Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Current Ops

I posted a place marker to comment on Jonothan Band's missive to the Naval Service after the Cornwall affair. Having seen it, and Alan Massey's er, effort in the Sunday Telegraph, I feel I would be merely commenting behind the agenda so will not be adding my tuppence worth at this juncture. Stand by if a decent man like J Band is forced out by the failings of others, you may not then be able to hold me back!!

However, on an entirely different (rugby!!) site, I was asked to comment on the current position viz lack of tactical vehicles (WMIK)in Afghanistan. I responded thus;

Right then,

Herewith the diatribe!

WMIK are used by 16AA Bde and 3CDO Bde (ie Paras and Royal Marines) because they are light mobile forces that lack serious firepower (i.e. tanks)and need the ability to "hit and run". Hence the WMIK is a cut down land rover with a 1/2" machine gun mounted on a turret ring, it brings lots of additional firepower, a "force multiplier" as we would call it. Sadly, because Defence is usually skint (I'll come back to the usually) we bought enough WMIKs to support EITHER the Paras OR the Marines, not necessarily both. This is to do with warning times for major war where the assumption was we'd have a lot of notice and be able to buy "stuff" if it was going seriously pear shaped in the world. Ergo, between big wars, we'd sort of have enough to go round for the occasional bout of foreigner bashing.

Well the truth of the matter is that, since 1997, the British Armed Forces have been operating at a level well above that required or, more importantly, funded by government plans. In only one year of the last 10 have we sort of been operating at the right level. Overstretch in spades.

This has many consequences. The largest current UK military contingent in Afghanistan is 3Cdo Bde with 800 Naval Air Squadron (Harriers), 3Cdo Bde HQ, Brigade Recce Force and a whole host of "blue uniforms" in support roles. Yes, the Royal Navy, and a pretty large chunk of it too. The Army and, lets face it, to a significantly lesser extent the RAF, (LOL) are so stretched in Land ops on two fronts that significant numbers of Naval personnel are doing Land force ops in support of our Marines. The fact that Royal and the NAS are out there is not too unusual but the requisite numbers of Naval augmentees is unprecedented.

Other corollaries? The money for ops (not enough 'cos the treasury always argues, cavills and snipes) is quite rightly being heavily concentrated on Land ops on two war fronts (again I stress ops above our true funding limit) so the Navy is being hollowed out. We are hardly able to put ships to sea, never mind fight them. Want a topical example? well you're going to get one anyway! HMS Cornwall (my old ship) of current infamy is capable of carrying not one but two Lynx helicopters but guess how many she deployed to a war zone with and guess why! In other words, continuous air cover with specialist air to surface missiles could have been available. Seems a decent deterrent to me!

We, and I truly mean all the Armed Forces are juggling Governmental and Societal expectations with massive overstretch and actually diminishing resources. Service Chiefs have been warning of both tactical and strategic failure for some time but, whilst we "get by" on the grounds of levels of professionalism and courage that don't exist ANYWHERE ELSE in the world, the government can take a fiscal risk against our lives. Mark my words, that equation is in the balance like it never has been before since 1933.

Light aside, my Admiral recently said it was quite right that current funding went to "the Army and those parts of the RAF associated with Operations". Nearly wet myself laughing!! p.s. That's what we'll do because we always do, keep laughing......'til we die.

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