Saturday, April 05, 2003

Lessons of this War

Andrew Sullivan wrote
Now I can see the army is pissed off that they haven't really been needed yet for the climactic battle against the Republican Guard (if it hasn't already happened). But remind me why the rest of us should be concerned? From my particular, reclining armchair, it looks as if this war will be won primarily by the amazing work of the special forces, and the airforce (with critical backup, of course, on the ground).


I am working on a longer post on another journalist's self-promoting attempts to become his generations Liddell-Hart. But I will state my main point here:

It is too early to speak of "lessons" from this war. We simply do not know enough. We won't know much for months and it will be years before we (the public) have the documentary evidence and analytical histories necessary to draw even rudimentary lessons.

When useful histories emerge here are just a couple of areas that they will address that Sullivan ignores or is ignorant of.

1. How important was the speed of the advance by the ground forces to the success of special operations? Did nearby American frontlines permit more freedom of movement by special ops? Did Iraqi security forces pull back because of the approaching conventional units? Conversely, did Saddam send security forces out of Baghdad toward the infantry and thus make the city more accessible to our covert units?

2. To what extent were Iraqi losses to airpower increased because they were bracing to meet that American advance out of Kuwait?

Capt. Wayne P. Hughs (a Naval officer) made an interesting observation in his book Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice--

Yet one set of Dupuy's data [on land combat throughout history] shows that in modern battle a greater percentage of casualties has sometimes been inflicted by other than the most capable weapons: infantry small arms exceeded artillery in producing casualties after the range and lethality of artillery rose dramatically. Often the second-best weapons performs better because the enemy, at great cost in offensive effectiveness, takes extraordinary measures to survive the best weapon.

A classic example of this occurred at the Battle of Midway. The Japanese feared torpedoes more than bombs and used their Combat Air Patrols to destroy the US torpedo bombers. This left the US dive bombers free to destroy their four carriers.

So it could be that the Iraqi's feared the ground forces more than the air power and, as a consequence, made themselves more vulnerable to air attack. If the ground units had been less threatening, then the Iraqi units may have remained hidden and dispersed and, hence, less vulnerable. In Kosovo, for example, the air campaign against Serbian tanks was only 20-25% effective because the Serbs became adept at hiding their forces and misleading our targeting systems.

3. How important was our eventual possession of the battlefield in the total losses of Iraqi equipment? This is a point that is often overlooked. Not every lost units is immediately destroyed. Sometimes they are only damaged or disabled. If there are no attacking ground forces, they can be recovered and repaired. This was a problem for the German blitzkrieg doctrine when they met reverses on the Eastern Front. As soon as they were unable to keep advancing, their equipment losses soared out of proportion to France or the early days of Barbarossa.

4. How much of the disintegration of the Iraqi units occurred during planned retreats or tactcal maneuvers? It is hard to destroy unit cohesion through bombardment alone. When units are hunkered down and dug-in, commanders can maintain a fragile control, in part because it is safer to stay in the bunker than to try to desert. However, movement is a different story. But again, movement would have been the result of the American ground advance, not the bombardment itself.

One Hand Clapping has also weighed in with some very astute observations.

No comments: