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Saturday, March 22, 2003



What is unfolding in Iraq is only the latest stage --- essentially the end of the second generation --- in the revolution of warfare that began 30 years ago near the end of the Vietnam War.

1) The Basics of the Revolution:

Driven by rapid advances in communications and information technologies since the late 1960s, the revolution consists of a marked shift away from the vast conscript armies and mass destructive force that culminated in the devastation of WWII and its 50 million dead --- huge armored assaults that could destroy whole cities in a matter of weeks or even days (think of Stalingrad, the battle of Berlin), wide-area strategic bombing of urban and industrial areas that couldn't accurately distinguish between civilian and military targets, and nuclear weapons at the very end --- and toward ever increasing pin-point accuracy in the use of smart weaponry --- delivered by small, highly trained professional armies and special-ops or mammoth carrier forces hundreds of miles out to sea --- that, in turn, rely on radical improvements in reconnaissance, intelligence, command-and-control-and-communication systems.

These C3I systems as they're called can link units as small as a single special-op soldier with a laser or a Seal team or platoon or company, all far removed from one another and the command hierarchy to distant brigade and division and field commanders, and --- no less important --- to the commanders of not just whole corps of divisions and squadrons but to the command headquarters of General Franks itself hundreds or more miles away from the battlefield area itself, and all in real-time . . . another side of the revolution in warfare. Specifically, the real-time ability to dominate and see an entire battlefield area across a country like Afghanistan or Iraq --- the size of Texas roughly --- or to zero in and focus on a tiny section of a battlefield. Real-time reconnaissance and intelligence over all that, and immediate relay of what the enemy is doing --- including its political and military leadership --- to all levels of command and control up to General Franks. Real-time capability , too, to then deliver precision-guided weapons with uncanny accuracy, 10 times more so than in the Gulf War of 1991, for destroying specified targets, and with a wide variety of weapons choices: fighter-bombers or helicopter gunships over the battlefield area, or B-52 or B-1 or B-2 bombers flying thousands of miles thanks to air-to-air fueling tankers, or the use of cruise missiles, if need be, from ships a thousand miles away at sea. For that matter, real-time ability to reprogram the most recent cruise missiles in mid-flight, sending them to another target as new information flows into the weapons-platform. . . a ship at sea, B-52's hundreds of miles from the intended target, or ground-launched platforms. And, most uncannily of all, real-time ability to coordinate far-flung operations involving dozens or more of these units and their diverse smart-weaponry, as overall "battlefield awareness" shifts and crystallizes and shifts again. Example: "General, special-ops in the rear of the Nebuchadnezzar Republican Guard signal that certain units are fleeing the battlefield: suggest you shift the 1st Marine Division from the center to attack their right flank and have the 2nd squadron of the A-10 Tank-Killers to fly in and take out their armor in the center."

The example is telling. All this information and communication are combined, coordinated, and used for quick decisions by the central command where General Franks is in charge on a Battlefield Board, all electronic, that can allow Franks and his staff to zoom in --- say, with field sensors or overflights or satellites or coded radio reports --- and analyze i depth a small sector of a battlefield area, say where the British and American Marines are battling near Basra, and get a feel of the slope, depth, height, and density of buildings or countryside as the combat units themselves are experiencing it. The overall coordination of these information and communications systems and the delivery platforms and weapons at the disposal of central command --- and through them down to the Seal team or single special-op a thousand miles away --- is called the "System of Systems." Probably only four or five other countries in the world even have the human talent and technological hardware --- even potentially right now in any foreseeable future --- to develop and deploy an overarching coordinated system of this sort: the Australians, the British, possibly the French, and maybe some day the Japanese and, further into the future, the Chinese and Russians . . . the latter two very remote from such military sophistication right now.


2. Three Other Advantages:

Nor is this all. These rapid, head-spinning advances in communications and information technologies and, no less important, the trained military personnel for using them can do 3 other revolutionary things in modern warfare:


1) Overcome what the German strategist Clausewitz in the early 19th century called the "fog of battle:" the uncertainties and information problems when planned strategies and tactics encounter, invariably, unforeseen tactics of the other side . . . sudden changes in weather conditions; unantincipated developments going on in the rear of the enemy's army, let alone its home base and logistic lines; and the frailties of human beings such as fatigue, confusion, poor judgment owing to it, or the breakdown of morale as tactics go astray and commanders, unable to foresee the shifts in the enemy's tactics, or even communicate with one another, can't size them up and react effectively. (Note: Though the common usage is "fog of war," Clausewitz himself used the term "frictions" ) ---

2) Not only give the US battlefield and country-wide reconnaissance and real-time reaction to what the enemy is doing, but also use these recent advances in ICT (information and communication technologies) to jam, disrupt, destroy, decapitate, and blind the enemy's leadership, military or political . . . right down to the E-bomb, as it's called, that if used over Baghdad will shut down not just all radars and telecommunications and yes, even radios and cell phones used by the military and political personnel, but stop all electrical grids and televisions and telephones and microwaves and lights and . . . well, the list can grow, all aimed at breaking down the ability of the enemy's military units as close as a block away to know what's what.

3) Reverse two hundred years of harnessing industrial technologies to weapons and military units using them that culminated in the destruction of whole urban areas --- in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons that did this in less than a minute --- and give the American military the ability to pin down with remarkable accuracy a military target like a radar or missile site or WMD lab or administrative office and destroy it with little or no collateral damage to civilians. Unless, of course --- a big dilemma --- the enemy does what the Taliban did in Afghanistan or Saddam in Iraq: hide weapons and commanders and military units in hospitals or UN food depots or in mosques. (Under international law, they become legitimate military targets, and the responsibility for doing this lies with the political and military commanders who transform them into such targets. For the US and UK militaries, that's small comfort if, simultaneously as we were doing in Afghanistan or even more challengingly in Iraq, we aim to limit civilian deaths. But note: all those dramatic smart-bombs hitting the center of Baghdad --- Saddam's palaces, suspect WMD labs or sites, political leadership bunkers (maybe Saddam and his sons themselves taken out), military command posts, communications systems, and the like --- while not disrupting the electricity or water supplies essential to civilian life (and hospitals).


3) The Driving Forces of the Revolution:

The driving forces are first and foremost radical improvements in information and telecommunications technologies: computer chips, software programming, the global position system and satellite telecommunications and observation platforms, and precision-guided munitions --- plus advanced platforms for delivering them such as unmanned drones like the Predator (or even the use of dumb weapons with certain last-minute adjustments that can be guided by new positioning systems overhead). Note. We are essentially only at the end of the second-generation of such improvements. Think of the Patriot anti-missile system, the first generation deployed in the Gulf War, to knock down Iraqi Scuds. As it happened, these Patriot-1 missiles were ineffective. By contrast those being used in Kuwait that have knocked down all the Scuds the last three days are PAC-2 and PAC-3, the latter the third generation and only recently tested in its developmental stage last summer.

Technologies, however, are useless unless they have the properly trained and properly organized.

Many military specialists saw these human and organizational problems as the biggest bottleneck, not least because the US military is a giant sprawling system of four armed forces services, themselves broken down into numerous agencies, coordinated hierarchically and tending toward certain bureaucratic pathologies common to all bureaucracies: parochial agency views, conservatism in the face of changes (new threats like organized international terrorism, technological breakthroughs that render large divisions and mass force as used in the cold war around which vested interests grow, fears that existing morale will be damaged if major reorganizations are carried out --- a problem the new Homeland Security Department has to confront directly --- and the like), and resentments of outsiders.

Fortunately, there have been strong advocates within the military itself, like Andrew Marshall, something of a guru for those favoring change who heads an internal Pentagon think-tank, who found powerful support from Donald Rumsfeld even before 9/11. Rumsfeld, remember, had served a stint as the Secretary of Defense in the Ford administration (1975-77), so he was familiar with all the twists and turns and obstacles in the way of major reform. Despite this, the forces of inertia prevailed essentially. Only after 9/11 was Rumsfeld able to push through his vision --- justified in Afghanistan --- the US could fight and win a war half way around the world with only small units and the use of modern technologies, together with local forces (the Northern Alliance) hastily turned into a semi-reliable fighting force. In Iraq, the initial designs for war drawn up by the Joint Chiefs called for double the number of fighting men that we have in the region right now. Again, only by perseverance and political infighting were Rumsfeld and his supporters in the Pentagon able to overcome the resistance.

For all that, we're still in the midst of an ongoing organizational and personnel revolution in adapting our military to an entirely new world of dangers and threats, where among other things, the US homeland is no longer invulnerable to attack except by distant nuclear missiles, and where the war against terrorism --- which includes a war against Islamo-fascist fundamentalism and rogue states linked to it and Islamist terrorism --- has to be fought on numerous levels: not just military, but intelligence, financial pressures, police work, counter-intelligence (including ferreting out terrorist cells and sympathizers in the US), protection of our borders, and all of this in coordinated ways with allies and friendly countries.


Replies: 3 comments

This article is too good! Please finish it!

Posted by MBA Student in Boston @ 03/23/2003 07:27 AM PST

I've read in the media that a successful war--one that accomplishes its goal of removing a bellicose despot possessing WMD with relatively minimal civilian casualties-- may temper anti-American sentiment. I disagree. As you've been writing about in your posts, to the extent the Iraq war showcases our successful revolution in military technology and know-how, it seems likely to encourage anti-Americanism in that it highlights the gulf between us and the rest of the world. Successful military action will only confirm the worst of what others fear about us-- especially the obvious nexus with our economic transformation and the gulf that exists between us and them with respect to that measure of power. I think countries' anxiety about this growing gap is the only way to understand the level of hostility toward US action in Iraq, as there have been no similar mass protests against actions by others that have threatened or actually caused great human tragedy. While other advanced economies watch America undergoing revolutionary economic transformations and feel the pressure to adapt to new global realities themselves, they have chosen to fight change, the consequences of which have been stagnation and relative decline, with developing countries competing on an ever growing number of levels only likely to make matters worse. I submit that even the anti-war protests in the US aren't principally about Iraq; they're in substantial part about the frustrations of a segment of society that sees the US economy transforming in a direction they feel further alienates them, takes us further from their political ideals or that threatens to undermine their power (e.g., lower socio-economic classes, propoents of socialism (European style or harder forms) and unions). When you look at the protests, they're largely financed and organized by the same anti-globalization activists that brought us the riots in Davos and Seattle. The protestors themselves seem more anti-Bush than anti-war (Bush representing to them a president moving the country in direction that takes us further from their political ideals than even Democrats who are already viewed as unacceptably acquiescent to forces of change).

Posted by John @ 03/23/2003 03:38 AM PST


The article finishes with an "and". Where is the rest of this interesting entry?



Posted by Matt @ 03/23/2003 03:14 AM PST