Thursday, 24 July 2014

Mistral for the Royal Navy? Other Goodies?

Yesterday I saw a post over at Think Defence that got me thinking again about an old idea which I'd like to revisit today. 

Before I do though, a fresh article on TD today brought to light the plight of a former soldier who had hit hard times and died, with part of the blame being thrown on the benefits system for cutting his jobseekers allowance, an act which appears to have put him in financially hard straights and might be a contributory factor in his death.

With the end of operations in Afghanistan this year, the UK armed forces are shifting to what is hoped will be a wind down phase, where the immediate pressure on resources is slackened, at least until the end of the decade. That of course presumes that no other problems crop up, but presuming they don't, then what will be the great challenge for the armed forces between 2015-2020?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Great Internet Calibre debate, part 1,651,198....

If you want to kick off a lively discussion on a military based website then you have several choices. Aircraft carriers are one. Inter-service rivalries are another. Probably the grand daddy of them all though is to talk about gun calibres with respect to service rifles. It can get very heated at times.

The problem with such discussions is that it's very easy to make an unsupported assertion based on "common knowledge", but it takes a long time to systematically refute such arguments in the sort of detail that is required to satisfy even casual observers who have no dog in the fight. It's almost impossible to turn a "believer" against their chosen opinion, even with large quantities of what is practically irrefutable data.

One of the reasons I started this blog was so I could essentially write such responses in one place and then in future just drop a link to save myself much typing. Today I'm going to do just that for the infantry calibre debate, something that if you include underlying research I've been working on now for many years.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Nearly done

I'm currently closing in on the end of my next post. Perhaps another day to finish it? It's been a labour of love.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The F-35 in the "Dogfight"

So the other day I was watching a video which appears (cant be verified) to be a lecture about the performance of the Indian SU-30MKI at a previous Red Flag exercise in the US. The lecturer makes some interesting points and ends the session by refusing to be drawn into a debate about the F-35, presumably for time considerations.

I'll stick a link to the videos at the end, but suffice it to say that it doesn't seem to bode well for what is probably history's most maligned (and most talked about) defence project. 

Now I've been a sort of fence sitter with regards to the F-35. I think the concept behind it was deeply flawed (due to the VTOL requirement) and the procurement program has been an utter mess. But ultimately I'm not as down as most on what should come out the other end. 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Further thoughts on the A-10/Close Air Support issue

Every now and again I like to check the traffic sources for the blog to see who's out there and who's linking to the site. I noticed one link from Canada and followed it back to find a Canadian Army forum where people were discussing the issue of the A-10, who should own them and the general nature of Close Air Support (CAS).

Looking at it they seem to be having quite an interesting back and forth, and it occurred to me there were some points in there worth exploring a little further as they tend to crop up commonly in similar discussions elsewhere.

Now I don't want to jump into a forum where I'm unknown (and probably unwanted) to unexpectedly start handing out my opinions on a single topic before disappearing again, and I think the discussion has a wide appeal being that it effects most militaries (the subject of CAS that is), so I'm just going to lay those thoughts down here. If someone on the forum in question wants to link back to this - or to simply copy and paste sections they believe are germane to their discussion - then by all means do so.

Friday, 27 June 2014

The A-10 retirement

So when it comes to blogs, generally keeping them up to date is quite important, World Cup and other distractions being quite a problem!

One thing that caught my eye the other day when looking at something else was an article about the A-10 being retired by the USAF, a move which I believe has now been blocked. The article was quite rabid in its defence of the old Thunderbolt II, but ultimately I think misguided. Link here.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The situation in Iraq

You'll have to forgive me for being a bit late to the Iraqi party but I had a tooth extracted the other day and have been in some considerable pain, along with the usual time pressures. Commenting here and over at Think Defence has been about all I could handle, along with watching the World Cup.

But I have the opportunity now to sit and write for a bit (Switzerland vs Ecuador not exactly being a clash of the titans) and so I'd like to touch on the situation in Iraq because much guff has been written about it so far.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Quality vs Quantity

An old debate in military circles, one that's practically guaranteed to stir up opposing opinions.

Is it better to have a smaller number of high quality items such as advanced warships, or is it better to have a more numerous collection of less high tech types, relying on numbers and the quality of the crews to make the difference.

It's a debate that frankly never seems to end, nor is it ever likely to. The most recent favourite subject of this discussion tends to be the Lockheed Martin F-35, with opinions varying wildly about whether it is an expensive weight around the neck of the USAF and others, or whether it is the future of aerial warfare and the new benchmark for multi-role fighter design.

So which is better, quality or quantity?

Monday, 19 May 2014

Devolved/Mission type tactics

Recently I mentioned that I had just finished Heinz Guderian's book "Achtung, Panzer!". Well the next book on my reading list happened to be "The Rommel Papers", a book about Erwin Rommel's actions during the second world war, made up of a combination of Rommel's own narrative and notes that he recorded, letters he wrote home to his wife, and commentary from Basil Liddell-Hart who edited the book (as well as contributions from Rommel's son Manfred and one of his general's, whose name escapes me right now). In that spirit today I'd like to look at an interesting and much debated concept with relation to military matters; mission command. 

Friday, 9 May 2014

The incident in Nigeria and Forward Engagement

Right, sorry about the delays. Busy, busy bee.

But here we are and today I thought it'd be interesting to pick up a story that's doing the rounds in the news about the girls who have been kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram.

I find this story interesting for two reasons. Firstly because it's taken the media this long to cotton on to the unstable situation in northern Nigeria, something that's been going on for years now (my fourth post on this blog back in 2012 mentioned them in passing). And secondly because this could be the first test of the fabled "Forward Engagement" strategy developed for the UK's armed forces and in particular the army's Adaptable Force concept.

Forward Engagement (henceforth in this article "FE") is at its heart the acknowledgement that one of the critical mistakes made in Afghanistan was made even before the September 11th attacks took place. 

For years after the withdrawal of Russian forces from the country the international community largely lost interest in Afghanistan. The rise of the Taliban was not a sudden event and there was plenty of opportunities to cut it off at the pass before it took power. Throughout its reign over the country there were also a multitude of opportunities to combat it.

I've written in the past about Ahmad Shah Massoud (scroll about half way down that link) and the missed opportunity to fight the Taliban - and by extension Al Qaeda - for want of a bit of cash and some exported expertise. The FE strategy appears to be the contemporary response to this sort of problem.

Otherwise known as "capacity building", the FE strategy is designed to tackle global security problems at an early stage before they become more serious and as such would require a much larger (and more expensive) response. This is where the half of the British army known as the Adaptable Force (henceforth "AF") comes in.

The AF has among its many roles the remit to provide troops for training and supporting the security forces/military of foreign powers that are of interest to the UK. The idea works very simply; if you can train local friendly forces to handle problems on their own soil themselves, then you don't need to deploy large contingents of British troops and their equipment (at great expense) later on.

So far the UK, along with the US and others, has sent "experts" to Nigeria to help in the hunt for the missing girls. Quite who those experts are and whether they are military or civilian is not known. What will be interesting though is whether this incident - and the media coverage that has accompanied it - will prompt the British government to give the AF its first test.

Nigeria is one of the key economies in Africa. For all the talk about countries like South Africa as future players in the global game, Nigeria is closing in on it fast and is growing at almost three times the rate each year. Inward investment has been significant and will likely remain so into the future. The country is also one of the top international oil exporters to the USA.

But in order for that investment and economic growth to continue, security must be assured. Boko Haram has been steadily consolidating its control over areas of northern Nigeria and continues to press its activities further south with each passing month. As the number and severity of attacks against government forces and infrastructure continues to increase, so investors will become more jittery.

Ultimately at the minute Boko Haram doesn't have the capability to challenge the Nigerian government in a full scale battle for control of the nation. But with each year that ticks by the group grows larger, stronger and bolder. If left sufficiently unmolested to evolve into something bigger it could present a serious problem in the long run. 

It need not even attempt to wrestle for control of the country to be a danger to the West. Just the mere act of providing a safe haven for the training of terrorists could pose a threat to the security of countries like Britain and the United States, especially as groups like Al Qaeda look for new homes in which to settle. 

If Boko Haram were able to grow to a point where it could try to declare independence for northern Nigeria, much as the Tuareg's attempted in Mali, then there is not a huge amount the Nigerian government would be capable of doing to stop it alone. Even the existence of a simple de facto partition with Boko Haram controlling the north (as is happening already) would be a cause for concern.

Enter the AF.

With training, logistical, communications and intelligence support provided by the UK and the US, the Nigerian forces should be able to mitigate the problem to a certain degree. Would they completely drive out all members of Boko Haram and other imported extremists? Maybe, maybe not. 

But as long as pressure is applied and the activities of such groups are limited then that is sufficient. To deny them the opportunity to achieve stability and safety, the chance to grow their support base and manpower, and the chance to grow their financial assets, is to prevent the problem from escalating beyond control.

"A stitch in time saves nine" as the saying goes.

In this case the stitch sewn by a composite force of soldiers from the AF in a capacity building role could prevent a gaping hole from forming later that would need plugging with many boots on the ground, blood, and a lot of cash. Will Her Majesty's ministers spot the danger early and take the opportunity to test the new concept? 

I'm reminded of another phrase; there's no time like the present...