The Sunday Times has discovered that a Trident missile malfunctioned on a test firing last year. The newspaper has got itself into a lather about it, in common with the other papers, with all the usual hype. Some facts:
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.
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.
This review was written for and first posted on the Army Rumour Service website, http://www.arrse.co.uk and appears here thanks to their kind permission.
Terror Attack Brighton is a book about the IRA attack on the Conservative party conference in1984, which killed five people but narrowly failed to kill Margaret Thatcher or to disrupt the conference programme. It is written by Kieran Hughes, a former journalist with ITN and the BBC. The book is an extension of his undergraduate dissertation which was part of his recent history degree. Unfortunately this shows.
The Guardian ran an article by John Sweeney over the weekend, lamenting the inattention to 306 soldiers shot for desertion during the First World War. Predictably it demanded a pardon for them all, and cast aspersions on the MOD and the conduct of the war. As it happens I have been re-reading Gordon Corrigan’s excellent Mud, Blood and Poppycock, which devotes a chapter to military discipline and the application of the death penalty during that conflict. As a soldier, Corrigan spent a significant amount of time as a president of courts martial so he knows what he is talking about. His research is impeccable.
The first point to be made is that military discipline is covered under a separate branch of English Law, enshrined in the Army Acts. These have changed somewhat since 1918, but the general thrust remains the same. A string, just and effective legal framework is required to maintain order in the lethal chaos that is battle. The point being that the Acts were passed (annually) by Parliament and therefore represented the view of the electorate at the time. Note also that the acts proscribed how justice was to be administered; there was due process, albeit somewhat less complicated that would be found away from the battlefield, and that was complied with.
The second point is that of the 123,383 Field General Court Martials held during the war (the most common format for dealing with soldiers), 3,080 resulted in the award of a death penalty and only 346 were executed in all theatres of war, 322 of which were in France or Belgium. The offences tired covered all offences under the Army Act, the overwhelming majority of which did not have the death penalty. The court comprise three officers, and in the case of a death penalty they had to be unanimous. Moreover the punishment had to be confirmed by higher commanders, and in almost 90% of cases they ordered clemency.
Almost all offences effectively turned upon points of fact: the accused was either at his post or he was not. He either had his weapon, or did not. He either obeyed an order, or did not. In almost all cases, the accused was in no better or worse part of a battle than his comrades – the difference was that they did their job and the accused did not.
“Shell shock” was a known problem, as it had been since the Boer War and treatment was provided, that treatment usually involved evacuation from the front line and rest, which is pretty much what it would do today (although the terminology might be different). If shell shock was cited as a defence doctors were consulted and no soldier diagnosed with shell shock was executed. If the doctors were nor satisfied that the accused was suffering from shell shock, then the defence was not accepted. The Southbrough committee of 1920 investigated, inter alia, and it was satisfied that from 1914 onwards allegations of shell shock in courts martial were examined very carefully.
Corrigan actually reviews the case of Lance Sergeant Stones; as he observes it is one of two often aired in the press around Remembrance Day. Following a German raid on the British forward trench, L/Sgt Stones was found 750 yards away, running away from the front along a communication trench without his rifle. Duly charged with “shamefully throwing away his arms in the face of the enemy” he was defenced at his court martial by a Captain of his regiment who was a qualified solicitor. Stone’s reason for not having his rifle was that he had used it to block the trench. It is hard to understand how a single rifle would constitute any sort of obstacle; the better solution would have been to use it as intended, to shoot at and kill the advancing enemy. Corrigan comments further that, had Stones been a private soldier he might well have received clemency, but he was an NCO from whom more is expected.
Remembrance Day is the time when we remember those who did stand, did fight and, as a consequence of that dutiful resolution, died. The simple fact is that those executed failed to fight when their mates were. While their deaths were caused by the war, so were many others. They should all be remembered, but 11th November is for soldiers who died doing their job.
This review originally appeared on the Army Rumour Site (www.arrse.co.uk) and is reproduced with their kind permission.
The average reader of this blog is probably familiar with the First World War and may well ask whether the centenary of its start is cause enough for another book on the Somme Campaign of 1916. The author, who has written many military books, asks the same question in the introduction and answers it. This book is a comprehensive, chronological record of how and where the British Army fought during the 142 days. It was worth writing, and is certainly well worth reading.
The book eschews commentary, discussion of the intriguing relationships between the commanders and the German view and experience. Instead it produces a dry, unequivocal record of who did what, why and when. The author has also avoided the common trap of wallowing in the (appalling) casualty rolls. The result is a crisp, authoritative and clear text.