Monday 8 September 2014

Tanks and Harriers

Can't resist giving these plates an extra spin or two.

Part the 1st: Tanks  -  an important point that's been missed in discussion so far:  tanks are for taking the offensive.  There are plenty of satisfactory defensive ways of defeating the other guy's tanks: with current technology, AT helicopters are #1 choice but these things have their cycles and in future years it may be flocks of cheap light drones. 

But for offensive operations in the field you need a good MBT, classically defined by speed & maneouverability + firepower + ability to take a hit from the small and medium stuff that panicky, out-maneouvred defenders will chuck at it.   [Mr W's point about protection against radiation is a good one, and he could have added protection against CW as well.  These are extensions of the above-specified protection against general battlefield shit.]

Why are tanks needed?  have a look at my post of last weekend which, by the way, fairly well predicted what happened last week (*takes bow*)  to wit, the Russsians made as much of a grab as they could in a few hours.  An armoured grab.  Only armour (or helo-mounted heavy infantry) can do this reliably.  Paratroops, and heavy APC-mounted infantry can each make a case for being second-choice if they are (a) operating against very, very thin defences and (b) lucky.  But the swift, land-based smash-and-grab offensive (and I do mean both smash, and grab) must be spearheaded by tanks, followed through quickly by infantry.

Not surprising that this basic point has been missed because the UK hasn't been thinking in offensive mode for a very, very long time (Kuwait 1991, I'd say, given how poorly we performed in Iraq the second time around).  So the answer to BQ's question starts with:  are we going on the land-offensive any time soon ?   Answers on a postcard ...

BTW, some may be inclined to repy: OK, then why did defence-oriented BAOR have so many MBTs ?  There are several answers, of which the 3rd is the most interesting.  

(a) armies traditionally prepare to fight the last war instead of the next one. In pre-1989 BAOR, 'Germany' to us meant 1945 = offensive ops;

(b) cavalry always clings to tradition - and is indulged - even more than anyone else;

(c) there were some very attack-minded generals in the NATO of the 1970's and 1980's, surprising though this may sound (US, British and particularly German).  I may write another post on this for a quiet weekend.

Part the 2nd: Harriers  - SW is of course right to note how difficult and unforgiving they are (were) to fly - even more difficult than helicopters.  This is actually a major failing.  One of the key principles of armament is: make it robust and (relatively) simple to use & maintain because it needs to be used by ordinary mortals under great stress.  Many a "fine weapons system" has surprised its owners (and not in a good way) when failing to meet these criteria.

(One of the worst experiences of my life was watching a Harrier squadron CO fly into a tree on take-off, he did not survive.)  

Obviously the RAF and RN made good operational use of the Harrier over the years. In the Falklands it was of course faute de mieux: and I wonder if Woodward might have preferred the old Ark Royal with a full complement of F4s (and Gannet AEWs) ?  It's hard to avoid suggesting the Harrier's achievements were against 2nd division opposition.  The many BAOR Harrier pilots I knew gave themselves no chance against the SA assets integral to GSFG divisions; and the 3-squadron RAFG 'Harrier Force' was assumed to be reduced to zero effectiveness in under 3 days of all-out combat.

Postscript:  SW is absolutely right about RAF / RN rivalry, a death-match that's been running for close on a century now.  I went to a dinner last week and had my ear bent for an hour by a sailor on exactly this topic. 



dearieme said...

A navy of submarines, an air force of drones and an army of robots. Just get on with it.

Y Ddraig Goch said...


RE: Harriers

"the 3-squadron RAFG 'Harrier Force' was assumed to be reduced to zero
effectiveness in under 3 days of all-out combat"

I have no reason to argue with that, however, I have to ask, what would have
been left of the rest of BAOR after three days of "all-out combat"?
Something tells me that the Harriers were, at most, marginally worse off than
everything else that would have been fed into the meat grinder. I only ask
because there was a geezer on this very blog who recently quoted a West German
soldier saying ...

"when we get the get the signal, I and my son, who is my 2I/C, go down to the
lock-up and issue the Milan missiles to the platoon. Then I go home and shoot
my wife. Then we take up our positions, and take one T-72 with every missile,
until we run out of ammunition ..."

Which makes three day life expectancy sound generous.

"I wonder if Woodward might have preferred the old Ark Royal with a full
complement of F4s (and Gannet AEWs)"

Fair question, but you could also ask if he would have preferred the larger,
supersonic aircraft that Hawker could have built (eg the P.1154) if only
various governments hadn't squandered so much money on junk. Just think what
our aerospace industry would look like today if only Hawker had been allowed
to develop a family of aircraft derived from the P.1127 the way Dassault were
able to do from the Mirage. We could have had aircraft that exceeded the
claimed performance of the F35B, except 20 years earlier and one that
actually worked as well.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

"Faute de mieux"! How very dare you. A bloody fine aircraft for ground attack operating from woodland clearings and a PSP track on the grass. I recall from my time in RAFG practising infantry drill (most alarming for an RAF engineering officer, I can tell you - I didn't join up to be a fucking pongo) on the grounds the aircraft would all be destroyed in 3 days and the Russkies would reach the Rhine and the clutch bases in five (or less!), so we'd better learn to fight (a VERY enthusiastic squabbling bleeder was responsible for that nonsense - I can just see me and my erks fighting off Spetsnaz). Given that we expected the actual airbases to be shattered on day 1, day 3 was pretty good going. I remember a mess night with some toffs from the calvary where they bragged they'd last 6 hours or so. And btw operational losses from Harrier squadrons was no worse than any other aircraft. (The pilots were in the habit of burning pianos in times of tragedy and getting pissed as newts; we Penguins were not welcome at those events.)

But you are right. It would have been good to have a proper aircraft carrier with F4s (or even better, F14s), Gannets and Buccaneers. But we couldn't afford it, so ''through deck carriers" and Harriers it had to be. The real problem in the Falklands was the lack of Gannets. No proper AEW... ooh dear. Would have saved a few ships, that.

You're right, the RAF really hates the Navy. Those fuckers take all the budget and - even worse! - they run the nuclear deterrent. Everyone in the RAF knows we should have kept the V-bombers and scuttled all the ships. Looking back I am surprised at my present magnanimity towards The Andrew.

rwendland said...

If ND is right, and I suspect he is, on "the UK [army] hasn't been thinking in offensive mode for a very, very long time", then why on earth have we spent a fortune configuring the Royal Navy as an expeditionary force?

The Navy has three fairly modern amphibious assault ships (one sort of mothballed as "extended readiness" to save costs), plus four even more modern (~2007) Royal Fleet Auxiliary Bay-class dock landing ships. Also the rationale for six nuclear fleet submarines significantly includes supporting an expeditionary force - coastal defence would be better handled by cheaper and quieter non-nuclear subs.

This non-joined up MOD procurement seems crazy not only at the individual project level, but at the strategic level.

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