The Firepower Solutions

Article excerpt

The Secretary of Defense, in his farewell speech at West Point in February, said, "The most plausible high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements." He went on to say that there is little likelihood of sending an American land army into Asia, Africa or the Middle East in the future. There will be a need instead for officers and noncommissioned officers "to train, equip and advise foreign armies and police ... [to] institutionalize security force assistance into the Army's regular force structure."

Those statements portend that, as we wind down our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army will again be relegated to a "least-needed" category. The assumption is that the threat posed by our ability to employ long-range firepower, or the actual demonstration of that ability, will be sufficient to meet our military needs. Congress will need no more encouragement than that to reduce the size of the Army and the Army's slice of the annual budget.

The notion of wirming wars with firepower only, which is the promise of naval- and air-only engagements, has a long history of failure. To cite only some obvious examples: The devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was wasted because they failed to employ an airborne or amphibious assault to occupy and control the land and the population of Hawaii. The German bombing of London in both world wars, designed to knock Britain out of each, came to naught when a landpower invasion failed to follow. The British carpet bombing with artillery, which promised to eliminate German resistance in the Somme, brought on instead the most gruesome and costly losses suffered by their army in the entire war when the landpower effort was grossly inadequate. In the first Persian Gulf War, none of the objectives announced by the President or the U.N. were achieved by the all-out 30-day air campaign, but they were fully satisfied by the 100-hour land campaign that followed.

U.S. military history during the 20th century accounts for 25 occasions in which we employed military force. All but one of those campaigns (Kosovo) was settled by the success or failure of the landpower forces engaged, including even the Cold War - the land armies of NATO were the principal deterrent at the borders. The nuclear deterrent was not sufficient for preventing the Soviet Union from occupying Eastern Europe, where none of our land forces were stationed. There is no question that airpower or naval power or both were essential to the conduct of those operations, that they could not have been conducted or concluded as well without that power, but the end result depended upon the location of and control being exercised by the ground forces. …