Thursday, October 15, 2009

LAV's - symptoms of a deeper malaise

National's defence minister Dr Wayne Mapp has suggested selling some of the Army's beloved Light Armoured Vehicles because they aren't much use. This is primarily because every single one of 105 vehicles we bought is the turreted combat version with a 25mm cannon. Dr Mapp thinks we need to swap about 25 of them for different versions.

My suggestion would be sell them all while they are still in good nick. If we're lucky we may get $300 million for them. Yes that would be a loss of over $400 million but an asset that sits in the garage depreciating isn't really an asset anyway. Its a cost.
What is the problem with the LAVs. Well, the main one is that we aren't engaged in a major land war war with anyone. Nor are we ever likely to be.

Unfortunately the Army, bless their cotton cocks, would really love to be back out there refighting El Alamein, and the LAVs symbolise their organisational sense of existential purpose. Without armour what are they?

In fact LAVs, turreted or not, are simply not what we need. The problem is they're already under-gunned and armoured compared to the latest Infantry Fighting Vehicles, they can't carry much cargo (3T), they can't swim and at 20 tonnes and 3 metres plus in height they are very hard to deploy.

When I looked at armour as part of my defence review. I was looking for the most capable and flexible box on wheels around. It had to be highly mobile and deployable. It had to carry a serious payload. It had to provide excellent protection against mines and light weapons. It had to be readily adaptable for all sorts of missions by swapping out modules and it had to be capable of fighting if it came down to that.

My answer was the Patria Advanced Modular Vehicle, which the Poles call Rosomak which has been kicking Taleban arse in Afghanistan. The brilliant thing about the AMV is that application compartment can be swapped for whatever you want while retaining the drive and chassis components. You wouldn't have to sell the vehicles to get them to do something else, you'd just have to buy (or make) new modules.

The AMV swims, can carry ten tonnes, and has been fitted with the Israeli mini-Samson Remote Weapon Station which has the benefit that it can be dismounted when you don't want to look armed to the teeth and doesn't impinge on the cargo hold.

It's just a much superior machine. Worse, the Poles bought theirs cheaper on a unit cost basis than we paid for our LAVs.

The real problem with the LAVs is they were specified solely as battlewagons. The AMV specified in my review is essentially an armoured, eight-wheeled, amphibious truck. Yes, it can fight but really its for transporting people and freight in dangerous circumstances.

The idea is a vehicle that would be capable of deployed without escalating tension. If for example you have violence in the Solomon's you don't want to put battlewagons on the street in the first instance. That just inflames things. The problem is the Army has only got armoured Pinzgauers or LAVs. There's a big gap between them. The benefit of the AMV is it could look hefty but benign even though it might have grenade launchers at the ready. If needed it could sprout a RWS but most of the time it won't need one.

But the LAV is not just a problem in itself. It is also a symptom of a bigger malaise, and that is inter-service rivalry. The fact is the Army resents the way the Navy, in particular, gets hundreds of millions of dollars worth of funding for ships based on the rather stupid argument that New Zealand is an island nation. The LAV was investment in organisational prestige and self-importance, not a very rational evaluation of the Army's actual mission.

This malaise in my view is particularly stupid because of the way it impacts on the Airforce. Most of the time the most useful military equipment we have are fixed and rotary wing aircraft. They patrol further, they deliver faster, they redepoly more effectively. But because our services are divided into boat people, wheel people and wing people assets are acquired along these lines in strict and jealous rotation. LAVSs for the Army, Project Protector for the Navy, and NH90s for the airforce. Its not about which tool is best for which mission, its about who does what and what have they got?

In a lot of cases EEZ patrol would be far better carried out by air. So too are army operations. Its quicker, its more responsive and it just does the business. But because of stupid jealousies the Army is not going to give up LAVs so the Airforce can have more helicopters, nor will the Navy give up boats so the airforce can do more of their job either.

My only conclusion was to abandon having a separate airforce. That meant putting strategic aircraft into a combined navy/airforce entity called Pacific Command and tactical aircraft into a combined army/airforce entity called Operations Command. Secretly it meant promoting Airforce staff in both commands to have more influence.

Its unlikely that the current Defence Review will go anywhere near as far. Instead we may see a bit of fiddling with symptoms rather than dealing with causes. And the LAVs ? The LAVs will stay wrapped up and cosy in their garages.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Samoa: Response could be quicker by design

It is now eight days since the Pacific Tsunami struck Samoa and Tonga. It is interesting to compare the latest reports from the International Committee for the Red Cross, Red Crescent and the New Zealand Defence Force. Both seem to be working damn hard with what they've got and good on them for their efforts.

But the fact is in a tropical environment time is of the essence. Bodies decompose quicker, disease spreads quicker. What this disaster is starting to show is an essential time-line for response to disaster. This seems to look like this:

Time Response

0 Alarm
The problem here is official channels for notification of an event.
Media often outpace official channels, particularly in nations (including New Zealand) without 24/7 disaster management centres.

12hrs Assessment
Aerial assessment at least should be available soon after the event
Local aircraft are the first obvious choice for this.
RNZAAF maritime surveillance aircraft should be capable of fulfilling this role
Key intelligence must include information on serviceability of airports
Secondary intelligence should be some view on serviceability of ports. This can be done by Laser Airborne Depth Sounder . This is particularly important after Tsunamis.

24hrs Rescue, Fire-Fighting and Pollution Suppression.
The first priority is to rescue the living.
Relocation of search aircraft - particularly helicopters is a key priority. This is best
done by air (this was well done by RAAF and RNZAF). Helicopters are essential for medical evacuation and in come cases heavy lift.
Specialist search and rescue teams with dogs are also an early priority (another success).
This requires heavy lift aircraft and longer range rapid deployment aircraft.
While Tsunamis are an antithesis of fires earthquakes can generate severe fires.
Heavy fire-fighting air support could be essential particularly where fuel is burning.
Pollution from ruptured tanks should be contained quickly to prevent disruption of
later operations are important.

48hrs Morgue Services and Water Supplies
Finding, retrieving and identifying bodies and restoring water.
Locals will naturally be more sensitive to bodies and want better treatment of them.
This will require rapidly deployed cool storage and staff used to morgue operations.
Local vehicles may need to be bought or rented for body removal.
Restoring clean water supplies must begin quickly either by trucking or repairing pipelines. Water cannot be delayed much longer than this. (Navy divers assisted here)

72hrs Temporary Shelter, Medical Services and Wreckage Clearance
This requires rapidly deployed medical centres, engineering equipment and camps
Some homeless people will be unable to find relatives to stay with, people with any non
emergency injuries will begin to need treatment. (once again air mobility and local services were essential. The role of civilian medical volunteers should be formalised).

When thinking about a hypothetical force for my defence review I realised that the best way to provide all of these services was with a ship. The problem was ships are slow, take ages to load and it could be two weeks before a ship which was even in New Zealand to begin with would be available on station where it was needed.

I came to the conclusion that the only solution to this was to have more than one ship, a vessel type I called the Pacific Aid Ship. It would be fitted with self-loading cargo capacity, additional accomodation, water-generation capability, electricity generation facility, a good medical facility, light helicopters and holds with heavy amphibious engineering vehicles (based on the Viking design). It would patrol the Northern Pacific providing shipping services and medical facilities to islands too small or poor to economically support their own. In addition it would gather intelligence on the arcane world of Pacific politics. The two ships would operate turn about on 30-day missions. Such a ship would easily have been on station within two or three days of the disaster.

The second craft I concluded that was necessary was an operations aircraft which could relocate to the mission area and provide low level reconnaisance and medical evacuation quickly. This was more for responding to disasters such as bombings where small numbers of New Zealanders need rapid evacuation in circumstances where commercial aircraft are not available. This aircraft would carry the perennial medical team we always dispatch as a first response to any disaster.

Another important craft was the large landing craft. This is a very simple vessel designed to deliver heavy machinery to any beach. It has no capacity to carry crew but is very quick to load ( drive the vehicles on and off you go). Crew and other material would arrive by very large jet cargo craft. In my view New Zealand still needs to replace the C-130s which are slow and have limited capacity. I still believe the IL-76 is a good platform but the Russians need to get their act together.

Finally if needed the hypothetical service came with a very heavy lift helicopter with a long enough range to fly to a disaster zone. Sometimes when you need to lift ten tonnes quickly there is no better or indeed alternative option.

None of this is to cast any aspersions on those currently working hard to assist Samoa. All I am saying is that with more flexible thinking and better needs analysis the Defence Force could be provided with better equipment to carry out the difficult task Government has set it. However the first and most important recognition has to be that humanitarian missions have become the litmus test of military preparedness and efficiency - more so than any other mission they are likely to encounter.


HMNZS Canterbury sailed yesterday (Sunday October 11) 12 days after the event. In my view this is as quick as could be expected because of the type of ship she is. And, of course, that is my point.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Samoan Tsunami First Live Test of HMNZS Canterbury

The devastating earthquake and tsunami which struck Samoa yesterday is a regional tragedy which will test the ability of our defence/civil defence services' capability to respond.

The civil defence and emergency management response to the tsunami threat to New Zealand yesterday was not particularly impressive. While a warning was given which allowed mariners to secure their craft the public response was somewhat apathetic.

With a local threat over the immediate question has become what can New Zealand do to help Samoa - a nation which for many New Zealanders is still "home".

The Airforce has, as usual dispatched a Hercules with medical supplies. This is a good start but while some bandies may be useful, a helicopter and heavy equipment would be a lot more useful.

This is where the HMNZS Canterbury was meant to come into her own. Ironically Canterbury brought four Iroquois helicopters home from Samoa earlier in August following exercise Tropic Astra as part of a tour of the region which ended September 8. The question now is can she re-embark those helicopters and get to Samoa while they are still needed ?

This is not an entirely fair question. The real problem with Canterbury is not Canterbury herself but that the Navy has only one of her. With only one such ship its not surprising she may not always be available for emergency missions at short notice. On the other hand who's fault is that?

The hypothetical force proposed in my Review would easily respond to the Samoan situation. Its assets include:

  1. Long range operations jets, which would get the bandies and medical teams in place faster
  2. Long range heavy transport aircraft, for urgent heavy equipment
  3. A Pacific Aid vessel always in the Pacific (with one at home)
  4. Two long range landing craft for heavy construction equipment
  5. and if necessary helicopters capable of self-deployment even over these vast distances

While the hypothetical force has some heavy construction equipment this is limited to a small emergency team because it is generally easier to rent civilian equipment already on hand.

The reason the hypothetical force is better equipped is that it is fundamentally designed for rapid long-range logistics missions and the NZDF isn't. The point being that if you can rapidly deploy and support aid missions you can also rapidly deploy and support military missions as well.

It would be nice to think that the current review being carried out by the Government will monitor the performance of the NZDF response to Samoa cogniscent of the close similarity between emergency humanitarian and military missions, however this is unlikely. As a bunch of old boys tasked primarily with saving money and following National's policy of begging Australia for everything I rather doubt that they are capable of initiative.


An RAAF C-130 Hercules has carried an RNZAF Iroquois to Samoa and Canterbury is on standby possibly able to sail in four days. It would be nice if we could carry our own helicopters but our C-130s are being re-engineered.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An ANZAC Force

The Defence Review is still out for consultation but it seems obvious the National Party's defence policy is suspiciously like ..well business as usual for the National Party.

John Key has apparently agreed to the notion of a common ANZAC force together with Australia. He thinks linking our military with Australia is easier than linking our currency. Well glory be, what a surprise.

The fact is the Nat's have never had any idea about defence other than to bend over for the Australians. That said the Ministry and NZDF have worked very hard to practically be an extension of the Australian defence force by making sure that everything we equip our forces with is sold to us by Australians first. Our Navy is Aussie made, our airforce is Aussie standard. Only our Army which has LAV IIIs instead of LAV IIs and Pinzgauers instead of Bushmasters is slightly different to their Australian counterparts and then not in a good way.

The problem that John Key doesn't seem to get is that defence IS diplomacy. A common ANZAC force means common diplomacy. How else can it operate? The Australian fleet commander gives an order and the kiwi frigate commander says 'golly I'd better check with Wellington"?

And if he doesn't?

So what happens if a kiwi frigate commander is told by an Australian fleet commander to sink an Indonesian sub? Or a kiwi soldier is told by an Australian commander to fire despite the presence of civilians? Are we going to hide under Australia's skirts then too?

Or will we have vast rules of engagement so that every military officer will need a law degree to make sense of who gives the orders and what you do when you recieve them?

The simple fact is New Zealand soldiers should work under New Zealand command all the way up to and including our Prime Minister. It is the only way New Zealand policy can be distinguished from Australian policy in a way that everyone (even those who may not like us) can make sense of it.

Moreover, and this was the point of my defence review, New Zealand's role should not be to ape Australia's but to support Australias.

Australia is the mightiest military power in South East Asia. Discounting the French nuclear presence the only conventional forces in the region which match Australia's are India's and China's. That's saying something given that Australia is less than 100th of those nation's size. Australia does not need New Zealand's contribution to achieve security.

Given that, the intelligent thing to do is to contribute capability that Australia (or anyone else for that matter) will always need more of. In general that means logistic support. New Zealand's defence force should primarily be a logistical powerhouse - as opposed to logistical beggars. No commander can pass up more freight capacity, medical support or field support.

The other thing we can contribute is Pacific reconnaisance and intelligence. As Sun Tze says you can never have enough intelligence. That means long range aircraft, special forces troops and ships that contribute to vulnerable island economies.

Politically such a force has very different political options. A logistics force supports operations and defends itself. It provides backbone not cannon fodder, and if it is withdrawn its absence has a powerful effect. A reconnaissance force provides the ability to plan operations.Absence of information creates greater uncertainty and the need for more scale.

By focusing on these two principal roles New Zealand can maintain an independent policy. Just as important it can also meet its own needs for defence.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Women in "combat"

I was reading this interesting article the other day about the Marine Corps' use of female Military Police for intelligence gathering in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although technically it is against US law to send women into "combat" it is not against the law for them to be deployed in an active theatre. The fact that asymmetric warfare effectively means all deployed personnel are in a combat zone is not a legalism that the Marines seem too bothered about.

For New Zealand forces there does not appear to be any reason in either the Defence Act or the Defence Regulations, nor yet in the Armed Forces Discipline Act or Regulations why women should not be deployed in the same manner as the Marine Corps' Lioness units. Indeed the Regulation requiring that searches be carried out by a person of the same sex strongly suggests that the lack of women in a theatre involved in asymmetric warfare would be a major tacticl deficiency.

The New Zealand Defence Force does have a reasonable number of women in the regular force. Some 14% of the regular army (666), 17% of the airforce (425) and 23% of the Navy (464) are women. Not surprisingly women, however remain a minority in the Defence Force, and appear to be accepted more on the basis that they keep up with the men rather than any gender-specific tactical advantages they may have to offer.

This is once again where the whole configuration of the Defence Force looks so rooted in the Cold War/World War Two paradigm. The idea of defence remains stuck on the notion that the enemy is an national army, and yet in our biggest overseas deployments: Afghanistan; Timor and the Solomons there is no enemy army. Indeed when people don't make it easy (by shooting at you) it is hard to tell the enemy from civilians form friendlies.

New Zealand male soldiers have always been far better than American male soldiers at getting on with locals. This is cultural, as the Americans tend to take American ideas and values with them wherever they go and impose them whether the locals like it or not. New Zealanders would never dream of doing that. The difference means that New Zealanders are better at counter-infiltration because they are prepared to try and out-local the locals if need be.

But what the Marines are showing is that there is a gender dimension to assymetric warfare that should not be overlooked. Young men tend to be fighters. As I noted reviewing Ross Kemp's snuff advertising for the British Army there isn't often much difference between teenage regular force troops and the 'insurgents' except that the insurgents have a better idea of what they are fighting for. Women are usually not so keen on war. If a foreign force is able to engage with the women in the clinics and the market-places it has a far better chance of getting the whole community to try politics without guns, instead of politics with guns. Women soldiers clearly have an important role to play in achieving this.

Ultimately we have to come to accept that the idea of a defence force is redundant. New Zealand is not threatened so it hardly needs defending. What we need is a Peacemaking Force, which is capable of using violent as well as non-violent methods to resolve conflict. Recognising the advantages women bring to conflict resolution is different to letting them take part in an essentially male war-making business. This is not to suggest that the Defence Force should lose any of its edge. Women soldiers must be soldiers, and women officers must be good officers first, not promoted just because of their gender. But their organisation and deployment should reflect the benefits that female teams, sections or even whole platoons could bring to asymmetric conflict environments.

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.


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.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine 'Flu and Defence

In my last post I asked the crucial question which the forthcoming review of Defence has to answer. What is the $1.6b we spend annually on defence to protect us from?

In my review of Defence the answer was simple: every extrordinary threat to New Zealand. This included outbreaks of contagious human diseases.

This had an annual operational valuation of $217 million. Justified as follows:

The reappearance of the H5N1 bird flu strain is reminding authorities of the damage caused by the so-called Spanish flu in 1918. Government reports have estimated that such a pandemic would cost New Zealand up to one third of its GDP. In a historical context this is not much different to the great plagues of history and may someowhat underestimate the ability of modern medicine to contain the loss.
Treasury has published this report which calculates the possible loss of up to $30 billion in the first year.
The armed services may have a role in a pandemic where public order is called into question and for duties such as mass burials however in general terms such a pandemic is essentially a matter for civilian authorities.

Loss Potential: 20% of GDP ($31 billion)
Recovery in years: 7
Historical Frequency: 1 in 100 years
Probability in 20 year cycle: 4%
Mitigation value of defence capital: 20%
Estimated loss on occurance: $108 billion
Mitigation risk weighted period value: $4.357 billion
Annual Value: $217 million

The most important line here is the estimated Mitigation value of defence capital: 20%.
This was of course based on the assumption that the Defence force recognised that 14.6% of its task was being prepared and ready to respond to the needs of responding to a Pandemic.

My review therefore put a great deal of emphasis on capital equipment and organisation able to respond to such an emergency. The Support Brigade included a Medical Battalion (one of the few structures retaining part-time staff) while the Operations Brigade included a biohazard Response Company and not forgetting the Emergency Brigade. Naturally the rest of the structure provided the logistics and support necessary to keep such an operation working. It was assumed that most of the staff of the Pandemic unit would be academics or practictioners who would take up their roles in the defence structure as needed.

So far with just 11 cases reaching New Zealand we are a long way from needing such a response capability. Authorities have moved quickly and efficiently to contain the potential spread of contagion. However it must be said that, like SARs before it, the Mexican Swine Flu has not shown any high degree of virulence, and, to date, civilian structures have proved more than capable of responding.

This does not mean, in my view that there is no need for the Defence Force to not be involved in planning and operations of anti-biohazard responses.

It would be nice if the Defence Review recognised the waste of spending so much money on defending our nation against non-existent military threats when there are very real medical and agricultural ones all around us. Any holistic understanding of the term "defence" would surely recognise this at once.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review or Whitewash?

The Government has announced that it will be carrying out yet another Defence Review. Defence Review 09 is the first post 9/11 Defence Review and its terms of reference have been revealed to media but not as yet posted on the Ministry website.
The objective is apparently to take a hard look at the number of bases, the airforce aircraft, whether the LAVs are worthwhile and when and how to replace the ANZAC frigates.

All of this is sensible is you know the answer to one important question first, and that is this:
"What is the New Zealand Defence Force going to defend us from?"
Until you know the answer to that question there is no point reviewing the NZDF.

My Defence Review took a look at the following factors:
= The strategic environment around New Zealand
= The diplomatic concerns facing New Zealand, from the Ross Ice Shelf to the Tokelaus
= The economic cost of military threat
and it basically concluded that we are spending twice as much on pure defence as we ought to. We are under even less threat than Ireland and far more heavily armed.

It then took in other factors such as:
= Civil Defence issues
= Coastguard and Fisheries protection issues
= Biohazard and border security issues
= Environmental protection issues
= Terrorism threats
And came to the conclusion that unless these were included in the NZDF's remit and incorporated into NZDF doctrine; the organisation was too large.

All of this suggests the NZDF needs to become more dual-use. Yes it needs a sharp front end, in the form of more special forces troops. But following behind the spear head is a more dual-use spear shaft made of dual-use logistics support troops, able to operate equally well in supporting battlefield operations and in civil emergencies. Troops that can be upgraded to combat capability but who specialise in very long range logistics, emergency response and operations. Moreover this organisation should comprise mostly of career professionals who are paid according to civilian pay scales, not thousands of weekend warriors who get paid to indulge in silly fantasies about how New Zealand might end up being a military playground.

In other words the NZDF should be mostly a trucking fleet, a freight airline, and a Pacific shipping line for dealing with emergency situations: military or civil. As such it should make use of the best of civilian technology and techniques rather than constantly over-engineer the force for a "battlefield" that is most unlikely to eventuate.

It will be fascinating to see how professional this Review actually gets. My hope is it will outclass my own review in every conceivable way. My worry is that it will simply be the same tired old rehash by the same stuck-in-their-ways thinkers we have always had.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Victorian Fire Disaster

A large part of the Australian state of Victoria is on fire. This map from Country Fire Authority of Victoria shows the disposition of major bushfires in the state that have, at time of writing claimed 181 lives.As it has done so frequently before the Australian Army has been mobilised to assist firefighters. New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key has called Australian premier Kevin Rudd to offer support. The last time Victoria burned New Zealand sent fire-crews to assist Australian volunteers who were at the end of their tether. Heli-Harvest, a private New Zealand helicopter firm, has once again sent its Mi-17 helicopter to aid with this emergency effort.

In terms of both military and emergency management response Australia is a very large and rich country and any support New Zealand can offer is largely symbolic. That said it is notable how a flexible military force of the kind described in my defence review could be so much more useful in a crisis of this kind than the one we - of for that matter Australia - has.

For a start because it is intended to deal with domestic civil emergencies it is far more flexible for providing aid for international civil emergencies. Compare the following:

Air Support
The IL76MF proposed by the original Review is the heaviest water-bomber in the sky. Such aircraft can deliver an enormous deluge which the US Forest Service says is more useful than that from the C-130. Air Support Services in the US operates the IL76 in this role.
This aircraft could also deliver land based units for immediate operation far quicker than either the B757 or the C130H.

The Mi-26 helicopter is the largest in the world. Much larger than the Heli-Harvest Mi-17 which is already the largest monsoon bucket chopper in the Southern hemisphere. Able to carry up to 20 tonnes of fire-fighting compound the Mi-26 may be expensive to operate but it is one mother of an asset when times get tough. As with the IL76 a large monsoon dump is far more effective than many small ones.

Ground Operations
The Review proposed a dedicated fire-fighting platoon with four MAN SX fire-trucks available for international deployment. The Man SX can carry ten tonnes of fire suppresant, work in difficult country and move at speed to where its needed. Admittedly four trucks is a drop in the Ocean but better than nothing. Additional MAN SX's could be used as tankers.

The notional Force also had a company of 48 Bronco / BVS-210 armoured tracked tractors which could be useful getting into country where wheeled vehicles would have difficulty. With a rear trailer able to carry 6 tonnes the front could be fitted with a fire-hose and pump to provide a vehicle able to attack fires from flanks or rear in difficult country.

Manpower is always an issue in emergency management. The Review proposed a voluntary Emergency Brigade as a pool of reservists for domestic civil disaster. Such a unit could use the Australian disaster as a live training opportunity and feed through teams to support or relieve the Australian fire crews.

A task-force consisting of two IL76MFs with four MAN SXs and two self-deployed Mi26's could be be deployed within 72 hours. The Emergency Brigade and other assets could follow relatively quickly.

One can't help thinking that if John Key had had such a potential task-force available his conversation with Kevin Rudd would have been slightly less vague. As Mr Key said New Zealanders are happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with Australia in times of adversity. It is time, however that both defence forces moved on from World War Two and recognised that damage from natural and humanitarian disasters is part of the broader remit of the modern defence/civil defence force.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the NZDF is able to offer and how long it would take to deploy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ross Kemp in Afghanistan = A disgusting spectacle

New Zealand television usually trails 12 months or so behind programme-makers home nations so it was only this (2009) year that New Zealand viewers finally caught up with the Ross Kemp on Afghanistan, first screened in the UK in January 2008.

Ross Kemp is an actor who played a lot of tough guys in British soap-operas and made a name for himself as a front-man on TV documentaries with "Ross Kemp on Gangs" - a sobering look at the world's criminal fraternity.

Ross Kemp on Afghanistan is meant to be a look at the experience of soldiers in the British Army in the "war on terror" against the Taliban. It is however best described as a recruitment tool.

As portrayed the British Army consists of a bunch of brainless teenagers with guns. They have the same problems organising themselves as any bunch of hapless teenagers being shouted at by their superiors. They run around shouting and shooting and generally behaving like a bunch of kids playing paintball - except that their guns can kill people.

For the average teenage boy, that looks like lots of fun. Are you tough? Can you shoot? What does it feel like to blast away with a machinegun? Woo-hoo!!

So then with heavy hearts and lots of self-conscious tele-analysis of the kind that British people seem to do when there is a camera crew standing around watching them "emote", we pack off the East Anglian company Kemp has attached himself to, to Afghanistan.

The base in Afghanistan is 20 miles in the desert. No natives anywhere near it. The boys tell stories and cope with the heat - described as "50 degree". Then we go on patrol and finally - ta-da ! a contact! In fact it must be the most orchestrated contact in the world. The British have almost played a brass band to herald their arrival in order to make sure the Taliban know they are coming. The village is evacuated and there isn't much resistance. Ross Kemp makes a poor job of explaining that the "armour" (a bunch of mine protected trucks) won't accompany the soldiers because "it would get bogged down". In reality of course it might get blown up and that would not only be a pain in the bum logistics-wise it would look pretty poor on TV back home.

So there is a bit of a battle. It looks like a company of British soldiers plus an Apache helicopter against a Taleban rearguard of somewhere between three and seven. Real bullets fly past Ross Kemp's head! An RPG-7 rocket whizzes by! A British sniper kills the Taleban RPG launcher. No British casualties are shown. Then we have lunch and cucumber sandwiches.

How did the lads cope? Well they admit they were scared but its all part of the job. Blah blah blah. Ross Kemp looks steely eyed and tough. Roll credits and show the "join the army tvc".

It made me sick. A "join the army ad" with genuine bodycount; "snuff advertising".

What made me especially angry was the sterilisation of war for the cameras. At no time do we have to deal with the real problem of "civilians". There were none in the training in Britain and none in the "contact" in Afghanistan. It was all one big game. The real children, women and old people of Afganistan cleared out of the way so teenagers could get off some ordenance.

What kind of idiocy is this? The politics of Afghanistan cannot be reduced to good guys and bad guys. Anyone who has read Ahmed Rashid's "Taliban" knows that the situation in Afganistan is complicated and that ethnic and religious sympathies combined with some truly apalling behaviour on all sides makes it a seething cauldron of revenge, tribalism and politics. The issue of soldiering in places like Afghanistan isn't shooting people, its knowing when and who to shoot. You can't treat every Afghani as an enemy but you can't treat them all as your friends either.

This was not a documentary about the war in Afghanistan. This was a Survivor series about an actor being allowed to play soldiers in Aghanistan. The Ministry of Defence who were "surprised how close Kemp's crew got to the firing line" according to Wikipedia were no doubt supressing their glee that they had acquired a recruitment doco without having to pay for it. Even more galling New Zealand television has paid for it too.

Foreigners shooting Taliban is fundamentally not going to make them go away. Foreigners have gone to war in Afghanistan for centuries and despite (or perhaps because) the country is a medieval basket-case Afghanis have kept fighting back. In other words the British Army is engaging Aghanistan in its national sport - killing people. The sad fact however is that the British Army seems to enjoy it as much as the Afghanis do. Its pointless, sickening and thick.

What was needed was not an actor trying to prove how really tough he is by trailing around after soldiers after the enemy had been flattened by air support but a journalist trying to find out how ordinary Afghanis ( especially the women) feel about the struggle between militant Islam and militant Westerners going on in their country. A journalist (woman) prepared to go somewhere without body armour and body guards. In fact someone who really does have courage. Then we might start to learn whether the actions of our soldiers in Afghanistan are actually achieving anything or not.

But that wouldn't gain any recruits for the Army, would it?