By By Andrew Drwiega | August 1, 2013
Helicopter operations in the last decade have concentrated on counterinsurgency (COIN) operations and asymmetric warfare as witnessed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. By all reports they have got pretty good at it too. But by the end of 2015 the stated ambition is for all International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) to leave Afghanistan. Then what?
Contingency is the new watchword, at least in the UK and Europe. The definition of contingency in the Oxford English dictionary is: event that may or may not occur; unknown or unforeseen circumstances. Well I’m glad that’s clear then!
Several speakers at the Chief of the Air Staff’s Air Power Conference, organized by the Royal United Services Institute and staged in London July 17-18, had plenty to say on the matter – mostly as warnings. As western military forces move away from the known fighting in Afghanistan and move toward contingency operations, they are faced with rebalancing their skills. Partnership and forward basing are going to be key to contingency operations, noted Lt. Gen. Tom Jones, commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe/Africa. The sum of the parts will be better than any one of the individual pieces. Although interoperability is better now than it has ever been before, we will need to be able to respond quickly to contingencies, he said.
So contingency is being linked to forward basing, which in turn points to the need for forces to be ready to be deployable and to be able to sustain an operation away from home at short notice. But how can forces prepare for the unforeseeable. Sir John Scarlett, ex-chief of the British Intelligence Service (MI6) from 2004 to 2009, made a point that since the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, his organization had been busier than ever before supporting the military in continual conflict around the world. He also said that predicting what was going to happen next was not easy. The end of the Cold War (when it suddenly came), the Sept. 11 attacks, and even the war in Afghanistan had not been predicted within his organization.
Scarlett outlined four possible areas where conflict could occur. Inter-state conflicts could arise out of situations in Iran and the Gulf; North Korea; and the deterioration in the East China Sea (disputed with Japan). Disorder was focused on areas that included the Middle East and North Africa (Libya, Syria and Egypt), the cohesion of states with sectarian conflict such as Iraq and Syria, and sectarianism around the world in general. Thirdly he noted the dangers of barely governable or ungovernable states including Afghanistan, Mali, Yemen and Somalia. Finally, he noted that terrorism was in transition and while al Qaeda leadership had been significantly targeted, it had not gone away.
Discussing the role of industry and the procurement process in defense, Paul Cornish, a professor at the Strategic and Security Institute, Exeter University, made the point that in no other industry sector would slow procurement be regarded as the norm, adding that urgent operational requirements were costly and were also considered to be avoidable if at all possible. He added that in times of austerity, keeping all industrial options open was difficult to justify. A day later Phillip Dunne, Minister Defense Equipment Support and Technology for the UK MoD, confirmed this concept. He stated that not only should national government and industry collaboration needed to be tighter, but buying between state customers should be rationalized.
“There are a large number of companies in the military aerospace industry internationally, all looking to develop new platforms,” he declared, adding that he did not think that this current market position was sustainable. “The market will not support too much capacity in the longer term. There is scope over coming years for further rationalization in this sector to occur.” Dunne said that while he recognized that individual nation states wished to maintain their “indigenous productive capability … governments cannot afford to fund platform integrators in these industries in the absence of sufficient orders. Neither can we afford to ignore technological developments in other countries and pay to develop those same technologies from scratch within our own defense industries.” He suggested that a balance needed to be struck: “Our view is that we will take action to protect only those aspects of capability which we view is essential to our national security.”
Without doubt the financial cost of defense is now starting to shape military spending in a way not seen for decades. He alluded to the fact that nation states [particularly those in Europe] will now find it increasingly difficult to equip across the whole spectrum of operational requirement. “There is much we can do to shape better the international military aerospace sector to make it sustainable and responsive to our individual requirements, such as looking more closely at the concept of national specialization.”
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