Defence Spending and Capabilities

War in the 21st Century: STRIKE as an ISR enabler

Contributor: Steve has 13 years of hands on leadership experience and has deployed on multiple operational tours. He also has direct working experience of capability management and defence procurement.

There has already been considerable debate over the Army’s STRIKE concept, with a variety of commentators queuing up to pour scorn on its utility, or otherwise.  This short article is not a comment on STRIKE’s applicability to 21st century military operations, so for those hoping for a STRIKE bashing, you may wish to look elsewhere!  My focus, as an ISR practitioner, is to consider the ISR opportunities that STRIKE presents, as it seeks to enable Divisional manoeuvre. And let’s be clear – the unique selling point of the STRIKE concept is exactly that – to enable Divisional manoeuvre, and thereby operational manoeuvre.

I start with a premise, which sets the baseline for current military operations, which is this: The very nature of conflict itself has changed.  We live, and operate therefore, within a changed era.  One in which he/she who owns the narrative invariably triumphs. Technological advancements, exponential in growth, have contracted time and space to create a contemporary operating environment that has never seen before.  The utility of a comprehensive physical defeat of enemies and adversaries on the battlefield can be negated in seconds by a targeted 140 characters on a Twitter feed – a precision strike far more penetrating than a Hellfire released from an unmanned aerial system. In the British Army, 77 Bde lead the way and are responsible for the development of Information Activities and Outreach.  They will be an integral constituent part of any future operation, from Battlegroup to Division.

In concert with this changed era, we find a renewed emphasis in operating at the Divisional level. I hesitate to use the clumsy term ‘warfighting’, although this is the most common word associated with the drive to invest in 3rd (UK) Division and its ability to conduct high intensity combat operations. Under Future Force 2025, 3rd (UK) Division will comprise of both AI Bdes and STRIKE Bdes, with the usual accoutrements of enabling capabilities depending on the operational context.  This re focus on the Divisional level of operations is set against the backdrop of a near peer as the most likely adversary.

So the operating environment has changed, irreparably, and the British Army is back to focusing on the Division.  The Division of 2025 will have, organic to its ORBAT, the STRIKE Bde as a tactical formation.  Of the 3 central ways of operating that are unique to STRIKE, I will focus on the one area central to the premise of STRIKE in Future Force 2025, which is as an enabler of Divisional manoeuvre.  I will then consider how this STRIKE operating characteristic will present opportunities for Bde and Div level ISR, specifically in the land domain.

The STRIKE Bde will enable Divisional manoeuvre for armour and armoured infantry primarily through its mobility (marching over long distances) and reach.  As a highly mobile formation, it will complement the AI Bdes by providing an enhanced ability to secure flanks from enemy probing,  screen friendly movement (thereby aiding deception) and operate as a ‘fleet footed’ flexible guarding force.  It will not seek to routinely enter into a decisive engagement, but instead set the conditions, having provided a comprehensive fix function, for an AI Bde to defeat an enemy unbalanced and dislocated by the STRIKE Bde’s activities.

The ability to fix an enemy relies on the competency of a formation’s find function.  In the land domain, the British Army’s ‘find’ assets are found primarily in 1 ISR Bde, a relatively immature formation born out of the ISR lessons learned from campaigning in Afghanistan. And here is the real ISR opportunity that STRIKE presents to the Divisional Commander, that of ‘front loading’ his ISR assets with the STRIKE Bde in order to maximise range and therefore likelihood of detection of enemy activity.  Consider the current in service Weapon Locating Radar (WLR), MAMBA, and its planning range of approximately 25km (subject to various radar planning considerations).  Then consider the current in service Acoustic Weapon Locating (AWL) capability, ASP, and its planning range of approximately 25 km.  Then finally consider that a near peer, such as Russia, has within its artillery capabilities the option to fire indirectly to a range of 65 km.  There is a clear disconnect between what the British Army can detect, and a near peer’s ability to prosecute targets at range therefore.

With the mobility, agility and reach of the STRIKE Bde, ISR planners at the Bde and Div level will now be able to prosecute an aggressive find function. In this scenario, ISR assets are pushed forward with less tactical risk.  STRIKE capabilities will be able to screen ISR assets, enabling them to deploy into areas far in advance of friendly headquarters, echelons and other key C2 nodes traditionally targeted by enemy fires. This geographically advanced deployment opportunity will also serve to mitigate WLR and AWL range limitations, thereby ensuring that the Divisional Commander has a comprehensive ISR screen, providing timely and accurate information that can shape and inform his plan. Having ground ISR assets able to detect in such a way will enable UAS assets at Bde and Div level to conduct targeted, focused intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The emergence of the STRIKE concept, as part of Future Force 2025, has brought with it some fierce debate.  However, viewed as an enabler to Divisional manoeuvre – which will most certainly be its key operational task – the emerging STRIKE Bdes will offer the Divisional Commander operational flexibility currently unavailable.


The views expressed within individual posts and media are those of the author and do not reflect any official position or that of the author’s employees or employer. Concerns regarding content should be addressed to hi@wavellroom.com

Image courtesy of @ Crown Copyright

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