Tuesday, 27 July 2010

General Knowledge

The British Ministry of Defence recently announced the signing of a contract for new armoured vehicles.

Peter Luff,Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology said:

"Military commanders have stressed the importance of having a wide range of vehicles from which they can select the most appropriate for specific tasks.

This contract is a major step towards providing an additional fleet of combat vehicles, capable of undertaking operations in the most demanding terrain and fully incorporating lessons from current conflicts."

It is understandable that a civilian politician would defer to the "expertise" of military commanders in matters relating to military equipment.

One would after all expect someone with decades of military training and experience to know what he was talking about.

The purpose of an army is primarily to seize and control ground.

By controlling ground we actually mean controlling what people do on that ground.

While aircraft,ships,tanks and artillery can kill people far more efficiently than infantry,only infantry can control people.

The more people you wish to control,the more infantry you will need.

As the World's population increases so the number of people per square mile increases and so the number of infantrymen which will be required to control the people on that square mile also increases.

This was well understood by the American General David Petraeus,the military intellectual whose "surge" of ground forces in Iraq is widely credited with winning that conflict.

Lord Charles Guthrie,formerly General Guthrie,who as Chief of the Defence Staff was the most senior officer in the British armed forces,also recently emphasised the importance of manpower in modern war:

"The threats of the present, and the future, point to the need for more troops, not less.

This will mean that cuts have to be found elsewhere in the budget.

Land operations are likely to be by far the most important operations we will undertake.

Peace-keeping,counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism are all manpower intensive.

Manpower is expensive but is what we need now.

We used to hear a saying that in a general war you need as few soft-skinned people as possible on the battlefield.

But in other types of operations, you do need as many soft-skinned people as possible."

Who could possibly have called for fewer soft-skinned people on the modern battlefield?

General Charles Guthrie said in a speech back in 2001:

"But technology does bring the ability to apply lethal force with fewer men, and can protect combat forces to a greater degree than in the past.

The fewer 'soft skinned men' one has to put in harms way on the battlefield the better."

Thus in the very year in which British forces deployed to Afghanistan the Chief of the Defence Staff was suggesting men on the battlefield be replaced with technology.

Though,we must add in Lord Guthrie's defence that the size of the British infantry was not cut during his time as Chief of the Defence Staff,it was on his successor's watch that four infantry battalions were cut while the British Army was fighting two manpower intensive "people control" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the nine years since 2001 many British soldiers have been killed and maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan,arguably because the British Army lacked sufficient men to secure "people control".

The error of cutting the already stretched British infantry while it was fighing in Iraq was minor in comparison with the mistakes which were made in the field of armoured warfare both before and during the Second World War.

It does not take hindsight to understand that a tank should be equipped to deal with it's primary threat system.

In 1939,every major army was well equipped with large numbers of anti-tank guns.

The British two pounder was an excellent anti-tank weapon when first introduced to service and was also the primary armament of the majority of tanks in the British Army for the first three years of the Second World War.

However,it's high velocity,flat trajectory and small 40mm shell with limited explosive capacity rendered it ill suited to use against anti-tank guns.

Consequently tens of thousands of British soldiers died due to the inadequacy of British tank armament.

More precisely,tens of thousands of British soldiers died due to the inadequacy of the officers charged with specifying the armament to be fitted to British tanks.

One of the most serious threats to a modern day armoured vehicle is the Anti Tank Guided Weapon (A.T.G.W.).

This has almost entirely replaced the anti tank gun in the World's armies.

Compared to the anti tank gun of old the modern A.T.G.W. is far more capable.

It has a much higher probability of hitting and killing it's target.

It is far cheaper and thus more common on the battlefield.

It is far smaller and lighter and thus more mobile and easier to conceal.

In every way the A.T.G.W. is a more dangerous opponent than the anti tank gun of old.

What then do today's generals propose to counter such a threat?

The 40mm Cased Telescoped Weapon System (C.T.W.S.) is an Anglo French 40mm high velocity,flat trajectory automatic cannon.

It has been selected as the main armament of both the Future Rapid Effects System (F.R.E.S.) of vehicles and upgraded Warrior fighting vehices.

This weapon will be ideal for dealing with enemy medium armoured vehicles,one of the least likely threats for the vehicles which will carry it.

However,it will be far from ideal for dealing with their most likely threat,the A.T.G.W. fire team.

Just like the 40mm 2 pounder of the Second World War,C.T.W.S. lacks the large explosive shell,long range and medium velocity curved trajectory which are ideal for dealing with A.T.G.W. threats using the concealment and protection afforded by the terrain.

Future armoured vehicle crews will find themselves just as disadvantaged as their forbearers were during the first half of the Second World War.

Politicians would do well to remember Clemenceau's refrain:

"La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires." (War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men).

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