Saturday, December 20, 2003

Reporters and Maneuver Warfare Theory 
I thought this was a very useful article from Dave Kaplan, writing for Slate. I'd like to take it a bit further, though.

There’s a lot of carping these days about faulty intelligence—as if battlefield intelligence were ever much more than a blind man groping around in the cellar for his opponent’s collar. John Keegan just wrote a book on the limits of intel, anyway.

So it’s good to see someone mention faulty intelligence, but actually come up with specific reasons why that intelligence was faulty, and how it might be fixed.

Whether we ought to use a smart bomb to attack a high-value target in a residential area is absolutely a valid ‘just war’ question.

Personally, I suppose you could justify it if the strike has a reasonable chance of killing or incapacitating the target, and if the killing or disappearance of that target individual has a reasonable chance of saving lives by hastening the collapse of military resistance, or disrupting the command and control of major enemy units so severely that they become paralyzed by indecision, or poor decision, become unable to react to the Protean nature of the mechanized battlefield, and so become simply irrelevant to the battle.

Unfortunately, this side of the equation seems wholly absent from Human Rights Watch’s analysis. Nor has it appeared in any of several articles I’ve read covering their report. Only Kaplan—a veteran national security affairs writer and a damned good one—even touches on the issue. And that is only indirectly, when he glances against the concept of proportionality from the Just Warfare tradition.

If military reporters were up on their beat, though, they would be familiar with the principles of maneuver warfare, which provide a good deal of theoretical basis for the strike. In part, these principles are as follows:

1. It is better to win by outmaneuvering an enemy and placing him in a hopeless position than it is to outshoot him. Or as Sun Tzu wrote: "To win without fighting is the acme of skill."

2. Firepower should be focused not just on enemy weaknesses, but critical vulnerabilities.

3. The armies of totalitarian regimes, and those with weak or nonexistent NCO corps, are especially reliant upon centralized command and control.

4. Put enough pressure on the command and control nodes, and their decisions will become unsound. They will be reacting to false information, or information which is hours old. If it takes your division 24 hours to conceive, plan, and execute an operation, and it takes him 36 hours, then his decisions will become increasingly removed from the reality on the ground. The errors will compound geometrically, and you will appear on his flanks or rear (or overrun the Baghdad Airport) before his command and control procedures can grasp the fact that you’re within miles of his critical point. This is called “getting inside his decision cycle.”

If the reporters and editors assigned to the military were really up on their beats, they would have boned up on the basic theoretical underpinnings of U.S. military doctrine. B.H. Liddell-Hart’s “Strategy,” Warfighting,” an excellent Marine Corps manual on the theory of maneuver warfare for the unit level leader (which the Army should immediately adopt and distribute, by the way), and The Art of Maneuver

Unfortunately, in most cases, they have not done their homework. A few of them have a passing familiarity with concepts like jus in bello and jus ad bellum, but no one I’ve seen has yet grasped the indirect battlefield effects of violently attacking nodes of command. Nodes like Saddam, Qusay, and Uday themselves. No reporter I’ve seen writing on the HRW report has yet demonstrated an understanding that it is better to cripple an enemy’s command and control and then bypass his irrelevant army than it is to allow things to devolve into a head-to-head mutual slaughter. No reporter I’ve seen writing on the HRW report has yet seemed to grasp that one of the best ways to do that is to hit the boss so hard and so often that he becomes terrified of using his cell phone.

As a result, the public is ill informed.

Some facts to put things in perspective: The strike point of smart bombs are accurate to within 10 meters. But the smallest smart munition payload we have has a blast radius quite a bit larger than that. I would not want to be within 100 meters of any 500-pound bomb. That said, we need to recognize that no one is going to take us on in the countryside for some time. The enemy will remain in developed areas, hide behind women and children, and force us to pay a political price for every media-saturated strike.

The technology exists to hit these kinds of targets and still minimize the suffering borne by the innocent: We need to develop and field 250 pound, 100 pound, and even 50-pound guided munitions payloads for use in urban areas.

The intelligence Kaplan describes in the article suggests that we knew with reasonable certainty that, “Sir, Saddam Hussein, and/or his two sons have been located within 100 meters of X location. The source is SIGINT—a cell phone intercept. Reliability of the source is high. Time of intercept was ten minutes ago. They are in a developed area of Baghdad. We have no ground forces in Baghdad. But we can hit the target from the air with a 500 pound bomb within 45 minutes. There is a substantial risk of collateral damage to nearby civilians.

Sir, what do you want us to do?”

It happened way above my pay grade, but I would have had just one word in reply:


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