On the Subject of IED’s

Generating almost the same level of debate as helicopters in Afghanistan, the issue of protected vehicles and IED’s is perhaps less clear cut. No one except the government would argue that more helicopters in Afghanistan would have a material effect on operations; it might even stop soldiers smelling so much (lack of the means to get precious water forward you see)

The argument about protection from mines and IED’s is as polarising but in different ways.

The Taleban know that in a direct stand up fight they are going to get a thorough malleting every time and whilst this does not seemingly deter them from seeking engagements they must surely realise that their loss rate cannot be sustained. In common with all insurgencies the single issue that decides the outcome is that of patience. The side with the greater endurance will generally be the winner; if there can be a winner.

The Taleban are patient and know they have the initiative, ISAF’s clock is ticking. What makes the clock tick that much quicker is the steady drumbeat of deaths and serious injuries.

There are two ways of reducing casualties, adopt a defensive stance which minimises engagements, seeks technical means of protection and generally tries to do the best whilst minimising casualties. The second is to take exactly the opposite approach, engage in aggressive operations and whilst accepting this will increase casualties in the short term realise it will bring victory sooner, reducing the overall cost.

It is interesting to note that the Taleban are increasingly using the IED as a means of inflicting coalition casualties at little cost to them and for no other reason.  Tactics and the types of devices used are changing.  The strategy is very simply to send as many coalition soldiers home, dead or seriously injured, as possible, knowing that it will accelerate the calls, know being heard, for a hasty withdrawal.

The basic argument for withdrawal being that the Taleban aren’t the enemy of the UK so is the price really worth it.

Whether we should or shouldn’t be in Afghanistan is another argument entirely but whilst we are there we have to concentrate, in our opinion, in battering the Taleban and making sure the local population is divorced completely from them.

To achieve this victory we have to have mobility, in our previous posts on helicopters we noted that having air mobility allows one to adjust the tempo of operations to suit you, be unpredictable in movement, react at speed and with strength and generally chose the time and place of the next engagement.

If you are increasingly restricted to road moves the need for route proving and manpower intensive area security evidently decreases the combat strength available for offensive operations. As forward operating bases increase in number and size the need for stores rises in line. In the absence of air transport the need for stores needs even more route proving and security. The Taleban know this, they know exactly the number and nature of routes is limited and that the ability of even a huge force to constantly secure them is limited to known choke points and other more obvious areas so can lay their IED’s almost with impunity and sit back, knowing that the steady stream of casualties will continue Westwards and with every one, political support will wane.

If the IED has become a strategic weapon, as it did in Iraq, then it follows that we must have a strategy to counter it.

That strategy must seek to neutralise the impact of the IED, reducing political will sapping casualties and freeing up forces for aggressive combat operations. Whilst we continue to be on the receiving end of the IED we cede the initiative to the enemy, they chose the time and place of engagement and shape the battlefield, not us.

One should realise that defeating IED’s is a complex task comprising many layers, there is no magic bullet, but to distil it into a series of elements;

Don’t Be There

The easiest way by far of defeating an emplaced IED is simply not to go anywhere near it. This might sound fatuous but it needs saying. Helicopter resupply should reduce the need for many combat logistic patrols. There are other options such as air despatch, making use of new equipment such as GPS guided parachutes or even resupply UAV’s

As we wrote above, a growing force needs a huge amount of supplies and the resources expended in keeping these supplies flowing unhindered reduces significantly the available offensive power.

There is no point of course, having well supplied island bases sitting in a sea of Taleban, operations have to be mounted. These operations and operations in support of local development provide invaluable intelligence and if we are to defeat the Taleban we have to engage in operations against them.

Again, more helicopters would support these offensive operations but at some stage one has to accept that patrolling in vehicles and mounting operations with vehicles are essential activities.

Deny the Enemy the Space and Means to Employ IED’s

Aggressive patrolling  and simply having the means to deny the Taleban the space and means of deploying IED’s is again an obvious statement but without the resources and accepting the sheer size of the area we must accept that IED’s will continue to be placed.

Disrupting the manufacture and movement of IED’s and precursor materials is equally beneficial but given the simplicity and readily available raw materials such as ammonium nitrate fertiliser and other materials this is a very difficult task.

Know Where They Are

Advances sensor capabilities across a wide range of platforms including radar deployed on the Sentinel R1 and Sea King ASaC, all manner of electro optical sensors on everything from Apache attack helicopters to UAV’s and even signals intelligence provide the means of catching IED emplacers in the act. One should not also forget that human intelligence from the local population is also vital. Human intelligence is another subject but its importance should not be underestimated when being dazzled by the capabilities of electronic sensors. Human intelligence at this level requires interaction with the local populace.

Denying space has a great deal of reliance on knowing where they are.

Techniques, Tactics and Procedures

Old fashioned training and tactical skill can negate much of the impact but it only goes so far. Skills learned in conflict have to be rolled into pre deployment training and this is an area where the UK armed forces excel although with more resources more/better training would improve matters even more. This is not a criticism but more resources can only help.

Using mobility intelligently allows one to avoid area where IED’s are. Skirting obvious choke points and avoiding pattern setting are obvious mobility benefits of mobility. It is in the mobility versus protection debate that generates the most controversy. If your vehicle is mobile it can use that mobility to make sure it uses unpredictable routes, avoid chokepoints and appear almost anywhere thus achieving tactical surprise and therefore, ultimately beating the Taleban sooner rather than later.

Route Proving

Recognising that no amount of tactics or watching routes is ever going to completely stop IED’s being emplaced it makes sense for large road moves like a combat logistic patrol to clear or prove the route in advance. Again, using a wide range of equipment and tactics this can be very effective. It is however, very slow and will completely destroys the element of surprise, handing the initiative back to the Taleban. There are different methods of route proving available and the recent Talisman project seeks to combine a number of vehicles, micro UAV’s (Honeywell T-Hawk) and armoured plant to improve existing capabilities.

Passive Protection

The last resort is passive protection. When all else fails and one contacts an IED the vehicle and how you use that vehicle (seat belts and the removal of potential projectiles i.e. loose objects etc) will make the difference between being a survivable contact and a non survivable contact.

All vehicles can have some degree of protection applied after or it can be designed in from scratch.

Generating more vitriol than any other issue the ‘Great V Shaped Hull Debate’ has polarised views.

Let’s get a few things absolutely straight; protection and survivability DO NOT automatically add weight. Comments such as ‘you can’t drive around in mobile pill boxes’ abound when used to support the argument that mobility provides greater overall protection than armour or design.

V shape hulls are not inherently heavy, ceramic armour is not heavy in comparison with steel but provides much greater protection against shaped charge warheads, slat armour has a lot of fresh air but again provides great protection against RPG’s and the new Tarian armour is based on a textile which is not known for being especially heavy!

The old argument about being able to have two of the three attributes of protection, mobility and firepower are simply not valid any more, as evidenced by for example, an armour based on a fabric.

However, it is hard not to have some sympathy with the views of users of vehicles like the Jackal which has superlative mobility, who say that its mobility does indeed provide protection. This is a persuasive argument but at the user’s perspective, the strategic view is often obscured. As we state above, IED’s are a strategic weapon and it requires a strategic, not tactical counter.

Vehicles like the Mastiff are large and heavy, putting a strain on the local road infrastructure, especially bridges but they without a doubt provide excellent protection. The Ridgeback provides excellent protection in a smaller package but is still not as mobile as the Jackal or Land Rover WMIK.

The Taleban, even in the days of the Russian invasion, would probe particular vehicles weak spots and adjust tactics accordingly. The Land Rover WMIK, Vector, Land Rover Snatch, Jackal and Viking have all suffered significant losses. These vehicles were supposed to use mobility as a means of protection.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these vehicles.

The problem lies when these vehicles are deployed in completely the wrong situations because of a lack of alternatives or other factors.

The Jackal for example is an excellent weapons platform, mobile, with long range and high acceleration it is versatile and effective in its role. That role is however, NOT escorting logistics convoys where its mobility is totally neutralised because it has to go at the pace of the slowest vehicle in the convoy and use the route of the least mobile vehicle in the convoy packet. In this role it is very vulnerable to IED’s and the often follow up small arms fire.

The real question is why we seem to unable to field a vehicle in sufficient quantities that has a high degree of protection from the most effective weapon in the Taleban’s arsenal i.e. the IED and a degree of mobility which will contribute to its protection.

We act as if it is one OR the other.

The Light Protected Patrol Vehicle requirement seeks to achieve this aim and it is imperative that this is accelerated and fielded as soon as possible. Whilst the government hides behind the mobility is protection argument it is curious to note that the requirement is going forward at all, if there was no need it wouldn’t be happening.

There is no doubt we have been shamelessly late in deploying protected patrol vehicles and the seemingly obsessive clinging on to the ‘protection is mobility and mobility is protection’ argument is simply not logical in the face of overwhelming evidence. That said, once decisions have been made the people responsible for getting vehicles into theatre, with appropriate engineering resources and trained personnel has been excellent. This effort should be commended not condemned, if there is a area for blame it is with the decision makers.

The IED is the largest single cause of casualties, casualties erode political support and political support is essential to the continuance of the operation, it really is that simple.

We therefore need to concentrate on all elements of defeating the threat and apply greater vigour with the appropriate military, financial, scientific and engineering resources.

Much like the helicopter issue, the first stage of this is to admit mistakes with honesty and candour then move with some purpose to a solution.

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Sven Ortmann
August 26, 2009 6:03 pm

“No one except the government would argue that more helicopters in Afghanistan would have a material effect on operations; …”

Maybe you forgot a “not” in here?

Goggs
Goggs
September 2, 2009 12:47 pm

I found your comments to very interesting and informative. I tend to share a lot of the same opinions and believe that the British Army though fielding superior troops on the ground is going to be in trouble if it doesn’t react faster to the threats faced in Afghanistan.

I have searched through a lot of material and to date it looks like the Brisith Army has purchased minimal amounts of Tarian Armour (20 kits) I don’t believe the MOD has even considered blast attenuation materials like those offered by Aigis. I really don’t understand why we are waiting for the Mastiff fleet to come on line and not retrofiting the vehicles the troops are using on missions right now. I am certain that WMIKs and Jackals could be made much safer very quickly and easily if the Government wanted to do it.