Thursday, January 31, 2008

Big Armies and Small Wars

Part of the difficulties facing Western Armies today, such as stretched-thin war duties, equipment wearing out faster they can be replaced, and poorly armed insurgent forces often besting us in a fight, stems from our dependence on technology and old industrial age military strategies. A new book by a French general echoes these inconvenient truths, via Defense News:

“Tomorrow’s War – Thinking Otherwise,” (Economica) by Maj. Gen.
Vincent Desportes, draws on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israel-Hizbollah war to
promote the idea that France — and by implication, Western allies — need land
armies capable enough to fight an asymmetric war and large enough to stay on the
ground for years to restore peace.
“There has been a disconnect between the
military effect and political effect,” said Desportes, who runs the French
Center for Doctrine for the Employment of Forces, which specializes in drawing
lessons from campaigns.
He argues that the U.S. focus on weapon technology
and operating tempo have led to confusion over means and ends.

We currently base our warfighting tactics on the Israeli lessons of the past. Considering future wars to be quick and decisive, we manufacture technically superior weaponry not designed for a war of attrition, with the intention of overwhelming our enemies in a few short days or weeks. Desportes, however, argues even the Israelis are finding such a blitzkrieg strategy unworkable in an insurgent conflict, the most common one the West finds itself involved in of late:

Desportes makes a sustained frontal attack on the conventional
wisdom of the revolution in military affairs and an excessive reliance on
transformation, which he believes has led to a costly dead end. He argues that
sending small expeditionary forces that sought lightning victories delivered
instead the continued crisis in Afghanistan and the calamitous aftermath of the
2003 invasion of Iraq.
The Lebanon war showed the Israeli high-tech approach
to be inadequate against an agile and inventive Hizbollah, which refused to
engage in ways that would have given the advantage to the Israeli Army, expert
in network-centric warfare.

Where, then, are we headed?

But in Desportes’ view, future wars will be against an enemy that
seeks to outflank the Western technical and industrial armory. That undercuts
the effectiveness of the transformation effort, which assumes a state enemy with
a hierarchy of decision-makers and physical assets suitable for precision
bombing...Transformation has been ineffective against nonstate entities like the
Taliban, now fighting from caves, insurgents triggering roadside bombs in Iraq
and suicide bombers. In Afghanistan, small groups of combatants avoid attacking
in open ground.

However effective precision bombing is against a enemy who fights the way we fight, it appears to be headed down a dangerous path of empowering Third World radicals, who have learned to bypass our superiority by melting into the crowds. With precision, we are geared for stalemate in Great Power conflict, like the A-bomb gave us in the Cold War. But we shouldn't rule out such conflict altogether, as we learned in the Gulf.

As with Nuke Weapons, we should keep an adequate supply of the precision bombs in stockpile and always ready, just in case. Our conventional forces, however, should be numerous, with plentiful littoral ships, COIN aircraft, plus an excess of manpower. This would basically entail a large counter-insurgency style military, which could also fight a old style conventional battle in a pinch. Such an attitude would take a transformation in our thinking, rather than in our weaponry as was expected and planned for during the 1990's.