How we fight......

#1
I was thumbing through Soldier magazine the other day and happened across this article:

SOLDIER MAY 2012

It - and another photograph I saw in these parts recently plus a discussion with some young officers - prompted me to wonder about the maxim "Train as you intend to fight."

There is nobody in any of these picture wearing Osprey. Now, I know that is because it's not available. Quite rightly, just about every last available set is in Helmand (aside from a few which - bizarrely - the STABs wore while climbing a mountain to put up an advertising hoarding... Says something about their officers that). However, were Osprey available in the UK, do we suppose that - for example - the chap in the floppy hat with the C8 would be wearing it ?

I would expect the initial response to this would be "You don't know what the exercise scenario is...so, no, quite possibly he wouldn't". Which, I accept too. But think on for a moment. Do we suppose that our political masters - post Herrick - are ever going to sanction an operation (say, the sort of interventionist type of thing which no doubt the soldiers in these pictures were practicing) in which the very best available PPE is not worn ? Do we think that the chain of command is ever really going to let us get away - on operations - with genuinely light order....belt kit, floppy hat and rifle ? Do we think they ever should ? Our collective experience over the past 10 years (esp following some high profile supposedly 'preventable' deaths) would suggest that the answer to both of those questions is "No".

If that is the case, why do we continue to train as if it was otherwise ? Arguably....why do we bother to teach the continuing traditions of platoon fire and maneouvre when we all know that the reality of being pinned down by PPE and EW of all varieties is to make the happy memories of a gazelle-like outflanking the Gurkha section on the Barossa nothing but a quaint and fond memory from a different age ?

And is me even asking this a symptom of something deeper ? One would like to think that as commanders it would be open to us to decide "No. You know what ? Actually my soldiers' safety and effectiveness is better served in this particular given circumstance by dumping some of the PPE to provide them with speed mobility and additional carrying capacity that will allow them to outmaneouvre and out-fight the enemy." But who thinks that anyone further up in the chain of command than them is now ever going to sanction such a risk ? And - more to the point - are we bringing up a generation of officers for whom even asking the question would be anathema ?
 
#2
Not wanting to deal with your deeper questions as it is somewhat above my pay grade, and even though I do have my own well thought out and intelligent opinions on this I will stick to dealing with the issue of Osprey.

It is available for training, in abundance, every BG that is doing PDT is issued with more than enough of the stuff for every man to have a set plus a few extra for good measure. I can only assume that in the case of this exercise featured in Soldier Mag that this is either not PDT and just normal training or the local commanders deemed it not in the interests of their training objectives for the soldiers to be wearing it.

As you allude to in your original post Osprey (or a good quality body armour) is the future and anyone deploying on even the most benign of operations or those training to deploy on operations will have the very best PPE that the MOD is willing to pay for.
 
#3
Not wanting to deal with your deeper questions as it is somewhat above my pay grade, and even though I do have my own well thought out and intelligent opinions on this I will stick to dealing with the issue of Osprey.
Would be interested to hear your opinions on the wider point; that's why I posted...

It is available for training, in abundance, every BG that is doing PDT is issued with more than enough of the stuff for every man to have a set plus a few extra for good measure. I can only assume that in the case of this exercise featured in Soldier Mag that this is either not PDT and just normal training or the local commanders deemed it not in the interests of their training objectives for the soldiers to be wearing it.
Yes, I realise there's plenty to go round for PDT. Your surmise underlines my point though. Do we regard this stuff as [wrongly] "just" for PDT ? It's heavy and awkward and stops / heavily constrains training as it is typically delivered in places other than PDT. As a consequence are we putting our heads in the sand when training for things other than PDT without it ? And if so - what does that mean for wider TTPs and our thinking about risk ?

As you allude to in your original post Osprey (or a good quality body armour) is the future and anyone deploying on even the most benign of operations or those training to deploy on operations will have the very best PPE that the MOD is willing to pay for.
I'm sure. Though - define "best". There's the rub. Who gets to decide what is "best" for a given circumstance ? Coy attack uphill in the jungle anyone....?
 
#4
(aside from a few which - bizarrely - the STABs wore while climbing a mountain to put up an advertising hoarding... Says something about their officers that)

Can you expand on that for us?
 

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#6
How about these for a couple of thoughts

  • This isn't HERRICK PDT but preparing for the return to contingency. In theory most of the vast array of UOR equipment which has transformed Afghanistan wouldn't therefore be available. To the best of my knowledge this includes Osprey - I'm not sure that we even have an in service Body Armour funded from the core programme!
  • If the guys in floppy hats are Paras (PF?) then it is extremely unlikely that they be able to jump with BA anyway. Last time I worked with the Paras, they struggled to carry much more than ammo, belt kit, weapons and a couple of mortar rounds without going over the max weight limit for their chutes.
 
#7
I can....

Do More. Be More. - British Army Website

Check out the video "Choosing the right kit". Rather getting off the point; but they're wearing Osprey while carrying a poster up Corn Ddu, among other reasons (adding weight) "...because it adapts people to the weather."
Yes, getting off the point but I suspect it had something to do with showing off the kit and the fact that the TA get the same as the regular army- what with PRR and the new Action Man uniforms.
I doubt it had anything to do with the officers in the video, more likely the fault of ad execs doing some 'blue sky thinking'- easily selling the concept to some regular officer over a liquid lunch making him feel that he is terribly important and how the many thousands of pounds they have taken from his budget was money well spent.
 
#8
There are some real issues here, which have been highlighted on a number of occasions and continue to plague the chain of command.

Firstly, OSPREY is currently not core equipment (as far as I know). This means that it is theatre specific and therefore cannot be used in hybrid foundation training, which this exercise clearly is (unless we are planning parachuting into parts of Helmand any time soon).

The real issues here (as far as I'm concerned) are the weight burden on our dismounted soldiers, the unwillingness to accept quantifiable risk in order to mitigate more serious risk which is less easy to quantify and the political power wielded by the coroners who understand little about military operations and what keeps people alive beyond physical protection.

As rightly pointed out. If we are going to manoeuvre, we must become less wedded to the protective measures that have fallen out of Iraq and Afghanistan. This means both physical protection in the form of OSPREY and the various protective mobility vehicles that provide a high level of physical protection but offer little to enable manoeuvre (FRES must address this) but also the reliance on ECM.

All of us will appreciate that the extra weight on our dismounted soldiers (particularly the infantry) often puts them in more danger by slowing them down and so keeping them out of cover for longer and also by preventing them from winning the dismounted fight and so destroying enemy who will come back for a second and subsequent go at us. The thought of extracting casualties while under fire, while they and you are wearing and carrying all this kit, is now an even more challenging and terrifying prospect than ever before.

No direct criticism should be levelled at the Oxford coroner and in the knowledge that this office has necessarily and regretfully become much more experienced in these matters in recent years. However, describing deaths (particularly when caused by gun-shot wounds during firefights) as "preventable deaths" does not help. In many cases it could be argued (in the days before OSPREY became universal) that while one soldier had been killed as a result of not wearing OSPREY he might have been hit (and possibly killed) much earlier in the engagement had he been wearing the extra weight. How many soldiers lives were saved by their not being issued OSPREY and thus their ability to move from cover to cover more quickly?

I remember when OSPREY first came out, I was at a demonstration of it. The fellow showing it to us pointed out that it had pockets inside the zip-up sleeves so that the large plates could be replaced by the small ECBA plates "if the local commander decided that the tactical situation so dictated". I'd be interested to know how many local commanders have ever made this decision. While it might be the 'right' decision in many cases, if even one soldier is killed as a result of a wound that would have been prevented by the wearing of the large plates, it wouldn't matter how many had survived the fire-fight as a result of being better able to fight and manoeuvre, the young Pl or Coy Comd would be strung up just the same.

I earnestly hope that in the future, where the force will be smaller and so must be more adaptable and capable from an individual perspective, that sense will prevail. My view is that the MoD should have some sort of (at least partial) exemption from the H&SW and corporate manslaughter legislation. This must cover both training and operations, as without training in a realistic manner, driving vehicles in the dark with no lights after having been awake for 24hrs without a break, etc. all we are doing is transferring risk to operations; again something we can little afford to do if we are again going to be asked to do more with less.





Concerning the Soldier Magazine article, does anyone know if it is possible/practical to parachute wearing or carrying OSPREY in addition to all of the other stuff? I'd have thought that adding OSPREY to the mortar base-plate and everything else that some of these guys jump with might be a step to far.
 
#9
BC - a cogent and inciteful post. I don't know about OSPREY, but parachuting with body armour (and associated operational clag) is certainly possible, if not widely undertaken. I seem to remember our US cousins have done it...

But that begs another question - rather implied in a lot of what you wrote: Just what is / is not possible with attendant PPE ? Has PPE become the single most important limiting factor, to be observed before and above all else ? What does this mean as a real constraint ? What does it mean for the way in which we train and operate ? For example, if we had to refight CORPORATE (I know we won't, and we'd do it differently) would hauling OSPREY along for the ride be an act of war ? Or would we not even contemplate an approach (miles and miles of tabbing / yomping depending on your background) that would be impractical with current PPE ? I can think of other examples (long range patrols in the jungle being one) - I'm sure that Arrsers various will think of others and / or violently disagree.

What of the commanders of the future ? Do they (and more to the point, politicians) now regard Herrick levels of PPE, protected mobility et al as a sine qua non for operations ? Not least because - as you point out - a lot of this stuff is UOR - I detect a lot of official staring at toes and indistinct muttering about "Best effort on the day..." "It all depends...."
 
#10
As you rightly say, on contemporary operations the attitude is one soldiers death is too many and while I would not like our lords and masters to play fast and loose with my life and those of my soldiers, for some types of operation (particularly proper high intensity operations) there needs to be a line drawn in the sand where our political masters accept that by deploying a military force there will be casualties. If we were to conduct an operation like COPORATE (and in the same way), the politicians would have to understand and accept that it could not be done while providing the same level of physical protection to our soldiers that has become the norm in Afghanistan and Iraq. In other words, the politicians would need to accept that there would be political fallout from soldiers deaths caused by injuries that would not have occurred (or at least to a lesser extent) in Afghanistan, "the Rose Gentle effect". I suspect that, at least in the short term at least, this will severely reduce the political willingness to deploy UK armed forces, in the longer term the Army in particular must work to better prepare the general public for the fact that when it deploys on operations, some people will die and that sometimes that is not the fault of the military commander or even the politician. I also suspect that the FRES team have been battling these conundrums when considering what balance of mobility and protection the next generation of armoured vehicles should provide.

While I stand by by suggestion that the MoD should have a partial exemption from some of the laws that protect the UK workforce, clearly this needs to be balanced by the political classes taking responsibility and not using any exemption granted as a means to maintain a political or diplomatic advantage while piling risk on the Army. The example would be prior to Op TELIC when the Army could not conduct theatre specific training and industry could not be warned off to provide equipment until the political decision had been taken to contribute troops to the invasion and that this decision was delayed and delayed until the last possible moment in order to secure the then government political capital. Ironically, this example is best exemplified by the Sgt Roberts (2RTR) case, where soldiers did not have the appropriate level of PPE (ECBA plates) because the Blair government had delayed the decision to go until until the point that it was too late to get every man the kit he needed. So clearly there does need to be a balance where the negative publicity caused by "politicians not providing the required kit" is balanced by the acceptance and belief among the general public that in war people die, but that the Army will not allow soldiers to die needlessly.
 
#11
I would be hugely surprised if full PPE did not become the theatre entry standard for any future operation, likewise the use of vehicles that offer max survivability (note - not protection). I just don't see "he would have survived if....." being an acceptable position for the department to defend. An issue that has concerned me for some time regarding risk is the balance of the objective vs subjective , when the latter is often greater but cannot be empirically demonstrated. For example, we spend so long training drivers on absolute crap at Leconfield (and thats after they've got the Space Shuttle licence you seem to need to get on a course there!) that they have little/no time to practice tactical employment of the vehicles back at unit. Chances are the latter will get you into more deadly shit than an RTA, but as we can tick the box of "yes he attended the course and met this trg objective" that is what we opt for. This is an extension of the now widely accepted POV (reinforced by Coroners Court verdicts IMO) that we can eliminate risk by just adding another bit of training or ticking another box.
That said, folk do have to be protected from themselves sometimes, and less professional people will often seek to take the easy route and ditch the kit to make life easier whilst convincing themselves "it won't happen to me".
 
#12
A couple of very superficial observations;

1. NI training (when INEBA vests were used in theatre) used the old '70s flak jackets to simulate the weight and bulk without taking the 'real kit' from the 'front line'.

2. Towards the end of my time in the Army, parachute jumps with CBA were the norm rather than the exception - the rational was twofold: You'll need it when you land anyway; It reduces the numbers of casualties on landing (esp in light scales overhead assault).
 
#13
I would be hugely surprised if full PPE did not become the theatre entry standard for any future operation....
My worry. What happens when that becomes a (immovable) constraint on military effectiveness ? Let's suppose that does become the theatre entry standard as you suggest. Do our political masters understand the consequences on our ability to enter a theatre ?

Your example of driver training is an excellent one. I think this is more than the tired old "elf an' safety gorn maad !" cry; it is about our judgement and inclinations as commanders; are we building operational conservatism and risk aversion into our officers from the start ?
 
#14
My worry. What happens when that becomes a (immovable) constraint on military effectiveness ? Let's suppose that does become the theatre entry standard as you suggest. Do our political masters understand the consequences on our ability to enter a theatre ?
I think its an extension of my point of objective vs subjective. If an individual is killed wearing full PPE the Minister can stand in the House and state that everything possible was done to protect him/her. Any death resulting from not wearing the same would result forensic dissection of the tactical judgement of the comd on the ground, in an air-conditioned court room by people largely ill-equipped to do so. Here's a thought for you? Are the rules being (subliminally?) imposed to prevent said comd from being put in that position?
 
#15
Alamo has it. The British public are close to a total unacceptance of any death on operations. Look at the reporting of each and every death and the analysis undertaken by 'experts' if there is any sniff of injury without full armour, armoured vehicles and Hesco accommodation. The commander will mitigate that risk every time by enforcing maximum protection for the individual. There is a lot of work going on in the armour world, but that is because it is here to stay.
 
#16
From a slightly different stance, the pictures shown of 16 AA Bde are all using TES vests that are worn instead of CBA/OSPREY....
 
#17
A few points:

- Osprey is drifting into core. When Units are issued it now, they keep it. All Brecon courses have Osprey throughout.

- No one has yet specified the HFT force protection stance. We don't know at the moment what we wear outside of Afghan.

- There is yet to be proper modelling to show what limits casualties most; massive body armour or highly mobile troops. Whilst we all feel the latter is better, we don't know for sure.

- Our force protection levels in Afghan are being dictated by the mothers of casualties and media witch hunts. The old triumvirate is "mobility, lethality and protection". We've sacrificed mobility to the other two (mainly protection) at the cost of a fourth consideration; "mission success". At the moment the key driver is limiting casualties, not winning the war.
 
#18
We seem to have moved to an attitude that the US had before 9/11. I remember an interview by the person looking into weapon in Iraq before the second war. He was saying how much he liked having UK troops attached to his staff as the UK had a better acceptance of casualties.

The use of PPE has ensured that more casualties survive and that is quite simple to prove but what is harder is pointing out is how many PPE has caused. What is the rate of heat injuries due to PPE? I seem to remember in the early days of Iraq that we had at least one heat related death.

On the H&S side it may be an idea to have reduced H&S requirements once troop enter the training area.
 
#19
A few points:

- Osprey is drifting into core. When Units are issued it now, they keep it. All Brecon courses have Osprey throughout.

- No one has yet specified the HFT force protection stance. We don't know at the moment what we wear outside of Afghan.

- There is yet to be proper modelling to show what limits casualties most; massive body armour or highly mobile troops. Whilst we all feel the latter is better, we don't know for sure.

- Our force protection levels in Afghan are being dictated by the mothers of casualties and media witch hunts. The old triumvirate is "mobility, lethality and protection". We've sacrificed mobility to the other two (mainly protection) at the cost of a fourth consideration; "mission success". At the moment the key driver is limiting casualties, not winning the war.
But is it not the IED threat that has forced us to evolve the current level of PPE? At the moment there is no chance of being able to manouvre properly, due to the ubiquitous and real chance that "dash down crawl" will result in an IED strike, the Insurgents having a forensic understanding of our TTPs. Quite rightly, we are issued PPE that will give the soldier the best possible chance when faced with the very sepecific conditions of HERRICK, ie if you're forced to be a virtual sitting duck by the IED threat then you need all your plates in.

Surely after HERRICK we will have inherited the kit that allows the CoC to be as flexible as possible based in the conditions prevailing in any future operations. Whats wrong with full PPE as a default setting? especially on static tasks or peacekeeping where there isn't a requirment to conduct offensive ops but there is no disadvantage in giving the soldier the maximum possible protection. Our next theatre might not have an IED problem but theres no harm in having that kit if we need it. Im sure it would take some robustness on the part of the CoC when faced with the dual perils inappropriate H&S legislation and media reaction however. Im not trying to be argumentative, indeed this thread looks like becoming quite an interesting one. On a seperate point we've spent ten years trying to define success in Afghanistan, killing hundreds of Insurgents has not brought it, killing hundreds more won't either although it has smoothed the recent success in places like Nad-e-Ali and Lashkar Gah.
 

davidflies

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#20
[Edit: this should be in "Why" not "How"]
It seems that casualties have become political ammunition - and the understanding that in armed conflicts people do die is no longer accepted by the press, ever seeking yet another headline/scandal/cause celebre. This press opinion has been forced by simple repetition upon the politicians (and the public), and the backlash is felt by those actually trying to do the job given them by the political masters. It would be interesting to know who dictates press opinion (no, I'm not walking into that minefield).
If politicians insist on sending troops to engage in armed conflict, they should be as much men as those they send, and accept that the casualties will occur, and that the longer men are in country the greater those casualties. However the decision making that sends our troops into these areas is, I fear, often not guided by what is best for the UK., but what looks best on television and to our cousins.
It infuriates me that politicians constantly "regret" the injuries and deaths (Ye Gods the number of crocodile tears they do shed), yet do so little to support the troops on active service (amongst other things the original body armour shortages, unsuitable kit etc etc ad bloody nauseam) not do they ensure the best possible care for those returning who may not be physically wounded but are traumatised by the nature of the fighting they have been engaged in. Yes, I know, soldiers have to take whatever is thrown at them, but when they are fighting in a conflict they know will not have a final result - and that they are leaving no matter what the end will bring - if there is ever an end.
Todays politicians seem to have no backbone at all - it is all about "what looks good" or "what's the best soundbite" and never "why are our people out there anyway." Further, today's politicians (both here and in the US) are more frightened of losing votes than the lives of their fellow countrymen.
I am old and very out of fashion, but in my day we had the feeling that the politicians had a better understanding of the world - sometimes gathered in personal experience in World War II or the Korean War, and would not have entered into such a futile engagement as Afghanistan. This especially when history and ethnography show that a tribal country with heavy religious overtones and little knowledge or interest in central government, let alone US "democracy," is almost impossible to "pacify" let alone unite. The people within the lines on the map that delineate Afghanistan have no wide interest in national matters - their interests are personal, tribal and sometimes religious, but they seem not to give a damn about Kabul and the government there.
Yes, I know, old man's rant; but why the bloody hell should good troops be sacrificed for no apparent other reason than a US President with baggage and a weak UK Prime Minister got it into their joint heads that it would all be over easily - and be good for their own ratings?
 

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