Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Just been reading the Commons Defence Committee's Iraq report..

An interesting document to say the least. For a start, there is that old Ranter issue concerning Geoff Hoon and his remarkably confident denials that anything had gone wrong at all. You may remember that he stated in Parliament that: "All the requisite numbers of boots and clothing and equipment were there and, having only had a brief opportunity of inviting editors of newspapers to devote an appropriate amount of space to the success of the equipment, given the hugely disproportionate amount of space they wasted on making facile criticisms of equipment that proved its worth in the conflict, I am still waiting to see any signs of apology from either individual journalists or from their editors. I am certainly suggesting that, in a force of around 45,000 people across three Services, there may have been the odd person who, for example, did not get the right sized pair of boots. There may have been the odd soldier who one day did not get his lunchtime ration pack. There may have been the odd soldier who did not like his ready-to-eat meal of the sort issued by the United States to their forces."
Now, I dealt with that here. Geoff was lying. Otherwise, how did the Royal Marine pictured in the NAO report in southern Iraq manage to be wearing woodland camouflage?

The Committee took evidence from the chief of joint operations at Permanent Joint HQ, Lieutenant General John Reith, on the kit scandal. Here's what he had to say:
"251. Notwithstanding the Secretary of State's comments in May 2003 about desert boots and clothing, Air Marshal Burridge told the Committee in June 2003 that that he had encountered personnel wearing black boots when he visited Basra on 23 April.[380] This was confirmed during our visits when we were told that some desert boots and combats arrived after the major combat phase. In July 2003 General Reith told us that:

!Turning to the clothing and the boots, I was not concerned about that at all. The temperate equipment we have, the combat clothing is designed up to 39 degrees centigrade and the boots up to 35 degrees centigrade."[381]

252. General Reith's comment that he was not concerned about the desert clothes and boots issue appears to ignore the fact that green combat clothing does not provide the same camouflage effect as desert clothing in an environment such as Iraq. It also begs the question as to why MoD procured desert clothing and boots specifically for the combat operation."

Indeed. It also begs the much-asked question as to why Mr. Hoon has yet to resign in disgrace. But there is much, much more. The Committee repeats the previous bashings about the supply of nuclear, biological and chemical defence gear, hopeless asset-tracking and all the stuff we already know. Curiously, given Hoon's crack about meals "of the sort issued by the United States", the MPs were especially impressed by the cooks' efforts. But the interesting stuff was much earlier. According to General Reith, the US Central Command was working on plans in the spring of 2002. General staffs exist to plan for anything, all the time, but I have a real feeling that this may have had baleful political implications. Especially as,
it sez here, the British forces were already discussing UORs, urgent operational requirements (the process by which extra kit needed for a given current purpose is purchased), with industry. Curiously, both Sir Kevin Tebbit and the director of policy at the MoD were convinced nothing had been said that would make a commitment - especially not before June. But if materiel was already being purchased in May? It has a smell of 1914 and railway timetables. And Geoff Hoon, of course, said that no decisions on a specific military operation had been taken before the prime minister's statement of the 24th of September, 2003.

Besides the pure Iraq-war bash factor, some interesting points arise concerning close air support, the key to the MoD's wishes for a new, lightweight, highly deployable and networkcentric army. The entire idea that these jargon words convey is one of substituting army aviation, especially the new Apache helicopters, and air power for tanks and heavy artillery. For this to work, for aerial firepower to be as present as a tank, what is needed is very close integration of the army and the air force at the lowest possible level. A couple of tiresome blots on the flawless Hoon escutcheon might suggest this remains to be achieved - like the Household Cavalrymen who were slaughtered by the US Air Force. Pars 100 to 102 of the report are better:
"100. An innovation for the RAF in Iraq was the use of 'kill-box interdiction and close air support' or KI-CAS, long practised by the United States' air forces (Navy, Marines and USAF). Air Vice Marshal Torpy explained the concept:

There are two discrete, different bits to this. Close Air Support is when air is used when forces on the ground are in close contact and need air support quickly. Kill box interdiction is a more methodical way of attacking targets in particular areas. A kill box is an area which has been defined. Aircraft are tasked into that area to attack mobile targets—so fielded artillery, tanks and those sort of targetS.[154]

But we have heard that the targeting pods (the sensors that allow the pilot to identify a target) on British aircraft were not sophisticated enough to support the kill-box approach, which requires the aircraft to identify small targets from a medium to high altitude. The Air Component Commander conceded there was a problem:

One of the lessons that we have learned out of the campaign, [is] that our targeting pods need longer range, better fidelity… positively identifying that a target is a military target.[155]

101. He also accepted that more needed to be done in terms of air-land integration:
I think we are probably victims of past campaigns in that Operation Desert Storm was a discrete air operation followed by a short land campaign, and very little integrated air-land operation took place. Afghanistan was the first time we saw closer integration between air and land, but on a relatively small scale in terms of the land component. This was the first operation that I have certainly seen for many years where we have seen such close linkage between the air and land components…we have forgotten some of the things that we were quite good at during the Cold War…We have probably neglected the exercising of those over the years.[156]

Worryingly we heard reports that there was a serious lack of air to ground communications capability, with RAF aircraft unable to communicate with the forces on the ground in the vast majority of missions flown. Additionally there was a lack of understanding on the part of land force commanders about the need to have cleared specific targets to be struck from the air through the appropriate channels. We heard reports of some one third of missions being aborted because of problems in the air-land interface. The intention is now to increase the RAF involvement in the BATUS exercises in Canada and to improve the use of targeting pods, extending it to all aircraft that engaged in KI-CAS and to exercise the whole command and control organisation from the Combined Air Operations Centre.[157]

102. During the ground campaign there were also some delays in the provision of air support. This was a matter of concern to some UK land forces. General Brims, however, believed that overall the system had worked well and particularly highlighted the work of the ANGLICOs discussed above:
"Utilising 3rd MAW, the Marine Air Wing, as a tactical air wing; in order to do it, we had to receive…ANGLICO battalions…they come with communications, life support vehicles, and everything else, and you could say to them, 'We need the fire there,' they will call for it, and we had them embedded throughout our chain of command and it worked wonderfully well.[158]"

Any big change to an organisation requires two things: the take away, of whatever is supposedly no longer needed, and the add, of whatever good stuff is considered to be progress. It would seem that the takeaway is well under way - it is budget positive and hence career enhancing - but no add has arrived yet. How Hoon...

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