Warfare In Your Face
Since at least the 1960s, and the America involvement in the Vietnam War, counter-insurgency, so-called 4th generation warfare has become an important mission for the US armed forces. Arguably it is the most important today but there are certainly 2 schools of thought on the subject:
- Avoid COIN Warfare at all costs School-This mindset says that by the use of overwhelming force, insurgents can somehow be preempted from starting in the first place. Usually this involves the deployment of massive conventional firepower, the Powell Doctrine of the 1990s, a clearly defined set of goals, and exit strategy. It is a good idea, rarely performed correctly that fails to take into account the Fog of War and uncertainty of any conflict.
- Prepare for Hybrid Wars School-Involves the design of flexible fighting forces that can transition from COIN to Conventional as needed. This also ideal solution has yet to be successful tried by Western armies, but nations like China, the Arabs, and Vietnam seem to do so effortlessly.
I would think that after 9/11 the subject would be closed on the controversy, yet there are still die-hards who refuse to let go of the first school that you can avoid COIN in a era of open skies, seas, and borders. Today the frontline is here at home. The Army has belated embraced its leading role in the fight against the terrorist insurgent. The Air Force also is coming around, howbeit kicking and screaming. The Navy has yet to come to grips with warfare in a new era. Here is Jeff Stein at the Washington Post:
Military experts say the Fifth Fleet has come a long way since Iranian gunboats crippled it within hours in a notorious war game five years ago.
In fact, says John Pike, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based Global Security Web site, the Navy was well on its way to solving the challenge of fending off the swarming swift boats before the war game began…But the Navy now has the MK 182, “the mother of all shotgun shells,” fired by 5-inch guns deployed on every major ship in the fleet, says Pike…
The notion that there is some type of silver bullet, technological solution to COIN at sea has given us the littoral combat ship (LCS). The acronym might just as well stand for Leave the Coastals Speedily, since with its high speed and long range weapons, it is not geared to come to close to the enemy, but avoid it at all costs. In this, it is carrying over from the 1990s the failed idea that you can somehow avoid conflict, that there is a safe inbetween that allows you to sustain trusted building practices and economical force structures in an era of uncertainty, where terrorists ram planes into buildings on a calm morning, or suicide bombers guide speedboats into battleships, presumably safely in port.
The Iranians also boast of their arsenal of anti-ship cruise missiles.
But “the Navy doesn’t seem to be overly concerned about” them, says Pike. It has equipped its ships with a variety of “close-in weapons systems,” or CIWS, which are essentially Gatling guns firing 20-millimeter shells.
This type of combat is not fought from safe distances, where artillery can defeat America’s foes at long range. It is warfare in your face, reminding us of the brutal firefights of the Vietnam era, where the Viet Cong would get under the guns of the Americans, so close as to make it impossible to discern friend from foe. It is a shocking, brutal, and quick form of fighting, something all the best laid plans of the WW 2 veterans use to fighting civilized European conflict with like enemies never completely understood. The Marines who fought in Vietnam faired somewhat better, having experienced near-equal brutal conflict with the suicide-bent Japanese in the Pacific Campaign. But the Marines didn’t run the Southeast Asian War.
If one could transplant the insurgent style conflict to the sea, that often proves able to stand up to the world’s mightiest armies, what would it entail? The Navy almost gets it, having surged large forces for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, yet instead of small and shrinking numbers of advanced weapons, should precede their large ships with many smaller ones, able to meet small attack craft navies on their own territory, in their face. Instead of fighting from a distance with expensive, long range weaponry, we could take the fight to the enemy before deploying massive waves of vulnerable troops and their equally at risk motherships, giant amphibs, missile battleships, or aircraft carriers.
Americans whipped the Germans and the Japanese mainly through artillery. During the Korean and Vietnam War, our firepower consistently staved off disaster, but never actually won those wars decisively. Arguably it still remains our strong suite, even when joined by long-range rockets and air-delivered smart bombs. With all our firepower in supercarriers, missiles subs, and stealth bombers, we have yet to find the safety and security from the swarming insurgent, who can get under our guns.