The Science of War: Back to First Principles

By Brian Holden Reid | Go to book overview

8

THE FUTURE OF SURPRISE ON THE TRANSPARENT BATTLEFIELD

Colonel B.R. Isbell

Few nations fail to list surprise amongst their principles of war, and throughout history the military benefit of achieving surprise at strategic, operational or tactical level has almost always been high. In the last half century, for example, the impact of surprise upon the outcome of military operations has been impressive. The 1940 German blitzkrieg against France, Operation Barbarossa a year later against the Soviet Union, the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor and many more recent examples in Korea and the Middle East all attest to the value of achieving surprise. Of course, surprise alone is not an end in itself but merely a means to an end, a means of helping ensure eventual success. Some observers have even attempted to quantify the extent to which surprise enhances the combat effectiveness of attacking forces and have concluded that it does so by the order of two to five times. 1 Whilst such calculations should quite properly be regarded with some suspicion, it undeniably must be the case that, at any level, surprise is a significant force multiplier. 2

Despite this, in the United Kingdom at least, as relevant combat experience recedes, surprise has perhaps not been accorded the attention it warrants. The study of surprise, and of some of its main contributory components, such as deception and security, have been regarded as something of a fringe activity. Indeed surprise has been labelled the 'neglected principle'. 3

However many now argue that advances in technology have rendered surprise unachievable and therefore irrelevant on a modern battlefield. Typical amongst these is the Foundation

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