Category Archives: Military

Posts on soldiering, geo-political stuff etc. etc.

The MOD’s Iraq Problems Show the Weakness of UK Government.

Ex Army MP Johnny Mercer’s inquiry into the operation of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) will recommend that it be shut down. Right answer, but way too late.

IHAT was set up to establish to investigate allegations of mistreatment of Iraqis by the British Army following the invasion of Iraq.  The MOD, which funds it, claims that it was compelled to set it up as it was independent of the British Army; the concern was that otherwise the UK might find itself as a defendant in the International Criminal Court.  There were concerns that, following the death in British Army custody of Baha Mousa in 2003, the British Army was insufficiently impartial to investigate such matters – although in fact the perpetrator was identified, convicted and imprisoned. Continue reading The MOD’s Iraq Problems Show the Weakness of UK Government.

The Only Rule of War is Don’t Come Second

From my TCW column:

It has been announced that (ex-Sergeant) Alexander Blackman’s conviction for the murder of an Afghan prisoner of war is to be reconsidered. This is a good decision, but there is a wider question that needs addressing.

Continue reading The Only Rule of War is Don’t Come Second

Do We Want to Defend The Realm or Not? The British Army is changing form Paper Tiger to Potemkin Village.

The  Times reports (here) that the British Army is to reduce the number of Challenger 2 tanks that it has by one third, reducing them to just two regiments of 56 tanks each, plus some in reserve and for training.  It proposes to replace the tanks with its newest armoured vehicle, Ajax.  If this is true it is a clear demonstration that the MOD is now utterly incapable of defending the realm and that our armed forces are moving from paper tiger to Potemkin village.

What’s the problem? Simple, not everything with tracks and a turret is a tank, in the same way that not everything with wheels and a windscreen is a car.  Using your Ford Focus as a replacement for the double decker school bus is going to be as successful as using a reconnaissance vehicle (like Ajax) to replace a Challenger 2.

A tank combines firepower, protection and mobility.  The firepower is a gun capable of firing a solid shot with enough energy to penetrate the armour of an enemy tank.  Like most tanks, the Challenger 2 has a 120mm calibre main gun capable of firing an approximately 10kg round at a muzzle velocity of over 1,500 m/s, with a kinetic energy of some 11.3MJ.  The Ajax has a 40mm cannon capable of firing an equivalent round of about 1kg at 1,600m/s, an energy of around 1.2MJ, a whole order of magnitude less than the tank round.  While the details of the ability to penetrate are both complex and classified, it should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that there is no way that the Ajax poses anything like the threat to a tank target that a Challenger 2 does.

Challenger 2 weighs around 75 tons combat weight, much it Dorchester armour capable of withstanding hits from most weapons.  Ajax weighs just 40 tons, the difference being due to lower levels of protection.  (This low protection is understandable; Ajax was designed as a reconnaissance vehicles and such vehicles should not get into fire fights.)

Swapping from Challenger to Ajax is not like for like.  Of course, there are other ways of killing tanks.  Most obviously anti-tank missiles, artillery and from aircraft (specifically the Brimstone missile).  However, there are problems there too.

In Ukraine, the Russian T-90 are equipped with an anti-missile system which shoots them out of the sky.  Moreover, their latest armours protect against the latest anti-tank missile warheads.  The utility of anti-tank missiles (including British ones) is questionable.

In the Ukraine Russian artillery is devastating armour, just as ours did when in the first Gulf War. It manages this by firing a projectile full of sub munitions.  The projectile opens over the target area and the sub-munitions rain down.  There are so many that multiple hits are likely, destroying everything. Unfortunately, Princess Diana’s campaign against landmines led to the Ottawa Treaties, which banned this class of weapon. It has now been deleted from British weaponry.  The Russians did not sign the treaty; nor did China, Korea, Iran, India and others.

That leaves air launched weapons, such as the British Brimstone.  Although it’s a potent weapon the warhead technology is not new, and can be defeated.  Worse, it needs an aircraft to launch it and aircraft are neither cheap nor invulnerable.  Moreover, if aircraft are busy trying to kill tanks, what is shooting down the enemy’s aircraft? (We have no significant surface to air missile capability either!)

Why worry about killing tanks?  Because in the absence of effective counter-weapons (which is another tank) they dominate the battlefield by slaughtering and out manoeuvring infantry.  And almost all countries have them, and in significant numbers. There are around 100,000 tanks in the world at the moment and few of them belong to allies.

The bottom line is that this change of vehicle substantially reduces the British ability to fight any armoured enemy, quite possibly to the point of failure.  If it proceeds the Army will comprise:

  • Two armoured infantry brigades, which are light on tanks.
  • One wheeled infantry brigade, with no tanks (and therefore vulnerable to a tank equipped enemy)
  • One reconnaissance brigade, with little combat power.
  • Some top notch special forces, but their role is not on the battlefield.
  • A score of foot borne infantry battalions (some of which can jump out of aeroplanes) all of which move at walking pace and are hugely vulnerable to every weapon.
  • A very weak logistic tail.

Frankly this force would struggle to achieve anything against any halfway capable opposition; it is an organisation that makes no sense and delivers little combat power.  Either we want to have an ability to wage war on land, in which case we’ll have to spend more, or we don’t, in which case we should disband the army.

It is time that we had a sensible national debate on whether we want to defend the Realm or not.


This post was first published on The Conservative Woman and is reproduced here with their kind consent.

Fidel Was Worse Than Hitler – as anyone but the lefty media knows

Hitler was, without doubt, an utterly evil man who sought to eliminate the entire Jewish race, plus assorted other minorities.  He was also, unfortunately, charismatic and so an otherwise highly educated nation followed him to their doom.

Fidel was worse.

Continue reading Fidel Was Worse Than Hitler – as anyone but the lefty media knows

NATO Has Become A Paper Tiger – and it is not Trump’s fault

Putin is deploying more missiles into Kaliningrad (the Russian enclave at the southwest corner of the Baltic, bordering Poland).  The media is concerned that some of these are nuclear capable and have the rang (500 miles+) to hit European cities.  The reality is rather different.  Continue reading NATO Has Become A Paper Tiger – and it is not Trump’s fault

The “New” Russian T-14 Armata is not a “super-tank” so don’t panic. Yet.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the latest Russian tank, (the T-14 Armata), could vanquish the British Army, and indeed NATO.  Great headline – now let’s look at the facts.

The T-14 is the first deployed tank to have an unmanned turret.  This should allow it to have a larger gun in a smaller, more easily protected volume and that is indeed potentially effective.  I say potentially, because there is more to good tanks (and winning battles) than firepower – although it is important.  Having spent a decade or so as a tank commander, there are benefits to being in the turret – primarily one can see much better, and much further.  That gives better spatial awareness, which is crucial for maintaining order and cohesion in the chaos of battle.  The T-14 design has been experimented with repeatedly, and rejected repeatedly, over the years for just this reason.  Yes, modern electronics and optronics mean that it is possible to relay views from one part of a tank to others more easily now than in the 1970s.  But that does not make it battle winning.

Big guns are important – in simple terms the bigger the gun the more one can kill at a greater distance.  Current western tanks (and indeed Russian ones) can knock out opposing tanks at well over 2,000m.  What range you need rather depends on where you are fighting (tank rounds travel pretty much along lines of sight – you can’t hit what you can’t see).  In Western Europe, which is what western kit was designed for, the average engagement range would be around 1,200m (this figure comes from the shape of the ground, and is computed from survey data).  In the deserts of Iraq it was somewhat further, as it would be on the Russian Steppes.  However opening fire also gives your position away, and invites all sorts of retaliation.  That said, the current version of the T-14 has similar firepower to western tanks.

The T-14 crew are more protected than that of any other tank.  But that does not mean that the tank as a weapon system is better protected.  A hit on the turret is still likely to disable the gun.  Arguably, given the additional complexity of the T-14 design, the turret is more vulnerable than a conventional one.

The article states that the T-14 also has an integrated active defence system to defeat missiles.  These are not new; the Israelis have one in use on their latest Merkava.  And it won’t work against an incoming tank round.  Most western countries are investigating retro fits (there are other issues that make them more complicated).  The article also claims that the T14 has excellent composite armour.  So do most Western tanks – although the British claim that the latest version of the Challenger 2’s Chobham armour is starting to sound a little jingoistic (obviously the real data is highly classified).

Where the article is spot on is that the concerns over casualties to IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns has meant that the British Army has ignored tanks.  For historic reasons the British has always had a bias towards infantry, and that has got out of hand in the past decade or so.  The article also, rightly, makes the point that the British Army tank strength is risible in terms of numbers and the Challenger2 is an old design in need of an upgrade (which it is getting).  It also (rightly) questions whether the Army’s new reconnaissance vehicle is going to be all that was hoped – although that is a different story.

If the British people wish to continue to benefit from an Army that can fight any enemy, anywhere then it needs to have a long hard look at its ability to fight armoured warfare (which remains the method of choice for those with ambitions of territorial expansion, like Putin).  We can probably just about do it now, but it is on the limit of both the equipment, the numbers and the level of training.  Increasing our capability to what is necessary will not come cheap, and will probably need rather more than the 2% annual increase in current plans.

It is not quite time to panic – the T-14 is not a “supertank” and has not altered the balance of power.  However, it is time to take a long, hard and critical look at our military capability in the light of possible future conflicts.

Mrs May, it’s time for you to sort out the law for our armed forces

Friday’s Telegraph reported that, on Thursday, Mrs May told Defence Chiefs “to make every effort” to prevent abuse of the legal system by lawyers suing British servicemen over events in Iraq (and, presumably, Afghanistan).

Excellent start, and I hope that the Defence Chiefs immediately cease the current 1,500 investigations, consign them all to the shredder and redeploy the resources to defending the Realm.

However, it is not the role of the Armed Forces to regulate the operation of UK law.

The problem arises because of fears that if the UK does not investigate claims, they may instead be investigated by the UN’s International Criminal Court (although this has never actually happened). This has led the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, to advise that ceasing the current inquiries might be risky. Mrs May needs to have a word in his ear.

She should start by pointing out that the ICC is a UN body that has less than unanimous support and membership. The USA, Israel, Iraq, China, Russia and India are all not signatories. Why is the UK? (Answer: some deluded concept of ethical foreign policy invented by St Tone). Perhaps we should leave.

She could go on to point out that the UK armed forces are regulated by the Armed Forces Act, passed every 5 years, last time in 2011 and a Bill is currently before Parliament. The Armed Forces Act makes any UK offence an offence under the act. Last time I checked, murder, detention without trial, rape and the rest were all UK offences. The point, therefore, is that the British armed forces are perfectly well regulated. Ask (ex) Sergeant Blackman, who is currently in jail for shooting a prisoner in Afghanistan, or those members of the Army who were prosecuted for failings in Abu Ghraib.

On that basis, she could suggest that Mr Wright mans up, and informs the ICC (and the world) that as far as the UK is concerned its armed forces operate to the highest professional, ethical and legal standards and are perfectly capable of maintaining them.

She might also invite him to note that while MPs have the legal cost of any action against them arising from their duties covered by the State, soldiers have a means-tested form of legal aid. So the MPs who sent them to war are safe from the financial consequences – but Tommy Atkins is not. Perhaps a change to the law is necessary.

Surely she will not have to remind him of the problems of double jeopardy, exacerbated by the evidential problems of dealing with incidents some time ago with an absence of witnesses. Or to point at the ludicrously expensive fiasco of the Saville Enquiry.

She could also point out that the majority of the actions threatened have been brought by two firms. One is already closed (due Legal Aid finding accounting problems). The other, Leigh Day, is under investigation for “irregularities” in the handling of some cases.

While she is at it she should also suggest that the Attorney General reminds the Law Society (the solicitor’s trade union) that the rule of law is not the rule of lawyers. Moreover, she could invite him to point out to them that if access to law is unaffordable, justice is threatened. Perhaps all lawyers should be required to perform (say) 200 hours work per year free, pro bono? Or perhaps Parliament, whose concerns included justice, the law and the economy, should set the rate for all lawyers.

She could end by pointing out that world class armed forces are very rare and hard to replace. Lawyers are three a penny…

NOTE – I am now proud and delighted to be a regular blogger about defence matters on The Conservative Woman  where this post first appeared.  If you like this you may well like some of the other posts on TCW so click here and have a look

Brexit may save the British Army

You may have noticed that there has been a bit of a kerfuffle with the Army being sued for alleged human rights abuses in Iraq – the kerfuffle being that these turned out to be spurious. The relevant firm is now being shut down.

You may not recall that there used to be a thing called Crown Immunity, which was provided by Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act. This meant that the Crown could not be sued for from actions for death or personal injury caused by members of the British Armed Forces. When the EC incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into EC Law Section 10 was deemed incompatible, and was thus repealed by Saint Tone’s Human Rights Act 1998. Net result, chaos on the battlefield and subsequently in court. Soldiers feel that the society that sends them to war is now penalising them for prosecuting such a war. This is not good for morale, recruitment or retention.
Brexit (when Mrs May gets around to setting it in motion) provides an opportunity to resolve this matter as we will no longer be bound by the ECHR, or indeed any other law that does not originate in and be passed by Parliament. So what laws does one need to control soldiers?

Firstly, some background. Before 1998 the British Army had been in existence for over 300 years, won a substantial number of wars was generally viewed as disciplined and lawful. Repealing Section 10 therefore, like so much of St Tone’s work, solved a problem that did not exist. Warfare is bound by the Geneva (and other conventions) which generally provide for the acceptance and treatment of prisoners and the safety of non-combatants, cultural icons etc. Of course, not all states are signatories and not all wars are between states. But the basic ideas are straightforward and easily interpreted. Note also that orders are only binding if lawful, so “shoot that prisoner” is not a lawful order. This is well understood and is enforced rigorously, as Sergeant Blackman found out.

Surrendering is actually not easy. Standing up on a battlefield is inherently dangerous and white flags are not issued to soldiers. Moreover, there comes a moment when surrender is no longer practically possible and accepting a surrender is equally dangerous, as members of 2 Para found at Goose Green in the Falklands, were a platoon commander was killed as he went forward to accept the surrender of a position waving a white flag.

Outside of general war the situation is more complicated. British troops serving in Ulster had no more rights to kill than anyone else under (then) common law. They were allowed to use lethal force only if a life was in imminent danger and there was no other way of preventing this. This was encapsulated in the Yellow Card, with all soldiers learned and understood by heart. There may or may not have been a breakdown on Bloody Sunday. The Saville Enquiry proved little beyond how much lawyers can charge and how memories of adrenaline fueled people who believe that they are in mortal peril are neither complete nor consistent.

A word on non-combatants. The battlefield is a very dangerous place whether you are armed or not. Mistakes are made, and mistakes with weaponry tend to be fatal to someone. While there is currently media interest in pursuing the perpetrator, the proximate cause is going to war in the first place and that decision lies in Westminster. And a note on scale. It is reckoned that some 116,000 Iraqi non-combatants were killed (by all sides and forces) in the 10 years following the invasion. The coalition was trying to avoid civilian casualties. By comparison, in the three months fighting in France after D Day in June 1944, over 20,000 French non-combatants were killed. (By way of context, the RAF killed more Frenchmen by mistake that the Luftwaffe did Britons on purpose during the Blitz). The point is simple, warfare gets people killed and is most dangerous for non-combatants.

Quite how to evaluate which deaths are collateral damage and which are the result of genocide is a rationalist’s nightmare and a lawyer’s gravy train. Clearly the answer lies in intent. The bombing of Caen in 1944 was intended to facilitate the British forcing the Germans out. It failed in that and killed many French non-combatants. The killing of the non-combatants was not the intention, but was a reasonably predictable side effect. Does that make it criminally reckless? And would that recklessness be more criminal than sending in British troops without the fire support that commanders at the time deemed necessary?

The brutal truth is that there is really only one rule in war; don’t come second.

Who’s Afraid of Fat Boy Kim?

North Korea has always struck me as being quaintly bizarre, a regime so closed that it almost seems to seek a different planet. Thanks to its version of communism North Koreans enjoy a GDP per head of some $1,800, compared to the $36,500 per head of the South Korans. The economy is a basket case, but in spite of this Kim has some 25 nuclear warheads (possibly a hydrogen bomb), chemical weapons, missiles able to hit Japan, China and parts of Russia, the largest Army in the world and the stated intention to develop a missile capable of hitting the United States.
Should we Brits be worried about it? Korea is, after all, on the other side of the world so we’re unlikely to become enmeshed in any direct action – unless the US or Canada is attacked by North Korea and invokes Article 4 of the NATO agreement.
The Korean border remains the most intensely militarised frontier in the world, (remember the Korean War has not ended, they’re is just a 60+ year long ceasefire in place), so a war could start there very quickly. That war would immediately involve the US, which has some 30,000 troops based there. While the North Korean army is huge and its kit generally good (circa Soviet 1990 capability), the terrain is not easy, as was proved last time around. The combination of the formidable South Korean armed forces, backed by the US, is probably too tough for the North Korans to sweep aside in a conventional battle. The use of chemical weapons by the North would be unlikely to confer sufficient tactical benefit to triumph. Which leaves them the choice of stay at home, or roll the dice with nuclear weapons.
Of course, these nuclear weapons prevent, or at least enormously complicate, any attack on North Korea in pursuit of regime change. While such an invasion may have been an interesting option a decade ago, the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos have dampened enthusiasm for such objectives. In many ways, therefore, the song remains the same. The North cannot invade the South, and vice versa. All the nuclear weapons do is increase the stakes.
Of course, Fat-boy has the option of launching his missiles at nearby cities, with chemical and conventional warheads as well as nuclear ones. But what does that benefit him? Such an attack would deplete his arsenal and invite retaliation, either in kind or (more likely) the incremental destruction of his armed forces by the massively superior technology of the west – akin to the operations over Serbia. It is unlikely that smothering the South in fallout and nerve agent would facilitate invasion, or the benefits of such an invasion. While North Korea is undoubtedly bizarre, it is not irrational.
Whereas the similarly bizarre Albania under Enver Hoxha eased its way into the modern world following Hoxha’s death, North Korea is now on its third generation of Kim. At some point the regime will change, probably as a result of spending unsustainable levels of its GDP on the military (some 16%, which is a similar level to that which eventually broke the Soviet Union). Quite how that will happen is unfathomable, but that will be the time of greatest concern as instability and nuclear weapons are unhealthy partners.
It is increasingly possible to destroy ballistic missiles in flight. The Patriots shooting at Scuds in the 1990 Gulf War were lucky, but technology has moved on. Note that it is significantly harder to hit an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) than tactical / theatre missiles like Scud. (The reasons are both simple, ICBMs fly higher so fall faster, and complicated – some ICBMs are capable of violently evasive actions). North Korea is seeking to develop ICBMs, but most tests have failed – although North Korea has launched satellites. Moscow is “protected” by an anti ICBM system which itself uses nuclear warheads. The US also has a system.
For other ballistic missiles the counters are much more potent. As well as Russia and the US, Israel has several systems; modern anti-aircraft missiles have the capacity.
So, Fat-boy has some nuclear warheads that he can’t deliver with any great certainty of success, a huge army that probably can’t conquer the south and an air-force that is generally reckoned to be unable to protect its own airspace. He is not, therefore, a threat. He would become one if his ICBM worked – as they surely will one day, unless his regime falls apart.
So it’s a case of keep calm and carry on. Rather than worrying about nuclear war, ponder how to help a collapsing authoritarian state change in a stable manner. More wisdom, not more belligerence.