ComNavOps has seen a spate of comments in the last few months, both on this blog and others, that have highlighted a major problem that both the military and commenters suffer from: we've forgotten what war is. In a war, people die and planes and ships get destroyed. We've been conducting police actions and limited actions against third rate opponents for so long that we've forgotten what real war is.
A consequence of forgetting what real war is, is that along the way we've adopted a zero-loss mentality about war. If the mere theoretical possibility of one of our planes being shot down is enough to push us to standoff roles only, then we're not very serious about the conflict. If the mere theoretical possibility of a ship being hit by a missile is enough to push our amphibious assaults out to 50 nm or more than we aren’t very serious about the objective. If the mere theoretical possibility of a carrier being hit by an anti-ship ballistic missile is enough to push us back beyond a 1000 nm A2/AD zone then we don’t have a compelling reason to enter the zone.
War is about attrition and war is about the balance between risk and reward. If the objective is worthwhile then it’s worth some losses. Too many of our recent military interventions have not been worth the losses which tells us that the reward wasn’t very compelling and we should have seriously questioned our involvement. In these kinds of scenarios, prevention of losses is often the main objective rather than any military goal.
Because we’ve forgotten what war is, too many people have taken to evaluating weapons and systems in isolation. We’ve forgotten that weapons rarely (never) operate in isolation against an opposing weapon. For example, the A-10 doesn’t fly alone against an isolated SAM system as if it were a target drone. The A-10 operates with supporting ECM, supporting ground forces, AWACS and spotters, helos, anti-radar missiles, etc. It also operates as part of a squadron whose other aircraft provide mutual support, spotting, and suppression. The A-10 also doesn’t operate in a clearly unfavorable situation. The A-10 is not tasked with penetrating the heart of an enemy’s capital city. That’s someone else’s job.
An LST (if we had one) doesn’t attempt to land all by itself against the entire arrayed enemy force. Of course, it wouldn’t survive that! It lands as part of an overall effort that attempts to support and maximize the LST’s chance of survival and mission accomplishment.
Unfortunately, as we argue for and against various weapons and systems we tend to pick and choose individual matchups which support our contention instead of making realistic assessments of how a weapon or system would actually be used in combat. That’s tactics, people! Arguing without an understanding of the tactics relevant to the weapon under discussion is just arguing for the sake of arguing. We don't fight in isolation (one A-10 versus one AAW system) yet we persist in discussing these things in isolation to prove our points.
The fact that an A-10 might be shot down doesn't render it obsolete. If we're not willing to face the possibility of losses then we should be looking very closely at our rationale for being there (wherever and whatever there is). Jumping into zero-loss police actions at the drop of a hat may not be the wisest policy. But, I digress...
This post is not about the A-10 or any particular weapon system. It’s about the reality of war and the flawed basis of isolated arguments. It applies equally to any weapon or system. By all means, let’s continue our discussions and continue weighing the pros and cons of systems and weapons but let’s do so with the totality of the item’s usage kept firmly in mind. Yes, that makes the discussions more complex and may require more thought and research but that is, after all, the point of this blog – to raise the level of discourse. Have at it!