About Me

My photo
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. Until recently, I was a contributing editor 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.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Many folks have written asking why I have been so slow in updating the blog. Being unable to update it on a daily basis has been a concern to me but I have been here, there and everywhere which has made it rather difficult to do daily updates. Hopefully, I shall be able to catch up on the blog and several other outstanding issues over the next couple of days.

A few weeks ago I was contacted via the blog asking if I would consider attending the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. I was very honoured to be invited as a panellist to the 14th St Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia. My participation as a panellist was on the session related to “New Models of cooperation for the Military Industry”.

Once known as Petrograd and as Leningrad, St Petersburg is a beautiful city and is indeed a massive museum under the Russian sky. As I love history and art, there was no shortage of places to visit and sites to see.

The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum is held with the support and participation of the President of the Russian Federation. The aim of the Forum is to gather the world's leading decision makers from government, business and civil society to identify and deliberate the key challenges facing emerging markets and the world and engage communities to find common purpose and frameworks to forge solutions.

One thing that has always struck me on this type of travel is the kindness of strangers. Mr Sergey Nedoroslev, the Chairman of the Board of Kaskol, noting my confusion, stepped in to help me on numerous fronts. I was also privileged to meet some of his friends and associates which included Mr Nikolai Kovarsky, Mr Evgeny Tarlo and the son of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Mr Sergey also made sure that I knew where I had to be at what time.

The Forum was officially opened by President Dmitry Medvedev, the President of the Russian Federation on the 18 June and he was joined by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the 19 June.

The panel session on New Models for Cooperation for the Military Industry was very ably moderated by Charles Grant, the Director for the Centre of European Reform. Fellow panellists were Vice Admiral Premvir Das (Indian Navy), Aleksei Alyoshin (First Deputy Director General, Russian Technologies State Corporation), Alexey Isaikin (President, Volga-Dnepr Group), Douglas Harned (Vice Pres, Senior Analyst – Aerospace and Defence, Sanford C Bernstein and Co) and Emeric d’Arcimoles (Senior Exec Vice Pres and Chairman of SAFRAN USA, Inc).

Although my small input was focussed on Africa in the main, I thought the comments by my fellow panellists were very interesting and enlightening. However, I still believe that too much emphasis is being placed on technology and terminology changes – and too little on really preparing soldiers for their missions.


matt said...

Very cool. I have been trying to watch the film of the event, but having problems downloading. Any surprises at the forum?
Also, if these guys could put their video stuff on youtube, that would be infinitely easier for folks to check it out. They could actually divide each speech into separate videos so people can focus on specific parts.


daleg said...

My name is Dale Granger, I am a South African journalist working for the Sunday Times, Perth. I would like to interview Eeben if possible following the death of six mining execs in the Congo. My email is: grangerd@sundaytimes.newsltd.com.au Eeben, please contact me. Regards Dale

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It was certainly a very pleasant experience, Matt.

I don’t think there were too many surprises at the Forum. Possibly my comments weren’t appreciated by many as I believe that we are embarking on a high-tech approach to warfare which does not seem to be too successful. We are overloading our troops with a lot of unnecessary gadgets and making them rely too heavily on gadgets and less on their abilities as soldiers. Also, we should be working on a “must have”, “could have” and a “nice to have” approach.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Forgive me, Dale, but given my experience with the media, I do not spend much time talking to journalists who, in my experience, have an uncanny ability to twist things to suit agendas. I do not imply that you will do that but once bitten, twice shy.

Unfortunately, I cannot comment on the mining execs that tragically died in Congo as my knowledge is based on what I read and heard in the media.



matt said...

Spot on. You know the more I read about technology in today's wars, the more I keep thinking about the possible weakness it could create in our forces. If we have an entire military built around GPS, computers, and high tech communications--what happens when all of that is destroyed?

I guess what I am getting at is EMP type weapons, nuclear blasts, or specific targeting of satellites. Or even an accident in space where some event just destroys all that stuff up there.

Even at the ground level of warfare, I think the smartest way to train guys is to insure they have redundancy in their combat related skills. Know how to use radios, GPS, etc., but also know how to use maps, compass, signal panels, etc., just to ensure momentum in the war is not slowed down.

Even with our vehicles and other weapons, we are going into a realm of technological dependency. The XM 25 is a great example. This is an grenade launcher, filled with technology and precision electronics. If it fails, what then?

Our vehicles are starting to come up with computer controls for the engines, or the vehicle is too complex to work on out in the field. To me, the best kind of vehicle is one that you can work on out in the field, that uses various grades of diesel, and is not dependent upon complex computer systems to keep it running.

I could go on, and I am sure you can too with plenty of examples. With all of this stuff, we must always consider what would happen if it failed.

Your comment on strategy is important too. If current strategies are dependent on these technologies working, what if those technologies fail? To me, a sound strategy could withstand this kind of situation. But I often wonder if today's military leaders or strategists think in those terms. Excellent topic.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

This is something I have been worrying about for some time, Matt. An army built around high-tech kit for the ground forces is built to fail when the technology fails. A smart enemy does not just have to rely on EMP systems. Take a look at what happens when a modern combat vehicle breaks down – you almost need a Phd to fix it. So too for some weapons. That is why I am so excited about the Puma MRAP – a soldier can fix it with a pliers and wire. Doing that ensures mobility, reduces logistical strain and keeps the force together.

Basic training is called that for a reason. It must enable the soldier to develop and exercise his basic soldiering skills. Technology is not always a “must have” for a footslogger. Granted, air power is pure technology and that is great but if the soldier cannot read a map correctly, use his compass and know how to read distance, how is he going to call in an air strike when his technology fails him?

I have a friend who is part of a club. Their aim is to see who can at all times collect the most new fangled gadgets. Whoever dies one day with the most gadgets is the winner. To me there is a very important lesson in what he says.

As you know I can carry on for days on strategy vs gadgetry. I believe that in the long run, gadgetry will lose.



eet kreef said...

You made a comment about unnecessary gdgets. I'm in Iraq at the moment and do get into US baeses from time to time. At troop level I've noticed that they're going to the "pimp my gun" stage. Many are private add ons, but the end result looks like something from a terminator movie. I'm not convinced all of that stuff is worth the weight that needs to be slugged up and down a mountain

Alan said...

My name is Michael Hastings, I am a American journalist working for the Rolling Stones magazine. I would like to interview Eeben if possible following the........

Just a bit of Georgian humor. You appear a bit out of uniform, but still quite dapper in that 3 piece suit. Keep an wary eye on the Russian.

Regards, Alan

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A great comment re “pimp my gun” Eet Kreef. It is unfortunately something that appears to present a strong Hollywood image and the misguided belief that the more gadgets that can be stuck on a rifle, the more effective the rifle. As we always used to say “It is not the gun but the man behind the gun that really counts”.

Adding unnecessary weight to weapons and other movie-image kit does no good. In fact, it tires men, leads to dehydration, makes movement sluggish and is not conducive to fast reactions.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You caught me with the start of your comment, Alan. I thought, “Oh, no, not another one...” I know that some of them are just trying to do their job but many of them aren’t. I never know which type I am dealing with.

I am not too comfortable in a suit and my suits are all pretty dated. But, they seem to come into fashion every ten years or so making it unnecessary to replace them.

I find it ironical that the Russians and Chinese have always treated me better than others. Some food for thought.



Raven said...

Good day Eeben,
As you know I was never deployed operationally, but I am working in the tech side of the Military industry.
I often discuss gadgets with colleagues and engineers in the office and when on proof at Alkantpan. Something I noticed is that 99% of the people designing and building the gadgets for our boys-in-the-veld has never been there, has no desire to go there and mostly does not interpret what they do as tools-of-death.
Words like “Lethality” is seldom used, and if used, they’re overshadowed by words like statistic-reliability & other tech-related jargon that makes it more of a science-project than a weapon.
My personal question remains before sign-off of lot-acceptance is:
“If I’m in the veld & under attack, is this the product I want in hand?”

But looking at the very non-military type of people that design for the military made me ask myself: “how warrior like is the modern soldier?”
-I very seldom interact with the troops using the products and only see the older military representatives during lot-acceptances, and they pride themselves in still being the “old type hard fighting men”-

Now I may be wrong about this, but looking at kids I noticed that most of their games boiled down to who’s got the best kit…
Previous generations’ games and competitive activities were low-tech and thus you had to train your body and mind to better your odds.

Even Combat shooting got to the point where unless you spend the equivalent of a second hand car on your weapon you will not be competitive.

Now that’s all fair and well on a shooting range where a systems failure results in a loss for the day & slap on the shoulder followed by a “it happens” or “better luck next time”.
Where as you said rightly, if things break down in the combat zone and you need a PhD to get it going, it’s a different situation.

What I’m trying to say is that maybe the way we grew up has got a lot to do with it.
Then again there’s nothing like experience to realise what’s essential kit & what’s toys better left at home.
If I could choose, I’d pour 120mm Mortars down the collar of the enemy,
But if I had to carry those mortars for 20Km, I’d opt for 60mm mortars.

Is BPJ’s essential kit or toy? As for NVG’s & the good old Staal-dak..?

If I could get a gun that shot HE-homing-ammo round corners and made me invisible, Hell I’d use it, or would you prefer a good old spear?

The battle field has always been testing grounds for tech, some good some horrid. Some will stay & some will make way for the next generation of crap the boys will have to haul through the dust.
Are our boys better kitted than days of Normandy? Yes I think so, are they better and more efficient warriors? That is a complete different question and topic…


PS.Eeben, please edit grammar & structure if needed, I’m battling to focus while on pain meds. (I had a bike accident a few days ago)

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I wish you a speedy recovery from your accident, Stefan.

You make several very valid points in your comments. A lot of equipment development is left in the hands of those who will never have to carry it, deploy it under adverse conditions, use it under oft difficult and trying circumstances and see the results of it. The end result is that some of it has little to no real value when compared to the mission.

The soft terminology that has crept into the vocabulary of the military makes me wonder if they are serious about their aim which is to annihilate the enemy and destroy his will to fight. We have become so politically correct that we actually don’t want to fight and in the process, we afford the enemy every opportunity to fight. But, as someone intimated earlier, politicians and their legal specialists have promoted themselves to field marshals and believe that they alone can determine strategy, grand tactics, tactics and the overall conduct of the armed forces – all to ensure the next election sees them back in power.

A lot of rubbish was written about EO’s kit and how high-tech it was. Nothing could be further from the truth. We had to use antiquated equipment our client governments had in stock. Our opposition in Angola, SL and Indonesia had the same kit. But again, it is not the equipment that matters but the man using the equipment that matters and applying sound grand tactics at operational level and smart tactics at ground level.

I have always believed that we must use what we have available and decide what kit is must-have, should-have and nice-to have. That coupled to thorough training and, as you mention, train your body and mind to better your odds, remains vitally important. On the field of battle, there is no prize for coming second.

The correct equipment, at the correct time and place, coupled to RoE, needs to be carefully assessed for future deployments.



Alan said...

Vir jou bediening in IZ, dankie Eet Kreef.

Cheers, Alan

OndrejS said...

I guess the debate should also be about what we want to achieve in the first place. If it is about highly asymmetrical warfare in urban areas then gadgets may be the way as you have the logistics to support them. If you are fighting on more equal footing and under unpredictable conditions (such as in jungle) then all the tech can become a hindrance rather then help.
Best regards,

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am not against technology and gadgets Andrej but I am opposed to them being seen as a substitute for strategy.

True, certain urban environments may ease the logistical burden on technology but not all will do so. If we look at what is developing in Syria, technology that we take for granted ie cell phones, is playing a major role in assisting those opposed to the Syrian government in coordinating their activities and providing early warning to others. So technology has its place.

Even in a jungle technology can play an important role. Again, it is when it is viewed as strategy or even as indispensible that I question our training and doctrine. At a basic level, if troops cannot navigate by map and compass, they will be at a disadvantage when the GPS fails.