Turning Points in the Balkans
Operations in the Balkans throughout the nineties would prove to be pivotal in the story of the British Army’s search for a medium weight capability as defined by FRES and STRIKE.
The British Army’s legacy fleet of CVR(T), FV432 and Warrior had seen service in the Gulf War and whilst that conflict proved their enduring value, it also highlighted their shortcomings.
Despite various plans to replace them, they were to have another outing, in the Balkans.
UNPROFOR – February 1992 to March 1995
The first deployment was in 1992 as a result of UN Resolution 743, the so-called Vance Owen Plan. 743 called for the creation of buffer zones between Serb and Croat forces in Bosnia and Croatia, the zones to be monitored by UNPROFOR.
UK forces were deployed under Operation GRAPPLE
Escorting UNHCR aid convoys started in 1993. Because BRITFOR was armoured and had a certain reputation, success with aid convoys was better than many other nations, The combination of the imposing presence and protection of Warrior and the agility and mobility of CVR(T) combined to form an effective capability.
The relatively innocuous appearance of CVR(T) Spartan compared with Warrior was also exploited several times for transporting personnel when negotiating passage between different factions.
In March 1994, the Government decided to reinforce BRITFOR:
D Squadron The Light Dragoons were tasked to deploy under the command of 1 DWR to form BRITBAT 2
The deployability of CVR(T) was demonstrated again, a full Armoured Recce Squadron was driven from Hohne to Hannover, flown to Split by C130 and was on operations in northern Bosnia less than 7 days after being warned for deployment.
Four months later the Light Dragoons RHQ were tasked to deploy and in a similar scenario to that above they were flown out of Hannover and took command in the Maglaj ‘finger’ just eight days later.
Availability rate of Warrior was over 90%.
All forces in the conflict suffered from mines, the images below (from Cold War Warrior) show the aftermath of a TMA3 mine strike on a Saxon in the hills above Rama Lake, Bosnia, in 1994.
Mine strikes were a common occurrence and whilst all vehicles were as resistant as designed, the subject started to gain increasing attention.
Meanwhile, UK defence industry was also starting to get involved with South African manufacturers of mine protected vehicles. This is another subject that is perhaps not directly related to FRES and the evolution of a medium weight capability but is important because it is an influencing factor in the years that followed.
Making sense of the commercial arrangements in this niche market area is extremely difficult, there are several competing viewpoints on, and differing interpretations of, the same series of events. That said, the following might not be 100% correct but it is as accurate as it is reasonably possible to be.
The Mamba 4×4 was a development of the earlier Mamba 4×2 that was created by Mechem. It used the South African Army’s old Unimog 416 trucks as parts donors. The production contract was awarded to Reumech with the basic design licensed from Mechem. Higher strength steel and multiple design refinements had allowed the manufacturers to flatten the deep V that characterised the earlier vehicles and as a result, create a more practical layout.
The first Mamba 4 x4 prototype was tested in 1993.
In late 1993 two prototype vehicles were sent to Alvis in the UK, who had partnered with both Mechem and Reumech. The two prototype vehicles were the Iron Eagle scout car and the first 4×4 version of the Mamba 2.9m wheelbase mine protected vehicle.
Despite a number of problems with both vehicles, Alvis saw some potential and decided to develop them both further. The Iron Eagle became the Alvis Acorn which then evolved into the Scarab, Scarab 2 and Scarab 3. The later models were reportedly extremely mobile and entered into the FCLV competition.
The Mamba 4×4 was eventually called the Alvis 8 as it carried eight people.
Both vehicles were trialled in Bosnia in 1994 as casualty evacuation vehicles for other vehicles that had struck mines. They were not for routine patrolling or route clearance at this stage.
Initial planning for a US deployment to the Balkans had started as early as 1993, OPLAN 40103 envisaged a deployment to the area of elements of the NATO Allied Command Europe (ACE) Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC).
Despite the planning activity it was never used but did evolve into another scenario, the plan for ARRC to provide an extraction force for UNPROFOR, should UNPROFOR come under threat.
In summer 1995 another set of planning activity commenced and later in the year this would be put into action as a ceasefire between the warring factions was agreed on the 5th of October and the Dayton Peace Accords signed on 14th December 1995.
Towards the closing period UNPROFOR operations, the difference between public opinion and on the ground reality was marked. Despite evidence to the contrary, there was a nearly-universal perception of Serbs as bad guys and Bosnian Muslims as victims. The peacekeepers were often placed in impossible situations because of the restrictions placed upon them. The mortar attacks on the Markale market in Sarajevo, the massacre at Srebrenica, taking of UNPROFOR hostages and the general political environment would prove to be decisive factors in the move to the next stage, IFOR.
IFOR and SFOR – December 1995 to December 2004
Following the Dayton Accords it was NATO, not the UN that would be responsible for implementation of the agreement and so IFOR was constituted, the Implementation Force.
Off came the white paint
IFOR had a fixed one-year term, from 20th December 1995 to 20th December 1996.
Anti-sniper turrets were fitted to a number of AT105 Saxons deployed to the Balkans. These turrets were from surplus FV432s.
The legacy fleet also continued in use.
The land command was divided into three regions.
The deployment of US forces to MND(N) is pivotal to the overall story.
The US-led area, Multi-National Division (North), consisted two US Brigades and a Brigade each from Russia, Turkey and a joint Polish/Nordic Brigade. This division was commanded by United States Army, Europe (USAREUR), located forward at Taszar, Hungary. Given the operating area and the simple fact that the Adriatic ports were all being heavily used by other IFOR units it was planned to stage out of Germany, through multiple countries, onto an Intermediate Staging Base (ISB), also at Taszar, and then move out to locations in Bosnia as required.
The line of communication was in excess of 900 miles long, snaking through Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia and Bosnia.
A final leg would require crossing the Sava River.
It was planned that the initial deployment would use 373 trains, 7,187 flatbed rail trucks and 1,408 aircraft sorties. These were joined by 441 commercial buses and over 200 trucks convoys. In general, it took between 4 and 5 days for the bulk of the force to deploy to the Intermediate Staging Base (although not all force elements would transit through the ISB). Once they got to the Sava River there were another 30 miles before the main area of operations.
There have been many studies on the deployment of the US Forces into Bosnia that focus on planning deficiencies, diplomatic complexities, strikes on the French railway, delays on the post-unification rail system in Germany from anti-nuclear protests, public holidays and wholly unrealistic expectations but one the main causes of delay was the Sava River.
In December 1995 the 300m wide Sava River was at high water, by any measure it was a difficult gap to cross.
The crossing point at Zupanja was selected because of its proximity to a railhead and good quality roads although the permanent bridge had been destroyed. The 16th Engineer Battalion comprised SEAL divers, 535th Engineer Company, 38th Engineers Company and 502nd Engineer Company. The battalion planned to use the Ribbon Bridge system, moved into place by small bridging launches.
Preparation work commenced on the 17th of December, recce, stores parks and site preparation for example.
Three days later, the US Army Engineers started to build the bridge using a combination of Ribbon Bridges and some Assault Bridges for access.
There was not enough bridging equipment within the 16th Engineer Battalion and so war reserves stocks had to be used from Italy, flown into the area by C-17 and moved forward by Chinook.
As it was nearing completion on the 28th the river burst its banks (the first time in 70 years) and the resultant flood caused by melting snow washed away the engineers camp and much of the bridge in the early hours.
One can imagine it was a somewhat emotional morning!
Repairs and lengthening commenced soon after including direct emplacement of bridging sections by Chinook.
2 hours after completion on the 31st, the bridge was trafficked by lead elements of the 1st Squadron 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armoured Division.
If one looks at a Google Map of the bridging site the access roads and other construction remnants can still be seen, click here
Despite it being an epic bridge build, despite flying armoured bridging units (for the first time) by C-17, Chinook bridge emplacement and extensive use of air logistics, much of Task Force Eagle was held up for nearly two weeks.
One of the key emerging requirements for SFOR was ordnance disposal and, in particular, route proving/clearance. Mines were used liberally by all belligerents.
After a successful trial of the Alvis 8 in 1994, the MoD requested a shorter wheelbase (2.4m) version and this was to become the Alvis 4.
Because of time pressures, Alvis also loaned the MoD a number of Alvis 8’s, the longer wheelbase version with the old-fashioned running gear, so there were both versions in theatre.
In 1996 three Alvis 4s were procured for operations in Macedonia for £1 million.
The images below show an Alvis 8 (left) and the Alvis 4 (right).
Both the Alvis 4 and Alvis 8 were commonly called Mambas. The Alvis 4 had a number of modifications including an armour plate to defeat the TMRP 6 mine, stretcher lashing points, and Clansman radio wiring and battery charging systems. The original requirement was for a vehicle that could extract casualties from vehicles that had detonated mines although they would, eventually, also used in the route proving role.
Six vehicles were deployed to the Balkans in 1996 for use by the Royal Engineers, costing £1.2 million in total.
The Alvis 4s were a great success but the harsh climate and terrain of the Balkans, combined with the extra weight imposed by additional armour and old-fashioned mechanicals, exposed a number of reliability and safety limitations, so they were eventually disposed of and a replacement sought (more on that later).
In a 1997 presentation from Colonel James Anderson on the military aspects of mine detection and clearance, the priority which the Royal Engineers and MoD placed on this role was stated, thus:
The Army’s mind set was clearly focused on the issue, at least within the confines of the Royal Engineers.
Mine protection was still perceived as a specialist area, and so responsibility for addressing it was confined within the specialist arm of the British Army, the Royal Engineers.
During the Balkans deployment we also purchased three complete sets of the Chubby route clearance system from RS Dorbyl, France also ordered a small number. The three for the MoD were released from SADF stock and refurbished before shipping. Designed for the conditions of southern Africa the Chubby system encountered a number of problems with the weather and terrain in the Balkans, unable to cope with icy and tight mountain roads their utility was limited.
However, instead of keeping them for other operations, developing the concept or at least storing them we decided to get rid as soon as possible. They were subsequently disposed of to the HALO Trust, a charity that specialises in the removal of the debris of conflict.
A total of 14 Alvis 4s and 8s had been obtained up to this point at a combined cost of £4.5 million.
KFOR – June 1999
During 1998, conflict returned to the Balkans, specifically the Serbian region of Kosovo, a region not included within the Dayton Accords. Repression and violence soon followed.
Operation Allied Force/Noble Anvil was the NATO led operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in early 1999 in response to conflict in Kosovo.
Task Force Hawk was to be a deployment of US Army AH64 Apache gunships to destroy FRY armoured forces in Kosovo. It was thought Apache would be much more effective and efficient in destroying smaller armoured units than fast air. Supporting them in the SEAD role would be ATACMS long range rockets.
Initial plans called for a deployment to Macedonia that would take less than two weeks and commencement of cross border operations shortly after.
The force size was less than 2,000 and 24 helicopters but this quickly increased to over 5,000 as the logistics and force protection needs started to mount. Instead of a light force of attack helicopters with just enough support it now had tanks, armoured engineers and anti-aircraft units
To deploy everything, except the Apaches that self-deployed from Italy, took 500 C-17 sorties and 44 days.
On May 18th President Clinton, after being petitioned by several senior military figures, ordered Task Force Hawk to stand down, it never saw any combat.
It was widely seen, perhaps in parts rather unfairly, as an embarrassing fiasco for the US Army
Operation AGRICOLA was the name given to the UK contribution to KFOR.
KFOR entered Kosovo on the 11th of June 1999, two days after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
KFOR were to advance into Kosovo via a number of routes. UK forces were responsible for securing a route to Pristina from Macedonia. This route included the crucial Kacanik Defile, a narrow gorge with a series of bridges and tunnels.
The plan called for an airborne insertion to secure the key points in the defile followed by an armoured advance through to Pristina.
Airborne forces (5 Airborne Brigade) securing bridges and the Irish Guards Battle Group advancing over them, the similarities to Market Garden were obvious to all. Expanding on this, the airborne force would establish communications rebroadcast sites and protect the EOD teams that would clear the bridges and tunnels of expected mines and explosives.
Pathfinder forces had already completed the reconnaissance by the 11th.
5th Airborne Brigade consisted elements of 1 and 3 PARA, reinforced with the 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles. In addition to 657/659 Squadron AAC Lynx helicopters, the main lift was supplied by eight RAF Chinook and five Puma helicopters.
First over the border were four Lynx helicopters from 659 Squadron AAC, followed by five RAF Puma’s escorted by a pair of US Army AH-64 attack helicopters, left in theatre after Task Force Hawk described above. RAF Chinook’s then carried the main force, deploying them in key positions in the Kacanik area.
99 lifts were carried out including 38 with underslung loads, moving a total of 1,260 personnel.
The Lynx helicopters were then used to shuttle Royal Engineers EOD teams back and forth.
The lead battle group entered Pristina the next day, accompanied by the traditional arguments about who was there first.
During these initial deployments, the ability to sling load CVR(T) by Chinook was also exploited to great effect.
During the rapidly changing time in the lead up to the ceasefire and deployment into Kosovo, as a show of strength and to gain greater influence, 250 Russian personnel in 30 wheeled armoured vehicles moved overnight and took up positions in Pristina Airport, blocking access and presenting KFOR with a very delicate situation.
Despite some rather aggressive and misplaced orders from General Wes Clarke the situation was resolved without shots being fired.
It is a fascinating incident to study. Click here for a good rundown, but what really sent shockwaves around the world was the fact that the Russians had completed a long road march right under the noses of NATO. This one incident would be used as an example many times in forthcoming arguments about medium weight forces.
Canadian and Italian forces, with many others, deployed to Kosovo and it is interesting to compare and contrast their respective experience, especially in regards of vehicle choices.
Canadian forces had Leopard 1’s whilst Italian forces had both Leopard 1’s and Centauro B1’s, an 8×8 armoured wheeled vehicle armed with a 105mm main gun.
Each had advantages and disadvantages.
Leopards looked more menacing, an advantage or disadvantage in peace keeping operations depending on time and place. Narrow roads favoured the Leopard because they could execute neutral turns, long road marches favoured the Centauro.
The superior cross country mobility of the Leopards were telling in the winter and allowed both forces to maintain influence over their respective areas.
Where there was a suspected RPG threat, the Leopards were the preferred option and their ability to mount dozer blades and mine rollers was exploited many times.
Other nation’s main battle tanks were much heavier than the MLC50 bridges and culverts common in many areas.
British Army Medium Weight Capability – Table of Contents
What this document is, sources and acknowledgements, and what this document is not
Saladin and Saracen enter service, early work on their replacement commences and completes. The FV432 enters service, and the BMP-1 does likewise, work on Warrior gains pace.
CVR(T) and CVR(W) enter service, and the rapid deployment concept cuts its teeth with the C-130
CVR(T) continues to be developed and sees action in in the Falkland Islands and Warrior enters service. Oh, and Saxon.
A decade of major change; the end of the Cold War, operations in the Gulf and the Balkans. The microprocessor and communications revolution. VERDI, FFLAV, WASAD and the rise of the acronym in defence. ASCOD, CV90 and others developed. Protected mobility becomes a requirement, again, and finally, interesting materials development make an appearance in the defence vehicle world.
Three vehicle development projects that would have importance to the ongoing story of developing a medium weight capability.
Important milestones in the development of medium weight capabilities, a trip across the Sava and WWIII averted at an airport.
The Future Combat System, the UK follows suit, FRES and being a force for good.
2001 to 2004, TRACER and MRAV continue but the new kid on the block called FRES is starting to take over whilst the shadow of Iraq falls on the project.
Between 2005 and 2007 the Army experienced significant change. FRES picked up speed but operations in Iraq overshadowed the medium weight concept.
2008 to 2009, it becomes increasingly difficult to balance the needs of operations with the desire to transform and bring FRES to fruition at the same time.
2010 to 2011, putting the embarrassment of FRES UV behind it, the Army switches to FRES SV, a replacement for CVR(T)
2012 to 2014, as an end to the Afghanistan deployment drew near, Scout continued and attention turned to Warrior.
2015 to 2017, a new medium weight capability vision emerges, and this requires a new vehicle, the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV), but before that, Multi Role Vehicle (MRV).
A few thoughts and opinions.
Weights, measures, variants and roles
A revolution in medium calibre weapons, but can we afford it?
The essential glue that binds the increasing quantity of vehicle electronics