Sunday, May 03, 2009

Repeating Mistakes

Yet again we have a government minister in charge of defence making the classic error of basing future plans on the conflict we're currently in. And ignoring the equipment used in one that has only just finished. With the British pull out of Iraq complete, and the deployment of more troops to Afghanistan, the news has come that tanks will no longer be manufactured in the UK.

Now, nearly a century after inventing the first armoured warhorse - to storm through German lines in the First World War - Britain is to stop building its own tanks.

In the week British troops formally ended their military operations in Iraq, BAe Systems, which makes the Army's Challenger 2 tanks, revealed it was closing its tank-making operation at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

And the sole reason is that they see no future contracts coming because tanks will not be used in Afghanistan.

Defence Secretary John Hutton has declared 'a rebalancing of investment in technology, equipment and people to meet the challenge of irregular warfare'.

He said he planned to strengthen and enlarge Special Forces but gave no hint of even a medium-weight tank in the Army's future.

Amazing that men the calibre of which SF takes their recruits from seem to exist in unlimited supply in the eyes of politicians. Astounding too that he's allowing us to off-shore our national security to other nations while also putting men and women out of work.

Is there any way this could be a more bone-headed decision?

And the mistake of basing future operating requirements on current operations isn't confined to Labour-

Experts insist that modern warfare require smaller, faster armoured vehicles. Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former infantry commander, said: 'The tank is not as relevant to today's form of battle.'

I'm stunned that a former infantry commander does not see the need for armoured support- and the short-sightedness of this, the fact that he cannot conceive of any other conflict existing other than the current one against lightly armed terrorists, is staggering. Frankly, he should know better. In fact, Mercer served in Bosnia and then worked as reporter in Kosovo- both places where the Challenger 2 tank served operationally. It is the only tank to be used in the invasion of Iraq which suffered no losses to enemy fire-

In one encounter within the urban area a Challenger 2 came under attack from irregular forces with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. The driver's sight was damaged and while attempting to back away under the commander's directions, the other sights were damaged and the tank threw its tracks entering a ditch. It was hit directly by eight rocket propelled grenades from close range and a MILAN anti-tank missile, and was under heavy small arms fire for hours. The crew survived remaining safe within the tank until the tank was recovered for repairs, the worst damage being to the sighting system. It was back in operation six hours later after the repairs. One Challenger 2 operating near Basra survived being hit by 70 RPGs in another incident.

But according to these experts, we don't need tanks like this any more- a smaller, faster vehicle with lighter armour is the way to go. Right? One wonders how many soldiers will have to die because they aren't in an actual tank or because they don't have the fire support a tank can provide before this appalling decision is reversed.

By the same reasoning we also have no need for fighter aircraft nor of our submarine fleet to name but two.

These were the same type experts who wanted to slash Britain's Navy just before the Falklands War, arguing that the UK didn't need the ability to transport troops and aircraft by sea any more.

You'd have thought after the Gulf War and the initial invasion of Iraq that these "experts" would realise the importance of tank warfare. Hell, you'd imagine that military experts would see that an armoured component is essential given that we cannot tell what threats we will face in the next five, ten or fifteen years.

They don't seem to realise that a sudden need for a main battle tank cannot be remedied in a short space of time- military procurement and training takes a long time.


No comments: