Revising the American Way of War Pt 2
We continue our study of Industrial Warfare, also known as the American Way of War. Today, a glimpse at a few battles in the last 20 years that may have distracted us from what is truly important, the threat from Third World radicalism, and the new Fourth Generation Warfare. Also, how we might make a U-turn back to reality.
Instead of looking on the victories of the 1991 Desert Storm fight with Saddam’s Iraq, or its smaller clone in 2003 as the start of a new type of warfare, it should be seen as the end of an old one. Neither should we go too far in comparing it to the armored fights with the Germans or the planned for engagement with the Russian Army on the Central Front, the long-dreaded World War 3, except as a pale shadow. Instead it should be seen in the context of a much needed battlefield victory for a war-weary but defiant nation, comparable to Operation Compass during the North African Campaign 1940-1941, with Iraq’s forces roughly like the Mussolini’s brave but atrociously led and equipped Italian troops. If you listen to this famous quote from General Norman Schwartzkopf, you get the impression the conflict was less than a duel of varied technology:
“As far as Saddam Hussein being a great military strategist, he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational art, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that he’s a great military man-I want you to know that.”
It is not just America who is suffering from obsessions with the old 3rd generation Warfare. That last century superpower with dreams of past glories has been keeping its much weaker but still potent military busy of late in various border skirmishes with weaker neighbors, especially Chechnya, the Ukraine, and Georgia. Concerning Chechnya, at great cost she has fought the rebels there to standstill, preventing cessation. Later, she seemed to redeem herself in a lightning campaign into Georgia, which has emboldened her to improve her conventional forces on land, sea, and in the air. As America though in 1991, we think she might possess a case of overconfidence in thinking every future conflict will consist of such ideal conditions against an incredibly out-matched adversaries.
Likewise we see Israel, once the under-dog of the Middle East, fighting for her life against collectively more numerous foes such as Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Today she is a superpower of the region, unmatched in conventional power but suffering in the face of new insurgency threats which is not so easily countered on the modern battlefield. Recently, poor doctrine and an overconfidence in armor alone led her into a humiliating scrap with the Iranian backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. After much soul-searching, she tried her rebuilt forces, still armed much as before with just a few adaptations (more infantry for instance) and enhanced aerial firepower along with her tanks (still the old combined armed tactics for the 1940s), against poorly matched enemies in Gaza. The outcome being virtually assured, the temptation seems to be to forget the lessons of 2006 and update the proven weapons and tactics of another era.
Such minor conflicts are often important, as we said in restoring the morale of a nation early in a conflict, or after several defeats (the 1982 US invasion of Grenada also comes to mind). Still we should not make more of them than they are. Concerning the American experience specifically, her strategists are now torn between 2 schools of thought, whether to build a force geared around medium/light forces for insurgency conflict, or restore antiquated heavy armor, air, and naval forces for some future war with a potential peer military. It could be a mistake to over-emphasize one over the other, but it is safe enough for a military to possess well-trained manpower over uncertain weapons. Plenty of cheap but good vehicles and arms, purchased off the shelf would go far in replacing those that are battle-worn or obsolete, greatly reducing the cost of war when engaging these frugal insurgent armies. Martin Sieff writes concerning this in the UPI:
Larger wars between major industrial powers, of course, destroy lots of weapons systems as well as lots of people. That is why major powers still need lots of soldiers and lots of relatively cheap, easily manufactured and easily replaced weapons systems.
If the concern is being unprepared for some future conventional battle, with tank versus tank, plane versus plane, let me point out the above powers, masters of the battlefield who are yet suffering from the same inadequacies when contending with these poorly armed, but fanatically motivated Third World insurgents. Victories are only won through tremendous use of force which is the habit of these 3rd Generation Industrial Armies used to the practice of “Total War”, only to find the cost prohibitive and the outcome less than hoped for.
America could provide Fourth Generation insurgent training and low cost weapons to weaker neighbors of potential enemies, such as Georgia versus Russia, Taiwan against China, Iraq against Iran, ect. as a more cost effective deterrent. While obviously these industrial powers would prevail in a drawn out war of attrition, unless they are prepared for a decades long conflict of extreme and costly endeavor, where the International Media might be overly-sympathetic to the “underdog”, such a decision might become extremely prohibitive.
With many smaller type platforms, light warships, light fighters, light vehicles, and UAVs, the US could take advantage of a tactic called “swarming“. We constantly preach here “smart weapons do not need smart platforms”. These would be economical fighting against the Fourth Generation Insurgents, and as we have seen in recent years, devastating to conventional powers stuck in the Third Generation. It stands to reason we would produce more of these proven weapons, getting more of them in service instead of concentrating them on highly expensive, fewer numbers of exquisite platforms. It isn’t necessary, neither is it affordable. As David Axe would insist, it also beats extinction which is where our military strength is headed barring drastic change.