Being at the forefront of shaping the British Army’s future fighting force is no lean responsibility.
Add to that £120million worth of new kit and equipment, plus the unique title of Enhanced Light Force Battalion (ELFB) and the new status for 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment begins to emerge.
For Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel James Ashworth, the opportunity is one that he and his soldiers relish.
“It’s not only a huge privilege to command a battalion that’s been entrusted with such a financial investment, but with such a conceptual investment to redesign and reimagine how we will fight in the future.
“With that privilege comes an enormous responsibility to get it right and for the benefit of the rest of the fighting force of the British Army.”
Lt Col Ashworth took over the battalion in August, 2020, and was previously part of the team that wrote the Future Soldier proposition as part of the Integrated Review.
“The soldiers are thrilled to have the opportunity to use this new kit. It gives them a real sense of purpose here in Cyprus, above and beyond what they’re normally asked to do." Lieutenant Colonel James Ashworth, Commanding Officer 2 YORKS.
2 YORKS arrived in Cyprus late into 2020 to provide the security and protection of strategic assets on the island as the resident battalion, but also to maintain very high readiness ready to respond to contingency and emergency events across the region.
Their ELFB role involves testing cutting-edge technology as architects of how the British Army will fight and win in the future. This has initially seen work with the new A3 rifle, the ARILLS sight that combines both Image Intensifying and Thermal capabilities, as well as the Dismounted Situational Awareness technology that brings unrivalled connectivity between soldiers and their commanders.
More recently, the battalion has received a fleet of six Robotic Platoon Vehicles (RPV) designed to decrease the burden on soldiers in the field, with the ability to take on heavy loads of kit, equipment and aid casualty evacuation.
Lt Col Ashworth said: “We’ve got enhanced weaponry and enhanced sights so we can see and target the enemy better, predominantly at night time, but also at day. But perhaps the most exciting part is our remote autonomous systems and such as robotic vehicles and unmanned aerial systems, helping to combine those capabilities to see how we can improve our lethality on the battlefield.”
“The soldiers are thrilled to have the opportunity to use this new kit. It gives them a real sense of purpose here in Cyprus, above and beyond what they’re normally asked to do. Our young soldiers are being told their voice is going to count and their experiences with this kit will help shape how we fight in the future - it’s a tremendous privilege to have.”
So, why has 2 YORKS been chosen for this role?
“The reason is multi-faceted,” said Lt Col Ashworth. “Being out here in Cyprus has factored into that.”
“We have a company rotation and that means we are able to generate a company’s worth of soldiers to do this trial and experimentation and having that stability of programme is a real asset.
“You then have what is a world-class training environment here in Cyprus: arid, hot and demanding conditions equivalent to places we may be operating in around the world.
“2 YORKS has also got huge operational credibility and relevance, having just done two tours of Afghanistan as well as two battlegroup exercises, so that makes for the ideal combination when you consider our new ELFB role.
“It’s all about enhancing light-force lethality. As you look across the resume of British Army operations, increasingly, light forces have a significant role to play and we’re trying to enhance that operational credibility and capability.
“It’s about trying to bring capability acquisition into the fielded force in a much more agile and quicker fashion. From the start of this programme right through to the end, we will have revolutionised how a light-force battalion will fight in less than three years. I think that’s a great example for the rest of the Army.
“The Future Soldier concept is about the integration of machines and humans into that single team. It’s about enhancing mass. Yes, the Army is going to get smaller in numerical terms, but that should not mean, and won’t mean, a reduction in capability.
“Our young soldiers will face less challenges because they absolutely get the integration of machine augmentation into their daily living.”
Lt Col Ashworth added: “Key to sustaining and fully exploiting this experimentation will be maintaining connection to groups in the UK such as Tommyworks, Defence And Security Accelerator (DASA), Infantry Trials and Development Unit (ITDU) and the Expeditionary Robotics Centre of Expertise (ERCoE).
For Lt Col Ashworth, the culmination of the experimental phase 2YORKS are leading on will help galvanise the whole battlefield approach.
He said: “The question then is, how do our medics interact with this kit and equipment? How do our logisticians? It’s got to be a fully integrated system. We know that, we learned that in Afghanistan and the danger is that just as an infantry battalion out here in Cyprus all our trials and experimentation is just focussed around the pointy end of the bayonet, the front end.
“That would be a missed opportunity and the challenge for our junior commanders is to bring in their expertise and opinions around the whole battlefield approach.”