north of the country, the destruction of enemy forces and restoration of border integrity. A French spearhead column retook Gao and supported by a parachute landing that cleared the airport, Timbuktu was retaken soon after. A small number of personnel and engineering plant, linking up with already on the ground forces, cleared and prepared the way for air landings. This is a perfect example, but one that was small scale and with very little threat to aircraft.

    Accepting the view that both amphibious assault at scale and much of the air manouvre spectrum is increasingly unlikely, there is a case for change, a compelling case for change in a resource constrained environment. Much of the rationale for 3CDO is weak and future challenges demand investment it is simply not going to receive. Much of the Air Manoeuvre spectrum is increasingly unlikely to ever be used and yet 16 Air Assault Brigade is maintained against these increasingly unlikely scenarios. Also, there is likely to be an enduring engagement with efforts to reduce instability in the Middle East and Africa that pushes conflict to Europe.

    In short, the UK must address issues to the North, East and South of Europe within sensible limits and various alliances, based on three general principles; demonstrate leadership in NATO on spending, work with our allies to improve their capabilities and finally, to have skin in the game. Like the Royal Navy, the British Army has manning problems and numerous budgetary issues. With a very large set of aspirational capabilities and many obsolete items of equipment, of all three services, the British Army is in the poorest material state.

    An enduring land power lesson is the need to maintain light, medium and heavy, each with overlapping and complementary capabilities that play to their respective strengths. But like all matters of organisation and capability, if we can evolve in order to meet contemporary challenges or exploit technology, then that is a good thing.

    This article at the Wavell Room quite rightly noted that recent operations have never really been light role in the truest sense, vehicles have always been a constant feature. Commenting on vehicles;. This is an important article I think, and the author makes a number of excellent points but the obvious barrier to greater mechanisation is cost. Where I think this can be achieved is if whatever comes next from the argument is relatively low cost, not quite light role but not quite medium either, and it has a specific set of roles within the overall Land Strike concept.

    Concepts like Specialist Infantry and Strike Brigades are sound, yes there are details we might disagree with and yes there might be looming resource issues and problems ahead, but fundamentally, Army R is going in the right direction. The Army has also recognised the need to re-focus on fighting in urban areas and has started various study programmes to inform change, no doubt light role infantry will be part of this. It also notes that in the future, this will be delivered by the Light Cavalry Regiments.

    Am not sure this is achievable though. With the withdrawal of CVR T , a vehicle that is helicopter transportable, and replacement with Ajax, that most certainly is not, the rapid response helicopter transportable light armour capability that has been a feature of a number of operations in the past is no longer available, even if it has been dropped from 16AAB for a while. The British Army has over the last few years experimented with light mechanised and light protected mobility forces but in Army Refine, seems to have reverted back to traditional light role infantry.

    Whilst many like to point to this as a failure, I see the opposite, an organisation willing to experiment and change tack when the experiment does not work. I suspect the reasons for the lack of success lie in the vehicles chosen rather than the concept itself. Using Foxhound and Husky meant the crew to dismount ratio was high so the total number of vehicles in a given size unit was also high. This comes with a bill, and without the combat service support resources in place, in units that were traditionally very vehicle light, there were bound to be sustainability issues.

    So I think the issue was sustainability, driver training and the lack of service support resource. This regional distribution is good, and one of those political realities that must be dealt with. With all these in mind, any proposal for change must be realistic, achievable and take into account wider issues of politics, change fatigue and the current defence environment. Having spent time above going round the houses and plucking up the courage, am going to get on with it.

    Put the outrage bus back in the garage though, am not suggesting the Parachute Regiment is disbanded. The Parachute Regiment should continue act as a lead in to Special Forces like the Royal Marines and maintain a training cadre for air assault and air landing operations, like the Royal Marines would with Arctic operations.

    These are invaluable roles in themselves but the bulk of their new operating model would consist of providing support to Special Forces and the Specialist Infantry Group. There is an enduring demand for SF in the Middle East and Africa, let alone Europe, logically this is an area the UK should expand and increase investment in. With the proposed Strike Brigades shaping up to be on the heavy end of the medium weight scale I think there is a need for a logistically light force that dovetails with the Joint land Strike Concept.

    If we accept that A2AD threats will result in a greater need for disaggregated operations where forces only concentrate when needed the need for increased mobility becomes obvious, it is after all at the root of the thinking behind Strike. A lighter version would therefore focus on mobility, both on the ground and in the air, the latter being crucial to the concept. Speed is all, speed is a fundamental advantage of air power see above and so the Light Strike Brigade is predicated on exploiting air power in all its forms and especially the air mobility part of air manoeuvre.

    Of all the tasks that comprise air manoeuvre, I think the only one that has any kind of justifiable applicability in a contemporary operating environment beyond niche and special-forces is that of air mobile. To manage risk from enemy air defences, air mobile operations must consider landing at an increased distance from their objective. When they land their personnel, those personnel will be required to conduct a longer approach march.

    If that approach march is on foot, the advantages afforded by helicopters start to be eroded.

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    Speed, agility, the ability to rapidly concentrate and manoeuvre are degraded by the requirement to march for several hours or days. Making this even worse is the burdens that infantry soldiers now routinely carry, see the previous article on this. Not only are we increasing the infantry burden, in this case, we are also asking them to march further before fighting. In order to restore speed and agility, there is no practical option but to use that oldest of man inventions, the wheel. Lightweight wheeled vehicles to improve on the ground mobility are an essential, not an optional extra.

    Therefore, making the case for air mobility requires one to make the case for vehicles that can be carried by helicopters and the infantry and cavalry forces that can use them. The Light Strike Brigade would therefore exploit the UK excellent Support Helicopter fleet to achieve stand-off distances and a range of light vehicles to ensure the Support Helicopters remain out of effective range of enemy air defences.

    The Light Strike Brigade could be used in a conventional defence of Europe context or providing support for the Specialist Infantry Group, with all points between. Defining features are mobility and firepower, but slimmed down logistics. Because it would not be able to hold ground it would instead exploit its mobility to engage at a time and place of its choosing. Disrupting lines of communication and supply locations, delaying enemy forces with hit and run tactics, careful observation and reconnaissance, emplacing unattended sensors or ECM jammers, anti-tank or even anti-aircraft ambushes and route security should all be within its operational palette.

    Sustainment would be a challenge, deploying by helicopter is one thing, but sustaining a force by helicopter is entirely another. And yet there are mitigation measures without increasing risk to unacceptable levels. Pre-emplaced caches, air despatch and local supply can be used, or perhaps limit durations to what can be achieved.

    In response to intelligence of an impending Warsaw Pact invasion, reconnaissance teams would fly forward to determine the optimum positions to establish tank killing zones using rapidly deployed Milan ATGW teams. Once the positions had been determined, the Support Helicopters would deploy teams where they would hand dig field defences and lay in wait. TOW missile armed Lynx helicopters would also integrate and overlap with this positions. Despite this, 24 Air Mobile Brigade was established and the concept developed further, specifically to improve mobility.

    Appendix:Glossary of military slang

    Developed towards the end of the early nineties, the Multi-National Airborne Division MNAD concept was designed to be held in reserve, until Warsaw Pact intentions and direction became clear. Then, using a combination of helicopters and fast vehicles the force would quickly establish ambush positions. The force was very light but armed to the teeth, with a very high percentage of ATGW firing posts.

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    It was only scaled to operate for 48 hours at a range of km and after a very brief combat period would quickly withdraw to, hopefully, fight another day. It was a promising concept but as the Cold War started to wind down, it was not progressed and as force sizes reduced across Europe, not repeated either. Many years later, in Kosovo, a completely different military environment, but one that would also exploit the speed and reach of support helicopters enhanced with underslung vehicles.

    UK forces were responsible for securing a route to Pristina from Macedonia. This route included the crucial Kacanik Defile, a narrow gorge with a series of bridges and tunnels. The plan called for an airborne insertion to secure the key points in the defile followed by an armoured advance through to Pristina. Airborne forces 5 Airborne Brigade securing bridges and the Irish Guards Battle Group advancing over them, the similarities to Market Garden were obvious to all.

    RAF Chinook helicopters then carried the main force forward, deploying them in key positions in the Kacanik area. The lead battle group entered Pristina the next day, accompanied by the traditional arguments about who was there first. Designed for air transportability the Wiesel 2 is available in a number of variants ambulance, APC, mm mortar, air defence and TOW carrier and is complemented by the Mungo ESK light transport and logistics vehicle based on a Hago Multicar municipal vehicle. At under 5 tonnes, Wiesel 2 can be easily underslung by the CHG or Chinook and is specifically designed to be internally transportable by the CHG.

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    Likewise, the Mungo is also designed for internal carriage. It is this internal carriage feature than makes the German concept of air assault operations unique. These are well overdue for replacement and the initial stages of the competition have revealed both the CHK and CHG as contenders, the desired quantity is reportedly between 45 and Instead of a wire guided Milan ATGW that would require the firing point to remain in place whilst the missile was in flight and thus exposed to counter fire , today, Javelin is fire and forget, in all weathers.

    One of the defining features of the older approach was digging, lots of digging, the thinking was the weather forecast was always going to consist of steel rain with a chance of more steel rain. In short, modern systems make such a force a whole lot more lethal and survivable because it allows them to be operated by distributed teams. The key question for the Light Strike Brigade is how it can keep its weight and logistic support requirements to a minimum whilst maintaining its firepower and mobility core.

    Some might have recognised the similarity with 24 Airmobile Brigade of old, that is intentional but it needs to be a modern version of it. The next section will be an examination of the kinds of trade-offs and equipment choices that might need to be made in defining key specification points for vehicles and other equipment areas. Hey TD — something wrong with the template? Much of the rationale for a forced entry amphibious capability that can only be generated at the battalion plus supports battle group level is absolutely weak.

    Where I am with you though is your well thought out and logically constructed argument for change. I would probably just engineer and organize that change differently. More on that to come when I have finished reading, as I now have to pop out to watch Black Panther! Money — I completely take your point about in the opening paragraphs about there being no more money available. However if there is no money, perhaps we need to acknowledge that we cannot actually maintain full spectrum forces of Light, Medium and Heavy units?

    While the CDS recently spoke up about changing plans and retaining a heavy armoured infantry brigade in Germany, is that really the best contribution the UK could make to European continental defence? Air Assault — yep agreed, if 3 CDO plus RN can no longer do forced entry from the sea, there is no way 16 AA can do forced entry from the sky for all the reasons you mention.

    Although I have to say, you also make some convincing arguments against your own proposal. Can say 18 Chinooks and 12 Merlins deliver a big enough package of the Air Mobile Light Strike Brigade, to a range at which they can drive to their ambush positions and sustain them for 48 hours? It seems a concerted defence suppression effort, and tactical air might alert the bad guys to what we are up to, opening up the landed elements to intense ISTAR efforts to find them, and in the worst case scenario, where the enemy might be Russia,if ISTAR finds some of them, is dispersal going to prevent the force being defeated in detail?

    So perhaps their air mobile conops should be ditched completely? OK lets go all in on your concept. However as I say, lets go all in! Sure, leave a rump RM with the RN for some missions, but take the 3 highly trained light infantry battalions over to the Land Command budget. The aim is to have 3 Light Strike Brigades, so a 1 in 3 training rotation means you always have a decent force.

    Give ceremonial to the kind of Full Time Reserves manned Govt. Agency that TD has mentioned before, they can keep the Guards battalions alive for ceremonial purposes. Going two square battalions probably might be for the best. This allows large autonomous companies to form, there could be four half battalions on rotation. Half battalion also might be what could be lifted at a time. Forgive me but however much I like this excellent article, are you not just re-inventing 3Cdo and 16AAB vertical capability?

    As someone who did heliborne exercises before, I have to toss out a warning that experiences with such things are very terrain dependent. The other limitation of a heliborne force is the limited number of helicopters available. And unfortunate as it may seem, quantity not only has a quality of its own but also a flexibility of its own, so for our level, no taking over of territory. It demonstrates the validity of a Rapid Intervention Force with, I dare say, a decent amount of firepower, though care still has to be taken since an infantry based force is potent but squishy.

    We used to have an air mobile mm howitzer but it sort of fell out of use, we found that for a raiding force, a howitzer was a bit too much of a liability and anything we wanted to hit could be handled with the Light Strike mounted Spike anyway Exactor for you guys. This light strike brigade would surely be very vulnerable in any high intensity engagement.

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    Another problem not discussed is how to extract the LSB after contact…assuming there are many troops left, no helo pilot is going to come within miles of the engagement zone. Are these lads going to disperse and tab out? Nothing under medium weight forces is surely survivable 1 on 1. Punching Below our Weight, available now as an ebook. Due to this intense media exposure, the hardback of Losing Small Wars raced out of print.

    Ledwidge argues that senior generals, admirals and air marshals have focused more on empire-building within their own services rather than on the needs of the UK armed forces as a whole, with enormously damaging results. In particular, the UK involvement in Libya was hampered by a total lack of aircraft carriers — sacrificed to preserve the Typhoon, a fighter jet designed for Cold War combat that never happened.