Friday 12 November 2004

Reflections on Fallujah

Despite the anti-war rhetoric, the dire warnings of a "quagmire" and the predictions of a bloodbath for the US troops, militarily the battle of Fallujah has been a stunning success. and that success has enormous implications for British and EU defence policy.

When they come to study the battle, military strategists will note that the "home team" had the advantages of knowing the ground, had plenty of warning and thus time to prepare the defences and had an apparently unlimited supply of munitions, on top of the inherent advantage of fighting in a congested urban environment which has always favoured the defender.

They will note also that many hundreds of them died, that there were few coalition casualties and that the whole city was secured in less than a week after the troops jumped off.

On the face of it, the military success has to be a testament to the skill, tactics and equipment of the US forces, but what can “European” planners learn from the battle?

The first thing is – as we observed in a previous posting - was the key role of the Main Battle Tank. Working closely with the infantry, they were used to tempt the insurgents into battle, flushing them out in order that other arms could deal with them

Secondly, there was unprecedented employment of aerial surveillance, including the use of hi-tech unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with on-board video cameras, affording continuous observation of the battle area, giving real time intelligence on enemy movements. Integrated with satellite positioning information, the "intel" enabled directors to give immediate, accurate targeting data to a variety of assets, including ground attack aircraft and long-range artillery.

Thirdly, the complexity of the air war was staggering, as was the extraordinary range of air assets employed, ranging from Cobra attack helicopters, with their Hellfire missiles, AC130 gunships, F-18s and even B2s.

No fewer than twenty different types of aircraft were thrown into the fight and so crowded was the sky that they were layered in stacks above the city, directed by ten teams of ground controllers.

Then there was a negative factor. The much-vaunted Stryker Brigade, using the prototype vehicles that provide a model for the FCS/FRES concepts, were not much in evidence. The MBT and Bradley teams were in the front line - so-called "heritage" platforms - not the more modern platforms, casting serious doubts on the utility of light/medium weight armoured vehicles in urban warfare.

Nevertheless, what the success amounts to is that, as even The Times agrees, the Americans have rewritten the rules of urban warfare. But they have done more than that. They have rewritten the whole book on counter-insurgency and projected the "Europeans", with all their pretensions of a "defence identity", so far into the second league that they might just as well be equipped with bows and arrows.

Any idea that the Europeans, militarily or politically, can even begin to act as a counterweight to US power is strictly for the birds. Not even the combined weight of all the forces of all the EU member states, and not even the best of their technology, could they even begin to match the scale of the US achievement.

They are so far behind that, whether we are on our own or with the "Europeans", it makes no difference. Allied to the US, however, we are at least alongside a winning team. If we ratify the Constitution, however, that will firmly lock us out of that alliance and relegate us permanently to the second division.

Tuesday 9 November 2004

Cheap tanks, but no bargain?

Hot on the heels of the announcement of a new "triple alliance" between Spain, Germany and France, yesterday Schröder was in Northern Spain meeting his counterpart, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, for the 19th Spanish-German summit, alongside meetings of other ministerial counterparts.

One of the key issues raised, it appears, was the EU budget for 2007-2013, with Germany sticking to its stance that it wants an upper limit on expenditure of one percent of the community gross domestic product, against the commission's proposal of 1.14 percent.

This is a particularly sensitive issue for Spain as, since its accession in 1986, it has been the chief recipient of structural and development funds - currently worth some six billion euros annually - and is not keen to see any reduction.

But, while there was no meeting of minds on this issue, both countries have decided to "intensify existing defence co-operation", with German defence minister, Peter Struck, agreeing to lease to Spain on extremely generous terms 108 main battle tanks until 2016, whence the Spanish army will own them outright.

Spain also expressed a wish to increase co-operation with Germany via future acquisition programmes" in several fields, including the Eurofighter jet aircraft programme, naval communications and missiles for Tiger helicopters, while both Schröder and Zapatero spoke up for "advances in European security and defence policy" through greater integration at EU level.

From the school of "nothing is ever what it seems", one is hard put to understand why the Spanish would want 108 second-hand tanks (presumably Leopard IIs) from Germany, as there is neither a strategic nor tactical need for what amounts replacement tanks for an armoured division, when the whole concept of heavy armoured formations is considered obsolete.

Clearly, there is a strong element of gesture politics here. Germany has large numbers of tanks surplus to requirements, so the transfer will cost it little, but this will certainly cement Zapatero further into the "triple axis".

This may also have the side-effect of detaching Spain – once an enthusiastic member of Nato – further from the Atlantic alliance. If this is the true agenda, Spain will have sold itself very cheaply, but the price may be higher than it bargained for if the US takes the hint and walks away from the Alliance.

Wednesday 3 November 2004

Air wars

Despite the agreement of the EU member states to start accession negotiations with Turkey, a tense situation still exists between Greece and Turkey over alleged airspace violations.

With serious violations reported in this Blog in early October, Greece, according to Associated Press, yesterday complained to the EU and NATO about further alleged violations of its Aegean Sea airspace by Turkish jet fighters.

The Greek National Defence General Staff claims that three Turkish F-16s allegedly violated air space near the island of Rhodes, in one case involving the harassment of a Greek army helicopter.

In Ankara, the deputy head of the Turkish military said his country had just resumed flights over the Aegean Sea that had been interrupted during the Aug. 13-29 Olympics.

"In the months of August and September, as proof of its good will toward the Olympic Games in Greece, Turkey had cancelled planned military manoeuvres and had reduced routine flights to a minimum level," Gen. Ilker Basbug said.

He disputed Greek claims that Turkey was violating Greek rights, and said the flights were "indispensable in line with its rights and interests in the Aegean."

"Greek claims that Turkey has increased flights in the Aegean don't reflect the truth, and there is no extraordinary activity," Basbug said, adding that "Greece's flights in the Aegean are far more than those of Turkey."

AP notes that long-standing disputes over airspace and territorial rights in the Aegean have nearly led to three wars between the two NATO allies since 1974, not least because Greece says its national airspace extends to 10 miles but Turkey recognises only 6 miles - the same distance as territorial waters.

One really does wonder how two long-standing belligerents like this can really sit down to talk about accession, and whether Turkey is really serious about wanting to come to terms with Greece.

A small but possibly important "straw in the wind" came two weeks ago when Turkey declined to buy Eurofighters, which would have brought it closer into the EU defence orbit, and instead chose to upgrade its fleet of US-built F16s.

At the very least, this suggests that Turkey, or perhaps the powerful military, is hedging its bets.