British Army in Wales MOD
Army

Know Your Army – Weapons And Organisation

A look at the structure of the British Army and the weapons it uses.

British Army in Wales MOD

Today’s British Army is a complex and multifaceted organisation with over 112,000 regular and reserve soldiers.

These men and women perform a variety of roles, some with historical forerunners, others modern and hi-tech.

What follows is a basic breakdown of the structure of the Army, and then a look at the main weapons used by its soldiers.

British Army Organisation – An Overview

The structure of today’s British Army can be more easily understood in the context of its past.

Historically, the Army was made up of a core of locally recruited infantry regiments, around which supporting cavalry, artillery and other elements were added.

The various infantry (and other) regiments were subdivided for easier tactical use and administrative purposes. In the case of infantry regiments, this meant several battalions of around 1,000 men each would be recruited from one area and numbered and named after the parent regiment.

For example, the regiment historically associated with Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire was the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry, so 1 Ox & Bucks LI and 2 Ox & Bucks LI would have been the first and second battalions recruited within the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry regiment.

Meanwhile, Battalions themselves were, and still are, subdivided into companies (of around 200 men), platoons (of around 40 men) and sections (usually 10 men.)

British Army NATO Estonia
Members of the Royal Welsh Regiment beside a Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle during Exercise Saber Strike in Estonia in 2018 (picture: MOD)

Further up the organisation scale, infantry battalions were clustered into groups of three or four to make a brigade, and brigades were further grouped together, usually in threes, to make divisions.

Two or more divisions made up a corps, while two or more corps made up an army. This meant that at certain periods in its history, when the Army was very large, such as in the First and Second World Wars, it actually contained a number of armies (i.e. First Army, Second Army, Third Army etc.)

The various support elements – artillery, cavalry and others – have been added to and controlled at the different levels within the Army throughout its history, though the main fighting element was and remains the infantry. The MOD’s Army site says that today it is still at the core of the Army.

Because of various reforms, there are fewer infantry regiments now than there were historically, with today’s Army containing 17. By contrast, there were 73 infantry regiments in the Army at the start of the First World War.)

Guard's Memorial St James' Park
The Guards Memorial in St James’s Park, with statues depicting soldiers from the First World War (picture: MOD)

Each infantry regiment in the Army now specialises in at least one of five possible roles. The first of these, like the old Ox & Bucks LI, is the light infantry role, which entails fighting on foot with the latest weaponry.

There is also the armoured infantry role, which involves the use of the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle to provide protection and mobility to fighting troops; the light mechanised infantry role, which involves soldiers riding into battle and then exiting their vehicles to fight on foot, the vehicles in this case being lighter armoured vehicles like the Foxhound; the mechanised infantry role, which is similar to the light mechanised infantry role but involves the use of larger, heavier vehicles such as the Boxer or Warrior Infantry Support Vehicle (pictured just below); the airborne infantry role, where soldiers are dropped into combat by helicopter or parachute; and the specialised infantry role, where soldiers mentor their counterparts in allied nations.

British Army in Wales MOD
The Royal Welsh Regiment with a Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle training in Estonia (picture: MOD)

There are currently 16 Reserve and 32 Regular (or mixed) infantry battalions within the British Army, each with around 500 or 600 personnel belonging to the aforementioned 17 regiments. The specialised roles of each of these regiments are broken down in the table just below.

Infantry Regiments And Their Specialised Roles Within The British Army Today:

Infantry Regiment

Role/s

Grenadier Guards

Light Infantry

Coldstream Guards

Light Infantry

Scots Guards

Mechanised Infantry

Irish Guards

Light Infantry

Welsh Guards

Mechanised Infantry

The Royal Regiment of Scotland

Light, Mechanised and Specialised Infantry

The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment

Armoured and Light Infantry

The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment

Light and Specialised Infantry

The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers

Armoured Infantry

The Royal Anglian Regiment

Light Infantry

The Yorkshire Regiment

Armoured and Mechanised Infantry

The Mercian Regiment

Armoured and Light Infantry

The Royal Welsh

Armoured Infantry

The Royal Irish Regiment

Light Infantry

The Parachute Regiment

Air Assault

The Rifles

Light, Armoured, Mechanised and Specialised Infantry

The Royal Gurkha Rifles

Light Infantry

3 Rifles training with Jackal 2s in Romania
3 Battalion, The Rifles training with Jackal 2s in Romania – an L7A2 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) is visible, mounted on the front Jackal (picture: MOD)

More broadly, the battalions within each of these regiments sit within a structure designed to support them, while at the same time containing other combat formations. Today’s Army still contains many elements of the basic historical model, with divisions and brigades administering regiment or battalion-sized units below them, or even smaller company or platoon-sized units. These units might be Regular (i.e. those with fulltime Army employees), Army Reservists (i.e. part-time soldiers) or a mixture of the two.

Corps are also still a part of the Army, though the term now is generally used to denote support elements that are separate from the Army’s main divisions. In fact, the Army’s main field army is itself small enough by historical standards that it is essentially a single corps, containing three divisions.

As well as the various headquarters at the top of the structure, and the infantry battalions at the bottom, the various other elements arrayed throughout the Army’s structure.

The Royal Armoured Corps’ 11 Regular (or mixed) and four Reserve regiments are like modern cavalry, providing mobile support and armoured protection for the infantry. The RAC uses vehicles from the Challenger 2 to the Jackal Fighting Vehicle.

While the infantry and RAC make up the Army’s combat forces, it also has a number of combat support forces. These are the Royal Artillery, which has 20 regiments and provides heavy firepower in the form of artillery and rockets; the Corps of Royal Engineers, which has 18 regiments providing technical support throughout the Army; the Intelligence Corps, which has nine regiments that collect and analyse key information; and the Royal Corps of Signals, which aids communication throughout the Army with its 17 regiments being trained in IT, cyber security and telecommunications.

Royal Engineers British Army
Members of 23 Engineers, part of the Royal Engineers, prepare an infantry footbridge during Exercise Wessex Storm in 2020 (picture: MOD)

The Royal Signals also provide tactical satellite ground terminals for the Army, which enable all land-based headquarters to have satellite communications. The platforms include the SMALL SATCOM, the ground terminal portion using the SKYNET5 network to support forces anywhere in the world (Skynet is a kind of military communications satellite) and can be set up in 30 minutes; and the Reacher, which is usually mounted on a Mowag Duro 3 vehicle and provides communications terminals for the MOD within the UK.

Other communications systems include the Falcon, which uses IP (Internet Protocol) technology to support the Army within the UK as well as within the ARRC (Allied Rapid Reaction Corps), part of NATO; and BOWMAN, which enables communication at High Frequency (HF), Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) from formation HQs down to their fighting units.

The Army also has four combat service support elements: REME, the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, which, with its 11 battalions, helps maintain and repair Army equipment; the Royal Logistic Corps, which has 25 regiments and helps keep the Army supplied and moving both at its various bases and when deployed overseas; the RAMC (or Royal Army Medical Corps), which provides medical support through its 24 regiments; and the Royal Military Police, which has six regiments that, as the MOD puts it, “police the Force and provide police support to the Force” – the Force, in this case refers to just the Army (the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have their own police.)

Air support, meanwhile, is provided by the eight regiments of the Army Air Corps (AAC.)

The British Army also has under its control the defence forces of a number of overseas territories: those of Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Falklands, Gibraltar and Montserrat, in the Caribbean. It also has a presence in Germany and Belize.

British Army Paratroopers training Belize
Soldiers from 2 Battalion, the Parachute Regiment conduct jungle training in Belize (picture: MOD)

The Basic Structure Of Today’s Army (Main Formations And Locations, With Subunits):

Field Army:

1 Division (with 4, 7, 11 and 51 Infantry Brigades, 8 Engineer Brigade, 102 Logistic Brigade, 104 Logistic Support Brigade, 2 Medical Brigade)

3 Division (with 1, 12 and 20 Armoured Infantry Brigade, 1 Artillery Brigade, 7 Air Defence Group, 25 Engineer Group, 101 Logistic Brigade, 11 Signal Brigade)

6 Division (with 1 Signal Brigade, 1 Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade, Army Special Operations Brigade, 77 Brigade)

16 Air Assault Brigade

Home Command:

HQ London District

HQ Regional Command (with 1 Military Police Brigade, 38 Brigade, 160 Brigade, HQ North East, HQ East, HQ South East, HQ North West, HQ South West, HQ Scotland, HQ West Midlands)

Army Recruiting and Initial Training Command

Army Personnel Centre

Sandhurst Group

Joint Helicopter Command:

Contains helicopters from the AAC (Army Air Corps) as well as from the Royal Navy and RAF. Army elements of the JHC are:

Watchkeeper Force (47 Regiment, Royal Artillery)

Army Aviation Centre (with 2 and 7 Regiments AAC – both training units)

1 Aviation Brigade (with 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 Regiments AAC and 7 Aviation Support Battalion, REME)

Separate Corps:

Royal Armoured Corps

Royal Corps of Army Music

Know Your Army - MOD - British Army
Members of 1 Aviation Brigade on patrol – those in front carry the L7A2 General Purpose Machine Gun (picture: MOD)

Army Weapons – Small Arms And Support

The primary weapon used by soldiers in today’s Army is the L85 and is visible as the weapon being used by the soldiers in the cover image of this article. It is part of a group of weapons called SA80, first introduced in the 1980s (the name stands for “Small Arms for the 1980s”) and of which there are both Individual Weapons (IWs) and Light Support Weapons (LSWs.) The Individual Weapon is the L85, and the Light Support Weapon the L86.

According to the Ministry Of Defence (MOD), the SA80 turned out to be so accurate when it was first introduced that the Army marksmanship tests needed redesigning. Additionally, the A2 series that was introduced in 2002 made this family of weapons extremely reliable as well.

The SA80 series also features a shorter barrelled (i.e. carbine) version of the L85 known as the L22, a weapon designed for those who operate in confined spaces such as tank crews.

Some units in the Army also use the Colt Canada C8 instead of the SA80 as a main weapon. The version of the Colt Canada adopted by the Ministry of Defence for UK forces is the C8SFW, and it has been used under the name L119A1 and L119A2 (the A2 being an upgraded version.)

For short range shooting, the Army also has the Glock 17 pistol, known within UK military circles as the L131A1, the L128A1 (Benelli M4) combat shotgun, and for other close-sector combat, a fragmentation grenade (the L109A2) and the L3A1 socket bayonet.

British Army soldiers with L85 and Underslung Grenade Launcher on training exercise
A member of 1 Scots Guards uses an Underslung Grenade Launcher during Exercise Tartan Strike in 2020 (picture: MOD)

The Army also has a number of weapons for launching grenades at longer distances, such as the UGL (Under-slung Grenade Launcher), attached to the L85A2, and the Heckler & Koch Grenade Machine Gun, which is a belt-fed, rapid-fire grenade launcher often seen on vehicles.

There are a variety of machine guns in use within the Army: the Minimi light machine gun (or the L110A2), as well as the L7A2 General Purpose Machine Gun (or GPMG) and the L111A1 heavy machine gun, also usually vehicle mounted.

Long-range and high-precision shooting is done with sniper rifles, like the L115A3, L96, L129A1, the L135A1 and, more recently, the Accuracy International (AI) AX50 (Accuracy International also make the L115A3 and the L96.) The last two of these are both .50-calibre rifles.

Know Your Army - MOD - British Army
A member of the Parachute Regiment firing an L129A1 (picture: MOD)

Heavier weapons come in the form of mortars (the L16A2 81mm mortar) and rocket launchers, of which there are themselves subtypes. The MBT LAW (or NLAW) and Javelin are both anti-tank weapons, while the Starstreak, or HVM (High Velocity Missile), is an anti-aircraft weapon that fires three laser-guided exploding darts from a 130mm canister (or missile) at ranges of between one and five-and-a-half kilometres. It can be fired from a shoulder-mounted launcher, in which case it can fire one missile, from a three-missile launcher tripod, or from a mount on a vehicle called a Stormer, in which case it can fire eight missiles.

The HVM is also due to be replaced by the Light-Weight Multi-Role Missile (also known as the LMM, or Martlet), a weapon system that can also be fired from the shoulder or mounted on a helicopter.

Know Your Army - MOD - British Army
Members of the Royal Anglian Regiment using an 81mm mortar (picture: MOD)

A Comparison Of The Different Weapons Used By The Army:

Weapon

Calibre

Magazine/load capacity

Max effective range

L85A2

5.56mm

30

400 metres

L22

5.56mm

20 or 30

150 – 200 metres

Colt Canada C8

5.56mm

30

400 metres

L131A1 pistol

9mm

17

50 metres

L128A1 combat shotgun

12 gauge (18.4mm)

7

40 metres (buckshot);

130 (solid shot)

UGL

40mm grenade

1

350 metres

Grenade Machine Gun

40mm grenade

32-round belt

2,000 metres (for area targets)

Minimi

5.56mm

100-round belt

800 metres

L7A2 GPMG

7.62mm

100-round belt

800 metres (light role) 1,800 for sustained fire

L111A1 Heavy Machine Gun

12.7mm

50-round belt

2,000 metres

L96 sniper rifle

7.62mm

10

1,100 metres

L115A3 sniper rifle

8.58mm

5

1,100 metres

L129A1 marksman rifle

7.62mm

20

800 metres

L135A3 .50-cal rifle

12.7mm

5 or 10

1,800 metres

AX50 .50-cal rifle

12.7mm

5

2,500 metres

Mortar (81mm)

81mm

1

5,650 metres

NLAW

150mm anti-tank missile

1

600 metres

Javelin

127mm HEAT

1

2,500 metres

HVM

130mm canister

1 – 8

1,000 – 5,500 metres

Know Your Army - MOD - British Army
Pathfinders with the Parachute Regiment jump out of C130 Hercules during training in Ukraine – notice the Cold Canada C8 under the arm of the soldier in the foreground (picture: MOD)

Finally, the Army also has a number of heavier support weapons.

The first of these is the L118 Light Gun, a towed artillery piece that resembles the towed field guns of the Army’s history, though it is in fact technically a howitzer, rather than a traditional field gun. The latter fire at lower, flatter trajectories and are more likely to engage a target directly, whereas howitzers have their barrels set at a steeper angle, and therefore tend to fire on targets indirectly at a steeper trajectory, with the artillery round arcing up before gravity sends it down again, where it falls on top of the target.

As well as being towed, the L118 can also be hoisted into position by a Chinook helicopter. It is manned by eight regiments within the Royal Artillery, four Regular and four Reserve. Of the Regular regiments, one of these – 7 Regiment Royal Horse Artillery – supports the Parachute Regiment, and another, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, supports the Royal Marines. (29 Commando is discussed in relation to the Royal Marines as a whole here).

There is also the AS90, a kind of self-propelled artillery (or, more accurately, self-propelled gun – since the AS90 is also a howitzer.)

These weapons move themselves into position on tracks and, being armoured, look a lot like tanks - though their role is to support a battle rather than participate in it directly, as a tank would. (For more on the differences between self-propelled artillery and tanks, as well more on the AS90, click here). The AS90 is capable of a top speed of 33 miles per hour, and a driving range of 261 miles before needing to be refuelled.

The AS90 fires a 155mm shell, and has an automated loading system, so that even though it fires one round at a time, it can still fire up to three rounds in under 10 seconds.

The M270B1 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS), meanwhile, is a kind of armoured, self-propelled rocket artillery, hauled into position on top of a modified Bradley Fighting Vehicle chassis, which has a driving range of 398 miles.

According to the MOD, the GMLRS has pinpoint accuracy and can deliver its 200-lb surface-to-surface rockets to targets at double the range of other artillery systems within the British Army, and at a rate of fire of 12 rockets a minute.

Know Your Army - MOD - British Army
A Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System shown in use by 101 Regiment, Royal Artillery (picture: MOD)

The Army also has the Rapier, or more precisely the Rapier Field Standard C air defence system, which can strike up to two attacking enemy aircraft simultaneously, be they planes, helicopters, cruise missiles or UAVs with its surface-to-air missiles.

Rapier is being replaced by Sky Sabre, or CAMM (Common Anti-Air Modular Missile.) It is already in service with the Royal Navy aboard Type 23 Frigates and is known as Sea Ceptor, while the Army variant is known as Land Ceptor.

The Army also have two UAVs – the Desert Hawk, which provides surveillance, and the Tarantula Hawk, which the Army uses for countering IEDs.

A Comparison Of Heavy Support Weapons Used By The Army:

Weapon

Calibre

Magazine/load capacity

Max effective range

L118 Light Gun

105mm shell

1 (at a time)

17,200 metres*

AS90

155mm shell

1 (at a time)

24,700 metres

GMLRS

200-lb rocket

12 rockets (in two 6-round pods)

70,000 metres

Rapier

2.25-metre-long, 45-kg missile

8 missiles

500 – 8,200 metres

*Range for HE, or High Explosive, rounds.

Know Your Army - MOD - British Army
A Rapier air defence system from 16 Regiment Royal Artillery deployed in Estonia (picture: MOD)

Click here to learn more about some of the ‘Dead Regiments’, the former regiments of the British Army. And to read the second and third parts of the Know Your Army series about land vehicles and boats and aircraft, click here and here.

And to learn about the Royal Navy, check out the Know Your Navy series here, here and here.

Cover image: Soldiers on a Light Close Reconnaissance Commanders Course in Brecon, Wales (picture: MOD)

Know Your Army - MOD - British Army
A Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle (picture: MOD)