Wednesday, November 28, 2007

COTS beats military procurement every time

Der Spiegel {http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,519953,00.html} has reported that the 20,000 per Euro per soldier infantry combat system the German Army has been trialling has been a failure. Soldiers complain the ITC is inadequate and the armour too heavy.

Frankly I am not surprised. The problem is military procurement is almost always an exercise in gold-plating. The result is non-standard technology that is expensive to maintain, and ends up far behind the technical facilities of commercial-off-the-shelf in no time. That said I see no problem with a 20,000 Euro per soldier infanty combat system. I assigned US$20,000 per combat soldier system in budgeting for my review of New Zealand defence/civil defence needs. This is a reasonable sum to spend in making sure a nations soldiers are as comfortable and safe as they can be.

In working through the available technology for the review of New Zealand forces {http://defence.allmedia.googlepages.com/infantrysystems} it soon became apparent that for ITC the technology was moving too quickly for it to be worth developing a hugely expensive solution. Thus all I proposed was a standard top-of-the-line waterproof sports wristwatch including metabolic sensors and GPS and a ruggedised PDA for carrying and exchanging map and mission data. A standard Television Equipment Associates air-link for individual soldiers and Harris radio could be linked into the PDA via the IP stack.

The object is to make the infantry information network simple rather than intensely robust. The principal applications are merely to exchange messages, map data and pictures. New Zealand forces are unlikely to be dealing with opponents who have sophisticated netwarfare systems and, if they are, they should not be so reliant on the technology that they don't know what to do without it.

When it comes to protection the most important aspects are camouflage and armour. New Zealand forces in Afghanistan have tended to borrow desert camouflage from other nations because their own disruption pattern uniform is patently out of place and out of date.

But I have been rather surprised, I have to admit, by the rather odd camouflage being adopted by a number of nations at present. In an era of global peacekeeping it seems strange that so many nations are adopting a woodland pattern when the liklihood of their being deployed in such terrain is rather remote. The German Flecktarn is one example but the Canadian Cadpat is not much better. The US army's new digital pattern seems to be designed to be equally obvious in all terrain settings. Of all the new digital camouflage patterns only the Marine Marpat patterns seem to be the only genuinely global pattern base. In video footage of Afghanistan I have seen the Marpat is distinctly less visible than other uniforms around it - perhaps a survival advantage - when foes have a choice of target!

It seems to me that military camouflage designers could do a lot worse than look to globalised animal species for inspiration. After all they have been evolving for millions of years - far longer than we have even been aware of camouflage.
None of these animals are green - not even the birds. All adopt a grey-brown fleck which blends very well into a wide range of terrain types.

Because the New Zealand Army is very small by world standards my review assumed more money should be spent on making the uniform comfortable and adaptable for climates from -40 to +40 degrees celsius. This is not commercial-off-the shelf but specialised. The benefit of investing in a uniform that can maintain user comfort and safety in a variety of terrains is worth the investment. There is not much of a technology risk associated with clothing as the industry is very good at mass production and scale-up.

When it comes to ballistic protection I concluded that the sensible thing to do was to go where the mercenaries go. After all a mercenaries top priority is survival. Survival means first being quick enough to get out of the way with enough resistance to minimise serious damage. There is no point earning US$1000 a day if you can only spend it from the comfort of your wheelchair. Once again the small size of the New Zealand force meant that it was better value to buy the best than save 20%. The only exception to this was the standard US Army kevlar helmet which is adopted largely to improve IFF - American soldiers not being very good at distinguishing between non-American friends or foes.

When it came to weaponry I concluded that a small force should simply not compromise. Special forces should have the US SCAR while irregular (territorial) forces needed the simplicity and ease of use of the SAR-21. Auxiliaries need a weapon that can be holstered - that suggested the mini-Uzi. These may be more expensive than your bog-standard infantry weapon but the order size was not large as New Zealand rarely deploys more than a company, and almost never a battalion.

The New Zealand force as I envisaged it would have more in common with commercial armies than the bloated public service organisations most countries (including New Zealand) tend to operate. That is it would operate excellent quality survival systems and commercial level infomatics but not get drawn into Quixotic quests for the perfect infantry combat system.

As the German experience has demonstrated in the end it comes down to what the soldier in the field thinks. If he (or she) is wearing a uniform that keeps him (or her) comfortable and safe, has not been compromised by penny pinching, and is as close to what he (or she) would choose for themselves with the same budget, then you will have their confidence. Inflict impractical rubbish on them and you have their emnity. That is not good for morale or retention.

In a world where private armies are rapidly attracting away the best and brightest soldiers it is essential that national armies think less about the needs of the general staff and potential headlines and more about the man or woman on the ground. Infantry combat systems need to be designed from the ground up to be comfortable, safe and simple to operate in demanding environments.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fighting fires

How funny. According to this story {http://www.stuff.co.nz/4291957a11.html} on Stuff the Army has managed to burn 600 hectares of tussock and scrub by firing live rounds at it in the middle of a drought.

Stupid enough perhaps, but then it has to hire four civilian helicopters to help put the fire out! That's about 4 x $1500 = $6000/hr or $10/hectare per hour for what benefit? Once again the single-minded pursuit of military objectives by our defence force shows up the failings of our defence thinking.

This raises all sorts of obvious questions:
1. Was there a pressing need to fire explosives in the middle of a drought?
2. What sort of army fire-fighting resources were standing-by in case of fire?
3. What sort of fire-fighting resources does the force have anyway?

The simple fact is the army doesn't have much in the way of fire-fighting resources anyway. They have a few old fire-tenders, mostly for responding to fires around their own camps. Ohakea has crash tenders but obviously they have to remain available for the airforce - especially the C-130s who might need them.

The reason the army isn't really equipped to mount fire-fighting operations is that it isn't the army's main role. The army is there to kill people and blow things up. Fighting fires is the role of the fire service.

The review I carried out takes a completely different view. Because it is predicated on an all hazards response force the ability to fight fires is very much part of the force design. This ranges from the 3 IL-76MF transport aircraft, the 2 Mi-26 heavy lift helicopters and the MAN SX 8x8 fire/watercannon platoon. Obviously the EH101 and A109M helicopters would also be capable of fire-fighting.

The IL-76 is a very well regarded waterbomber and even the US Forest Service has called for IL76s to be used to fight US forest fires over their own C-130s because the intensity of the heavier payload extinguishes fires more completely. The Mi-26 can carry 10 tonnes of water at a time as indeed can the MAN SX 8x8 fire appliance. Put together the Mi-26's could keep the MAN SX tenders supplied with water or dump it directly on the fire.

The reason the hypothetical force is equipped for fire is simple. The hypothetical force is meant to be able handle all hazards. While fire is properly the domain of the fire service in the event of a major earthquake the fire service could well be overloaded. More to the point the availability of reticulated water would be compromised. Fire is the biggest destroyer of property after earthquakes as was proven in San Francisco in 1906, Tokyo in 1923 and indeed Napier in 1931.

Of course it is also possible that civilian services are cheaper than using force personnel. In my view this should not be the case. The defence force might be marginally more expensive in terms of dollars per hour due to a quality premium but there is no reason why they should be that much more. In fact one big Mi-26's plus the MAN SXs may well be cheaper to operate than four smaller choppers. And more to the point it can also be considered an impromptu training exercise if fire fighting is part of the force's overall remit.

So there we have it. Our existing force sets fire to hillsides and has to hire civilians to deal with it. The hypothetical force, were it dumb enough to forget the fire risk (stupidity being a human constant) could at least respond quickly with its own equipment to contain the damage if needed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Domestic terrorism

The evidence presented to the Manukau District Court on the Tuhoe Terrorists or 'Guerillas in the mist' revealed in the Dominion Post this morning quite clearly shows that these people were modelling themselves on Al Qaeda or the IRA.

Even if the apparent ease with which authorities monitored their rather teenage enthusiasm for mayhem indicates that these people were always more of a threat to themselves and their friends and family than they ever were to society the fact is that the intention to terrorise New Zealand was there.

Why?

There is a world of difference between the business violence of criminal gangs and the anarchic violence of terrorists. Criminal gangs are essentially into making money by pushing the edges of civil society. But without the boundaries of civil society they are out of business. If cannabis were legalised the criminal gangs would soon lose their market share to well-heeled corporates. Criminal gangs rely on the Police to keep the rest of society in line so they can maximise their advantages at the boundaries.

By contrast terrorists like the IRA, INLA, RAF, the Nazis, Hamas or El Qaeda are at war with the state. They will mimic criminal gangs in their methods but their objective is not to get rich and retire (like Michael Corleone) but to destroy the soveriegn organisation of a nation and replace it with another. They are fundamentally opposed to some of the structures on which the United Nations rests.

The motivation of criminal gangs is simple: greed, anger and lust, are the main deadly sins. But the motivation of terrorists is almost always based on a belief that negotiation with a state is impossible. That the only way to bring the state to negotiate is to kill people and blow things up.

Why do Tuhoe believe they cannot negotiate with the Crown?

Well the fact is the Crown has been cynically stiffing Maori since Labour came to power in 1999. The Treaty negotiation process started by Doug Graham has stalled and Labour has allowed the treasury to deliberately exploit the delays to the State's advantage. The good will which existed in the 90s has evaporated to a rather deep frost and Maori are bloody angry.

The good news is Maori are not really interested in terrorism. It is obvious that these would be terrorists were penetrated by informants and skeptics a very long time ago. These informants and skeptics were obviously crucial to planting the bugs that gathered the evidence presented in court. Some of these informants may be Police informants anyway, while others were simply scared by the enormous stupidity of trying to start a guerilla war in their own back yard.
But the bad news is there is no indication that the Government has learned a thing from this unusual conspiracy. To date its sole reaction has been to propose increasing the powers of the Minister in charge of the SIS (The PM) and amend the fatally flawed terrorism legislation it pushed through. None of this addresses the issue.

Look at it this way. If the terrorists had got off the ground and you were given the job of eliminating them how would you go about it?

The nation with the most success in defeating terrorism is Great Britain. It defeated the Malay insurgents, the Yemeni insurgents in the Aden and the IRA/INLA.

How?

In every case it simply made not fighting more profitable than fighting. In the case of the IRA/INLA it was more the success of the Bertie Ahern government in attracting direct inward investment to the Republic than the success of MI5/6 and the Paras that stopped the bombings and killings. In the other two cases the counter-insurgency force combined rapid armed response and enlisting local support (in a way the Americans so spectacularly failed to do in Vietnam) to deny the terrorists the hearts and minds support they desperately needed.
So if your mission had been to deal with Tuhoe terrorists one of the most important steps you would have to take would have been to isolate them by providing an alternative form of hope.

One could say that such a step plays into the hands of terrorists, but in fact it doesn't. Terrorists are people who want to spread terror. They like bombing and killing. They will only get support if it seems (in the famous phrase of Margaret Thatcher) There IS No Alternative. If there is an alternative to the bitter business of civil war most people will opt for it.

This is where the role of the executive and the guardian of the constitution (and commander of the defence force) need careful consideration.

In my view the defence force has a legitimate role in combating terror - homegrown or otherwise. Its role is the big stick. The role of the Police, however should be to be the ones who talk softly. The Police should not be playing stormtroopers. The only time you need anyone with automatic weapons and body armour is when someone is actually shooting people. If they are terrorists then the armed forces are the experts and should be called upon.

How does one distinguish between criminals and terrorists? In my view it is actually quite simple. Terrorists are illegally armed with military style weapons such as machine guns and including biological weapons (that kill stock, crops or their biological support structures), WMDs, Molotov cocktails and bombs. Criminals are armed with illegal pesticides, pistols, shotguns and hunting rifles. The difference is the terror of indiscriminate mass murder or economic sabotage instead of criminal murder. If you have equipped yourself with weapons of mass murder you are a terrorist. This cuts through all the legal palaver about who formed an intent to do what when and how. It means Police deal with assassins with hunting rifles and the military take down anyone armed to carry out indiscriminate killing. Certainly this might make terrorists of criminal gangs but frankly I cannot see why anyone would want to argue for the right of the Mongrol Mob to carry machine guns or make fertiliser bombs. Similarly while the executive may consider assassinations terrorism the average person regards has little patience with "l'etat, c'est mois" type declarations and regards them as simple murder of one individual by another.

However the guardian of the constitution should only deply the big stick when the state is actually threatened and, moreover, should also consider removing the chief executive if their policies are contributing to the instability. Their interest is solely to preserve the state as an institution.

There is no doubt that terrorism is a new kind of warfare that requires a very deep reconsideration between the rights of citizens to dissent and the ability of the state to preserve the rule of law. New Zealand is not alone in being tested in this regard and there should be a good deal more debate about it than there has been to date.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Change to Hypothetical comparison force

The recent news that the airforce's A109M helicopter acquisition was not to be included in the NH-90 order, and in fact adds another $110 million to defence capital has led me to a quick skip through my study to see if there is anything I would have spent another $110 million on, had I had it.

I took a short look at COIN/Trainers such as the Embraer AT-29, the Raytheon T-6 (PC9) and the Pilatus PC21 but came rapidly to the conclusion that the threat from suicidal civilian pilots could either be met by the Falcon maritime patrol jet or wouldn't be met at all. While the need for aircraft to beat up fleeing fishing boats could be met by simply putting an HMG pod on a DHC-6.

Instead I revisited the question of maritime security.

I confess I was struck recently by a documentary showing the HMNZS Manawanui plodding around the Ocean inspecting the paperwork of fishing vessels. Two things struck me about this. The first was that for such a routine operation this was far too far out to sea (over 200nm) for an EH101 to be used. The second was the sad part when the Manawanui (max speed 11 knots) could not catch a foreign fishing boat that refused to acknowledge its radio messages and slipped away.

Project Protector has allowed for two Offshore Patrol Vessels (Wellington launched last week and Otago). My hypothetical force allowed for two OPVs as well (based on the more capable Norwegian OPV design of the KV Svalbard class). While the hypothetical force would also have survey vessels these would be busy and may not have time for maritime security.

It also seemed to me that two deep sea patrol vessels seemed very few for the fourth largest EEZ in the world. Ireland has eight and only a fraction of our maritime territory.

Happily the answer was already in the study. With the extra allowance I have added two Environmental Protection Vessels of the Sarah Baartman class to the hypothertical force. This 83-metre OPV is perfect for our deep ocean fishery having good sea-keeping, heavy helicopter support, RHIB launch, oil-spill containment, towing capability and a 20-knot pursuit speed. Completed in 2004 Sarah Baartman cost the South African Department of Environment and Tourism US$19 million ! It has a small crew but can remain at sea for up to 45 days.

Moreover for missions to remote Pacific or southern ocean bases or islands the Sarah Baartman class vessel is ideal in that it can also carry six TEU containers. Replenishment missions to Raoul Island or Campbell Island quite apart from minor aid missions to Vanuatu etc would be well within the scope of this vessel.

Thus the hypothetical force now boasts four 80-metre vessels for maritime security in addition to the two maritime resources survey ships. Plus the hypothetical force is linked by heavy maritime helicopters able to operate at up to 200 nautical miles from land for extended periods.

Once again the counterfactual force can deliver significantly more useful capability for the money than the actual one.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Airforce A109Ms


The Royal New Zealand Airforce has recently announced it is spending $110 million to acquire five new A109M helicopters and a flight simulator.

The A109M is an excellent light military helicopter. Originally designed for search and rescue it has also been adapted into a missile platform for the anti-tank role, and is used widely as a light naval helicopter as well. Being small it is readily air and sea lifted with minimal adaption.

In fact the A109M is such an excellent helicopter it raises questions about why the Airforce bought so few of them versus so many NH-90s, and the future of the Kaman Seasprites.

To remind readers the Airforce acquired eight TTH-NH-90s (plus one for parts) for $750 million. That's roughly US$40 million per helicopter plus odds and ends, training, manuals, flight simulators etc. All for a helicopter that can carry 24 passengers or two tonnes.

Now the A109M can only carry six passengers and one tonne. But the real point is you get four of them for the same money as a TTH and it is far more flexible. It can carry AT-missiles or be equipped as an air ambulance. Plus, if you lose one, you haven't lost a goodly portion of your airforce. It all comes down to what you see as the main role of the helicopter.

The TTH is a utility chopper for carrying half a platoon or a very light vehicle (but probably not a Pinzgauer). It is too light to be a heavy lift chopper for any meaty loads and too heavy to be wasted on recon, air ambulance etc. In my view this is the wrong sort of machine to base your fleet on.

Light tasks require a lot of nippy light choppers. Hauling infantry from place to place is a very small part of what you want a helicopter for. Sometimes all its there to do is observe. Small choppers can drop small teams, provide low risk contact with outlying posts or operate from smaller areas. They are perfect for special forces based deployments.

For heavy tasks you need seriously big beasts. Heliharvest Ltd operates New Zealand's largest helicopters including Mi-8s and Boeing Vertol (Chinook's) quite successfully and has provided civil assistance in both Timor and after the Boxing Day Tsunami in South East Asia. If you want to move a platoon or a vehicle you need something bigger than an NH-90 and it wouldn't have costed that much more either.

But perhaps the (rather belated) interest in a better equipped airforce shows one thing that is seriously wrong with defence spending in New Zealand. And that is each arm of the armed services tendency to run to treasury whenever they think they have a need and enough politial support. Where is the capital cap on the Defence Force in toto? Does the Navy have to trade off against the Army or the Airforce or do they all just have to take turns on a thirty year cycle: first the Navy then the Army and then the Air Force? IS there an overall cap? Or can the defence force expand and expand its capital just because its kit has worn out and it prefers one set of goodies to all the others?

In theory the capital cost of operating the defence force is operationalised into the annual budget cycle. But it would be perfectly feasible to buy a huge catelogue of shiny equipment and then never use it operationally because there's no budget. IS the intention to expand the defence force budget to 1% of GDP? My study showed that this can be justified but only if half of the force is tasked with concern for civil emergencies including biological hazards and similar national risks.

One can only endorse the Airforce's decsion to go with the A109M but the worry is that it has bought it for all the wrong reasons.