Thursday, May 7, 2009

An AMV an AMV my Kingdom for an AMV!

As I write this a gunman named Jan Molenaar is holed up on Napier hill with a bunch of automatic weapons holding off 100 members of the New Zealand Police Force. He has been there for 30 hours and it must be a matter of time before he either gives himself up, kills himself, is killed or is surprised and arrested.

As always New Zealand Police are taking a softly softly approach to taking the man. The house has a 500m cordon around it and Police and taking it quietly rather than starting a shoot-out.
New Zealanders have the utmost respect for the mature way Police in this country handle armed stand-offs and do not endorse the Wild West attitude to firearms.

This is not entirely for good reasons. The New Zealand Police Armed Offenders Squad is not notable for its marksmanship. In recent incidents armed officers have demonstrated a remarkable inability to even hit a mad dog in a yard quite less a man trained in armed combat. Not only is the softly-softly approach less destructive it is also less likely to expose Police to potential embarassing failure.

But that said it is quite likely the man is suicidal and high on Methamphetamines. As such authorities are warning the seige could last days. That is days of serious inconvenience for about 150 people made homeless by the cordon as well as interruptions for the schooling of hundreds more children whose schools are in the danger zone.

Already Squadron Leader Kavae Tamariki has said his helicopters are standing by and available for Police if needed. In other words the principle that the Defence Force is available for such operations is established.

How bloody embarassing then that having spend several hundred million dollars on armoured vehicles the Army's LAV's are not much use in this situation. As pointed out in my defence review the LAV's 25mm cannon has no less than lethal option. Yes the LAVs can get close to this guy but if they fire they will rip the house (and probably a dozen houses behind it) to tiny bits.

The armoured Pinzgauer is not armoured well enough for anyone to be keen in getting close to a guy with a heavy rifle in one.

The vehicles recommended in my defence review included two well suited to this mission. The RG-31 is a big 4x4 protected against 7.62mmx51 AP ammunition at a distance with good windows and the ability to return fire from under cover. Even better armoured is the Patria AMV which could can be armoured to withstand 30mm APFS-DS ammunition. This vehicle could take 10 officers or soldiers right up to the house in complete confidence the gunman could do nothing to stop them.

The AMV could have 40mm grenade launcher slots for soldiers to fire rubber bullets, stun grenades, or CS gas. A regular dosing of CS gas would certainly start to make this guy even more uncomfortable than he is already. An AMV with a 40mm GL in the hull park outside and fire a canisters into the house on a regular basis.

With that kind of softening up hopefully nobody would have to risk their lives getting this guy to come out. He has killed enough people already. It is absurd that in specifying a vehicle for the armoured corps the defence force chose the LAV. It is fast with light armour and aggressive armament. The Polish Army's excellent experience with the AMV in Afghanistan shows that in a period of assymetric warfare heavy armour and flexible weapons options are needed.

One can only hope that neither the SAS nor the helicopter squadron, nor indeed the Police, have to lose any more staff because of the lack of imagination of the Defence Ministry and NZDF.

Afterword

Jan Molenaar held off Police for almost three days before finally committing suicide. Molenaar was armed with a large assortment of automatic weapons, pistols and sawn-off shotguns. He repeatedly fired at Police, emergency workers and on-lookers up to 400m away. He had apparently booby-trapped the house and Police were understandably not in favour of storming it. The Army bomb disposal squad assisted by providing access and neutralising booby traps.

The Army Light Armoured Vehicles were used to retrieve the body of Senior Constable Len Snee which lay in the open for 24 hours. A number of Police Officers and members of the public are expected to be decorated for bravery for their efforts in preventing Molenaar's rampage.

While recognising that Police were placed in a difficult situation by Molenaar the tactic of slow encroachment which they adopted was largely forced on them by circumstances. The only armour available was designed for combat with no real thought for less than lethal operations. This is a serious oversight especially if the vehicles are ever employed in places like Timor where lethal and less than lethal situations blur.

Had the Police engaged in active area denial using 40mm grenade launchers from close-in armour Molenaar could not have resisted continuous exposure to CS gas and stun grenades for very long. Forced into the open he would also not have had recourse to the full armoury he had amassed, nor could he spend time digging in. Once on the run, even with a light machine gun - especially suffering from blurred vision and vomiting - he would have been far easier for marksmen to take down. This would have sped up the process significantly.

Dealing with mad men is always dangerous and difficult. Officials did well to contain the loss of life after the initial ambush and the public have generally shown their appreciation for their work. My interest in this case is, as always, purely restricted to the tactics required due to the constraints of the tools available, and is not a criticism of operational decisions made in the actual circumstances at the time.