Skip to content

I’ve told this story before

The British Army has sent a new elite infantry regiment and a platoon of drone operators to the Mojave desert to take part in an American war-gaming exercise that simulates a Russian invasion of Europe.

About 450 British soldiers were flown to California for a fortnight of drills at Fort Irwin, a US military base that is almost 1,000 square miles. Among those joining in the exercises, called Project Convergence, were the Rangers, an elite British Army regiment formed last year.

That whole Tom Clancey novel thing about there being a fleet (erm, ships of the desert, that’s right, right?) of Russian tanks out there that everyone could play red v blue games with is, in fact, true. That’s also how I got into being an arms dealer. A very temporary thing but there we are.

Because if you’re going to have Russian tanks out there then you need to have spare parts for Russian tanks. Tracks, for example, last 1,000km. Plus the occasional new one to play with. If you’re going to be doing repairs and oil changes and all that then you need the tools to be able to do that work with. Which, given the way these things work, means that someone, somewhere, needs to have a shed full of metric spanners.

Which is what my buddy bought – I lent him some of the cash to do so. He paid me back, so my involvement was brief. But all true. Out there in the Mohave there is a shed of metric spanners. Part of that long tail which makes all the rest of this possible.

Who knows, maybe Mohave Greenie, that regular reader here, can see it from his window or summat?

40 thoughts on “I’ve told this story before”

  1. Maybe the Russians have lost all their modern tanks so the old stuff the US owns has become relevant again.

    I suppose the Yanks don’t need to consider shipping the tanks to Ukraine: I assume the Ukes might pick up a bit of abandoned weaponry from Kherson. Or will the Russkis have been organised enough to blow it all up?

    One thing I don’t understand: why have there been no reports of the Russians being equipped with modern US weaponry bought from Afghanistan?

  2. Given that the British government can’t even stop foreigners coming across the Channel in rubber dinghies, what price stopping the Russkies?
    Then again, Russians have been designated ‘Bad People’ so it’s ok to do whatever you like to them…

  3. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    Does trading in the tools used to repair tanks make you an arms dealer though? I wouldn’t have thought they would be in the category of things you can’t own and sell without permission from the gubmint.

    That said, parts of the US it’s illegal to own laboratory glassware without a license, so who knows.

  4. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    And a military question, how necessary is it to have some aged enemy vehicles to play expensive paintball with? Can’t you just use some aged tanks of your own?

    And as a tank battle looks more likely in Taiwan than Europe, do they have any Chinese tanks to play expensive paintball with?

  5. Getting the replacement tank tracks, the helicopter rotors, yes, that makes you an arms dealer. You certainly need the usual end user certs that arms dealers need. Tho’ the occasional radar bit has been known to come through the post without them…..

  6. “That’s also how I got into being an arms dealer.”

    I knew an arms dealer whose nickname was T-Rex.

    Because he was a small arms dealer.

  7. “One thing I don’t understand: why have there been no reports of the Russians being equipped with modern US weaponry bought from Afghanistan?”

    Firstly, the Russians have vast stockpiles of the own kit to use up first.

    Secondly, the Russians would have to re-train on that kit.

    Thirdly, where are they going to get the spare parts from?

    Fourthly, how much actual advanced weaponry was left behind, as opposed to loads of Humvees?

    Fifthly, how much of it have the Taliban actually got in working order? Have they stored it properly?

    Sixthly, have the Taliban learnt an important lesson? Don’t get involved outside your own borders, just in case someone decides to kick arse. Again.

    Seventhly, it would rather embarrassing for Putin and the Russian military if they were discovered to be using advanced American weaponry, effectively admitting their own stuff is shite.

    Eighthly, why would the Taliban want to let it go? Wouldn’t they prefer to use it themselves? Assuming it works.

    Candidly, the question is beneath me.

  8. . . . I assume the Ukes might pick up a bit of abandoned weaponry from Kherson.

    Russia is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, weapons supplier to Ukraine, albeit involuntary.

    Or will the Russkis have been organised enough to blow it all up?

    They’re claiming not a single loss of personnel or equipment in their bug out.
    From which we may safely conclude . . . something else.

  9. Well DMcD, I think it might also be a question of whether the towelheads can get stuff to work without blowing themselves up or accidentally flattening a village or two.

  10. Unless they’re contemplating a Russian incursion into the Desierta de Tabernas, The Mojave does seem a curious place to wargame a Russian invasion of Western Europe. The Mojave being mountainous, dry & with little vegetation & Europe being generally flat, wet or snowcovered, & liberally forested. But the military eh? Practising the wars the would prefer to fight.

  11. The Mojave does seem a curious place to wargame a Russian invasion of Western Europe.

    True dat. Might be a closer match to Syria, though.

  12. How can a new regiment be “elite”? Isn’t that wishful thinking until it can demonstrate its abilities?

  13. BiS – The Mojave does seem a curious place to wargame a Russian invasion of Western Europe

    Tanks make a big mess, so the desert is an ideal place to practice (and visibility tends to be great too). We used to send tankers to Canada for large scale tank exercises, but idk if we still do. They’ve also had pretty sophisticated simulators since the 70’s or so.

    Idk what role tanks might have in WW3 tho. If the Ukraine war is anything to go by, it’ll be an artillery, infantry, missile and drone war, with tanks mostly relegated to a support role. If we’re learning anything from this (always doubtful) it’s that we currently have nowhere near enough men or materiel to successfully fight a prolonged war against a peer/near peer competitor. I don’t think Rishi’s going to beef up the British Army tho.

    Despite that, looks pretty reasonably likely we’ll end up directly fighting Russia soon (or worst case: Russia and China) btw. The world today looks oddly similar to the state of play pre-1914, albeit with fewer monocles and dumber leaders.

  14. “Then again, Russians have been designated ‘Bad People’ so it’s ok to do whatever you like to them…”

    That’s because they are bad people.

  15. Steve,

    “Idk what role tanks might have in WW3 tho. If the Ukraine war is anything to go by, it’ll be an artillery, infantry, missile and drone war, with tanks mostly relegated to a support role. If we’re learning anything from this (always doubtful) it’s that we currently have nowhere near enough men or materiel to successfully fight a prolonged war against a peer/near peer competitor. I don’t think Rishi’s going to beef up the British Army tho.”

    The anti-tank weapons are now so good that tank loses. Tanks worked when people had small arms. You could roll across the countryside. When people have Bayraktars and NLAWs which are relatively cheap and easy to hide, you’re a sitting duck.

    I’m not too worried, though. For one thing, I don’t think we have anyone who is a threat to us. We don’t have huge amounts of resources to steal, or anyone with an old historic view of us being part of their empire.

    But beyond that, you’re not going to be able to build a military for that situation. It’ll be the dicking around, unserious luxury military of women, trannies, F-35s, health and safety at work, following the Geneva Convention like a boy scout, and not shagging oriental whores on shore leave. If we have a proper war, the women and trannies get booted out because you need lots of men, you need weapons that can be mass produced on a production line, health and safety losses become more acceptable, the Geneva Convention becomes guidelines, and what sailors do after hours, no-one cares about as long as they are killing Johnny Foreigner.

  16. “The anti-tank weapons are now so good that tank loses. Tanks worked when people had small arms. You could roll across the countryside. When people have Bayraktars and NLAWs which are relatively cheap and easy to hide, you’re a sitting duck.”

    But but but…the cavalry regiments have to have armour. Their horses don’t like the bangs.

  17. BoM4 – Dr Robotnik was right.

    The anti-tank weapons are now so good that tank loses. Tanks worked when people had small arms. You could roll across the countryside. When people have Bayraktars and NLAWs which are relatively cheap and easy to hide, you’re a sitting duck.

    Tanks were already getting fat, heavy and expensive by the 80’s/90’s. Now they’ve got all the stuff you mentioned above to deal with. And the fast jets, and the attack helicopters.

    Not sure if I’d rather be a tanker in WW3, riding in a big noisy target, or an infantryman dealing with kamikaze murder drones and fully automated AI-based Hunter-Killer versions with the gleaming red eyes.

    I’m not too worried, though. For one thing, I don’t think we have anyone who is a threat to us. We don’t have huge amounts of resources to steal, or anyone with an old historic view of us being part of their empire.

    We don’t really need an armed forces, we just need the Royal Navy. The RN is fit (or should be fit) for all our actual defence needs, from border protection to legacy colonial obligations to strategic deterrent. Yes, they’ll need an air wing, and some sort of seaborne soldiery, but I’m sure we can think of something. Territorial home defence should be the TA’s job, with a small cadre of regulars in place to rapidly mobilise reserves at need.

    We could probably do this for about half the cost of our current defence spending.

  18. Other than having the space available, I can’t think of a worse place to train for defending Europe.

    Hardly any rain or mud. Roads are wide, the landscape isn’t partitioned off by stone or tree walls . . .

  19. As for latgm’s, keep in mind that active protection systems are coming online across the world.

    Won’t render them useless, but your gonna end up needing to coordinate multiple missile strikes to saturate or deplete and APS which will render the missiles less useful

    But it won’t be latgm’s. It will be autonomous drone swarms of hundreds running around dropping EFP’s on any heat source they detect. You’ll have to fight under a shield of anti-drone defenses and either you have ‘drone superiority’ or you’re basically dead.

  20. Can’t see the tanks from my usual haunts, there is 60 miles of desert and mountains in the way. Could sometimes see the muzzle flashes from the artillery.

    Ft Irwin was a National Guard training center until the mid 80s when the army took it and turned it into the National Training Center. It is part of the Western Training complex that includes China Lake, Edwards AFB, and 29 Palms. Thousands of square miles for training and weapons testing. Setting this up was prescient(?) as the next three decades would see military operations in the desert. It is hard for people to understand just how much space is used out here for military training.

    As a historical note, General George Patton trained his tank forces in the desert just east of Palm Springs. There is an interesting museum about this at the top of the grade on I-10 heading east from Palm Springs.

  21. The usefulness of mobile, protected, direct fire artillery on the battlefield means the Tank’s time is not done. Both sides in Ukraine use them and are clamouring for more and better. The sustained incompetence of the Russians in tank (mis)use should not be a guide.

    The tank / anti-tank race has still not been won. The Israeli Trophy system will intercept NLAWS; indeed anything other than supersonic kinetic rounds. Much will have been learned about drones in the Ukraine conflict, and that’s going to be an arms race all of its own.

    We don’t really need an armed forces, we just need the Royal Navy. . . Yes, they’ll need an air wing, and some sort of seaborne soldiery . . .

    That’s kind of where we’ve been heading for a while, but replace “seaborne” with “mobile”. The new Ranger regiment is an example.

  22. The old will become new again. I’m rereading Corrigan. The aim of the UK was always to have a Navy which could a) control the oceans and b) insert the British Army where it needed to be, let it do its stuff, then take it off again for reuse again elsewhere. That does mean an Army, Marines only take you so far. But the entire point was to have a small, professional, highly trained, Army that could be delivered by the Navy.

    You’re right, we are rather going back to that and we should be too.

  23. We could probably do this for about half the cost of our current defence spending.

    To do it properly it would probably cost at least twice what we currently spend. But we should do so as a priority. We won’t enjoy the luxury of being an Ireland or New Zealand, hiding behind the big boys. And we need to be big enough on our own to not be fucked with because no alliance is permanently useful.

    But if we won’t stop the illegal immigrants, and chief constables can tell the Home Secretary to fuck off when she tells them to do their job against domestic terrorists, then we might as well cease all defence spending and have a giant piss up before the end comes.

  24. Bloke in North Dorset

    “ Given that the British government can’t even stop foreigners coming across the Channel in rubber dinghies, what price stopping the Russkies?
    Then again, Russians have been designated ‘Bad People’ so it’s ok to do whatever you like to them…”

    Jeez, I’ve read some utter bollocks in my time, but even Ecks wasn’t that stupid.

  25. That does mean an Army, Marines only take you so far.

    Depends on the marines; the US Marines can take you a pretty long way.

    I’ve long thought that we could do worse than construct our expeditionary force along the lines of the US Marines. It doesn’t matter what you call them (mobile army, marine force, whatevs) but that capacity they have of combined sea, land and air power dedicated to rapid, heavy force projection anywhere in the world is what we should be aiming for.

  26. Us Marines are much more like Army than you might think. You’re right though, in a sense. Nomenclature doesn’t matter. Expeditionary force, that’s the thing.

  27. Jonathan – me neither, I’m armchair generaling. But of course tank commanders think tank commanders still have a place on the battlefield. I’m not so sure.

    I agree with Agammamon: It will be autonomous drone swarms of hundreds running around dropping EFP’s on any heat source they detect. You’ll have to fight under a shield of anti-drone defenses and either you have ‘drone superiority’ or you’re basically dead.

    Yes x 10101

    Ukraine is a glimpse of the very near future, where drone swarms – and it must be swarms, that’s how you beat a smaller swarm. Soon they’ll be pinwheeling across the skies like a horde of murdering starlings. Seeing everyone, everything, everywhere on the battlefield, in real time and glorious 4K with IR and UV modes also available. Chattering to each other at the speed of light, making instant pattern-recognising decisions and assigning sub-tasks just as quickly to kill everything and everyone the swarm encounters.

    But you must go big or go home. Total Drone Warfare at its deadliest levels of potential will be Lightning Blitzkrieg run entirely by an AI in the cloud. Supercomputers don’t care about your OODA loop, they can destroy the enemy’s capacity to wage war before human brains can comprehend what’s been done to them. If we give the computers the right tools. But that’s also how we get Skynet, so it’s a bit of a double edged sword if you ask me.

    PJF – But if we won’t stop the illegal immigrants, and chief constables can tell the Home Secretary to fuck off when she tells them to do their job against domestic terrorists, then we might as well cease all defence spending and have a giant piss up before the end comes.

    I’ll drink to that. Whisky and freedom gang thegither, as I believe dearieme once said.

  28. Tim – You’re right, we are rather going back to that and we should be too.

    I’ve always wondered what it must’ve been like seeing the Royal Navy at its imperial peak, that would’ve been a sight to see.

  29. Seeing everyone, everything, everywhere on the battlefield, in real time and glorious 4K with IR and UV modes also available. Chattering to each other at the speed of light, making instant pattern-recognising decisions and assigning sub-tasks just as quickly to kill everything and everyone the swarm encounters.

    Until someone fires a localised electro-magnetic-pulse and they all promptly fall out of the sky.

    Just jamming their signals can render them temporarily useless. One of the ways the Ukrainians use their drones (probably the Russians too now, maybe) is to make the enemy supress his own communications.

    You launch useful but expendable drones over enemy territory, forcing him to jam / bring them down with jamming/EMP. But he can’t use his radios while does that. So you can restrict his comms to essentials only, at a time of your choosing when you can be listening.

    There’s a lot of sci-fi rubbish talked about drones; like many weapons and tactics they’re most useful against non-peer enemies. As soon as that airspace is contested, drones range from limited to useless.

  30. PJF – Until someone fires a localised electro-magnetic-pulse and they all promptly fall out of the sky.

    Just jamming their signals can render them temporarily useless. One of the ways the Ukrainians use their drones (probably the Russians too now, maybe) is to make the enemy supress his own communications

    EMP’s are more science fiction than drones right now, and sure, you can jam some of the EM spectrum, some of the time. But you can’t stop the signal, Mal. Short of playing Missile Command IRL with tac nukes there’s no real defence against the drone swarm.

    Yet.

    But sure, counter-drone is going to be huge. However, the answer to counter drone is probably more drones, until it’s cheaper to defend against them than it is to attack. What we really need is some kind of cheap, powerful portable laser weaponry to burn the little fuckers out of the sky at the cost of a few £ per zap, or maybe an anti-drone variant of CIWS.

    It’s the economics of drone warfare that make it a revolution, imo. Countries like Turkey and Iran are now able to churn out “good enough” unmanned weapons at an attractive enough price to change the economics of war. Even Islamic militants in Palestine are starting to get gud with 3D printed homebrew drones. It’s changing the world in ways that look a bit like the rapid evolution of technology and tactics after the first generation of successful military aeroplanes were invented. It feels like a consequential technology, if you dig? Jackie Fisher squinting at the blueprints for a “dread nought”. Britain grokked the full potential of radar, the Luftwaffe did not. Militaries that play at “also having drone capabilities” are likely to lose to the drone masters.

    Jgh – I’m doing my part.

  31. “Then again, Russians have been designated ‘Bad People’ so it’s ok to do whatever you like to them…”

    That’s because they are bad people.

    That’s funny. All the ones I’ve met have been perfectly ordinary, friendly people.
    Hmm.

    Couldn’t be that the government and their lackeys want you to hate them because it makes it easier to distract you and blame them for all the economic woes…

    From my experience of people in various countries, most people just want to get on with their lives and couldn’t give a rats anus about what people on the other side of the world do.
    Governments are the ones who cause problems and seem to be evil.

    But if we won’t stop the illegal immigrants, and chief constables can tell the Home Secretary to fuck off when she tells them to do their job against domestic terrorists, then we might as well cease all defence spending and have a giant piss up before the end comes.

    Sounds good to me. the West is dying. Might as well enjoy the fall.

  32. We won’t enjoy the luxury of being an Ireland or New Zealand, hiding behind the big boys. And we need to be big enough on our own to not be fucked with because no alliance is permanently useful.

    Isn’t that why we have Trident (at least until Sir Kneel gets into No. 10)?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *