More than three dozen nations have been involved in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom – some in combat, some in support or training roles. But all – along with the rest of the world, which has been watching closely for the past decade – have accumulated significant lessons learned.
One of the most important has been the critical value of ground forces properly trained to employ high-capability equipment, from precision fire mortars to armored vehicles capable of withstanding rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), to a networked command and control system reaching from the highest headquarters to the individual warfighter.
“The difficulty with ground systems is it is changing so quickly,” noted Phil Finnegan, head of corporate strategies at The Teal Group. “There has been a spur to robotics due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, to help the military take care of IEDs. That has been a major development and presumably those niche applications will continue.”
According to “The Military Balance 2010,” produced by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, among the major Asian powers with no, or only a limited, non-combat role in Southwest Asia, China and Russia have dramatically reduced both manpower and main battle tanks (MBTs) in their armies since 1990. Japan, India, and both North and South Korea have remained fairly constant in troop numbers and North Korea in tanks, while Japan has reduced MBTs by about one-third and India and South Korea have significantly increased theirs. Even so, the vast majority, in all Asian armies, are classified as “not modern,” as also is the case with armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.
The two Koreas are roughly matched in most categories of land weapons – although the North has significantly more artillery, an area where it leads all Asian armies (although roughly equal to China). Despite major cuts across the board since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, Russia continues to have more total land weapons than the rest of Asia combined, with the largest disparity in tanks.
Throughout the world, but especially among those involved in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense ministries are putting more emphasis on upgrading and expanding their ground forces. While many have the industrial capability to produce standard weapons, however, most are turning to the United States, a handful of Western European NATO nations, China, and Russia for the bulk of their purchases – with the level of cutting-edge technology descending in that same order.
Many are marketing roughly comparable capability in one area that Forecast International has identified as among the highest demand items: light wheeled combat vehicles. Those generally are divided into three groups: armored personnel carriers (APCs), scout/reconnaissance vehicles, and armored security vehicles (ASVs).
“The most significant trend in the light wheeled vehicle market, however, involves the ‘family of vehicles’ concept, in which a modular common chassis design serves as the basis for a variety of combat vehicles,” according to Forecast’s 2010 report “The Market for Light Wheeled Vehicles.” “Several nations are pursuing sweeping force transformation initiatives. These programs represent efforts to develop families of lighter, more flexible combat vehicles.
“The international light wheeled vehicle market remains a highly competitive and dynamic environment. The Forecast International Weapons Group expects the market will produce about 50,850 light wheeled vehicles, worth nearly $16.534 billion, through 2019. We expect the HMMWV will account for 71.54 percent of all light wheeled vehicle production worldwide, worth a commanding 42.98 percent of the market value, through 2019.”
Based in part on its experiences fighting alongside NATO allies in Afghanistan – and despite budget constraints – the Romanian army, for example, is working to employ new standards for protection, survivability, and mobility. Central to that will be the acquisition of a new series of ASVs and APCs for perimeter support operations, recovery and evacuation, surveillance and target acquisition, and medical support missions.
The American-built “Humvee” has become the standard in this class, evolving from a light utility vehicle in the 1980s and ’90s to an armored combat platform during the past decade of war in Southwest Asia. However, even a new armored version with a heavier chassis provided inadequate protection against IEDs, leading to the development and rapid fielding of a far heavier mine-resistant, ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle.
More than 22,000 MRAPs were rushed into production to be fielded by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan between November 2007 and May 2012. About 30 percent of those will be a new second-generation MRAP all-terrain vehicle (M-ATV), making it the second most-produced light wheeled vehicle and third in market value (11.66 percent) worldwide through 2019, according to Forecast.
Several companies around the globe have produced MRAP designs, and demand for the vehicles, while now declining for U.S. forces, especially the Marine Corps, which initiated the requirement, is expected to remain high as other nations, especially in the Middle East and across Asia, seek to enhance their force protection. However, with more than 70 percent of the world’s bridges unable to bear the MRAP’s weight – which also severely restricts its transportability – it generally is seen as a short-term solution.
Whether a Humvee, MRAP, Ground Combat Vehicle (the planned replacement for the canceled U.S. Army Future Combat System manned ground vehicle) or other platform, such vehicles are seen as increasingly important not only to protecting land forces but also to providing the base for a more extensive linkage of individual warfighters into an overall battlespace network.
Both the United States and Europe are leading the way in that arena.
The French FELIN, an infantryman-integrated communications equipment system scheduled for operational deployment in late 2011, incorporates an electro-optical weapon sight, mini-computer display screen for real-time data updates, and voice recognition.
In Germany, the Infantryman of the Future program is working to enable troops to integrate directly with various combat vehicles to recharge individual components and use the vehicle radio to communicate with other units and higher command. Scheduled to begin delivery in 2012, it will enable German soldiers to connect, by voice and data, to a battle management system at the platoon level and below for the first time.
Meanwhile, the U.K., Switzerland, Spain, and the Czech Republic all have “future soldier” programs under way to enhance warfighter integration with land vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and kinetic firepower assets. By promoting core capabilities in command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I), systems such as Britain’s Future Integrated Soldier Technology – set for fielding within the next decade – will support combat commanders’ real-time situational awareness, including friendly and enemy troop locations.
As such capabilities are developed and fielded to land forces worldwide, the ability to synchronize the movement and actions, not only of individual nation warfighters but coalition forces – human and machine – is expected to substantially improve all aspects of combat operations.
Another trend seeing both individual nation and joint efforts is to equip ground forces with next-generation air defense capabilities – a global market that has been estimated at $28 billion through 2020. Forecast predicts some 30 companies around the globe will be involved in the production of approximately 80,000 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS).
Raytheon Missile Systems, which recently began low-rate initial production of its extended-range Standard Missile-6 air defense missile, has begun technical discussions with Czech defense electronics firm RETIA and Poland’s WZU Military Armament Works on upgrading Eastern Europe’s aging Soviet-built 2K12 Kub/SA-6 Gainful self-propelled SAM systems. Raytheon also is working with Rafael Armament Development Authority on the Stunner rocket defense array, as well as a terminal phase interceptor system to meet medium SAM requirements.
However, budget cuts for most of the world’s defense departments could mean a reduced global market for many of the newer, more technically advanced systems now in development or production, leading many nations to concentrate on upgrading legacy systems, such as the Kub/Gainful. Even nations where defense spending remains strong, such as Israel, could be affected by cuts in U.S. and European programs. On the other hand, international orders also may keep some programs and production lines going.
Russia, Poland, and Israel all are moving forward with new or upgraded short- and medium-range ground-based defenses, while Turkey continues to pursue acquisition of new low altitude point defense and medium altitude and long-range area defense systems.
For most of the world’s militaries, force projection much beyond their own land borders is not a major concern, making the ability to use existing infrastructure – such as bridges – far more important than moving equipment by sea or air. Speed, flexibility, and survivability, along with improved ground weapons firing range and lethality, are the key issues for most ministries of defense, even for nations boasting some level of air and sea power or even missiles or nuclear warheads.
India, for example, meets all those, but its major military threats are insurgencies and an ongoing conflict with Pakistan and potential confrontation with China: two of several bordering nations – most considered unstable – and both also nuclear powers. According to Ashley Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, that mix strongly affects India’s military force structure, especially “because India’s internal insurgencies, at least in some cases, have some external connection.”
“Substantial fractions of your military capacity have to be diverted from their proper external defense function to coping with what are internal threats. Because the internal insurgencies have some external links, you end up having to start thinking of at least how some of your military capabilities will be used not merely to defeat the insurgency, but also their foreign sponsors, and so both those elements become interactive in this process,” Tellis said at a Brookings Institute session on India in September 2010.
“The army faces the biggest burden on the first issue because internal insurgencies are manpower-intensive. It actually prevents the capitalization or the recapitalization of the Indian army because they simply cannot trade labor for machines because they need boots on the ground to support [the fight against] these insurgencies. But if you have to start thinking of dealing with the foreign sponsors or the foreign supporters of your insurgency, most of the contingencies that Indians think about today involve the use of military forces that are rapid, flexible, and don’t involve unnecessary escalation, which most people believe ground forces do. So the air power component [and] the naval components become relevant.”
For nations involved in border or small geographic conflicts, especially across Asia, a centerpiece of army operations has been artillery. A prime example was the 1999 Kargil conflict in Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
“During the Kargil episode, the artillery firepower became a battle-winning factor in ensuring that the will of the enemy was seriously degraded,” Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh, India’s army chief of staff, told the International Seminar on Artillery Technology in May 2010, adding that India is expanding and updating its artillery for extended range during the next 10 years.
India’s modernization efforts in that arena are expected to benefit the entire land combat industry, according to research firm Frost & Sullivan, as new artillery procurement increases worldwide.
Singapore, for example, recently acquired the 70-kilometer range High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and is pursuing new combat systems collaborations with New Zealand, where it performs artillery live-fire exercises.
In March, Sweden and Norway each ordered 24 Archer self-propelled 155 mm field howitzers and 24 resupply vehicles. BAE Systems Bofors AB is scheduled to deliver the guns, which can fire all types of conventional 155 mm international ammunition, including the U.S.-made Excalibur precision round, through 2013.
In an interview with Defence IQ, a division of the International Quality and Productivity Center, prior to speaking to the Armoured Vehicles Europe 2010 conference in August, Czech army Lt. Col. Jaromir Maresh, deputy chief of the Logistics Department at the University of Defense in Brno, raised another issue of growing importance to all armies – in-theater maintenance, including compatible parts.
“In theater, during missions, it’s necessary to acknowledge that the recovery of vehicles and the maintenance or repair of those vehicles must be looked into several times a day. But as we have experienced, there are problems with the compatibility of vehicle parts. It is also a challenge to transport immobile vehicles or tanks,” he said. “One [solution] is to have standard procedures for recovery and have current vehicles equipped with those additional necessary fixings. Another way is to ensure that the new equipment has components of sizes and shapes which are compatible with the equipment used by our NATO partners.
“One of the most essential things that needs to be emphasized is the economical viewpoint – dealing with the cost of operating equipment and how expensive is maintenance. I believe we should look at recognizing the basic feature of maintenance as being prevention. That said, the common aim that we all share is to operate with a minimal range of equipment, so as to ensure compatibility across units and allied nations.”
Despite unchallenged air and sea power, the United States and its allies have been at war in Southwest Asia for nearly a decade – not against the original governments and armies of Iraq and Afghanistan, which fell in a matter of weeks, but against insurgents and terrorists. It has largely been a ground war, with even air support limited by the urban nature of the fight in Iraq and the mountainous terrain in Afghanistan.
But terrorists and insurgents have become the primary military opponent worldwide, from the Philippines to Spain, the U.K. to Bali, Somalia to Chechnya. It is asymmetrical, irregular warfare, with an enemy who combines modern technology with handmade bombs, rockets with car bombs and suicide vests. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States and dozens of coalition partners have learned hard lessons in how to fight such a ground war – and developed new weapons, C4ISR systems, and tactics in the process.
While the potential for a major new state-on-state conflict remains, most militaries around the globe are investing in the types of armored vehicles, artillery, and other systems that can be applied to both a conventional fight as well as insurgencies and terrorist attacks.
In a March interview with Defence IQ, Peter S. Sapaty, director of Distributed Simulation at the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences, summed up the predicament facing armies all over the planet.
“It is no secret that the world’s mightiest armies are often powerless against terrorism, insurgency, or sea piracy, which are all using extremely flexible tactics and adaptable system organizations. It is becoming evident that classical military doctrines should be adapted, if not radically changed, to withstand these asymmetric situations and threats,” he said.
“First, any centralized resources – such as concentration of troops, ammunition, or communication facilities – should be avoided as much as possible. Second, existing interoperability and common awareness principles should be re-examined and reassessed, as they are potentially insecure and counterproductive in certain situations. Third, changeable subordination and adaptable command and control should be incorporated, as runtime derivatives from interactive mission scenarios should survive by any means.”
Accomplishing that will require technologies capable of integrating human and technical resources scattered throughout the battlespace – and beyond – creating global situational awareness, he added. They also should be capable of self-recovery from indiscriminate damage. And the tactical communications element must grow beyond centralized or interoperable capability to an ability to handle all requirements, from global to local, and support any level of communications or operation at any moment, seamlessly.
Extending that technology development trend to a point perhaps closer to reality than might be realized, could mean ultimately replacing the human warfighter.
“The formalization of mission scenarios will allow us to make a gradual transition to robotized up to fully robotic armies, under the same unified, organizational principles, where tactical communications will be taking place between manned and unmanned components, also entirely within intelligent robotic swarms,” Sapaty concluded. “These communications will have much more formal, compact and unambiguous forms than those currently existing in manned collectives.”
This article was first published in Defense: Land Forces Edition, Fall 2010.