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Revising the American Way of War Pt 2

November 24, 2009

U.S. special forces troops ride horseback in Afghanistan on Nov. 12, 2001.

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.

Solutions

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.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 22, 2009 5:11 am

    Matt thanks for your thoughts and ideas which I agree mostly agree with. Yeah, the established military is going to need help these days, and as you see these private contractors operating on land, you will see the exact same thing at sea. Perhaps we are there already with the merchant marine being told to fend for themselves off Somalia.

  2. December 22, 2009 3:14 am

    Cool blog. I actually posted a small deal about the Marines and the new deal Georgia is getting into. They are offering a thousand troops to the Marines in Afghanistan, and with no limitations. The Marines have also been involved with training the Georgian military, both before their war with Russia, and now after.

    Now it is true that Mikheil just wants to get his country a NATO membership, but this latest move I think is more valuable in terms of learning asymmetric warfare. Or the Hezbollah way of warfare. I also think the Marines are using Georgia as an experiment in hybrid warfare, to do exactly what you are talking about. (train Georgia to be Russia’s Hezbollah, if they decided to invade again)

    The other area that I hit on with my blog, is the concept of the Letter of Marque and Reprisal. Basically, it is a country’s legal means of issuing war powers to individuals who own companies, with the expressed means of killing or capturing an enemy of the state and taking anything of value that they own.

    I think this is a concept of warfare that is not getting enough attention. I personally think that if you mixed 4th generation warfare methods, with the LoM concept, we could eradicate Al Qaeda, drug cartels, and Somali pirates. Easily. By creating a full blown industry out of killing and or capturing these folks, as well as dividing up their assets between the captor and the state, then in fact this would be one more addition to a diversified strategy of warfare.

    I say diversified, because if you look at the Revolutionary War in the US, privateers existed on the same plain as the Continental Army and the small Continental Navy. Privateers are what decimated British logistics that was based on the high seas, and privateers are what hurt British commerce elsewhere. It was incredibly effective. So much so that even George Washington invested in privateer companies, and Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying ‘“Every possible encouragement should be given to privateering in time of war.”

    And finally, the Letter of Marque and Reprisal still exists as a tool of the US congress in the Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 to be exact. We are also not a signatory of the Declaration of Paris, nor is Mexico for that matter.

    There is a reason why we did not want to throw out the use of privateering during time of war. That’s because it works, and works incredibly well.

  3. Joe K. permalink
    November 26, 2009 7:52 pm

    Mike said: “For instance if you have AWACS to control your fighters in an air battle, while would these planes need a highly sophisticated radar of their own such as AESA? Also, if for BMD defense you have 2 ships, one tracker, one shooter, does the tracking vessel have to be equally well armed as the shooter? But if you disperse capabilities around, you reduce costs without reducing efficiency. An Aegis mothership could support several missile ships like the AWACS a fighter squadron.”

    and B.Smitty said: “AWACS is not a good example because it does not provide “fire control quality” tracks necessary to shoot weapons. That’s what the fighter AESAs provide. And by doing away with fighter radars, if your AWACS is unavailable your entire air defense is SOL. If aircraft can locate and hit targets autonomously, then they at least have a fall back plan.”

    I’d have to go with B.Smitty. Forcing our fighter planes to rely on AWACS for radar support is a bad idea because you chop off the fighter’s ability to operate independently. You also increase fuel and maintenance costs overall because if you organize a fighter defensive or offensive action you are required to spend more to put both the fighter planes AND the AWACS up and manage to get them in the same position. You’d be tying up air power so that they would be combat effective only after everything has come together where you could just send a few planes to conduct a defensive or offensive action that doesn’t require a mass amount of power.

    And please STOP STOP STOP trying to compare air power and sea power like they’re on the same page. They’re not. Plenty of people have suggested that air power would most likely or completely supplant sea power’s effectiveness and yet we still use sea power. Why? Because the two cannot be compared in a simple black & white comparison and there is no way for air power to replace sea power as of late.

    You need a specific example? How long can a plane loiter in an area? As long as it still has fuel. How long can a ship loiter in an area? As long as it can remain afloat. That’s a BIG difference in time.

  4. November 25, 2009 5:59 am

    “Why am I reminded of Grey’s Scouts in Rhodesia?”

    Because you are well read and erudite.

  5. west_rhino permalink
    November 24, 2009 2:17 pm

    Why am I reminded of Grey’s Scouts in Rhodesia?

  6. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 24, 2009 1:07 pm

    “You could apply this scenario all around your force, ensuring you have a few high tech enablers, and plenty of low tech warfighters.”

    The NLOS is a good example of a sophisticated system that does not require a sophisticated platform. It can do some degree of recon and battle damage assessment on its own, and it can be networked into a larger battle plan, still it retains the ability to be used independently.

    If you only have a few high tech enablers, you run the risk of having them taken out selectively and then leaving your low tech warfighters blinded.

  7. B.Smitty permalink
    November 24, 2009 11:19 am

    Mike,

    You can often decouple sensors and shooters, but there are costs for doing this.

    AWACS is not a good example because it does not provide “fire control quality” tracks necessary to shoot weapons. That’s what the fighter AESAs provide. And by doing away with fighter radars, if your AWACS is unavailable your entire air defense is SOL. If aircraft can locate and hit targets autonomously, then they at least have a fall back plan.

    It’s debatable whether splitting BMD ships into a sensor and shooter makes sense. You still have a “single point of failure” if you lose either ship. Having multi-mission ships that can be sensors and shooters means that losing one doesn’t completely eliminate your capability. It also means that your BMD capability can be in two places at once. Even if you have multiple shooters but only one sensor, you can still only have BMD defenses in one place (co-located with the sensor).

    Plus the cost to add VLS cells to a BMD sensor ship is marginal compared to the cost of the sensors and combat systems themselves.

    The AEGIS mothership idea suffers from the same problems described above, plus the added issue of radar horizon. Since defense against sea-skimming missiles would be a primary mission for such a vessel, the mothership’s charges would have to stay well within its radar horizon for it to be effective (i.e. very close).

    An alternate idea might be to use elevated JLENS vessels as the sensor. You still will have the single point of failure issue, so combatants need a backup plan for when the sensor is down, but at least you mitigate the radar horizon problem.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 24, 2009 10:58 am

    “You need smart ISR and communications to locate targets, relay coordinates to shooters, and assess battle damage.”

    Smitty, thats a good point, but does this targeting equipment have to be embedded in the platform, which increases individual cost? For instance if you have AWACS to control your fighters in an air battle, while would these planes need a highly sophisticated radar of their own such as AESA? Also, if for BMD defense you have 2 ships, one tracker, one shooter, does the tracking vessel have to be equally well armed as the shooter? But if you disperse capabilities around, you reduce costs without reducing efficiency. An Aegis mothership could support several missile ships like the AWACS a fighter squadron.

    You could apply this scenario all around your force, ensuring you have a few high tech enablers, and plenty of low tech warfighters.

  9. B.Smitty permalink
    November 24, 2009 9:48 am

    Mike said, “We constantly preach here “smart weapons do not need smart platforms”.

    I (somewhat) disagree. Smart weapons are only come into play towards the end of the kill chain. You need smart ISR and communications to locate targets, relay coordinates to shooters, and assess battle damage. Smart platforms are integral to this process.

    You can attempt to decouple sensor from shooter, but you still have to have enough of both to satisfy requirements. And you have to deal with adding communications and kill-chain complexity.

    A manned aircraft can be vectored to a general target area, locate the target itself, attack it, perform BDA, and re-attack if necessary, all in a short span of time, with minimal external controls.

    A dumb shooter with smart weapon still needs the support of smart ISR and a lot more communication and control to accomplish the same thing.

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