Sunday, September 23, 2012

A fortified bastion in name only: Taliban raiders take on ISAF airpower in bold attack

In Singapore, warfighters are taught that air superiority and its loftier aspiration, air supremacy, will give the Lion City a decisive edge in combat.

In Afghanistan, opponents to the American-led occupation see ISAF air power not as a military advantage but a military target.

Events there a week ago saw six United States Marine Corps (USMC) AV-8B Harrier jump jets from Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) destroyed at Camp Bastion by Taliban infiltrators, with two more Harriers damaged beyond economic repair. The night raid achieved the biggest single day loss of USMC Harriers and was a toll on American warplanes unseen since the Vietnam War.

The Harrier unit lost their squadron commanding officer and a groundcrew from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 was killed. Nine others were wounded by the raiders, who reportedly donned US fatigues.

Taking a leaf from lessons of past wars, the attack on Camp Bastion's refuelling facilities indicates the raiders and their trainers who planned the raid understand the Archilles heel of airpower lies with the means to generate and sustain air power. The raiders also recognised that warplanes are weapons only when airborne. Aircraft on ground, both fixed and rotary wing, are stationary, high-value targets.

Losing fifteen raiders (one was captured) for the damage wrought is - by cold, loss exchange calculus - a worthy tradeoff in any language. Material losses aside, the raid will likely exact a psychological toll on ISAF personnel who think they are safe behind the wire.

Following the raid, their guard will have to be kept up even in supposedly safe areas with impressive-sounding names like Bastion. Forced to remain on guard constantly and faced with the chilling realisation that personnel wearing friendly uniforms might not be what they seem, nerves will be worn down sooner or later. When warfighters snap from the constant strain/uncertainty and are incapable of performing their duty, the raid would continue claiming victims long after the material damage is patched up.

The lesson for Singapore, which wields the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) as an instrument to deter aggression, is clear. Against raiders willing to pay the ultimate price, no airbase can be made secure.

This lesson has been vividly demonstrated in full-scale and brushfire wars from Biafra to Vietnam and all cardinal points in between.

RSAF airbases are protected 24/7 by air force security personnel grouped under Field Defence Squadrons(FDS), which are deployed for protection of installation, EOR security, counter MANPADS as well as counter attack force roles.

But while our warplanes and helicopters are under FDS protection, RSAF installations such as air defence units lack the ground firepower that protects military airbases against infiltrators. Action taken against such soft spots could rob the RSAF of its eyes and ears.

If ISAF airpower can be destroyed within the fenceline of fortified bases like Camp Bastion, out-of-base deployments by the RSAF during operations would put austere bases high on the hit list of special forces units on the other side.

Singaporean plane spotters have long known that airbase activities can be observed from vantage points around its long perimeter. In recent years, stories written in the 90 cents newspaper about the A-4 Super Skyhawk last flight from Tengah and the scramble at Changi Airbase (East) to intercept the Cessna Caravan floatplane were the work of plane-spotters who happened to observe unusual activity. The blog post on the crash of RSAF AH-64D Apache "Redhawk 69" came from the network of plane spotters less than 60 minutes after impact (please click here for the flash).

If you have a ground element who can observe and report air activity together with the underwing loadout, this heads-up can serve as an early warning to impending action as professionals can calculate how long a warplane can stay aloft on tanks and internal fuel.

As the Taliban has proven itself as a learning organisation, we are unlikely to have seen the last of such bold attacks at the heart of ISAF's airpower. Indeed, The Australian Sunday Times described the raid on Camp Bastion as the "birth of Taliban SAS" in A-stan (click here to read the article).


Temasek65 said...

Bagus bangat ni....

Anonymous said...

Thought provoking and highly informative.

Unknown said...

David, just dropping by to say i enjoy your updates far more than the regular issues of Pioneer magazine i receive. Pls keep up the good writing!

PottyGeneral said...

While not to be discounted, the bigger threat might be artillery fire of the sporadic sort as seen in Kassams shot into Israel from Gaza.

Dispersed and hidden in dense jungle, 'enemy' rockets could effectively neutralise our airbases. If these rockets are rippled fire and of a better version than the home made Kassams, they would be much more effective in shutting down air assets not to mention marshalling areas in times of war.

Likely solution would have to be the Iron Dome defense system and Magic Wand.

I would imagine more Apaches then the current number (dispersed in times of tension) could also be useful in hunting/neutralising this threat quickly in tandem with ISR assets/drones.

CanyajiggywitDaT said...

Afghan Air Team.:D

Mr.T (Taliban) spotted with Black van across tarmac and bling.

"Errrg....I pity the fool"

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, dreaming of invisible enemies when Singapore don't have any perceived threat.

Anonymous said...

Mas Selamat should be appointed special instructor for escape-and-evasion, and Talibani can be invited to be "advisors" for low-budget Special Operations. (Only problem is that the low budget is because they didn't include extraction)

YourKawan said...

Invisible Enemy?

nanti one round of rocket jatoh into your bedroom then you know.

Anonymous said...

The guy who commented this when we were talking about Jack Neo's movie must be very angry. But what can he do except suck thumb and sulk? :D

I do agree that the movie will be more exciting but do bear in mind is all the suggested resources avaliable? Even if it is, are these classified equipment or operating proccedure? There is always never enough excitment in a war movie and audience keep on asking for more. However MINDEF always need to weigh a balance how much can be released to the public. Showing a 3G army unit fighting on a urban terrrain is a great leap forward for Singaporeans which was never shown or rather imagine before.

Equipment, proccedure & communication are part of military secrets. Why not try taking photos or videos of military equipment inside army installations since these are not secrets?