Cyber Security & the British Army

Published on the British Army’s YouTube page today. The British Army takes all threats extremely seriously and is constantly working to safeguard its cyber security. Threats are always changing and becoming increasingly sophisticated. Cyber security is vital to the welfare and defence of the nation. The British Army is constantly working to improve its cyber defences. It is able to anticipate threats, assist in significant cyber incidents and can respond to cyber attacks. It is working with other nations and creating teams of dedicated experts.

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British Army Bayonet Training Manual, 1916

The following extracts are taken from a US-produced reproduction of the British Army’s Bayonet Training Manual revised in 1916 to take in to consideration the nature of the fighting on the Western Front of World War I. With the US declaring war on Germany and the other Central Powers on January 9th 1917, they looked to take advantage of the lessons the Allied powers had learned in the previous two and a half years and apply them to their own troops.

Source: Archive.org.


Is the Main Battle Tank obsolete?

This article was requested by Richard Reynolds of 20thCenturyBattles.com


Challenger II MBT update

Is the Main Battle Tank obsolete?

Few weapons can claim to have so dramatically changed the very nature of land warfare as the tank. Born out of the need to break the brutal stalemate of the western front in World War I, the tank went on to become an integral part of military planning in the inter-war years. When war with Germany looked set to erupt once more in the 1930s the French constructed the Maginot Line along its borders expecting another static war like twenty years earlier but the brilliant use of the tank by the German Wehrmacht (Army) rendered it totally ineffective and nothing more than a waste of precious resources. The tank was born in World War I but it was World War II where it truly came of age and some of the best tanks and tank commanders were forged.

The Second World War dramatically increased the pace of research in to tank design and in the span of just five years a wholly new generation of tanks emerged with thicker sloped armour, more powerful engines giving greater performance and dramatically more powerful weapons. These new tanks were put on the frontline of the Cold War as the victorious allies who defeated Nazi Germany now stared suspiciously at one another across the Iron Curtain. The Cold War would see even greater development of the tank with improvements in weapons (including guided missiles) and more advanced sensors and increased protection.

But.

The new technologies emerging during the Cold War also highlighted how the tank was becoming increasingly vulnerable and not just from other tanks. Hand-held anti-tank weapons were growing in sophistication at an alarming rate. Guided weapons such as the Soviet Army’s AT-3 “Sagger” Anti-Tank Guided Munition (ATGM) could be carried in a briefcase and was incredibly powerful for its time proving able to knock out nearly all types of Israeli tank in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Within NATO’s own armies, including the British Army, the concept of using small teams equipped with MILAN man-portable missiles performing hit-and-run attacks on Soviet tank columns gained favour as a way of weakening the numerically superior Soviets before the main British tank assault.

Westland Lynx British Army TOW Iraq

Lynx with TOW (Army-Technology.com)

Even more concerning for tank crews was the maturing of the helicopter as a tool for war. Initially seen as a logistical asset the helicopter quickly acquitted itself in an attack role and when combined with anti-tank weapons such as the aforementioned AT-3 it promised to nullify the tank as a weapon. Nowhere was this more dramatically proven than over the desert of the Middle East during the 1991 Gulf War. The AH-64 Apache armed with the Hellfire missile proved that just a single helicopter could devastate a column of tanks quickly and efficiently. Not to be outdone by their American allies, on February 26th 1991, a single Westland Lynx AH.1 from the British Army Air Corps’ No.654 Squadron destroyed two MTLB armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and four T-55 tanks using TOW missiles in what was the first recorded use of the missile in combat by British forces. It is important to note that the Lynx was not designed as a gunship like the Apache but rather was adapted for the anti-tank role which makes the engagement all the more spectacular.

While the Gulf War was seen as a triumph for American, British, French and other coalition tanks that devastated the Iraqi Army’s own vehicles when the ground war began it also seemed to highlight that the tank was no longer such a major influence on the battlefield since there was so many options with which it’s effect could be negated. Alternatively, the supporters of the tank argued that the Iraqi Army was technologically inferior to the coalition forces and that in a war against an enemy with technological parity then the tank would still be effective since the helicopter would be extremely vulnerable to enemy air attack and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

This argument raged among analysts and military planners throughout the 1990s. The fact that NATO became bogged down in peacekeeping operations in the Former Yugoslav Republic where the tank had little value did not help its case for survival and the breakneck speeds at which it was developed just ten years previously seemed to slow to a crawl. The tanks of the American and British armies saw a brief return to form when in 2003 they participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom; the invasion of Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein and his government. Already outclassed in 1991, the Iraqi Army’s tanks stood no chance against the modernised American and British forces who enjoyed almost every conceivable advantage on the battlefield. Following the end of the invasion, questions were raised about just how much of an impact the tank had in the victory since air power was the most deciding factor. The tanks provided fire support for ground troops against entrenched Iraqi positions but nothing more than what a number of other armed vehicles could do. Also, the tank proved to be of lessor value than Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) such as the American M2 Bradley and British Warrior when the fighting became an anti-insurgency affair.

So, is the Main Battle Tank truly relevant in 21st century warfare?

Mark V tankIn order to address this question we must first identify just what an MBT is. From the very genesis of the tank, engineers have had to cope with the limitations of the technology available to them. This meant that of the three main factors for a tank’s performance – agility, armour and armament – there was always some kind of compromise. A tank with heavy armament and armour would lack agility because the engines available at the time weren’t powerful to move them along at relatively high speeds. Similarly, fast tanks generally had a good gun but very light armour relying on their agility to make them difficult targets to hit.

As a result of this, during the inter-war years’ tanks fell in to two distinct categories. The first category covered fast, light tanks that would break through holes in the enemy’s lines using their speed to attack supply lines and cut off an enemy from reinforcements. The role was essentially a modern, mechanised version of the cavalry raids of old where riders on horseback would carry out a similar function. The second type of tank was on the heavier end of the scale and was designed to support a direct assault on enemy positions where often there would be enemy tanks to support their own troops. Known as infantry tanks, they had the heaviest armour and weaponry but lacked any real agility but since they were travelling at the speeds of the troops themselves this didn’t matter much.

World War II would dramatically highlight the limitations of this mixed concept. In the open plains of North Africa, the light tanks such as the American-built M3 Stuart performed quite well often having the speed to escape an unfavourable encounter with an enemy tank. However, in the narrow confines of the European battlefield that advantage was seriously negated and these light tanks suffered accordingly; their light armour also made them vulnerable to infantry weapons such as the dreaded Panzerfaust. Similarly, the heavier infantry tanks such as the British Churchill were harder to destroy and gave a far more credible performance against enemy tanks but ultimately even these behemoths would succumb to sustained enemy fire that they could not survive. This was true even of the famed German Tiger and King Tiger tanks which had a reputation of being unstoppable which only shielded a number of their weaknesses which experienced allied tank crews manning newer tanks took full advantage of in the last year of the war.

Centurion_cfb_borden_1

Centurion MBT

As the war progressed and the pre-war theories dissolved a new concept took form making use of the new technologies and engines that were becoming available and a number of tanks that appeared, most notably the Soviet T-34, managed to achieve an excellent balance of agility, firepower and armour in to one vehicle. In the UK, similar vehicles were on the drawing board by 1944 in what was termed as the “Universal Tank Concept” whereby the resulting vehicle would have the speed to carry out raids and escape from unfavourable actions yet still retain the firepower and armoured protection sufficient to support a full assault. The result was one of the best British tanks ever made – the superlative Centurion series which benefited from the full wealth of wartime experience and technological advancement. Other countries built their own universal tanks and by the dawn of the 1950s the term Main Battle Tank or MBT came in to use to describe them. Some MBTs continued to make some compromises in the post-war years such as the British Chieftain which emphasized firepower and armour over agility but even this had cross-country performance the previous generation could only dream of.

The Cold War years envisioned a nightmare scenario of vast numbers of Soviet tanks charging across western Europe which drove western countries to develop better and better tanks in order to maintain that qualitive edge. With this mind-set, the end of the Cold War left military planners wondering what role the MBT had anymore with no threat from the east and a bewildering array of weapons to destroy tanks. Western militaries re-evaluated their operating doctrines in the 90s with emphasis on rapid-deployment to crisis zones around the world. With a handful of exceptions these were often low technology affairs or civil wars such as Somalia and Bosnia where political sensitivities limited the use of armoured vehicles to Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs).

So just what role does the tank fulfil for modern armies in the second decade of the 21st century?

First and foremost, it remains a weapon with which to combat an enemy with their own MBTs. At any given time, most sources agree that there are around half a million MBTs across the world ranging from antiquated Soviet-made T-55s and their numerous Chinese variants up to the incredibly sophisticated tanks of the US, western Europe and Russia. The emphasis most armed forces places on air power to defeat an enemy’s tank force is dependent on attaining air superiority. Against a technologically equal or numerically superior enemy that may take several days to achieve limiting air power’s ability to make an impact on the battlefield. If ground forces are forced in to action before then, MBTs will have to engage one another.

British Army Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle Poland 2015

British Army Warrior IFV in Poland (yahoo news)

Much has been said about how a number of IFVs and APCs have been given a hefty punch with the fitting of Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) and large calibre guns but they still lack the protection of the heavily armoured MBT. The British Army’s Warrior IFV for example has armour that is only a fraction of the thickness of the 1950s-era T-55. This armour can of course be reinforced with Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) panels; brick-like devices mounted on the hull of the vehicle that explode when hit by a missile or shell to deflect its energy away. ERA has its own drawbacks however. Firstly, it can only be used once and afterwards leaves an area of the vehicle exposed to further, more fatal hits. ERA is also a danger to unprotected troops in the nearby vicinity since it sends shrapnel in many directions. This excludes the risk from the exploding shell or missile itself. An IFV taking on an MBT, even an old one, is therefore primarily a last resort if a formation of IFVs is attacked.

So, is the tank a weapon system limited to just one role?

The possession of a large or sophisticated tank force also contributes to the perception of national military strength and therefore forms a part of that country’s deterrence. To be perceived as being able to put up a credible or even superior performance in combat to one’s enemies goes a long way to actually stopping war from breaking out. This perception can also achieve political aims with a potential opposing nation fearing the consequences of trying to combat superior tank forces. In the last 10 years we have seen Russia exercising this type of foreign policy with growing frequency particularly regarding Georgia and the Ukraine although in Syria it was Russian air power that came to the fore.

The deterrence factor is both hard to judge and hard to quantify in to real world political, strategic and economic gains since there are so many other factors to consider as well. The threat of combat with the Russian Army’s tanks for example failed to achieve Russia’s aims regarding Georgia in 2008 forcing the Kremlin to commit troops in to combat. The deterrence factor also has an unfortunate side-effect in that if two ideologically opposite nations fear war with one another and one has superior tank forces then the weaker nation will strive to redress the balance. This produces an expensive arms race where one side will try and achieve superiority over the other even if that superiority exists on paper and is never put to the test as was the case with NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War.

So aside from being a counter to an enemy’s tanks are there any other missions the tank can carry out?

The modern tank, despite the public perception, is not the blunt instrument it once was. Modern tank guns can fire an array of different weapons for dealing with enemy forces ranging from the traditional High-Explosive (HE) rounds to shrapnel-based shells for use against infantry and unarmoured vehicles. Soviet tanks (and by association, Russian and eastern European) have utilised the main gun to launch ATGMs such as the 9K112 Kobra (AT-8 Songster) to out-range western tank guns for some time and some of the newer types have a limited anti-helicopter capability.

All these weapons can be used for their intended purpose and for clearing away fortified positions and countering obstacles to an army’s advance which was the very mission the tank was originally conceived for in World War I. This traditional infantry support role has in recent years taken on new importance in the world of so-called asymmetric warfare against terrorist or insurgent groups. During operations in Iraq following the 2003 invasion the US Army and Marine Corps utilised the M1A2 Abrams in just that kind of role as well as using its protection coupled with intricate sensors to carry out reconnaissance.

So is the Main Battle Tank the ideal weapon platform that can carry out these missions?

M1 Abrams Iraq crushed car

M1 Abrams (VSBattles)

Certainly not. In the asymmetric warfare scenario, the tank actually has certain disadvantages over IFVs and APCs such as the Warrior and M2 Bradley. Firstly, it is an extremely large vehicle which limits its ability to move through urban areas where much of the asymmetric combat takes place and where hostile forces have plenty of opportunities to find cover or approach unnoticed by a tank crew whose vision is quite limited. This leaves the tank vulnerable to attack using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and indeed a number of M1 Abrams were damaged or destroyed in this manner in Iraq. A potent reminder of the ingenuity of insurgent groups occurred on November 27th 2004 when an Abrams tank was significantly damaged from the detonation of a three 155 mm artillery shells buried in the road ahead of the MBT killing the driver located in the hull.

In urban combat the Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) and Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) have significant advantages over the MBT. Modern vehicles are armoured sufficiently enough to survive hits by weapons ranging from small arms fire up to light anti-armour weapons such as the Rocket-Propelled Grenade (RPG) launcher all of which are common tools of insurgent groups. They also tend to be smaller and therefore more agile and perhaps more importantly have space for carrying troops, supplies and evacuating wounded civilians. In terms of protecting the infantry in urban combat then air power in the form of helicopters is more potent than the MBT since the MBT is limited to line-of-sight engagement from the position of the troops whereas the helicopter can more easily relocate itself to get in to a better position for an attack and suppress long range hostile fire such as that from a mortar position.

The tank therefore remains first and foremost a weapon for battling an enemy equipped with tanks themselves but even when faced with enemy tanks there are questions over whether it is the best weapon system to deal with them. The nightmare scenario mentioned earlier where air power on both sides would cancel themselves out leaving tanks to battle it out is very unlikely and when exposed to air power the tank is very vulnerable despite advances in defensive technology such as ERA and IR suppression technology to blind the seekers of IR-guided missiles.

largeIt is still a big gun on the more conventional battlefield however that has its uses outside of engaging other tanks and so maybe the question is not so much if the MBT is obsolete but rather is it as prevalent a weapon in military planning as it once was? Given that the western military is geared up towards fighting the threat from ISIL the answer has to be no but if a more conventional conflict breaks out such as what could be expected on the Korean peninsula then used in conjunction with other air and land based assets it still has its place.

Excluding the tactical advantages and limitations of the MBT, in a world of drones and smart munitions the tank reminds us and by association our politicians of a time where war on the evening news didn’t resemble a sterilised video game. It trundles along in the mud in close quartered combat where casualties are almost unavoidable; something that is quite distasteful to politicians hoping to keep their jobs. Western politicians have in recent years done all they could to avoid putting troops on the ground, arguably to the detriment of the military goal, preferring to put drones and fast-jets in to the air to bomb an enemy force in to submission.

Against such a backdrop the MBT may never take prominence to such an extent as it once did but for the foreseeable future no modern army can risk not having it in its arsenal.

 

 

 

The First British Fighter Pilots

During the summer of 1912 the British Army based at home in Britain conducted their annual military exercises to hone skills and test new techniques. As normal, two opposing forces were assembled to “fight” each other designated Blue Force and Red Force but in 1912 both sides were given an air component from the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The RFC was barely out of the womb having been formed on April 13th of that year and the small cadre of pilots were keen to show their stuff. With the aircraft themselves being very primitive the only real mission they could carry out was reconnaissance and so the pilots went about tracking the “enemy” forces as they made their way to the battlefield. This gave an unparalleled view of the tactical situation to the opposing generals whose orders were given based on the intelligence the new-fangled machines offered. In fact, it was an aeroplane that allowed Blue Force to defeat Red Force when a Blue aircraft spotted a concentration of enemy troops and reported them back to the Blue Force commander, Lieutenant-General Sir James Grierson. Grierson was therefore able to meet them on more favourable terms for his own side which led to his men’s success.

Despite this there was still a lot of scepticism in the Army about the importance of military aircraft in the wake of the exercise, especially amongst officers assigned to Red Force, but Grierson immediately recognised both the advantages and the dangers they brought to the battlefield. With remarkable foresight he wrote of the aircraft’s role in the future;

So long as hostile aircraft are hovering over one’s troops all movements are likely to be seen and reported. Therefore, the first step in war will be to get rid of hostile aircraft.

Wright flyer machine gun

Wright brothers with their armed Military Flyer (Wright-Borthers.org)

Unwittingly, Grierson had in a sense made some of the first comments on the importance of control of the air above the battlefield before the term “air superiority” came in to common usage. In America, Britain, France and Germany experiments were already being carried out to arm aircraft for combat with even the Wright Brothers themselves suggesting a machine gun could be fitted to their revolutionary Wright Flyer – the very first true aeroplane! However, the experiments were still largely experimental when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 sparking World War I. Thus the armies of Entente (Britain and France) met the Germans and Austro-Hungarians with aircraft carrying out their vital reconnaissance role and just like in 1912 they were proving very good at it.

The need to take down enemy fliers was obvious and some airmen became obsessed with finding ways to do just that. Some pilots in the field experimented with all kinds of possible methods to deprive the enemy of the advantages of flight the most legendary of which was the grappling hook method whereby one plane would attempt to snag the wings of an enemy plane as it passed over it. While almost comical now, the aim of bringing down enemy fliers was no joke to these men and the first aircraft to be deliberately brought down by another in combat was actually the result of a ramming by a Russian pilot on 8th September 1918 of an Austrian reconnaissance plane.

The obvious answer of course was to take a gun up and shoot the enemy plane to either disable its engine or kill its pilot but this brought a whole host of problems with it since the machines were not suited to combat or carrying heavy weapons. As a stop-gap measure pilots and their observers carried pistols and rifles with which to shoot at any enemy planes they may encounter while carrying out their reconnaissance duties. This was an extremely difficult task for even the best shot. The aircraft were hardly stable gun platforms and the target aircraft was often manoeuvring in three dimensions and returning fire with their own rifles.

It would be two Frenchmen who would be credited with the first air-to-air victory using aerial gunnery. On 5th October 1914, Joseph Frantz and his observer Louis Quenault flying a Voisin LA fitted with a machine gun attacked a German reconnaissance plane sending it crashing to the ground. The French machine was hardly suited to the fighter role and the weight of the crew and the gun severely restricted performance but true air combat had, somewhat clumsily, been born.

The Royal Flying Corps were already well in to developing the first dedicated fighter aircraft in the shape of the Vickers FB ‘Gun Carrier’, a pusher-plane with a machine gun mounted in the nose but it would not be ready for deployment to France until mid-1915. In the meantime, the RFC’s reconnaissance planes such as the Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2 and the Avro 504 had to rely on the observer firing the standard infantry weapon, the Lee-Enfield .303 bolt action rifle, at any enemy planes they might encounter. The comparatively small number of aircraft available to both sides in the early days of the war meant that there were few encounters and when there were it would often end with both sides running out of rifle rounds and then resorting to waving as they both turned for home.

Avro 504

Avro 504 (Ed Coates)

That changed on 25th August 1914. No.5 Squadron RFC was operating Avro 504s from an airfield at La Cateau in Northern France and amongst their number was Second Lieutenant C. W. Wilson and Lieutenant Euan Rabagliati. On this particular day, news fed back to La Cateau that a German aircraft, a Taube, had been spotted by ground forces to the south of the airfield. The squadron’s commanding officer, Major John Higgins, ordered Wilson and Rabagliati to take off in their Avro 504 and go after it. The terms “scramble” or “Quick Reaction Alert” had not yet been brought in to existence within British military aviation but this sudden launching of aircraft to intercept an enemy machine was very much in that spirit. The aircraft lifted off with Rabagliati in the observer’s seat armed with his Lee-Enfield and over one hundred rounds of ammunition.

Taube aeroplane

Taube aeroplane (commons.wikimedia)

Proceeding south towards the last known position of the Taube, the two British airmen must have known that their chances of shooting down the German plane were slim to say nothing of finding it in the first place; once airborne they were out of contact with the observers on the ground who first spotted the aircraft. Their Avro 504 chugged its way south with both men scouring the sky with their eyes looking for the unique shape of the German-built Taube and soon they spotted their bird-like quarry soaring almost majestically over the British side of the lines. Given the slow speeds of the two aircraft (less than 80mph) any attempt to sneak up on the German was futile and it was not long before the solitary pilot spotted the British biplane coming towards him.

The first dogfight between a British and German aircraft was about to begin.

The German pilot was no beginner and knew enough that he lacked the speed to outrun the 504 and if he flew straight and level then he would make himself a tempting target for Rabagliati with the rifle. He therefore took out his Mauser pistol fitted with a wooden stock and turned in to the direction of the British aircraft. The two planes began circling each other like two lions battling to be the alpha of their pride while both the German and Rabagliati exchanged fire with their respective handheld weapons. A pattern was set whereby the two aircraft flew in tight circles to keep the other from getting a clear shot while exchanging fire as the distance closed and reloading as the distance opened. At more than one point, in the heat of the fight, the two planes came unnervingly close to colliding but even at this distance hitting one another was frustratingly difficult and after expending nearly all his ammunition Rabagliati knew he only had a few shots left before they would have to disengage.

Then suddenly, after discharging yet another .303 round at the German with the hefty rifle the German aircraft pitched upwards before the nose dipped forward. Rabagliati saw that the pilot, having been hit by one of his rounds, had slumped forwards on his controls sending the Taube in to its final descent to Earth. It crashed ahead of an advancing British infantry unit which rushed to the scene of the crash and confirmed the pilot was dead. As such Rabagliati is credited as scoring the first British air-to-air victory but it had been a close call; an ammunition check upon his return to La Cateau showed he had astonishingly fired over 100 rounds with his bolt action rifle during the battle.

Army recruitment reverse psychology

The British Army’s latest recruitment drive involves a series of TV adverts that seem to employ reverse psychology as they carry the slogan Don’t join the British Army. The advert aims to tackle all those who may wish to have a military career but feel like everyone around them is against the idea; something that is surprisingly common.

The Face of Madness

Shell shocked soldier in the trenches 1916

The First World War was a breeding ground for psychological trauma. Standing in what were effectively holes in the ground with artillery barrages raining down around them, even the toughest men could break under the strain.

This haunting image was taken in September 1916 at the Battle of Courcelette. The unidentified soldier has lost all perception of reality having retreated in to his own mind hence the maddened smile. Called “Shell shock” at the time, today it would be labelled as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and while it does gain wider recognition today it is still a major factor affecting forces personnel returning from combat duty.

The man in this image represents a very extreme case although “Shell shock” manifested itself in many ways.

(Image sourced from Historicalphotos.com)