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.