chapter  5
18 Pages

The British Army

The British Army is one of the oldest land-based military forces in existence. Today, the regular British Army is a powerful military formation that has the capability to engage in the entire spectrum of land operations, from highintensity warfare to lower-level activities such as humanitarian assistance. In 2011, there were 99,100 personnel serving in the British Army with 3,500 Gurkhas or foreign mercenaries recruited from Nepal.1 The force structure of the service has traditionally had a preponderance of infantry, with currently 36 battalions making it by far the largest component of the army, as opposed to armour or cavalry and artillery. In the latter two categories, the numbers of principal vehicles offers an indication of their disposition. In terms of heavy armour, the British Army possesses 325 Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks, but over 2,500 armoured personnel carriers (APC) for the infantry, 526 of them being the more advanced Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle.2 In the light of experiences in Iraq, the British Army is rapidly investing in mine/IED protected vehicles and has 277 Mastiff vehicles, 188 Ridgeback and more than 20 Wolfhound for the infantry;3 this may develop into the way ahead for future vehicle purchases. The British Army has 670 different artillery pieces available – in the heavy categories, 130 155 mm self-propelled AS-90 artillery guns, 118 105 mm towed artillery and 51 multiple launch rocket system units – but the bulk of its arsenal is actually comprised of 81 mm mortars, often employed by the infantry themselves in a support role.4 In recent years, the British Army has strongly enhanced its ability to operate in the third dimension of warfare, or air support, providing combat support aviation in the form of battlefield helicopters: 66 powerful AH-64D Apache helicopters and 99 Lynx, as well as 133 of the much older Gazelle helicopters.5 Another area under development is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to provide realtime battlefield reconnaissance, particularly with the introduction of the Watchkeeper system from 2011 onwards.6 Perhaps the most significant widespread qualitative enhancements of recent years have involved not just major unit purchases such as vehicles and aircraft, but rather personal protection and firepower of soldiers on the front lines, especially as a result of the demands of the Global War on Terror. New equipment includes substantially improved body armour (the Osprey system) and helmets that can withstand powerful bullets such as the

7.62 mm AK-47 bullet. Firepower has increased significantly, with underslung 40 mm grenade launchers married to Heckler-and-Koch-improved SA80A2 standard infantry rifles (a notoriously unreliable weapon before the upgrade) and new 8.59 mm (L115A3 Long Range Rifle) and 7.62 mm (L129A1 Sharpshooter) sniper rifles that can hit targets accurately over very long distances. The modern British Army is one of the best-equipped fighting forces in the world, and this quiet revolution has occurred remarkably in a very short space of time, essentially less than ten years. This has been an expensive transformation, and it has been revealed that the British government provided almost £7 billion in extra monies towards the costs of operations from 2001 to 20077 on top of the £30 billion defence budget. Much of this money has been consumed by the land forces who have conducted the bulk of the operations, which may in part explain how these qualitative improvements have been funded in such a short space of time. To give a sense of the expenditure during the Global War on Terror, the British Army’s slice of the defence budget in 2007 was almost £11 billion, roughly four billion more than either the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force.8