In any spectrum of conflict the basic military location is vital to continued operations.
It might be a tiny patrol base or the largest of in theatre main operations base. Size will usually dictate the level of facilities so as one extends from the main base area the likelihood of having warm water, flushing toilets and Timmy Hortens decreases!
There are various teams within the MoD and armed forces that are responsible for base infrastructure, defence, manning and logistics and in the classic British way, it all comes together through a combination of skill, determination and perseverance.
Operations in Afghanistan have been the catalyst for a number of innovations including the ISO Container based ‘Super Sangar’, ground radar, improved optics and other sensors, Hesco Accommodation Bunker and even an improved modular set of toilets. The Expeditionary Campaign Infrastructure team (ECI) is responsible for delivering operational accommodation (both domestic and technical), field hospitals, staff working environment, force protection material, GS tentage and surface expedients. The Tactical Base is the latest equipment and support programme.
My only concern is that once Afghanistan is over the base infrastructure will settle back to being underfunded so the forthcoming review should be quite clear that in order to support continuing expeditionary operations, providing adequate and safe accommodation for deployed personnel, funding streams should be retained.
If we can make any improvements it should be in three key areas
Operations in Afghanistan have at long last forced the army to fully embrace the ISO container. Even a casual glance at any pictures of combat logistics patrols will see a significant proportion of loads are now containerised.
G3 Systems have provided the MoD with all manner of containerised deployable base infrastructure units including accomodation, hospital, office and even dog kennels.
I am going to look at logistics and container transportation in another post but the military use of 10, 20 and 40ft standard ISO containers is a trend that should continue because of the obvious deployability advantages.
If operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are anything to go by, any base location will be a target for both direct and indirect fire and protection should be high on the list. Force protection is more than just sitting in a bunker and proactive measures are often the most effective but that does not negate the obvious need for passive protection.
Deceptively simple systems like the Hesco Bastion and Defencell have revolutionised combat engineering and fortification construction. I have included a couple of Hesco brochures below to illustrate the incredible flexibility of these systems, especially RAID, Hesco Lightweight Bunker Roof, Accommodation Bunker and Extended Overhead Protection System
In addition to the passive protection afforded by combat engineering for key locations it might be worth considering point defence systems for the larger locations. Deployed in Iraq the Centurion system used Phalanx CIWS from Royal Navy ships with new radar and ammunition, it is a combat proven system but in order to face future threats an upgrade to the 35mm Rheinmetall revolver cannon based Skyshield system which has a greater effective range. I will be covering anti aircraft systems in a future post so more on this later.
Some of the recent IED activity in Afghanistan has been remarkably close to base locations and with a small personnel footprint the ability to constantly monitor local areas will become vital to keeping local areas under close supervision. There may be some cultural difficulties to overcome but we should consider aerostat or tower based surveillance systems.
Tower systems can reach up to around 50m and carry multiple payloads, electro optical, IR, radio rebroadcast and others. Similar payloads can be carried by aerostat systems but these can be lofted much higher, typically 300-400m which will obviously provide much greater coverage. They can both be easily deployed on trailers, ISO containers or larger vehicles.
This is off the shelf technology, available from a broad range of manufacturers including Towerworx, TCOM, Rafael and yet again, the USA and Canada have been making use of these systems for some time.
Either in deployment or ongoing maintenance reduction of the manpower requirements for base locations should be a key driver for future programs. This might be achieved with greater automation, maintenance reduction and use of technologies that allow, for example, a small team to monitor perimeters.
Increasing use of high power communications, data processing and display technologies means that power requirements for base locations are increasing, combine this with the inexorable rise in vehicle size and weight and the bulk fuel requirement for any operation is becoming a serious problem. Every litre of fuel that a generator or vehicle uses has to be expensively transported to theatre, it is estimated that every litre of fuel used takes 7 to get there. The bulk fuel requirement also need distribution in theatre and this needs combat logistic patrols, these are manpower intensive and an attractive target.
Fuel costs will inevitably rise in the future, so there is an economic argument for reducing fuel use.
We cannot guarantee operations will be conducted in sunny places but if we can use solar and/or wind power to reduce, rather than replace, dependence on diesel powered generators then this is a worthwhile objective, . US forces have been experimenting with deployable solar power since 2007 and as the technology matures, reliability, flexibility and generation yields increase. Other promising technologies include bio digestion and fuel cells.
The US company Skybuilt seems to be at the forefront of containerised renewable energy generation equipment. Containerisation makes obvious sense for ease of movement both inter and intra theatre and the smaller units should also be air portable, externally slung helicopter loads or trailer mounted.
Although UK forces have started using solar battery chargers, we should be looking at fielding hybrid and renewable power generation capabilities at a small/medium scale, using commercially available technologies and progress to larger, more comprehensive solutions as the technology matures.
Water is another key requirement for the sustainment of deployed forces. I covered the use of containerised water purification and bottling equipment in the post on Haiti and water, here.
The MoD should increase investment in water purification and packaging systems, they have an obvious dual use in disaster support as well.