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.