Revising the American Way of War Pt 1
Certainly the old Industrial Warfare, often called “The American Way of War” has reached its limits in this new century. The 3rd Generation Warfare ideas of mass armies, navies, and air forces dominated the tactics of the last century but appears now to have met their match in the face of the Third World Hybrid Warrior, the 4th Generation Revolutionary. Every nation, rebel group, even social movements which has adopted these principles of bluff, propaganda, and fanatical devotion have prospered over more conservative ideas from traditional governments attempting to hold up well established societies born out of the Reformation.
There are few greater evidences than the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, consuming the past several decades and threatening to extend into another. Costs have been estimated up to $3 Trillion for the wars, with the budget of the terrorists who started the conflict being ever so frugal. Despite the immense burden placed on America’s economy, industry, and lifestyle, it is not certain we are winning. At best, we could say they we are holding our own against an insurgency who dwells in caves and huts, surviving off the charity, or the fear of others.
When it was cost efficient, the Industrial Warfare, or Total War was adequate for the needs of rising Great Powers. Encyclopedia Britannica describes it as “Military conflict in which the contenders mobilize all of their civilian and military resources in order to obtain a complete victory.” Mass use of force was usually against other states, or rebel groups controlling certain portions of a state, who were less industrialized but more devoted, often better led, with better individual troops. The pattern of this type of warfare rarely varied, and can be roughly summed up like so:
- Larger, richer power with greater number of troops would suffer catastrophic battlefield defeat initially in a conflict.
- The victorious smaller army would enjoy a string of battlefield or naval victories, though never actually bringing the larger power to terms.
- At terrific cost to men and matériel, the large power would win a series of exhaustive battles that would temper the smaller’s run of luck, then begin gradually to throw the latter back from conquered terrain.
- In the last stages of the conflict, the larger state’s greater industry, manpower and natural resources would kick into high gear, with a slow but steady march of armies into enemy territory, the latter paying a desperate price for every inch of territory.
- The outcome soon became inevitable, and with the last of the smaller power’s forces destroyed and his territory occupied, there was almost a collective sigh of relief, instead of the glorious victory hoped for in the early stages of the conflict.
A brutal costly business, this Total War, but it worked for its time. Against lesser, more nimble powers the industrial giants always triumphed, examples being the Northern Union against the Southern Confederacy, the Triple Alliance defeating Paraguay, the British versus the Boers, the British French, Americans, and Russian against the Germans (twice), America, China, and Britain versus Japan. More recently, we see the same type of wars of attrition with the Sri Lankan Federal Government fighting to the end to destroy the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) terrorist organizations’ stranglehold on several of the island’s provinces. The latter was also mixed with new elements of the terrorist suicide bomber, but fanaticism of all types in this kind of savage campaign is nothing new.
After World War 2, the first cracks were seen in the American Way of War. Though arguably victorious, and “never defeated on the battlefield”, America’s recent victories have only come at immense cost of life on the enemy’s side, but economically on our own. In other words, though battlefield casualties are practically negligible compared to often a single battle of the Civil War or the World Wars, there is a price to pay when an economy survives mainly by producing government sponsored weapons, as the old Soviet Union learned. Then there is an even greater crisis of conscience that has invaded every aspect of our society.
In Korea, a draw, in Vietnam, a retreat, despite possessing overwhelming military, industry and manpower. The 2 astounding blitzkriegs (1991, 2003) on Saddam Hussein, with the “world’s fourth largest army” might have been all the more glorious, save for the fact that tiny Israel has been running roughshod over more numerous and often better equipped Arab armies for decades. We might also learned further lessons from the Jews that fighting the Arabs on their own terms, in insurgency warfare, isn’t so much of a picnic.
There has definitely been a revolution in warfare in the past 2 decades, but the Pentagon would have you believe this has been led by Industrial Age vehicles updated to fight in a new age. Thus, getting most of the headlines were superfighters, stealth bombers, supercarriers, nuclear submarines, and the monolithic M-1 tanks. However, one must take into account the poor quaility of the enemy. Saddam’s forces were already worn from a decade long conflict with Iran plus numerous trade embargoes afterward by 2003, leading to the conclusion that using updated versions of previous generations of weapons like the M-60 tank, the F-5 fighters, light carriers, more light troops like the 10th Mountain or 82nd Airborne divisions, along with new smart bombs, the outcome would have been the same. Only there would have been less of the astronomical costs or the forbidding logistical headaches. Far less.
There are three main obstacles to reforming weapon’s procurement in modern militaries:
- Conventional Weapons appear more useful-There is nothing more useful in modern warfare than the giant aircraft carrier. In this it has become much like the battleship of the World Wars, whose heir as fleet capital ship it has become. Despite the proven vulnerability of battleships after Taranto and Pearl Harbor, they soldiered on in numerous conflicts, as important and visible as ever. The last battleship versus battleship fight occurred as late as 1944, and there were more such instances (9) throughout the war than carrier versus carrier(5) fights. The battleship especially excelled at expeditionary amphibious warfare, applying the firepower of its 12 inch to 16 inch guns against shore targets. Interestingly, the primary justification for large decks in recent years has been its usability against land targets. Yet, despite their extreme utility, they were quickly discarded after the war, failing to posses the range or versatility of what prewar seemed only a minor threat, the manned fighter bomber. Today, the aircraft carrier, suffering from many of the same cost concerns and vulnerability questions as the former capital ships, faces a like rival in the guided missile.
- Conventional Vehicles appear more survivable. Size gives the impression of power and presence, especially with the modern main battle tank. After the Yom Kippur War of 1973 between the Arab Powers and Israel, the vulnerability of heavy armor to modern anti-tank weapons (ATGMs) became drastically real. The solution seemed naturally to increase the armor protection of the tank, which in turn caused the size of vehicles and cost to rise accordingly. Modern land ships like the M-1 Abrams are huge, incredibly costly to operate and extremely visible on the battlefield. It has been much easier to increase the penetrating power of ATGMs in response than to replace the Abrams, with no such program currently in sight.
- There are no other Alternatives-The reason questionable and very expensive weapons systems stay in production so long, is the Defense officials see no other alternatives. Currently several Western fighter programs are in the works, many suffering from development problems and all from cost overruns, despite being less capable in many respects to the aircraft they are replacing. So we seem resigned to spending vast sums on increasingly mediocre platforms, claiming, we have no choice, or the program is “too big to fail”.