Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The latest casualty of the Iraq War

OTTAWA -- Canadian army officers are negotiating the purchase of as many as 100 surplus tanks from the German and Swiss armies, CTV News has learned.

The deal may yet fall through but, even if it does, the fact that army officers are contemplating a purchase that could more than double the number of tanks in the Canadian Forces represents a significant strategic shift, military analysts say.

As recently as 2003, military planners were proceeding to sell, dismantle and mothball Canada's tanks. The Liberal government of the day approved a $3-billion plan to replace Canada's fleet of 66 Leopard 1 tanks with lighter, faster and more mobile armoured vehicles.
Gee, what's happened since 2003? Oh, that's right, this:
The [US] Army has deployed a new troop transport vehicle in Iraq with many defects, putting troops there at unexpected risk from rocket-propelled grenades and raising questions about the vehicle's development and $11 billion cost, according to a detailed critique in a classified Army study obtained by The Washington Post.
The idea of light, mobile forces replacing heavy armor has died in the valleys of Mesopotamia just as surely as all the other fantasies that were used to sell that war. If Hillier sincerely has changed his mind on this matter, then I say good for him.

To put it more clearly, the value of lightly-armored, highly mobile forces is only even theoretically apparent if you don't intend to do any occupation. Otherwise, all you've got is lightly-armored targets, that are spending most of their time rolling slowly through urban streets.


wonderdog said...

John, you're just plain wrong here.

The use of heavy armour by an occupation force is just plain wrong-headed, and heavy armour is of limited utility in counter-insurgency operations. The more you protect yourself, the more vulnerable you become. Paradox number 1.

Canada needs to buy tanks because we don't have a viable tank force, and because our army has decided (and the point is debatable) that the tank is no longer obsolete. The evidence for that isn't from the occupation of iraq, but the invasion of Iraq.

john said...

That wasn't quite the argument I was trying to make - I agree that tanks are inappropriate for occupation duty. I realize, upon re-reading, that the post looks like I'm suggesting using tanks as counter-insurgency weapons. That wasn't my intent at all.

My point was simply that you can only even think about abandoning heavy armor if, like the US Army before Iraq, you believe the mission consists entirely of maneuver warfare and won't involve occupation at all.

If you conceive of that as your mission, then a system like the Stryker makes a great deal of sense. However - and this is what my last paragraph was meant to capture - if you intend to occupy, the equipment of the Stryker concept is insufficient to protect soldiers.

That doesn't mean we go with Abrams tanks - it means your strategies have to be different and more intelligent. Conceiving of force protection solely in terms of the equipment they have is from the realm of maneuver warfare, not occupation.

I realize I was unclear, but I don't think we disagree on much here.

BTW, my reading of paradox #1 was not that it was against a certain type of vehicle, but more about keeping the force integrated in the society you're supposedly protecting - not withdrawing to isolated bases, setting up checkpoints, making occasional forays with Humvees, and blasting the hell out of anything hostile.

wonderdog said...

Well, I'd say that paradox #1 involves just about everything that casualty-averse western armies do to try to reduce casualties to zero, from the vehicles they use to their tactics.