Monday, October 29, 2007

The Economist catches on

The Economist has a new lead out featuring the latest thinking from the Pentagon on dealing with insurgency: http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=10024437

Its amazing its taken the Pentagon so bloody long to work out what everyone else already knew: The military task is innately political and in an assymetric war the role of troops is more complex than simply killing anyone who might look like a "bad guy" (because in assymmetric warfare pretty soon everyone looks like a bad guy)

New Zealanders have an innate understanding of this, perhaps inherited from the British. The British Army was extremely successful in assymmetric wars in Malaya and Yemen. Many New Zealand soldiers served in Malaya where they learned the dual role of soldiers in befriending the populace and demoralising the opposition. By contrast the US has never learned the lesson and after storming in guns blazing has been sent packing with its tail between its legs repeatedly over the past 50 years.

The weird thing is that while the NZDF does assymmetric warfare well, due in large part to the quality of its officers and soldiers, it persists in maintaining a doctrine and an approach to equipment which persists with World War Two thinking about fire and manouvre. Thus we have soldiers in Afghanistan who are largely equipped as Americans because none of our equipment can be readily transported there and because it isn't what's wanted anyway.

Take the LAV-III, the brother of the Stryker. It is always a combat vehicle because it has a very expensive 25mm cannon weapons system mounted on the turret. Its hard to be low key when you are armed to the teeth. A demountable weapons system is far more flexible, takes up less internal room and allows the armoured vehicle to be used for less aggressive operations without annoying anyone. Running supplies through dodgy roads or acting as an armoured ambulance are two functions which come to mind.

The Pinzgauer could also meet this role, but isn't to be found in Afghanistan much either, for the obvious reason that it has no logistic support whereas Humvees and Landcruisers have plenty. Once again we spend large sums of taxpayers money on a vehicle programme only to end up having to rent some other kind of vehicle (Humvee or Landcruiser) for operational reasons because the vehicles we bought are too expensive to operate on remote deployments.

In my view there is rather a lot of army vehicles sitting around just to make a bunch of hairy-chested blokes feel better about themselves being in a "real army". A far more sensible use of the funds would have been to acquire readily deployable vehicles which meets all the challenges of assymetric warfare including the humanitarian aspect in the first place.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Steyr goes off wounding two

Yet another report of a NZDF soldiers Steyr rifle going off accidentally in Afghanistan. This time while in a Humvee ( curious that we never hear of Pinzgauers over there).

Last time this happened the soldiers involved were charged. However it is well known that the Austeyr rifle is not the safest combat rifle in the world. I very well remember a presentation by Lt Colonel Haynes of the Logistic Support Regiment back in the 90s describing how a Steyr went automatic on a soldier on a rifle range and he simply couldn't stop it discharging the entire magazine. This was due to a manufacturing fault. Since then there have been numerous reports of "unexpected discharges" from the rifles, notably in Afghanistan.

The AusSteyr was selected purely because the Australians were buying/making it and New Zealand tried once again to piggy back on the the Australian military instead of thinking for itself. There is no reason why New Zealand had to buy Australian, or, for that matter even make its own, as Singapore has done most effectively with the SAR-21.

Another reason for choosing the Steyr is that the army believes it needs to equip six battalions of territorials with combat rifles! As we will never field six battalions of territorials (the most we have ever had on active duty is about 1,500) it seems very odd that we have selected a relatively cheap personal weapon when, for a not much more, we could equip our troops with the very best.

Only when the size and mission of defence force is properly balanced against economic risk will we end up with an organisation that is scaled appropriately. Once it is recognised that our forces come in effectively three levels:
1. special forces - of which we need many more
2. territorials - of whom we need a good many less
3. auxiliaries ( i.e drivers, medics, engineers etc)
then we can think about equipping them appropriately. My pick is the US Special Operations Command FN 5.56mm rifle for the special forces, the Singapore SAR-21 5.56mm for the territorials, and the Mini-Uzi 9mm for those who need a weapon but will normally keep it holstered. That way the special forces guys get the level of specialist kit they need, the territorials get a weapon that is very tolerant to user error (its a Kalashnikov mechanism with factory zeroed sights) and the auxiliaries get a weapon that is easy to keep near-by even when busily driving or building things.

Of course its always possible for people to forget basic weapons safety but accidents like this are much less likely when the weapons are well made and much more closely match the needs of their users.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What's a molotov cocktail between friends?

The recent reports that a band of disaffected 'activists' have been playing commandos in the Uraweras should not, on the face of it, have middle New Zealand shaking in its shoes. After all boys will be boys and I'm sure they all came home feeling very excited and invigorated.

And certainly the liberal press has been yapping around the ankles of Police Commissioner Hoard Broad demanding to know where the terrorism charges are, and whether or not the Police have cocked up here and there, acting like stormtroopers.

For the Police have been casting their net, in their search for the "guerillas in the mist" (as the Dompost so brilliantly described the largely Tuhoe gathering) very widely. No doubt some have enjoyed a bit of good old fashioned stormtrooping to give their otherwise often depressing and annoying occupation a bit of a lift.

But in my view it comes down to this. You can be real pissed off about the failure of the Clark government to progress treaty claims. You can hold demonstrations. You can denounce the Government publically and even shoot the flag if you like. But when you make a molotov cocktail, fertiliser bomb or acquire an automatic weapon illegally you have crossed the line. You are a terrorist by definition.

The only reason for having automatic weapons, bombs and molotov cocktails is to kill or threaten people. That is about spreading terror. I don't care if criminal gangs have armed themselves with such weapons in the past, because as far as I'm concerned they are terrorists as well. The difference between a terrorist and other forms of political violence is discrimination. Terrorists are indiscrimminate. They don't care how many innocents are killed in the process of political action. Terrorists are into maximising 'collateral damage'. And I have no pity for terrorists. In my view they are combatants.

Fighting terrorism is never an exact science. Intelligence can be very fuzzy. The rule of thumb must always be to under-play the situation but be ready to escalate it very very quickly. In my view the Police have got it wrong. They have over-played the situation from the outset. They have upset people by doing the stormtrooper thing.

In my view the Police should go into these people's houses quietly but firmly and carry out their searches with the minimum of drama and the maximum of cooperation. They should be told, politely, if there is any resistance or the slightest sign of a threat the anti-terror squad will arrive in ten seconds. Military helicopters should defintely play a role.

Some might imagine that as the beginnings of a Police State. Under the current constitutional role of the Defence Force at present that might be a fair accusation. It will certainly be one reason the Defence Force will not be involved. But in my view however there is no reason why the military should not be involved in supporting anti-terrorism operations. Terrorism goes beyond policing because it is an attack on the ability of the state to enforce the law. It is contesting the sovereignty of the state and the state has a valid recourse to military force where its sovereignty is challenged.

This does require a degree of constitutional and organisational change however. The military must have a direct responsibility to the upholding of democracy. Every soldier must be trained in the law and in their role in the maintance of democracy. Only those who choose to arm themselves as soldiers should ever need to fear being treated like enemy soldiers. There is no room for armed political gangs running around New Zealand as they did in the Weimar Republic. The army must be the sole repository of political violence kept on the heavy chain of the law. Would be ursurpers must be discouraged, not indulged.

Counter-terrorism is a bit like peacekeeping. Firmness, politeness and the threat of immediate and massive retaliation are the only way to deal with people playing on the edges of terrorism. That way they see the fire they are playing with before its too late and have no grounds for nursing a grudge. For a grudge can be nursed into a very dangerous monster it is not nipped in the bud. Hopefully the Police have not started one growing through their recent heavy-handedness.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Shopping list - Transport planes

The Defence force has announced that it wants to spend over $1 billion more on new equipment over the next ten years. Top of the list is a fleet of new transport aircraft for the Airforce.

It has been obvious for some time that the Airforce has been biding its time waiting for the A400M to start production. The Airbus military aircraft is shortly about to make the transition from brochure-ware to hardware, removing any objections that might be proposed to its meeting a tender specification.

The typical approach by the NZDF when it has its eye on a specific bit of kit is to write the specification in such a way that there is only one possible complying option. That the Airforce has not followed the RAAF toward the C-130J spoke volumes about its intention to replace its aging C-130Hs. The Airbus is a larger aircraft able to carry more further than any of the C-130J variants (stretched or otherwise).

But while the Airbus certainly is a good aircraft it is going to be very expensive. At current prices around $200 million per unit. That would mean it would definitely cost $1 billion to replace all five C-130Hs.

And there is another alternative, which airforces the world over lease, but seem reluctant to buy. The IL-76MF, is even bigger, with an even longer range lands in the same footprint and could carry a tank to Fiji and back if needed ( if we had any tanks). Its main drawback, however, is that it is Russian, and our military, with their brains firmly rooted in the 1980s see that as too risky.

By contrast Jordan recently bought a pair of such aircraft for $US50 while the Indian airforce uses the IL76MF extensively.

Adding another $1 billion a year in capital will add another $100 million in capital costs to the NZDF's overhead. Evidently it thinks it will get the budget increase needed to cope with this without compromising its other efforts at growth.

This commentator remains convinced however that the NZDF is already unjustifiably large for a purely military role. Increasing its budget will make it roughly twice the size it ought to be compared to the threat.

In my view the NZDF should be a lot smaller, rely less on territorials, be far more canny about its purchasing and have a civil defence objective written into its doctrine. Only then will it fit into any rational threat envelope New Zealand may face.