The story re-emerged in May with the BBC reporting that the defence ministers had now committed themselves to forming seven such battle groups, all part of a broader strategic plan known as the "2010 Headline Goal" whereby the EU should, by 2010 be able to respond “with rapid and decisive action... to the whole spectrum of crisis management operations."
Then, on 21 November, we get the Sunday Times article telling us that Britain is "to commit more than 2,000 troops to a new 18,000-strong European Union army that will be deployed as a peace keeper to the world’s trouble spots".
Not only that, this force would expand by 2007 to comprise a multinational force of up to 12 elite rapid-reaction battle groups — each with 1,500 soldiers. At least two of these groups would be ready to deploy at 15 days’ notice to humanitarian or peacekeeping emergencies, primarily in Africa. Soldiers from the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines had been earmarked for the new force.
Three days later, we get a front page headline in The Times declaring that "Infantry reforms put historic regiments in the line of fire", putting detail to the expected restructuring of the infantry "to create larger regimental formations".
And what is the size of the "larger regimental formations"? Er… about 1,500 men, exactly the size of the "battle-groups" which are to form the core of the new EU Army.
We pointed out this EU dimension in our Blog, at the time, also pointing out that the groups, which would have to a air-portable, would be structured around the FRES concept, which is essential for rapidly deployable expeditionary forces.
As recently as yesterday, we again pointed out the EU dimension and now we are able to look at the text of Hoon's announcement in the Commons yesterday, and what does he say? This is his opening text:
In July, I announced a re-balancing of the Army designed to make it better able to meet the challenges and threats of the 21st century. The changes that I announced then reflect the need both to complement our existing heavy and light-weight capabilities with new medium-weight forces, and to ensure that the Army is equipped, trained and organised to meet the demands of multiple, concurrent and above all expeditionary operations across the full spectrum of military tasks. Reductions in heavy armour, heavy artillery and the infantry will be accompanied by an increase in the number of key specialists, without whom the Army cannot deploy on operations. Our objective is therefore to develop a more deployable, agile and flexible force.He then goes on to give more detail, in a lengthy quote, which needs careful study:
The future Army structure is underpinned by two complementary changes. First, a move towards a more balanced force organised around two armoured brigades, three mechanised brigades, a light and an air assault brigade, in addition, of course, to the Royal Marines Commando Brigade.The lie – or deception, if you prefer – is in the second paragraph where he talks about 19 Mechanised Brigade being “ready for deployment on operations if required in the first half of 2006, when it will serve as the contingent NATO response force.” Actually it is deception, because what he doesn’t say is that Brigade will be "double-tasked" and will also serve as the first of the EU "battle groups".
We are moving ahead quickly with the changes required to put that in place, and 19 Mechanised Brigade, based in Catterick, will start its conversion to a light brigade in January. The brigade will be ready for deployment on operations if required in the first half of 2006, when it will serve as the contingent NATO response force. Based in Germany, 4th Armoured Brigade will convert to a mechanised brigade in 2006, and the other brigades will adopt their new structures in a similar time frame. The key foundations on which the future Army structure is to be built will be in place by 2008.
However, it is important to emphasise that we cannot use front-line soldiers if they cannot be deployed and sustained on operations because we lack sufficient supporting forces. In parallel, therefore, we are moving ahead with the second element of the re-organisation—making the Army more robust and resilient and able to sustain the enduring expeditionary operations that have become commonplace in recent years. The overriding requirement is to make significant enhancements to the key specialist capabilities—communications, engineers, logisticians, intelligence experts and other key capabilities. At the same time, we want to make fighting units, including the infantry, more robust by ensuring they have adequate numbers.
Furthermore, everything Hoon tells us about the Army restructuring shows us that it is being tailored specifically to fit the operational demands of the expeditionary warfare of the type envisaged in the "Headline 2010 Goal" set by the EU. We are, therefore, shaping our Army to an EU agenda and that is why he is cutting the regiments. If there was any shadow of doubt, he then reveals it further into his statement. The capabilities are not being cut, he says:
They are being backed up by an impressive re-equipment programme, introducing new communications equipment such as Bowman and Falcon, enhanced intelligence collection assets such as the Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle and Soothsayer electronic warfare capability, modern vehicles such as the Panther armoured reconnaissance vehicle, and looking further ahead, the ambitious FRES armoured fighting vehicle programme, which will modernise the armoured vehicle fleet and form the basis of the medium-weight capability.Yet, as we remarked yesterday, Soames, the conservatives and the seried ranks of MPs all missed the point. Obsessed with the detail of the regimental cuts, they all missed the bigger picture.
These enhancements will directly improve the ability of the Army to deploy, support and sustain itself on the range of operations that we envisage. That can only be achieved as the result of the planned reduction by four in the number of infantry battalions, which will release around 2,400 posts for redeployment across the force structure.
Yet, in July, when we raised this subject, we remarked that all this was happening without a single debate on the implications, which seemed to be bringing Mr Monnet’s dream of European integration to fruition in a manner that he could not even have imagined. Should not we have had at least a debate about it before Hoon commits us to yet another massive round of European integration, we asked.
Strangely enough, that is effectively what The Telegraph is asking for in its leader today. "It is time we had a proper defence review," it says. "If the Government will not hold one, the Conservatives should." But, as we remarked yesterday, that would mean that the Conservatives would have to confront the implications of the ongoing EU defence integration – and that they are not prepared to do. For the rest of us, however, all you have to do is join up the dots, and it is obvious what is happening.