[Table of Contents] [Chapter 5]
War in the twenty-first century will be significantly different for the United States from anything encountered before the Gulf War. American wars will be increasingly precise; imprecision will be too expensive physically and politically to condone. Our political leaders and our citizenry will insist that we hit only what we are shooting at and that we shoot the right thing. Increased use of precision weapons will mean far less dependence on the multitudes of people or machines needed in the past to make up for inaccuracy in weapons. Precision will come to suggest not only that a weapon strike exactly where it is aimed, but also that the weapons be precise in destroying or affecting only what is supposed to be affected. Standoff and indirect-fire precision weapons will become available to many others, which will make massing of large numbers in the open suicidal and the safety of deploying sea-based or land-based aircraft close to a combat area problematic.
We might hope that more accurate weapons would drive potential enemy leaders to be less enamored of achieving their political objectives with force; if we are very lucky, perhaps the world will move in this direction. Of at least equal likelihood, however, states and other entities will turn to other forms of warfaresuch as attacks on enemy strategic centers of gravity. These attacks may be via missiles, space, or unconventional means, but all will recognize that they must achieve their objective before the United States chooses to involve itself. This, in turn, will increase the premium on American ability to move within hours to any point on the globe without reliance on en route bases.
The advent of nonlethal weapons technology will expand our options over the full spectrum of war. These new weapons will find application against communications, artillery, bridges, and internal combustion engines, to name but a few potential targets. And of greatest interest, they will accomplish their ends without dependence on big explosions that destroy more property than necessary and that cause unplanned human casualties. Can these weapons replace traditional lethal tools? In theory they can, as long as we accept the idea that war is fought to make the enemy do your will. What we will surely find, however, is that these weapons give us operational concepts and opportunities well beyond what would be possible if we merely substitute them for conventional weapons.
The United States can achieve virtually all military objectives without recourse to weapons of mass destruction. Conversely, other states, unable to afford the hyperwar arsenal now the exclusive property of the United States, will at least experiment with them. The challenge for America is to decide if it wants to negate these weapons without replying or preempting in kind. Accompanying this question is the question of nuclear deterrence in a significantly changed world. Although deterrence will certainly be greatly different from our cold war conception of it, does it lose its utility in all situations? How should US nuclear forces be maintained? This entire matter deserves serious thought, soon.
Information will become a prominent, if not predominant, part of war to the extent that whole wars may well revolve around seizing or manipulating the enemys datasphere.1 Furthermore, it may be important in some instances to furnish the enemy with accurate information. This concept is discussed later in this chapter.
The world is currently experiencing what may be the most revolutionary period in all of human existence with major revolutions taking place simultaneously in geopolitics, production, technology, and military affairs. The pace of change is accelerating and shows no sign of letting up. If we are to succeed in protecting our interests in this environment, we must spend more time than ever in our past thinking about war and developing new employment concepts. Attrition warfare belongs to another age, and the days when wars could be won by sheer bravery and perseverance are gone. Victory will go to those who think through the problem and capitalize on every tool availableregardless of its source. Let us begin laying the intellectual framework for future air operations.
All military operations, including air operations, should be consonant with the prevailing political and physical environ- ment. In World War II the United States and her Allies imposed widespread destruction and civilian casualties on Japan and Germany; prior to the Gulf War, a new political climate meant that a proposal to impose similar damage on Iraq would have met overwhelming opposition from American and coalition political leaders. As late as the Vietnam War the general inaccuracy of weapons required large numbers of men to expose themselves to hostile fire in order to launch enough weapons to have some effect on the enemy; now, the new physical reality of accurate weapons means that few men need be or should be exposed.
Military operations must be conducted so as to give reasonable probability of accomplishing desired political goals at an acceptable price. Indeed, before one can develop or adopt a concept of operations, an understanding of war and political objectives is imperative.
For war to make any sense, it must be conducted for some reason. The reason may not be very good or seem to make much sense, but with remarkably few exceptions, most rulers who have gone to war have done so with the objective of achieving somethingperhaps additional territory, a halt to offensive enemy operations, avenging an insult, or forcing a religious conversion. Very few have gone to war to amuse themselves with no concern for the outcome or desire for anything other than the opportunity to have a good donnybrook.
This is not to say, however, that all those who have gone to war have done so with a clear idea of their objective and what it would take to achieve it. Indeed, failure to define ends and means clearly has led to innumerable disasters for attacker and attacked alike. First rule: if you are going to war, know why you are going. Corollary to the first rule: have some understanding of what your enemy wants out of the war and the price each of you is willing to pay. Remember: war is not quintessentially about fighting and killing; rather, it is about getting something that the opponent is not inclined to hand over. Still another way to express this idea is this: war is all about making your enemy do something you want him to do when he doesnt want to do itand then preventing him from taking an alternative approach which you would also find unacceptable.
There are a variety of ways to make an enemy do what you want him to do. In simple terms, however, there are but three: make it too expensive for the enemy to resist, with expensive understood in political, economic, and military terms; physically prevent an enemy from doing something by imposing strategic or operational paralysis on him; or destroy him absolutely.
The last of these options is rare in history, difficult to execute, fraught with moral concerns, and normally not very useful because of all the unintended consequences it engenders. We will pass over it and concentrate on the first two.
When we talk about making something so costly for an enemy that he decides to accept our position, we are talking about something very difficult to define or predict precisely. After all, human organizations typically react in an infinite number of ways to similar stimuli. The difficulty of defining or predicting, however, does not suggest that it is a hopeless task. Imprecise, yes; hopeless, no.
We all know from our experience that we regularly make decisions whether or not to do something. We dont go on a trip if it costs more money than we are ready to pay; we dont go mountain climbing if we fear the cost of falling; and we dont drive above the speed limit if the probability of a ticket seems high, and so on. Enemies, whether they be states, criminal organizations, or individuals, all do the same thing; they almost always act or dont act based on some kind of cost-benefit ratio. The enemy may not assess a situation the way we do, and we may disagree with his assessment, but assessments are part and parcel of every decision. From an airpower standpoint, it is our job to determine what price (negative or positive) it will take to induce an enemy to accept our conditions. To do so, however, we need to understand how our enemies are organized. One might object that understanding how our enemies are organized is an impossible task, especially if we dont know in advance who they are. Fortunately, this is not the case; as we shall see, every life-based system is organized about the same way. Only the details vary.
Whether we are talking about an industrialized state, a drug cartel, or an electric company, every organization follows the same organizational scheme. This is very important to us as military planners because it allows us to develop general concepts not dependent on a specific enemy. Likewise, as we understand how our enemies are organized, we can easily move on to the concept of centers of gravity. Understanding centers of gravity then allows us to make reasonable guesses as to how to create costs which may lead the enemy to accept our demands. If the enemy does not respond to imposed costs, then this same understanding of organization and centers of gravity shows us how to impose operational or strategic paralysis on our enemy so he becomes incapable of opposing us. Lets start with the basics of organization (table 1).
As can be seen from the preceding table, a wide variety of systems ranging from an individual to an electric company are organized with remarkable similarity. This organizing scheme is sufficiently widespread to make it an acceptable starting place for working out most military or business problems. It helps us put into effect injunctions from ancient Greek and Chinese alike to "know thyself" and "thine enemy." In addition to simplifying the "knowing" process, this organizational scheme gives us an easy way to categorize information, which we must do if we are to make real decisions. For practical purposes, the world contains an infinite amount of information which by definition cannot be totally correlated. Filters of some sort are a necessity; this systems approach provides an easy way to categorize information and to understand the relative importance of any particular bit.
Our primary interest is not in building a theory of organization; rather, it is to derive an understanding of what we might need to impose an intolerable cost or strategic or operational paralysis on an enemy. To grasp the essence of this problem, it helps to rearrange our table in the form of five rings (fig. 2).
Rearranging the tabular information into the five rings diagram gives us several key insights. First, it shows us that we are dealing with an interdependent system. That is, each ring has a relationship with all of the others and all play some role. Seeing the enemy as a system gives us enormous advantages over those who see him merely as an army or air force, or worse yet, as some quantity of tanks or airplanes or ships or drug pushers without ever understanding what it is that allows these tanks or ships to operate and for what purpose.
Second, it gives us some idea of the relative importance of each entity contained within a given ring. For example, the head of a drug cartel (the leadership ring) has the power to change the cartel considerably whereas the street soldier (in the fielded military forces ring) assigned the job of protecting a pusher in a back alley can have virtually no effect on the cartel as a whole.
Third, it portrays rather graphically an ancient truth about war: our objective is always to convince the enemy to do what we want him to do. The person or entity with the power to agree to change is the leader in the middle. Thus, directly or indirectly, all of our energies in war should be focused on changing the mind of the leadership.
Fourth, our rings clearly show that the military is a shield or spear for the whole system, not the essence of the system. Given a choice, even in something so simple as personal combat, we certainly wouldnt make destruction of our enemys shield our end game. Contrary to Clausewitz, destruction of the enemy military is not the essence of war; the essence of war is convincing the enemy to accept your position, and fighting his military forces is at best a means to an end and at worst a total waste of time and energy.
Fifth, and last, the rings give us the concept of working from the inside to the outside as opposed to the converse. Understanding this concept is essential to taking a strategic rather than a tactical approach to winning wars.
In using the rings to develop war ideas, it is imperative to start with the largest identifiable system. That is, if the immediate problem is reversing the effects of an invasion, one would start the analysis with the largest possible look at the system description of the invading country. An example: when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, Gen Norman Schwarzkopf quickly grasped the idea that his problem was first with Iraq as a state and only secondarily with Iraqs military forces within Kuwait itself. At some point, however, we wanted to understand details about Iraqs army in Kuwait. Not surprisingly, we found that it was organized on the five-ring principle and insofar as our objective with respect to that army was something other than pure destruction, five-ring analysis gave us a good picture of what to strike. Had we so desired, we could have continued our analysis down to the level of an individual soldier because he is organized about the same way as is his country. From a diagraming standpoint, then, we start out with the big picture of the strategic entity.2
When we want more information, we pull out subsystems like electrical power under system essentials and show it as a five-ring system. We may have to make several more five-ring models to show successively lower electrical subsystems. We continue the process until we have sufficient understanding and information to act. Note that with this approach, we have little need for the infinite amount of information theoretically available on a strategic entity like a state. Instead, we can identify very quickly what we dont know and concentrate our information search on relevant data.
For the mathematically inclined, it will be clear that we are describing a process of differentiation as opposed to integra- tion. In a complex world, a top-down, differentiation approach is a necessity. Important to note, however, is that virtually all our military training (and business training) starts us at the lowest possible level and asks us to work our way up. Thus, we learn a tactical approach to the world. However, when we want to think not about fighting wars but about winning them, we must take a strategic and operational-or top-down- approach if we are to succeed.
So far, we have not talked explicitly about centers of gravity, but we have derived them by showing how we and our enemies are organized. Centers of gravity are primarily organizational concepts. Which ones are most important becomes clear when we decide what effect we want to produce on the enemy in order to induce him to accept our position. Which ones to attack becomes a matter of our capability.
Let us review key concepts discussed to this point. First, the object of war is to induce the enemy to do your bidding. Second, it is the leadership of the enemy that decides to ac- commodate you. Third, engagement of the enemy military may be a means to an end, but the engagement is never an end in itself and should be avoided under most circumstances. Fourth, every life-form-based system is organized similarly: a leadership function to direct it, a system-essential function to convert energy from one form to another, an infrastructure to tie it all together, a population to make it function, and a defense system to protect it from attack. Fifth, the enemy is a system, not an independent mass of tanks, aircraft, or dope pushers. And sixth, the five rings provide a good method for categorizing information and identifying centers of gravity.
We said earlier that our goal in war would generally be to make the cost-political, economic, and military-to the enemy higher than he was willing to pay or to impose strategic or operational paralysis on him so that he would become incapable of acting. Now, with an understanding of how enemies are organized, we can begin the process of determining how to accomplish either or both with airpower tools.
The object of war is to convince the enemy leadership to do what you want it to do. The enemy leadership acts on some cost/risk basis, but we cant know precisely what it might be. We can, however, make some reasonable guesses based on system and organization theory. To do this, put yourself in the center of the five rings as the leader of a strategic entity like a drug cartel or state. You have certain rather basic goals that normally will take precedence over others. First, you want to survive personally (this is not to say you wont die for your system, but you probably see yourself and the system as being closely tied together). For you to survive personally (in most instances) the system you lead must survive in something reasonably close to its present form.
Let us say that you are the leader of a drug cartel and an enemy threatens you credibly with the following (to which you cannot respond): your bank accounts will be zeroed, your communications with the world outside your mountain retreat will be severed, your cocaine processing facility will be destroyed, and your house will be converted to rubble. To avoid these nasty things, all you have to do is agree to stop selling cocaine in one country. What do you do? If you are remotely rational, you agree immediately. Failure to do so means your system effectively ceases to exist, which leaves you personally in a precarious position and unable even to retire in splendor because you cant get at the billions you had socked away in a country with strict privacy in banking laws.
Suppose that only some of these dire events were threatened or deemed likely. In this case, you might choose to negotiate. Perhaps you would agree to sell less cocaine in the target country. Perhaps you would agree to a moratorium on sales. Your enemy might or might not accept these counterproposals; it would depend largely on how much he was willing to spend to create a cost for you. In our ideal world we like to think we dont negotiate with drug dealers or tyrants like Saddam Hussein. In the real world we do so all the time. Very rarely are we willing to invest the time and effort required to achieve maximal results.
Our discussion of costs has so far been oriented at a strategic level. Does it also apply at an operational levelthe level at which military forces are actually employed? The answer is an absolute yes. Military commanders, with the exception of a few really stupid ones, have always weighed costs as they were planning or conducting an operation. Lets take a hypothetical look at George Patton and the Third Army in World War II.
George Patton was an aggressive commander who believed that speed of advance was key to success. Obviously, then, the Third Army needed to move quickly as a systemnot just the tanks, but the whole system that supported them at the front. From the German side, if moving fast was good from George Pattons perspective, it was bad from theirs. Now, let us do a quick five-ring analysis of the Third Army from just the cost standpoint. (We will return to it later when we discuss operational paralysis.)
Let us suppose that something catastrophic happened to Third Armys fuel supply in mid-September of 1944. Let us assume that someone tells General Patton at a staff meeting that all fuel deliveries to his Army will cease in two days. His choices are basically two: slow down or stop the movement of his army so that it can assume a reasonable defensive position, or tell everyone to plunge ahead as far as possible until they run out of gas. Since the latter is likely to leave the majority of the army in an untenable and unplanned position and is unlikely to achieve anything final, Patton opts for the former because he has assessed the cost of continuing as too high for the possible results.
Realize also that unbeknownst to the commanding general, every subordinate commander and soldier will start acting on information about an impending fuel shortage as soon as he hears about it. The effect is obvious; by the time the formal order to halt comes down, forward movement already would have ceased and hoarding of remaining fuel supplies would have become widespread. The principle is simple: at all levels, leaders make decisions based on a cost/benefit analysis.
Before moving on to discuss imposition of strategic and operational paralysis, we need to make two more points on the subject of cost. The first is that the enemy leader may not recognize how much attacks on him are costing at the time of attack and in the future. This almost certainly was the case with Saddam Hussein, who simply failed to comprehend for several weeks what the strategic air attacks against him were doing to his future. Had he understood, he might have sued for peace the first morning of the war. His lack of understanding flowed from ignorance of the effect of modern air attack3 and from lack of information. The coalition attack in the first minutes had so disrupted communications at strategic levels that it was very difficult to receive and process damage reports.4
A similar event may have taken place in Japan in late 1944 and into 1945. Japanese army leaders persisted in their desire to continue the war even though their homeland was collapsing around them as a result of strategic air and sea attacks. They apparently lacked the in-depth understanding of war and their country to appreciate what was really happening. Like Saddam a half-century later, the Japanese were stuck in a paradigm that said that the only important operations in war were the clashes of armies. In the Japanese case part of the problem may have stemmed from the Bushido code of personal bravery that tended to assume that success in war would be a function of agglomerating many tactical successes. The concepts of strategic and operational war were simply not there.
Two lessons flow from these examples: you may have to educate the enemy on the effect your operations are likely to have. You may also have to give him accurate information on the extent of his lossesand the long-term and short-term effects likely to flow from them.
As we have seen, we cannot depend on the his making the concessions we ask because of a realistic cost/benefit analysis. In the event we cannot educate and inform him properly, we must be ready to consider imposition of strategic and operational paralysis. Fortunately, the effort we put into understanding how enemies are organized and how to impose costs leads us directly into the concepts and mechanisms of paralysis.
The idea of paralysis is quite simple. If the enemy is seen as a system, we need to identify those parts of the system which we can affect in such a way as to prevent the system from doing something we dont want it to do. The best place to start is normally at the center for if we can prevent the systems leadership from gathering, processing, and using information we dont want him to have, we have effectively paralyzed the system at a strategic level.
Let us go back to the drug cartel example we earlier discussed. Suppose that the suppliers and pushers hear nothing from headquarters for some period of time. Their finances begin to dry up, nobody protects them from competitors, and their stocks dwindle quickly. What do they do? They begin to look for other cartels to deal with or for other lines of work. In a short period of time, but not instantly, the paralysis imposed at the strategic level of the cartel destroys the organizations ability to sell the drugs its opposition didnt want it to sellall while the overwhelming majority of the individuals in the organization are unharmed and not even directly threatened.
The obvious place to induce strategic system paralysis is at the leadership, or brain, level. What happens, however, if the brain cannot be located or attacked? Although the leadership function always provides the most lucrative place to induce paralysis, it is not the only possibility. Suppose that we cant reach the drug lord, but we can reach and destroy one of his system essentials, such as his financial net? We are likely to have created a different level of paralysis. The organization may still be able to function, and it will certainly search furiously to repair or replace its financial net. If it doesnt succeed, however, this paralysis in one part of the strategic system is likely to cause much of the rest to atrophy and become ineffective. After all, the majority of the organizations suppliers and workers must eat and must pay for services rendered. If they are not getting regular pay, they are going to be forced again to find alternatives outside the organization that can no longer provide them with a system essential.
At a big-state level, one can imagine a similar outcome if the state loses a system essential like electricity. Imagine the effect on the United States if all of its electricity stops functioning.
Let us return to our George Patton and Third Army example to look at operational paralysis. Patton depended on speed for success, but not unfocused speed. He needed to know where he was going, what his troops were going to encounter, where to send the fuel and ammunition, and where to shift land and air forces as required. Suppose the Germans had succeeded in blinding Patton by depriving him of his ability to gather and disseminate information. Under these conditions, Third Army would have been effectively paralyzed insofar as its ability to conduct rapid offensives simply because offensives on the ground at any speed are extraordinarily complex and require huge amounts of good information.
If the Germans were unable to blind Patton, what else could they have done to induce operational paralysis? Again, going from the center of the rings toward the outside suggests we should look next in the system-essential (or supply) ring for an answer. Most assuredly, Pattons speed depended on fuel for his tanks and trucksno fuel, no speed. Thus, elimination of fuel, perhaps by interdicting the Red Ball Express, induces the desired form of operational paralysis and converts Third Army into something different. Before its fuel was cut off, Third Army was a fast moving, dangerous threat to the Germans; after the fuel stops, it becomes a slow, slogging beast signifi- cantly different in nature and threat.
So far we have discussed effects we might want to produce on the enemy: untenable costs or paralysis at one or more levels. Next, we must look at how we go about doing it. Before proceeding, however, it is useful to note that we have used quite a few pages talking about air theory and have yet to discuss bombs, missiles, or bullets. The reason is simple; well before it makes any sense to talk about mechanics, it is imperative to decide what effect you want to produce on the enemy. Making this decision is the toughest intellectual challenge; once the desired effect is decided, figuring out how to attain it is much easier if for no other reason than we practice the necessary tactical events every day, whereas we rarely (far too rarely) think about strategic and operational problems. Let us propose a very simple rule for how to go about producing the effect: do it very fast.
It may seem facetious to reduce the how to such a simple rule, and, indeed, we will now make it a little more complex by talking about parallel attack. Nevertheless, the essence of success in future war will certainly be to make everything happen you want to happen in a very short period of timeinstantly if possible. Why? And what is parallel war?
Parallel war brings so many parts of the enemy system under near-simultaneous attack that the system simply cannot react to defend or to repair itself. It is like the death of a thousand cuts; any individual cut is unlikely to be serious. A hundred, however, start to slow a body considerably, and a thousand are fatal because the body cannot deal with that many assaults on it. Our best example of parallel war to date is the strategic attack on Iraq in the Gulf War. Within a matter of minutes the coalition, attacked over a hundred key targets across Iraqs entire strategic depth. In an instant, important functions in all of Iraq stopped working very well. Phone service fell precipitously, lights went out, air defense centers stopped controlling subordinate units, and key leadership offices and personnel were destroyed. To put Iraqs dilemma in perspective, the coalition struck three times as many targets in Iraq in the first 24 hours as Eighth Air Force hit in Germany in all of 1943!
The bombing offensive against Germany (until the very end) was a serial operation, as virtually all military operations have been since the dawn of history. Operations have been serial because communications made concentration of men imperative, the inaccuracy of weapons meant that a great number had to be employed to have an effect, and the difficulty of movement essentially restricted operations to one or two locations. In addition, military operations have mostly been conducted against the enemys military, not against his entire strategic or operational system. All this meant that war was a matter of action and reaction, of culminating points, of regrouping, of reforming. Essentially, war was an effort by one side to break through a defensive line with serial attacks or it was an attempt to prevent breakthrough.
In any event the majority of the enemy system lay in relative safety through most of a conflict with the fighting and damage confined largely to the front itself. Even when aerial bombardment began to reach strategic depths, the bombardment tended to be serial (again because of inaccurate weapons and the need to concentrate attacking forces so they could penetrate an aerial defensive line). This meant that the enemy could gather his defenders in one or two places and that he could concentrate the entire systems repair assets on the one or two places which may have suffered some damage. Not so in Iraq.
In Iraq, a country about the same size as prewar Germany, so many key facilities suffered so much damage so quickly that it was simply not possible to make strategically meaningful repair. Nor was it possible or very useful to concentrate defenses; successful defense of one target merely meant that one out of over a hundred didnt get hit at that particular time. As in the thousand cuts analogy, it just doesnt matter very much if some of the cuts are deflected. It is important to note that Iraq was a very tough country strategically. Iraq had spent an enormous amount of money and energy on giving itself lots of protection and redundancy and its efforts would have paid off well if it had been attacked serially as it had every right to anticipate it would. In other words, the parallel attack against Iraq was against what may well have been the country best prepared in all the world for attack. If it worked there, it will probably work elsewhere.
Executing parallel attack is a subject for another essay or even a book. Suffice it to say here that those things brought under attack must be carefully selected to achieve the desired effect.
We have now provided the groundwork for a theory of air power to use into the twenty-first century. To summarize: understand the political and technological environment; identify political objectives; determine how you want to induce the enemy to do your will (imposed cost, paralysis, or destruction); use the five-ring systems analysis to get sufficient information on the enemy to make possible identification of appropriate centers of gravity; and attack the right targets in parallel as quickly as possible. To make all this a little more understandable, it is useful to finish by mentioning the Gulf Wars key strategic and operational lessons, which look as though they will be useful for the next quarter-century or more.
We can identify 10 concepts that summarize the revolution of the Gulf War and that must be taken into account as we develop new force levels and strategy:
Let us look at each of these briefly.
1. The importance of strategic attack and the fragility of states at the strategic level of war. Countries are inverted pyramids that rest precariously on their strategic innardstheir leadership, communications, key production, infrastructure, and population. If a country is paralyzed strategically, it is defeated and cannot sustain its fielded forces though they be fully intact.
2. Fatal consequences of losing strategic air superiority. When a state loses its ability to protect itself from air attack, it is at the mercy of its enemy, and only the enemys compassion or exhaustion can save it. The first reason for government is to protect the citizenry and its property. When a state can no longer do so, it has lost its reason for being. When a state loses strategic air superiority and has no reasonable hope of regaining it quickly, it should sue for peace as quickly as possible. From an offensive standpoint, winning strategic air superiority is the number one priority of the commander; once that is accomplished, everything else is a just a matter of time.
3. The overwhelming effects of parallel warfare. Strategic organizations, including states, have a small number of vital targets at the strategic levelin the neighborhood of a few hundred with an average of perhaps 10 aimpoints per vital target. These targets tend to be small, very expensive, have few backups, and are hard to repair. If a significant percentage of them are struck in parallel, the damage becomes insuperable. Contrast parallel attack with serial attack where only one or two targets come under attack in a given day (or longer). The enemy can alleviate the effects of serial attack by dispersal over time, increasing the defenses of targets that are likely to be attacked, concentrating his resources to repair damage to single targets, and conducting counteroffensives. Parallel attack deprives him of the ability to respond effectively, and the greater the percentage of targets hit in a single blow, the more nearly impossible is response.
4. The value of precision weapons. Precision weapons allow the economical destruction of virtually all targetsespecially strategic and operational targets that are difficult to move or conceal. They change the nature of war from one of probability to one of certainty. Wars for millennia have been probability events in which each side launched huge quantities of projectiles (and men) at one another in the hope that enough of the projectiles (and men) would kill enough of the other side to induce retreat or surrender. Probability warfare was chancy at best. It was unpredictable, full of surprises, hard to quantify, and governed by accident. Precision weapons have changed all that. In the Gulf War, we knew with near certainty that a single weapon would destroy its target. War moved into the predictable. With precision weapons, even logistics become simple; destruction of the Iraqis at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels required that about 12,000 aimpoints be hit. Thus, no longer is it necessary to move a near-infinite quantity of munitions so that some tiny percentage might hit something important. Since the Iraqi army was the largest fielded since the Chinese in the Korean War and since we know that all countries look about the same at the strategic and operational levels, we can forecast in advance how many precision weapons will be needed to defeat an enemyassuming of course that we are confident about getting the weapons to their targets.
5. The fragility of surface forces at the operational level of war. Supporting significant numbers of surface forces (air, land, or sea) is a tough administrative problem even in peacetime. Success depends upon efficient distribution of information, fuel, food, and ammunition. By necessity, efficient distribution depends on an inverted pyramid of distribution. Supplies of all operational commodities must be accumulated in one or two locations, then parceled out to two or four locations, and so on until they eventually reach the user. The nodes in the system are exceptionally vulnerable to precision attack. As an example, consider what the effect would have been of a single air raid a dayeven with nonprecision weaponson the WWII Red Ball Express or on the buildup behind VII and XVIII Corps in the Gulf War. The Red Ball Express became internally unsustainable, and the VII and XVIII Corps buildups severely strained the resources of the entire US Armyeven in the absence of any enemy attacks. Logistics and administration dominate surface warfare, and neither is easy to defend. In the past these activities took place so far behind the lines that they were reasonably secure. Such is no longer the casewhich brings into serious question any form of warfare that requires huge logistics and administrative buildup.
6. Fatal consequence of losing operational air superiority. Functioning at the operational level is difficult even without enemy interference. If the enemy attains operational air superiority (and exploits it)5 and can roam at will above indispensable operational functions like supply, communications, and movement, success is not possible. As with the loss of strategic air superiority, loss of operational air superiority spells doom and should prompt quick measures to retreatwhich is likely to be very costlyor to arrange for surrender terms.
7. The redefinition of mass and surprise by stealth and precision. For the first time in the history of warfare, a single entity can produce its own mass and surprise. It is this single entity that makes parallel warfare possible. Surprise has always been one of the most important factors in warperhaps even the single most important, because it could make up for large deficiencies in numbers. Surprise was always difficult to achieve because it conflicted with the concepts of mass and concentration. In order to have enough forces available to hurl enough projectiles to win the probability contest, a commander had to assemble and move large numbers. Of course, assembling and moving large forces in secret was quite difficult, even in the days before aerial reconnaissance, so the odds on surprising the enemy were small indeed. Stealth and precision have solved both sides of the problem; by definition, stealth achieves surprise, and precision means that a single weapon accomplishes what thousands were unlikely to accomplish in the past.
8. The viability of air occupation. Countries conform to the will of their enemies when the penalty for not conforming exceeds the cost of conforming. Cost can be imposed on a state by paralyzing or destroying its strategic and operational base or by actual occupation of enemy territory. In the past, occupation (in the rare instances when it was needed or possible) was accomplished by ground forcesbecause there was no good substitute. Today, the concept of air occupation is a reality and in many cases it will suffice. The Iraqis conformed with UN demands as much as or more than the French did with German demands when occupied by millions of Germans. Ground occupation, however, is indicated when the intent is to colonize or otherwise appropriate the enemys homeland.
9. The dominance of airpower. Airpower (fixed wing, helicopter, cruise missile, satellite), if not checked, will destroy an enemys strategic and operational target baseswhich are very vulnerable and very difficult to make less vulnerable. It can also destroy most tactical targets if necessary.
10. The importance of information at the strategic and operational levels. In the Gulf War, the coalition deprived Iraq of most of its ability to gather and use information. At the same time, the coalition managed its own information requirements acceptably, even though it was organized in the same way Frederick the Great had organized himself. Clear for the future is the requirement to redesign our organizations so they are built to exploit modern information-handling equipment. This also means flattening organizations, eliminating most middle management, pushing decision making to very low levels, and forming worldwide neural networks to capitalize on the ability of units in and out of the direct conflict area.
The information lesson from the Gulf was negative; the coalition succeeded in breaking Iraqs ability to process information but failed to fill the void by providing Iraqis an alternate source of information.6 This failure made Saddams job much easier and greatly reduced the chance of his overthrow. Capturing and exploiting the datasphere may well be the most important effort in many future wars.
Beyond these Gulf War lessons, which have applicability well into the future, it behooves the air planner to think of one other area: what can be done with airpower that in the past we knew could only be done with ground or sea power or couldnt be done at all? The question must be addressed for several reasons: airpower has the ability to reach a conflict area faster and cheaper than other forms of power; employment of air power typically puts far fewer people at risk than any other form (in the Gulf War, there were rarely more than a few hundred airmen in the air as opposed to the tens of thousands of soldiers and sailors in the direct combat areas); and it may provide the only way for the United States to participate at acceptable political risk (use of airpower does not require physical presence on the ground). Let us look at just one example.
Suppose a large city is under the control of roving gangs of soldiers, and it is American policy to restore some degree of order to the city. Normally, we would think that could only be done by putting our own soldiers on the ground. But what if policymakers are unwilling to accept the political and physical risks attendant to doing so? Do we do nothing, or do we look for innovative solutions?
If we define the problem as one of preventing groups of soldiers from wandering around a city, we may be able to solve it from the air. Can we not put a combination of AC-130s and helicopters in the air equipped with searchlights, loudspeakers, rubber bullets, entangling chemical nets, and other paraphernalia? When groups are spotted, they first receive a warning to disperse. If they dont they find themselves under attack by nonlethal, but unpleasant, weapons. If these dont work, lethal force is at hand. It may be very difficult to prevent an individual from skulking around a city or even robbing an occasional bank. Single individuals, however, constitute a relatively small tactical problem since they are unlikely to be able to cause wide-scale disruption as can multiple groups. The latter problem is serious but manageable; the former is a police matter.
By the same token, we know that we will be called on to conduct humanitarian and peacemaking operations. If we think about food delivery as the same as bomb delivery and understand that with food, as with bombs, our responsibility is to distribute it to the right people, we should be able to do as well with food as we do with bombs. To do so, however, will require putting as much effort into developing precision food-delivery techniques as we put into developing precision bomb or cluster-bomb capabilities. The problem is the same and is theoretically susceptible to an airpower solution if we are willing to think outside the lines. And indeed, thinking outside the lines will be a necessity if airpower is to prosper and to play a key role in defending American interests well into the next century.
Indeed, there is a new world building around us and the revolutions in politics, business, and war have happened and we must deal with them, not ignore them. Of course, it is human nature to stay with the old ways of doing business even when the external world has made the old ways obsolete or even dangerous. So many examples come so easily to mind: the heavy knights at Agincourt refusing to believe that they were being destroyed by peasants with bows; the French in World War I exulting the doctrine of cold steel against the machine gun and barbed wire as the flower of a generation perished; and the steel and auto makers of the United States convinced that their foreign competitors were inept even as their market positions plummeted. Accepting the changes made manifest in the Gulf War will be equally difficult for the United States but by no means impossible, if we all resolve to think.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the US Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
Home Page | Useful Links | Feedback? Email to firstname.lastname@example.org