Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Changing Face of Warfare?

On Tuesday the 30th April, 1991, the House Armed Services Committee in the United States sat for a hearing about the possibilities of reform in the wake of Operation Desert Storm, the US name for operations against Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the liberation of Kuwait earlier that year.

The panel of experts brought in front of them was wide ranging in its expertise. The first to speak was Colonel John Boyd, he of the "Energy Maneuverability Theory" and the OODA Loop (Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action) fame. Boyd spoke of the need to have good people, followed by good strategy, followed by good equipment. He mentioned two officers in particular, who he called "key officers who have had a major impact on the respective services in the conception and practice of maneuver warfare".

One of these officers was Huba Wass de Czege, who would retire as a Brigadier General and is regarded as one of the founders of the AirLand battle concept, having had a major hand in writing the US Army's field manual 100-5 in 1981. Wass de Czege also set up the Army’s School for Advanced Military Studies. The other was Michael Wyly, who ended his career in the US Marine Corps as a Colonel, having been passed up for further promotion several times.

Throughout his opening speech Boyd referred to both men as innovators and notice that he described both of them as having been involved in the "conception... of maneuver warfare". The conception, of maneuver warfare. This might come as a surprise to some. It certainly did to the final member of the panel to speak, former Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Donald A. Hicks;
"I would say that General MacArthur would be quite startled to hear that maneuver warfare was invented in 1980, since I was in World War II and remembered doing -- having those same kinds of discussions and, in fact, being involved in some of them."
And that's really the nub of this post; the persistent claims that seem to crop up every few years about how warfare is changing in some revolutionary manner. Hicks himself went on to note the advantages of stealth aircraft, precision guided munitions and night vision equipment, but only in the sense of the advantages it gave the US forces over the enemy (the ability to fight at night for example) and how this made the standard tasks of war easier.

As operations in Afghanistan wind down we're already hearing talk of whether the military is prepared for the next war or whether it's stuck fighting the last war. Some people, indeed a lot of people, seem to be dismissing any talk of returning to conventional forces and pointing to Counter Insurgency (COIN) wars as the future. This is in line with the highly dubious notion of "Fourth Generation Warfare" (4GW), wherein all future battles will involve state vs non-state actors. That this idea was first expressed in 1989 and subsequently found wanting just two years later by the first Persian Gulf War seems to have missed a lot of people.

The theory of 4GW also seems to ignore the fact that state vs non-state conflict had been taking place for a very long time before this. The term most often associated with insurgencies, or at least the tactics of the insurgent, is Guerilla Warfare, a term that has its origins in the Spanish insurgents who fought against French occupation back in the early years of the 19th Century. Thus the concept behind 4GW would actually be over 200 years old and pre-date the period that would later be described as Second Generation Warfare.

From the purely British perspective it's interesting to look at the history of British warfare from the start of the 20th Century to its end. It began with the Boer War (a COIN war), moved to the First World War (a "conventional war", against other state actors), then saw a number of smaller actions spread around the world such as suppressing rebellions in Iraq (COIN war), involved two large dust ups in the middle of the century with the Second World War being followed quite closely by the Korean War (two conventional wars), the later of which was overlapped by an insurgency that became known as the Malayan Emergency (a COIN war), which also continued through the time of the Suez Crisis (a conventional war), and the Jebel Akhdar War (a COIN war), which was followed by the Dhofar Rebellion (COIN war) and the confrontation with Indonesia (effectively a COIN war), themselves followed by 'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland (COIN war), which lasted all the way through the time of the Falklands War (Conventional), the 1991 Gulf War (Conventional) and operations against Serbia (Conventional), followed by the Kosovo War (Conventional). Since 2000 the UK has, predictably enough, been involved in a number of conventional campaigns and a number of COIN campaigns. 

It's for this reason that I'm always wary of talk about revolutions in warfare or rebuking senior military figures for being prepared to fight the last war. History would indicate that both conventional and COIN campaigns must be prepared for, something which the Army 2020 plans seem to get absolutely dead spot on with their balance between classic heavy forces and more COIN/peacekeeping orientated forces. Nor does technology really seem to change much at a fundamental level. It merely seems to push warfare in slightly different directions.

In the first world war the combination of the machine gun and artillery gradually pushed the participants towards tactics that favoured more dispersion in their forces and effectively turned the Western Front into a giant siege, until the introduction of the tank restored the element of movement. Even today though, with all the innovations available, ground commanders still think about the age old concerns of things like reconnaissance, firepower, logistics and envelopment. The introduction of airpower was really the last great leap in military technology, and even that has in a sense simply extended the range of reconnaissance and striking power.

So I'm really not convinced by the idea that anything has significantly changed over the last few years, or that the military should be preparing itself for the "next war". We have no idea what that war will be. We can really only generalise and do so to the extent of guessing that it will either be a COIN war or a conventional war. And given our history and the changing nature of the world, either option would seem just as likely as the other right now.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

A new site for everyone to look at

Perusing the Internet, I was recently pointed in the direction of Global Defence Technology. GDT produces a free monthly online magazine (as well as occasional one off specials) covering some of the latest developments in, surprise, surprise, global defence technology. 

And I have to say I was quite impressed. The issues load on the webpage almost like a slideshow or powerpoint document. You can click back and forth through the magazine, bring up the root menu easily at any time with one click of a button in the top left corner, and the entire archive of the magazine is also free to view.

Two things that stood out the most for me were the mix of subjects covered and the presentation. Each issue contains a variety of stories from around the world highlighting new technologies or technology issues in the land, sea, air, and cyber domains. I think this provides quite a nice balance to each issue, as normally defence magazines tend to be shifted primarily towards just one element or another, whereas this format allows you to keep abreast of a wide range of subjects.

Presentation wise it includes a mixture of editorials, reports, interviews and videos, all within a very much paper magazine style layout, such as the use of backing photos. I think the reason this stands out is because it's so rare to see such a format online. Normally, like with my humble little blog, you just get text and the odd picture. GDT feels like you're reading a proper magazine, just in your browser, and as a result I think the end product looks very professional.

I think it's worth checking out, so here is the link for you to find the latest issue. If you want to look at the archive there's a button for it on the right hand bar.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

More Cuts?

I wanted to wait for David Cameron's big speech before going with this article, just in case Cameron announced some cunning plan to help cut the deficit. He didn't, which means only one thing.

UK defence is about to take another hit.

If re-elected then the Conservatives need to make significant cuts to the spending of Whitehall departments in order to make their potential budget ends meet. Labour - the only other party likely to win control (and indeed the most likely to win at the minute) - have slightly less drastic plans in store should they win, but even they will have to make some cuts, and you're kidding yourself if you think that defence will be spared in the austerity drive.

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Vote Is In

And with that vote, parliament has decided to go to war.

I must admit I've been impressed with the media's coverage of todays vote. It never ceases to amaze how they can take a small British deployment as part of a coalition operation against ISIS/ISIL/IS and turn it into "The Third Iraq War/Iraq War Three", as if the US and its allies were on the verge of storming Baghdad once more. 

The slightly less dramatic sounding contribution set to be made by the UK of a few Tornado jets is still important I think. A friend asked me today if I thought it was really necessary and if the US really cared about the fact that this time "the Brits are coming!"

I suggested to him that there were two main points of why a British contribution is beneficial;

1) Having allies willing to contribute military force adds legitimacy to the American operations. When US citizens open their newspapers and see that Britain (amongst others) is pitching in with military hardware then it adds to the sense among the public that this is a good thing, that America's leaders are taking the right action. 

In this regard the assistance offered by Belgium may actually be the most positive, as neutral audiences will tend to view Belgium as being a peaceful country that is disassociated from prior American adventures; "If Belgium is willing to intervene then it must be the right thing to do, right?"

2) America does not have an infinite supply of assets to share around. It may have a very large armed forces, but it also has a host of global commitments, on top of the standard rest and refitting cycles common to modern, competently managed military forces.

While it may not seem like much for a variety of countries to pitch in 6 aircraft here and 7 aircraft there, it soon all begins to add up. The more aircraft available, the more fixed targets that can be hit on any given night if required, or the more aircraft that can be made available for short notice tasking to hit targets identified by ground forces.

Certainly our contribution to this campaign will be modest, but modest is I think a long way from irrelevant.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Russian Bear Cometh!

Or not, as the case may be.

The recent events in Ukraine have caused a lot consternation in the west that Russia is on the rise again. The annexation of Crimea and the support for the rebels in the East is certainly a very worrying development, not least because all of this is taking place right on NATO's border. 

But I do wonder if people aren't getting just a little too excited by it. 

It seems the actions of Russia are being used by a lot of people as a rallying cry for massive defence spending. It depends on who you listen to, but I've seen calls for the UK to acquire additional aircraft carriers (beyond the two planned), additional armoured divisions, a doubling of the Typhoon fighter fleet, a doubling of the SSN fleet, and even calls to build or acquire something similar to the American B-2 Spirit as, and I quote, "a firm symbol of detterence[sic] against Russian aggression".

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The 8x8 vs tracked debate

So what have I been up to this week? Learning to drive a counter balance forklift as it happens, or as it's otherwise known "using people to cover things that they're not paid for in order to save on extra staffing costs"

And funnily enough this week I want to stick with the theme of wheels by touching on the 8x8 vs tracked debate. If you really want you can type that phrase into google and watch the next week of your life disappear before your eyes reading countless debates on the subject. 

I've already done this however, so to save time for those who don't fancy reading through it all, or don't have the time to do so, here's the conclusion I've come to; 8x8 wheeled armoured vehicles are probably one of the most pointless fads in the history of warfare.

The obsession over wheeled armour seems to have started with the intervention in Kosovo and the fabled rush to Pristina Airport, with the Russians getting their first in their wheeled vehicles. Where did it develop from there? Err, that's just the point, nobody seems to know for certain. Someone how that, along with an obsession over air transportable vehicles led to the spate of 8x8 wheeled armoured vehicles. You'll struggle to find a more concrete reason why.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Islamic State and Iraq

Right, back into action again then.

And a slight change of plan because I might as well cover the Iraq situation now that efforts to provide humanitarian assistance are being ramped up a little. The question on everybody's lips is whether the UK, the US or indeed anyone else should intervene and help the Iraqis out in their fight against ad-Dawlah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, or the Islamic State as we refer to them in the West. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The joys of the Internet

You'll have to forgive me for being quiet lately. I had hoped to write a post for the beginning of the week, but recently I've been inflicted by something called "being a Virgin Broadband customer", which means that every six months or so my Internet will cut out for no apparent reason and take anything from one to ten days to be restored to working order. 

The joys of the Internet.


Monday, 4 August 2014

The Solution in Gaza?

As the conflict in Gaza continues to drag on, with the latest ceasefire seemingly no more likely to produce a lasting result than the last, the question becomes what to do about Gaza? This of course has been a question that has plagued the leaders of both Palestine and Israel - as well as most of the world - for a very long time. Consensus is hard to come bye, and even harder is to find a solution that both Israel and the Palestinians are happy with.

It's an odd situation for the simple reason that normally the UN or NATO would have stepped in by now. If Israel didn't have the backing of the United States in the way that it does then you would have expected to have seen an enforced no-fly zone in place by now, similar to the one imposed on Libya back in 2011. Resolving such conflicts is precisely the sort of thing that the UN was set up for in the first place.

And maybe it may yet hold the soltuion?

The Israeli argument is fairly simple; they want rocket attacks and cross border terrorist attacks to stop. The Palestinians want to not be bombed in a somewhat indiscriminant manner as a result of the actions of Hamas. Neither side can really deliver on its end of the bargain for the simple reason that they will always feel compelled to respond to the other, sparking fresh hostilities as we've seen in the last few weeks.

Perhaps it is in to this breach that the UN could step, providing a force that would both endeavour to stop Hamas rocket attacks and cross border raids against Israel, while also shielding the Palestinian people from Israeli counter strikes.

Israel certainly can't have too many complaints about the potential results for their security situation. So far they've lost precisely 2 civilians to Hamas attacks, versus the estimated 1,500-2,000 civilian casualties they've inflicted in return. Frankly the Israelis could probably just sit back and do nothing except engage incoming rockets with its Iron Dome system and still see the same results. A UN peacekeeping force could in turn do much of the heavy lifting with regards to hunting out terrorists for them.

And I suspect the Palestinians would have few qualms either at the prospect of being protected from Israeli counter action, while efforts to suppress Hamas might give the ordinary citizen on the street the future possibility of a life other than that of a human shield. 

It really does beg the question of what the UN is for if it can't even agree to step in and resolve this crisis.

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?