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December 07
12:09 2018

By Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d)

Combat exercises are important for any army because they allow commanders to test the soundness of their battle plans. To succeed on the battlefield; to execute any battle plan an army must be able to do three things: move, shoot and communicate. Painfully, the BDF is woefully deficient in all three.

Mobility is absolutely important in modern warfare and with regret I must tell you that the BDF does not have sufficient military grade transport to be able to deploy in the face of an invasion. In fact the BDF has mostly off-the-shelf civilian Ford trucks as its primary means of transport. It is doubtful whether the BDF has enough transport to deploy Belize’s entire army to combat. The challenge is not just about the size of the vehicle fleet but also about its condition. If the BDF is unable to move around the battlefield it will be easily outmanoeuvred.

In terms of air assets, the BDF has a single defender aircraft that is obsolete. In fact Mayan Island Air has defender type aircrafts in its fleet that can outperform those of the BDF. With respect to rotary wing aircraft, it was Taiwan who gifted us two Bell Huey helicopters. Though we should be grateful for the helicopters, the BDF needs an entire fleet of troop carrying aircrafts if it is to have the necessary agility to defend Belize. I can hear the naysayers now: “we cannot afford such things”.

Successful combat is about inflicting heavy losses on your enemy whilst minimizing his ability to do the same to your own forces. To be able to inflict casualties on your enemies you need effective weapons and since Belize does not produce weapons we must buy or beg from those countries that do.

Today the BDF has only direct fire weapons; this means that members of the BDF must be able to see the enemy in order to engage him. Given the range of the BDF’s weapons we are talking about close combat: less than 400 meters.

In combat indirect fire weapons (which the BDF no longer has) is a “force multiplier” as they help you to destroy your enemies from miles away. Mortars, artillery, missiles are all essential in modern warfare.

Up until about a decade ago, the BDF had a platoon of 81mm mortars. Over the years, because of wear and tear and the lack of proper maintenance those mortars became unserviceable. They were in such bad shape that they could not be fired without a high risk of the round exploding in the barrel of the mortar. In the interests of safety they were decommissioned. To date the BDF has not reacquired any indirect fire weapons, NONE!

So derelict have we been with our own defence that if every able bodied man wanted to stand up and defend Belize they would not be able to because we as country possess less than 3,000 rifles.

The third pillar upon which an army must stand is in its ability to communicate. The ability to securely transmit combat orders is critical to success on the battlefield. That is why when we look at the way in which the United States prosecutes wars, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, their first targets are always command centers and communications infrastructure. If a commander cannot deliver timely orders to troops on the battlefield the war is all but lost.

In 2018, the BDF does not have sufficient capacity to securely communicate between the various combat units. It does not have the ability to encrypt its messages at the scale necessary to prevent interception by unauthorized entities. This reality increases its vulnerabilities as one can reasonably assume that an opposing force can eavesdrop on its communications. In fact, I have been reliably informed that for some operations, incredibly, the primary means of communications for the BDF is cell phones.

I have said these things to you my fellow Belizeans, not to frighten you about any armed action by Guatemala. I maintain that the use of force is not a legitimate option for the settlement of Guatemala’s unfounded claim and therefore we must not fear it.

I have said these things to you so that you understand the extent to which we have undermined the ability of the BDF to perform its functions. I have said these things to you so that you can no longer say that you did not know of the emasculation of the BDF, and I have said these things to you so that hopefully you will tell your political leaders to fix our defences.

The BDF is not expeditionary in nature; its sole purpose is to defend the territory of Belize from armed aggression. In that sense it does not need to be overly large but Belize needs nothing less than a standing army of 7,500 a volunteer element of 2,500 and every citizen a soldier. We do not need to match the Guatemalans in absolute numbers but we need only a credible defence that says invade at your own peril. History has shown us that the surest way to invite aggression is to create and sustain military imbalance.

The British did not teach us to be warlike for their own selfish ends but I point you to the wisdom of the Roman General Vegetius when he said “If you want peace prepare for war”.

In just a few weeks the Barrow administration will dole out more than half a million dollars for “Christmas cheer”. Many of the people who will partake in this feast have loved ones serving in the BDF. Those very people will eat ham whilst their loved ones serving at the Sarstoon risk losing an eye because of the crumbling pier. They will eat turkey whilst their loved ones must share combat equipment because there is not enough to issue personal kit to each soldier, as it should be. They will feast whilst their army cannot defend them not even for three days.
Eat drink and merry Belizeans; eat drink and be merry!

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