Generic Base Architecture and FOBEX

FOBEX

In September last year a wrote about the Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA) and how it is probably one of the smartest things the MoD has done recently, how it will have a profound effect on future costs and capabilities in the vehicle fleet and that the MoD will receive almost no publicity or credit for doing so.

FOBEX
FOBEX

In addition to vehicles, the same concept has been applied to bases and soldier equipment as part of the Land Open Systems Architecture (LOSA)

LOSA
LOSA

GBA is defined in Def-Stan 23-13 as an open standard that defines interfaces to power, data, water, waste and fuel.

Forward bases are the stock in trade of an Army, at the end of Herrick IX in April 2009 the British Army had 55 in Afghanistan and by November 2010 this number had risen to 132. Fuel in particular is a major concern, with these forward bases in 2009 accounting for only 3% of actual fuel used but 25% of the fully burdened fuel cost, this latter figure includes the cost of transport and force protection.

Base Laydown
Base Laydown

The various life support needs such as water, waste and hygiene are considerable and where numerous systems exist in isolation waste and incompatibility will be the result.

Force protection needs, Base ISTAR for example, all need to be united into a coherent environment.

GBA, therefore, seeks to define all elements of a base into single system rather than a collection of disparate parts. The ultimate goal is to reduce construction time, personnel used for life support activities and fuel usage whilst offering capability improvements across each element.

LOSA
LOSA

Ambitious

So, GBA is as important as any major project, despite it being a low key and poorly funded activity.

LOSA will be the major theme of this year’s Defence Vehicle Dynamics event.

GBA2 (FOBEX) was a demonstration exercise that involved many organisations and had a wide ranging remit.

FOBEX10 is seeking to identify potential enhancements to the Tactical Base (TB) capability, specifically in the establishment of an integrated system of a ‘30 person Patrol Base (PB)’and (tba) Control Points (CP) from ‘green field’ to levels 1 and 2, and the subsequent removal/disassembly

FOBEX 10 could provide a specific experimentation opportunity for interoperability and infrastructure rationalisation around ground based ISTAR and ‘Sense and Warn’ equipment.

FOBEX10 will be an evaluation of industry claims that FOB’s can be built differently (i.e. quicker, better, cheaper, or better managed). These alternatives constructs are to consider, but not be constrained by, the themes of the Land Open System Architecture functional model, and current thinking on sub-component elements includes addressing the following:

  • Improved quality of infrastructure
  • Waste disposal
  • Power supply and distribution, including vehicle delivered power
  • Water management including treatment testing and bottling, recycling and storage
  • Alternative Force Protection Engineering approaches
  • Precision air dispatch,
  • Immediate medical support
  • Integrated Survivability Systems
  • Helicopter Landing Site (HLS) dust reduction
  • Expedient resurfacing
  • Laundry
  • Winterisation
  • Cover from view capability

Team Castrum was led by Selex Galileo Battlespace solutions and included Marshall Land Systems who provided perimeter surveillance using their Trakkar unmanned ground vehicle (based on the Hobo) fitted with a 3m Clark mast, Roke Resolve EW package and Chess Dynamics Owl surveillance equipment.

The Trakkar has also been demonstrated with a Nordic Power Systems fuel cell auxiliary power unit

Silent diesel fuel cell generator developed by Nordic Power with Marshall support installed on a Trakkar
Silent diesel fuel cell generator developed by Nordic Power with Marshall support installed on a Trakkar
Marshall Land Systems TRAKKAR
Marshall Land Systems TRAKKAR

From the press release

The fuel cell generator is targeted at users requiring virtually silent auxiliary power to keep batteries at peak operating condition.  In the situation depicted on the stand the fuel cell, producing 1kW, is providing sufficient power to maintain the batteries of Trakkar® at peak power so that when the vehicle needs to operate in silent mode it is ready to do so.

The diesel fuel generators are based on a Nordic Power patented technology, named “Cool Flame”. The primary role of the generator is expected to be as an auxiliary power unit to extend and enhance silent watch capability and duration.

“The current development programme is producing an integrated standalone advanced technology demonstrator.  At present it is producing 1kW, sufficient to charge batteries, but as the technology is scalable our long term ambition is to produce up to 10kW

The diesel fuel cell at present produces 1kW has a 28 volt output, noise levels of less than 45dBA at 2m and is at least as efficient as a standard diesel generator.

Marshall LS also demonstrated their Safebase deployable armoured sangar.

Marshall Land Systems Safebase Armoured sangar at FOBEX
Marshall Land Systems Safebase Armoured sangar at FOBEX

Base security was provided from a Marshall Safebase deployable armoured sangar fitted with a Selex remote weapon station. A sensor fit could also be deployed.  Safebase is based on a 10ft Marshall shelter with a rising sentry position, which can be lifted into position in 30 seconds.  Once deployed the space in the base of the tower can have multiple uses.  It can for example serve as a mini operations room or as an RWS control station

The Selex RWS was the Enforcer model.

Also on show, the Observer 100 is a trailer borne surveillance system using thermal imaging, daylight cameras and radar than can operate for 30 days without refuelling (when operating off grid) and setup in no more than 10 minutes.

Selex Observer 100 at FOBEX
Selex Observer 100 at FOBEX

Other partners in Team Castrum were IBM, Paradigm, SELEX Communications, MIRA, Rolls Royce, DRS Technologies, NSC, Hertel, BAE Systems and SELEX Galileo.

The recent PowerFOB exercises in Wales and the Episkopi training area in Cyprus demonstrated appropriate GBA technologies but with a focus on power efficiency. Over 30 companies showed a wide variety of technologies.

PowerFOB recognised that a range of technologies would be needed to meet the desired objective of a 50% reduction in fuel use. Better management of generators, renewables and storage would all play a part.

The trials were split into three load classifications; 500W plus for sensors, 5KW for small tactical bases and 50KW for medium tactical bases. Although these thresholds were set for the trials it was emphasised there is nothing typical about each base, solutions should be scalable and modular.

All equipment was required to be transportable in 20ft ISO containers, robust and able to operate with minimal supervision or skilled maintenance personnel. All the solutions would ultimately need to be GBA compliant so that performance and usage data could be transmitted to a single situational awareness display or to other locations.

Using a baseline provided by a similar sized FOB in Afghanistan (FOB Catina) the demonstration showed;

  • Energy storage produced a 22 per cent fuel saving
  • Energy storage plus demand management produced a 37 per cent fuel saving
  • Energy storage plus demand management plus renewables gave 40–50 per cent fuel saving depending on mix of renewables that were used.

CK Solar showed a solar thermal collector

Kraft Maus showed an 8KVa mobile hybrid wind/solar/fossil power platform.

In fuel burn tests, a conventional, 2kW light generator burned 0.6l/kWh of diesel, whilst the Kraft Maus 8kVA burned 0.2l/kWh on its first run of 36 hours, with a total output of 53kWh. It provided 84kWh totally fuel free power for the five day performance test.

Kraft Maus 8Kva Wind and Solar Generator at FOBEX
Kraft Maus 8Kva Wind and Solar Generator at FOBEX

Tradewind Turbines showed their transportable wind turbine.

Tradewinds turbine being unloaded from an ISO Container at FOBEX
Tradewinds turbine being unloaded from an ISO Container at FOBEX
Tradewinds turbine at FOBEX
Tradewinds turbine at FOBEX

Silicon CPV had on display an integrated solar/conventional power system.

Silicon CPV at FOBEX
Silicon CPV at FOBEX

As a means of reducing power demand energy efficient shelters were also shown, the Fortis Shelter from Hertel for example.

Even relatively minor improvements in energy use all add up; moving to lower voltage DC instead of transforming AC down, induction hubs, LED lighting, solar helicopter pad lights that charge during the day and are used at night, glycol refrigeration and low power laundry systems.

Making sure generators are selected on likely loads rather than over sizing which then results in low utilisation and inefficiency is another challenging aspect.

With the increasing use of COTS/MOTS networking, data processing, storage and display systems in bases, a great deal of which is AC, we expend fuel cooling the device and suffer losses because the equipment itself can usually run perfectly on lower voltage DC. It is reckoned that saving 1 watt at the equipment saves another 3 in cooling and other losses.

Sun have a 2Tb storage server that uses only 300 watts for example but is any of this kind of technology being integrated into the numerous data systems, ground control stations and other equipment for example?

Bases start with construction, not smart sensors or wind turbines so a range of building and infrastructure materials have also been trialled, the ubiquitous Hesco Bastion being joined by modular building systems, matting and fortification materials like cuplock sangars or concrete cloth.

Concrete Cloth Layed by Soldiers at FOBEX Demonstration
Concrete Cloth Layed by Soldiers at FOBEX Demonstration

Enhanced Protection Systems (EPS), of Springer fame, showed the Stalwart protected weapon station.

EPS Stalwart at FOBEX
EPS Stalwart at FOBEX
EPS Stalwart at FOBEX
EPS Stalwart at FOBEX

Despite the allure of all this exciting technology we might achieve similar efficiencies if we simply manage what we have better, improve efficiency, make sure the dots are joined and never forget the human elements of leadership and good equipment care.

That said, the ubiquitous puffing billy might also be overdue for replacement, to the relief of eyebrows everywhere!

FOB life puffin billy

Hawkmoor Self Powered Water Boiler
Hawkmoor Self Powered Water Boiler

Read more about PowerFOB here and a few videos to end on.

It seems that no one system is a magic bullet, careful selection of technologies with integration between them with GBA compliance being the underpinning logic.

Although the MoD has perhaps been a little less bold than US forces who seem to be able to get kit into theatre on a trial basis much quicker than us the but are working to different constraints and the more cautious and considered approach means that kit should, in theory, get to theatre in a much more coherent manner with all the constituent parts having an effect greater than the sum of their parts. That said, the UK is far in advance of the US in other areas, generator use and management being one notable example.

LOSA
LOSA

There is loads of good work going on in with the parallel tracks of GBA, FOBEX and ‘system of systems’, let’s hope it survives contact with the MoD’s budget process and as we see the end of Afghanistan, projects like this sustained.

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145 Responses

  1. I dont know why they have not fitted solar pannels to the top of containers yet. They is around 160 sq foot of space on the top of them that could be used. As much again if they fitted them to one side or double again if put on both side’s. Put a hinge on the as well so the angle can be adjusted. so not only will they be able to supply power but can be used to transport hesco ect to the site as well?

    Dave

  2. Well, if you ship containers by sea, they’re stacked on each other. A plastic solar cell might not take too kindly to being sat on by another 20 ton container.

  3. This thread has the potential to run and run to well over 500 comments:

    1. Arguments about static vs manoeuvre warfare, or whether we should be in the country at all.
    2. Lots of sexy ISTAR masts.
    3. Machine guns.
    4. Wind turbines and eco-stuff to save fuel and resupply (I think that’s a really good idea, if it works)
    5. Gucci little robotic golf buggies for all sorts of infantry fun.
    6. A pretty opaque idea of a “Base Area Network” with the ethernet and wifi replacing good old Don 10.
    7. Containers and loggy shit.

    I was pleased to see that the man who invented Hesco Bastions got some honour recently – that’s an invention that could have improved soldiers’ lives back in the days of the Roman Legions and ever since, but it took until the very 20th Century for a good old bluff Yorkshireman to make it happen. You haven’t seen the British Army in action until you see 2 Chinooks fly in and with a Sapper fork lift and mini tracked digger, a platoon of infantrymen, and quite a lot of sweat and shouting construct a perfectly functional and reasonably protected platoon patrol base in less than two hours. 82 Hesco Bastions is good going in that time.

    Thanks, TD. :) I’ve got a veritable cavalry charge of all sorts of hobby horses to ride on this one!

  4. I just had to look up the “concrete cloth”. I’d never have thought of it. This is a completely genius idea, and there’s a British supplier who’ll even do you a prefab shelter in the stuff.

    Only needs air and water (which of course needs to be trucked or flown in if in the desert), not a problem elsewhere in the world. 25 or 54 square metres of hardened shelter erected by 2 untrained men in an hour or so, ready for use a day later. What’s not to like?

    http://www.concretecanvas.co.uk/

  5. Because Im waiting on bad news about my car I will share what the FOB I was at had in the way of infrastructure. I won’t give troop numbers although they have almost certainly changed and for all I know its been handed over or taken down now. But it was basically a Company Group(-) sized FOB.

    It was protected with a mixture of compound wall and good old HESCO with firing steps and a few ramps so JACKALs could be driven up to fire over it. It also had 5 sangars (fear not the locals even knew what number they were) made from HESCO and sandbagged roofs with cover provided by scrim etc.

    It had a mortar line with at least 3 barrels (public domain) of 81mm and a big dark cavernous ammo bunker protected by two HABs. Inside there was the ANA camp, we’ll ignore them. And then there was the medical treatment facility in a HAB and the ops room in a HAB. We had a Cortez camera up on a massive pole and which some idiot had draped a camouflage net over the base of, presumably to camouflage a very high pole from the Taliban Air Force.

    Power was provided by several light field generators I think they were called which were very reliable and were filled by jerry cans which were bought in on the CLPs. We had a POL point with Kero, a large fuel bowser and other POL. Water was provided from a spring although it was not used for drinking, that came in on the CLPs too. The water was used for cooking, I really don’t know why we weren’t to drink it it was used by the cookhouse to make screech. There was also a field kitchen which the ungrumpy and always happy to serve you chefs made delicious smash, day in, day out. We had a pump which served the showers but the heater element in it was broken for most of the tour and surprisingly ice cold showers even in 40 degree heat remained an unpleasant experience, in the winter, truly horrific.

  6. Mortar proof?
    “25 or 54 square metres of hardened shelter erected by 2 untrained men in an hour or so, ready for use a day later”
    – reminds me of the Swedish army testing igloos, whether they would dissipate incoming in the form of 155mm
    – I think the contents survived, though the igloo came crushing down

  7. ACC,

    presumably, once it’s up the boys will continue to doll it up by pushing sand or earth over it. You can’t stop them – it seems pre-programmed in an infantryman’s brain to add more and more protection to his bedroom once he’s told he can’t move it every night. I don’t blame them.

    I’ve emailed the link to a mate of mine who runs a place up in Scotland and was looking for shelters for the quads and other stuff out at the other end of the place, but not very impressed with what he had seen on the civvy market (it was the cost of builders and 3 weeks of laying foundations that really stopped him). Lay some turves and heather onto it and it will blend in completely in a few months – ideal when you’ve got rich Septics coming across and paying £Lots for shooting and stalking.

  8. I always thought “Don 10” was some form of MoD-mandated target for the numbers of insurance-claimable destructive fires that were needed to balance the books. A bit like the Atlantic Conveyor sinking naturally because of the total tonnage of equipment that various Quartermasters claimed were on board in order to get the BoI to authorise write-offs.

    @ TD, re Defence Cell

    honestly, is there no limit to the ingenuity of Sappers? If only they had charm and a good line in conversation in addition to their undoubted broad range of talents, they’d be worth inviting to dinner. They wouldn’t be able to make it of course, due to testing some new technique of digging, but still, you always want Sappers about.

  9. Observer said, “Well, if you ship containers by sea, they’re stacked on each other. A plastic solar cell might not take too kindly to being sat on by another 20 ton container.”

    Like TD i also have a container fetish. They are types where this would be no problem at all. Also under the floor of a container there is space where you could install batteries. For use of a night as well.

    Dave

  10. Looking at the concrete canvas shelter specs, you can fit 16 of the 25 sq M versions in flatpack into a standard ISO. It’s all fork-liftable. Whether for dragging out into the desert on a DROPS wagon, or for having on board an RFA ready for disaster relief, not bad at all.

    (Sandwich-at-desk lunch ending soon, so enough browsing fetishistic engineering and concrete websites!)

  11. @ James

    Action messing would sound a bit more colourful if you were under desk under fire…… :)

  12. X,

    Life’s not fair. During 107 hours of GW1, all I ate were some biscuits, a couple of chocolate bars and some oranges that we had in a wooden box behind my hatch (BV bust***, too busy to stop and cook, you can peel and eat an orange while on the move). And yet I saw a documentary in which the Andrew were eating cheesy eggy hammys, bacon butties and similar under the “Action Messing” category. I’m telling you, life on board is too soft, carpets, foam seating and proper beds, and you get fed properly… ;)

    There was a VC winner in Korea called Pte Bill Speakman, who when he ran out of ammunition started throwing tins of food at the Chinese who thought they were grenades. Now that’s a real lunch break!

    ***The BV being bust would normally in peacetime render a vehicle inoperable and liable for base repair. We didn’t have Paul G available however, so had to crack on.

  13. @ James

    With the civilising of catering at HMNB what sailors gain afloat food wise, ashore the Sealords taketh away……

  14. sorry james, i would’ve been there but due to being late back from canada (delayed because lifeguards had spent 6 years riding nags up and down the mall and needed extra help the usless tw@s0) so although still at 7 armd assigned to 22 bde not 7.

    Any hoo, this thing has lots of legs particularly since some boffin attached to Dod in the states worked out they used 70 gallons of fuel to deliver 1 gallon in the sandy places, hence dollars ahve been diverted to solve this. I remember eading somewhere they are genuinely looking at small nuke reactors in ISO’s (show me your hands TD!) for company sized FOBs, estimates at less than 10 years away. In the meantime it’s the shape of the turbines the are playing with as shown above it’s not your 3 bladed affair often seen static off the coast (well that’s what i see most days,waste of fu**ing money) some brit has come up with a design that can be best described as a lawn mower blade vertical, which works in very low speed winds which gives it consistency.
    Pedal power has been looked at well, voltage and keeping fit in a oner, bonus!!!

  15. does that mean the crow can pedal so everyone else can listen to their ipods?

    George, not read much on GSA, how about doing a piece for TD on it

  16. Paul G,

    you often run into problems with the paramilitary wing of the London Tourist Board.

    I wasn’t SCOTS DG or in 7 Armd Bde at the time – I was still 16/5L. Tell you what, we had the most fantastic EME and also Omlette, and the Tiffys as well. There was of course a limit to what they could do, but it was not very much that they couldn’t do. I’ve seen some REME shambles in my time (and they’ve probably seen some of mine, to be fair), but it all worked like clockwork in 16/5L on the REME front for GW1.

    Best little vignette: broken down Scimitar on Olly bar tow by Samson. Both come under 12.7mm fire from half right, both traverse off and reply with MG, and blow me, hit the ruddy target and destroy it while still moving themselves. Squadron Leader directed that the kill be recorded in favour of the Recy Mech, with 10 cases of beer for the Fitters when we got home paid for by Squadron funds. Band of brothers, that was. Happy to have that crew along.

  17. “During 107 hours of GW1, all I ate were some biscuits, a couple of chocolate bars and some oranges”

    Poor Officer admin!

  18. @ Phil,

    ha! You may very well be correct. But before you castigate me entirely, consider some alternative possibilities (in addition to the BV being bust):

    1. Don’t like cold compo, except in an emergency. War does not qualify as an emergency.
    2. Having too much fun to eat. You don’t get too many wars occurring in your life when you are at the peak of your physical prowess aged 26, in the most fantastic desert environment, against an enemy you are almost guaranteed to beat, and surrounded with mates of all ranks you’ve spent 7 years training alongside.
    3. Kate Adie’s Landrover crew took one of our boxes of compo shortly before STARTEX, because they had none.
    4. I like oranges, also chocolate. Not so much the biscuits, but you need some roughage.

    To be serious, it actually was not much of a hardship I noticed at all. After ENDEX, we all crashed out for 12 or so hours, having none of us had any kip at all during the 4 1/2 days. Woke up absolutely f**king starving. SQMS arrived with some fresh stuff. Fried up something like 20 eggs on the primus stove for the three of us to fill our bellies with banjos until we could take no more, drank between us my last bottle of smuggled whisky, then went back to sleep.

  19. @Phil
    “And do what?”

    * patrol
    * pull 360° 24/7 security
    * be unpredictable

    * avoid wars that are against so thoroughly incapable opponents that they can’t even rape a stationary target (because such opponents are clearly no threat to us)

  20. Unrealistic is the idea that you could “win” such a campaign from forts while your opponent patrols and is in intense contact with the population.

  21. They’re not Mordor. There’s plenty of interaction. We used to invite folk round for tea and a chat. Christ we even used to hire stuff from them. Your doctor doesn’t work in a field to make him accessible do they? They just come up to the FOB and knock like a building with a door.

  22. Be fair S O, you need both kinds, static and mobile, in an army. There is a season for every reason.

    I for one would hate to have to sleep out in the open in semi-hostile territory, or do maintainance bare arse naked out in plain sight of any sniper, or refuel/rearm without cover from anyone with a RPG or MG with incindary/tracer rounds.

    Of course, no one ever won purely on the defensive (or none that comes to mind), but fighting from fortified areas gives you enough of an advantage that frees up more of your forces for aggressive action.

    “* avoid wars that are against so thoroughly incapable opponents that they can’t even rape a stationary target (because such opponents are clearly no threat to us)”

    They don’t need to hit you, they just wear the latest in desert fashion that goes boom.

  23. Agreeing standards are vital of course to interoperability, but single/centralised approaches are not the only way to do this. There are significant costs to agreeing and maintaining agreed standards, not least of which is the time it takes to negotiate what happens when new components or interfaces need to be added. Are they added without agreement, or delayed until agreement? These costs need to be traded against the supposed advantages listed above, not lost.

    To get around these problems, such standards can rapidly become too watered down or abstract to be of any practical use, and simply act as another layer of trivially-fulfilled requirements as, say, frequently happens with MODAF.

    Or they are bypassed as we see with the situation awareness descriptions that require descriptive text, because the land data model is insufficient even in Helmand.

    As an exercise in discussing and working through the integration problems: Good. As an output requiring prescriptive compliance: Bad.

  24. Catching up with comments

    @David, another container fetishist, will sort that secret handshake thing we were talking about! On the subject of PV panels on containers I think they would probably better be demountable because they need to be maintained and that gives some flexibility in siting etc.

    @Sven, see what you are saying but GBA spans everything from a main operating base like Bastion to a patrol base and as Phil has said, difficult to see how one can do anything on a large scale without a base

    @James, yes, tonnes to go at. Of course, agree on the Field Sqn Field Troop. Confessions of a MEXE Shelter anyone

    @Phil. Were the generators on trailers and slope sided, stealth style. These are called Field Electrical Power System or FEPS, supplied by Rolls Royce under a PFI. If they were the smaller ones like this the Light Field Generator from HGI

    The problem with running lots of smaller generators is that they often don’t run at full load which generally speaking buggers them up and wastes fuel. As you know, fuel and spares need transporting in and this is exactly what GBA/FOBEX is trying to rationalise on. Your experiences sound again, like what the whole GBA/FOBEX thing is trying to address

    @ACC, extra infill on the top of something like a concrete canvas shelter acts as a thermal stabilise, reducing the need for heating and cooling which, of course, needs power and therefore needs fuel.

    @Martin, interesting comments but GBA is about the interoperability using common protocols, connectors etc. It is exactly NOT a one size fits all thing

  25. @Observer
    “Of course, no one ever won purely on the defensive (or none that comes to mind), but fighting from fortified areas gives you enough of an advantage that frees up more of your forces for aggressive action.”

    The share of troops in forts easily exceeds 80%, in some cases 95% of deployed personnel in AFG. A fort is a place to hunker down, not an economy of force wonder.

    @TD:
    I do not recall that divisions on campaign in WW2 built forts when they weren’t at the front-lines.

    The real reason for my opposition isn’t performance or non-performance in fghanistan. It’s the bunker and fort mentality, this indoctrinating that easily visible, predictable, durable, stationary, above-ground objects could provide security against an opposing force.

    A capable enemy would massacre the troops in their forts. The forts alone are reason enough to pull all Western troops out. Pull ’em out before they add even more such small wars nonsense to their experiences.

  26. “The share of troops in forts easily exceeds 80%, in some cases 95% of deployed personnel in AFG. A fort is a place to hunker down, not an economy of force wonder”

    You’ve just made that figure up.

    You need check points to interdict Taliban movements. You won’t believe how much land a check point can dominate, it is far more effective than patrolling through an area, even regularly.

    But you also need mobile strike forces to strike deep, and we have those too.

    You definitely need both. And you’d be surprised how well a check point locks down Taliban movement, especially when it has a camera.

    Wondering around the ulu is not a good way to conduct any campaign. How do you interact with the locals if they don’t know who you are and you don’t build relationships and they don’t know where you are going? This is well before the security issues Observer brings up which you can only solve by moving about like a slow ponderous caravan unable to access many areas because you’re bringing your supplies with you. You just can’t do it.

    You combine static units who do local patrols and mobile striking forces.

    And also there’s the issue of the heat, patrol all day in the Afghan heat?! Right.

    And don’t think the Taliban are ninja’s in the night either, they have their bed down areas and little bases.

  27. “@Phil. Were the generators on trailers and slope sided, stealth style. These are called Field Electrical Power System or FEPS, supplied by Rolls Royce under a PFI. If they were the smaller ones like this the Light Field Generator from HGI”

    Yes FEPs! I don’t know where I got the LFG thing from. And yeah we had the little buggers for the check points. Noisy bastards and broke a lot, try sleeping next to one running for two weeks at a time. But the one in one PB ran on a full load I think, we have a fridge, the chargers, a camera, a radio and believe it or not a widescreen TV (there was no empty wall bracket in the new BSN cookhouse missing a TV…) and a PS3.

  28. “I do not recall that divisions on campaign in WW2 built forts when they weren’t at the front-lines.”

    Arguably they should have done. And quite often they actually did. And besides, its a very different context. Nobody built any FOBs in 2003 or 1991.

  29. Fortified bases are common throughout history esepcially when occupying hostile areas. However, they historically work as “launch pads” for mobile forces; Norman Castles for knights, Cavarly forts on the US western frontier, etc.

    On the other hand I vaguely remember a British Officer using “flying” armoured coloumns in Iraq, getting away from fixed bases. Anybody have more information on the success, or lack thereof, of this?

  30. re forts vs constant mobility.

    I think there’s a very strong correlation between the type of war. We wouldn’t have dreamed of building a structure during GW1, because (1) we’d have been on the move again within 30 minutes, scarcely enough time for a decent argument about siting and arcs of fire to start, let alone get resolved, and (2) the job was to go and kill Iraqis, not let them come to us, and (3) HMtQ very kindly provides mini-forts with tracks and guns pre-attached.

    On the other hand, once the job is to dominate an area in all senses from fire to providing protection to enabling infrastructure / normality etc, the job is measured in time and space, not in striking at static points or a meeting engagement. It takes time, and if you’ve got time, so has the enemy to work out cunning ways of attacking you, so you need some protection.

    Is this also now time to open up the intelligent “just in time” logistics solution for forts, based on an intelligent data network and all sorts of smart meters providing status of fuel supplies, etc, or is it more comfortable to stick with the daily standard load and shedloads of spare capacity, because it guards against things like the weather socking in the choppers or the Pakistanis closing their border so the trucks don’t run? Pros and cons of both, I’d imagine. I was kept very clear of logistics matters by the Army, and rightfully so as they are important.****

    **** I was once asked to fill in a form for spares needed for my Troop prior to a Gunnery Camp – normally the Troop Sergeant, the magical Mick Bode did that. I decided we all needed new rubber episcope blinds, so 48 for the four wagons. There was a set of boxes to fill in the quantity, so being intelligent and well educated I filled in “48”, leaving lots of blank boxes. Got one of the boys to rush the form over to the QM(T) department, and he was sent back with a flea in his ear to give to me. Turned out I’d tried to order something like 48 million blinds, as the incompent OCR software in whatever loggy IT system they were using interpreted blanks as zeroes. I sell that sort of stuff nowadays, and let me tell you, our’s is brilliant, never makes that sort of mistake… ;)

  31. @james, that would be like the time i was advance party (qty 1, i lived 30 mins away) for adv training in capel curig and the had a shed floor to roof with black bin bags, bloke ordered 100, thing is they come in boxes of a thousand, so he got 100 boxes = 100,000 bin bags! No-one questioned the order, and we wonder where the money goes.

  32. @ James – interesting problem. Perhaps certain products are pushed forward, such as food, water, etc which are consumed pretty constantly while others are ordered when they reach a certain level, with a built in safety margin?

  33. Bet they’re still there! Not the time to talk about probably a quarter of a million pounds of DRASH tentage left stuft and broken in Towthorpe Lines up near York. Lazy fucking civvy storemen. They looked like rats but not as industrious or intelligent.

    They also had crates and crates of NBC casualty bags which made me feel odd.

  34. Paul G,

    the ending of the story is that the RQMS(T) had taken the form from the Trooper, and he had enough brain power to work out my mistake. He told the QM(T), who then had great pleasure at very loudly relaying the sorry tale to the Mess at lunch, cueing gales of laughter from everyone else present at not only my stupidity, but also the fact that I was filling in such a form to start with, when I had a perfectly reasonable Toop Sergeant and also two young thrusting Corporals who were looking to get themselves a Troop Sergeant slot. The Ops Officer took me to one side and told me to stay off the tank park and go for a run or a TEWT instead – “that’s why you’ve got NCOs”. Joys of being a 20 year old sprog Troop Leader, and all a learning experience.

  35. Sir how would you go about putting up a flag pole if you had to?

    Well Sgt I’d find a pole, dig a foundation, put the pole in the foundation and shore it up. Maybe using concrete.

    No no no Sir!

    What do you mean Sgt?

    Sir, you say, Sgt, I want a flag pole there.

  36. Good one Phil.

    SO, if you want the 80% to be outside fortified areas (I so agree that number is made up) and the Taliban have yet to be located…

    Doesn’t that mean your troops are sitting around outside instead of sitting around inside? Or worse, driving around in circles aimlessly and burning up gasoline?

    And afganistan is not a mobile war, it’s COIN, which is a totally different situation. I even had an argument with Phil last time in that I really prefered mobile war, while his opinion is that in a saturated environment, war will end up turning static, but even a biased observer like me would never dare suggest doing without secure areas. Under constant strain of combat without a rest, troops go loopy. Look under trench warfare in WW1. Now imagine it without the trenches.

  37. “You’ve just made that figure up.”

    You wish, I wish. Not real, though.

    We actually don’t even need to dig up all the unofficial reports about the problem (I doubt ISAF is going to admit it officially): We can make a quick plausibility check.

    Take the tooth:tail ratio, which is about 2:1 to 3:1. OK, say 2:1 (which is VERY optimistic).

    Now this one third (the teeth), how much of its time is it going to be on patrol, how much is it going to rest/train/be sick/in forts?
    Want to use an optimistic 1:3 ratio for this?

    There we are already at 2:(1/3) = 6:1
    That’s 6/7 inside the wire. 85.7% in this quick & dirty plausibility check.

    Reality IS worse for the large forts, and not much better for the small outposts. The troops are almost only hunkering down in those fortifications. The only major exceptions are the “offensives”, that are sweeps without proper cordon. These can see a thousand men in the field for a while. The total force is two orders of magnitude larger, of course.

  38. @ S O

    I think you have a very weird idea of what a COIN campaign would entail. I seem to remember a historical example of a British coloumn trying to march a great distance across Afghanistan once. I think that ended with everyone dying? How would you supply such moving coloumns? Food, water, batteries, ammunition, just to start? What’s stopping the enemy from just downing tools, waiting for the coloumn to pass, and then reasserting themselves once the sweep has passed?

  39. The opfor downing tools is the least of my worry. I’m more araid that without secured rear areas, they’ll just slip into my “tail” bivocs and slit everyone’s throats. Then you’re left with the “teeth” and no supplies. 3 days is how long a force can usually sustain itself before shortages kills efficiency.

    SO is really making weird suggetions.

  40. Sorry about the spelling in the last post, my keyboard was acting a bit strange.

    @SO

    Not only are your numbers made up, they’re also low and messed up, and you are also operating under a number of mistaken assumptions.

    Tooth to tail ratio isn’t 2:1. It’s more like 10:1 and climbing these days. And before you go on any bulls-it about “fat, lazy, moneywasting etc” crap, the reason is the proliferation of support systems like fire-finding radar, UAVs, air support generation, anti-missile systems, intel generation, vehicle maintainance etc.

    Just because people are “support” or “rear line” staff does NOT mean they are useless like you are assuming. Without them, you can kiss your COIN campaign goodbye. As well as the lives of most of the troops on the ground. “An army marches on it’s stomach”. Sounds familiar? And some of the staff are WAY to valuable to be walking patrols. You want a pilot on point? He catches a bullet, there goes millions in training costs, not to mention a 150 million dollar plane sitting in the hanger doing crap all because it’s pilot died. All because of a 5 pence bullet. Pioneer Engineers walking patrol? One ambush and you’ll lose a large chunk of mine clearing capability. Guess you’ll have to do the “commando way” of clearing minefields/IEDs then. *stomp, stomp… ok safe…next!..*

    Your idea of “combat troops” seem to involve forming every Tom, Dick and Harry in a line and have them charge at the enemy. You sure you didn’t train under the ChiComs?

  41. “The troops are almost only hunkering down in those fortifications.”

    That’s just plain wrong. In my experience across working with Danish and US.

  42. @Jim

    And the 2nd incident in that sorry play (or was it 3rd?) was the British camp being set up in an undefensible shallow depression and getting shelled. More arguement for defences IMO.

    @Phil

    He’s working on some very wrong assumptions. Like “every man a swordsman”, or “advance in a phalanx”….

  43. “Tooth to tail ratio isn’t 2:1.”

    You probably got it the wrong way. Admittedly, I was a bit misleading here.
    I meant to write about 1/3 teeth and 2/3 tail, which is a generous value for Western forces. Below 30% combat and forward observer personnel is rather normal in our technicised armies. I used the generous assumption to ensure nobody who’s discussing with good intent comes up with a disagreement about the exact figure. After all, using 2:1 instead of 3:1 was influencing the calculation against my point.
    The actual accurate ratios depend on the specific force, even location.

    “It’s more like 10:1 and climbing these days. And before you go on any bulls-it about “fat, lazy, moneywasting etc” crap, the reason is the proliferation of support systems like fire-finding radar, UAVs, air support generation, anti-missile systems, intel generation, vehicle maintainance etc.”

    10:1 is incorrect, and the whole discussion would be pointless if it wasn’t. After all, I was mentioning that the vast majority of troops sits in the forts.
    You don’t need to lecture me about support. I know support. Point being, almost only the personnel outside the wire exerts influence in the country.

    “Just because people are “support” or “rear line” staff does NOT mean they are useless like you are assuming.”

    Poor strawman attack. They’re not useless in my opinion. They’re merely not of relevance to the population, and Afghanistan’s conflict is very political. The quantity of mechanics has no political effect.

    “Without them, you can kiss your COIN campaign goodbye.”

    WRONG.
    WESTERN troops are too incompetent to do away with support. More adaptable or simply third country troops could simply live off the land as did occupation forces for thousands of years.
    WESTERN troops failed BADLY in counter-insurgency with their technicised approach, and the Russians failed as badly unless they had mroe troops in country than there were indigenous people. The only Western “COIN” success is Iraq, whose people coincidentally happened to sort out most of their conflicts with ethnic cleansing while the Americans “surged”.

    ““An army marches on it’s stomach”. Sounds familiar?”

    Sure, but keep in mind 30 million people in Afghanistan do not starve without flown-in hamburgers. Guess why.
    In fact, I doubt that the Taliban have even a single mess hall with climate control.
    Maybe they would lose, not win, the political fight if they had?

  44. Actually the tail does benefit the Afghans. There’s several thousand locally employed civilians in Bastion alone, not to mention the jingly convoys and the locally placed orders and all the tradesmen that ply their trade around the bases. We used to hire Afghans to work on the mud walls of the compounds and clear trees and build us roads.

    Western troops are not incompetent. You’re being provocative on purpose. You know as well as I do that bases are a necessity and the Taliban have them too. We even discovered a hospital. In fact the less the population suffer them the more they need based too. No they don’t have air conditioned food halls and yes some places have become excessively luxurious but it’s been the private contractors driving that as much as anyone and they organise the pizza huts and so on off their own back since a lot of them work in these bases for years.

    I can tell you in my FOB the only two people who never went out the wire were our two chefs and one of them wanted to but wasn’t allowed he was too important!

  45. SO – the Royal Marines tried roughly what you seem to be suggesting a few Herricks ago. “Mobile Operating Units”. Administratively self supporting column based on a company group, marching about trying to surprise the Taliban and being resupplied by C-130s.

  46. Really the goal isn’t to defeat the Taliban it’s to undermine them and dissolve their influence. Very different things. Going out to kill Taliban in mobile columns on its own achieves little. Using them to strike deep and disrupt them whilst holding ground and building influence works best. It’s a cliche but the battlefield is the Afghan population. You can drive around brassing up Terry for 50 years and achieve nothing unless you have a firm footprint on the ground. As ever, it’s a subtle mixture of techniques in a spectrum rather than one end or the other.

  47. @SO

    If only troops on the ground “outside the wire” influence the campaign, I wonder where all the airstrikes that have been called in come from? A dirt lane in the desert? And what do you think an airbase is but a fort with hangers and a runway?

    You say you know “support”, and that the Taliban can survive without food, that is wrong. They get their supplies by “taxing” the people. a.k.a robbing them. You think that would work well for the International forces?

    And I really like to see you tell the Medical personnel that helping the local population is not “influence”.

    BTW SO you said you were support, you with a QM unit?

  48. That’s just not how they work. They are tied to families, tax bases, defended compounds and areas of operation just like us. In fact they are less mobile since we can go wherever we want, they can’t if the local population are hostile. All this ninja stuff is just rubbish. The majority of the Taliban are local thugs and they stay locally. The whole flip flops and flight by night stuff is a myth. They can avoid combat certainly, but they can’t exist in a peripatetic fashion and still be effective.

  49. SO… you’re basing your entire premise on a web burp.. not even an article, but a burp, from something called “GROG NEWS”??

    It reminds me of something a co-worker of mine once said.

    “If you say ‘gullible’ slowly, it sounds like ‘orange’.”

  50. @ Alex – ” the Royal Marines tried roughly what you seem to be suggesting a few Herricks ago. “Mobile Operating Units”.”

    Any reports on the effectiveness of this?

  51. “Any reports on the effectiveness of this?”

    We’re still there!

    My opinion for what it is worth is that such operations have merit in certain circumstances but definitely pissing into the wind if they are anything like your main effort in theatre. If you have sufficient force density you shouldn’t even have to operate like that so in the big picture their use does represent a big failure.

  52. @Observer:
    “If only troops on the ground “outside the wire” influence the campaign, I wonder where all the airstrikes that have been called in come from?”

    Do you deliberately show off an incapability to understand what I wrote?

    I wrote
    “They’re merely not of relevance to the population, and Afghanistan’s conflict is very political.”

    Airstrikes do NOT win the political fight, in fact they’re widely and officially acknowledged to be (if relevant at all) more of a problem than an asset in it. Combat troops leaders who need air power support against rag tag fighters like the Taliban should be sent back to basic.

    “SO… you’re basing your entire premise on a web burp.. not even an article”

    You’re playing with a strawman argument again. I have no respect for this, you are a useless discussion partner to me.
    You have NO, absolutely NO idea what I base my conclusions on since I did not disclose this info, and it’s extremely arrogant to think or suppose otherwise.

    Fact is the Western forces replay the big failures of the Soviets DESPITE the knowledge about their failures. They hunker down in bases, use lots of armoured vehicles, use airpower, focus on population centres and roads. They accept the secondary challenge (combat) happily and apply their instruments with marginal imagination.
    Meanwhile, they are a near-total failure on the primary challenge, the political one. They neither got the “friendly” government to function properly nor do they defeat the opposing political force. It’s a 100% failure and all those stupid forts are horrible monuments of the superficial thinking about the conflict.

    The really bad thing is of course that all this crap influences thinking through lessons learned. A generation of soldiers will expect lavish fire support as self-evident, not understand the challenges of formation manoeuvres, not understand the importance of the indirect fires threat, overestimate the importance of mines and bullets and they learn to consider easily recognizable above-surface cover as effective.
    We could just as well tell them to shoot themselves in case of major war, at least we’d get over the next one quickly this way.

  53. “Combat troops leaders who need air power support against rag tag fighters like the Taliban should be sent back to basic.”

    Been pinned down by a Taliban ambush amongst a bunch of frightened civilians lately Kommando?

    “They hunker down in bases, use lots of armoured vehicles, use airpower, focus on population centres and roads.”

    You have been told and have not countered the argument that they DO NOT hunker down. Mobile patrols sweep lightly populated areas and protect routes. Airpower is sometimes a necessity and is now rarely used.

    “They neither got the “friendly” government to function properly nor do they defeat the opposing political force. It’s a 100% failure and all those stupid forts are horrible monuments of the superficial thinking about the conflict.”

    Nobody is interested in the friendly government operating properly. All they have to do is keep enough of a lid on the criminal thugs people call Taliban to stop them allowing terrorist groups a haven to plan mass destruction at their leisure. The details of the government are otherwise completely immaterial.

    You completely and utterly misunderstand the mission and so you cannot judge success or failure.

    “A generation of soldiers will expect lavish fire support as self-evident, not understand the challenges of formation manoeuvres, not understand the importance of the indirect fires threat, overestimate the importance of mines and bullets and they learn to consider easily recognizable above-surface cover as effective.”

    Right, you base this on what? Maybe in your neck of the woods mate but over here the Army is already getting back to basic warfighting operations and preparing for austere entry contingency operations.

    Its back to living out of your Bergan.

    Everybody in this mans Army recognises the Afghan model has not changed the fundamentals of warfare.

    You’re just making stuff up.

  54. “Been pinned down by a Taliban ambush amongst a bunch of frightened civilians lately Kommando?”

    See? That’s the problem. You have apparently no idea about other means of avoiding or solving such a problem than with support fires. That’s why you have no clue why the need to call for air power etc in such a situation is a display of incompetence.

    “You have been told and have not countered the argument that they DO NOT hunker down. Mobile patrols sweep lightly populated areas and protect routes.”

    You have a computer screen which should allow you to read how I wrote that almost all of them do. I did not claim all do so at the same time. The many troops sitting in forts do no doubt hunker down there to avoid the risks that wait outside the wire. Face the reality. They don’t confine themselves to the relative safety of a base only because it’s so nice to be close to each other or for other non-risk-related reasons.

    “Nobody is interested in the friendly government operating properly. All they have to do is keep enough of a lid on the criminal thugs people call Taliban to stop them allowing terrorist groups a haven to plan mass destruction at their leisure.”

    That’s the same, and it’s is not happening after a decade of Western presence. That’s an utter failure even by ISAF’s own standards of the past decade.

    “Right, you base this on what?”

    Thousands of years of military history and the continuity of psychology. Compare the troubles of the British against the Boers after dozens of small wars, for example. Add WWI to the pile.
    We’re ingraining the wrong ideas in our troops.

    Similar story with peacetime exercises and indirect fire effectiveness. Difficult to simulate properly -> rarely “experienced” phenomenon -> badly underestimated. This example is a decades-old, recognised problem.

    “Everybody in this mans Army recognises the Afghan model has not changed the fundamentals of warfare”

    I doubt that you can speak for “everybody”, for it’s a quite large bunch. Still, even if it was true – lots of subconscious and conscious impressions are in effect and the bureaucracy spends much attention and many funds on the occupation business.
    Feel free to point me at any large-scale (Div+) conventional warfare exercise in the field, with long marches on short notice and all the difficulties needed for conventional mobile warfare.

    Your claim that I make stuff up coupled with bad misunderstandings (at best) of your own is not exactly compelling.

  55. SO, Phil’s been to Afganistan, so has James I think. If I wanted to know the conditions on the ground, I’ll ask them. Not fantasy land you.

    A lot of what you wrote is simply anti-war bullshit and displays a shocking lack of understanding of COIN and “political” acumen. Killing off your opposition electorate while ensuring free play for yours sounds like a vote winner to me. And avoids the problems of them going “vote for me or I kill you.”

    And people calling for support fire should be sent back to basic? Where did they dig you up from? Ancient Rome? Is your name Publius Quinctilius Varus, by any chance?

    Your lack of understanding is shocking. Ask Phil or James if they understood what I posted as opposed to your ranting. Then ask them who’s the strawman, Emperor with no Clothes.

  56. SO. You’re obviously against the war, fine, but your arguments are based on vapour and stereotypes and they are very confused. You hate that we hunker down, which we don’t, and then we’re incompetent when we get caught in ambushes. So what do you want? We’re not bumbling into smushed because we don’t know what we’re doing, we’re being ambushed because we’re patrolling populated areas and we’re interacting with locals. You cannot do that whilst doing a leopard crawl down an irrigation ditch. If the mission does not call for interaction then a more tactical patrol posture is used. Airstrikes are used to end TiCs because our main job is not to go out there and brass up but to undermine the Taliban and work with the civilians. You call in strikes or mortars to shut them up so you can get on with the real job.

    You just haven’t a clue. You disagree with the war fine but your basing your assumptions on myth and bollocks frankly.

  57. Interesting article.

    I think a few people have got distracted by the criteria for making all this kit fit in an 20ft ISO. That is just to make it easy to get into theatre, once its there it they may be able to lowload it into to place but it will also all have to be airportable and within the performance limits of the current/planned SH fleet.

    The main problem I see with all this will be it wont directly replace the old kit, it will supplement it. You will still need the older kit for your main bases and exercises (plus the Army always seem against you using any of the good kit on training in the UK) so this will just add to the overall inventory adding costs, REMF manpower and expensive but useless civilians.

    The size of the MODs inventory is important because Blair/Brown forced the MOD to sell off/scrap lots of its war stock (only to have to buy it back or produce new kit a few years later) it operated with the “Just in Time” system which basically means they wont hold a proper stock of this equipment or spares. Therefore, it is likely that only training units will ever see it and that when the next war comes it wont be ready in time, nor enough people trained on it, so we take all the old kit anyway. Then there will be the extra bureaucratic, lengthily logistics supply, contracts for spares and so on which you can always trace all problems back to a poorly written civilian contract.

    Just to give you an example.

    If a member of the RAF is told they are deploying to Afghanistan they need to go to stores and give them their clothing sizes at least 8 weeks in advance. 8-10 weeks later the kit arrives, you go to stores and try it all on only to find that your boots don’t fit because they are made by a different company to all your other boots. You then have to wait another 8 weeks for your new boots to arrive as stores are not allowed to hold spare kit for these eventualities, deployment equipment is all centrally held.

  58. Wibble, That is a single service problem mate. Certainly not existing in the RN where you can choose you desert boots from a couple of makes and try on different sizes. Although only a couple of stores issue deployment kit.

  59. The navy will not have the same numbers of people needing deployment kit as the RAF plus all this kit is controlled by the Army.

  60. No such problems in the Army either apart from when they change something or bring in new kit it takes a while for the pipeline to catch up. Also with newer kit I believe that whatever issuing authority there is starts to send new kit to theatre once initial allocations are done so stragglers sometimes met their mk7s in theatre for example.

  61. Hi, Phil.
    “Nobody is interested in the friendly government operating properly.” – The Anglo-Afghan Enduring Strategic Partnership Document, signed on 28th January might suggest otherwise.

    As for the Afghan Taliban allowing terrorist groups a haven to plan mass destruction at their leisure, if you’re alluding to the 11/9 attack, that was conceived in Hamburg and planned in the main in Germany and the United States.

    The Afghan Taliban were only in power for five years, during which time the US and Taliban headed down the route of mutual antagonism. If the US had been more diplomatic; rather than refusing to recognize an Islamist regime while concurrently issuing demands to that regime, then they might have got more cooperation in shutting down the terrorist leadership in that country before 11/9.

    Rather than not being interested in the government of Afghanistan, the West has been overly concerned with just that for centuries.

  62. We are not interested in the detailed internal workings of the Afghan government.

    They may well have been planned in those places but come on its disingenuous to say that AQ in Afghan had nothing to do with them. It’s kind of like saying that NHS reform is planned in details amongst the trusts and ignoring the massive looming influence Parliament has over the process. It’s the same sort of relationship.

  63. Wibble said “The navy will not have the same numbers of people needing deployment kit as the RAF plus all this kit is controlled by the Army.”

    There haven’t been that many more RAF bods in Afghanistan over RN bods. Or are you talking about the future?

    And though on principal I believe the MoD should supply all uniform and that it should be the best available, I can’t believe you would not go out to spend your own money on boots.

  64. X

    The boots was just in example of the issues of centralised/pooled stores,logistic supply lines etc, please dont get too hung up on the specific example.

    RN numbers in the stan will fluctuate depending if the RMs are out there at the time but with the removal of the SK4s then there has been a drop in overal RN manpower in theatre in the last 12 months.

  65. @ Wibble

    I wasn’t fixating on the boots. I know you were using them as an example. I had gone off on a tangent. So you are not a RAF bod then? It doesn’t matter what the job what you have on your feet is very important.

    As for RN numbers in Afghanistan I think there have been about 1000 there. And about 1600 RAF bods. 3Cdo won’t be going back to Afghanistan and their deployment viz a vie kit is a different matter. Perhaps I should have been specific and used the word “sailor”?

  66. @Phil
    “(…) we’re being ambushed because we’re patrolling populated areas and we’re interacting with locals. You cannot do that whilst doing a leopard crawl down an irrigation ditch.”

    I didn’t propose the same, so that’s just another strawman attack.
    Is use of microterrain the only thing in your repertoire against ambushes or being pinned down? If not, why should it be the only thing in my repertoire?

    “ambushed” and “pinned down” aren’t the same anyway. The discussion was about the latter. I’m not impressed by your inability to focus on what was being discussed.

    There are tactics to address the “pinned down” problem on the squad to company leadership level. Those who cannot address it properly were either sent on a poorly devised patrol (higher leadership failure) or did/do not use good enough tactics. In either case – go back to basic. Some solutions to the problem have been known for more than 2,000 years.

    It’s sad that what Western forces in Afghanistan call “we’re pinned down by fire from multiple directions and need urgent fire support” was known as “we found the enemy and feel forward to get a better picture” not long ago. (Not meant to be exact quotes, of course.)

  67. You’re an abrasive fellow aren’t you.

    No there’s several other methods of keeping an eye on events but without using precision strikes there’s not much that can be done about a couple of blokes on a scooter who drive to cached weapons, have a crack and move. You can watch them, you can follow them, but you cannot allow them to prevent you interacting with the population as that is their goal. To undermine you and make you look like cowards. So you suck it up. Tough shit war is hell.

    I suppose, Komnando, you went to the Conan the Barbarian NCO school where fire power and using your advantages to mitigate theirs is frowned upon? Otherwise I cannot see why you think using precision strikes are such a bad thing. You think we should feel forward against an enemy several hundred metres away and who can in any instant drop their weapons get on their scooter and be speeding off at 40mph. How could you then counter them I wonder?

    I’m unimpressed with your extremely poor idea of what actually goes on over there. Every argument you have presented has been countered. We do not hunker down, we are not incompetent at small unit tactics, strikes have a role, patrolling openly is a requirement and it is impossible to chase the Taliban on foot.

    Deeply unimpressive all round really.

  68. I am no expert on small unit tactics(in fact far less than an expert!) but so far I have not heard SO propose an alternative to what we do now. SO can you explain how you would go about doing Afghanistan Ops differently?

  69. Hah, all the bulls-it acusations of strawmen attacks SO? You using a mirror?

    First, you set up an imaginary situation with made up numbers, which bears no resemblence to reality or requirements, then castigates others for your imaginary scenario. Who’s doing strawmen attacks here? And I call bullsh-t on your “other sources” if they are of the same quality as the “Grog News” (that you linked to support your argument BTW.)

    BTW, you American? Interesting that you would cite an “article” on the American Revolution if you were British. Very odd sourcing.

  70. One of the reasons why I thought the RM column idea was good because it demonstrated to Mr Taliban that UK forces weren’t going to scuttle back to base after a patrol but stay out on the ground.

    Perhaps we needed a few chaps on MXs who could run these moped-mounted-Taliban down?

    Do you think Phil life would have be easier out there with twice the number of troops on the ground? One half doing the interacting and the other screening?

  71. “Do you think Phil life would have be easier out there with twice the number of troops on the ground?”

    The denser the force structure the better. But you kind of create a false model in your second bit, on a patrol only a few of the members would have a reason to interact one on one the rest of them provide the protection. So for example we might do a patrol to assess how the locals are doing building our road, and so CIMIC would come along and the OC of the company and they’d do most of the talking while the rest of us pulled cordons and blocks and overwatch whilst being jabbered at by Afghans for hours.

    I am particarly fond of having a snotty kid 50cms from me repeatedly counting to ten for five hours.

    So there’s two levels of interaction, shall we say the more general type, ie us just being there as a group and the more focused stuff where people talk business and have chai and shura’s and so forth. So no need to split like you say.

    But dear God the more troops the better allthough not necessarily British troops now. More Afghan troops the better. Obviously they interact very well.

  72. i knew one day the COD players would find their way onto a grown up site!

    yeah yeah loads of smoke, up the middle and bosh. sorted

  73. “yeah yeah loads of smoke, up the middle and bosh. sorted”

    Stop quoting from PAMs.

  74. Phil said “More Afghan troops the better. Obviously they interact very well.”

    But what about resentments between the many Afghan peoples?

    One more thing. When air support was called in how often was ordnance dropped, and how often was it one of those show of force fly bys?

    @ Paul G re COD

    More like fish finger…….. :)

  75. Every country has resentments. That’s something for them to sort out themselves. The resentments tend to manifest itself in the Taliban so what is often labelled Taliban might be one village screwing over another. It’s so complicated and so local.

    From our tour, we didn’t use air that much. We used mortars shit loads and we used Apache’s a lot. We called in some A10s a few times and I think it was a French Mirage dropped 2x 500Ibs on a compound for us. We did one show of force that I know of.

    But to be honest we only used them when we were on a “smash” most of the time we used mortar ambushes, very, very effective. But that was the nature of the unit I was with, the OC made liberal use of the mortars I think its down to the personality of those in charge.

    But judging from the RAF operational reports I sometimes read, its rare for a bomb to be dropped and from the J-Chat thing I used to read which had contact reports from RC-SW overall bombs are used less than you’d think even by the Americans.

    That said for the first 6 weeks of the tour there were A10s firing non-stop just to our north disrupting the enemy in the brigade battlespace. And I mean non-stop, every day for 6 weeks. Brrrrrp, Brrrrrrrrrrrrp. I wonder if they hit a bloody thing because every time we went north we had a hot reception.

  76. SO is German and I’ve just done bit of browsing on his sight. He is obviously against “wars of choice” but he does have some very lnteresting articles and theories. I think you are being a tad harsh on him. Having said that, I think he needs to explain his prefered strategy/theory for Afghanistan, above the obvious withdrawl.

    @ SO – what would your strategy/tactics be in Afghanistan? From reading some articles on your site I’m guessing they would be based upon your Jagdkampf/light skirmishing idea? If so how would this work against a non-peer adversary such as the Taliban? If not, what are you proposing?

  77. @Phil

    What calibre motars?

    As for mobile strongpoints, wasn’t the Scots DG doing something similar with the Hogs? Move, set up all round armour (I avoid the term overwatch/defence as they were mostly sleeping… ), camp for a while?

    I wonder if the Viking 120mm Motar rear module can be used for a Warthog, I always thought bringing your own fire support was a fine idea.

  78. Before you go on to all the “KILL!! KILL!! KILL!!!”, you first need to FIND the bloody enemy, something he has missed out on GJ. It would be a real clown show if you “advanced to contact”… in the opposite direction.

    And to do that you need:

    1) Humint
    2) UAV observation
    or
    3) Overwatch from long term positions, either a hide or a fort like the ones he kept dissing.

    Where is his site? I would love to see how he came up with this insanity.

  79. Observer,

    I’ve no knowledge at all of the specific operation you refer to, but I can guarantee to you that SCOTS DG (all capitals, BTW) would not have been slacking or sleeping on the job. It’s a cardinal sin in the Regiment. Also, the CO on that tour was a direct contemporary of mine whom I’ve known for 25 years – and he’s completely mustard when it comes to professionalism.

    Sorry, but if that was a dangle to wind me up, it worked.

  80. James, I meant at night when all the good little boys and girls SHOULD be sleeping, not during a stand-to or overwatch.

    Think there was a documentry out on their daily life somewhere on youtube?

  81. Your question to SO misses the point. The point is this, combat is secondary to our main effort. Discussing what small unit TTPs are most effective in bringing about the desired end state in Afghan is like talking about what the best type of engine in a car should be. You can have awesome TTPs and an awesome engine, but on their own you wont have progress and you wont have a car.

    Defeating the Taliban militarily is simply not possible.

    There’s no TTPs that can differently influence the outcome in Afghan because combat is not a decisive factor.

    So we are talking about something that makes no difference as long as your TTPs are more effective than the enemies and even the ANA manage that on a daily basis.

  82. he’s right, they were on tv, formed the hogs into a square for the night, stags obviously sorted, 360 protection. It was notable because the subby climbed out of dossbag in harrods PJ’s!!!

    PS the loads of smoke quote was given by my mate to a DS when we were on our senior carde, oh how we laughed as went up and down, up and down the hill!! (and it was not directed at anyone with the same first name initial as me)

  83. “as went up and down, up and down the hill!!”

    Did you have anything better to do…than go UP and DOWN the hill?!

  84. The Taliban don’t see themselves as soldiers, but as social reformers and leaders. It’s a fundamental misconstruction to think of them as being a military force.

    Yes, they are armed, but most Afghan male adults are. Yes, they plot attacks and lay IEDs, but they do so in their eyes as an organisation seeking to protect their social values against in this case western liberalism. It’s a subtle difference from thinking of themselves as an Army.

    What the Taliban want is for us to go away. What we want to to come home, but we cannot because the central Government power is completely ineffective in the countryside, and we’ve said we’ll allow them time to grow in capability.

    I heard a radio interview with an English-educated Afghan a few months ago. He predicted that within 24 hours of the UK leaving (assuming a dramatic “up and gone” scenario, not a phased withdrawal), the Taliban would emerge and take over from where they left off 11 years ago. I really think that would drive me to real tears at the thought of the 419 UK soldiers dead and thousands gravely injured, all for nothing.

  85. @ Phil – very true. I personally believe SO is wrong on this one but I think he should have the chance to explaon/expand on his comments.

    I believe Forts/FOB’s also have a political/psychological role; like the Medieaval Castle, they are a statement of power and intent. For this reason being visible is important. Against an opponent woth serious firepower then being mobile, stealthy or going underground would make more sense.

  86. paul g said “It was notable because the subby climbed out of dossbag in harrods PJ’s!!!”

    I find it oddly reassuring that high standards are being maintained in the field. :)

  87. So true James.

    Reminds me of the saying, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

    @Phil

    Down and up the hill? :)

    On a more important point, other than the military tactics, I really have difficulty seeing how we can improve the situation with regards to their government position. The global situation, yeah, one less terrorist training location, and for them, no more Fundamentalist government. But where do we go from there? How do we improve the living conditions there to a point where people would get fed up with sniping and IEDs and rather do 9-5 and go home to wife and kids? Economic improvement, surely, but, how? Less corupt government/police, improve army loyalty and morale, but how do we get to these goals?

  88. “do so in their eyes as an organisation seeking to protect their social values against in this case western liberalism.”

    I really think this is a misconception. Definitely, there are some Taliban who are motivated in this manner. But, and the evidence I believe backs me up, most are local gangsters with very local interests and very local operations. There are a small number of Tier One Taliban who fit your description James but they are by far and away in the minority.

    The insurgency does not exist. It did (maybe), but now it does not.

    In reality what was (maybe) an insurgency is now a large number of local, semi independent and more often than not completely independent groups of armed criminals buttressed by foreign ideological fighters and a small core of almost professional fighters and leaders.

    The insurgency is fragmented, the Taliban are more an idea than an edifice. They are not even a federation and will fight amongst themselves but indeed retain a particular penchant for fighting us.

    Like the whole Taliban in flip flops, living off the land Ninja stuff, the insurgency is a phenomena that is now more myth than reality.

    Imagine removing the Police in a western city, add enormous drug money potential and now imagine what you’d get. This is what is going on over there. The western bogeyman is a unifying factor the leadership try and exploit and recruit foreign fighters with, and certainly we are a common enemy they enjoy shooting at but the reality is its more gangsters than freedom fighters. Nationalism is not a significant motivating factor and what residual nationalism there is has been getting undermined as the ANSF grows and will be fatally so when we go.

    Then the place will be more like bad parts of Mexico in bad parts of Afghan. Deeply unpleasant but probably controllable with security force which indeed are a bit shit when compared to us but they are fighting criminals in flip flops on scooters so any organised structure which trains in fighting will be better than those lunatics.

  89. “Less corupt government/police, improve army loyalty and morale, but how do we get to these goals?”

    That is their problem. The biggest mistake we have made is to try to emphasise the nation building / democracy aspects in order to sweeten the mission.

    Generally, I think Afghan will have good enough institutions to allow its economy to grow and undermine the drugs aspect to a reasonable extent. It will always be a problem I imagine but we all have our problems.

    I think people (not you) forget that Afghanistan has not been as dysfunctional in its history as people think. They’ll broadly probably get along as I doubt very much there will be a power vacuum to allow anyone to slip into. I think when we leave folk will try in anticipation of Afghan government crumbling, but seeing as its their skins on the line and the money is coming from us, they’ll hold.

  90. @ x

    Sounds like the old Rhodesian Fire Force would be up your street.

    Indigenous scouts in the field manning covert/semi-covert OPs. Spot something, call in the Fire Force. First on scene is a K-car (Alouette III carrying the ground commander and a short barreled, 20mm cannon mounted in the rear cab to shoot sideways out of the door). Follow on is 3-4 G-Cars (Alouette III’s carrying a 4 man stick of paras or light infantry).

    Commander choses where to put the sticks down in order to intercept the enemy. Then the K-car circles overhead and goes after them with the 20mm, trying to kill/drive them into the patrols. They even had a Dakota on call with another 5 sticks if needed (para drop), and sometimes an old Cessna with guns and rockets.

    Kill ratios in the region of 80:1. I guess you could do that with a Lynx/Apache.

    Doesn’t help with the politics on the ground much, but good for fucking up the ones you can catch.

  91. Um, methane can be reclaimed from cattle & sewage farms + composting schemes. Wonder if a mini version in a container could provide gas to run a generator?

  92. @ Chris B

    Yes I have lots of books on Rhodesian Bush War. Amazing what a tiny force with few assets achieved in such a large country. Interesting to compare with UK’s forces performance in Afghanistan. Different times though and different ROE.

    As a wheeze I nearly bought a Rhodesian national side rugby jersey to wear to uni’. But thought better of it in the end.

  93. James (and phill)

    The taliban are many things, it’s not just that one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter. Ones mans freedom fighter terrorist is also ones mans bandit. After all in a ‘country’ (and I will come back to that). where the institutions are tribal and local, what’s the real difference between a ‘Tribal leader’ and Mafia godfather? I well recall a long peice on the radio by a journalist in the balkans who was taken a back to discover, Goodfellas and Sopranos were a huge hit with the various ‘families’ she was staying with, she said they told her they understood and related to these people…

    I do not believe the local population are all Taliban. Or even Taliban supporters, But they are not western supporters. I wonder how many would if given the choice of Islamic govt V western backed one, what whould they choose.

    It is worth recalling the Taliban deposed the Mujahadeen Militias, (or at least caused the same militias and their leaders to change sides), because of the latter’s incompetance thuggery, and corruption. Correctly or not The Taliban were seen as strict but honest(for a given value of Honest). BTW our ANA and police forces are largely made up of the same types as made up the mujahadeen.

    We have repeated the same mistakes as we did in the victorian era. In essence (and I summerise a lot of different statements by those in charge)a smug sense of superiority that we were bringing western values to a country crying out for them.

    Some Afghans may well have been a western educated/ aware type. There remains however a majority of the rural provincial people who simply, understand only that they are occupied by a foreign infidel power who’s aircraft, manned or otherwise, keep blowing up families.

    Given that; the occupying power can build all the schools hospitals etc it likes, it is the fruit of the poison tree.

    Just because someone does (to western eyes) thuggish terroristical things, does not necessarily make them in their own eyes, or the eyes of like minded people, a thuggish terrorist.

    I draw from recent history. The IRA were/ are a bunch of thugs who ruled areas by terror and paid for their ‘struggle’ by crime and contract murder to scouse drug dealers, (easy access to armed killers is why scousers run drugs from Holyhead to cyprus)! That did not stop them having the active support of hundreds if not thousands of Irish people and the tacit admiration/ support of tens of thousands, north and south of the border. The fact that Northern island economy throughout the troubles, and since has been a huge drain on the UK economy, totaly dependant on Anglo saxon England was completly ignored. (one of the reasons The south turned down the chance to take over northern Ireland in 1939 was they just could not afford it)!

    So yes in the end we are on a fools errand in Afghanistan, 10 years after we go, we will be history and everything will be back to a version of what it was. Highly localised islamic govt, Call it Taliban, Call it tarquin olay biscuit barrel, it’s what it will be.

    And if it has some ‘Brothers’ from an islamic movement staying as honoured guests, planning great blows against the infidel crusaders then it won’t be that bothered.

    So yes James prepare to weep salt tears because those 400 and growing deaths were/are pointless.

  94. TD Not sure if this is a duplicate as it tells me it’s duplicated but it’s not commiong up

    James (and phill)

    The taliban are many things, it’s not just that one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter. Ones mans freedom fighter terrorist is also ones mans bandit. After all in a ‘country’ (and I will come back to that). where the institutions are tribal and local, what’s the real difference between a ‘Tribal leader’ and Mafia godfather? I well recall a long peice on the radio by a journalist in the balkans who was taken a back to discover, Goodfellas and Sopranos were a huge hit with the various ‘families’ she was staying with, she said they told her they understood and related to these people…

    I do not believe the local population are all Taliban. Or even Taliban supporters, But they are not western supporters. I wonder how many would if given the choice of Islamic govt V western backed one, what whould they choose.

    It is worth recalling the Taliban deposed the Mujahadeen Militias, (or at least caused the same militias and their leaders to change sides), because of the latter’s incompetance thuggery, and corruption. Correctly or not The Taliban were seen as strict but honest(for a given value of Honest). BTW our ANA and police forces are largely made up of the same types as made up the mujahadeen.

    We have repeated the same mistakes as we did in the victorian era. In essence (and I summerise a lot of different statements by those in charge)a smug sense of superiority that we were bringing western values to a country crying out for them.

    Some Afghans may well have been a western educated/ aware type. There remains however a majority of the rural provincial people who simply, understand only that they are occupied by a foreign infidel power who’s aircraft, manned or otherwise, keep blowing up families.

    Given that; the occupying power can build all the schools hospitals etc it likes, it is the fruit of the poison tree.

    Just because someone does (to western eyes) thuggish terroristical things, does not necessarily make them in their own eyes, or the eyes of like minded people, a thuggish terrorist.

    I draw from recent history. The IRA were/ are a bunch of thugs who ruled areas by terror and paid for their ‘struggle’ by crime and contract murder to scouse drug dealers, (easy access to armed killers is why scousers run drugs from Holyhead to cyprus)! That did not stop them having the active support of hundreds if not thousands of Irish people and the tacit admiration/ support of tens of thousands, north and south of the border. The fact that Northern island economy throughout the troubles, and since has been a huge drain on the UK economy, totaly dependant on Anglo saxon England was completly ignored. (one of the reasons The south turned down the chance to take over northern Ireland in 1939 was they just could not afford it)!

    So yes in the end we are on a fools errand in Afghanistan, 10 years after we go, we will be history and everything will be back to a version of what it was. Highly localised islamic govt, Call it Taliban, Call it tarquin olay biscuit barrel, it’s what it will be.

    And if it has some ‘Brothers’ from an islamic movement staying as honoured guests, planning great blows against the infidel crusaders then it won’t be that bothered.

    So yes James prepare to weep salt tears because those 400 and growing deaths were/are pointless.

  95. @Gareth:

    A full solution to the Afghanistan challenge is neither a fair challenge for a single mind nor a suitable topic for a blog comment. I’m primarily concerned about second-order effects on future conflicts, not on how to cut that Afghan knot.
    Still, I’ve had my little attempt there: http://tinyurl.com/bw937hf
    There’s a superficial conflict with what I wrote here, but that can be explained with my aforementioned main concern which was switched off when I focused on the specific topic.

    On the tactical issues:

    The tactical problem of dismounted teams getting pinned down or otherwise being (supposedly) forced to rely on support can be solved with time-proven means.

    First you need to control dominating ground (ridgelines) in a hilly or mountainous country before you can do anything well in the valleys against armed opposition on a consistent basis. This goes back to Xenophon at the latest.

    Second, you need to move in cooperating teams, so whenever one is in trouble the others (not just those on heights) can react. A decent spacing would need to be about the team’s main weapon range.

    Third, being pinned down is entirely unacceptable. A competent enemy kills you within minutes of fixing your small unit (mortar fire or worse), and this may be as short as one minute if he’s well-prepared.
    To be unable to break a fix by Afghans means to be thoroughly useless against a conventional opponent. Such targets would simply die in week one of a conflict against a competent opponent.

    Organic smoke is one way out, of course. Available kit is fine for creating multiple smoke walls for a 100 m run from the potential kill zone. An extension of this to 200 m would require non-organic assistance or simply equipment modifications. A single tank can create a 150×20 m smoke wall in two seconds using a few 76 mm munitions. Infantry needs to improve towards this capability for the same reasons as why the tank crews did.

    Finally, a war is either worth to command troops to expose themselves to considerable risks or it should not be fought. To wage wars with maximum casualty aversion is a folly.
    Even back in 1982 pinned down British troops did not stay fixed, but advanced once leadership decided it had to happen and lead by example.

  96. @SO

    Your aims stated on the article don’t match your claims here.

    You want a passive intervention force on the article, yet actively promote aggressive patrolling and what is pretty much Hunter-Killer teams.

    And “dominating high ground” is often done by use of “firebases”. The “forts” that you keep putting down.

    All in all, I’m not sure if you thought through your claims and aims statements.

    BTW 76mm tank main gun? That’s.. very old. Other than very old light scout tanks, I don’t remember any armour still using it. And most tanks come with grenade type smoke dischargers now. Which is dick all useful against thermal. And there is some infntry units who have SOP to fire a long burst of SAW fire into smoke screens, as smoke usually means they are withdrawing or readying a charge, and splashing a suppression fire field out is good for hindering both.

    “To wage wars with maximum casualty aversion is a folly.”

    Ah!! Now we know where they exhumed you from! Flanders.

  97. @ S O

    “First you need to control dominating ground (ridgelines) in a hilly or mountainous country before you can do anything well in the valleys against armed opposition on a consistent basis,”

    — That depends. High ground is only of value if it effects the battlespace. Good for observation maybe, but also a bitch to tackle. Difficult to resupply a force that is lodged on top of a mountain. And if the main areas of operations are away from the mountains, then control of that high ground is semi dubious, a question for the local commander to decide. Not to mention the fact that ISAF forces possess the ultimate high ground.

    “Second, you need to move in cooperating teams, so whenever one is in trouble the others (not just those on heights) can react. A decent spacing would need to be about the team’s main weapon range”

    — Which works against you when the enemy decides to hit the ‘team’ on one flank, well out of the range of the other. They have time on their side and they can pick their battles. They’re not going to wait for you to flank them before electing to exchange fire. They’re still going to wait until a moment of their choosing, except now you have less men available to join the fight, react immediately.

    “Third, being pinned down is entirely unacceptable.”

    — It’s war, and sometimes that happens. However of note is your fixation on the aspect of being pinned down. Phil brought it up as just one example. We have well over a hundred hours now of combat footage collected from all sorts of primary sources. Seldom do you ever see ISAF forces actually pinned down. Generally they tend to respond, after positively identifying the target, with overwhelming small arms fire, usually winning fire superiority in short order.

    “A competent enemy kills you within minutes of fixing your small unit (mortar fire or worse), and this may be as short as one minute if he’s well-prepared. To be unable to break a fix by Afghans means to be thoroughly useless against a conventional opponent. Such targets would simply die in week one of a conflict against a competent opponent”

    — The depends a lot on the size of the ambusher, their firepower, the size of the target, the layout of the killzone, and the targets reaction to the ambush among other things. To boldy say the target would be wiped out in minutes is not really a generally supported statement. Also, you’re bringing up the subject of competency vs the Taliban, which opens a Pandora’s box of arguments that ends with, “well, what if the French had had breech loading, rifled artillery at Trafalgar, then Nelsons tactics would have been terrible!”.

    You can only fight what is put in front of you, and as long as you recognise it for what it is (which the army seems to) then the effect of that campaign on the future is limited. In conventional warfare the UK has shown that it is very, very capable, and continues to train to expect conventional warfare as one scenario for the future.

    “Organic smoke is one way out, of course. Available kit is fine for creating multiple smoke walls for a 100 m run from the potential kill zone. An extension of this to 200 m would require non-organic assistance or simply equipment modifications. A single tank can create a 150×20 m smoke wall in two seconds using a few 76 mm munitions. Infantry needs to improve towards this capability for the same reasons as why the tank crews did”

    — I think two seconds is pushing it a little. Anyway, the way out of an ambush for infantry is overwhelming return fire while trying to find cover or else remove oneself from the killzone, and then if necessary and practicable, an immediate assault of the firing positions. Popping smoke and waiting for it to build while sitting on ones hands is probably not the best idea for anything except a fighting withdrawl or a covered movement.

    I think because Phil mentioned air strikes you seem to have locked in on that, as if that’s all ISAF forces do. ISAF forces have other weapons though, including a growing number of sniper rifles and similar marksman rifles, Javelin, mortars etc. It would appear from the primary footage we have that airstrikes are seldom used and then only against targets that are holed up in confined structures where conventional weapons are of limited use, at distances that challenge conventional weapons, across terrain that would take too long to cross (given the need to be IED cautious) and would expose the soldiers to unnecessary danger (from aforementioned IED’s).

    And even then, there is plenty of evidence that ISAF forces DO conduct relatively classic fire and maneouvre drills to cross ground and try to obtain favourable combat conditions with the enemy without first resorting to air strikes.

    Or to summarise all of the above into a shorter, more precise term;

    You’re talking fantasy bollocks.

  98. Yes pinned down was really just a turn of phrase. I suppose you’ve won the high school debating contest since I haven’t stuck to my original phrase but instead changed it to ambush. Splendid stuff.

    Believe it or not the company I worked with we’re professionals. The NCOs had 10-15 years experience and 2-3 tours of Iraq and Afghan including the warfighting phase of Iraq. The OC had 12 years experience and was an excellent tactician. He did not at any single point move anyone without a foot on the ground, his control measures in my memory never failed, his plans were simple and very sound and often daring. There was no lack of competence, no lack of the basics as you suggest and seeing as the FOB was on the most dominating feature I would suggest that his predecessors did not lack basic professional expertise.

    As for being pinned down, we were never pinned down. Certainly when conducting a screening operation where you are static it can seem that way but we never lost freedom of movement even in the most densely seeded part of Helmand as evidenced by the fact we were the only subunit to have a dedicated search dog and the best in theatre too who were both sadly killed on an operation where we were required to patrol through a village to the north to conduct a very prominent, very loud shura atop the local high ground in order to show the locals how much more powerful we were.

    You disagree with the war. Fine. And I am sure you are a deep thinker. Fine. But your complete lack of experience is showing here. You’re arguing against your own straw men viz incompetence and judicial use of air strikes.

    As for casualty aversion. There was no casualty aversion within reason. This is not WWII. Risks were assessed and a couple of operations were called off because the risks at the time were too high because the supporting assets weren’t available or the Americans restricted our arcs. Or tried to. I would say this is an entirely professional attitude: not to launch an operation and lose scarce resources if said operation was unlikely to succeed.

  99. @ TD

    To be honest he has used the term on at least one other occasion perhaps two.

    His transfer papers to the RAAF on in the post as we speak. :)

  100. @Observer:
    “Your aims stated on the article don’t match your claims here.”

    Oh really? So you didn’t grasp these few lines, I guess:

    “There’s a superficial conflict with what I wrote here, but that can be explained with my aforementioned main concern which was switched off when I focused on the specific topic.”

    “And “dominating high ground” is often done by use of “firebases”.”

    That’s an entirely different beast. It’s different in regard to fires, it’s totally different in regard to morale and it’s totally different in regard to observation. Moreover, you cannot rely on it in most places because there aren’t enough such firebases.

    “BTW 76mm tank main gun?”

    You shouldn’t assume that I match your level of ignorance or knowledge. People are different.
    76 mm is the NATO standard calibre for smoke grenade dischargers.
    http://www.wegmannusa.com/pages/76mm.html

    @ChrisB
    “Which works against you when the enemy decides to hit the ‘team’ on one flank, well out of the range of the other.”

    The flank team would be on a ridge in hilly/mountainous terrain, so that’s no problem for them. In flat terrain the opposing force should be largely ignorant about the position of most teams, so they cannot be sure to hit the flank team. In case they do; still better than moving together, for you lose still at most only a fraction of your troops even against a competent enemy.
    This is basically he mechanism of pulling security or using a vanguard team.

    “Seldom do you ever see ISAF forces actually pinned down. Generally they tend to respond, after positively identifying the target, with overwhelming small arms fire, usually winning fire superiority in short order.”

    There’s no real difference to me between being pinned down and returning fire from a position. Small arms fire is not decisive unless one of both parties exposes itself.
    After two minutes at the latest you’ll die against a competent opponent if you stay in one place (maybe one). Note that I used “fixed” and “pinned down” interchangeably before. Both means that the enemy can call for accurate mortar fires to kill you.

    “You can only fight what is put in front of you, and as long as you recognise it for what it is (which the army seems to) then the effect of that campaign on the future is limited.”

    I’m more sceptical. To me, this is more of a replay of the early phase of the Second Boers War. Regular professional armies face a militia-quality force and this already suffices to reveal many shortcomings.

    “I think two seconds is pushing it a little.”

    A little – at most, if at all.

  101. I think SO is correct, the appalling performances in conventional warfare of the FI, GW1 and GW2 definitely bear him out. Also the years it took to displace the Taleban upon initial entry into Iraq and disastrous Ops like Sierra leone just make me think we would not last 1 hour against cappable opponents.

  102. SO

    What exactly you arguing? Looking beyond your imminently ridiculous game of verbal karate it seems to me you’re arguing ISAF is incompetent. Yet you cannot substantiate a single thesis you have given us. Your thinking is flawed, you are attempting to shoe horn a different method of operating into very localised and fleeting contexts and the result is a clumsy, shallow bookish train of argument. Sometimes you fire back in situ, other times you manoeuvre. It is completely contextual.

  103. @APATs

    Appalling performance in conventional war? GW1? GW2? You saw the loss ratio?

    The appalling performance was in COIN, and even that is debatable as it’s hard to say if anyone could do better.

    “76 mm is the NATO standard calibre for smoke grenade dischargers”

    Was there a STANAG for smoke dischargers? Don’t think there was. Italy uses 80mm on their IFVs, Israel uses 73mm. Not sure what the US uses. Hardly “STANDARD”. Thales does a 66mm discharger. 76mm is COMMON, not STANAG.

    I’m curious as to your military training SO. I’m wondering if it was bad training or war experience that causes you to be so cynical.

    ” In case they do; still better than moving together, for you lose still at most only a fraction of your troops even against a competent enemy.”

    Right… your flank gets turned, you’re going to get fire from a non-covered direction, under fire from 2 different directions with possibility of defeat in detail… and you’re still optimistic. Nice to know. Got flanked once during semi-live fire with “paintball” rounds. Suggestion to you. Don’t EVER get flanked. People take cover from fire coming from their front, the side is totally open, just fire down the skirmish line and you’ll clean house. It’s that bad. This is also why small units have trouble in any formation other than all round defence (no flank to turn) Problem with all-round is that it’s a sitting target for a motar round.

    SO, I’ll echo a lot of others here by saying you are full of it.

  104. One reasonably non-expensive gap in our training is “cultural training” of officers. No, I don’t mean the opera or ballet*** and walking around the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition, I mean into peoples of the world, their religions, and an examination of likely flash points. No one can predict from where the next war is going to come, but that to me is not an excuse for not making some intelligent guesses.

    A ten day course, taught by university professors, in the differences in between Shia and Sunni, the role of men against women in Islam, the importance of not defiling iconic places such as Mecca by the mere presence on non-believers, Sharia law, of how business is discussed only after social rituals, and so on would improve our “cultural touch” on the ground. Ditto, a training module into the historic nature of the inter-ethnic tensions in former Yugoslavia would have been welcome, but was never offered in the UNPROFOR or ISAF days.

    *** I was ordered to attend the ballet in Zagreb by the Brit one star who was COS UNPF, to watch an performance by a travelling British troupe of dancers. Both of us took our binos in order to fully appreciate the muscular development of the girls’ legs. Next day, the Serbs rocketed Zagreb from about 60 kms away, and by sheer fluke one of the rockets shredded the bus they were getting into outside their hotel, so there was a further deployment to the hospital to look after them and shout at various Croatian doctors about the importance of these girls receiving the best treatment. One of them and I still exchange Christmas cards.

  105. One reasonably non-expensive gap in our training is “cultural training” of officers. No, I don’t mean the opera or ballet*** and walking around the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition, I mean into peoples of the world, their religions, and an examination of likely flash points. No one can predict from where the next war is going to come, but that to me is not an excuse for not making some intelligent guesses.

    A ten day course, taught by university professors, in the differences in between Shia and Sunni, the role of men against women in Islam, the importance of not defiling iconic places such as Mecca by the mere presence on non-believers, Sharia law, of how business is discussed only after social rituals, and so on would improve our “cultural touch” on the ground. Ditto, a training module into the historic nature of the inter-ethnic tensions in former Yugoslavia would have been welcome, but was never offered in the UNPROFOR or ISAF days.

    *** I was ordered to attend the ballet in Zagreb by the Brit one star who was COS UNPF, to watch an performance by a travelling British troupe of dancers. Both of us took our binos in order to fully appreciate the muscular development of the girls’ legs. Next day, the Serbs rocketed Zagreb from about 60 kms away, and by sheer fluke one of the rockets shredded the bus they were getting into outside their hotel, so there was a further deployment to the hospital to look after them and shout at various Croatian doctors about the importance of these girls receiving the best treatment. One of them and I still exchange Christmas cards.

  106. Sorry for the double post.

    TD,

    there’s an issue with your server or host. It’s taking something like a minute to refresh the page. Other websites e.g. BBC News not affected, so I think the issue’s at the host end.

  107. Should not the officers take it upon themselves to ensure they are educated in these matters? It helped a great deal that our OC was particularly well versed in the history of warfare and had made particular study of COIN operations in Algeria etc

    A lot of the cultural education I also found to be complete bollocks. You go over there expecting the merest slight to cause grave and irrecoverable offence but really they’re pretty chilled, you soon learn their local ways and dialect and a smile, a handshake and a ‘Salam my friend’ bridged things very well. Nobody mentioned that gratitude is a very western construct and several people struggled with the fact that the Afghans hardly ever seemed thankful for anything. That would have been far more useful than learning stereotyped behaviours and cultural nuances.

  108. As an example, I inadvertently took a piss all over a mosque in the middle of a a shura being held by the Governor of Helmand and I’m still here. Just about admittedly, but from the cultural lessons we had you’d have thought saying Salam whilst not facing 45 degrees due west with one arm parallel to the equator and your eyes toward Mecca would invoke a perpetual blood feud for all eternity.

    Context is all! Better would be local briefing packs explaining the nuances of the local area to the bed guys and overlap in CIMIC rotations with for r rotations which is what happened with us.

  109. @All politicians are the same:

    Remember Italy. They crashed the Abbessinians (Ethiopians) in 1936 with very lopsided kill ratios.

    Only four years later, their numerically superior force was largely obliterated by the Commonwealth forces in Tripolitania.

    Said Commonwealth forces were shortly thereafter routed by numerically inferior Germans arriving in Tripolitania and merely faking a general counter-offensive.

    I have learned too much about military history to pay attention to the self-image of military forces. Most of them are confident, have a can-do attitude and believe in their superior competence or ability.
    All too frequently, this is a huge self-deception and military history appears to prove that we should watch out for early indicators, especially such as unsatisfactory performance against vastly less sophisticated opposing forces.

  110. SO, Given the fact that Western forces have kept pretty active over the years (well some of them) and have coped with GW1 and GW2, UK did FI several SF raids and COIN Ops in Iraq and Afghan even if not to your teutonic satisfaction. All the time refining capabilities and equipment. just who do you suggest we are going to fight against that has better tactics, equipment and kit? The Martians?
    P.S. Using historical names for part of Libya does not make you look cool.

  111. Most of the Boxheads in Bosnia drove about in stupidly large convoys for “force protection” reasons, and in one case a convoy of no less than 22 vehicles blundered off a road in the Bihac pocket and halfway into a known – and printed on the ruddy map – minefield. That took the MND(SW) Mines team, and 2 platoons from 5 CAMNB to get them extracted. The Captain commanding the convoy had standing orders that on a threat of mines, his vehicles were to stop and await external assistance.

    What were the Germans trying to do? Deliver one single truck of Catholic aid from Bavaria to a mosque in Bihac as part of some inter-faith solidarity arrangement.

    Don’t start me on the Great Sipovo Chicken Riot of October 1996, another Boxhead fiasco.

    Germans on current military operations? No thanks. Not until they grow a pair and operate as proper military forces, not some armed and scared boy scouts.

  112. @All politicians are the same:

    The British were extremely busy during the entire hundred years prior to WWI, averaging one war for less than two years.
    They were still blundering badly in the First World War.
    Rifle marksmanship and small wars were the only thing they were really good at in 1914.

    Activity doesn’t protect against being full of shortcomings. Zulus didn’t shoot back with Maxims, nor with 150 mm field howitzers.
    Quite the same can be said about Iraqis and Afghanis.

  113. S O Most of the world was extremely busy for the hundre years prior to WW1. Everyone blundered in WW1 as equipment had outstripped tactics and some of the leaders on both sides were relics from another age.You avoid answering my question about who we are likely to face taht would fulfill your “competent opposition” description and kill everyone in a week or an hour. As noone else other than Western forces has donemuch at all then they must be even worse off.
    For Gods sake I have more combat dust on my boots than most countries Soldiers in the last 10 years.

  114. @TD (a bit belatedly):

    “@Sven, see what you are saying but GBA spans everything from a main operating base like Bastion to a patrol base and as Phil has said, difficult to see how one can do anything on a large scale without a base”

    “difficult to see”, I get it.
    Back in early WW2 Germany had a shortage of trained army personnel. Some divisions had personnel with only WWI training or 6 weeks of basic. The biggest reason for this was a shortage of barracks.

    Post-war more than one author suggested that the appropriate training of soldiers for war would require to have them in the field for weeks if not months, with almost no barracks time. Most of them didn’t see any once deployed to the front anyway.

    Humans can and do get used to a lot, and it’s often difficult to leave known paths, but at times it’s exactly the right thing to do – no matter how difficult it is to see another path.
    Besides, military history can help. Much was done “on a large scale” without a single real base already.

  115. @SO

    Other than your “military history”, have you served? Didn’t Germany use to have conscription? What unit/unit type were you with?

    The Chinese have a saying (for real, honest), “talking about troops on paper”. The modern equivalant of the armchair warrior. This was a few hundred years back BTW, and was used to describe commanders with only “paper” qualifications leading troops to their death. From the looks of SO, some things never change.

  116. Yes Observer, I have served in the Bundeswehr.

    I dislike the veteran cult thing, though. I also dislike it when people confuse having served with being military expert. Even generals disagree vehemently at times, proving that they’re not always right. Same among all kinds of experts; the best way is thus to look at the arguments and facts, not to use dirty tricks such as strawman attacks or to become personal. Strawman attacks and ad hominem attacks are usually a good indicator for shortcomings of personal or positional nature.

    I have also a habit of separating the argument from the person, so even though you did not leave the slightest bit of good impression on me, I’d still be glad to find some useful mosaic piece among what you write in the future.
    As you can see, I have also an optimist streak.

  117. “I also dislike it when people confuse having served with being military expert.”

    Don’t worry, you can get treatment for low self-esteem.

    As for strawmaning, I have already laid out the trail of logic to show that the biggest person strawmaning was you.

    Should I call you hypocrite?

    As you can see, you not only did not leave the slightest “good impression”, but in fact earned my contempt. And I suspect I’m not the only one who now holds that impression.

    The articles you write are actually someone else’s ideas are they not? If they were yours, how would you explain the disconnect between your advocated actions and your strategic recommendations?

  118. @ JDBTx,

    not pretty. End result around 5,000 live chickens torn wing from leg by a mob of people, a shedload of feathers, a chicken transportation lorry on it’s side and burning, live rounds exchanged between IFOR and civpop, GOC MND(SW) banning the box heads from his turf, and CGS of the Bundeswehr making an unscheduled trip to the Metal Factory in Banja Luka to apologise.

    A German agricultural organisation decide they wish to donate live chickens in order for Bosnians of all three ethnicities to begin rebuilding their lives after the Dayton Peace Agreement. Lots of effort (I don’t know the details) into selecting the right sort of breeds, ratios of cocks to hens, etc. The German Ag Org is certain that the chickens should be split equally between the 3 communities fairly, and they pick for reasons best known to them the town of Sipovo, a front line community with a very recent and bloody history of inter-ethnic violence, and the 3 communities living very uneasily together under MND(SW) weapons and protection.

    German Ag Org gets in touch with the Bundeswehr, who are technically part of IFOR but still hiding down in Split. Bundeswehr says “OK, we’ll escort you”. Truck loaded with 5,000 chickens drives from Germany to Split, meets up with Bundeswehr. At this point I should state that zero, zip, nada coordination occurs between Budeswehr and MND(SW).

    Red Trousers is running MND(SW) Current Operations.

    First reports into the MND(SW) Ops Room are confused. A convoy of armoured vehicles has arrived in Sipovo market square, and soldiers have got out and are trying to segregate people into 3 areas. In the middle is a civilian livestock truck, which other soldiers have formed a circle around and are trying to beat back civpop.

    Simple, put up a helicopter, tell 4 Bde to send the QRF to find out what’s going on.

    Reports that truck has been pushed over by a mob. Thousands of chickens running / flying about the market square, with civpop in hot pursuit, and more civpop arriving by the minute. Chickens being grabbed, and then fought over.

    Send ambulances.

    Truck on fire.

    Unknown armoured vehicles identified as German by helicopter arriving overhead.

    Where’s the Boxhead LO? WTF going on? Boxhead LO not to be found in the Metal Factory.

    QRF arrive, immediate need now to separate ethnic groups. Call for backup, rest of company deployed. Fighting ongoing among civpop for chickens.

    After 30 minutes, shots exchanged. Company commander tells Boxhead OC on scene to F off. They do.

    Took 48 hours of stabilisation operations to calm things down. It took considerably longer than 48 hours for GOC to calm down, and that was only accomplished when the Boxhead CGS made his personal visit.

    I understand that the German CO in Split took an early bath.

    History does not record how many chickens survived, or if the survivors were equally distributed among the three ethnicities, or even if the survivors still had both their wings attached.

    Classic case of a lack of coord.

  119. lol RT

    But to be fair, the desperation of the people might have had a part to do with it. And seperation by ethnicity …. isn’t the brightest idea in the box. You’ll get inter-ethnic chicken raids and more strife. Communal farm might be a safer idea. “You all take care of everyone’s chickens or everyone starves.” More likely to work together then.

    And on an even more fair side, not all of them are wimps. My ex-CSM was GSG, very on the ball bugger until he broke a leg on a parajump. Mellowed a lot after that. Guess he wanted to enjoy life a bit after the shock.

  120. Observer,

    “inter-ethnic chicken farm”? That would have been at least ten years until possible. These people had only very recently being cutting each others’ throats, as they had been doing for many generations. Separation by ethnicity might not have been the long term solution, but it had been the practical solution since about 1400, so a year after Dayton it was not realistic to try to impose it with some inter-ethnic chicken farming.

    Oddly, I was quite conversant with the Slavic word “Krajina”, meaning “borderland”, and applied both to organisational and ethnic boundaries in Yugoslavia, but did not think too much of it. Only this week, I settled back to watch the England vs Ukraine football match in my overnight hotel, to hear the commentator talk about Ukraine being a historic borderland between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. The same root of the word. History runs long and deep in that part of Europe.

  121. Well RT, in that case, it might be better to scrap the chicken idea totally. All you need is for one chicken to go missing, and you’re going to get accusations of theft and fighting again, even if the chicken in question simply went for a crap outside the fence. As you said, animosity and suspicion still runs deep. What you really don’t need is to give them potential flashpoints like things to steal etc. Especially if the “thing to steal” has legs and can potentially run away on it’s own.

  122. @ S O

    Where do we begin?

    “The flank team would be on a ridge in hilly/mountainous terrain, so that’s no problem for them”
    — How far away is the ridge from the village you’re trying to patrol? Fine if the ridge overlooks the village, but no good putting someone on a ridge a mile away from where the action is going to be, or are you going to restrict all operations to an area <500 yards from your mountains?

    "In flat terrain the opposing force should be largely ignorant about the position of most teams, so they cannot be sure to hit the flank team."
    — We're talking about Afghanistan, not some paper scenario. That means the "Taleban" get use of dickers to watch our forces approaching and follow them. They get to decide if and when they're going to grab their guns and have a go, not the other way around. So in your scneario of splitting the groups up, they can chose to wait until one group is no longer in a position to be supported effectively by the other. That's part of the deal, the Taleban have much (but not all) of the initiative in these engagements.

    "There’s no real difference to me between being pinned down and returning fire from a position"
    — Then maybe all this has descended from a language issue, but generally speaking the difference between being pinned down and returning fire from a fixed position is that a unit that is "pinned" (suppressed) is generally unable/largely unable to move and return fire. The other unit is obviously returning fire, and this not pinned down, and often free to move, at least to a degree.

    "Small arms fire is not decisive unless one of both parties exposes itself"
    — Depends on your definition of decisive. Study following WW2 showed that casualties among infantry in combat was closely correletaed to the total number of rounds fired. Small arms fire that is so heavy that it fixes (maybe even pins) an enemy down and allows you to call in mortar fire could be described as decisive, because it creates the conditions for further engagement with heavier weapons.

    "After two minutes at the latest you’ll die against a competent opponent if you stay in one place"
    — 120 seconds isn't long to fix the exact position of a unit, request mortar support and then adjust the intial spotting rounds onto the target. Not saying it's impossible and probably a very skill based measurement (more skilled = quicker FFE). But two minutes does seem quite ambitious, especially to kill the entire unit. Presuming of course the enemy isn't busy doing things like shooting back, organising their defence, and indeed are able to fix your position under your return fire.

    But even here we've drifted into paper wars. Where is this light infantry platoon going when it just blundered into a firefight with a competent enemy, with no support of it's own etc?

    As for the smoke grenades, cut films of LeClerec aside, most vehicle smoke systems seem to take more like 5-6 seconds to form a decent cloud, one that would be considered reasonable protection. Now what does this mean for infantry? Well try getting a platoon of men using hand thrown or 40mm launched smoke to form a cloud that quickly and that precisely, bearing in mind they don't get the timed air burst option.

  123. @ RT – awesome story, cheers.

    sure everyone has experienced something like that. :D

  124. I remember once when I went back to the Army after Uni and got my hand burnt as I had forgotten a few things. I tossed out a smoke and was wondering “Why isn’t it working?”. Waited a while more, then went to pick it back up, thinking the striker didn’t hit the percussion cap properly. It just happened that when I picked it up, the fuse actually triggered and I got exothermic compound sprayed over my hand. Forgot that there was a 8 sec time lag before smoke was actually produced. In combat though, I’d recommend a much shorter fuse. 8 sec is a LOOONG time.

  125. We’ll never mention me turning blue when a smoke grenade went off in my kit. Thank God it was in the FOB after a mission. Got me a few days off patrolling as I needed new body armour.

  126. Reminds me of a tale told by a Corporal from the Anglian who I did a door with. They were in Iraq and for some reason that escapes me now they needed to put down a specific smoke (I think it was green).

    The first grenade thrown was a frag, with the warning coming very late about the error. Everyone got off without a scratch. Next was a red smoke, which for some reason I’m not certain of was also inappropriate. What followed was a chorus of “for fucks sake”‘s, followed by a veritable barrage of green smoke from about 11 different people.

    Then to make things worse, in the ride home in I think it was a Bulldog, his curry from the previous night caught up with him and he had no choice but to just shit himself.

    Nice.

  127. @ChrisB:

    The official info on how quick the smoke screen is formed varies from 0.5 sec to 2.5 sec depending on company and product (IR screens are slowest).

    References:
    IMI, NICO-Pyrotechnik, NAMMO, BAe Defence, Thales AFV Systems, PYRKAL

  128. @ S O

    Well, as long the companies say that on their promotional literature then it’s all good. I’m talking from firing until an effective, properly obscuring cloud has been formed, especially given new requirements to mask IR.

    And besides, vehicles are one thing. How do you expect an Infantry platoon/company to produce that kind of smoke in that kind of time frame?

  129. @Chris

    Smoke signals are usually colour coded. Green usually means “safe, come on in”. Red on the other hand might mean “danger, abort approach” which could explain why the other guys were so pissed. And the frag out too of course. :)

    @Phil

    I’d LOVE to know how that happened. Need to know if it’s something I need to avoid. lol. You pack your smoke without the handle? I know some people who do that for convenience.

    BTW, fair warning for 40mm GL users.

    I had a childhod friend of mine take part in a training where they were using paintball rounds and marker 40mm for more realistic training, and he was supposed to finish an “enemy” behind cover with his -203. His round went out, hit a branch, and got catapulted back at him :) He was prone behind cover, so only his helmet turned orange. The instructor standing behind him, OTOH… lol
    “xxxx, you have something against me, is it?”
    “No sir, sorry sir…”

    So watch out for branches above when using the 40mm. It’ll be less funny if it was HiEx that got slung back.

  130. @x

    The crabs produce weekly ops updates which give you some idea of the amount of air support they’re giving. They vary in the amount of detail, presumably depending on who’s writing them but certainly some of the early Tornado deployments were quite detailed. It’s been a while since I looked at them but from memory around 10% of Tornado patrols resulted in action, split pretty much evenly between flybys, strafing and dropping something that went bang. So a squadron might only drop 2-3 Paveway/Brimstone in a month, although that obviously varied depending on what was going on. It’s not even as though they were leaving it all to the Reapers – they would drop a few more weapons than that per month, but obviously they didn’t have the flyby/cannon options available.

    Wildly OT, but defensetech have got hold of some declassified documents comparing the A-12 with the SR-71. Interesting for those of us who grew up thinking the SR-71 was just the coolest thing ever….

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