AUSTRALIAN SAS troops will have to change their operational tactics
drastically in a war on Iraq and could end up riding to war on the back of trail
The bikes are most likely to replace the long-range four-wheel-drive vehicles
they used in mountainous Afghanistan, which are far too visible in the flat,
open deserts of Iraq.
Military experts said the SAS would probably be used for desert missions deep
behind enemy lines to spy out Iraqi positions.
Rather than attack, they would call in air strikes or US special forces to
attack from battle helicopters.
The SAS squads on these missions would operate in groups of four or five and
aim to be as invisible as possible. The trail bikes would be dropped with them
``We learnt from the mistakes of the British SAS in the '91 Gulf War it is
very hard to hide in that sort of flat, desert terrain," said David Horner,
author of SAS Phantoms Of War which details the history of the Australian elite
In a rare glimpse inside the operations of the SAS, the survivor of a botched
British SAS mission deep inside Iraq wrote a book called Bravo Two Zero, which
revealed that bad planning and support had left the squad stranded in the desert
fighting Iraqi troops.
They were spotted by a goatherd who alerted Iraqi troops and they had to flee
hundreds of kilometres on foot trying to escape.
``That British SAS unit got rumbled very easily and then had no way of
getting out except on foot," Professor Horner said.
The Australians wouldn't make that mistake with bikes hidden under a
tarpaulin, ready for a quick getaway.
They are rigged to run very quietly, with a top speed of 165kmh and extra
fuel tanks to give them greater range.
The SAS has been using the bikes for some time. Yamaha sold 500 XT600 bikes
to the military with special conversions for gun racks, heavy-duty suspension,
large rear panniers and long-range fuel tanks.
Former motocross champion Stephen Gall trained army instructors at
Puckapunyal base in special techniques for combat and desert riding.
``When our SAS were in the desert in Kuwait in 1998, they ran into problems
with the Land Rovers," Professor Horner said.
``They will also be facing tanks and armoured vehicles which could probably
outrun a Land Rover on the flat desert."
Prime Minister John Howard has said 150 SAS soldiers are on stand-by to go to
the Persian Gulf.
The SAS won enormous respect from the US forces in Afghanistan.
There, US General John Vines said he would do everything in his power to have
the SAS by his side if he went to war against Iraq.
``I think their skill, expertise, experience and professionalism are just
invaluable," General Vines said.
``If I had to pick one unit that we could work with that I feel is the most
critical to our success, I would pick your forces."
THE YAMAHA XT600
* Weight 156kilograms; top speed 165kmh.
* Alterations for military use: long-range fuel tanks doubling the range to
300kilometres; gun racks on front and rear of bike; rear carriers for equipment.