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Category Archives: Middle East

The Great Libyan Gold Rush

With the official bilateral visit of UK Defence Minister Philip Hammond to Libya last week, there comes the news of the “reborn” nation finally opening up its defence coffers with reports of a $4.7 billion budget approval designed specifically to modernise the rusting armed forces, following decades of underfunding and the overthrow of a paranoid regime.

While the British defence industry is certainly on the books to help begin the rebuilding of air defence infrastructure taken out by NATO two years ago, other nations are also being consulted on delivering rapid upgrades to Libyan forces during this time of vulnerability. Defence IQ confirmed with the Libyan Air Force that consultations with Russia and Italy are underway to provide new trainer aircraft. Meanwhile, the fleet of Libyan C-130s that have been embargoed in the US for over 40 years are finally being discussed, but the Libyans are veering away from the offer to trade them in for a C-130J replacement.

Those involved in air systems would do well to keep their ears open as other ministers book flights to the Middle East over the coming months. A country that once commanded one of the biggest forces in the region wants to return to its old glory, and unlike many nations across the world today with similar dreams, Libya has the resources to make it happen.

Read more on this development.

Interested in the integration of modern military air weapons and systems? Network with decision-makers in London this May at Air Integration 2013.


‘ARGO’: The other side of the story


Despite the latest cinematic adventure celebrating a successful joint personnel recovery operation thanks to the collaborative work of Canadian and U.S. agencies, we must not forget the far less successful endeavour to rescue others during this time.

In this article, James P. Farwell explores the long-term impact of Operation Eagle Claw, the aborted personnel recovery effort that cost lives and careers, including that of President Jimmy Carter. Could a single question that went unasked have turned this tragic story into a Ben Affleck worthy sequel?

Decades may have passed since this misstep, but personnel recovery remains a burning issue today with recent experiences in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa demonstrating the importance of effective planning.

As such, many in the global personnel recovery field will be gathering in London for the annual Joint Personnel Recovery conference this May, where topics of discussion will range from training operators in isolated situations and developing the capability to rescue military and non-military alike from behind enemy lines.

For more information on how to be a part of this important conference, visit


An armoured vehicles news update…

Contributed by Kim Vigilia, Defence IQ

In recent news, the British Army has announced an order for 51 additional Foxhound Vehicles and Lockheed Martin has provided an update on the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle upgrade for improved lethality systems. Given these headlines, it’s clear that priorities for many western military nations are not only to provide necessary mine and blast protection for soldiers in Afghanistan, but also to ‘future-proof’ these vehicles up until 2040.

However, defeating the IED threat and securing future survivability are just two of the main issues facing land defence leaders. There are also challenges within situational awareness and communication enhancements, weapon station integration and the balancing act of creating the ‘perfect’ environment for simulating armour and mechanised training. Add to that the basic foundation and maintenance of supply chains and other processes to remain efficient and effective… the list goes on.

Taking these issues into account, the International Armoured Vehicles show (IAVs) has a programme which is designed to reflect these challenges and offers a platform on which senior leaders in land defence can discuss, debate and swap ideas on the potential solutions and where they foresee the future of armoured vehicles. Lieutenant General Jonathan Page, Commander FDT and Major General Andrew Sharpe, DG DCDC from the UK Ministry of Defence will lead sessions at IAVs where Foxhound and Warrior are sure to be key talking points.

Defeating the IED threat, once and for all?

According to the press release published by General Dynamics in regards to the Foxhound Vehicle order, “The value of the award is approximately $73.6 million, or £46 million.”  In light of the drawback from Afghanistan, that’s still quite a significant investment for a light weight vehicle which specifically features countering IED capabilities, confirming the fact that C-IEDs is still one of the most critical challenges for militaries to overcome.

IAVs has a dedicated pre-conference day to focus on Countering IEDs to complement the main conference plenary sessions at IAVs, which features a panel discussion with Commander Abdulrazaq Olapeju Kazeem, Commander of the Nigerian Army’s Headquarters Bomb Disposal Squadron as well as Major General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, the Head of Land – Materiel & Commander of the 1st Army for the Colombian Army and Robert Shaw, Head of C-IED Training for NATO ISAF.  The panel will be posed questions from the audience focusing on whether the future of C-IED efforts will be non-expeditionary.

With the Nigerian Army looking to acquire Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) All-Terrain vehicles to advance its strategy in defeating home-grown terrorism, the resulting conversation from the panel discussion should prove interesting to military peers and potential industry partners.

“IED incidents in Nigeria have been quite serious and challenging, however, because of proactive and pre-emptive measures put in place by the Nigerian Government and Security Forces, the threat is receding,” Kazeem told Defence IQ, citing the reduction in frequency of both attacks and casualties. “The Nigerian Army Bomb Disposal is tackling the rising IED incidents by employing global best practices in locating, rendering safe and disposal of IEDs.”

What does the future battle space look like and how can we ‘future-proof’ armoured vehicles?

Deemed as the British Army’s “key priority,” the £1 billion Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) is one of the largest and most significant projects being pushed through the MoD as it seeks to upgrade and refit the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle with improved lethality systems and an electronic architecture that will future-proof it until 2040.

So what does this armoured vehicle of the future look like? Brigadier General Andrew G. Hughes, Director of Combat Capability at the UK Ministry of Defence, will open IAVs with a keynote speech, “Showcasing the Work of Combat Capability in the Content of the Army 2020 Strategy: Future Armour and Protected Mobility Requirements” – so we might find out then!

If you’d like to find out more about the International Armoured Vehicles 2013 event please click here.

Prince Harry arrives in Afghanistan, show some respect

by Andrew Elwell, Editor, Defence IQ

Captain Wales has arrived in Afghanistan for a four month tour of duty as an Apache helicopter pilot five years on from his first stint at Camp Bastion.

It’s been 47 minutes since media outlets were allowed to report on the story after being given permission to do so by the MOD following an agreement to keep it under wraps until the Prince had safely landed in Afghanistan. All of them (that I’ve read, so far) have made reference to his antics in Las Vegas and Twitter has come alive with “chopper” jokes.

This is poor form, surely?

It’s difficult to ignore the furore that Harry created a few weeks ago in Nevada, and it would be naïve to think it wouldn’t get a mention following today’s news, but taking a more responsible tone should be the order of the day.

Regardless of background, Harry is a Captain in the British Army.

He is a highly trained soldier with skills invaluable to the mission in Helmand Province. It’s not cheap to train an Apache pilot – last year he said, “You become a very expensive asset, the training’s very expensive and they wouldn’t have me doing what I’m doing (otherwise).”

Over the last decade the British Armed Forces have come to be seen as a highly prized institution by the public, achieving a level of admiration not seen since 1945. Harry is a part of that institution and he should be afforded the same respect we would endow to any other soldier serving in Afghanistan.

So please, no jokes. Nor sniggering.

Good luck Captain Wales.

We’re keen to hear your thoughts – do you agree or disagree with this post? Email comments or article submissions to: or comment below.

Strategic Communications should tell a story…

Chief Storyteller Tony Quinlan from Narrate ( has spent 20 years shaping communications and change programmes for blue chip companies, international aid organisations and the public sector. He’s addressed international cultural differences, gang recruitment, and is helping the Information Operations Global delegation next week to better understand how militaries can use grassroots narratives to better formulate a communications strategy…

Why is narrative important to a communications campaign today, and how does this relate to international governments and militaries?

Narrative is how we all perceive the world – the thousands of micro-narratives our brains have collected over a lifetime immersed in our culture and family are the way we filter information and make decisions. Too often, communications is phrased in terms of values and facts that clash with our existing narratives and experiences.  And narrative wins every time.

Nowhere is this more critical than where cultures meet and mix – the international arena and military deployments. Subtle, almost invisible, cues for narratives can be easily triggered by communications without ever realising that they’re missing their intended mark. From the use of metaphor to accidentally recalling past negative experiences, it’s easy for decision-makers in alien environments to create more problems than they resolve.

You’ll be talking on the subject of “using local narrative rather than countering it”. Can you give us an idea of what you mean by this?

In the field of COIN and CT, the idea of developing a “counter-narrative” is a seductive but misleading approach.  It implies that it’s possible to construct a narrative that will meet and annihilate an undesirable narrative – a communications version of matter meets anti-matter. The problem is that it’s not how the world works. For one thing, it’s very difficult to construct a perfect narrative – Hollywood wastes billions of dollars every year on constructed narratives that it then turns out that people don’t like. But more importantly, we know that the implementation of counter narrative tends to reinforce the original narrative – by drawing attention to the area of concern.  If a particular narrative has a strong grip on a population – has become a fixed point in their culture and beliefs – you need to take a different approach.

It’s far more effective to see where there are fixed myths and perceptions – and then look for emerging new narratives that might offer alternatives.  And working with those new emerging narratives can involve far more than simple communications – we’ve seen opportunities for taking unexpected myth-breaking and myth-making actions. Thinking that understanding a local culture in narrative terms leads only to counter-narrative is to miss the real benefits.

  …So there’s a risk in trying to impose a non-locally sourced narrative?

Absolutely – risks of introducing narratives that are perceived as fantasy and irrelevant to the culture is probably the best one can hope for.  The greater risk is making a problem worse. It is the problem with using experts to construct narratives – it’s easy to lapse into transferring concepts or characters or viewpoints from the experts’ own culture into a proposed narrative for another culture in ways that will not resonate and may antagonise the intended audience.

To give you an example from a recent Narrate project in a country with a perceived problem with police corruption. There was a proposal for a telenovella or soap opera revolving around a police officer battling corruption in his department. And naturally giving him a back story with a family and his own tensions and temptations.  From our work, we could see that cultural archetypes in this country are that men succumb to problems, only women overcome them – having a male-focused story where the protagonist succeeds would be seen as fantasy – or just another western cultural import – with little effect on the local culture.

How can strategic communicators actually deliver a message within a culture or community that they are not part of and cannot truly understand in depth, as well as with language barriers, delicate social layers, and many other obstacles?

A perfect understanding of a culture – and hence being able to deliver a message within it – is impossible. You would need to participate in a community for many years in many roles to fully understand it.  (I’ve lived in my village in Bedfordshire for ten years, but am forever hearing new stories. And I’m certainly not a local yet.) What we need to be able to do is gain a sufficient understanding of a culture – and the key dispositions, narratives and interactions within it.

Understanding the culture on its own terms is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one – we use anthropological methods to gather not just  significant stories and day-to-day micro-narratives from within communities, but also the meaning that those stories have for individuals in the culture. Looking at the underlying dispositions and attitudes, coupled with examples of experiences and contexts in which those attitudes lay out, helps build a better understanding – along with those areas that should be avoided in StratCom operations and potential areas where shift might be feasible.

Are there tools or methods that have been proven to work?

Some, but it’s early days in terms of the sophistication of their use.  We’ve had considerable success using mass narrative capture and software from Cognitive Edge to help generate better cultural understanding, but I think the real power has yet to be unleashed – operationalising the research to improve live decision-making and integrating it beyond just StratCom seem to me to be the real opportunities.  It’s easier to disrupt a narrative through unexpected actions than through any other method – so the connection between theatre operations and StratCom seems to be an important bridge to build by demonstrating what we can offer.

On a topical note, you’ve spoken out against social media being as much of an influence during the Arab Spring as many other people have proclaimed it to be. Can you explain your viewpoint?

It’s an interesting point.  I think social media was an important facilitator of influence here – but not an influence itself.  Where I truly differ on some of the early analysis of the Arab Spring is around how “on-message” communications was through social media. 

I regard social media as a highly effective echo chamber – what we saw in terms of social media messaging was an accelerated process of evolution.  In the early days, social media allowed huge variations of messages and contexts to be played out into the wider world. Some ideas and narratives died out quickly, some started to merge and others started to cluster around messages that had greater resonance – until within a relatively short period of time, there were dominant ideas and messages that everyone seemed to agree with. Too much analysis assumed “Intelligent Design” of the communications, rather than an evolved ecology emerging from the involved population.

There’s an important lesson in that for all StratComs in theatre – planning may help reduce failures, but evolution will generate success.

What are you looking forward to discovering at Information Operations Global?

I haven’t been invited to Information Operations Global before, so I’m looking forward to the interesting conversations and intellectual stimulation most of all.

Book your place now at Information Operations Global, September 27-28, in London!


Streit Group unveils new Jaguar armoured vehicle

This week at Eurosatory the Streit Group, a manufacturer of armoured vehicles based out of Canada with offices worldwide, unveiled its new offering: the Jaguar.

Read all about the new APC here.

F-35: B vs. C

ITEC: The top 5 technologies

Falklands dead honoured at National Memorial Arboretum

Today the National Memorial Arboretum, the UK’s centre of rememberance based in Staffordshire, had a ceremony to officially open its newest memorial – this time to remember the brave that fell during the 1982 Falklands conflict. Here’s a few pictures:

Crowds gather for the unveiling

The Falklands memorial

The Vulcan bomber fly past

Interview: Bomb disposal legend Chris Hunter on CIED “cat and mouse” battle

Major Chris Hunter QGM served as a British Army officer in the Royal Logistic Corps, tackling the ever-present improvised explosive device across the world’s most notorious terrorist hotspots, including Northern Ireland, Colombia, the Balkans, East Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since retiring from the MoD in 2007 as the most senior IED intelligence analyst, he has continued work to advance understanding and development in CIED with his work as a writer, broadcaster and consultant, and even collaborated with filmmakers on ‘The Hurt Locker’.

Defence IQ’s Richard de Silva tracked him down at a recent counter terror forum to get his perspective on current strategy and technology…


The first point I’d like to discuss is simply current British Force or ISAF strategy, and what they’re doing at the moment. Is it effective? How much has it developed in the past two years or so, since we spoke to you last?

Effectively, the British strategy is the same as the ISAF strategy and the United States strategy; it’s sort of a three-pronged strategy.  One is to defeat the device itself and that’s the protection and the neutralisation component of it.  So all sorts of sensor technologies and also the man in the loop as well, going out there to physically find the device and then to render safe procedures, which might be remote means such as robots, semi-remote means, such as the use of hook and line.

And then, of course, the actual manual means going down there in a bomb suit and actually using a disruptor to smash the device to pieces, keeping all the components together so it can then subsequently be analysed so you can effectively reverse-engineer the bomb.  And, in so doing, you can identify how the device was made, bearing in mind it’s improvised – therefore, is it radio-control, is it timed, and so on.

But also it enables you to get the forensics, the biometrics, the DNA all that sort of stuff as well.  And that’s absolutely essential because the second part of the three-pronged strategy, if you like, is to have a network that comes in many, many forms.  That’s very much an intelligence-driven, bottom-up and top-down strategy.  To give an example, when I talked about that idea of actually analysing the device once it’s been disrupted, when we look at the forensics, the DNA, the biometrics, we are able to then profile the bomb maker. And there’s only a finite number of bomb makers with the requisite skill sets to manufacture the IEDs we’ve seen at this level of technical sophistication.

If you look at the IRA, for example, who were our primary threat for 30 years, the level of sophistication they achieved in 30 years – and they were considered the best bomb makers in the world – was superseded in just 12 months when we went into Iraq between 2003/2004, and that has just continued at a rapid and alarming rate.  It was superseded inAfghanistanin just 18 months and what we’re seeing is this continual cat and mouse, counter-measure strategy.

And so, because we’ve seen such an advance in technology and from every bomb maker’s tactics, techniques and procedures, we continually have to find ways to attack that network and remove the bomb maker from the equation.  Take the analogy “shoot the archer don’t shoot the arrow”. If you are just focusing on defeating a device, all you’re doing really is shooting the arrows but, because there are only a finite number of those bomb makers at that level of sophistication then, if you shoot the archer, if you remove the archer from the equation, effectively there aren’t going to be any more IEDs and they are certainly not going to be sophisticated enough.

So that’s a really essential component and we don’t just look at the device to see how it’s made and we don’t just look at the device to see what the forensics and DNA and biometrics are; we also look at it to help us to influence our Force protection measures as well, because, as I said, there’s this constant measure/counter-measure race.  A type of IED will come in, we’ll see it literally proliferate around the area and then, from there, we then bring in a counter-measure to protect our Force against it.  And very, very quickly after that counter-measure becoming effective, the insurgents will then design a new type of IED.

To give you another example, we’ve seen the increase and enhancement of armoured systems on vehicles, and it’s got to a stage where vehicles are so armoured that roadside bombs aren’t able to penetrate them.  So the insurgents have used tactics like literally digging up the tarmac or melting a tyre to melt the tarmac and then peeling the tarmac back, digging a big hole in it, filling it full of explosives, peeling the tarmac back over.  And as it, sort of, bakes dry in the midday sun it leaves no anomalies, and therefore it’s very, very difficult for our servicemen and women to then identify these devices.

But crucially it doesn’t matter how armoured a vehicle is if you’re using that sort of attack where you’ve got 300 kilos of high explosives and an armoured vehicle is driving over the top and it detonates then obviously that’s going to have an impact; you’re going to have a road traffic accident.  Therefore, they’re constantly thinking about these very, very shrewd ways of trying to overmatch our capabilities and respond in a far more deadly way.

So we constantly have to look at all the different avenues and opportunities available to us.  The final one is obviously ‘preparing the Force’ and that’s something that’s really developed and enhanced to a very high degree.  We’ve looked at all the tactics, techniques and procedures across all the insurgencies that we’ve ever fought in and, indeed, to our allied partners, and we’ve looked at best practice, at refining them and then tailoring them to the theatre of operations we’re in and – crucially – continually developed them and matched them to the threat of the day, and, ideally, we’re looking to the future and trying to outsmart the enemy.

Again, it’s this measure/counter-measure race, but it’s also like a game of extreme chess.  You’re constantly trying to second guess your enemy, your opponent, the bomb maker, who effectively is responsible for the tactical design of that attack.  And you’re thinking, “what is this attack trying to achieve? Is it trying to kill innocent civilians? Is it trying to kill members of the security forces?  Is it actually trying to kill the bomb technician, the ammunition technical officer who is on his way down to that device?… And perhaps he may know exactly where the device is but there may be something far more sinister waiting to lure him in or kill him as he’s being lured into the actual device itself.

So preparation of the Force is essential.  Before they deploy they are trained in lots and lots of tactics, techniques and procedures that will keep them alive, but it’s also done on the ground once they get into theatre and throughout the duration of their operational tours.  And then the feedback process is they return from the theatre to make sure that the next deploying troops are as up to speed and as up-to-date as they physically can be.

One of the things that we’ve realised in recent years as well is that… just looking at Afghanistan as one example… within the different regions of that one country the type of the device itself changes dramatically, so where troops might struggle with a very sophisticated device that may have been sourced from say, a rogue state, but they’re also struggling just as equally with very simple fertiliser-based devices.  So it’s the variation of the device; how do we stay on top of that both in terms of training, as you were saying, and both in terms of the technology available to us?  Is that essentially going to be the Achilles Heel to our attempts to overcome this enduring threat?

It’s a very, very good point; the terrorist will continue to use a specific type of IED until it becomes no longer viable, and by that I mean they will stop using it at a point at which we then bring in a successful counter-measure.  To give an example, in most insurgencies the bomb makers will quite often use command wire IEDs; there’ll effectively be an explosive main charge at the contact point, there’ll be some form of electrical wire linking the explosive main charge to the firing point where there will be some sort of power source and a firing switch.  And it literally is a remote long-range cable, and at one end of it you’ll have the trigger man, the terrorist, at the other end you will have the targets.

The problem with that is that the trigger man himself is at a specific point; he doesn’t get to choose, he doesn’t have options, he’s got limited escape routes and they are comparatively easy to detect.  Therefore, once those are no longer viable because of the tactics, techniques and procedures that are used by the security forces on the ground, they will then switch to another means, for example, radio-control IEDs.  And those radio-control IEDs obviously provide them far more freedom of manoeuvre; they can fire it from anywhere within a 360 degree radius of that contact point and therefore they’ve got lots more escape routes and everything else required.


But of course we then bring in jamming equipment, counter-measures to prevent that attack signal from actually reaching the receiver and therefore detonating the device.  So, once we bring in that as a successful counter-measure – it’s been reeled out across the Force – they then have to effectively come up with another means to try and overmatch that.  That may be using different frequencies, it may be using a number of options and certainly in some of the things we’ve seen like the use of a radio-control armed victim operated device; effectively a booby trap that is in a disarmed state so normal traffic can pass over it freely, but when a military patrol is seen to be approaching it will then be armed by radio-control, outside the range of any protective counter-measures. Then, once the patrol drives over that, obviously because it’s armed it will then detonate.

So we then bring in search teams to go and find those.  In the case ofAfghanistan, that was the sort of evolution that we saw and once the search team came in and they were able to successfully identify where those IEDs were they then had to switch to another means.  Because they could see that we were identifying the metal content, in terms of the fragmentation that was in those they then started using low metal content IEDs and therefore we’ve then got to refine our tactics, techniques and procedures again, so we use explosive search dogs and ground penetrating radar.

And you can see that across the country they may not have a specific capability to overmatch the IED at that point in time and therefore the insurgent will continue to use that type of IED but as soon as that counter-measure has reached that part of the country and effectively nullifies that type of IED there, then they’ll move on to the new type.

What does that mean for technology in terms of having to adapt and what we have today at hand, is there anything out there that’s impressing you in terms of GPRs or devices we’re seeing here like [Northrop Grumman’s UGV] Wheelbarrow? What’s the future of technology in this?

Well, that is the million dollar question, and as every counter-IED specialist will say, there is no silver bullet.  What you have to do is go for that combined eclectic response, and certainly the strategy that is being used at the moment – defeat the device, attack the network, prepare the Force – it effectively covers all the bases.  But, if you’re talking about the defeat the device piece where we are looking at technologies to detect and neutralise those devices, we have to really focus on multi-sensor technologies.

And the reason for that is that many companies out there in industry will identify a product that they think will help and assist.  And there’s that classic maxim in business; make what you can sell, don’t sell what you can make. Quite often companies in defence will have a product and they’ll think, yes this is brilliant.  For example, it’s an explosive detector… but actually… does it detect the metallic content, does it detect buried IEDs, does it detect the electronics?

And so if you roll out a platform that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars but it only has an explosive detector on it, it’s not actually going to be a Force multiplier.  But if you have something that has an explosive detector and metal detector fragmentation, an electronic circuit detector, you can already see then that you’re starting to have a number of fail-safes built in and crucially you’re more likely to confirm and find that IED rather than having a series of false alarms.

That is the one thing that industry really could do better because they do have so many resources available to them, is collaborative projects and also using multi-sensor technologies to really provide the gold-plated solution.

So that’s technology, but just very quickly touching on the TTPs again; I’m presuming just from what you’ve said that your thoughts are more towards that left-of-the-boom strategy – we should be doing perhaps a bit more in terms of breaking down the social network.  In a practical sense what would that mean?

It means a very concerted intelligence effort, multiple fused intelligence sources and by that I mean everything from human intelligence right the way through to signals intelligence, all those different aspects. And fusing all those different sources of intelligence together to get the best possible and most accurate intelligence picture, and then being able to decide and act in a very, very speedy manner. We call it the ‘OODA’; the Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act cycle.  And effectively the enemy has the same cycle as us but we have to basically get round that cycle far more quickly than the enemy does.

Therefore, we’ve got to have the best possible information, the most accurate information and then we’ve got to use that information and decide and act very, very quickly and, crucially, far more quickly than the enemy.

Very well put, just on a final note, I know you’ve got quite often a lot of projects going on, is there anything you would want to tell us about, communicate with the international defence community, anything we should be looking out for?

I just think that anybody out there who’s got any sort of product or service or capability that they think may even vaguely potentially save people’s lives or assist in a detection defeat, neutralisation of IEDs, or indeed any of the wider intelligence piece, they really must get it out there, get it seen and start contacting the counter-IED forces to make sure that it’s all considered and those particular technologies can be fused into the existing effort.

Chris Hunter is a supporter of the British Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association, a registered charity that accepts online donations. His latest book Extreme Risk is available on Amazon.

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