It is time to turn the ole gimlet eye onto the news starting with this article about the killing of a little girl by the Italian army ISAF contingent in Herat. which I want to compare to the current civilian casualty flap in Farah Province where over 100 people are reported to have been killed in ISAF air strikes. In my opinion one these incidents should result in a murder charge and the other is the way things have to be but we are not managing that message well at all.
The facts as reported about the Italian shooting seem very clear. They overtook a civilian vehicle but reported it to be driving at high speed they claim to have fired warning shots but TV footage of the car shows it was hit repeatedly in the left rear quarter panel area indicating the shooter was behind the vehicle. The shooting resulted in the death of a 12 year old girl and the Italians drove right past after shooting this car load of people without even stopping. That is murder. There is no way to justify it as anything else based on the facts presented in the news article. Most civilian traffic will attempt to stay in front of convoys because once overtaken you’ll join 100’s of other vehicles in a miles long 20 mph rat line. Which of course is point #1 how can the Italians overtake a racing car in their armored troop carriers? They can’t.
It is a common technique for suicide bombers to slow down and wait for a convoy to draw close and then detonate their IED. It is also common for the slow moving traffic to pull over allowing military convoys to overtake them. These convoys pass vehicles all the time but they will light up vehicles they suspect to be VBIED’s. It’s a poor tactic due to the compressed time/distance ratio.
Colonel John Boyd, USAF (Ret) developed the Observe Orient Decide Act (OODA) Loop theory after an analysis of air to air engagements during the Korea conflict. The Soviet MiG-15 was faster than the American F-86 Sabre and were operating from Chinese airfields close to the front. The F-86 squadrons were flying from the south and would arrive with maybe 15 minutes of fuel to burn before they were forced to head home. The MiG could out-climb the Sabre at all altitudes, and it had a greater operational ceiling.
But the MiG had design flaws resulting in poor control at high speeds, a low rate of roll and directional instability at high altitudes. Boyd recognized that the way of taking advantage of these flaws was to enter a series of intricate turns designed to make the MiG react to the Sabre. Once the MiG was committed it just a matter of time before the Sabre was able convert his high speed maneuver advantage to get a gun solution using the K14 radar gun-sight, which was designed to use derivative movement information for the firing solution.
For earthbound gunfighters the OODA loop also has great utility. The best example would be the famous (in my circles anyway) Tueller drill. Named after Salt Lake City Police Sergeant Dennis Tueller it is a simple demonstration of perceived vs actual risk. The drill assumes an assailant armed with an edged weapon is being uncooperative and is designed to show how close is too close in that situation. The assailant stands back to back with a shooter who has a holstered pistol and is facing a target 7 yards away. On cue the assailant starts to run and stops when he hears the pistol report. The shooter presents his weapon to the target and delivers a controlled pair center mass. A well trained shooter using a good rig and pistol can deliver a controlled pair from the holster in 1.1 to 1.3 seconds – about the time it takes a young adult male to cover the 21 feet.
Twenty one feet is about three car parking spaces or the length of a slightly bigger than average room. Most people feel safe with that much room between them and a stranger. If an assailant starts at you full speed from that distance only the best trained top tier shooters in the world have a chance of presenting a pistol and firing two effective shots. And that is only if they have already decided to shoot; the step in the OODA loop model which takes the longest to work through. The Tueller drill is a perfect example of training designed to improve OODA loop decision making. By illustrating how close is too close and reinforcing the concept with dynamic training the students learn how to make the critical shoot don’t shoot decision faster based off legitimate state of the art training.
Which brings us to ISAF convoys and machinegunners; ISAF convoys over take civilian traffic and pass on coming civilian traffic as a matter of routine. Convoy gunners are responsible for recognizing potential threats, warning them to keep their distance, and firing on them when that warning is ignored. Although ISAF convoys are slow they will still close with on coming traffic at a rate of 60 feet per second which is 3.5 car lengths. On a flat road with perfect visibility a convoy gunner has about 60 seconds – the time it takes a vehicle to reach him from just outside the max effective range of his machine gun – to determine if a vehicle is a threat. There are very few places in Afghanistan with that much flat terrain – my guess would be that the average civilian car to ISAF convoy encounter is around 10 to 15 seconds long. What do you think it would take to get your attention, have you orient your weapon, then make the critical friend or foe decision before firing into an oncoming car?
To distinguish potential threats in the normal chaotic local traffic clutter requires gunners with enough knowledge to apply the rule of opposites. Suicide vehicle drivers tend to have a signature, they tend to behave erratically, and in order to detect one in time to warn and engage him you would have to detect him a long way off. If you think through this process – especially while driving so you can do a little real time war gaming – you will come to the same conclusion I have. And that is our counter VBIED measures will never work because it is not possible for a soldier to complete the OODA loop and reach an informed firing solution given the small amount of time, short distances, and number of innocent people who drive like lunatics in Afghanistan. You cannot recognize a VBIED that fast – not possible – so why the hell are we still shooting 12 year old girls in this country?