Getting rid of the heavy stuff- a good idea?

Discussion in 'Infantry' started by dogmonkey, May 25, 2003.

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  1. Having seen at relatively first hand the benefits of armour as against to the 'fight-light' concept, I was somewhat shocked to see that some idiots still seem to believe that we should do away with heavy forces.

    The recent fighting has once again proved the unsustainability of light forces over protracted periods against anyone with any armour, no matter how obsolete (I would suggest T-55 is about as pants and simple a platform as you'll get).  Several incidents proved the necessity for armour.  The SBS action (where they lost a lot of kit as their WIMIKs came up against armour) and the action when the SOTS DG deployed in support of 3 Cdo Bde are but two which spring to mind.  

    On the blocks in Basrah, it was CR2 which did the vast majority of the damage, not air / avn (although air did achieve some deeper stuff).  Warrior is not a happy match for T-55 and thus the CR2 was a battle winner.  It out-ranged / out-sighted (although SOPHIE is awesome) anything else on the battlefield, and was the only true 24 hour capability.  The tanks which took several RPGs from close up and continued to fight again highlight the point.

    The SCOTS DG Sqn attack accounted for mroe than 14 x T-55 and a succession of Coy positions, saving 3 Bde from having to mount a succession of potentially highly costly dismounted Battlegroup level attacks.  The speed and shock of armour is still a significant factor on the battlefield, so too is the firepower.

    As for aviation, when the US was playing it was indeed a potent weapon, but the RAF / Teeny Weeny airways refused to fly over the city because of the perceived SAM threat. Thanks for that boys.  I now somewhat doubt the capability of our vaunted 16Bde relying on avn alone.  When the shit was hitting the fan, everyone was calling for armour, and that was against a technologically inferior army (although a brave bunch of fighters anyone engaged with them would echo).  MILAN on LR is bollocks as it affords no protection and it isn't going to go through anything more than a T-62 unless you hit it in the ass.

    Aside from 3 Bde on the Al Faw, the only other significant (Brit) fighting took place in Basrah, and was carried out by four armoured battlegroups (whether based on AI or Tanks). There were few sustainability problems (although we had only 1.5 turret stocks which would have made things tight but that's for another part of the POR!).  The troops were self-sufficient for protracted periods of time and had protection during the 21 days of constant incoming indrect fire which the boys on the bridges on the Shatt Al Arab endured.  The firepower and STA capability afforded to the armoured troops from WR and CR2 allowed the stand-off and detection at longer ranges (save for anyone equipped with SOPHIE).

    And all of this was against the so-called assymmetric threat.  It amuses me, and other members of the heavy fraternity, to read articles suggesting that armour is a thing of the past, clearly that's bollocks as has just been demonstrated.  It was armour which took Basrah - a built-up area sinificantly larger than Stalingrad, with a larger population ie not open desert (no matter what any of the papers say about 3 Para 'liberating Basrah'.  Anyone who was there knows what happened on that day so arguing is pointless, it also besmirches the sacrifices which many Regiments made on the way in).  

    Going light is not right unless we can be provided with the same protection mobility and firepower.  I'd be v interested in hearing arguments against this from my surface laid / dropped brethren.

  2. I remember having to write an essay on the subject of whether advances in missile and helicopter technology meant that the tank was an anachronism on the modern battlefield.  The answer was no then and it is still no now.

    The question about light versus medium or heavy forces has the potential to be a complex one though, because different people mean different things by it.  In principle the idea of having more portable / transportable forces fits better with the expeditionary model that the British Army now follows; but obviously that is only any good if the kit is effective once it get there.  So while on the face of it having a medium tank fleet (like T80 or 90) sounds good because you can get a regiment of them in ship that could only carry 2 sqns of CR2 (for example), the reality is that T80 would not have taken the punishment in Basra that CR2 did with so few casualties (look at the Sovs, sorry Ruskies, in Grozny).  But, in some cases the alternative might be that no tanks at all are deployed (like the Falklands - although CVR did a sterling job) because CR2 is too big and heavy to ship in or move about using the local infrastructure.  So perhaps there is a case for a medium tank, just one that doesn't have its charge bags stored next to the weakest part of the turret armour like T80!

    At this point everybody shouts "Apache" and, frankly, should be knelt by a pit and shot for it.  Apache requires a monstrous logistic tail (the Yanks reckon a dedicated C17 per airframe for spares and backup) to keep it in the battle part time.  You won't see an Apache pilot bashing it with a with a spanner to keep it going, and when it runs out of fuel / good weather / airframe flying hours etc it goes away.  And may not come back.  Anyone remember the CR that crossed the GW1 LD in reverse because its forward gears had failed?  That was because the crew didn't want to let their teammates down.  Don't expect to see any Apaches flying backwards near you, or providing ISTAR out beyond the range of man portable kit when its track has broken, or, most importantly, drawing the enemy's fire because they know it will bounce off.  Apache is a superb, flexible weapon for prosecuting the deep battle and providing decisive concentration of force in the close battle.  But it ain't a tank, it's an aeroplane, so suffers from all the problems of availability, lead times, not being a dedicated asset and, frankly, being flimsy.  If you want to know what relying on air power alone is like (admittedly for artillery in their case, rather than armour) ask the Israeli soldiers who had to retreat in front of the Egyptian army during the Yom Kippur war.

    Don't forget, it is not just at the "sharp end" that this matters.  With so few troops on the ground in Iraq it was more important than ever that CSS vehicles should have some level of protection from ambush or the enemy's deep operations.  Currently even our Mech bns rely on completely softskin support vehicles (why take attack a mech company when you can starve them by shooting up the CQMS's Landrover!).  Most Hummers have some Kevlar armour on them, very few of our Landrovers and 4 tonners do.  Probably about time we looked at that.  "Front Line First" - Pah!  A WW2 light role infantry battalion used to have more armoured vehicles in it than a modern mech bn and they were mostly for bringing bullets forward and bodies back.

    Not much of a beginning, middle or end to this, but just to get it off my chest.  ;D
  3. That sounds like the presentation I should have made on 'The Effect of Attack Helicopters on Armoured Warfare'.  ;D

    Instead I had lots of nice pics of Apache's, Hinds, Lynxs and plenty of technical data.

    Top marks for presentation, nul points for relevance to the topic!  :-[
  4. Interesting...........

    Lets us just remind ourselves that the coalition forces had air, sea and ground superiority and so we need to be careful here about learning false lessons.

    There is no argument as to the sterling job the heavy forces did in Iraq. However to cater for all conflict scenarios do we need to heavily invest in armour ? I suggest not. We need a balance and this balance has not yet been reached.

    It could be argued that we have too many expensive heavy forces. Only a few Regiments were used in Iraq and therefore if that is all we are going to do in the future, ie be part of coalition force, then why do we need so many heavy forces ? Reduce them to a minimum. The savings would be enormous. More money for the education and health departments and so an easy option for the government of the day.

    The answer of course is simple. We must be able to cater for all the government's defence priorties (which are widely publised), and to do that we need a balanced force, or a bit of everything.

    To return to the thread and the reason behind it. There will be no more money therefore if we want a balanced force (ie a medium force with utility) with have to rid of something. What is it to be ?

    A commitment ? Likely to be unacceptable to the government.
    A readjustment of our own forces ? Easier to do but what do we reduce ? Less Apache, MRAV, BOWMAN, CR2 or WR ? A Salami slice - horizontal or vertical ? Or lose a complete capability ?

    We are seeing some of the debate in the DT today being deliberately leaked by the Conservatives about cutting the Army. There will be more leaks I am sure as the debate starts to hone down the options.

    A difficult decision but I am sure the debate in this forum will help tickle out the issues !
  5. woopert

    woopert LE Moderator

    Could that be because other regiment's had to be stripped of all of their serviceable CR2s and spares to get a force ready to send to the Gulf? It's all well and good having a strength on paper, but when you have to strip other units to achieve even 1/3rd of that "paper strength" as serviceable, with the rest of the kit effectively on bricks, it hardly leaves any room to make savings does it?
  6. Air superiority, yes.
    Sea superiority, yes.
    Ground superiority?  Arguable.  Yes in most instances, and when armour was present then absolutely, CR2 and M1A1 cleared the pitch. My main aergument is that when they were not present then there were problems.  As I mentioned, the SF came particularly unstuck on one occasion because they encountered armour with light role forces.  and to perfectly honest, they got their arrses felt quite badly.  Speaking as an AI soldier, even we were in need of armour when up against a T-55, whcih happened on more than one occasion.

    I absolutely agree that we should not learn false lessons, but this must apply across the board.  Light forces worked in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, but the threat there was entirely different.  In the Falklands I'm fairly sure that 3 Cdo Bde (as they were massively grateful near Basrah) were hugely grateful fo their limited armour support, even if it was Scorpion / Scimitar, and could have done with more.  

    We always seem to take our immediate lessons from whatever our last conflict was.  We are too ready to forget the lessons our forefathers learned the hard way, whether it be from Verdun, Overlord or Aden.

    Until UK PLC decides that it does not want to be involved in any proper fighting, and simply wants to go down the peace-keeping avenue (a hideous prospect) then I would suggest that we cannot get away from possessing heavy troops.  I agree they are hideously expensive to achieve and maintain, but if we're still playing with the big-boys (another argument altogether and not one I'm personally broaching here) thenwe need to keep it.  I do however agree that we are peeing in the wind trying to continue the idea that we have an Armoured Division.  We do not, if we realise this then there is no significant problem, and we can punch lower.  That said, the limited armour we had in theatre still made up a large proportion of the heavy forces available to the MEF, and was relied upon by the US.

    I am just concerned that the bean-counters, ever hungry to chop stuff have had the wool pulled over their eyes by the fools who managed to convince them that an attack helicopter force was the logical replacement.  It is clearly not.
  7. I agree. There is no suggestion that we must get rid of the heavy end and we must definitely not go down the gendarmerie route as that really would be our death knell.

    D'accord. This was the case up to about a couple of years ago and was the mantra coming out of the US. I can see the logic and the potential is extremely good. However perhaps this is a step too far at present as we found out. Unreliable aircraft, effects of weather and sand et al, high costs of maintenance and training, and by no means lastly their vulnerability.

    Reduce our light end of the spectrum and ensure a better protected and armed medium force is the next step in my view. This may well have solved a number of the problems found the Gulf and provided better utility. What we are going to get rid of to pay for this is another problem ! :)
  8. Quote:

    Could that be because other regiment's had to be stripped of all of their serviceable CR2s and spares to get a force ready to send to the Gulf? It's all well and good having a strength on paper, but when you have to strip other units to achieve even 1/3rd of that "paper strength" as serviceable, with the rest of the kit effectively on bricks, it hardly leaves any room to make savings does it?

    It didn't happen this time round, at least not to the whole fleet. We still had a full complement of working CR2 throughout the war sitting in the hangars. Admittedly, the crews were all in East Tyrone, but in theory we could have deployed, although the old readiness cycle would have meant that we would have taken a couple of months to train back into the armoured role.

    (By the way, can somebody PM me and tell me how to get one of those blue boxes around a quote?) ???