Wednesday, April 25, 2007

We are not alone

While tales of woe about the parlous state of the armed forces abound in the media, it seems we are far from alone in having problems.

According to a report publicised by the Dutch Telegraaf newspaper, summarised in English by Aviation Week, maintaining the 2,000-strong contingent in Uruzgan province and Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, is creating serious stress in the Dutch military.

The report, produced by the Defence Staff in The Hague, suggests that, after years of continuous deployments and contingency operations in the Balkans, the Horn of Africa, Iraq and now Afghanistan, the Dutch military is now beginning to run out of steam. So serious, in fact, is the situation that, if the currently-planned deployment in Afghanistan is continued beyond the phased mid-2008 end date, the country's military will come close to collapse.

General problems identified are scarce personnel such as helicopter aircrew, maintenance engineers, logistic and medical specialists. These are in such demand that they are hardly ever at home, resulting in many experienced operators leaving the service.

Additionally, supplies of spare parts and other materials are running out, the wear and tear of vehicles and equipment deployed in Uruzgan is higher than expected and a spending freeze mandated by the new Dutch Government (where have we heard this before?) means that it is hard to order new spare parts.

More specifically, the 192 Mercedes-Benz 4x4 vehicles used in Uruzgan face serious trouble as the supply of spare drive trains and axles is running out; heavy trucks (essential to keep the supply between Kandahar Air Field and the Dutch bases in Uruzgan running): need to be replaced by fresh ones brought in from the Netherlands. Flying them in will be extremely costly. Shipping them by sea will require the secure communications kit to be removed and will take a long time. Up-armoring each new truck will cost €20,000

Other problems n the pipeline are the new Bushmaster armoured patrol vehicles (procured from Thales Australia under an urgent operational requirement in mid-2006 - pictured). These may face a maintenance problem if the current service contract with Thales is not extended post mid-2008.

Then there are the Patria 6x6 armored wheeled vehicles. These are expected to suffer huge problems after mid-2008 because they are quickly running out of spare power packs, engines and forward axles. A budget of €2.32 million is needed to order 15 power packs.

Even light weapons are having their problems. The Minimi light machine guns (also used by the British Army) have major problems with the serviceability. If there is to be an extension of the Dutch deployment, the Minimis in theatre may have to be replaced by a different weapon.

As to larger more sophisticated items like the Apache, Chinook and Cougar helicopters, in case of an extended stay, the availability of only two Apaches can be guaranteed. Chinooks will have to be provided by another nation and Cougars will become a problem, all because of a shortage of personnel.

Concluding the litany of woes, the report then goes on to say that the military have completely run out of spares for radios, ICT systems, night vision and optical equipment, 120-mm mortars, forward air control and Aladin mini-UAVs. If things break down in the field, the report says, they cannot be replaced

Needless to say, the Dutch defence minister, Eimert van Middelkoop, denies there is a problem. He describes the issues identified as "bottlenecks" which are "being addressed," adding: "There are no personnel, equipment and technical problems for the present operation that cannot be solved and that hinder the operation or its tempo."

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