The Heavy Weapons Specialisation is the key to the Future Commando Force.
1 Mar 19
Global Britain faces security challenges of a scale and intricacy that have never been seen before and in response the MoD is undergoing a program of significant change. The Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) will see the MoD refine its processes, develop existing concepts and acquire new capabilities to ensure that it can continue to fulfil its crucial role in Britain’s future. Most recently, The Secretary of State for Defence announced that the MDP will include the development of Britain’s Littoral Strike Capabilityand the introduction of two Littoral Strike Ships to support the Future Commando Force (FCF). This is the first public acknowledgement of work already underway by CGRM to re-shape the Royal Marines to offer the MoD a strategic advantage in the Future Operating Environment (FOE). Through the FCF, the Corps will place itself at the forefront of the MDP by demonstrating its ability to enable rapid change, embrace new technologies and build on the exceptional quality of our most valuable asset, our Commandos. To answer the given question, this essay will seek to theorise the possible employment of the Heavy Weapons (HW) Specification within the construct of the FCF and make suggestions as to how the Specialisation and its capabilities can be best employed in the FOE. The HW Specification includes operators for the Mortar (81mm Medium Mortar), Anti-Tank (Javelin, .50 and GMG) and Air Defence (HVM and LMRM) Capabilities. This essay will suggest immediate changes that should be made to the HW Specialisation to better optimise nowand pose long term options for the future. It is worth noting that this essay will stop short of designing the FCF and remain focussed specifically on the HW Specialisation.
Research hypothesises that the FOE will see strategic trends shifting and that global economic power will gravitate towards Asia as the US military advantage is reduced and challenged by China. Russia will continue to have a global influence through its trans-regional conduct, reinforced by its size and military power. Rising powers such as Brazil and India will take a strategic interest in pursuit of resources. Canada, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Germany, Turkey, South Africa, Nigeria and Mexico will all look to have increasing significance in their regions. Against this strategic backdrop, analysis indicates that states and non-state actors will use irregular approaches to undermine coalitions and disrupt Western militaries. States will adopt non-state methods, whilst non-state actors will develop state-like capabilities. Less economically powerful state and non-state actors will aim to exert influence by sponsoring terrorism and cyber-attacks and there will be an increasing range of empowered actors with access to more sophisticated weapons. Warfare in the FOE will be conducted in Congested, Contested, Cluttered, Constrained, and Connected (5C’s) battlespaces and recent operational vignettes serve to demonstrate the above theories already playing out. Operation Inherent Resolve, the US military intervention against the Islamic State played out with remarkable loyalty to the above themes and serves as an excellent test bed for the likely employment of the Future Commando Force.
In this dynamically changing environment the concept of the FCF will need to be a flexible force capable of meeting a hybrid of threats with multi-discipline, modular, scalable and adaptive teams, capable of operating effectively within the 5C battlespace. A notable feature of US Special Operations Forces (SOF), is its expanded role in the Middle East working alongside Partner Forces (PF) in Syria and Iraq. NATO SOF, under the direction of CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Votel’s mantra; “by, with and through”, supported, organised, trained, equipped and advised PF before accompanying them to a secure location near the FLOT. This template has been successful in Mosul and Raqqaand it is clear to both the casual observer, and the political student, that this model of warfare is the most likely template to be employed by British Forces for the foreseeable future. With this in mind we can deduce that any high readiness, expeditionary force should be configured to execute warfare in the the most likely, and most dangerous scenarios. By understanding the likely tactical threats that the FCF will face when employed in the FOE, we can begin to see how the Heavy Weapons Specialisation can be restructured to defeat or neutralise these plausible threats.
What threats are we likely to see that the HW Specialisation can be reconfigured to defeat?
Near-peer or peer-plus competition within the battle space of a deployed FCF will present several technical issues. Over-reliance on satellite technology to provide the user with positioning information for navigation, targeting and coordination of fires has become embedded in daily military use. There are existing real-world threats to global satellite systems which could be used by peer adversaries; jamming, spoofing and counter-space capabilitiesand all three expose our dependence on smart weapons as a vulnerability. The availability of our own organic OS in the form of the 81mm or 60mm Mortar within a tactical FCF grouping is essential to mitigate this risk. This can be easily achieved with the upskilling of GD ranks to operate either/both Mortar variants and Mortar Fire Controllers (A and B) can be inserted into tactical elements rather then held at the traditional levels to enable the application of this capability. This immediate change will ensure that organic OS is available to dispersed Commando Teams to support bi-lateral, uni-lateral or partner led operations in any theatre.
The use of hastily manufactured armoured vehicles as platforms for IEDs has grown in recent conflicts. The FGM-148 Javelin has proven to be the most reliable method of defeating VBIEDS on contemporary operationswith US SOF relying heavily on its capabilities to protect partner forces from ISIS VBIEDs. A key feature of the Javelin missile system is its ability to conduct ‘top attack’ and strike where the armour is thinnest. Combined with its targeting system and rapid employability, this makes it the weapon of choice for fast moving VBIEDs that have proven otherwise problematic for OS and CAS in congested urban terrain. Javelin can be operated by two trained individuals and due to the technical nature of the weapon system, significant experience is required to ensure effectiveness. Javelin systems are currently operated by HW ranks employed within Company Fire Support Groups (FSGs). As a Company asset, Javelin may not be available to all action units when deployed in a disaggregated structure, only those co-located with the FSGs would benefit from the support. By inserting Javelin operators into Commando Teams at the lowest tactical level, the HW Specialisation would be well placed to support the FCF with organic anti-armour capability.
The employment of weaponised, commercially available unmanned air systems (UAS) is becoming more and more prevalent. Documented use by Non State HybridForces in Iraq, Yemenand Syriahas shown that this cheap and readily available asset is highly effective at disrupting advancing forces, providing airborne ISR for coordinating VBIED strikes and damaging key infrastructure. The upward trajectory of this tactic suggests that the FCF is highly likely to face this threat when deployed. Air Defence (AD) Troop is 3CDOXs existing AD capability and is currently configured to provide Bde Level defence against Fast Air and Avn through its current equipment, the High Velocity Missile (HVM) and Lightweight Multi-Role Missile (LMRM). Due to the technical specifications of the HVM and LMRM, AD Troop has no application for C-UAS leaving a gap in the ability to defeat drones at the tactical level. Upgrading capability and employing AD Troop as a tactical asset would provide the perfect platform for mitigating the risk of Armed UAS. The Drone Defender Counter UAS Deviceutilises a non-kinetic solution to defend airspace at ranges up to 400m without risking collateral damage by disrupting the drone remote control and GPS. The capabilities of AD operators within the FCF could be further expanded by providing UAS for use as friendly ISR. Readily available platforms such as the Wasp AE Mini-UAVor the RQ-20B Puma AEcould be quickly integrated into AD Troops mission set to support FCF teams when deployed at reach.
How will the HW Specialisation evolve to facilitate these changes now and in the future?
As discussed above the HW Specialisation is well placed to provide significantly enhanced capabilities at the lowest level in the FCF. This can be achieved rapidly with the re-employment of HW Ranks and upskilling of some GD Ranks. To achieve this a traditional Close Combat (CC) Company would require augmentation with ranks from across the HW Spec being used as replacements for GD ranks within the existing ORBAT (Annex A). A trial ORBAT is suggested utilising 40 Cdo RM as the experimentation Unit. This trial period would see the existing CC Companies converting one conventional Troop into 3 ‘teams’ of 16 ranks. The following additional ranks would then be introduced into these teams:
3 x OR4 (HW ATK) Detachment Commander
6 x OR2 (HW ATK) Javelin Operators
3 x OR4 (HW AD) Detachment Commander
3 x OR2 (HW AD) HVM, LMRM, Drone Defender, UAS Operator
3 x OR4 (HW MOR) MFC
6 x OR2 (PW Sniper)
2 x OR2 (S)
This change can be achieved rapidly with the above manpower and will allow the initial FCF concept to be trialled and tested at team level. Once an initial trial period has been completed, further adaptation can begin to evolve individual training and the re-allocation of GD man-power to the HW Specialisation to realise the full restructure in the mid-term (2021). An expansion of the above model will see all remaining CC Companies restructure along the same lines with five teams of sixteen men, having been augmented with HW personnel. This will give the lowest tactical levels in the FCF, the ‘Team’, access to anti-armour, organic OS and tactical air defence, key capabilities in the Future Operating Environment. Intra unit reallocation of manpower will be needed to achieve this expansion, driving the expanded timeline. Re-employment of the HW Specialisation to tactical levels would also offer an excellent platform for future innovation and evolution. Once implemented, the HW Specialisation will then become the perfect platform to receive significant technical investment and enhancement. The high value of the technical platforms for fires is reflected in the Defence industry. Currently being operated by Israeli forces, vehicle borne mortars able to operate in a variety of terrain with significantly increased mobility over ‘man packable’ Mortar system. Work is also underway to modernise the ammunition fired by Mortar systems, including GPS guided systems with extreme levels of accuracy. Highly complex, the Javelin requires high levels of technical competence from its operators. This makes them ideal candidates to employ guided weapons with enhanced capabilities. Loitering munitions such as the Hero 400 provide precision organic fires that can be re-tasked mid mission and controlled by tactical teams. Already in use by NATO SOF, loiter munitions will be an excellent addition to the Heavy Weapons specialisation providing organic fires in lieu of CAS or NGS. Autonomous systems are a growth industry and the military opportunities have not been lost on Defence. UAS, both armed and unarmed, are force multipliers for tactical forces, and with a repurposed AD Troop, the HW Specification is a well placed to integrate this capability into the FCF. Alongside C-UAS systems, AD Troop can become the ‘Air’ specialists of the FCF, offering ISR and protection from all airborne assets.
Whilst some branches within the Royal Marines Corps risk becoming extinct as the Future Commando Force evolution takes place, the Heavy Weapons Specialisation is well placed to lead this change. With some deft changes to structure, the enhanced operational outputs of the new HW Specification, centred around the FCF and the Littoral Strike Concept, will provide each Commando with highly adaptable teams able to operate at range in highly demanding and high threat environments. HW Specialists should no longer be considered ‘Atts and Detts’, rather they should become fundamental components of tactical elements to ensure that the most capable weapons systems are employable in all theatres and scenarios. The FOE will demand technical ability and firepower at the lowest levels, placing a premium on autonomy, firepower and precision. The HW Specialisation will be the Corps most valuable asset in ensuring that the FCF can operate with intensity in any Battlespace.
WO2 RM (HW1)
Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson RUSI speech 2 Feb 19.
CGRM – Designing for the Future – Transformational Concept for the Future Commando Force.
Strategic Trends Programme-Future Operating Environment 2035.
In line with timeline for FCF (CSG) 2021.
In line with timeline for FCF 2030.
Cordillera Applications Group – Short Report on the Future Commando Force
Strategic Trends Programme – Future Operating Environment 2035.
SOF’s Evolving Role: Warfare ‘By, With, and Through’ Local Forces – Rand Corporation Analysis.
The term “hybrid” in this non-state actor context was used to illustrate how actors combined the characteristics of unconventional and conventional warfare with other non-military modes of operation in novel and unfamiliar ways that challenged both Western military practice (due to perceived effectiveness) and strategic thinking (due to perceived unfamiliarity). hybrid warfare in this sense represented a “blurring” of traditional Western categories of conventional and irregular warfare.
Australian Forces Select AeroViroment’s Wasp AE Mini-UAVs.
AV AeroVironment-UAS: RQ-20B Puma AE.