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May 19, 2005

Why We Need Soldiers and Marines.

I've finished The New American Militarism by Andrew Bacevich, and am working my way through how to review it in blog-form. The article I'm posting here hits upon one of Bacevich's points of contention in his book, so I'm going to toss it up for background for you guys.

This is an interesting article by BG(R) Huba Wass de Czege. This soldier is one of the Army's 'brain trust' of intellectuals who has been involved since the beginning of trying to shape the Army's Transformation - he's not a 'yes man' by any definition of term I'm aware of. This appeared in Army Magazine, the house organ of AUSA, the Association of the United States Army.

Important note - this article appeared in September, 2000. Read it in light of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom... While I think subsequent events have largely proved this correct... I think BG Wass de Czege was a little too dismissive of irregular forces... as subsequent events have shown. Tomorrow, I'll post a rebuttal (not by me, by other guys) that I think is pretty good, too. That way those of you who have thoughts on the subject can toss 'em out there.

The Continuing Necessity of Ground Combat in Modern War
By Brigadier General Huba Wass de Czege, US Army Retired

In most of what we hear and read, about future military capabilities and requirements, the talk is about information age automation assisted lethality -- precision engagement; lethal and precise air, artillery, missile and naval gun delivered firepower; automated sensor to shooter linkages; precision targeting; distributed warfare; net centric warfare and so on. There is little appreciation for "boots on the ground"-what soldiers and marines in infantry squads and fighting vehicle crews add to modern warfare. And as a consequence we attempt to make a virtue of a transitional necessity and there is little impetus to restore balance to our military capabilities.

Nothing is more terrifying than the prospect of close combat on the ground in any age. No wonder man has always wanted to avoid it. Some think that maybe in our age we can. Information age advances will multiply the ability of future forces to concentrate the effects of very precise and lethal firepower well beyond our imagination today. In a future crisis requiring military intervention it is conceivable that the combined precision fires of distant and widely dispersed air craft, ships, missiles and long range ground artillery could be orchestrated to arrive on all of the key targets of a large enemy formation or functional grouping at once or within a very few minutes. The damage to the enemy and the shock effect of such action could be devastating. If this will be possible, why would we need soldiers and marines to engage in close combat in the future?

The leaders of the Atlantic Alliance chose not to commit ground forces to the Kosovo campaign. They equated close combat with high casualties and unacceptable levels of collateral damage. The memories in many European families are still clear on the consequences of war. It is natural that they should try to avoid casualties. This article is not a critique of their decision. Nor is this a critique of the senior military leadership in that conflict. But, we should be careful to draw the right conclusions about recent events in Serbia and Kosovo.

While senior soldiers and marines would argue that ground operations are still important, there is also a growing belief amongst them that soldiers and marines can fight at arms length - remaining beyond the practical limits of the enemy's direct fire weapons to avoid unnecessary casualties. This article is a critique of their thinking. It is also a critique of the logic of those who believe that the "revolution in military affairs" has advanced to the point that warfare can be conducted without a ground component.

There are three basic questions that need answering. First, is actual ground combat still a necessary feature of modern warfare? And if so, why can't it be conducted at arms length. And third, will ground operations lead to more casualties and greater battle damage to civilian infrastructures than an air campaign? To answer the first two questions it is important to understand some very basic fundamentals of war itself and their continuing validity. To answer the last question one has to look closely at the modern character of war.

The rest is below the fold, in the Flash Traffic/Extended Entry.

War is first and foremost a contest of wills and the enemy quits not because of what has already happened, but because of what he believes might happen if he doesn't. Fires, whether standoff or close, are transient. They have great moral influence, but only for the duration of their existence. Extended range fires can set the terms of close combat, but the enemy quits because he fears the inevitability of defeat. There is no surer way to demonstrate that inevitability than with an overwhelming and imminent threat on the ground. Ground combat veterans and military historians generally agree that instances of defenses to the last man are rare, and attacks to the last man even more rare. The psychological breaking point is reached as soon as the inevitability of continued resistance is clear. Some believe that Slobodan Milosovic finally caved, not because of the 77 days of precision bombing, but because he became convinced that NATO would ultimately launch a ground campaign in spite of earlier assurances to the contrary. Of course, there is the argument of the "shock and awe" school of thought. Japan capitulated, they argue, not because of the inevitability of ground invasion, but because they believed that the first two A-bombs, at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, would be followed by more if they did not. Granted. But how much "shock and awe" is required, how much are we able to deliver and how much are we willing to deliver?

War is also a contest of strength. And strength is a function of the synergistic use of force. Giving up strength in the ground dimension is not easily compensated in the air dimension. The value of each additional increment of air effort begins to diminish because humans adjust psychologically, organizations develop countermeasures, and leaders adjust tactics. The enemy is more likely to be forced to quit when attacked in more than one dimension. Evading attack in one dimension exposes vulnerability in another. A dispersed enemy is a more difficult air target, but is more vulnerable to ground action. While increases in effort within the same dimension only produce additive results, spreading that increase in effort across several dimensions produces geometrically increased results.

Army and Marine combat arms officers learn this principle as second lieutenants. The principle of combined arms explains the synergistic benefits of combining the effects of different weapons systems in mutual support to create outcomes which place the enemy on the horns of a dilemma -- evade one system and become vulnerable to the other. As one moves from the tactics of firefights to those of battles the scope for combinations increases. Various lethal combinations are combined with merely suppressive ones (those which impede or degrade functions and systems such as jamming, obstacle systems, deception, psychological operations, etc). The ground action of the small Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has widely been given credit for "flushing" many of the enemy ground force elements that had escaped detection previously. This merely illustrates the value of even a small threat in a previously "safe" dimension.

War, no matter how conducted, comes at a great price and outcomes are vital. In most cases, close combat may be the only way to insure a decisive outcome -- a piece of ground needs to be held, a population center must be secured, or access to lines of communications or air and ground avenues of approach to the enemy must be assured. In engagements, battles or campaigns fought with stand-off means (even with more advanced weapons, reconnaissance, and targeting means), the enemy makes the decision whether to quit. He endures if he can because his purposes are also very important.

Taking a standoff "precision engagement" approach to war implies a willingness to gamble about the outcome -- that the enemy will yield before either political will or other resources are exhausted. It is very difficult to know whether you have really won in standoff fighting. Battle damage assessment through standoff technical means is a murky science, and will remain murky in the future ground environment. This may not be true in the air or sea dimension. In a standoff fight at sea, or in the air, the enemy either sinks or falls out of the sky or he doesn't. The battle damage assessment is simple and almost instantaneous. Even though the Desert Storm coalition was able to enforce no fly zones in Iraq for nearly 10 years, it was not able to control circumstances and events on the ground below. Precision firepower enthusiasts of the air and naval services grossly underestimate the difficulty of controlling enemy activity on the ground. In land combat it is difficult to differentiate a real kill from a "mobility kill", and it is hard to know if the two people with their hands up speak for the whole outfit or not. There is another complicating problem, especially when fighting on allied soil-how to guarantee the safety of the population from even defeated, retreating and dispersed enemy soldiers without a close and immediate presence on the ground.

When faced with the combination of extended range precision weapons, plus the inevitability of ground closure by soldiers or marines in sufficient strength, the action can conclude decisively. To be assured that the enemy is defeated at the tactical level, ground forces have to close to "0 meters and beyond." To be assured of defeat at the operational level, the enemy has to be brought under control on the ground and his control over populations and terrain must be negated. To be assured of defeat at the strategic level, the enemy regime must have no choice but to comply with the terms of the peace. The only way to be assured of this, is occupation on the ground.

Time is always a critical commodity at all levels of war and the enemy is more likely to quit sooner than later if he is also faced with a strong and credible ground close combat effort. An effort without ground action leaves with the enemy not only the decision of whether to capitulate but also when. Even when defeat is inevitable; delaying the inevitable can be advantageous at all levels of war. Lengthening the campaign could lead to better terms. Extending the conclusion of losing battles, engagements and firefights can salvage some benefits in the greater campaign. It is no secret that the 77-day Kosovo campaign tested the commitment and political endurance of the NATO allies. Had closure not been achieved by then, it is anyone's guess whether the alliance or Milosovic would have endured longer. Given what is now known about the outcome, both the continued survival of the regime and the regional impact of the collateral damage (especially the lengthy closure of the Danube to regional barge traffic), would certain allies have continued so long?

Wise senior decision-makers and competent ground commanders have always weighed the risks of ground combat against the specific requirements of the mission. There will be exceptional times when leaders can choose a more cautious, slower, standoff firepower approach. There will be occasions where time is secondary. The relative local balance of strength could favor the enemy. Or the seizure of a particular objective can be delayed, while the enemy therein is contained. The possession of advanced systems with greater capabilities may provide them more latitude, but it doesn't change the basic calculus. Close combat can foreclose the enemy's ability to delay defeat.

In future armed contests with a determined enemy, total friendly casualties may be much lower with a ground component (and close combat) than without. This may be counter-intuitive. Those not familiar with current and soon to be introduced ground force capabilities picture stand-off precision engagements in a "Star Wars" frame of reference, while their images of close combat are influenced by the World War II movie "Saving Private Ryan." Avoiding ground combat exacerbates asymmetries between potential foes and us. A future prolonged air war of attrition against a determined enemy will inevitably lead to casualties on our side. If it is apparent that casualty avoidance is a primary concern, and that inducing casualties would be of strategic value, then the future enemy has easier targets among support troops and civilians than among our well trained, superbly led, mobile, protected and "situationally aware" combat troops. To achieve his aims he will strike back asymmetrically, using special operating troops, and weapons of mass impact. Those casualties may well be global. A short, sharp "full dimensional" campaign provides less time to organize and conduct such "retribution terror" campaigns, and allows the victor the opportunity to crush the offensive regime (as was done in Panama) and change the leadership.

Close combat by modernized and situationally aware forces, well supported by precision lethal and suppressive effects, can be conducted with far fewer casualties than people believe. Close combat does not involve a choice of either direct fire weapons or standoff indirect fires. It involves a close coordination of the two. Tactical small unit commanders of the past often succeeded, even against well-entrenched enemies, without casualties. They approached the enemy from unpredictable (or less predictable) directions with effective reconnaissance well forward. They fired first with overwhelming effects -- usually artillery and mortars, adding air strikes when available. They used long range fires to destroy or suppress the enemy's ability to use these same weapons against their own troops. They maintained a suppressive and fixing overmatch against the enemy's ability to use his direct fire weapons effectively. For this they used long range supporting fires and over watching long range direct fires from covered positions. Under and behind this curtain of fires fighting vehicles and infantry closed to zero meters and beyond. To avoid casualties it was important to follow closely behind this curtain of fires, the suppressive effect of which was at this stage more important than its lethal effects. It served to keep the enemy down and under protective cover, and in shock. Wise commanders knew that a short sharp fight was more conducive to saving lives than a long drawn out one. This is largely because the shock effect of even a surprise attack wears off as time progresses and even more firepower is necessary later to induce the same psychological suppressive effect because enemy soldiers adjust and try to survive. Given the enhanced situational awareness, greater precision and suppressive effects, improved command and control and greater cooperation possible in the future, soldiers should be able to close much more safely than they did in the past. Trained and well-disciplined soldiers and marines have so much more to work with today and in the future. The lack of casualties in the air war over Kosovo is as much due to the superb professionalism, training, and leadership of the air forces involved as it was of their equipment. As much can be expected of our soldiers and marines.

Full dimensional operations, those including ground combat, may well be less likely to cause unintended collateral damage than standoff precision operations alone. Collateral damage is an important issue. For example, in Serbia the greatest impact of the loss of civil infrastructures will be felt for some time by the growing middle class. This was the very segment of society most opposed to the rule of Milosevic whose power base is the oligarchy at the top and the masses of dispossessed Serbs at the bottom. While destruction will continue to be the by-product of future warfare, the "full dimensional" approach can be far less destructive. There are two reasons for this. First, stand -off precision engagements tend to be blunt instruments compared to the same precision firepower technology employed by a ground combined arms commander in support of well trained, well disciplined, situationally aware combat troops using cooperative engagement tactics. Precision from a distance is less discriminating than precision from a closer vantage point, with a clearer picture of things as they are on the ground. Second, we will rarely benefit from lengthy campaigns. A "full dimensional" campaign has the potential of bringing about the collapse of enemy resistance much more quickly, and probably at greatly reduced collateral damage. Standoff precision engagements require a longer period of bombardment, and more raw overall destructive power, to achieve the same end.

Our leaders should have more options in a crisis. We must accelerate the transformation of the "Fulda Gap" army into the modern instrument of strategy required today. The US Army's "Objective Force" could contain a number of large organizations capable of rapid strategic deployment and "air mechanized" operations once in theater. These would operate in air transportable fighting vehicles capable of being flown long distances by aircraft capable of vertical take off and landing. Brigades could arrive in a crisis spot from first alert in less than 96 hours. The lead division could arrive in less than 120 hours. A five division corps could be on hand in less than 30 days. How much less than these "marks on the wall" would really be a function of available ships and aircraft. This new Army could be capable of taking advantage of most of the ever growing civil air cargo fleets world wide. They could also take advantage of increasingly of faster shipping. Equipped with advanced reconnaissance and surveillance systems, digital command and control, and precision lethal and suppressive weapons, a potent, but discriminating force, could be deployed to head off a crisis, or to fight short, sharp campaigns as part of a "full dimensional" crisis response force. They could also be deployed as a visible threat. If this Army had been a reality before the Kosovo crisis, the NATO leadership would have had more options.

The incursion of the Serb Army into Kosovo could have been pre-empted before the genocide began. At that point in time 90% of the population would have welcomed NATO ground troops, had they been able to be introduced quickly. One or two "Objective Force" divisions, could have been flown into Kosovo to block the entry of most of the Serbian forces. They would have used organic aircraft with enough range to fly into Kosovo from at least beyond the Adriatic sea. Logistical bases could have remained as far away as Italy. This operation would have been under the cover of air operations and in conjunction with Marine Forces staging out of the Adriatic or Meditaranean. The air forces would have kept the Serbian air force at bay and could have had a field day with tank columns moving along narrow valleys against our ground forces. The army forces would have rapidly secured all of the populated areas. This would have caused the Serb regular and irregular forces in the province to have to flee to the mountains and forests. The Albanian majority population would have assisted in gaining control of the province.

If the pre-emption were not possible, then deliberate and full dimensional offensive operations could gain control of the Serb forces, and then the population areas within Kosovo. The major population areas and major Serb troop concentrations within Kosovo could be secured in a few days. While air operations concentrated on Military targets in Serbia, and air and ground (combined) interdiction operations systematically removed air defense sites, multiple simultaneous brigade sized air assaults could seal the passes and valleys between Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia. Follow on air assaults from neighboring countries and from the Adriatic could secure all of the major population areas. Serb armored forces would be trapped. If they remained in hiding they would be systematically found and defeated. Soldiers and marines supported by airpower would quickly gain control of the country side and begin reestablishing local authority and control.

In either case above, much of the genocide would have been averted, and the overall level of civil violence would have been much less. If at any point the allied leadership had decided to do so, the Serbian army could have been defeated in less than 30 days after Kosovo was secured. At that point, before the devastation of their economic infrastructure, many of the Serb people would have welcomed a change in government. This would probably have required the combined NATO air effort against military targets and a force of no more than about five modernized allied divisions.

We should not try to make a recent necessity into a future virtue. Kosovo was a tragedy which should not be repeated. After 77 days of country wide destruction, many of the Albanian citizens of the province perished. The river barge traffic along the Danube, important to the economies of six other countries, was disrupted for many months and affected the livelihoods of many people. The countrywide destruction of the infrastructure setback the development of the one source of opposition to Milosevic - the emerging middle class. And Milosevic and his supporters survived for many months thereafter. A combined air and ground force produces more military power than an air and long range missile force separately. Ground combat will not necessarily lead to more casualties and devastation. And whenever the outcome of a military action must be assured, and when that outcome is better achieved sooner than later, then the decision of whether and when to quit must not be left with the enemy. Ground combat, and close combat within ground operations, are not always necessary but the enemy must never doubt that we can and will put superbly led and equipped soldiers and marines on the ground to assure victory.