ISSUE 150 : Sep/Oct - 2001 - Australian Defence Force Journal

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ISSUE 150 : Sep/Oct - 2001 - Australian Defence Force Journal

AUSTRALIA’S REGIONAL ENVIRONMENT BLUNTING THE KNOWLEDGE EDGE? 11guided weapons meant target acquisition anddamage assessment was extremely difficult.To be able to target a guerrilla force … itmust be found, fixed, targeted, and engaged… before he breaks and flees. To do thesethings when an elusive enemy can be seenand engaged with direct fire is very difficult.It is extraordinarily difficult when he isdistant and unseen… 16Australian forces in Vietnam (1945-54 and1962-75) and Malaya (1948-61) fought anenemy whose tactics were based on dispersedguerrilla action supported by largerconventional infantry forces. They were anelusive and fleeting enemy operating inextremely difficult terrain, using dispersionand infiltration to avoid contact andconcentrate at the time and place of theirchoosing. The single biggest tactical problemof finding and then fixing the enemy inextremely difficult terrain was partially solvedby the use of long-range patrols to identifydeep targets for air and artillery strikes. Patrolsoperated out from the base area for weekscovering large areas on foot and consequentlybeing able to surprise the enemy and preventthem establishing safe base areas. However theallied forces used more conventional tacticswhen the terrain and enemy demanded.We were no longer in jungle warfare,where small patrols could wander throughand meet small enemy patrols. We tendedto keep battalions concentrated in defensivepositions and patrol in strength. We stillhad to patrol …and this was done bycompany patrols. 17Brigadier R. HughesThis mode of operation was an adaptationof the successful techniques employed byCommonwealth forces in Malaya. TheCommonwealth forces conducted constantpatrolling, searching and ambushing by livingin the field for weeks on end, which disruptedand eventually defeated the communists. Thesetactics were combined with policies thatremoved popular support for the communists.The Government succeeded in winning the“hearts and minds” whilst disrupting theguerrilla campaign. The tactical consequenceof the political campaign was to establish avast human intelligence network thateffectively drove the guerrillas into the jungleand cut them off from support.The desert operations of the Gulf War werepredominantly in open terrain with optical,thermal and radar devices all being able todetect forces well outside engagement ranges.Operations in Vietnam were generally incomplex terrain, the enemy being nearlyinvisible except at very close ranges (infantryoften having to withdraw before usingartillery). The war in Vietnam wasconsequently characterised by decentralisedcommand, with platoons and companiesfighting a hidden and well-dispersed enemywith centrally controlled indirect fire support.Even in the Gulf the US Army’s philosophy ofcommand was decentralised (directive control);however the fire support elements, air andartillery were centrally controlled.All of these examples demonstrate how theenvironment dramatically reduces theeffectiveness of “knowledge edge” systemsbased on line-of-sight detection devices andprecision weapons. The more dispersed theenemy, and the closer the terrain, the more thereliance is on human intelligence to provideinformation. It can be in the form of a HumanIntelligence (HUMINT) network, NORFORCEstyle local force patrolling and observationposts, 18 or light infantry conducting long-rangepatrolling and ambushing. The systems thatsucceeded in defeating a dispersed infantryenemy were based on decentralised commandof infantry patrols supported by powerful andresponsive suppressive firepower. The emphasisis on a dispersed searching system andsuppressive fire because of the very shortdetection and engagement ranges and the veryshort exposure times. This military system wassupported by a political removal of the

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