Storming Past a New Threshold in Warfare
IN a narrow military sense, the significance of the coalition forces' victory over Iraq will not be fully understood for a long time. We have witnessed an unprecedented military operation. Yet many of its most critical aspects may be lost to the public because of their complexity. They should not be. They may mark a major change in the nature of future war, of military industry, domestic social requirements, and coalition diplomacy. Some of the realities of this battle stand out by historical comparisons. It exceeded the largest tank battle of World War II, Kursk in Russia. About 2,500 German tanks fought 3,000 Soviet tanks for two weeks. They had small caliber guns, and air support was trivial.Skip to next paragraph
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The German invasion of Poland was on a similar geographical scale, but was 18 days in length as compared to 100 hours against more evenly matched ground forces. To be sure, the air phase extends the length of war to 43 days, and it should be seen as a 43-day war. The casualty ratio between the sides has been emphasized, and ``miraculous'' is not hyperbole in describing it. How are we to explain such an outcome?
Both Soviet and American military planners have recognized for nearly two decades that the microchip and laser technologies have dramatic military applications. After the Vietnam war, American planners turned their attention to the large Soviet forces on the European central front. How could they be defeated by smaller NATO forces? ``Air-Land Battle'' was the answer, a doctrine made feasible only by the new weapons.
Rather than face waves of Soviet forces at the front line as they arrive in sequence, US forces would engage such attackers long before they reached the forward area of the battle. At the same time, they would have to fight them on the front lines. Thus two battles would proceed simultaneously, a main battle at the front and the battle in the rear aimed at breaking up the enemy's offensive.
The ``deep'' battle would be conducted by artillery, rockets, and aircraft using ``smart weapons'' to slow down, if not destroy, the advancing forces. It would also be carried out by ground maneuver forces attacking gaps in the enemy's offensive, striking to depths of 25 to 50 kilometers, upsetting the enemy's formations and taking pressure off the defensive forces on the front line.
How could smaller forces succeed in such daring operations? First, US intelligence has to be able to ``see'' the deep battlefield with great precision. Second, ``smart'' munitions and long-range delivery systems are required. Third, the ground forces need cross-country vehicular speeds far above the traditional 10-12 miles per hour. Attack helicopters add to the speed and maneuverability of these forces.
Some, but not all, of the equipment for this doctrine was fielded. Tanks and infantry-fighting vehicles with 30-40 m.p.h. cross-country speeds, longer range and equally fast artillery, and new attack helicopters were developed. And several kinds of ``smart'' munitions, including rockets and bombs for tactical aircraft, were designed. Advanced optical sights and night vision gear have been provided. But what we have seen used against Iraq is only part of the set of weapons and equipment needed to complet e the full array of air-land battle weaponry.
Weapons alone never win a war. The demands of command and control in this kind of warfare far exceeded anything expected from officers in the past. Troops had to have the physical hardness of past armies, as well as higher skills in handling weaponry, communications, and map reading.