“It’s a joy for me because I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think that I’m probably quite useful.” This observation by the UK’s Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, was made on his return to the UK after a four-month tour of duty as a WAH-64D Apache crewman. His summary included the admission that he had killed Taliban fighters by using his onboard weapons systems.
The admission triggered plenty of adverse press coverage—but it was an unnecessary point to make. The role of the Apache is to attack—and in the battleground that is Helmand Province in Afghanistan it would be rare, if not impossible, for an Apache crewmember to serve an entire tour without engaging the insurgents. Aside from stirring al Qaeda supporters to potentially escalate him on their priority target list—and that could mean he remains so for many years to come—it is worrying in that it shows how even a Prince can be desensitized to the killing process. Is this a natural progression to the growth in synthetic training, for if it is, it represents a worrying development. Dehumanizing the enemy is a strategy that rarely, if ever, works.
The advance of UAVs has been irresistible, but has resulted in more frequent claims of innocents being targeted and killed (perhaps by mistake, but that is not the point). “Hearts and minds” is still such an important factor in any military action. If you lose the support, or even just the acquiescence of the civilian neutrals, then even the daily task of patrolling becomes that much harder—never mind achieving the overall strategic objective. The advantage that the manned aerial force still has over the unmanned assets is wider situational awareness—the ability to analyze perhaps more thoroughly before “pulling the trigger.”
The march of video games and their contribution into synthetic training systems (which has been significant), while providing obvious benefits and cost savings to the training cycle, is dangerous in that it can distance the shooter (not only physically but mentally) from the responsibility of the killing process. And that can never be a good thing.
Glasnost Set Aside at Aero India
When journalists at Aero India in Bangalore, turned up to a press conference hosted by Victor Komardin, deputy general director of Rosoboronexport, they expected a briefing on trade and technology transfer as advertised in the invite. Instead they (the majority of whom were Indian media) were treated to a severe verbal attack for not, in Komardin’s words, praising Russia’s historic contribution to the Indian defense industry. He reeled off license after license agreement for fighter aircraft and other military equipment and accused the Indian media of not giving Russia “fair” coverage during the show.
However, when asked by one of the journalists why Rosoboronexport had not held a press conference, or given a press briefing during the show, as many other international exhibitors had done, he claimed that the contracts were secret and it was a matter for the Indian forces and government to brief journalists.
In this information-rich world to demand that the press write only positive stories that report historic successes, without giving information about current and future programs, is to misunderstand the role of the media.
His comments contained factual inaccuracies and exaggerations, stating at one point that only the USA, Canada and France operate the C-17, the replacement aircraft bought by the Indian Air Force to replace the Russian IL-76 (which was perhaps the reason for the ill-tempered tirade). In fact operators of the C-17 also number the UK (8), NATO (3), Qatar (4), the United Arab Emirates (6) and finally India (10). He also said the cost to India was around $10 billion, whereas the public figure is half that.
In fact the whole occasion harked back almost to a Cold War style attack on the U.S. arms industry: “The Mi-26 can take the Chinook by the collar” being one such statement. In contrast, Boeing has organized a half-hour media flight in the USAF’s Pacific Command C-17 to persuade them that their government had chosen wisely.
Russia has had a very long and profitable relationship with India’s defense forces. Recent acquisitions include an order at the end of last year for 30 Sukhoi SU-30 fighters and a further 71 Mi-17B-5 to add to the 200-plus variants that India already operates. As reported by the Times of India (Feb. 5, 2013), “Russian weapons account for about 70 percent of all military hardware in service with the Indian Armed Forces.” Without doubt Russia is facing increasing competition from western companies trying to fill the void in their business caused by the recession, but blaming the press for losing contracts isn’t the way to fight back.