ComNavOps has frequently extolled the virtue of numbers, even over quality. As the old adage says,
“Quantity has a quality all its own.”
When I advocate greater numbers, one of the common counter arguments is that we no longer engage in attrition warfare. Supposedly, we now engage in maneuver warfare to paralyze our enemies and bring them to their knees with no casualties on either side. Ahh … the ideal war! Or so the story goes.
The reality is that war is all about attrition. We’ve just forgotten that. You know, there’s another old adage,
“The enemy gets a vote.”
The enemy gets a vote, yes. Sometimes, though, we can minimize or marginalize the enemy’s vote.
got a vote in Desert Storm but it
didn’t amount to anything. However, when
it comes to attrition warfare, the enemy’s vote trumps ours. Huh???
What does that mean? Iraq
It means that if an enemy is willing and determined to engage in attrition warfare, it’s almost impossible not to become inextricably involved in attrition warfare. When the enemy sends a human wave attack at your troops, you ARE engaged in attrition warfare whether you want to be or not. When the enemy is willing to send waves of aircraft at your ships to wear down your defenses and, eventually, sink your ships, you ARE engaged in attrition warfare whether you want to be or not.
Maneuver warfare will only work until you come into contact with the enemy and then, if the enemy so chooses, it becomes attrition warfare. The hope is that your maneuvering put you into an advantageous position so that you’ll win the attrition phase of the battle but, barring Saddam Hussein type stupidity, you can’t avoid an attrition battle if the enemy wants it. I don’t think
or China are going to be that obligingly
and China .
What are their single biggest military advantages? That’s right … numbers. Russia
The biggest numbers advantage
and Russia have is manpower. They have, literally, billions of people to
throw at our forces and they have the required inhuman insensitivity to actually
do it. Such a tactic is abhorrent and
almost unimaginable to us. I say
“almost” unimaginable because we actually saw the Chinese do it as recently as
the Korean War and the Russians did it during WWII. Given China ’s uncaring attitudes towards human
rights, as demonstrated repeatedly in modern times (recall the massacre of
several hundred protesters in the China Tiananmen Square incident), does anyone really
believe that wouldn’t hesitate to employ
attrition tactics? Given China ’s uncaring attitude towards human
rights as evidenced throughout their history (Stalin, KGB, Siberian camps,
etc.), does anyone really believe that Putin wouldn’t hesitate to employ
attrition tactics? Russia
In fact, from a purely military perspective,
and China would be foolish not to employ
attrition warfare. Russia
, their numbers advantage will soon
extend to aircraft and ships, if it doesn’t already. And, unlike us, they tend not to early retire
and throw away perfectly serviceable aircraft and ships. For example, they have a very large
contingent of second and third line aircraft that would work quite well as
attrition fodder. If they can throw
early generation MiGs at us and destroy, say, a single F-22 for a loss of 10
second/third line aircraft, that’s a win for them. Yeah, but that can’t happen, you say. Even 10 MiG-21’s can’t match a single
F-22. Well, they don’t have to match the
F-22, they just have to soak up the F-22’s missiles and distract the F-22 so
that the first line Chinese aircraft can destroy the F-22. Consider …
the Chinese have reportedly (Wiki) built 2400 MiG-21s and they are still
operational. That’s a China LOT of aircraft to conduct attrition
warfare with! We have 150 or so
Warfare IS attrition. We’ve just forgotten that in our desire to pursue clean, neat wars where everyone goes home at night, takes a hot shower, eats a good meal, watches some TV, and then gets up the next day and goes to work to conduct another neat, clean patrol or aerial strike while carefully avoiding collateral damage or casualties to either side.
We need to start imagining what the next war will really be rather than what we wish it would be. Brutal, ugly, and lethal. That’s what it will be and that’s what we need to be.
Even an old grunt like me can see and understand your point. The PTB don't seem to understand the sharp end of conflict and what will happen there - and the results.ReplyDelete
Billy Mitchell would be proud of you....
The PLAAF only has less than 400 Mig-21s in service, with most of the production run either scrapped, in museums, or serving as spare parts depots. In fact, if you add up every fighter used by the PLAAF, you get a number smaller than the number of F-16s in service with the USAF. In terms of ships and frontline aircraft, the US still has a significant quality and quantity advantage over both China and Russia, without even counting our allies in NATO, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan.ReplyDelete
I have no doubt that Xi Jinping might be willing to throw away hundreds of thousands of lives to accomplish meaningful strategic objectives if they present themselves, but what objectives do you think he is willing to risk full scale war for? China has far more to lose than the US in such a conflict than the United States given their reliance on maritime trade and commerce with their primary shipping lanes running straight through American/Allied controlled waters.
China is making it pretty clear that they are working toward global domination. You seem unable to conceive of any significant risk China would take but would you have thought, 15 years ago, that China would flout all international laws and treaties to militarize the E/S China Seas, build artificial island military bases, ignore the UNCLOS tribunal, trespass into other country's territorial waters, develop medium range ballistic missiles that could be mistaken for nukes, seize and destroy a U.S. airplane, seize U.S. underwater drones, and begin eyeing the second island chain? When you consider all that, I would ask you, what risk won't China take?Delete
"if you add up every fighter used by the PLAAF, you get a number smaller than the number of F-16s in service with the USAF."Delete
According to Wiki,
"The People's Liberation Army Air Force operates a large and varied fleet of some 3,010+ aircraft, of which around 2,100 are combat aircraft (fighter, attack and bombers)"
According to F16.net website, the USAF has around 1200 active F-16s. That makes your statement incorrect. Please provide a reference supporting your statement or I'll delete it as incorrect. Thank you.
I said we had more F-16s than the Chinese had fighters. The 2100 combat aircraft number includes their (really outdated) attack planes and bombers. If you total up the number of J-7s, Su-30s, J-8s, J-10s, J-11s, and J-20s in service, it comes out to 1144 fighters, most of which are somewhat obsolete.Delete
I acknowledge that China has territorial ambitions in the South China sea, but there's a world of difference between harassing the Philippines by building some islands and attrition warfare with the United States.
In China's 2000 years of dynastic history, China has never been systematically expansionist like Rome or Britain. Instead, Chinese foreign policy priorities have been primarily to secure the borders, make a few weak neighbors pay tribute, and then turn inwards. Obviously things are different today, but I don't expect China to make a bid for "GLOBAL DOMINATION". What makes you think China is willing to escalate further against the US and its allies from its position of relative weakness?
"What makes you think China is willing to escalate further against the US"Delete
If you simply want to argue, I'll terminate this now. If you have an actual desire to learn, you can read the two part post on war with China starting with the post below.
War With China - Part 1
He is right they have phased out all the Mig-19/ J-6 and are about to phase all the MiG-21/ J-7 clones out of service . 2400 is the total production run .ReplyDelete
They may phase them out of active service but China tends not to throw away perfectly operational ships and planes like we do. Come war, they would have a large inactive supply to draw on as attrition fodder.Delete
Most of the production run was exported to other nations, like Bangladesh, Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Myanmar, Namibia, Nambia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Albania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. China does not have that many airframes left, even in reserve.Delete
"China tends not to throw away "Delete
Oh, no sure they wouldn't trow them away, but what would be a new role for those old obsolete MiG's
Let me think
CHINA’S CONVERTED SURPLUS FIGHTER DRONE FORCE
"China does not have that many airframes left, even in reserve."Delete
Do you have some point to make regarding the premise of the post or are you merely looking to argue about the number of aircraft China may or may not have?
The Soviet Horde, late 1943 onward was quite good at maneuver warfare. By that time the Horde was having manpower issues. see David Glantz's many books on the Great Patriotic War.ReplyDelete
Do you have a point to make that relates to the post?Delete
The Red Army was fighting an attrition war till sometime in '43, lacking the people/training to execute it. They became more adept at operational level maneuver warfare and used it, partly due to the lack of people to execute their previous attrition methods.Delete
M.K., what is your assessment of the Soviet Union's Cold War military philosophy of throwing divisions at NATO defenses to create breakthroughs? Would you call that attrition warfare?Delete
I agree with you about the probability of China engaging in attrition warfare. Particularly as their society has an enormous sex imbalance towards surplus young males. However; regarding Russia, I believe their has been some push back from it's society against casualties among the paramilitary/contractor forces deployed in the Eastern Ukraine and Syria. Russia's population is little more than half that of the old Soviet Union and due to declining demographics during the 1990's the cohort of military age males in Russia is now undersized relative to their overall population. I look at them using more firepower and EW in a future conflict (that can obviously be a form of attrition warfare as well). Putin has been very shrewd in using information and unconventional warfare to achieve his goals of annexing areas of the old Soviet Union for a relatively low net cost (sanctions hurt the overall Russian economy but probably strengthen his political standing) to his regime: the Crimea, parts of Georgia perhaps eventually Eastern Ukraine/Donbass region.ReplyDelete
Without a doubt Putin will attempt to use "normal" means first. However, when the crisis point comes, as it did in WWII and the German invasion, Putin will resort to attrition tactics to save Mother Russia just as his predecessors did.Delete
How do we know this? Because Putin has demonstrated repeatedly a disregard for human life and, more significantly, a disregard for the lives of his own "people". Consider the various conflicts he has initiated against former Soviet territories - ostensibly, his own people! If he would do that would he hesitate to throw people into human wave attacks?
Russian military operations, philosophy, and tactics have historically been based on attrition warfare - the belief that numbers would overwhelm quality and this has always been considered normal and acceptable. Do we really think this has suddenly changed?
Their philosophy changed out of necessity after the Cold War ended. They don't have the massive number of conscripts anymore, or an economy that's able to arm and support them.Delete
Their recent conflicts have emphasized the use of only limited numbers of Russian troops augmented with local irregular forces. Far from the massed Soviet armies of old.
"Their philosophy changed out of necessity after the Cold War ended. "Delete
No it didn't. What changed was the need. The need disappeared. In WWII, they were faced with a full war for survival and didn't hesitate to resort to human wave attacks. After the Cold War ended, they were not engaged in a full war for survival and, therefore, didn't need to resort to human wave attacks. If they get into a full war again, they'll resort to the same attrition warfare they used in the past. Why wouldn't they? In a war, they'll have unlimited access to conscripts.
I think they'd have a hard time pulling off a good attrition war today. Russia has a huge demographic problem right now. They have 144 million people, less then half of our population. And a significant portion of that population is older:Delete
Of course, on the other side of that: We'd be on the end of a huge supply line. And most European militaries are a mess.
JFW, read my comment reply to "John". You're completely wrong about this.Delete
"Russia's population is little more than half that of the old Soviet Union"Delete
You are completely wrong. See my comment reply to "John" below.
Step one for the naval side has to be getting anti-missile defense cheaper than AShM. Shooting off 2 million dollars worth of interceptors to shoot down a million dollar missile is a losing proposition.ReplyDelete
I don't know if the answer is lasers or what, but it is essential. We are already at a disadvantage being the expeditionary force.
Well, you do recognize the reverse is also true, right? Instead of sitting back and defending (on the wrong side of the cost equation) we could take the offensive and make our enemy defend from the wrong side of the cost equation.Delete
Unfortunately, however, we've become a defensive military instead of an offensive one. The Navy's main weapon is what? Yes, Aegis - a purely defensive weapon. The Navy's only dedicated anti-ship weapon is the obsolete Harpoon anti-ship missile that is past its shelf life. The Air Force has only 20 first line B-2 bombers to fight a peer war with. The Army is frantically trying to add a 30 mm gun to Strykers to add a bit of offensive firepower. We refuse to develop new cluster munitions. We refuse to develop intermediate range ballistic missiles. Our carrier air wings have dropped to half their previous size and the individual aircraft have lost their range.
We've forgotten that offense wins wars, not defense. Defense is what you do until you're strong enough to go on the offensive.
So, your concern is valid but it's symptomatic of a military that has forgotten how to fight and win a war.
We can't totally disregard the offensive/defensive cost equation but neither should we disregard offensive warfare which is exactly what we've done for the last several decades.
"We are already at a disadvantage being the expeditionary force."Delete
Why do you say that? Granted, it's true of today's expeditionary military but it doesn't have to be. Why can't we be at an ADVANTAGE by being an expeditionary force? Why can't we have overpowering offensive, expeditionary force? We could, you know.
We could build battleships with frightening firepower. We could figure out how to get overwhelming tank and artillery forces landed in the initial assault wave. We could build modern, naval versions of A-10 close air support planes. We could ... Well, I could go on all night but you get the point. We could have overwhelmingly powerful expeditionary forces, if we wanted.
What do you think of that way of looking at it?
The disadvantage of being the expeditionary force is in the logistical train. No matter what system you field bringing supplies across the ocean poses costs. It is surmountable sure, but real.Delete
The rest of your point stands though. I am reading it as go big or go home. I agree with that philosophy.
"The disadvantage of being the expeditionary force is in the logistical train."Delete
Quite right. There's no getting around the logistics challenge that comes with fighting an "away game". On the other hand, most would agree that's preferred over fighting on your homeland.
It also suggests that part of a strong expeditionary force is a robust supply chain. The Navy and the nation has allowed its logistics fleet and merchant fleet to wither. We need to build that back up.
There is also another side to having more troops : not all military problems require the best tool. China many 50 years old are good enough against mongolia and the many stan.ReplyDelete
One of the things that strikes me about this is that it is necessary to have a means of dealing with the quantity issue. A swarm of small boats, obsolete fighters, drones, soldiers etc.ReplyDelete
This is likely to be having the capacity to spread low level kinetic effects over a massed grouping of targets. Cluster munitions do this on land, but what else does a similar thing in other battle environments? The key thing about these types of weapons is that they would need to be simple, cheap and easy to employ. Think like a claymore for the air.
This also has the implication that you have the capacity to produce and supply hundreds of thousands of the munitions ready to be used. There is little point in having a weapon that is intended to be used in large quanitities rapidly, that is not rapidly available in large quantities.
The other consideration is that these weapons only need to achieve a mission kill, not necessarily total annihilation. It is the question of ensuring that the mission kill is achieved for the quantities of attackers
Storm Shadow, this blog is based on data and logic. I deleted your comment since it had neither. Feel free to re-post as long as you provide supporting data or logic. You might want to review the Comment Policy page.ReplyDelete
There is another side to attrition warfare that you do not mention in this post, but have touched on in the past. The Chinese do not even need to get a single actual kill on an F-22 or F-35. All they need do is force us to fly them until our high maintenance requirements have grounded our fighters.ReplyDelete
Sad how quickly the U.S. forgets. In WW2 the Germany had more advanced tanks vs the Sherman and even jet fighters and the first true assault rifle. Their troops were often more battle experinced. Yet we prevailed partly due to our incredible production rates. We replaced liberty ships faster than they could crank out U-boats to sink them. We could throw 4 shermans against that better armored and armed German tank. B-17s were shot down with impunity but we produced more and more. The U.S. Won a war of attrition.ReplyDelete
Your comment on China's 2nd tier weapons makes me wonder if we should look at the Israeli model where older weapons are often totally repurposed rather than disposed of. Turning older tanks into APC's or engineering vehicles for example.
"Turning older tanks into APC's or engineering vehicles for example."Delete
Yes, yes, yes!
We have thousands of old, unused M1 Abrams tanks. We need Combat Engineering Vehicles, Heavy Armored Personnel Carriers, self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicles, fortification assault vehicles, etc., all of which could be made from repurposed M1's.
For the Navy, consider the entire Spruance class that was sunk to avoid competition with Aegis. Those would still be world class ASW vessels.
And so on.
I nominate you for Secretary of Defense!
When talking war against Russia i wonder how no one until now mentioned this little organization called NATO, in a European war the US wont be alone, even if half the NATO nations back the US that is still a huge advantage.ReplyDelete
Against China, do you think that South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Australia will sit idle and not support the US, even Vietnam would be on the US side in such a war.
You are looking at attrition warfare as if the US would fight such a enormous war alone, during and after WW2 every conflict the US fought they were allies.
In every war the U.S. has fought, the U.S. has been far and away the major contributor so yes, in essence, the U.S. fights alone. Contributions from allies are welcome, of course. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that very few allies have much to contribute. The pathetic Libyan incident some years back when the European countries ran out of muntions in a week or so kind of indicates the level of support we can expect. Or, consider the German military today. If reports are to be believed, they have an even more hollow and unprepared military than we do! Even the UK is on a constant downsizing spiral. They would stand with us and give us all they have but they just don't have that much to give. Their politicians are neutering their military.Delete
Australia has little to contribute and is questionable about their support anyway. Taiwan will be gone in the first week of any conflict with China. South Korea is unlikely to contribute much due to the threat posed by NKorea. Vietnam has nothing to contribute and is unlikely to take sides. Only Japan is a likely supporter and has significant forces.
NATO is militarily bankrupt. They are a nearly useless shell of what they once were.
Besides, the attrition aspect applies whether we fight alone or with allies.
As an aside, I don't see war with Russia as likely. Russia simply doesn't have the military to have any chance of even limited success against the U.S. Russia and while I think Putin is a ruthless egomaniac who will push the envelope as far as possible, I don't think he's insane and would start a war with the U.S. If war were to happen it would likely be due to a miscalculation on his part as to how far he can push.
War with China, on the other hand, is inevitable.
In the Great Patriotic War, let me remind you that Russia inflicted eight times as many casualties on the Reich than the United States, including their best units before the United States even landed in France.Delete
Against Japan, Nationalist China killed four times as many Japanese personnel than the United States. Do not presume that America singlehandedly saved the world from fascism when the nations you consider strategic competitors today did most of the heavy lifting and dying.
Let me remind you that had America not entered the war, Russia would be a state of Germany today and China would be part of Japan. That's the cold, hard reality.Delete
America fought Germany and Japan simultaneously and saved Russia and China, to our detriment today.
What is your source that Russia would have lost the war had America not joined? American historian David Glantz of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College has written in his book When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler that the Eastern Front was unwinnable for the Germans by Stalingrad in 1942, before any major effort by the United States to fight the Nazis or significant lend-lease aid arriving.Delete
I will give the US credit for sending huge quantities of supplies, trucks, and combat equipment starting in mid-1943, as that aid sped up the Red Army's advance into Germany and saved many Russian lives. I will also give credit to the United Kingdom for destroying much of the Luftwaffe in 1940 and forcing the Germans to allocate troops to secondary theaters like North Africa instead of focusing solely on the Eastern Front. Perhaps Churchill's willingness to fight did save Russia, although it would be hard to have a definitive answer on that.
In China, while the Japanese made major gains in 1937 and 1938, their effort had ground down to a stalemate in early 1939, and by the winter of 1939/1940, Nationalist China was able to launch large scale counterattacks that destroyed multiple Japanese armies. This all happened before America joined the war and supplied a small squadron of fighters to aid China. The Chinese people were more than capable of fighting the Japanese without American help, although America did bring about Japan's final defeat and surrender.
Well, there you have it! There was no need for America to have entered the war. Russia and China had things well in hand and were on the verge of total victory.Delete
And in the other news Russia just unenvied a new hypersonic missile, Putin himself claimed it has a range of 2000 km
here is the first video
He also confirmed that they're developing a nuclear powered UUV with intercontinental range that is faster than any submarine or surface vessel.Delete
This is the reason why I have been a proponent of Admiral Zumwalt's high/low mix procurement strategy. We don't need every destroyer to be an Aegis equipped Burke. We could build a lot more if we built something more like a Knox or Perry to fill out the numbers. If we build all carriers to Ford standard, we either won't be able to afford enough carriers or we won't be able to afford anything else. Same for aircraft. The F-35 is so costly because it has to have every mission capability. Build some cheaper single-mission aircraft to fill out numbers. Reporposing old hardware a la Israel is another great idea.ReplyDelete
Our modern techno-phile society has a very broad definition of "obsolete". If something is not the newest and most high tech, it gets called "obsolete". A traditional understanding meant no longer useful. Let's say we get into a conflict with China? Many of our top tier assets would be deployed to that theater. That means diverting those assets away from other places. Will we let Somali pirates or Iranian gunboats have their way because we diverted our ships away to deal with China? If we still had our obsolete ships available to return to duty, they could handle the lower level threats. So many people get the impression that all wartime action is front-line, where you need top tier weapon systems; but there will still be lower level threats which can be handled by "obsolete" assets.ReplyDelete
I'm reminded of the civil war General that stated he who gets there "Firstest with the mostest" usually wins weird to say but it still holds trueReplyDelete
That's Confederate cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Most likely he actually said it in plain correct English. He had no professional military training; he was a very successful horse trader when the war broke out. He tried to enlist and donate a bunch of horses. He was told his business experience would make good leadership qualities and with such a large contribution of badly needed horses, he deserved to be a cavalry officer. One of his innovations was to take "obsolete" smooth bore muskets sitting in storage, cut the barrels shorter, and load them with "buck-n-ball" to use as shotguns. Was very effective for horse mounted, rapid moving, skirmish tactics.Delete
Thanks for the info much appreciatedDelete
Population of the Russian Federation: 145 Million.ReplyDelete
Population of the USA: 326 Million.
Similarly with China the one child policy has created a nation far less willing to see that one child sacrificed. (and with a markedly small cohort of military age for a general population of their size)
Furthermore having 2,000 shitty old fighters is one thing (can they get a lock on an F22? or fly high enough to engage it?) but having 2,000 trained pilots ready to make the most of what they've got, and being willing to sacrifice the investment in their training?
Know your enemy.
The Japanese experience in WWII with the kamikaze pilots is good example many died in both sides for a lost cause use less sacrificeDelete
This is one of the dumber comments I've seen in a while.Delete
It is best not to comment if you can’t do so from a position of knowledge. Such is the case with your uninformed yet snarky comment. So, you have concluded that having less than 326 M people somehow precludes attrition warfare? Well, let’s check history and see if you’re right.
Russia/Soviet employed massive attrition warfare against the German invasion in WWII. What was the population of Russia around 1940? It was around 170M.
The Soviet Union’s military philosophy during the Cold War was one of pure, brute strength, attrition warfare. They planned to throw divisions at NATO defenses in pure attrition warfare and then exploit the breakthroughs created. This was human wave attacks in the form of tanks and vehicles. What was the population of the Soviet Union? It was 290M in 1991 when it collapsed.
So, it appears that your comment is not only wrong but absurdly wrong. What if a country had an even smaller population? Would they still employ attrition warfare? Well, in WWII Japan often employed human wave attacks (so called bonsai attacks). What was Japan’s population in 1940? It was around 73M. I guess they didn't know that they couldn't conduct attrition warfare.
It appears that history is saying that you are completely wrong. The next time you want to make a snarky comment you should at least attempt to make one that is correct.
Know your history.
John, Attrition warfare + AI drone swarm + never throw away working olds. All topics CNO covered separately, but here Chinese tied them together.Delete
About 1/3rd way down, there are 200 of J6W(Mig-19) converted to drone deep strike bomber.
I think most of these 2000 oldies will be put to use this way, minus the valuable pilots.
Apologies for being snarky in a different note what's to keep a nation from deploying drones that mimic real fighters or bombers to "soak" up the available missiles and gun ammo on any fighter or ship etc.seems logical and quite possible is a cheap solution for attrition warfareDelete
"Apologies for being snarky in a different note what's to keep a nation from deploying drones that mimic real fighters or bombers to "soak" up the available missiles"Delete
The snarky reply was directed to "John", not you! You're fine.
There is nothing wrong with deploying decoy drones. In fact, the Navy uses the ALE-50 series towed decoys to do just that. They cost something on the order of $20K as opposed to several million dollar UAV drones.
Thanks I seem to remember the B52 also carried a d3coy drone called the quail if memory serves me correctlyDelete
a real war with china or russia will certainly bring back the draft , just wondering how you perceive today's american sedentary youth in the face of getting drafted into real war , will they escape their duty and seek asylum in canada like the vietnam generation?ReplyDelete
Draft dodgers got a lot of publicity but, as I recall, they were never a significant portion. Off the top of my head, I seem to recall around 700,000 draftees for Vietnam and 10,000 or so fleeing to Canada.Delete
I would assume the same might happen in a war with China.
Every generation is considered weaker than the one before it, by the one before it! They all seem to turn out about the same, in the end.
May be talking out of turn but when I was in the USAF in Britain our life expectancy was measured in days not years if a war with the Soviets broke out at that time in the early 80s not exactly m7ch time to get a b7nch of draftees ready for action it m8ght still be the same if not shorterDelete
Don't need to seek asylum in Canada. Just need to get a doctor to sign a "bone spurs" deferment.Delete