Monday, 18 March 2013

Fireforce: Counter-Strike from the Sky - Dr JRT Wood

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in Airforce magazine. Therefore, the material is proprietary to the Air Force Association of Canada and is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the association. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor Airforce magazine ( ). I support the Air Force Association’s important mission to inform new generations of Canadians about the value and importance of their country’s air force. A link to the AirForce Magazine website is:
Title: Fireforce: Counter-Strike from the Sky
Author: Dr JRT Wood
ISBN: 9781920143336
Pages: 248
Illustrations: 120 b/w, Colour maps
Publisher: 30 Degreesouth

     It has been suggested that necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of the Rhodesian military during the period of the Bush War (1974 – 1980) this was the mantra by which they operated. In his book “Counter-Strike from the Sky”, author JRT Wood traces the development of the Rhodesian military’s asymmetric doctrine and the influences that focused it. Fighting an expanding and progressively more involved and violent war a against the paramilitary forces of   ZANU, ZANLA, ZAPU and ZIPRA operating out of safe havens within the neighbouring countries of Mozambique and Zambia; the Rhodesians found their limited resources stretched to the breaking point. Exacerbating this were the challenges presented by an international situation that found the revolutionary groups supported by the Soviet Union and an international embargo strangling Rhodesia. Wood’s book looks at these factors and the influences that they had upon the technological, doctrinal and psychological approach that the Rhodesians undertook in an effort to defend themselves against their adversaries.

     What is interesting is the degree to which the challenges facing the Rhodesians and their responses are mirrored in the modern day wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. The ‘real politique’ necessity to take the fight beyond the borders into adjacent nation states who are providing safe haven for training and resupply, the dangers of collateral damage to civilians on international and domestic opinion and the need to develop new methods of dealing with an elusive enemy centered on technological innovation and joint operations between the services are all reflections of the steps Rhodesia took ultimately culminating in the Fireforce concept.

     Wood succeeds in creating an easily comprehensible synopsis of the period. His work, presented in a chronological fashion, provides an overview of the history of the region. It is not an all encompassing dissertation on the socio-political situation facing the Rhodesians but it is not meant to be. What Wood provides is enough detail for the reader to comprehend the environment within which the military was operating. In addition to the book itself, a DVD is provided which includes interviews with former members of the Rhodesian Airforce and Army ruminating on their recollections of operations and doctrine development. The quality of the video is good and it provides a valuable addition to his written work; especially as it provides interesting commentary by those involved with all aspects of the Fireforce development and execution including: Dr JRT Wood, Lieutenant-Colonel Brian Robinson OLM, MLM (OC C Squadron, SAS), Major Grahame Wilson GCV, SCR, BCR (C Squadron, SAS), Major Nigel Henson MLM (OC Support Commando, 1RLI), Captain Peter Stanton (Special Branch and Selous Scouts), Lieutenant Alan Thrush BCR (A Company, 2RAR), Sergeant Gordon ‘Beaver’ Shaw (Rhodesian Air Force), Sergeant George Dempster (MA2 Medic, 1RLI) and Chris Cocks (3 Commando, 1RLI). Additionally, it shows video of actual Fireforce operations underway which gives the reader a broader understanding of the complexities of these operations in terms of navigation, communications, airspace control, infill, exfill etc.  It should be noted however that the video does assume a certain degree of knowledge regarding the language and abbreviations associated with Rhodesian Fireforce operations. It therefore should be watched following the completion of the book.

     One of the aspects of the book that I particularly enjoyed was the explanations of the technological developments undertaken by the Rhodesians in overcoming both international sanctions and manpower shortages. Such items such as the Alpha bomb and Roadrunner radio systems are described in great detail by Woods in such a way as to make it clear to the reader how the Rhodesians made best use of the resources available to them. 

     Another area that is a noteworthy success in the book is the explanation of how and why the concept of the Joint Operations Centers (JOC) developed and how the doctrine of Vertical Envelopment dovetailed out of the joint ops paradigm. Wood is particularly adept at tackling this involved subject and presenting it in such a way as to highlight its logic and effectiveness to the war effort. He provides a practical example of this in his detailed account of Op Dingo (an operation which took place in 1977 and served as the highwater mark of Fireforce effectiveness).
     This is a very enjoyable book and JRT Wood does a commendable job at shedding light upon a concept of operations that served its originators very well.

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