Transformation opportunities: A Warfare Branch.
4 Oct 19
The next decade marks the beginning of what is likely to be an era of unprecedented change and challenge for the UK MoD. One area of Defence which is already experiencing something of a renaissance is the Royal Navy. The confirmed replacement of the current Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD), the arrival of the first and the soon-to-be-at-sea second QEC Carrier and the exciting prospect of developing Future Littoral Strike Ship (FLSS) capabilities, as outlined by the Secretary of State for Defence (SofS) herald a change in the way business will be conducted globally by the RN in the future.
This places a challenge at the door of the Royal Marines, to also identify transformational opportunities through what is being termed the Future Commando (Cdo) Force (FCF) concept. This nascent but exciting project envisages an FCF that is a light, agile, highly trained, multi-skilled and motivated force, equipped with the most up-to-date and technologically advanced communications and lethality systems. These FCF ‘warriors’ will have the ability to strike deep in to the centre of an adversary and create the vacuum required to enable the mass of the greater land component. This exciting new force will require the very best people and it is the contention of this short article that the PW specialisation (SQ), with some adjustments and optimisation will be critical to its success.
Currently, 3 Cdo Bde is one of the UK’s two Very High Readiness (VHR) Brigades, the other being 16AA Bde, capable of deploying worldwide at very short notice to conduct operations. However, our current force laydown and structure is almost identical to that of any other Army Light Infantry Brigade and consists of three manoeuvre units, supported by a range of logistic enablers and supporting arms, many of whom are Cdo trained, and include engineers and artillery. This relatively heavy, flat-footed and conventional posture is recognised as no longer meeting the aspirations of Defence as we look forward; indeed, CGRMs design for a FCF articulates a force that can operate disaggregated yet can reaggregate as and when required to conduct larger scale operations.
Today, as before, the PW SQ lies at the very heart of Cdo business and holds wide-ranging force development responsibilities across the Defence. One of its most important roles is that of instructing across the full spectrum of training courses delivered at CTCRM. This includes weapons and tactics to Young Officers’ and Recruits as well as Command training to those seeking promotion within the Corps. Additionally, and assisted by the SASC, the SQ is responsible for all range qualifications that are awarded within the Service as well as delivery of the highly regarded Sniper and CQB courses. Both are recognised across UK Defence as the gold standard of tactical courses and are regularly attended by overseas students and members of UK and other Special Forces. In addition to the above, the SQ retains several key external placements across Defence including Joint Forces Commnd. Other crucial positions for PWs abroad include the USA and the Middle East where they offer significant influence and leverage for UK HMG. Exemplifying the influential reach of such a small organisation – the PW SQ – within another relatively small organisation.
SofS for Defences’ speech outlining the concept of a FLSS, which as part of an experimental procurement process would short circuit the CADMID process in what would previously be regarded as an unachievable time frame. This bespoke platform on which we could plan and subsequently launch on to major or discrete missions and tasks will deliver us an increased flexibility and independence and allow us to be logistically light and agile. But, successful change and transformation almost always starts small and refines itself as understanding develops. The same will be the case for the PW SQ, and others.
Therefore the concept of LSS and hence FCF should not induce concern among the PW SQ but moreover, generate a viable opportunity. By consolidating and refining our existing skills and training with other similarly oriented SQs, we adapt and evolve through disinvestment from one area to invest in another to become more efficient. We will then deliver greater capability and offer genuine value for money, with far greater utility than we currently have. Indeed, the PW SQ has already begun this process with the introduction of a combined HW3 and PW3 MG course being introduced in Q1 19. This process of consolidation and integration could and should be expanded to include the wider HW SQs such as Air Defence, Mors and ATks and should embrace the potential advantages of Tactical Precision Strike (TPS) systems currently being trialled through RM Capability Departments. Add to this the current ongoing discussions taking place regarding a basic CQB competency being awarded to all ranks completing Phase 2 training and very quickly, with relatively little investment and optimisation, the potential for CTCRM to deliver a multi-skilled and PW-enabled future Cdo direct in to Cdo Units becomes a real and not too distant possibility.
However, the effect of this up-skilling of our OR4 (Corporal) ranks may then mean the requirement to specialise at the OR1 (Marine) level may no longer be required for some of the SQs with a shorter training bill. Instead all ranks could, on completion of Cdo training, automatically join the Warfare branch, (for example) and remain within it until selection for Command training (unless streamed for an SQ that has a longer training reqt). At this stage, they would have the opportunity to become an advanced specialist within an area such as Warfare, Combat Support or Combat Service Support; in this model, a ‘Warfare SQ’ could look something like the diagram shown at fig 1 below.
Fig 1. Possible Warfare SQ (replacing the PW SQ).
We should also not exclude the possibility that in thefuture the Corps may have non-Cdo trained Royal Marines fulfilling vital enabling roles encompassing logistic support in its various forms whilst Cdo trained Warfare operators engage in direct confrontations with our adversaries. In the event of the Royal Marines adopting this two-tiered system the PW (or Warfare SME) would still play a pivotal role training both cohorts. On the one hand delivering training to ranks seeking to serve as enablers within the FCF and on the other delivering Cdo training and war-fighting skills to those seeking to attain the Green Beret.
But, transforming the number of SQ identified above in to a single Warfare SQ will be extremely complex and will require a significant mindset change across the Corps – arguably the biggest challenge. Any implementation will require a complete Defence Lines Of Development assessment to ensure absolute interoperability and a mindset change from our current thinking of specialising as an enabler after only a very short period within a true Cdo role.
Structures will of course not be our only area requiring adaptation. We must also look at how we deliver all areas of responsibility and how we can make them more efficient and optimised to achieve the greatest effect. One area of the T-LOD where we can lead is innovation; innovation in weapon training – the true warfare element of Cdo business. This most basic suite of tasks and the way in which they are taught remains historically unchanged since World War Two. But if we are to be efficient with time, transformational in training, and technologically forward thinking, then the Corps must invest in this area. Modern day Virtual Reality (VR) systems have the ability to project individuals in to almost any environment, at any time of the day or night, and along with external stimuli, can replicate a range of climatic conditions in which we may be confronting an enemy in the future. VR simulation systems manufactured by BISim and OMNI Systems are currently being trialled by DoD project teams within the US and Israel and initial feedback indicates significantly positive training benefits. Whilst relatively new in design and currently cost prohibitive, experience tells us that the financial burdens are often in the research and development stages. By collaborating with our partners (US) the RM (assisted by the PW (or Warfare SQ)) can offset a significant portion of these costs and procure a system which will in the long-term offer Defence substantial savings and offer us a significant capability advantage. This can extend to Augmented Reality, where live information and intelligence is ‘injected’ into an operators night-vision or glasses, to better inform decision making and targeting. This speeds up the Observe, Orientate, Decide and Act (OODA) Loop cycle and offers a significant advantage over an adversary. Enabling the RM to be the battlefield laboratory for this type of equipment will ensure it is efficaciously trialled and fit for purpose, at modest cost compared to a Defence procurement.
In summary, the momentum of change is now upon the Royal Navy and by extension, the Royal Marines. The Corps must now use this ‘new’ energy to embrace the opportunities that transformation offers and to expand our appetite for change across the DLODs and wider to affect SQ structures and outputs. The support of SofS for Defence and the opportunities available worldwide as the UK seeks to operate more within the ‘grey zone’, the Corps has a pivotal role to play. To be succesful we must adopt the mantra first to understand, first to adapt, first to overcome which is so often declared without substance across the Corps.
The next decade is almost certain to truly test whether we as a Corps can understand the Future Operating Environment we are to be exposed to, are willing to adapt to counter its threat and finally are able to transform ourselves in order to overcome it. Whatever the future brings, the PW SQ must ensure that it has the right people with the right mindset to embrace change and recognise that there are no ‘sacred cows.’. Change is afoot…
 Secretary of State for Defence Speech RUSI – 11 Feb 19.
 Designing For The Future – A Transformational Concept For The Future Commando Force – CGRM Dated 2 Mar 18.
 42 Cdo RM have re-roled to the Maritime Operations Cdo but hold a BPT task to ‘snap back elascitiy’ (CGRM) to a conventional manoeuvre Unit if required.
 Concept, Assessment, Demonstration, Manufacture, In service, Disposal