Tag Archives: Iraq

The World According to Shephard: Week 5

Costing Britain’s defence

The UK defence secretary, Gavin Williamson recently confirmed the MoD’s intention to split off the defence part of the National Security review into a separate review. The Clarence offers some suggestions on where the cuts might fall while protecting the capabilities necessary to meet the goals of the 2015 National Security Review.

Meanwhile the MoD came under increasing pressure this week after it was forced to defend itself in light of suggestions by the National Audit Office (NAO) that it did not include the costings of the Type 31e light frigate project in its equipment plan. The NAO’s report found that there could be an affordability gap potential of over £20 billion.


Up-gunning Europe

Final testing of the German Armed Force’s anti-tank missile system on its fleet of Puma IFVs is expected to be completed by Q3 2018, with initial fielding scheduled for 2020. The MELLS missile system is armed with Spike LR missiles and will provide the German forces with significant additional operational scope and capabilities.

In Bulgaria the MoD has indicated it will acquire new wheeled IFVs as part of its modernisation agenda, in addition to upgrading existing soviet-era armour. The tender is expected to be launched in mid-2018 for 150 8×8 vehicles to equip three battalions. Alex Mladenov and Krassimir Grozev look into some of the contenders for the programme.

Europe tanks

The British Army’s training units are preparing for the imminent delivery of the first Ajax variant after the completion of government acceptance testing (GAT). The Ares specialist troop carrier configuration will be received by the Armour Centre at Bovington, while GAT for Ajax is expected to commence in early 2018 following successful manned live firing trials.


Patrolling the seas from above and below

Russia’s Beriev Be-12 fleet of maritime patrol aircraft is set for an upgrade of its vintage 1970s mission suite according to the Russian Naval Aviation Chief. The aircraft will receive three new components, a hydroacoustic sub-system, new radar and new magnetic anomaly detector to keep the aircraft in service until the mid-2020s.

Going beneath the waves in Taiwan, where the navy performed a successful demonstration of its minehunting capabilities. Despite the success of the demonstration, the main message was that the Republic of China Navy’s minehunting capabilities have reached the end of their lifecycle and must be replaced soon. The service is at risk of losing its ability to counter China’s sea mine blockade threat.

Minehunting edit

Special Forces march into future threats

NATO special operations forces are actively seeking next-generation technologies to support a future operating environment dominated by missions in confined, congested and contested megacities. This includes exploiting technology in order to support subterranean operations in dense urban environments with large populations.

Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service is also considering future training and material requirements of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) following the eradication of Isis from the country. ISOF has recently performed more conventional light infantry operations to retake huge swathes of land from Isis including the City of Mosul and now needs to re-focus on elite counter-terrorism skills required to ensure the stability of Iraq.

Iraq SOF

Meet Megatron, the British Army’s tank transformer

The British Army’s Challenger main battle tank is a beast of a machine. It weighs around 62t (equivalent to 30 large family cars) and sports a huge 120mm gun, and can go up to 35mph on the roughest terrain.

The Challenger 1 saw combat in the first Gulf War and was then superseded by the Challenger 2 in the 1990s, which fought in the 2003 Iraq war and beyond. Its performance during these conflicts has earned the Challenger the title of one of the best tanks of its generation, up there with the US M1 Abrams and German Leopard 2.

But not content with this, the British Army is constantly looking at how it can boost the Challenger 2’s capabilities further.

Here’s where ‘Megatron’ comes in, it’s the army’s nickname for an experimental Challenger tank that is kitted out with a range of new technologies that could eventually be rolled out across the tank fleet.

Challenger 2-Megatron

While not quite being able to transform into a giant alien robot like its namesake, this version is very much a Challenger 2 on steroids. Operated by the Armoured Trials and Development Unit in Bovington, Megatron has been extensively modified compared to its regular Challenger 2 counterparts.

One of the key elements of Megatron is a significant increase in its armour protection, pushing its combat weight up to 75t, making it one of the heaviest, if not the heaviest, tanks in the world. This armour configuration is similar to the Dorchester Level 2 (DL2) package fitted to Challengers deploying to Iraq for Operation Telic.

To protect the crew, the tank is fitted with double-layered explosive reactive armour blocks on the hull, as well as additional armour blocks on the turret. Slat armour, is fitted to protect the rear of the vehicle against RPG attacks, and the underbody is uparmoured to protect against mines and buried IEDs.

One of its most notable external features is its mobile camouflage system, which is essentially an invisibility cloak for both the visible and thermal spectrum. Indeed, this is no ordinary camouflage netting, this MCS is able to mask the vehicle’s heat signature when viewed through thermal binoculars and can even make the tank look like a car or animal.

Challenger 2-Megatron

MCS is also capable of reducing a vehicle’s radar signature, just like the stealth coating on a fighter jet.

Fielding ‘smart’ camo is a growing trend for land forces around the world, particularly with the proliferation of thermal technologies beyond first-tier militaries. The British Army will field this system on their new Ajax vehicles, and it’s likely this fielding will extend to the Challenger.

The US Army has also trialled MCS on its Stryker 8×8 vehicles that are currently stationed in Europe.

Another external feature of Megatron is a comprehensive ECM suite, evidenced by the array of antennas on top of the turret. These effectively jam signals that could be used to trigger a roadside bomb, creating a safety bubble around the vehicle.

Although these new capabilities give the Challenger formidable capabilities, they also present several challenges. Adding so much armour, for instance, weighs the tank down and puts extra strain on vehicle parts, not least the engine and the suspension. Megatron has reportedly been fitted with a new suspension system and a new 1,500hp engine to retain its mobility.

Challenger Megatron 2

But at 75t, the tank becomes ungainly, particularly when it comes to air mobility and utilisation of infrastructure including bridges (military and civil) and roads.

Megatron is just one example of how the British Army is trying to maintain the combat relevance of its ageing tank, with some of the lessons learned likely informing the ongoing Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP).

The LEP, currently in its assessment phase, will see the tank get new sighting systems, gun control equipment and an enhanced electronic architecture and brought up to a ‘Mk2’ standard.

Its rifled 120mm main gun could also be replaced, although that is not a main requirement.

Challenger 2 upgrades are long overdue, with allies such as the US (M1), France (Leclerc) and Germany (Leopard 2) already forging ahead with their own upgrade programmes. Russia and China have also been busy developing their own latest-generation tanks, which have the potential to outmatch western tanks in the not-to-distant future.

Megatron, therefore, is the tank that the British Army needs, sooner rather than later.

Ground forces are the only solution in Syria

The Syrian civil war has now dragged on for coming up to three years. The increase of ISIL as a regional power across both Syria and Iraq and the threat it poses to Russia and the West makes this an international problem. There will be no correct solution, just one that is least bad.

The Iraq government has lost huge amounts of territory to ISIL and is slowly fighting back with Western assistance. It could take years to re-take the land and is likely that Baghdad has permanently lost control of the Kurdish region in the north.

In Syria the myriad of different factions fighting, from Assad’s forces to Hezbollah, opposition fighters and ISIL makes the situation particularly complex. The division between what the West wants to achieve and what Russia is aiming for means that supporting different factions makes it worse and there is no united goal of what the international community wants to achieve.

The end result is a confused response: a purely short-term tactical effort – air strikes – with no strategic thought about a long-term solution. At some point in the last few decades politicians have lost the ability to think strategically, to see the wider picture and to be able to plan ahead.

Ultimately the solution for Syria and Iraq is unpalatable: international ground forces. Only a modern Western military invasion is capable enough of intervening, crushing ISIL quickly in a matter of weeks and at least restoring some form of stability to allow an international UN peace force to come in.

Before this happens the West and Russia need to agree on what the post-conflict landscape will look like and if and what influence Assad will have afterwards, it will be a dirty compromise but both sides have to stick to it and enforce it. Local military forces have to be developed quickly to take on the security role.

It will cost more lives in the short term, Western blood will be split and civilians will die, but ISIL will be driven underground. Then with the proper post-conflict planning, so lacking after the Iraq War, it will provide for longer-term peace and overall lives will be saved. From the West’s and Russia’s point of view ISIL will not have a secure base from which to launch their attacks internationally.

That will not be the end of it. ISIL won’t simply die out, they are likely to continue their war from the shadows and any stabilisation force will be faced with suicide bombers and IED threats. Fortunately Western militaries are well-versed in this form of warfare after a decade of experience and with the support of the Syrian and Iraqi people it may be harder for them to operate.

There is no easy solution only hard choices. There is no negotiating with ISIL, they thrive on conflict. Simply sitting behind air strikes will degrade some military capabilities of ISIL but they remain in command of the lands they have conquered and there is no credible land force locally that can take it back.

Western politicians have been scarred by the military experiences of the past decade, but Iraq in 2003-2010 is not Iraq and Syria now. The situation is vastly different and because one intervention has been deemed wrong, it does not mean all intervention is wrong. It is time they got their act together to bring about a plan to save Syria and its people.

Is this the end of the Humvee?

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, you probably saw that the US Army finally selected who will build its next-generation light tactical vehicle. The winner, announced late Tuesday, was MRAP and military truck specialists Oshkosh with their L-ATV (Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle) design, beating out competition from Lockheed Martin and AM General.

Oshkosh won a $6.8 billion contract that will see around 17,000 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV) being built for the Army and Marine Corps, and there is the potential for additional contracts and a production run lasting 35 years (the adjective ‘lucrative’ comes to mind here). I won’t go into the nitty-gritty contract detail, rather suggest a read of Scott Gourley’s comprehensive run down here.

The contract marks the beginning of the end for what is probably the US military’s most iconic vehicle, the Humvee. Brought into service exactly 30 years ago to replace another set of battlefield icons, the M561 Gama Goat and M151 Jeep, the Humvee has slowly become less relevant on today’s battlefield as better protected vehicles have taken their place on the frontline.

The JLTV will be a much better vehicle for troops in almost all respects; particularly in areas such as payload, mobility and protection. It’s the latter area that is most important for troops and where the Humvee’s reputation was tarnished throughout the early years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Designed as a vehicle for behind the Cold War frontlines, rather than a combat vehicle, the Humvee was a fish out of water in 21st century asymmetric conflicts that had no definitive ‘lines’ or enemy.

But is it really the end? Some would argue that the end of the Humvee really came when the US military decided to purchase mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles to replace Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2007, the Marine Corps had replaced all its Humvees with MRAPs marking a significant shift in the US military’s approach to using light tactical vehicles.

Others would say no, this isn’t the end of the Humvee era. Chances are you will be seeing Humvees in a warzone somewhere in the world for at least another generation. With the JLTV not being procured in enough numbers to replace the entire Humvee fleet, the US

Army will retain many of the vehicles for non-combat roles for the foreseeable future. Hundreds, if not thousands, are also being sold off to governments around the world, including a recent transfer to Ukraine.

Now it’s a matter of time to see if the JLTV can become a military icon like its predecessor. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comment section below.

Destroying the Islamic State?

U.S. Soldier's transfer authority in Mosul

Guest post by Richard Irons, consultant at SCS.

The Islamic State (IS) continues to grow in strength and threatens moderate governments and societies in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as western interests in the region. In Syria and Iraq, where IS is strongest, the International Coalition has developed a strategy to destroy IS largely based on military force. This strategy – or at least how it is being implemented – is unlikely to succeed in the near future.

IS’s campaign that culminated in the battle for Mosul between the 6th and 10th of June had been in progress since at least January. Since then, the Iraqi garrison in Mosul had become increasingly isolated and under siege, subject to continuous assassination and bomb attacks. The army and police no longer patrolled some areas of the city because of the threat posed by insurgents.

So when the attack came on 6th June, the army and police were already demoralised. The insurgents steadily increased the military pressure and on the 9th, the situation started to collapse: three very senior army officers fled Mosul by air. As news of their departure spread, soldiers and policemen began to desert and the defence collapsed.

In the course of four days a city of two million people, with some 20 to 30,000 defending police and soldiers, was captured by about a thousand insurgents.

This illustrates two basic military facts that need to be understood. First, IS is a well-led military organisation operating to a coherent strategy. Second, the Iraqi Security Forces, like many other armies, can fold dramatically when confidence is shaken.

President Obama laid out his objectives and strategy for combatting IS on 11 September, saying ‘we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism campaign.’

He then laid out four elements of his strategy to achieve this objective. The first is a campaign of airstrikes against IS in both Iraq and Syria. The second is to support Iraqi armed forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga: providing training, intelligence and equipment.

The third element is to use indirect methods to strangle IS and limit its capacity to fight. And the fourth element is the provision of humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced by IS’s expansion.

Several things are worth noting about this strategy. The first is what is not there: getting the politics right. In Iraq, it was the sectarian policies of previous Prime Minister Maliki that so estranged the Sunni population that allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq and, subsequently, IS to grow. A more inclusive government led by Haider al-Abadi may be an important step to winning the Sunnis towards the State of Iraq and away from the Islamic State. If the majority of Sunnis can be persuaded to end support for insurgency, we can be relatively confident that the current front line between Caliphate and Government forces will stabilise and few other Sunni areas will fall to Islamic State fighters.

Political reconciliation between Sunni and Shia is an absolutely fundamental condition for success but, by itself, it is also quite insufficient to militarily defeat the IS.

The other thing to note in this strategy is the recognition that air power alone will not destroy IS. We can expect, over time, to be able to identify and destroy most of their heavier weapons – its tanks and artillery pieces. Without such weapons, they find it harder to mount successful offensives. But it only works to degrade, not destroy.

So it falls to the second element of the President’s strategy to bear the brunt of destroying IS. It will require a major ground force attack to recapture all the lost ground; not just in Iraq but also in Syria.

In Iraq, only the Iraqi Army can mount a sustained attack on IS to defeat its military forces and roll back its gains. The Kurds will not fight to recapture Sunni Arab lands for Baghdad. The Shia militias will have quite the wrong effect on the Sunni population if they attempt to ‘liberate’ them from the Caliphate. But the Iraqi Army today is a shadow of what it was even two years ago. It is a defeated and demoralised force.

So we really need the Iraqi Army to re-build itself to the level that it can mount a sustained attack to recapture and then hold lost territory. It needs to recover its self-confidence. As a result, I believe that if our strategic objective is really the destruction of the Islamic State then we have to do more than train and equip them. We will also need to embed advisors and fire control teams, to give them the confidence that was so badly shattered this summer.

But this option, it seems, has already been precluded by both President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron, who have separately promised not to involve American and British troops in combat roles.

The US plan to build a non-radical Syrian opposition, strong enough to prevail against both Assad and IS, is bound to fail. The Free Syrian Army now no longer exists in any meaningful way. It has been destroyed by IS. There are only three effective forces left in Syria: the Syrian Army and its Hezbollah allies, supporting Assad; the Syrian Kurds fighting for survival in the north; and the IS and its allies. There is no non-radical opposition in Syria left for the US to support.

So the only way we could actually achieve the destruction of the Caliphate would be by both significantly increasing our military commitment in Iraq while, simultaneously, changing our political position vis-à-vis the Assad regime in Syria. Both of these conditions seem a long way from the thinking of our political leadership right now.

If we are relying on the military being a major part of our strategy to destroy (as opposed to degrade) IS, then we had better get used to the reality of the IS being around for quite a long time.

Remote-control Land Rovers on the front line

snatch panama

Writing and researching about the defence industry has been a new concept for me, but there are certainly many things that catch my eye as a lifelong petrol head.

The Land Rover Defender has to be one of the most awesome and capable vehicles ever built. Totally classless and modifiable, the vehicle has been used for everything from farm hand to royal carriage, 4×4 family wagon to mountain rescuer.

The Snatch-Vixen 4×4 is perhaps the most obvious relation to a UK road vehicle that you might see on the front line – but its role is changing. Their use during the early days of Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns saw the Snatch heavily criticised for its lack of adequate ballistic and IED protection for occupants.

Since then semi-autonomous versions have emerged in the form such vehicles as the MIRA MACE Guardsman and Sherpa, allowing personnel to one day take a step back from such dangers and conduct missions remotely.

However, the news this week is all about the MIRA Autonomous Control Equipment (MACE) route clearance system.

It is a bit of a mouthful for what is an exciting piece of kit – just look at the pictures complete with huge hydraulic attachments – although I can’t help wondering if it’s the final nail in the Defender’s coffin, just being used as expendable mine fodder.

Nevertheless it will be a welcome and totally justified move if it therefore saves lives by preventing the need for directly manned counter-IED operations.

The Snatch-based MIRA MACE is operable in both semi-autonomous and autonomous modes from a distance of up to 20km from its control station – a more heavily protected vehicle.

The well-loved civilian Defender will cease production from 2015, with a chunky replacement dubbed DC 100 on the cards. Whether it will continue to sustain such a huge variety of customers both civil and military, and whether it can possibly be capable of spawning such a wide range of useful (and frankly rather cool) applications, remains to be seen.

Simon Truscott

To read more about the MIRA MACE system, please click here.