Thursday, September 13, 2007

Would you open the door?

The Army's latest "TV Challenge" shows a bunch of kiwi soldiers driving along a mountainous road in Pinzgauers when they come upon a group of women with babies on their backs. One of the women approaches the Pinzgauer and thumps on the door asking the soldiers for help. The question is: would you unlock the door? The solution from the Army website is "Did you notice the large firearm strapped over her left shoulder? She's in distress and she's armed. You should only unlock the door for this woman if you're ready to immediately disarm her".

Think about it however. She's in the mountains with other women and babies. She's armed because everyone else there is armed and because there are probably wolves about. Is she about to get into a firefight with a bunch of foreign soldiers? Very, very unlikely. The only real possibility for danger is she's part of a suicide squad but then if she's that close to a Pinzgauer its already too late. If she's wired up like a bomb she'll destroy the vehicle and kill half its occupants because Pinzgauers, even the armoured ones, could not withstand such a blast at that range.

The interesting thing about the question is however two assumptions which stem from the nature of the Pinzgauer itself. The first is that you have all these soldiers huddled inside this poor-mans APC increasing the risk because there are so many "eggs in one basket". The second is that the lock on the door will protect our wee darlings from the nasty foreign lady outside.

The hypothetical force on my website does not have Pinzgauers. Instead it has either big RG-33 mine protected vehicles which could protect its occupants from a suicide bomber (as they do in Iraq) or a Toyota Landcruisers with no armour but which cost a third of the Pinzgauers price. If we assume that the same hypothetical situation existed it is probable that the unit would be driving in a convoy of Landcruisers possibly with a single RG-33 in case of mines in the lead. The soldiers would probably consist mostly of Rangers, Pioneers, medical staff and intelligence officers. The main advantage of the Landcruiser is that it would only carry four soldiers at a time. Two landcruisers to carry a single section. This would make taking out an entire section with one mine, IED, or RPG all the harder.

On encountering the women the obvious thing to do would be to prepare to dismount. The RG33 would go slightly ahead. The convoy would stop and the soldiers approach the women. The rear section would dismount and approach at a different angle in a relaxed fashion. The obvious objective is to determine what the women are trying to do and whether they need any help. If the women are dodgy they will be stand-offish. If the women are desperate they will demand help. In the former case the best response is to back off but note them for monitoring and possibly surprise them later. In the latter case to render aid as available.

This is another example of the way in which the Army has been painted into a corner by being forced to adopt such a limited range of equipment. To do the right thing in a peacekeeping environment is always tricky but having your options limited by unimaginative equipping just makes it all the harder.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mr Downer is right

The ABC has got terribly excited about a A$1.2 billion arms deal between Indonesia and Russia.
It suggests that the two Kilo Class submarines included in the deal could pose a threat to Australian surface ships. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is rightly not worried.

The Kilo Class is a 4,000 tonne boat designed for shallow water operations, first coming into service in 1982. They are being replaced by the unfortunately named Lada class submarine. While a Kilo class boat is a submarine and thus always potentially a threat it is scarcely anything for the Australians to wet their pants over. The technology is 25 years old and in terms of the high-tech world of submarine warfare completely obsolete - which is why the Russians don't use them much anymore themselves. If the Indonesians were buying high-tech fuel-cell boats from Sweden or Germany then Australia might have something to worry about.

Meanwhile the Australians are buying the Poseidon P-8 ASW aircraft to replace the P-3 Orion, Aegis class frigates and upgrading its Collins Class submarines tactical systems for considerably more than $1.2 billion. The RAAF and RAN will be well placed to spear these fish should they ever prove a nuisance.

Mr Downer is actually being very polite about the Russian subs and Indonesias tendency to shop for weapons at bargain basement vendors. While the military will nod their heads gravely and pretend this constitutes in threat in order to justify their outrageous budgets in real terms two or even eight Kilos don't amount to a threat that would last more than five minutes in open combat.

Strategically the Indonesian boats are largely there to provide the ability to surrepticiously convey people and equipment among its own islands and, if required, create an international incident in the Asian-Middle East sea lane which runs through their 'backyard' north of Sumatra. They want a boat that won't show up on satellite surveillance so they can do sneaky things in their own country without anyone else peering over their shoulder. To a certain extent this capability is really more a function of geo-politics than whether they buy 25-year old submarines to carry it out with.

As for New Zealand, with a range of 7,500 miles, an Indonesian Kilo would have to sneak around the Australian continent, and rendez-vous with a friendly tanker, if it were to have any hope of attacking our shipping. It just ain't going to happen.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Kaman debacle

How embarrassing. Stuff has reported that the Airforce has been cannibalising one of its Kaman Seasprites after it smashed down on to the deck of one of the frigates in rough weather. The shortage of parts has made repairing the helicopter (which originally cost US$38 million apiece back in 1998) practically impossible.
Of course this was bound to happen. Landing a helicopter on the land is relatively easy because it stands still. Landing a helicopter at sea, when the deck is pitching, rising and dropping, is not surprisingly, pretty hard and there is a certain amount of luck involved. I have no doubt that the pilot responsible was not a particularly poor pilot, he just hit an unexpected wave, and bang! There goes $60 million bucks!
The problem with the Seasprite is fundamentally linked to the problem of the ANZAC Frigates. The Seasprite is a heavy duty ASW helicopter - and not a bad one either. But why we thought we needed an ASW helicopter in 1998 when we bought the things is beyond me. All the security threats to our economy are conveniently very slow, old fishing boats who really aren't that hard to spot compared to a submarine.
And if you aren't hunting submarines then your whole specification changes rather a bit.
While the NH90 is never going to suffer a shortage of parts (partly because the Airforce bought an extra one for that purpose but mostly because its hugely popular) the question that remains is when is it going to be deployed to do something useful. For that we wait with bated breath.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Intervention in Fiji

As the military in Fiji have now managed to take over the judiciary and ban political commentry it should become obvious that there is no roadmap back to democracy. This regime has finally made permanent what previous coups-d'etat have only hinted at: The Pacific's first fascist state.

The big question is: is there anything the rest of the Pacific can or will do about it?

The Fijian economy is based on three main pillars: tourism; the mercenary remissions of its soldiers; and sugar. Fiji is not a rich country and the effect of the military coups is to worry direct inward investors. For the moment it is trying to operate on a business-as-usual basis but the assumption of martial law means this is now impossible. Martial law need not bother the tourists sunning themselves on the beach but it effectively means that the military now decide the justice of every commercial contract made on the Fiji Islands. Martial law must inevitably slide into the worst forms of corruption and abuse.

The impact of this on the economy will take some time to take hold but as in every other country where martial law is practiced the outcome is inevitable. Military leaders become patrons, patrons begin to "borrow" resources and before you know it Fiji will look not unlike Zimbabwe.

I raise Zimbabwe deliberately because Zimbabwe has one very important friend in the world. That friend is the People's Republic of China. The PRC has backed Mugabe from the outset and without their support he woud not be in power today. If we alienate the Fiji regime too much this is the direction we might expect them to head in search of assistance.

So what can the rest of the Pacific do which will not politically alienate ordinary Fijians and play into the hands of the Fijian military's high command?

My solution is perhaps rather underhand. Instead of trying to prevent the UN from using Fijian troops for Peacekeeping I would suggest encouraging it. In fact I would encourage that as many of the Fijian military's best soldiers be hired for duties in other parts of the world as possible. Then at the right moment I would trigger a democratic insurrection, and land an ANZAC "peacekeeping force" as fast as possible.

In the confusion that followed it should be possible to re-establish civilian rule with the minimum amount of bloodshed. One would then set about thoroughly restructuring the Fijian military so that it better reflected the needs of a remote island nation. Then you could start recalling the military commanders posted overseas to take part in the necessary trials etc.

Such an operation is, by necessity risky, but in terms of long term regional security into the 21st Century an ounce of early intervention could be worth a tonne of problems later.