PLATFORM TECHNOLOGY IN THE 21ST CENTURY – SETTING THE SCENE
By Julian Nettlefold
12 Sep 08. I was delighted to have been given the opportunity to Chair the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Automobile Division’s Conference being held next week on September 17th. (Details below in EXHIBITIONS AND CONFERENCES)
The size and quality of the audience of over 180 delegates reflects the excellent programme developed by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for today’s conference, ‘Platform Technology for Military Vehicles.’
Setting the Scene
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have ushered in new methods of waging war against our troops which governments and industry alike have had to react to, to protect the lives of our troops in theatre. The development of the IED as an efficient and deadly weapon and the spurious deployment of mine warfare, not seen since the African wars in the 1980s are the major causes for concern. This was not a war we were prepared for and one which we have had to adapt to.
It is not just the new methods of waging war; it is the type of enemy we are up against. He is not in uniform and his tactics have resulted in the current rules of engagement being re-written. It is similar to that faced by US troops in Korea where I quote from Max Hastings excellent book ‘The Korean War.’
‘All those officers, those generals; they really thought that they were going to go over there and ‘stop the gooks’ – just the same in Vietnam. Just who ‘the gooks’ were, they didn’t know, and didn’t want to know. You could have asked any American senior officer in Korea: ‘who commands the Korean 42nd division, – ROK or communist – and what’s his background? He wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. A gook is a gook. But if the German’s had been the enemy, he’d have known.’
Thus, the troops and their equipment sent into these wars were fighting in the dark against new foes and new threats. The initial euphoria greeted by the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was short-lived. Commentators praised Dick Cheney’s policy of a slimmed down Netcentric force fighting at speed, moving across country, fighting and communicating on the move. Network Centric Warfare had arrived and it had worked, given the speed of the invasion and small casualties. The same had happened in Afghanistan with the earlier defeat of the Taleban. What was not recognised was the shortcomings of such equipment and tactics once the urban warfare scenario occurred. Advanced C4I systems did not work in built up areas and could not protect troops and equipment from the IED threat and mines. Supply convoys were routinely attacked and destroyed and the casualty figures began to mount. The 24 hour televised warfare, was enabled with embedded journalist with the troops, some of whom were also killed. This was the nightmare scenario the politicians dreaded, colour pictures of loved ones being killed in battle or brought back in coffins for all to see.
The reaction from Government and industry alike was fast and effective. Equipment Procurement timetables were torn up and changed as the bulk of the Procurements were based on equipment specifications taken from the war envisaged against the Russians on the North European Plain.
One chink of light was the ‘Lessons Learnt’ from the First Gulf War in 1991 and the changes made to vehicle specifications and troop’s equipment to include such basics as new air filters and air conditioning. However, many of these changes were languishing in the cumbersome procurement process. In addition, one of the ‘Lessons Learnt’ was the requirement for a ‘Medium Force’ of vehicles which could be flown into theatre accompanying the new Rapid Reaction Forces. These vehicles were equipped with light armour but complex C4I systems to protect them and enable war to be waged at a distance. Again, the rule books were torn up, as these vehicles became an easy target for the enemy terrorist offering little protection t