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:

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.