Saturday, 12 August 2006

Stupid middle east journalists

Just about every night on the news, one sees pictures of self-propelled artillery blasting away at bits of Lebanon. The idea behind using these images seems to be to demonstrate that Israel is indiscriminately bombarding civilians and causing unnecessary casualties. That's the way I read it. Maybe I am just being paranoid, but if one shows footage of 155mm cannons going "BOOM" and then shows footage of civilians being dragged out of rubble, then you are creating a subtle linkage between the two. Michael Moore is the master of linking totally unrelated things this way.

But has any reporter wandered up to a battery commander (I don't mean someone that is in charge of Duracel batteries - I mean an artillery battery, or group of guns) and asked them what they are shooting at and how they are being given the co-ordinates to shoot at? After all, when one has a big cannon that will shoot, I don't know, say 20 kilometers, you don't peer over open sites ala "Master and Commander" and shoot at something that you can see across the way. You are relying on someone else feeding you a precise set of co-ordinates. In the old days, this was done by either a forward observer (FO) on the ground with a radio, or an FO in a light plane. I am not up on how the drop-shorts do it these days, but I presume it also involves remotely piloted drones and that sort of thing, along with desperate young platoon commanders yelling into handsets for supporting fires.

The other artillery usually does is counter-battery fire. In the days of Wellington and Napoleon, this involved one side parking their artillery on one hill and the other lot parking on another hill and the two blasting away at each other with the aim of knocking off enough artillery pieces or men in order to dominate the battle. If you can subdue the other guys artillery, you can then pound his infantry to bits.

By the time Vietnam came around, we had a fun bit of kit called the Mortar Locating Radar. As the name suggests, it could detect incoming mortar rounds and compute where they were coming from. Artillery could then be directed to return fire to that spot. If VC mortarmen wanted to live for long, they became masters at the art of "shoot and scoot". That is, pop off a few rounds, pick up the tube and baseplate and run for your lives.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I would have thought that if Hezbollah are shooting off rockets from Lebanon, then the Israelis would be using their mortar locating radar to plot where the rockets are being fired from, and then getting the artillery to blast that spot into dust. Which is why it is really, really dumb for Lebanese civilians to hang around watching Hezbollah firing rockets from their backyards. If I saw a rocket salvo go off nearby, I would run in the opposite direction as fast as possible, and not stop running for at least 10 minutes. In the old days, that would take me at least 2km away. That would allow for the odd artillery salvo going a bit long, and 155mm shrapnel has a nasty habit of going a really long way. Artillery is probably better for this type of mission than aircraft - artillery can react faster than air support. Which I guess is why we see a lot of footage of big guns going "BOOM" on the news each night.

The only problem with using mortar locating radar and artillery is that it really produces very un-sexy footage. For all we know, the Israelis might also be using stacks of towed artillery, but big tank-looking things look much more impressive than wimpy little 105mm pack howitzers. Another problem with artillery is that you don't get the gun-camera or bombsight footage that you get from aircraft. You don't get to see a laser designator resting on a house rooftop and then a big cloud of dust going everywhere. There are no cameras in the nose cones of high explosive rounds.

Maybe someone could come up with that? It'd be dead frightening to be watching footage from a 155mm nose cone as it heads towards its target. Eeek.

Anyway, it shits me that you see footage of say a village being bombarded, but we aren't told why it is being bombarded. Is it because someone just popped up and fired an anti-tank missile from a house? Is it because a platoon of Hezbollah is dug in like ticks and they won't surrender or flee, so the result is something like Monte Cassino? Is it because a salvo of rockets left there a few minutes beforehand, so they are trying to hit those that fired them?

I get the feeling though that the journalists that we have in the middle east are so un-militarily minded that they think that the self propelled artillery are in fact tanks - which they are not. The idea of adding armour is to allow the cannons to get the hell out of Dodge once they have completed a fire mission - assuming that the other guy is going to be shooting back with big guns as well. They're really overkill when used against Hezbollah, but they'd be really useful for fighting the Syrians, as the Syrians would have a lot of artillery to use for counter-battery fire. Using self-propelled artillery as a "tank" is about the stupidest idea you could think of. The armour isn't that thick, and it's not reactive or CHOBHAM or any of that fun stuff that you find on say Challenger or Abrahms tanks. The cannons are also big fat things that are designed to hurl a lot of rounds in an "up and over" style, whereas tanks use a high velocity gun that shoots very flat. Self propelled artillery would last as long on the battlefield if facing tanks as say guys in semi-traillers would last - about 2 minutes.

But I think I am digressing. I understand the difference between a tank and self propelled artillery - and APC's for that matter. I understand what counter battery fire means. I know that mortar locating radars have been around for 30 years, and what they are used for. But most of the population wouldn't. I reckon most journalists wouldn't have a clue either.

Which means the "news" and "analysis" that we are getting is just so much frog shit.

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