Royal Marines

Watch: What is the Future Commando Force?


The Future Commando Force (FCF) is designed to modernise the way Royal Marines operate.

It has been described by the Royal Navy as the most significant transformation and rebranding programme since the Second World War.

Details of the force were mentioned in the publication of the new Defence Command Paper and Integrated Review, including a £40m injection into the Navy to develop the FCF and transform British amphibious forces.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) said this will be supported by an investment of more than £50m to convert a Bay-class support ship to be able to "deliver a more agile and lethal littoral strike capability".

It was also announced that personnel that make up the FCF will take on special operations, whilst Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Johnny Mercer MP, confirmed the force will remain in its "spiritual home" of Plymouth.

Personnel are continuing to test elements of the Future Commando Force – but what exactly does it involve?

The MOD says the FCF will offer the UK a force ready to deploy around the world immediately, on tasks such as warfighting, combat missions, and humanitarian duties.

This could also involve persistent forward deployments and special operations, including supporting UK Carrier Strike Groups and "refined" NATO contributions.

In July 2020, the Royal Marines established the Vanguard Strike Company, a new unit of more than 150 Marines and British Army Commandos.

The Royal Navy said Vanguard Strike Company will "shape how the Royal Marines Commandos of the future will operate around the globe", and will have access to "game-changing technology and weaponry".

The service also said company personnel will work in "small, versatile teams" tailored for their mission, delivering "a more agile and lethal capability".

Watch: Personnel put Future Commando Force concepts into practice.

Traditionally, Royal Marines operate in sections of eight but, as part of the Future Commando Force, Commandos have been testing these smaller groups.

A training exercise last summer saw 60 Royal Marines from 40 Commando split into three groups while trying to find and fight each other at Bovington Training Area in Dorset.

Marine Edward Harte, 40 Commando, said they were testing the new concept by "going as four-man teams".

As well as a change in the number of personnel, these smaller teams also tested the Future Commando Force concept by allowing more autonomy, with the skill set of personnel being tailored to each mission.

Larger teams have also been trialled – Royal Marines taking part in Littoral Response Group (Experimentation) in Cyprus in October tried operating in groups of 12 rather than eight, allowing for more specialists to be involved.

During the exercise, personnel investigated the abilities of autonomous technology during a mock ship raid, as well as how useful drones can be for the purpose of resupplying.

Royal Marines may also be stationed on vessels across the globe, as opposed to being deployed from the UK, with the aim of allowing high readiness groups to be prepared for a mission at a moment's notice.

Major General Matt Holmes, Commandant General Royal Marines, said the new Vanguard Strike Company will "lead and inform" as the Royal Marines continue to "fight in a dynamic, technological era of warfare".

The Royal Navy also said the unit will be the first "demonstration of kit, equipment, training, and organisational change" to develop the concept and put it at the "forefront" of the Navy's national security contribution.

Royal Marines Vanguard Strike Company
The Vanguard Strike Company will first be deployed in mid-2021 (Picture: Royal Navy).

The Vanguard Strike Company will be deployed for the first time in mid-2021, and the company will wear the new Royal Marines uniform.

Revealed in June 2020, the uniform was procured from US firm Crye Precision.

Chosen for the extreme environments in which Royal Marine Commandos operate, the uniform includes new disruptive material shirts, trousers, and a waterproof combat jacket which will replace the combat and Gortex jacket currently worn by commandos.

The new kit is lighter-weight, higher-strength, faster-drying and a more breathable version of their typical 50/50 cotton/nylon kit.

It also has a subtle change in camouflage design.

One of the main differences with the new uniform is largely symbolic, as it will be the first time in decades marines are not wearing the same standard kit as the Army.

The arched black and green Royal Marines Commando shoulder flash will be changed to a navy blue and red velcro-attaching rectangular patch, which dates back to the Second World War.

It sees a return to the traditional commando insignia, similar to the design first worn by commandos when they launched raids in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Additionally, the Union Flag on the left arm is replaced by a White Ensign, to represent the Royal Navy.

Lieutenant Colonel Ben Reynolds RM, who led the buying in and design of the new uniform, said it shows the Royal Marines' "distinctiveness" and "unique capabilities", as well as the "Royal Navy's eagerness to invest" in the Future Commando Force.

Alongside the uniform, new technology is being trialled that, if successful, will form part of the Future Commando Force.

During Exercise Autonomous Advance Force 3.0 in Cyprus, personnel have been trialling unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of different sizes to provide commandos on the ground with ammunition, fuel, medical supplies, food, and water, as well as intelligence.

The information gained from the exercise will be used to develop the tactical and hardware aspects of the Future Commando Force.

Meanwhile, Royal Marines have also been tested in Future Commando Force small team tactics, using drones to send real-time footage back to their ATAK – a tablet that provides useful information for navigation and awareness.

A UAV known as a 'Puma' has also been tested by Future Commando Force teams from 42 Commando, who have assessed the drone's ability to target enemy defences close to shore.

Watch: How could this new helmet camera change the way Royal Marines operate?

Other technology includes a new helmet-mounted camera system designed to work with mobile network radios and to be capable of sending live footage from the frontline.

The system is being developed by MarWorks, the Royal Navy's innovation team based in Plymouth, and will allow for rapid tactical responses as the information is passed on to commanders.

Paul Anderson, technical support on the helmet-mounted camera system project, told Forces News the "clever bit" isn't the camera, but "how you move that data around the network so people can see it at different levels".

"So some video footage is relevant in the immediate space, some of it is relevant back in the UK on a strategic level," he added.

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