Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chinook Story

It might not come to mind at first, but one of the major problems facing any military force is "appropriateness". That's a fancy way of saying that for the missions that force is expected to perform: not only has sufficient total force available...

...but the elements of that force match the requirements of that given mission.

See for example the American experience in occupation / pacification in Iraq. It was both overkill and counterproductive to generally use heavy formations equipped with tanks and mechanized infantry fighting vehicles to do what was a LIC (Low Intensity Combat) mission. Certainly, a few such formations were needed, but not for patrols or counter-insurgency (COIN). The mis-match then got worse when most all formations assigned to the mission were instead mounted on utility vehicles ("Humvees") that had no real protection for the troops. The answer, two-fold, was to focus major combat responsibilities on Stryker-equipped formations (large, reasonably armed and armored, but wheeled IFV's more suited to the task) and a massive procurement effort allowed the wide use of Mine Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP) trucks as the utility vehicle of choice. Neither of these types of vehicles are what one wants in a tank battle, but both were well-suited to the needs of COIN operations.

Now cast your gaze upon Afghanistan, and the British Army forces deployed there as a major part of the effort. Realize that budgetary considerations in almost any Western country other than the U.S.A. are murderously limiting on operational capabilities. Add to that moment of understanding the fact that the combination of terrain, elevation, and an almost total lack of roads makes force mobility in Afghanistan a brutal task. That last feature drives an almost imperative need... helicopters.

But many of helicopters in service with the British Army (and it should be noted that even in total, the U.K. has rather few helicopters in service) are entirely *inappropriate* for operations in Afghanistan. The Lynx multirole craft can't fly in thin air, or on hot days in the average elevations of the theater. The transport helicopter that the British have that *is appropriate* for most airmobile and logistical needs, and can fly well even in such an environment, is the HC1 (HC2 and HC3) Chinook, the British military version of the CH47 in U.S. service. However, between budget limitations and numbers available, there are simply nowhere near enough of them to support operations. By "nowhere near enough", I'm saying 5 times as many as they have would be good.

The shortage of reliable lift is second only to operational tempo as the reason for the high casualty rate being suffered right now by British forces. No lifters means they drive to battle; but they don't have MRAPs in any meaningful quantity; route clearance for movement is still done by foot patrols and hand detection of mines (IEDs); the total force available is strained to keep enough forces forward to do the mission, which leaves less available to secure routes once they've been cleared... and there aren't enough reconnaissance assets (like drone aircraft) to keep watch on the unsecured routes... and so on.

However, the Ministry of Defence, in full understanding of this situation, has not been exactly johnny-on-the-spot about making the expenditures needed to get a more appropriate force mix in the field. Worse, even when they have spent money in the past, they have so roundly mishandled the matter as to appear to be "bordering on irresponsibility".

This matter needs to be resolved. Now.

If that means cutting an unfavorable deal with the manufacturer, so be it. The whole affair is already unfavorable, and those Chinooks are needed.

If getting that done means hauling the blasted fragments of a Viking or a Snatch LandRover up to the front porch of Whitehall and leaving it there, smoking, to illustrate just what the failure to provide the Army with the means to fight is costing, so be it. Remember the "send body armor" outcry that the U.S. Department of Defense was hit with in the first years of the Iraq Campaign.

Stop wasting the lives of troopies in the name of saving money.


I've been looking for an opportunity to point readers to this for some time, so here is in my opinion the *best* milblog out there on British forces today: Defence of the Realm.

Just be prepared to be very mad at politicians after you read what's there.


Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced Parliamentary "question time" on this very subject. Sadly, the reality of the situation and what he says are simply not in agreement.

No comments: