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Thread: Moving the Rhod. Fire Force concept to Afghanistan?

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    Thumbs up Moving the Rhod. Fire Force concept to Afghanistan?

    Moderators Note: This is a new thread started as a thread http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ead.php?t=9069 on Presence Patrolling developed into a new theme. Several posts moved here.


    In response to my question "...RLI fire force at the height of the war 84%. Can you venture a guess as to why this stat may be significant?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    It was important to you because you were there, it was important to Rhodesia due to the relative numbers on both sides and it is important as a statistic because it applies to one war in one nation at one time. Can Fire Force tactics be replicated in, say, Afghanistan today? No.
    No, the kill rate is important in any war. If you keep killing 80 odd % of all enemy contacted you keep beheading their leadership and do not allow a build up combat experience. It is exponentially better than anything around or below the 10% mark. All armies in all wars should strive to improve their kill rate per contact as the benefits are self evident.

    Can the Fire Force be replicated? I don't know and certainly you don't know. As far as I am aware it has not been given any serious thought. I'm sure at some point (probably too late to be of assistance) it will be considered.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 06-27-2010 at 04:02 PM.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Wrong again...

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    No, the kill rate is important in any war.
    Obviously. Further and as you know, that rate is subject to numerous variables and to fudging. IIRC, that quoted Fire Force rate has been called by 'inflated' some who were present. I have no intention of debating that as it is, as I said, broadly irrelevant to this thread.
    Can the Fire Force be replicated? I don't know and certainly you don't know...
    As a matter of fact, unlike you, I do know. It is not broadly replicable in Afghanistan for several reasons -- even though variations on it are being conducted constantly and have been since 2001. There are many helicopter assaults and a number of small parachute assaults. Note also there is little in the news media about those operations...

    Fire Force will not be broadly replicated in Afghanistan for two reasons. The US Army is too risk averse and the operational methodology has limited utility in the effort in Afghanistan as it is currently structured (that could change and the techniques can be used as needed as they are today -- but it is unlikely to change to include large scale use, there simply is no need). Both those reasons are driven by the fact that there is no overarching national interest in the war of choice, not existential, that is Afghanistan today.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Obviously. Further and as you know, that rate is subject to numerous variables and to fudging. IIRC, that quoted Fire Force rate has been called by 'inflated' some who were present. I have no intention of debating that as it is, as I said, broadly irrelevant to this thread.
    I would love to know who these "some" were.

    There was no incentive to inflate the kills and in any event the Selous Scouts pseudo teams would have pretty accurate numbers on who fire force was called out on. They would say they have a group of 20 for us and we would respond. and at the end of the day there were 17/8 bodies that is what went into the SITREP. Quire simple.

    These are Selous Scout figures that I only came across years later. On the ground we took each call-out as it happened, one at a time. Stats were not our game at the time. What we did realise was that we had one real chance to get that insurgent on that given day and we went for it as best we could.

    As a matter of fact, unlike you, I do know. It is not broadly replicable in Afghanistan for several reasons -- even though variations on it are being conducted constantly and have been since 2001. There are many helicopter assaults and a number of small parachute assaults. Note also there is little in the news media about those operations...

    Fire Force will not be broadly replicated in Afghanistan for two reasons. The US Army is too risk averse and the operational methodology has limited utility in the effort in Afghanistan as it is currently structured (that could change and the techniques can be used as needed as they are today -- but it is unlikely to change to include large scale use, there simply is no need). Both those reasons are driven by the fact that there is no overarching national interest in the war of choice, not existential, that is Afghanistan today.
    Come on Ken. Clearly you know next to nothing about the fire force concept. The fire force concept is neither straight forward heli-borne assault nor is it merely a parachute drop. It took us years to figure out and then perfect.

    By risk averse do you mean they don't want a helicopter shot down?

    And yes the situation on any battlefield is fluid so yes things could change which may require a change of tactics. So maybe it was not correct to say the fire force concept "will not be broadly replicated in Afghanistan" but rather that it may at some future point be attempted to a larger or lesser degree.

    But I tend to agree with you that as long as the desire to close with and kill the enemy is not allowed (ROE) or does not exist then correctly there is no point in introducing something which would lead to an increased kill rate with an associated higher risk of casualties.

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Can the Fire Force be replicated? I don't know and certainly you don't know. As far as I am aware it has not been given any serious thought. I'm sure at some point (probably too late to be of assistance) it will be considered .
    Is it a distinct concept? A great many British officers are well read on the Rhodesian War, but there are a number of factors peculiar to equipment and applications that make direct replication pretty pointless.
    Using ISTAR "assets" to cue airmobile forces into contact is not exactly a concept unique to "Fire Force."
    I submit that the general concept of operations is pretty well understood, and if applied in current theatres would look substantially different.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    Is it a distinct concept? A great many British officers are well read on the Rhodesian War, but there are a number of factors peculiar to equipment and applications that make direct replication pretty pointless.
    Using ISTAR "assets" to cue airmobile forces into contact is not exactly a concept unique to "Fire Force."
    I submit that the general concept of operations is pretty well understood, and if applied in current theatres would look substantially different.
    Thats fine, it evolved specifically in the context of the Rhodesian war at the time using the aircraft and weapons and troops available at the time against that enemy (or those two enemies).

    Group Captain Peter Petter Bowyer's book "Winds of Destruction" gives a good insight into the process (from the air force side) that led to the refined final fire force product. Professor Wood's book "Counter Strike from the Sky" is enlightening but is not a text book.

    There is an exercise on the go somewhere in North America where the concept and various principles are being workshopped to give an understanding as to why certain things were done in a certain way within the context of aircraft, weapons, equipment available and the enemy and terrain considerations. This I believe includes a practical phase and ends with another workshop as to which of their weapons, troops, aircraft are most suited to such an application the the enemy and terrain environment of their current operational theater. The first serious attempt I have heard of.

    What is refreshingly different is that these people are saying "help us understand the concept and the principles so we can see how we can apply them within our current circumstances". Refreshing to see some open minds in decision making positions (somewhere at least). I hope it works out for them.

    PS: I would be interested to know how one becomes well read on the Rhodesian War?
    Last edited by JMA; 06-27-2010 at 10:57 AM.

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    PS: I would be interested to know how one becomes well read on the Rhodesian War?
    By reading the small number of available books and the large number of magazine articles that got written in the 1980's. While not entirely comprehensive or exhaustive, anything available on the Rhodesian war was a hot topic in the British Army in the 1980's - some of it for not entirely laudable reasons.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    There is an exercise on the go somewhere in North America where the concept and various principles are being workshopped to give an understanding as to why certain things were done in a certain way within the context of aircraft, weapons, equipment available and the enemy and terrain considerations. This I believe includes a practical phase and ends with another workshop as to which of their weapons, troops, aircraft are most suited to such an application the the enemy and terrain environment of their current operational theater. The first serious attempt I have heard of.

    What is refreshingly different is that these people are saying "help us understand the concept and the principles so we can see how we can apply them within our current circumstances". Refreshing to see some open minds in decision making positions (somewhere at least). I hope it works out for them.
    Who is giving this effort a go, and what is the conceptual framework of the experimentation? I'm keen to get dialed in on the process they are following.

    As for the question of portability over to current operations in Afghanistan, I have to side with Ken to some degree when it comes to whether FF ops would work. I agree that risk aversion is going to be one of the greatest detractors. A larger issue is the simple fact that the enemy forces are operating in significantly different ways in terms of their mobility, techniques of camouflage, methods of attack, etc.

    One example that is a big difference stems from the fact that the current ROE would never support FF tactics, especially since the Taliban are woven into the populace much more so than ZANLA/ZIPRA terrs were with Rhodesian villagers. In most of my reads, the terr gangs were typically on the move, and could be intercepted as such as they crossed the borders and into the op areas. The pattern of life is vastly different, and although modifications could certainly be made to mimic the effects of FF ops, but through different means, it comes down to a discussion of whether the juice is worth the squeeze. We are working a population-centric strategy, not a counterinsurgent strategy. Until that shift is made, the supporting network of assets, conventional forces, surveillance and reconnaissance techniques, etc., cannot be shifted to suit the heliborne maneuver FF ops excelled at.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Moving the Rhod. Fire Force concept to Afghanistan

    A new thread started as a thread on Presence Patrolling developed into a new theme. Several posts moved here.

    Fire Force posts have appeared before mainly IIRC in the Rhodesian COIN thread: http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ead.php?t=2090
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 06-27-2010 at 04:04 PM.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Here, in one place for those unfamiliar with the concept of Fire Force

    operations are a few references recently provided me by a serving US Army person. I was familiar with most, a few others were new to me. Altogether an interesting mix of perceptions, history and narrative of a concept that was highly innovative, very daring and very successful in the limited war (only in terms of location, constraints, geography and forces) for which it was purposely designed and in which it was successfully employed...

    With one exception this list is provided in the format in which it was received, no particular order that I can discern. The exception was moving the thread from SWC from its original third from the bottom position to the top of the list:

    http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...read.php?t=868

    http://selousscouts.tripod.com/fire_force__part_one.htm
    http://www.rhodesianforces.org/Rhode...competence.htm
    http://www.jrtwood.com/article_mudzi.asp
    http://www.booksofzimbabwe.com/store3/erol.html
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/2546611/Co...y-J-K-Cilliers
    http://www.jrtwood.com/article_fireforce.asp
    http://www.30degreessouth.co.za/index.php
    http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/a...cc/pettis.html
    http://books.google.com/books?id=k3g...rbooks_s&cad=1
    http://selousscouts.tripod.com/count...n_rhodesia.htm
    http://www.memoriesofrhodesia.com/me...ents/war-1.pdf
    http://afraf.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/...act/76/305/483
    http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/con...ent=a916401550

    http://theeagleswillgather.blogspot....esia-pt-2.html
    http://www.psywarrior.com/RhodesiaPSYOP.html

    As one can see, there has been much interest in the concept in US military circles since the 70s...

    H/T and thanks to he who sent the list.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    As for the question of portability over to current operations in Afghanistan, I have to side with Ken to some degree when it comes to whether FF ops would work. I agree that risk aversion is going to be one of the greatest detractors. A larger issue is the simple fact that the enemy forces are operating in significantly different ways in terms of their mobility, techniques of camouflage, methods of attack, etc.
    You are the experts on Afghanistan, John. However, it may be possible to look across the all the Op areas to see where the enemy mobility, techniques of camouflage, methods of attack, etc. may best suit the application of such a concept in a beta test pahse.

    I suggest that one needs a point of departure and I suggest should go something like this:

    Name: Call it a QRF (Quick Reaction Force) or some name of your own making so as to say that it is a concept YOU are developing based on models of similar elsewhere. This is important because some people just don't like the thought of adopting other peoples ideas.

    Outline concept: The QRF concept aims to maximize the numbers of enemy (Taliban) kills and captures in each group which which contact is made. Such a force will be commander from the air by and Airborne Commander who will have armed fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft under direct permanent command together with specialised Infantry trained troops who will be carried by rotary wing aircraft or available for para deployments where circumstances so demand. The QRF will be required to relentlessly pursue the enemy to achieve the maximum result using ISTAR, combat tracking and other tactical means including night fighting techniques. The force must be able to maintain a 24 hour operational presence in the contact area including aircraft, fresh troops, revolving airborne commanders with full logistical and medical support.

    We used the example from the Butch Cassidy movie where when the gooks get to the point where they ask "who are those guys" you know you got them where it hurts?

    Also I would state that there must be strong general agreement that maximizing the kill rate per contact is important to the war effort in terms of breaking the continuity of control structures the enemy put in place to control the local population.

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    Default A QRF by any other name...

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Name: Call it a QRF (Quick Reaction Force) or some name of your own making so as to say that it is a concept YOU are developing based on models of similar elsewhere. This is important because some people just don't like the thought of adopting other peoples ideas.
    Very valid point. The good news is that we use the QRF term and it has various permutations -- to include the type operation of which you write.

    That particular type of op we used heavily in Viet Nam from 1961-72 and we then called it 'Eagle Flight' ...
    An Eagle Flight operation was a tactical concept which involved the employment of a small, self-contained, and highly trained heliborne force. Tactical planning emphasised the use of this force to locate and engage the enemy or to pursue and attack an enemy which was fleeing from a larger friendly force. As an airmobile force it was also prepared to engage any enemy force which had been located and fixed by other friendly forces. The inherent flexibility of the Eagle Flight as a force that was ready for immediate commitment, either alone or in conjunction with other forces, was it's most significant feature.

    An 'Eagle Flight' was a variation of the normal heliborne operations developed in Vietnam in order to:

    * complement the operations of committed heliborne or ground forces
    * extend the combat effectiveness of such forces
    * operate independently, either alone or reinforced, on a variety of missions

    As it's name implies, it was a force that was designed to search for, pursue and attack it's quarry.(emphasis added /kw)
    LINK

    Disregard the site type, that's a good, accurate and concise description regardless. There's plenty of other info on the concept from other sources available through Google.

    Occasionally, when required, fixed wing aircraft were also used. Generally in Viet Nam due to the size of the country and location of forces, no parachute capability was required (Though the entire First Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division [Airmobile] was initially parachute qualified for that purpose). Success in Viet Nam was mixed, usually they were effective, sometimes extremely effective. Occasionally range / time / bureaucratic constraints allowed Clyde to escape.

    In Afghanistan, it is sometimes is required and is used by elements of SF and SOF including the 75th Ranger Regiment; one company of 3-504 Parachute Infantry made one jump in conjunction with a heliborne force and other parachute elements. There have probably been others. One of the problems with the concept in Afghanistan is the large amount of open and large amount of very mountainous terrain. The density altitude has an effect on aircraft capability in some places as well.

    The current usage is in fact to call it a QRF (or a local peculiar name) but the Eagle Flight concept dates from the late 50s in the US Army and was the model for several variants in other nations.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    One example that is a big difference stems from the fact that the current ROE would never support FF tactics, especially since the Taliban are woven into the populace much more so than ZANLA/ZIPRA terrs were with Rhodesian villagers. In most of my reads, the terr gangs were typically on the move, and could be intercepted as such as they crossed the borders and into the op areas. The pattern of life is vastly different, and although modifications could certainly be made to mimic the effects of FF ops, but through different means, it comes down to a discussion of whether the juice is worth the squeeze. We are working a population-centric strategy, not a counterinsurgent strategy. Until that shift is made, the supporting network of assets, conventional forces, surveillance and reconnaissance techniques, etc., cannot be shifted to suit the heliborne maneuver FF ops excelled at.
    Initially the terrs would sleep in the villages with the locals to enjoy the comforts that they indulged in. The first trick was to get them out of the villages at night and was achieved to great extent through a series of army/police joint of separate "knock-ups" of the villages at night. This forced the terrs base in camps in the bush near villages and only resort to sleeping in the villages when it rained.

    Once that was achieved it gave air recce the opportunity to check for track patterns which would give away the location of such a base. Or an OP would be able to spot out of the ordinary movement between the village and this area of bush. (Food or water being carried, sometimes blankets etc.) Best OPs being manned by black troops who would notice in an instant if something was up.

    Given that yes we had no ROE and while that said certainly there was no gratuitous killing of civilians where I was involved. There were times where the gooks put on dresses or tried to blend in with the locals then we just cordoned off the area, handed over to local police or army callsign and left them sift through the mass of humanity with the of police SB (Special Branch). So yes one has to either get them to separate themselves from the locals or hide their weapons and try to blend in with the local and then offer the locals some secret means of indicating who the Taliban are. It was mentioned in another thread somewhere how the value a biometric (fingerprint) database would have. Very quick then to identify who is not from that village. Should be a cinch using modern technology and getting the locals to register for all the aid they receive (probably being done already).

    If the enemy separate then the game is on using trackers/ISTAR or whatever.

    I don't see a QRF affecting local ops and troops other than where the response is to them getting ambushed or whatever. Clearly there would need to be coordination and knowledge of where these friendly forces are and maybe they could be drawn in to assist with the follow up/pursuit phase.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Very valid point. The good news is that we use the QRF term and it has various permutations -- to include the type operation of which you write.

    That particular type of op we used heavily in Viet Nam from 1961-72 and we then called it 'Eagle Flight' ...
    There you go, you have you now have Eagle Flight II or whatever.

    Much has changed in the aircraft available to be used on such a mission.

    The Alouette III had a number of advantages in that it was cheap (not for Rhodesia) but cheap anyway, difficult to shoot down with pilot wrapped in an armoured seat and the tail rotor and fuel line being the other vulnerabilities. It could also land in tight LZs and we loved the little baby but when we got 11 AB205As via the Lebanon in a sanctions busting deal we gained loiter time benefits to off set the need for slightly larger LZs. (To illustrate the LZ thing my callsign was once uplighted out of Mozambique by three choppers which picked us up from under the Cohora Bassa power lines which required some deft maneuver by young but experienced pilots.)

    I don't know what choppers are available to which service today. Perhaps one would look for one which best meets the following:
    * Armed with suitable multibarrelled machine gun (with night firing ability)
    * Can carry at least eight troops plus crew
    * Have low natural vulnerability to ground fire (few vulnerable points)
    * Good range/loiter time
    * Ability to operate at higher altitudes.
    * Night flying ability with thermal imaging.

    Gunship could be anything as it should probably be assumed that no suitable command chopper/gunship combo exists. Then a command chopper should be selected as it would carry the airborne commander. Could be one of the troop carrier type but differently fitted out.

    Then the CAS, the Cessna 337G was what we had and it was able to provide CAS at less than 50m from FLOT. Even had a 18 gallon Frantan (Napalm) just to cook a few at a time. I don't what is available to provide that degree of CAS? This aircraft would mark for any swift air to follow.

    Occasionally, when required, fixed wing aircraft were also used. Generally in Viet Nam due to the size of the country and location of forces, no parachute capability was required (Though the entire First Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division [Airmobile] was initially parachute qualified for that purpose). Success in Viet Nam was mixed, usually they were effective, sometimes extremely effective. Occasionally range / time / bureaucratic constraints allowed Clyde to escape.
    In theory it seems like a standard infantry type operation. But as we all know not all infantry soldiers are the same. So one needs to find a source for aggressive soldiers with or without para training (depending on the requirement). The RLI were quicker/more confident/more aggressive than other units with a highest kill rate. From my experience of the Brits who came to Rhodesia I would say go for a Scottish regiment, they had about the right skill/aggression mix.

    We only did parachuting because we did not have enough choppers. The para requirement may be necessary where there is a need to react to a distant contact/call out where the choppers can fly in with full fuel plus maybe a temporary tank on board and pick up their troops from an LZ closer to the area where troops extra fuel etc have been dropped.

    If ineffective then one can ask why? A debrief should spell it out and lessons can be learned. I don't know the type of bureaucratic constraints that were endured but time and distance were always factors and where we would have little time on the ground before nightfall we tried to delay the call-out until the next day (impossible of course if responding to own forces in trouble).

    I would suggest that the person who drives this would have to have the seniority and the willingness to bang some heads together to get units to cooperate to achieve the best outcome.

    In Afghanistan, it is sometimes is required and is used by elements of SF and SOF including the 75th Ranger Regiment; one company of 3-504 Parachute Infantry made one jump in conjunction with a heliborne force and other parachute elements. There have probably been others. One of the problems with the concept in Afghanistan is the large amount of open and large amount of very mountainous terrain. The density altitude has an effect on aircraft capability in some places as well.

    The current usage is in fact to call it a QRF (or a local peculiar name) but the Eagle Flight concept dates from the late 50s in the US Army and was the model for several variants in other nations.
    Once you have a permanent QRF serving an area then its amazing what changes. Suddenly vehicle ambushes reduce as they know they will have to run for their lives possibly for days. Patrols being randomly fired on will reduce as they will get to know that they will be met with a very aggressive air borne response. And as a result troops can patrol in smaller numbers because of the guaranteed quick response.

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    JMA:

    At what distance from the (potential) contact were the LZs, typically? And how often did the LZs end up being hot?

    I ask because, as I remember ZANLA and ZIPRA, they had a relatively low ratio of RPG-2 and RPG-7s, and weren't terribly competent with mortars, heavier MGs, or RCL. I'm wondering how much adjustment might be necessary against a Taliban opponent who has a long history (dating back to the Soviet era) of using those weapons against helicopters LZs.
    They mostly come at night. Mostly.


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    Thanks for those links Ken (post 9), I too had not seen some of them.


    @JMA.

    Further to Rex’s last post and repeated emphasis by Ken and others that both the terrain and the enemy in A-stan are very different from what you encountered in Rhodesia, this article (Ken’s third link) is rather sobering indeed with regards to the relative, or should I say total, incompetence of your enemy.

    This is by no means a criticism of the Rhodesian forces, which going by what I’ve read over the years I hold in high regard. However, an enemy as incompetent and almost docile as the one described in this article does paint a picture very different from what we are seeing in A-stan with the Taliban. They too may not be the most competent imaginable, and may by and large be crap shots, but they do appear to be actually using their AKs, which may go a long way to explaining why they initiate most contacts as opposed to your experience in Rhodesia. Especially the way (as described in the article) that you would advance to contact in extended line and just clean them up as if you picking up rubbish off a lawn is not likely to work in A-stan, where the ‘rubbish’ will shoot before you do.

    I wonder if even a technique like Drake Shooting would be as effective or even achievable with a more proactive and aggressive enemy.

    Also, your ability to, over time, separate the terrs from the locals may not be so easily done in A-stan.

    In Timor, we too had a QRF platoon with one or two Hueys on standby. But our ‘enemy’ was probably not far different from yours. Over the nearly four years there we lost two soldiers KIA (one Kiwi and one Nepalese), but overall we had little reason to fill our nappies.
    I don’t know what the losses were for the Eagle Flights that Ken linked to, but if this sort of QRF actions were to become the norm than I should think that it will not take the Taliban long to come up with a suitable response which may give NATO a much larger KIA count then they currently experience with IEDs. And that of course, as we know by now, flies in the face of our current ‘safety first’ approach. The only good thing about that (tongue in cheek) would be that that would remove the IED issue out of the lime-light, since the percentages would swing the other way. And then we’d have people asking why NATO is so stupid and callous to use so many helicopters…

    Using QRF as stand-off blocking forces to increase the likelihood of cold LZs may not work so well either, given the Taliban’s ability to melt into the population.

    Now, I’m not saying that I disagree with you. I think QRFs are a good idea and are probably used in A-stan a lot more than we know anyway. But to make something like that THE tactic, as per Selous Scouts, is IMO likely to be much more difficult and painful than you seem to imply and believe. But then, I too am not on the ground….
    Nothing that results in human progress is achieved with unanimous consent. (Christopher Columbus)

    All great truth passes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
    (Arthur Schopenhauer)

    ONWARD

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I can only speak to those of which I'm aware during my tours there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kiwigrunt View Post
    Thanks for those links Ken (post 9), I too had not seen some of them.
    You're welcome -- and thanks again to the original provider who lurks occasionally.
    I don’t know what the losses were for the Eagle Flights that Ken linked to...
    All anecdotal though I suppose the stats are out there somewhere...

    Went on four in 1966, one very successful, two somewhat so and one failure to make contact. Only pulled the mission for about two weeks to allow the Platoon that normally did it to train up some replacements. I can recall hearing about four or five others they pulled which were good hits. There were many more from other Bns in our Brigade, one tended to hear about them only if they were really great or really bad and to hear of few if any from other Bdes locally and none from units in other Corps areas. Though I do know the Aero Rifle platoons from the Cav Sqns did a great many.

    Can recall about a dozen or so more of probably three or four times that many conducted that year in the Bde from my second tour (most of which I spent in the Bde 3 shop). IIRC, only one was a success beyond expectations, most did okay, three or four were dry with no hits and two went into hot LZs and lost birds and people necessitating the launch of backup flights from other units -- in both latter cases that was in late 1968 when the VC had adapted and were using 12.7mm DShKs specifically brought in but not exclusively used to ambush Eagle Flights -- thus your comment about enemy adaptation to any successful technique is correct.

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    So boiling this down, it's essentially the use of an Airmobile Reserve, that requires

    a.) A Support Helicopter - UH-60, AB-412, EH-101, CH-47?
    b.) Airborne Command Post - AH-64, UH-60?
    c.) Attack Helicopters and/or FGA. - AH-64, A-10?

    Obviously a UAV or some of the aircraft being equipped with suitable EO Payloads would help as well.

    A near identical set up was used to get SOG-Recon Teams in and out of their AO between 1966 and 72. It could take 12-14 aircraft to get an 8 man RT on the ground, and even more to get their QRF Hatchet Force platoons in or out if required.
    The Airborne CP was usually an OV-10, O-2 or O-1 with a "Covey Rider" who controlled the whole show.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rex Brynen View Post
    JMA:

    At what distance from the (potential) contact were the LZs, typically? And how often did the LZs end up being hot?

    I ask because, as I remember ZANLA and ZIPRA, they had a relatively low ratio of RPG-2 and RPG-7s, and weren't terribly competent with mortars, heavier MGs, or RCL. I'm wondering how much adjustment might be necessary against a Taliban opponent who has a long history (dating back to the Soviet era) of using those weapons against helicopters LZs.
    Let me use a simple example (for ease of explanation without a diagram).

    Say a patrol has made contact with insurgents and are currently engaged in contact.

    The force deploys (maybe 30 minutes flying time maybe less). On the run in the Airborne commander gets what briefing he can from the commander on the ground and as he comes over target the troops mark FLOT and indicates the insurgent position with whatever (anything but mortars).

    The Airborne Comdr is now in command of the battle.

    (Note: As there is already a contact in progress the route of the aircraft to the target can be direct as opposed to a route where the sound of the approaching choppers is attempted to be hidden.)

    * The command chopper orbits the main contact area (+ 1,000 ft) to assess the situation and if not a gunship itself could instruct the attached gunship/gunships to engage the insurgent position.

    * The fixed wing goes into higher orbit and observes.

    * Trooping choppers are instructed to go into low level orbits over 'areas of interest' outside the main contact area to observe and await instructions to drop their troops. (These choppers served to either force insurgents under their orbit to go to ground or draw fire which would give away the insurgents position).

    Once the Airborne Cmdr had made his plan then he would instruct the trooping choppers where to drop their troops. The idea being to prevent the escape/withdrawal of the insurgents. The individual LZs would be as close to where the troops were needed as possible. Where it was necessary a gunship may provide suppressing fire to cover the landing.

    Once the trooping choppers have dropped their troops they may be instructed to stay in orbit over a particular area or to return to collect more troops.

    The LZs are individual to each chopper and not one large LZ to take all the choppers at the same time. If necessary the chopper itself can prep-fire the area around the LZ or get covered by a gunship when going in.

    If the troops are being dropped to block any flight down a river line they would drop the troops as close to the river line as possible then the Airborne Cmdr would give instructions to the callsign on what direction to move in to get into position.

    Should there be a need to redeploy troops they would be instructed to move to a LZ (if necessary the Airborne Cmdr may need to direct them (say "go 200m west and you will find an LZ, call when ready for uplift")

    OK, Rex thats about what we did. And yes we took a lot of fire in the air. And we managed it.

    I would suggest if you are looking for Afghan experience you find out what happened to the Soviets. This should be detailed research by intel guys who would try to speak to the old Mujahideen fighters, the Pakistanis who trained them the CIA who in trained trained them as to what the anti-air tactics were. Then get the Moscow embassy to speak to old soviet pilots as to their experiences and counter measures. For now though look at the site List of Soviet aircraft losses in Afghanistan

    Rex there are always counter measures and certainly any guy who fires a RPG should be turned into an instant martyr as all guns turn on him. That should be golden rule number one. This whole thing would be a journey or a process. Starting with baby steps and building up from there. Ken has touched on similar type ops in Vietnam, read up on them as well.

    As to RPGs. In our situation it was only the command chopper that was at 1,000 ft in the orbit which was vulnerable to this. The low level orbits were vulnerable to small arms fire but only for a few seconds if very close by.

    Again all you have to do is go a speak to the hundreds of old guys who flew choppers in Vietnam and other wars and they would be honoured to share their experiences with you and offer some advice. All the info you need is out there all you have to do is go and find it. So don't sweat the RPG risk, go ask the pilots how they would fly in that sort of terrain with that sort of risk. Its actually easier than you may think.

    (Rex, I don't know your military experience, you may well have flown choppers at some point for all I know. I write this like you haven't forgive me.)
    Last edited by JMA; 06-28-2010 at 08:32 AM.

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    What was the balance between the FireForce being Proactive and Reactive? I have never done airmobile but the FireForce concept sounds like Combined Arms (Air) Manoeuvre in concept, I am intrigued by the tasking of it however. In UK doctrine a QRF or ARF (Airborne Reaction Force) is reactive, whereas I get the impression that that distinction was not necessarily the case with the FireForce.

    IMHO part of the problem, certainly for UK elements in AFG, is that they are essentially fixed in ground holding roles and have very little capability at BG and Bde level to manouevre. Whether it is done by air, land (or sea ) the ability to maintain an uncommitted reserve and manoeuvre force at the time and place of your chosing is one of the fundamentals.
    Last edited by Red Rat; 06-28-2010 at 09:37 AM. Reason: typo
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kiwigrunt View Post
    Thanks for those links Ken (post 9), I too had not seen some of them.


    @JMA.

    Further to Rex’s last post and repeated emphasis by Ken and others that both the terrain and the enemy in A-stan are very different from what you encountered in Rhodesia, this article (Ken’s third link) is rather sobering indeed with regards to the relative, or should I say total, incompetence of your enemy.

    This is by no means a criticism of the Rhodesian forces, which going by what I’ve read over the years I hold in high regard. However, an enemy as incompetent and almost docile as the one described in this article does paint a picture very different from what we are seeing in A-stan with the Taliban. They too may not be the most competent imaginable, and may by and large be crap shots, but they do appear to be actually using their AKs, which may go a long way to explaining why they initiate most contacts as opposed to your experience in Rhodesia. Especially the way (as described in the article) that you would advance to contact in extended line and just clean them up as if you picking up rubbish off a lawn is not likely to work in A-stan, where the ‘rubbish’ will shoot before you do.

    I wonder if even a technique like Drake Shooting would be as effective or even achievable with a more proactive and aggressive enemy.

    Also, your ability to, over time, separate the terrs from the locals may not be so easily done in A-stan.

    In Timor, we too had a QRF platoon with one or two Hueys on standby. But our ‘enemy’ was probably not far different from yours. Over the nearly four years there we lost two soldiers KIA (one Kiwi and one Nepalese), but overall we had little reason to fill our nappies.
    I don’t know what the losses were for the Eagle Flights that Ken linked to, but if this sort of QRF actions were to become the norm than I should think that it will not take the Taliban long to come up with a suitable response which may give NATO a much larger KIA count then they currently experience with IEDs. And that of course, as we know by now, flies in the face of our current ‘safety first’ approach. The only good thing about that (tongue in cheek) would be that that would remove the IED issue out of the lime-light, since the percentages would swing the other way. And then we’d have people asking why NATO is so stupid and callous to use so many helicopters…

    Using QRF as stand-off blocking forces to increase the likelihood of cold LZs may not work so well either, given the Taliban’s ability to melt into the population.

    Now, I’m not saying that I disagree with you. I think QRFs are a good idea and are probably used in A-stan a lot more than we know anyway. But to make something like that THE tactic, as per Selous Scouts, is IMO likely to be much more difficult and painful than you seem to imply and believe. But then, I too am not on the ground….
    I'll answer this fully a little later when I get a chance. In the meantime let me put on my old "School of Infantry hat" and say that you have put forward a number of reasons why you think this concept won't work in Afghanistan. Now try to put your positive hat on and think of a few (at least) reasons why you think it could. We can compare notes later.

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