Extract from The Globe & Laurel November/December 2000

Commando 21

We have a range of new equipment coming into service that is increasing the firepower and mobility of our units today and, by 2010, will have converged to provide a comprehensive, modern and highly effective range of capabilities that will take the UK Amphibious Force through to 2020 and beyond. The challenges now facing the Royal Marines are to organise the Landing Force to make best use of this equipment. to maximise the effectiveness of the Amphibious Force to deal with Defence Tasks assigned to it, and to evolve National and NATO operational concepts. The first part of this process is a programme for restructuring our three Commandos, which has been given the project title of 'Commando 21'.

Commando Restructuring

Q: Why do we need to change the way we do our business?

A: To answer this question, we have to look first at the wider international arena and then look at the way British armed forces have adapted to the changing international scene.

Since the end of the Cold War, a number of changes in general global security and Government policy have led to the frequent use of British forces on operations for which they had not originally been designed. Light infantry units, including the three RM Commandos, were intended to seize and hold key terrain by static defence, whilst armoured units or tactical air power manoeuvred to strike the decisive blow. However recent developments in doctrine, the increasing involvement of British Forces in Peace Support type operations, and an increased emphasis on Force Protection, have placed growing demands upon us. In response to these changes the Naval Service developed a new concept, known as the 'Maritime Contribution to Joint Operations' (MCJO). This concept seeks to harness the characteristics and capabilities of Maritime Forces to support a land campaign and so, in consequence, amphibious forces sit at the centre of the maritime contribution to Britan's defence policy. For example a forward deployed Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), capable of expeditionary operations, is a consequence of this new thinking and since its first deployment last year, the ARG has established itself as part of the lexicon of British defence diplomacy. Another consequence is an examination of the structure of Commandos to allow them to increase their operational tempo - getting them to hit harder, faster and more accurately.

This shift in the concept of operations has been matched by the introduction of new equipment to fit amphibious forces more closely to their new role. We are currently in the happy position that a convergence of equipment programmes will see the UK Amphibious Force with a suite of modern ships, aircraft, weapons, vehicles and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) assets that will set the way we do our business until at least 2020. A key capability the LPH HMS Ocean, is already in service and has successfully proved its worth. Other assets have been introduced into Commandos, and more are about to be introduced. These include new weapons such as the Long?Range Rifle (LRR), the Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) and the Light Forces Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (LFATGW) and new vehicles, notably the Wolf Land Rover replacement and most importantly, an armoured all terrain vehicle which will provide units with a degree of protected mobility.

Firing the 0.5in HMG at Lulworth.

Q:    What will the new Commando Structure be?

A:    In broad terms it will be built around Command, Combat and Logistics and and Logistics and the new structure is shown down the page.

 The key structural changes are:

a. The formation of a Command Company that will responsible for unit command, communications, ISTAR and will have unit manoeuvre support functions (both direct and indirect fire).

b. The creation of a Logistic Support Company to manage all administrative and logistic activity and to provide a Logistic Advisor to the Commanding Officer.

c. The creation of a fourth fighting company, to give each Commando two close combat companies and two stand off combat companies to provide both manoeuvre and manoeuvre support. One of the stand off combat companies will be tracked, the other wheeled. Similarly, the HQ of one of the close combat companies will be tracked, the other wheeled.

The Close Combat Company is similar to the current rifle company but each troop, in addition to three sections at the current strength, has a manoeuvre support section of five men equipped with GPMG LRR and 5lmm Mortar. Each Close Combat Company will have a strength of five officers and 98 other ranks.

Each Stand Off Combat Company has a Close Combat Troop identical to those in the Close Combat Companies. It also has an Anti-Tank Troop with 6 Milan and an HMG troop with 6 0.5in HMG. Each Stand Off Combat Company will have a field strength of five officers and 78 other ranks.

Command Company will assume responsibility for command, control, communications, ISTAR and unit level manoeuvre support. The addition of a Unit Anti-Tank Troop and a Medium Machine Gun Troop gives the Commanding Officer his own dedicated direct fire manoeuvre support in addition to the indirect fire of the Mortar Troop which remains unchanged except that the number of Mortar Fire Control Parties will be increased to four. The Unit Anti-Tank Troop is identical to those in the Stand Off Combat Companies except that it is commanded by the Commanding Officers' Anti?Tank Advisor. The Recce Troop provides a key ISTAR resource but its sniper section of eight men equipped with four LRR also contributes to direct fire manoeuvre support.

In Logistic Support Company there are two identical A Echelons each holding one day's combat supplies to give greater flexibility and responsiveness to logistic support. B Echelon is correspondingly smaller and can be more easily sea-based.

The overall manpower in a Commando will change little, increasing from 682 to 692 all ranks. The details of the new structure are the result of a three year study which incorporated lessons learnt from previous operations, operational analysis by DERA and was completed in close consultation with the Director of Infantry's staff, who have conducted similar studies into the Infantry Battle Group. There is much work still to be done in the detailed implementation of the new organisation and this brief explanation merely gives a flavour of what is involved. The key message is, however, that the new structure will give us more firepower, more mobility, more information, more flexibility and more fighting power.

Q: Commandos leading the way?

A: Commando 21 is a step change that will affect us all.

Changes in the international security environment have led to changes in the British defence posture, and the concept of the Amphibious Ready Group, capable of expeditionary operations, is a key element in MCJO. Our current structures are becoming less and less relevant to operations in this new era and evolution is inevitable. Commando 21 is the first phase in this evolutionary process and, as with all change, it will not be easy; there is much detailed work to be done and validation by 40 Commando is an important first step. However, Commando 21 will place the Royal Marines in the vanguard of evolutionary change in this new era and will deliver significant enhancements to the Commandos' operational capability.

Q: When will it happen?

A: Commando 21 has already commenced: restructuring of 40 Commando began in November and is rolling forward into the early months of 2001. 45 Commando will reconfigure in Summer 2001 and both units will deploy with 3 Commando Brigade on Ex Saif Sareea 2, in the new organisation. 42 Commando will reconfigure in late 2002/ early 2003, on completion of an operational tour in Northern Ireland. Commando 21 should be implemented throughout the Commando Brigade by the summer of 2003.