Wednesday, October 21, 2015

This Is How We Want To Wage War?

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 US began the fight against 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 US 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.

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 Iraq and 2,622 in Syria, according to a Pentagon report on OIR.  …  that averages out to about 13 strikes in Iraq and seven strikes in Syria each day.

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 US and summed up in the following.

“Since Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, the US has made 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.”

We’ve discussed this before.  Arguably, the US’ 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.

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. US agencies 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.”

“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.

Can the US fight a war with simpe, basic weapons?  No!  Consider this,

“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 United States, which is when you think about that from a technological standpoint, very very advanced.”

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 end them?

We need to seriously re-examine our concept of modern war.  Russia and China 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.

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, 2015,


  1. The fight against ISIS really isn't indicative that "our modern concept of warfare is fundamentally flawed". It is indicative that all wars require political solutions.

    Unless you exterminate them completely, the enemy decides when the war is over.

    At the moment, there is no clearly viable and preferable political solution.

    CNO said, "First, we need to ask whether we should even be involved."

    Certainly removing ourselves from the fight entirely is an option. However the current "slow burn" approach is just one step back from that. The "slow burn" allows us to have influence in the conflict, aid our allies (what few we have), and keep a foot in the door in case a better political solution presents itself.

    The bombing campaign may not be as decisive as some would like, but it does have an impact. It does shape ISIS's influence and actions.

    A WWII armored division would have the same problems we had in Iraq. Sure, it might "win" quickly, but then what? The enemy would melt away, only to resume a campaign of IEDs and RPG attacks that would slowly bleed us. Just like they did in Iraq.

    This is the Bush/Rumsfeldian Iraq fallacy. "They will greet us as liberators." Yeah, right.

    Do we want to keep MULTIPLE divisions there, to fully pacify the populace, probably for DECADES? And accept the casualties and costs that result?

    CNO said, "We believe that airpower alone can win a war."

    I don't think ANYONE is under this illusion in Syria. Airpower is being used simply because it can be, without much chance of friendly casualties and without the massive, sustained expense of a ground campaign.

    Don't blame the Air Force for the lack of a viable political solution, or the lack of intel on the ground. They have no jurisdiction there. They will talk up the capabilities of their systems, just like everyone else.

    1. "It is indicative that all wars require political solutions."

      This is a statement that requires an entire blog to address. I won't go into the geopolitical aspects in any great depth since that's not the purpose of this blog. However, this is just to juicy to completely pass on.

      I think this statement, on the face of it, is false. Historically, the wars the end the "best" end in the most complete military, explosive way, not in political solutions. WWII produced two of our best modern allies, Germany and Japan, because the end of the war was so decisive. There was nothing left to continue fighting about for decades to come. Contrast that with the Korean War or Desert Storm. Those ended with vague political solutions that allowed the root cause of the conflicts to remain in place and have cause nothing but problems since. We had to refight Iraq and we're paying a huge price ensuring that we're ready to refight Korea.

      The best outcome of a war is when the enemy ceases to be a threat. The worst outcome of a war is when the enemy remains intact thanks to a political solution.

      I'm sorely tempted to do a post on this but it would be outside the scope of the blog. Thanks for bringing up a great point and allowing me to correct your understanding of the issue. I appreciate sharp students who are so willing to learn! Well done!

    2. "The "slow burn" allows us to have influence in the conflict, aid our allies (what few we have), and keep a foot in the door in case a better political solution presents itself."

      While this approach is not wholly without merit (recognize that I have not offered up any specific recommended course of action so there's nothing to argue about with me) it also comes at a great cost. We're depleting and aging our forces by using up flight hours for no significant return. We're wearing our our carriers. We're costing ourselves credibility and prestige. We're being seen as politically bumbling and ineffectual. We're solidifying a small war mindset at a time when we should be refocusing on major combat capabilities and restocking and re-maintaining(?) our forces for the future. Our military is being slowly bled of readiness, maintenance, budget, etc.

      There is a cost. Is it one worth paying for the remote possibility that better political solution will present itself? Dubious.

    3. "Sure, it might "win" quickly, but then what? The enemy would melt away, only to resume a campaign of IEDs and RPG attacks that would slowly bleed us."

      If we simply sit there and do nothing afterwards then, yes, that could happen. We would have to either completely occupy the land or completely leave. Personally, I see nothing worth staying for so leaving would be my option - no IEDs, no nothing.

      If all 30-50K ISIS members are killed off, they certainly won't be reconstituting in a week. That's what a decisive outcome grants - the subsequent absence of the threat (see my previous comment on political solutions to wars). It would be decades before they became a problem again and then we simply do another short live fire exercise.

    4. "Airpower is being used simply because it can be"

      Now there's a strategy for future students of warfare to study!

      Sadly, I think that is our "strategy".

      As you know, the failure to have a military strategy is one of my overarching themes.

    5. CNO said, "The best outcome of a war is when the enemy ceases to be a threat."

      This is certainly true, but they only cease to be a threat when a political solution is found and the enemy chooses to stop fighting, or the victor wipes the enemy out completely.

      We did not completely destroy the British in the Revolutionary war, but we eventually found a political solution where we could both coexist, and even become close allies.

      The Japanese chose to surrender. They accepted a political solution. They still maintained a significant ability to resist even to the end. However their choice was complete. Had we invaded, without a formal japanese surrender, we may still be fighting Japanese partisans today. Look at Northern Ireland. How long has that conflict brewed off and on? There has never been an acceptable political solution.

      If the enemy retains the will to fight, they will eventually find the means.

    6. CNO said, "Now there's a strategy for future students of warfare to study!

      Sadly, I think that is our "strategy".

      Airpower is not our "strategy". It's a tool to implement our strategy.

      A better description of our strategy would be something like this,

      "1. Pressure and attrite ISIS by supporting allies in the region and conducting targeted airstrikes against identified ISIS locations.

      2. Generate intelligence via all sources to find and kill ISIS leadership.

      3. Maintain minimal footprint on the ground to reduce friendly casualties and costs.

      The goal of this strategy is not to achieve decisive military victory. It is to bide time and shape conditions until we find an acceptable political solution.

      That's my read of the strategy, anyway.

    7. Smitty, wow! You are engaged in some serious revisionist history telling.

      "We did not completely destroy the British in the Revolutionary war, but we eventually found a political solution where we could both coexist, and even become close allies."

      This was not a war as we're discussing. It was an insurrection. CNN polls of late 1775 and early 1776 showed that the colonists, by a 5:1 margin, preferred to remain British subjects and only reluctantly chose independence. There was no great animosity as there would be in a war between countries. Nevertheless, the colonists beat all the British threw at them. Britain had other priorities and eventually chose to shift their attention elsewhere. Now, here's the key part: because neither side achieved a decisive victory the war was refought a short while later as the War of 1812, thus proving my point.

      "The Japanese chose to surrender."

      C'mon, you had to be laughing as you wrote that. Japan was decisively defeated militarily - totally and completely. I know you enjoy arguing but don't change history to try to make a point. There's nothing wrong with realizing you were wrong about this and learning something new. It makes you a better man. Embrace the feeling.

      "Look at Northern Ireland."

      Again, it's a civil insurrection not a war as we're discussing and, again, it's continuing because there has been neither a political solution nor a decisive military defeat (not really an applicable point because it's not a war).

      We're discussing country-to-country wars not insurrections although the same concept probably applies.

    8. "Airpower is not our "strategy". It's a tool to implement our strategy."

      Exactly my point. Airpower is not a strategy and yet I fear it is being used as a substitute for one.

      While it's remotely possible that the strategy you ascribe to our actions may be what was intended, I think not. When I look at our utter lack of strategic conversation and actions by this administration and military leadership across a broad spectrum of challenges (Russia, Iran, China, Korea, Terror, etc.) I'm not very inclined to believe that in the midst of all that floundering, suddenly, somehow, this one challenge of ISIS magically has a coherent strategy. No, sadly, our ISIS campaign is just the use of airpower in place of an actual strategy. You are giving credit where none is warranted.

      Even your "strategy" is not really a strategy since it contains no ultimate goal or objective. What you've described as a strategy is actually just actions. If there were a strategy, those might be actions in support of it but without a goal or objective they are just isolated actions that are not moving us toward anything. The same difficulty you're having in grasping what a strategy is also afflicts our civilian and military leadership. They have confused actions with strategy. Similarly, our military has confused targets with strategy.

      Think more critically! Rise above the level of our bumbling civilian and military leaders. You can do it. I believe in you.

    9. You are playing language lawyer. When does a "civil insurrection" turn into a war?

      We certainly don't call it the Revolutionary Civil Insurrection.

      We did fight the War of 1812 (or should we call it the Continuing Revolutionary Insurrection? The Empire Strikes Back?). But again, it was hardly decisive for either party. The British lost the will to fight on.

      Read up on what we thought it would take to invade the Japanese main islands. They weren't beat, militarily.

    10. “This will not be quick. This is a long-term campaign. ISIL is opportunistic, and it is nimble,” he said. “It will take time to root them out and doing so must be the job of local forces on the ground, with training and air support from our coalition.”

      Obama asserted that ISIS is “surrounded by countries and communities committed to its destruction” but overcoming the Islamic State’s grip on power will require more than a military effort.

      “In short, ISIL's recent losses in both Syria and Iraq prove that ISIL can and will be defeated,” Obama said.

      Our strategy recognizes that no amount of military force will end the terror that is ISIL unless it's matched by a broader effort, political and economic, that addresses the underlying conditions that have allowed ISIL to gain traction,” he added. “They have filled a void and we have to make sure that, as we push them out, that void is filled.”

    11. "You are playing language lawyer."

      No, I'm telling you that I'm talking about wars between countries not Uncle George yelling at Aunt Marge during Thanksgiving dinner.

      Name me a war between countries that ended with a long term positive outcome for both sides as the result of a negotiated political solution. There may be one that I'm not thinking of but my premise holds - the best outcomes occur when one side decisively defeats the other.

      Japan was totally and completely beaten by any measure. Absolutely crushed. C'mon, you're better than this. I know you like to argue but this is not the one.

    12. "Obama asserted that ISIS ..."

      Really? Obama is the guy you're turning to for foreign relations wisdom and political acumen? Arguably, the worst foreign policy president in our history?


      We have no geopolitical or military strategy for any region in the world. That's why we're in such messes and why Putin is able to trounce us on the world stage while China annexes the entire South/East China Seas.

    13. Ad hominem attacks against the President are beneath you, CNO. ;) Stick to the argument.

      In that article, the President, more or less, lays out the strategy I defined.

    14. Strategy?! That was no strategy. That was a vague statement indicating we have no real idea what to do.

      As far as attacking the President, you cited him and I noted his lack of strategy and coherent foreign policy.

    15. "Now, here's the key part: because neither side achieved a decisive victory the war was refought a short while later as the War of 1812, thus proving my point."

      And the War of 1812 ended without a decisive victory, so it had to be re-fought later as .... wait, it did not have to be re-fought. Hmm.

      "Name me a war between countries that ended with a long term positive outcome for both sides as the result of a negotiated political solution. There may be one that I'm not thinking of ..."

      In addition to the War of 1812, any war in history in which the two sides realized that there was no point in fighting each other any more and negotiated a truce was a war that ended the best way it could have, given the circumstances.

      I disagree that we "had to fight" in Iraq starting in 2003 due to the indecisive end to Desert Storm. But that is a long discussion.

      Then we can talk about all the decisive victories that we wish had never happened, like destroying Qaddafi's regime in Libya. That was decisive. How are things going there now?

    16. As I said, the Revolution and War of 1812 were unique in that there were no underlying hatreds or deep root conflicts. Even so, the lack of an initial decisive outcome led to the subsequent war.

      Regarding Libya, again I'll repeat, I'm talking about wars between countries, not civil wars. Even so, the Libyan conflict did not end with one party in complete and total control. It left a group of factions in charge that degenerated into power struggles and ethnic problems made worse by a remaining group of problematic loyalists still at large. The subsequent chaos demonstrates this.

      The reason why I limit this premise to wars between countries is that the winner will have a viable government that can impose control. Contrast that to a civil war in which the winning side generally has no governmental body and cannot impose control. Further, the winning side generally lacks the power to impose its control on the other side - if either side had the overwhelming power to impose control, there probably wouldn't have been a civil war to begin with.

  2. Brilliant article, 100% bang on.

    "How many people has ISIS executed because we won’t do what’s needed to quickly and decisively end them?"

    Either we are in or we are out. The UK is absolutely culpable in this façade of a 'war' too. Plus now Russia is showing us how to do it. WE KNOW HOW to do it, we apparently just don't have the commitment.

    It is honestly been viciously painful to have to sit back an on any level admire Putin and his methods. But given this complex and multi sided conflict, IF we wont properly engage,
    Then I'm going to have to back the Ruskies !

    and may god have mercy on my soul. Cos when Putting n co starts to looking like the good guys then something has gone very wrong.

  3. Mindless BS. Always blame the ROE for failure. Gee, if we were just allowed to use nukes we could win in a day. Yes, but win what?

    "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."

    So someone really thinks that if we just launched 1100 strikes a day for 42 days we would win. Recall that massive ground forces were used in Iraq too.

    A WWII or even 2015 armored division could blast Syria and "win" quickly. Then what? You've got millions of hungry and angry civilians all around, who begin to pick off a few GIs every day until they leave. Can anyone recall why we started bombing? I think because it was the only war we could find at the moment since Chavez died on us.

    1. Your analysis is trivial and you completely missed the point of this article.


    2. Anon, ROE was not even explicitly mentioned in the post. The closest I came to it was a discussion of our obsession with avoidance of collateral damage. That has become a doctrinal (almost strategic!) imperative. Yes, that translates into ROE but that was not the point.

      The strike frequency was noted to point out that we tend to attempt to engage in limited wars with the predictable outcome of limited results

      The only portion of your comment that has any validity is the "then what?" and that's a good point. We tend (almost always?) to jump into conflicts without a well defined endpoint and post-conflict strategy. That lack and subsequent floundering often winds up overshadowing any gains that the combat portion may have achieved.

      I welcome comments and disagreements but you need to read the posts a bit closer, address what was actually written versus what you think was written, and up your level of analysis.

      Please keep the language clean and tone respectful.

    3. You wrote:

      :"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."

      Okay, you did not write ROE, but it stands for rules of engagement. And you analogy is all wrong. When you blow up a building to kill one guy you anger the locals and probably kill several innocents that in turn causes more insurgents.

      Imagine a DC SWAT team calling in an airstrike in DC to destroy a building so that perp is killed before he can hurt anyone else? It wouldn't look good in TV, even if the police captain calmly explained that he can't be restricted by ROE just to limit collateral damage, and that his officers lives were in danger. This only sounds silly to those who have never visited an urban area after an airstrike and talked to the locals.

    4. I made the point that in war avoidance of collateral damage can't be our top priority - winning has to be. I further made the point that if avoidance of collateral damage is our top priority, we should be seriously asking ourselves whether we should even be there. I also made the point that a quick and decisive victory will save more lives over the long run.

      Yes, collateral damage runs the risk of creating future insurgents and that's where the harm/balance assessment of whether we should even be there in the first place comes into play.

      A police action here in America has no relationship to the scenario we're discussing. Here, we can evacuate a building in an orderly and safe fashion knowing that no additional snipers or attackers will appear and that the people fully support the police actions. None of that is true for the scenarios we're discussing.

      Let me give you an historical example. During WWII we undoubtedly killed a lot of civilians doing exactly the kind of thing I'm discussing here and yet we did not create a future anti-America uprising. The future insurgent issue that you postulate results when we come in, cause damage, and then leave without having improved conditions for the people. In WWII, we caused damage but left the people in an ultimately far better condition than before (free from Nazi control and in a position to rebuild).

      This is not a scenario to enter into lightly and that is why I keep emphasizing that we need to ask ourselves why we're involved in any given conflict. That's also why we need to have a clearly thought out end game and post-conflict plan before we begin an involvement.

      You may agree or disagree with my premise but try to do so with the overall picture in mind as I've sketched out for you. The overall harm/benefit balance is quite different than the instantaneous impact of collateral damage.

    5. Anon,

      You keep missing the point: the military is not the DC police; when the country employs military power it ought to employ that power to greatest effect to achieve specific goals.

      I am critical of endless interventions and imperial presidents, but war is a necessary tool of state power and ought be given the very grave consideration based on principals, not CNN polls.

      You can argue about policy objectives; you can even argue about whether military force is appropriate, but once we decide on war it out to be prosecuted with maximum, ruthless efficiency.

      The problem post-WWI id that we have created imperial presidencies that wag "war" as "police actions" and the lack of national will manifested in the absence of Congress executing its constitutional responsibility to declare war. This ambiguous legality about intervention has pushed the issue of civilian casualties to primacy.


  4. This reminds me of a passage from the late Col. Fletcher Prouty USAF:

    " ...we must understand that it has become the objective of 'low intensity conflict' to continue the wasting of money, the pointless killing of defenseless people, and the consumption or attrition of costly war materiel to make way for the procurement of more. 'Low-intensity conflict' is a way in which the hundreds of billions of dollars of armaments produced each year can be used, destroyed, and wasted this year in order that more may be procured and used next year."

    1. I hadn't heard that one but it's appropriate. Thanks.

    2. Major General Smedley Butler made a better case against military adventurism in "War is a Racket".


    3. I'll check that out. Thanks.

    4. CNO,

      The book is admittedly a rant and poorly organized.

      That said, it has interesting points, and Butler knew what he was writing about. The general was a two-time winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, fought in campaigns from China (boxer rebellion) all through the Banana Wars of Latin America.

      I found pages 51 and 35 of the book most interesting. He makes a very powerful argument that the reason the USA joined in WWI was that if the allies lost, they would not be able to pay billions in debt to the USA. He also argued that before the nation conscripted soldiers it should "nationalize"/conscript the defense industry in time of war, specifically reducing the salaries of CEOs to that of soldiers as a brake on the defense lobby!


    5. GAB, that last bit about conscripting the defense industry in a time of war is fascinating. I'd never heard that nor considered such a thing. I will have to give that some thought.

      How wide ranging would that be? For example, in WWII much of the defense industry was not defense related at all pre-war (Ford Motor Co, for instance). Would a food company that was contracted to produce rations be considered a defense industry? I'm not arguing for or against the concept, just trying to grasp the scope.

    6. CNO,

      General Butler implied that basically every industry that got a contract from the War Department would be subject to conscription.

      He specifically gave the example of how the War Department bought 4 times as many boots as there were soldiers in WWI - so periphery industries were under his scrutiny.

      I suspect that Butler would be very much in favor of the AVF - he called for only military age males to vote on conscription.

      Interesting guy.

  5. syrian situation is complex mess , it is impossible to discuss one aspect of it without touching the political thing you wanted to avoid in this blog..

    I believe US military still have capability to destroy ISIS , if they are left alone without political restraint. I believe this will include ground forces too.

    The thing is the current use of Air power coalition is just a facade , a way of showing 'we are doing something' without really doing nothing , while seeking to covertly dethrone assan by the so called 'moderate' rebels..

    you have to remember the libyan conflict , on how the NO Fly Zone in libya become a free for all bombing campaign that targetted libyan ground forces.. Syria is the same , slow gradual build up of airpower, trained and armed mercenaries on the ground , air power destroying syrian army and the rebel 'won'..

    your statement 'airpower cannot win war' is true , but it is not applicable to syrian situation.. the western coalition didnt even seek to 'win' , only to prolong the conflict until assad gone...

    1. "syrian situation is complex mess , it is impossible to discuss one aspect of it without touching the political thing you wanted to avoid in this blog."

      Quite right and I'm making no attempt to analyze any but the military aspects of it. I try to limit the geopolitical to just the aspects that directly impact the military situation.

      You're pretty much spot on about the use of airpower!

      You're also correct that we're not seriously attempting to "win" the war.

      Good thoughts.

    2. Airpower "won" in Kosovo, as much as any one branch could win.

      i don't get why this statement keeps getting repeated. Why don't we also say "naval power cannot win war" too? It's just as valid (or invalid).

    3. Naval power cannot win a war. That should make you happy! "The seat of purpose is on the land." Only ground forces can occupy land which is the ultimate measure of winning.

      I'm not familiar enough with the Kosovo conflict to know the extent to which airpower "succeeded". I note that there was a significant ground component. It wasn't US troops but it was still a ground force. My impression is that the AF applied pressure, as airpower (like naval power) does but did not "win" the war.

      Do you know the ground force makeup, size, and relative contributions?

    4. Airpower proponents have been looking for an example of a victory for decades and have never found it. Airpower contributes to victory just as naval power does but neither can achieve victory on their own. It's a pointless discussion and distinction that is relevant only because the current administration/military seem to have forgotten that lesson and appear to be trying to "win" wars with just airpower.

    5. You are making a straw man argument. Nobody is under the illusion that airpower alone will "win", including the administration and especially the military. Obama's comments in the interview I posted make that clear.

      In Kosovo, Milosevic decided to end the Serbian occupation. Airpower had a key coercive influence, but there were many likely factors. Regardless, no NATO ground troops were involved.

  6. if it is a war to be won , you need a full complement of Ground , Air and Naval power , along with Space power if you got them...

    i dont understand why some people in the military still think war can be won by air power alone or by naval power alone..

    example :

    - Carthage have superior naval power during the punic wars , while roman have ZERO naval power and have to improvise.. the punic wars ? all decided on ground combat and carthage lost even if it's naval powers won majority of naval engagement over the romans..
    - airpower dont save america from defeat in vietnam war.. statistic records 4000+ fixed wing aircrad and 4000+ rotorcraft lost during vietnam war, and the north vietnamese lost 250+ aircraft all kind.. who won the air war then ?

    1. And if the USAF took like 250 B52s, and levelled Hanoi? Knocked down all the major bridges, and destroyed the rail-road to china? How much resources would the Viet Cong have had to sustain their war machine then? Would they not then be limited to small arms?

    2. Anon, that actually pretty much happened. Research Rolling Thunder and, more to your point, Linebacker I/II.

  7. I'd have to argue that the US has done the exact opposite, that it has used bombing excessively and caused to many civilian casualties.

    However, I agree that there seems to be a fatal focus on "light" forces. That weakness may not expose itself against say, Islamic Fundamentalists without an air force, navy, and limited land hardware, but against a nation state, that could prove very bad indeed.

    It seems like senior leadership is unwilling to see the cliff ahead.

    1. I think it is the opposite, watching the video recordings in Syria of the bombings, those people are shitting themselves, they really are scared shitless and the gloves haven't even come off yet.

      Those Russian planes are carrying relatively small loads, instead of carpet bombing them full-loadouts of FAB-100/250s, cluster or thermobaric munitions. It is completely demoralizing, any attempt to form up and operate as a conventional force, or hold a strong-point, and hell rains down from above killing everything.

      The key is matching your throw weight with target information, to maximize damage. Some aircraft can carry many smaller munitions, which means they can dish out a large amount of damage each sortie. You either want to carry a large number of small munitions, or a small number of large munitions carrying a cluster payload.

    2. Alt, you lost me there. The US has done the exact opposite of what?


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