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International Land Forces

Trends and Developments

The waning days of 2009 provided what could be a prototypical glimpse of international land force trends and developments for the next few years.

United Kingdom

On Dec. 15, 2009, U.K. Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth announced plans “to reprioritise Defence spending to help achieve success in Afghanistan, the top military priority, and balance the books …”

“Like all Government Departments, the MOD [Ministry of Defence] is facing challenging financial pressures,” the announcement noted. “At the same time, our forces on operations remain the top priority and the Department is committed to ensuring that our personnel in Afghanistan have the resources they need both now and in the future.”

MOD sources note that U.K. troops are in Afghanistan as part of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which includes military personnel from 42 other countries, adding, “We are there at the invitation of the democratically elected Afghan Government, under an endorsed UN [United Nations] mandate to maintain security, build legitimate governance, and promote economic development.”

RAF CH-47 Chinook HC2 (code ZA707) a few feet off the ground on its departure from the 2009 Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford, Gloucestershire, England. The MoD plans to buy another 22 Chinooks to fill transport needs. Photographed by Adrian Pingstone

The announcement described a £900 million (approximately $1.46 billion) package of enhancements designed to improve troops’ safety and operational capability over the next three years. The enhancements include 22 new Chinook helicopters (with the first 10 arriving during 2012/13); an additional C-17 aircraft to strengthen the supporting air bridge to the deployed land forces; further improvements to counter-IED capabilities, particularly intelligence and analytical capability to target the networks; increased funding for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities, doubling Reaper capability; an improved dismounted close-combat equipment package – making equipment such as state-of-the-art body armor and night-vision goggles available to 50 percent more troops so they can train with them before deploying to Afghanistan; more Bowman tactical radios and patrol satellite systems to improve communications between troops and their commanders and an additional £80 million (approximately $130 million) for communications facilities for U.K. Special Forces; improvements to defensive aids suites and support arrangements for the C-130J Hercules fleet to maximize their use; and a further £280 million (approximately $454 million) from the reserve to pay for additional vehicles, weapons, communications, and surveillance assets.

The announcement noted that the spending enhancements are being balanced by a range of “difficult decisions,” including a decrease of 2,500 service personnel not critical to current operations, reduction in the number of Harriers, early removal of Nimrod MR2 reconnaissance and maritime patrol aircraft from service, and the early service withdrawal of one survey ship and one minehunter.

 

An MXT Husky Tactical Support Vehicle. Photo courtesy of Navistar

The redirected funding will also deliver new vehicles, including a 31 percent increase in Husky tactical support vehicles and a 40 percent increase in Jackal vehicles deployed to Afghanistan, as well as additional equipment to combat the IED threat, including more than 400 hand-held detectors, robots, and other items of equipment.

The Husky and Jackal noted in the U.K. announcement provide clear evidence of global trends that parallel U.S. efforts toward balancing tactical mandates of “the iron triangle” of mobility, survivability, and performance/lethality in modern vehicle fleets.

Husky, for example, is a new protected 4×4 support vehicle that provides commanders with a highly mobile and flexible load-carrying platform. Part of the U.K.’s Tactical Support Vehicle program, it has been designed for a range of Afghanistan missions, including transporting food, water, and ammunition, and acting as a command vehicle at headquarters. In addition, some vehicles will be fitted out as protected ambulances.

As a high-mobility weapons platform, the Jackal 4×4 is used for reconnaissance, rapid assault, fire support, and convoy protection missions. A unique air bag suspension system allows rapid movement at speeds up to 80 miles per hour, as well as movement across rugged terrain.

A Jackal 2 M-WMIK in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Supacat.

The new Jackal 2 design, from vehicle manufacturer Supacat, provides U.K. land forces with enhanced levels of crew protection, reliability, maneuverability, and capacity.

In April 2009, the MOD announced an order to Supacat for approximately 110 new Jackal 2 vehicles and more than 70 Coyote Tactical Support Vehicles (a 6×6 derivative of the Jackal). Initial deliveries occurred during the summer, with the platforms slated for late 2009 initial deployment to Afghanistan.

At about the same time that the award announcement was being made, U.K. land forces were also conducting the initial deployments of their two newest armored vehicles: Mastiff 2 and Ridgeback.

Equating to the U.S. Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, Mastiff 2 is a heavily armored, 6×6 wheel-drive patrol vehicle, carrying eight troops plus two crewmen, that joined operations in June 2009. Ridgeback is a slightly smaller platform, designed for greater maneuverability and easier urban operations. Both vehicles are based on the U.S. Cougar vehicle platform, made by Force Protection, with U.K. integration work performed by NP Aerospace.

Yet another example of the continuing tactical vehicle trend of balancing mobility, firepower, and survivability surfaced in mid-November 2009, with the arrival of the first of a new fleet of U.K. Warthog vehicles.

The MOD has bought more than 100 Warthog amphibious vehicles, which will be used in Afghanistan’s Green Zone to support British troops, from Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK). Thales U.K. is installing U.K.-specific equipment.

 

A Mastiff MRAP-type vehicle, of the type being procured for the British Army. Note the slat or “cage” armor employed against hollow-charge RPGs. Photo courtesy of UK MoD.

According to program descriptions, Warthog can wade through water and carry up to 12 troops within improved levels of protection. The highly agile, all-terrain vehicle will be able to climb steep gradients, cling to severe slopes, tackle vertical obstacles, and cross wide trenches. Modifications including additional armor, specialist electronic countermeasure equipment, and communication tools will be added before the vehicle is deployed to Afghanistan early in 2010.

Along with optimizing the iron triangle for tomorrow’s land force platforms, U.K. planners are focused intently on the digital mandates of modern tactical operations. Examples of critical digitization efforts include: Defence Information Infrastructure-Future (DII[F]), providing a single network-enabled capability from headquarters to operational areas; the Army Tactical Computer System (ATacCS), providing the Army with a local and wide area network-based command and control system across the battlespace; and the Joint Operational Command System (JOCS), brought into service a decade ago, providing digitized tools for controlling joint operations.

Australia

Australia’s 2009 Defence White Paper sets out the government’s priorities to meet the challenges of the future out to 2030.

While the U.K. announcement points to financial realities mandating the difficult tradeoffs noted, Australia’s Minister for Defence Joel Fitzgibbon opens the Rudd Government’s White Paper acknowledging, that it “was developed in the shadow of a global recession,” but emphasizing, “The Government has demonstrated the importance it puts on our national security by not allowing the financial impact of the global recession to affect its commitment to our long-term Defence needs. This White Paper produces a substantial additional investment in the capability of our Navy, Army and Air Force. Force 2030 will be capable of dealing with a wide range of contingencies that Australia may be required to face in the future.”

An Australian CH-47 arrives with vital supplies including an engine for a Bushmaster at the construction site of a bridge destroyed by Taliban extremists. Along with studying upgrades and enhancements for the ASLAV, the Australian DoD is procuring more of the vital Chinooks. Photo courtesy of Australian Army.

That is not to say that the paper ignores global and domestic financial realities. Specifically, it projects “real growth in Defence funding, which will be assisted by a Strategic Reform Program that will deliver significant savings across the Defence Department.”

In terms of land force developments, the paper noted, “The White Paper recognises the central role that the Army will continue to play in the defence of Australia and its interests in a dynamic strategic environment.”

“The Army will now be able to make up to 10 battalion sized ‘battlegroups’ that will be drawn from both combat and combat support units,” it adds. “The Army will continue to maintain three combat brigades of around 4,000 troops each.”

Addressing areas of land force protection, mobility, and communications, Australia intends to: Buy “around 1,100” new armored combat vehicles to provide greater protection to troops; replace the fleet of trucks and other transport vehicles with a mix of “around 7,000” new vehicles; upgrade tanks and buy new and more effective weapons for ground troops; invest in a range of non-lethal equipment to provide troops on operations with greater flexibility and protection, including tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun guns; purchase new tactical remotely operated surveillance planes (UAVs) to improve the ability of commanders to watch over the battlefield; purchase seven new CH-47F Chinooks (these will assist the Tiger gunship helicopters, which hunt and destroy, as well as the soon-to-be-introduced MRH-90 troop transport helicopters); purchase new mobile artillery “that can fire with greater precision than ever before”; improve language and cultural training to better prepare troops for operating in close contact with local communities in areas of operations; provide the best training and equipment to Special Forces “to ensure they maintain their renowned combat edge”; and prepare the Incident Response Regiment within Special Operations Command to “become better able to react quickly to the threat of weapons of mass destruction.”

The MRH-90 being procured by the Australian DoD will fly alongside the Eurocopter Tiger and Chinook as the main elements of the rotary-wing fleet. Photo courtesy of Australian Army.

Obviously, some of the substantial white paper programs identified for the 2030 time frame could not be included in current funding specifics. However, in parallel with that White Paper, the Australian Government also released a public version of its 2009 Defence Capability Plan (DCP), which addresses many of the major capital equipment proposals that are currently planned for government consideration (either first or second pass approval) in the period 2009 to 2013.

One representative DCP program, designated “Land 17,” involves the enhancement of the Australian Army’s indirect fire support system through the replacement of the 105 mm L118 “Hamel” and 155 mm M198 fleets, now approaching end of service life consideration, with a mix of towed and self-propelled 155 mm guns. It is expected that the new modernized capabilities will be characterized by greater tactical responsiveness, higher tactical mobility, greater autonomy, and enhanced survivability. Years of decision for the specific project scope are expected for 2009/2010 to 2010/2011.

Another identified DCP example, “Land 53,” has the goal of augmenting Australian Defence Forces night fighting equipment, including night vision goggles, sights, and aiming devices, as they reach the end of their service lives.

Australia’s DCP also outlines enhancements to the Australian Light Armored Vehicle (ASLAV) fleet under project “Land 112.” Described as a “survivability enhancement and mid-life upgrade” to the ASLAV, the multi-phased Australian Army proposal began with the acquisition and evaluation of 15 Light Armored Vehicles (LAV) from the U.S. Marine Corps and was followed by the additional acquisition/initial fielding of well over 100 wheeled LAVs. Project focus has now shifted to potential platform enhancements to improve vehicle survivability against current and future threats.

Under another vehicle project example, “Land 121,” planners seek to provide land forces with light protected vehicles and trailers for command, liaison, utility, and reconnaissance roles. While initial acquisitions are already under way for the multi-phased effort, Australia also joined in early technology development efforts for the U.S. Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program, with future decisions on related courses of action likely to be made in the 2010-2011 time frame.

Initial operational capability dates for all of these projects are currently projected for the 2014-2016 time frame.

Additionally, in the same way that the U.K. military planners recognize and meet the critical need to expand ongoing digitization/situational awareness capabilities of its land forces, Australia’s parallel recognition is seen in GCP land projects like “Land 146” (Combat Identification for Land Forces), “Land 125”/Phase 3A (Soldier Enhancement – C4I Component), and the joint project “DEF 7013,” development and evolution of a Joint Intelligence Support System.

China

Another international land force that has reflected the results of a significant modernization push over the last year is China.

In its own July 2009 White Paper, China’s Ministry of National Defense highlighted the development of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from its 1927 founding through 2008, noting that recent years had witnessed movement in thinking from regional defense to transregional mobility, reflecting “strategic requirements of mobile operations and three-dimensional offense and defense.”

A Chinese ZBD97 IFV, with a Type 07 122 mm self-propelled gun in the background, during China’s 60th anniversary military parade, Sept. 6, 2009. More than four dozen types of new weapon systems were displayed during the parade. Photo courtesy of GadgetDan, Beijing, via Wikimedia.

The PLA overview described a land force “gradually making its units small, modular and multi-functional in organization through appropriate downsizing and structural reform,” adding that it is “… accelerating the development of aviation, light mechanized and information countermeasure forces, and gives priority to the development of operational and tactical missile, ground-to-air missile and special operations forces, so as to increase its capabilities for air-ground integrated operations, long-distance maneuvers, rapid assaults and special operations.”

In addition, a parallel emphasis on “informationized” warfare by Chinese defense planners points to the expansion of global C4I activities.

Specifically, the Chinese White Paper identified a continuing promotion of a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) “with Chinese characteristics,” within the PLA, describing the RMA as establishing “the military strategic guideline of active defense for the new era, based on winning local wars in conditions of modern technology, particularly high technology. It began to adopt a strategy of strengthening the military by means of science and technology, and a three-step development strategy in modernizing national defense and the armed forces, and promoted the coordinated development of national defense and economy. Regarding RMA with Chinese characteristics as the only way to modernize the military, it put forward the strategic goal of building an informationized military and winning informationized wars. Driven by preparations for military struggle, it accelerated the development of weaponry and equipment, stepped up the development of the arms and services of the armed forces, as well as forces for emergency mobile operations, optimized its system and structure, and reduced the number of personnel by 700,000. As a result, its capability of defensive operations increased remarkably.”

The accelerated development of weaponry and equipment developed through the RMA was further highlighted on Oct. 1, 2009, in a Beijing military parade celebrating “the 60th anniversary of the founding of New China.” Displayed during the parade were more than four dozen types of new weapon systems developed with Chinese technologies, including new unmanned aerial vehicles.

Another example of expanding land force capabilities surfaced two months later, with reports that China will produce its next generation of main battle tank, likely to have only two crew members, with enhanced information capabilities allowing the platform to launch attacks in “all dimensions” while performing self-defense “in all directions.” The high technology platform noted could theoretically replace the current state-of-the-art Type 99 main battle tank.

However, as significant as these PLA materiel developments have been, an equally significant trend for Chinese land forces appears to be surfacing in recent military exercises that have emphasized real-world likelihoods, including military operations other than war. By late 2009, Chinese media had reported on at least 18 exercises during the year that involved PLA participation.

Reflective of the new strategic environment were several exercises focused on military operations other than war (MOOTW), including the “Great Wall 6” national anti-terrorism exercise, a series of mid-2009 drills in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and Shanxi and Hebei provinces.

Moreover, selected Chinese PLA elements participated in a number of international exercise and operational “firsts,” including: Chinese special operations troops participating in a multinational maritime military exercise in Pakistan; a China-Gabon joint humanitarian medical operation; joint security training with foreign troops in a Sino-Singaporean exercise; a China-Mongolian peacekeeping exercise; and a Sino-Russian joint anti-terrorism exercise.

Based on these and other developments, it appears that China’s land forces are no longer simply “poised” for broader global participation, but rather are already expanding that participation on a regional and multiregional basis.

Collective Security Treaty Organization

The CSTO flag. Image courtesy of Russian Federation.

In addition to the joint Sino-Russian anti-terrorism exercises noted, a growing global interest in anti-terrorism is also being reflected in an increasing number of multinational scenarios. One recent regional example involved the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), with member states Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

At CSTO’s Moscow summit meeting in February 2009, organization members decided to establish a Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF) contingent, with the goal of “protecting member states’ territorial integrity and sovereignty, guarantee security and respond to large-scale crisis situations in member countries.”

Initial late summer preparation meetings at CSTO joint staff headquarters in Moscow were followed by a second phase, at the end of September, held as part of the Zapad 2009 strategic exercises in Belarus. A third stage, held at Kazakhstan Matybulak Training Ground, featured a CRRF facing an armed group that had seized control of a chemical plant.

The resulting “Cooperation 2009” exercise required the CRRF contingent to destroy the hostile elements. Up to 7,000 servicemen, together with more than 300 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and aircraft were engaged in the October 2009 event.

Russia’s participation was represented by a brigade of paratroopers, an artillery brigade, and air force and Emergency Situations Ministry units. Responding at a press conference after witnessing the event, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev characterized the exercise as “a landmark event in the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s development and in our cooperation in general.

“What did we see today?” he asked. “We saw how the different units work together in field operations: the combined arms units, interior ministry forces, and units from the emergency situations ministries. Everything took place in real combat conditions. This is our response to the threats our countries face today: terrorism, which knows no borders, drug trafficking, religious radicalism, and other threats we all confront today.”

He added, “I therefore think these exercises are a new step in building up our capability to respond to today’s threats, a new step in developing our Collective Rapid Reaction Force to respond to the threats coming from complicated regions in Central Asia and other places. This will also certainly take us further along the road to integration in general.”

Certainly the activities and events noted here provide just small snapshots of global land force developments. Those snapshots range from new generations of tactical vehicle platforms balancing mobility, protection, performance, and lethality to the need for enhanced communications and digitization to realistic training scenarios focusing on real-world threats. However, the snapshot examples were selected to serve as representative of many emerging and accelerating trends and activities taking place around the world. Taken together, they represent a timely story – one that has changed and will continue to change in the face of a changing international environment.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...