Through the course of many posts, we’ve discussed naval force structure, strategy, combat doctrine, etc. In other words, we’ve discussed how to wage a war.
Defense News website has an article about airpower usage in the current anti-ISIS campaign (1). While this is Air Force centric, the concepts apply equally to the Navy which is why we’ll look at this. This is how we fight wars today. This is how we envision fighting wars in the future.
First, just a bit of perspective on the entire anti-ISIS endeavor. It’s been a year or so since the
began the fight against US ISIS. The president promised to
degrade and destroy ISIS, you’ll recall.
How’s that working out? Marginal,
at best, right?
On a related note, those who argue that the
is militarily stronger than the next X countries combined would do well
to note the stunning lack of success against a handful of militarily bereft
thugs. To be fair to the military, the
military is probably being tightly handcuffed by the President and his
political goals. Still, I haven’t heard
anything worthwhile from the military regarding a viable strategy (assuming
it’s even in our national interest to be involved in this). To be further fair, we have no way of knowing
what strategies the military has proposed to the President in private. US
Anyway, back to the topic. How do we want to wage war? As reported,
“As of Oct. 6, the US and partner nations had conducted 7,323 strikes against
ISIS: 4,701 in and 2,622
in Iraq , according to
a Pentagon report on OIR. … that averages out to about 13 strikes in Syria and seven
strikes in Iraq each day. Syria
By comparison, during the 42-day Desert Storm air campaign against Saddam Hussein in 1991, coalition fighters and bombers flew 48,224 strike sorties, or 1,100 a day. Twelve years later, the 31-day Iraqi Freedom air campaign averaged more than 800 offensive sorties a day.
We see, then, a focus on limited, precision attacks. Unfortunately, the result of limited attacks is limited results – a key lesson that the President and military seem to be ignoring.
We also see a key characteristic of modern warfare as conducted by the
and summed up in the following. US
“Since Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, the
great strides in precision-guided munitions, Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, deputy chief
of staff for ISR, pointed out in an interview with Defense News. Today, the US is
deploying primarily precision-guided bombs in the region to avoid collateral
damage, he stressed.” US
We’ve discussed this before. Arguably, the
’ main goal in modern conflicts is avoidance of
collateral damage even at the cost of increased risk to US personnel and
decreased likelihood of operational success.
We have forgotten that war is destruction. We are trying to conduct clean, surgical wars
where equipment gets destroyed but no one on either side gets hurt. The reality is that this is a recipe for long,
drawn out conflicts that ultimately result in many more people getting hurt
because the enemy has no qualms at all about hurting innocents. US
There are some who recognize this but too few. For example,
“What is the logic of a policy that limits the application of force to get rid of the evil that is the Islamic State while allowing them to kill innocent men, women and children?” Deptula [Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, Ret., former deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] said. “It’s laudatory that Operation Inherent Resolve has resulted in zero civilian casualties ... but how many innocent men, women and children have been killed in that same time?”
So, by trying to avoid collateral damage we ensure on-going civilian deaths on a much greater scale over a much longer time frame.
What other problems do we see in the anti-ISIS campaign? Intel and targeting. As Defense News notes,
“One frustration for the Air Force is a lack of assets and intelligence on the ground, Otto [Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, deputy chief of staff for ISR] noted.
and coalition forces need to do a better job using intelligence, particularly
human intelligence, to discern targets the Air Force can then strike from
the air, he stressed.” US
“I think we need to do a better job at holistically using our intelligence to create the targets. So it’s using signals intelligence, what we hear with geospatial intelligence, what we can discern from pictures with moving target indicators,” Otto said. “That’s hard work, but work that we need to improve.”
We see in these statements both the recognition that targeting is difficult and the failure to recognize that more technology is not the answer. All the explosive capability in the world is useless unless you have a target to use it against. Typically, though, the Air Force’s solution to targeting is more technology rather than eyes and boots on the ground. Another approach to targeting is to accept that less precise targeting is acceptable. If a sniper is in a building, our approach is to initiate a gazillion dollar program to develop a UAV that can enter the building, find the sniper, and disable his rifle. The alternative is to drop a mortar shell on the building and move on. This goes back to the avoidance of collateral damage issue. If we are more concerned with avoidance of collateral damage than elimination of the threat, we shouldn’t be involved in the first place. War is hell and the only good aspect to it is ending it quickly and decisively. Fewer people will die in the long run.
fight a war with simpe, basic weapons? No!
Consider this, US
“We won’t send airplanes into certain areas if they don’t have F-22s with them because they make everybody better, they provide a capability that allows those fourth-generation airplanes to be even better than they would be on their own.” [Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command]
Really? We’re plinking pickup trucks. Gen. Carlisle is suggesting that a fourth generation aircraft can’t do that sufficiently well? How does an F-22 make that better? Hey, how many F-22’s does it take to change a light bulb? How many F-22’s does it take to plink a pickup truck? It doesn’t matter. We’re going to use technology for its own sake.
“The stealthy F-22 is a game-changing air dominance platform, according to Col. Larry Broadwell, commander of the 1st Operations Group. Broadwell emphasized the Raptor’s enhanced ability to identify and destroy targets on the ground, adding that the plane’s integrated sensors have improved battlefield awareness for both US and coalition aircraft. Raptors from the 1st Wing were the first to deploy with a new air-to-ground capability upgrade, Broadwell noted.”
Well, how can anyone argue with that? Using our most advanced jet to plink $30,000 pickup trucks doesn’t seem like overkill, does it? Risking our most advanced jet to plink $30,000 pickup trucks doesn’t seem unwise, does it?
But for all its new technology, the F-22 has some limits. While the Raptor is able to communicate back and forth with other F-22s, the plane does not yet have the ability to send information to fourth-generation aircraft, Broadwell acknowledged. The plane can import information across traditional data links, but can’t export data, he said.”
Wait a minute! Put the afterburner in reverse. Didn’t we just read that Gen. Carlisle said the F-22 makes every other aircraft better? How does it do that if it can’t communicate with them? Could it be that the F-22 doesn’t really enhance every other aircraft and that the Air Force is just engaged in the same kind of exaggeration that the Navy routinely does?
Moving on, what about all those expensive surveillance toys the Air Force has?
“The Air Force’s ISR platforms are also performing well in the region, Otto said. For high-altitude surveillance missions, commanders are using Lockheed Martin’s U-2 spy plane and Northrop Grumman’s unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk to gather intelligence.
For medium-altitude ISR operations, the Air Force deploys General Atomics’ MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones. These platforms use full motion video to provide a clearer understanding of the battlefield, Otto said.
“The technology is incredible,” Otto said. “We’re able to do the Global Hawk or the MQ-1s and MQ-9s and fly those from back in the
, which is
when you think about that from a technological standpoint, very very advanced.” United States
Our UAV surveillance capability is incredible, the Air Force tells us, but didn’t we read earlier that targeting is a “frustration” for the Air Force? So, all that incredible UAV surveillance technology is still not producing actionable targets. Hmm …
One last aspect of the anti-ISIS effort that is noteworthy is our refusal to use ground combat power. We want to fight this using only airpower. This is, undoubtedly, due to our goal of fighting a war without casualties. It’s a tossup which is our main goal: avoidance of collateral damage or avoidance of casualties. Regardless, those are one and two on the objectives list. Certainly, winning is not in the top two (it may not even be a top ten goal).
Let’s look at the overall picture. We’re fighting the ideal war, as we conceive it. We have total domination of the air. We have unlimited and unimpeded UAV surveillance. There is no electromagnetic countermeasure interference. There is almost no air-to-ground threat. We have the most advanced aircraft in the world working the problem. ……… And yet, in a year of combat, we’ve made no progress and may have lost ground. How do we explain that?
We explain that by recognizing that our modern concept of warfare is fundamentally flawed.
- Our main goal is avoidance of collateral damage.
- We have no commitment to ending the conflict quickly and decisively.
- Our solution to every military challenge is technology.
- Our targeting capability is insufficient relative to our goal of avoidance of collateral damage.
- Our cost effectiveness (ratio of resources expended to results produced) is completely out of whack.
- We believe that airpower alone can win a war.
Let me repeat. Our concept of how we want to wage war is fundamentally flawed and almost guaranteed not to produce a decisive military victory.
I’ve criticized what we’re doing. Criticism is easy, solutions are hard. What is ComNavOp’s solution? Well, there are two alternatives.
First, we need to ask whether we should even be involved. I’m not going to get into the politics of this beyond noting that a very strong case can be made that none of the people involved in the fighting are true friends of the US and that allowing them to kill each other off at no cost to us is not a bad scenario. Of course, there are many other factors that could make involvement worthwhile. I’ll leave it at that.
Second, assuming we have good reason to be involved, the only rational objective is a quick and decisive end. Defeating
ISIS would be nothing more than a short, trivial live fire exercise for a
WWII armored division, if allowed to do the job without being subjected to
overly restrictive rules of engagement.
In other words, if a sniper is in a building, blow it up and move
on. If we aren’t that serious, we
shouldn’t be there and if we are that serious, it’s a trivial combat exercise. Yes, there would be collateral damage but far
less than if the conflict is allowed to drag out for years. How many people has ISIS executed because we won’t do what’s needed to quickly and decisively
We need to seriously re-examine our concept of modern war.
and Russia have a concept and it isn’t even remotely like
ours. When it comes to how to wage a
war, I like their concepts far more than ours. China
Sidenote: No, this isn't turning into an Air Force blog. These concepts apply equally to the Navy/Marines and, thus, are worth consideration.
(1)Defense News, “Fighting
ISIS: Is Pentagon Using Air Power's Full Potential?”, Lara Seligman, October 11,