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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. I am a contributor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Monday, November 22, 2010

THE MRAP DEBATE CONTINUES

Someone recently sent me a link to a discussion being held on the pros and cons of MRAPs in combat theatres.

Whereas everyone partaking contributed valuable input into the mentioned debate, it seems to me that we may have lost the plot along the way.

The MRAP (along with the older MPV) was designed and built to deliver troops to an area in relative safety from landmines and IEDs. This required the MRAPs/MPVs to have a very good cross-country ability and thereby prevent the troops from being road-bound at all times. Additionally, sappers were used to clear the roads of mines/IEDs.

The MRAP/MPV was not developed as a wheeled safety cocoon from which the troops had to fight. It was meant to be a method of delivery to a starting point for aggressive combat patrolling but it gave some protection to the troops enroute to the starting point. The standard ambush drills were very effective if coming under fire enroute to the delivery point as they allowed the troops to immediately retaliate with fire – and debus as soon as possible and fight from the ground.

The MPVs were armed with 7, 62 mm Browning MGs in order to give fire support to the dismounted infantry – not to lead the fight or hold ground. This basic principle of deployment remains as applicable today as it was in years gone by.

Wars and conflicts are won by men on the ground, implementing sound strategies with good tactics and taking the fight to the enemy. Wars have not, and will never been won by “dominating” the roads and ignoring the rest of the terrain.

Given the firepower we have allowed the enemy to amass, and the lessons we have taught him (I think it was Napoleon who said: Never fight a single enemy for too long as you will teach him all you know) we need to be able to deliver troops relatively safely and fresh to a starting point for operations.

I recall that in the old-SADF we never had the air mobility we needed to deliver a large number of troops to a specific point to commence with area operations – hence our reliance on vehicles. In this process we learnt the following:

1. MPVs/MRAPs must be standardised to allow for ease of logistical support
2. MPVs/MRAPs must be simple to maintain and operate
3. Stay off the roads where possible
4. When bound to roads, clear the roads ahead of the vehicles
5. Dismounted infantry protection teams for the sappers are responsible for locating enemy ambush positions, trip wires, electrical cables, indications of enemy movement and so forth
6. The MPV/MRAP is a delivery system and not a fighting vehicle
7. Dismount and clear defiles before passing through them
8. Avoid routine
9. Follow immediate actions drills immediately and correctly
10. Good drivers are essential

A sound doctrine for the role of the MPVs/MRAPs is essential. There are immediate action drills in case of a landmine or IED and when coming into contact with the enemy. It was these very basic drills that saved my sappers and I when we got hit by a hefty landmine in 1980. Had we not been in an MPV, we would have all been killed. Had we not followed our drills, the casualties could have been rather heavy.

The MPVs/MRAPs were never designed to be infantry fighting vehicles. They were not built to dominate terrain – that is the task of infantry – on foot. Nor were they designed as a substitute for mechanised infantry fighting vehicles. That was not their role then and it is still not their role.

Personally, I believe that most modern MRAPs are over-designed, too heavy, too complicated to maintain and have lost the edge they ought to give the infantry. Likewise, the infantry are to blame for using these vehicles for roles they were never designed for.

I also believe that the MPV/MRAP is an ideal vehicle for motorised infantry, especially in COIN operations. However, its role in conventional warfare operations can, if used correctly and within the doctrine, prove to be invaluable.

A good driver can “idle” the vehicle cross-country and get to within 15 meters of the enemy before they are even aware that it is there. By then, the infantry have long debussed and formed into an assault line with the MPV acting as a mobile fire support base. If we could do that in the 1980s, there is no reason why it cannot be done today.

I am sure the debate about MPVs/MRAPs will continue for years to come but we need to define its role, develop the doctrine for operational deployment and make sure we abide by it. If we do this, the MPV/MRAP will do what it was meant to do: save lives and reduce casualties. Furthermore, it will remain an essential vehicle able to save lives especially in areas where landmines and IEDs are used.

However, if we continue to view the MPV/MRAP as an infantry fighting vehicle and keep to the roads with a predictable routine, we surrender any advantage it can give us.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

MANOEUVRE WARFARE

There are many who want argue that warfare consists of either attrition or manoeuvre.

The ultimate aim of any war is to locate, identify and overwhelm the enemy with fire or to annihilate the enemy in order to force an end to hostilities and/or to restore the political balance. When an enemy’s armed forces are destroyed, his political machine is not left with too many options.

The more casualties the enemy sustains (attrition), the lower his morale and the less likely he is to want to oppose the forces pitted against him. This reality is not only applicable to countering an insurgency but also to large-scale conflicts where home support wanes when the casualties – along with the economical and political costs - become simply too high to accept.

In brief, war by attrition implies massing men and equipment against enemy positions with the aim of destroying the enemy’s forces. Success is measured by territory gained, enemy killed, wounded or captured, equipment captured and destroyed and the damage inflicted to the enemy’s infrastructure.

Attrition warfare can be used very effectively when a smaller force takes on a larger enemy and conducts guerrilla operations against the larger force. This type of attrition has been witnessed in numerous modern conflicts and wars. World War 1 is an example of 20th century attrition warfare at its most brutal by sides almost equally matched.

Manoeuvre warfare, on the other hand, is aimed at isolating the enemy’s decision-making capabilities, thus rendering him unable to continue with viable military operations or paralysing his abilities to wage war. But, it is not a form of warfare based on a humanitarian approach aimed at reducing enemy casualties. Indeed, it is the opposite.

Whereas manoeuvre warfare appears to have become a mantra to many, it is as old as warfare itself. When man decided to move to a more advantageous position with his legs, on a horse, with a chariot or whatever in order to overcome and destroy the enemy, he was applying manoeuvre. This led to flanking movements, pincer movements, encirclements and numerous different envelopments.

Today, there are those who view manoeuvre warfare purely as a concept and not as an acknowledged approach to warfare. However, one cannot conduct effective manoeuvre without attrition nor can one conduct effective attrition without manoeuvre.

Manoeuvre warfare is not restricted to mechanised forces although many view it as an approach solely reserved for mechanised forces. Motorised forces, airborne forces and marine forces are all capable of conducting very effective manoeuvre warfare operations.

In the COIN environment, Light Infantry can be very effectively used to conduct manoeuvre warfare operations to strike the enemy’s bases and rear areas. Stopper groups or cut-off groups can be seen as a form of manoeuvre albeit at the tactical level. Likewise, the leap-frogging of forces can be viewed as a form of manoeuvre. But, these movements require mobility, a pre-requisite to effective manoeuvre warfare.

Mobility does, however, not imply wheels, tracks, boats or airlift capabilities – it also includes the ability to infiltrate and/or position forces on foot – such as Light Infantry - into positions that can gain an advantage over the enemy.

Effective manoeuvre warfare requires, amongst others:

1. Decentralised command and control
2. Up-to-date intelligence
3. High tempo operations
4. Surprise coupled to speed of action and exploitation
5. Flexibility
6. The ability to rapidly deploy or redeploy forces
7. Effective logistical supply lines
8. Balanced forces such as independent and self-contained Combat Teams and Battle Groups
9. Deception
10. Adequate air support and air superiority
11. The concentration of effort and force at the correct place and time

In the African context, manoeuvre warfare can be used very successfully to isolate and/or attack an enemy’s trinity of gravity. However, it requires that careful consideration is given to protecting the logistical supply lines and preventing them from becoming vulnerable to enemy attack as well as denying the enemy the ability to exploit the local population for own purposes. It is especially here that COIN forces can play a significant role is assisting and supporting manoeuvre forces.

All strategies are – or ought to be - intelligence driven. Intelligence during manoeuvre warfare operations should not only rely on manned and unmanned aerial reconnaissance and POWs. Small-team reconnaissance elements and/or pseudo-teams are essential in gathering intelligence ahead of the manoeuvre forces, ambushing enemy patrols, calling in fire-force teams and attacking enemy infrastructure such as roads and bridges. Successes must be exploited as rapidly as possible in order to maintain momentum and keep the enemy off balance.

A danger lies in over-extending the manoeuvre forces and thus becoming a victim of one’s own success. To prevent this, commanders need to ensure that the logistical chain functions smoothly and efficiently and that operations do not out-run the logistical abilities of the force.

The African theatre of operations provides numerous opportunities to conduct effective manoeuvre warfare operations in order to destroy the opposing forces and break the will of an enemy. If these opportunities are not exploited, the enemy will live to fight another day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

TRYING TO HELP OUT

I am very pleased to have contact with so many students who, as part of their studies, are (hopefully) looking at positive PMC involvement in conflict areas with different eyes, especially given the spectacular failures of the UN – an organisation I have made my thoughts and feelings very clear on.

However, due to travel and work-related issues, I am not able to always respond immediately as some expect and want me to do. When I am engaged to assist a client, that engagement takes precedence over everything else I do. It is, after all, very unethical to use time that has been paid for by a client to do something else. That does, in my simple way of thinking, amount to both fraud and theft.

Added to this, I am sometimes in places where I do not have internet access and only receive the requests several days after they were sent to me.

I appreciate how important the studies and research papers are but it is very frustrating to have students ask me to repeat what I wrote about in my book because they “don’t have the time” to read it. It is equally frustrating – and time consuming – to have students ask me to respond as quickly as possible to their questions as they are facing a deadline re their research papers.

Whereas I am happy to help out wherever I can, I cannot drop everything to accommodate the many students who are busy with their research and studies – at last count, there were more than 100 students asking for my assistance.

I will continue trying to help out where I can but it is not always possible to do so as quickly as expected. After all, I too have other obligations to attend to – and those obligations will always receive priority.