Protracted War: The Real Revolution in Military Affairs

By Hawkins, William R. | Army, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Protracted War: The Real Revolution in Military Affairs


Hawkins, William R., Army


The theme of Russell F. Weigley's The Age of Battles is the quest for decisive warfare in early modern Europe. In the era from the Thirty Years War through the Napoleonic Wars, Weigley argues, "Strategists hoped by means of battle to secure decisions in war, and thereby to secure the objects for which men went to war with a quickness and dispatch that would keep the costs of war reasonably proportionate to the purposes attained." This desire also animates today's strategists, for whom the concept of a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) draws heavily from what many historians have argued took place during the 16th through 18th centuries. In addition to the timing and pace of military change, the historical debate over RMA pits new weapons and tactics versus changes in society and government which made it possible to raise, equip, deploy and sustain advanced military forces.

Today, the focus has been primarily on technology: precision guided weapons, real-time surveillance and network-centric warfare. The impetus for much of these new systems was defensive, the need for outnumbered U.S. and NATO forces to defeat massed Soviet mechanized forces poised to overrun Western Europe. But in the first Gulf War, Army units redeployed from Germany to Kuwait found that their weapons-and their doctrine-worked just as well on the offensive against a Soviet-trained Iraqi military. This gave American leaders the belief that a technologydriven RMA that favored the projection of power and promising decisive results against less advanced opponents was at hand. Further refinement of U.S. ground forces, even after being downsized by 40 percent in the 1990s, gave those who planned the Iraq campaign confidence that fewer troops could achieve an even larger objective in 2003 than in 1991. And, in fact, the drive on Baghdad was faster than even Gen. Tommy Franks had initially projected, using a combined Army-Marine force that was less than half the size of the great "left hook" used to smash the Iraqi hold on Kuwait a decade earlier.

Gen. Franks had originally planned a 45-90-90 day campaign, with the first phase designed to shape the battlespace with more than a month of airstrikes and Special Forces operations. The second and third phases would each last three months and involve the initial invasion of Iraq and the mopping up of resistance. Then would come Phase IV, reconstruction, during which U.S. troop strength would drop to 50,000, supporting what would primarily be a civilianled effort to stand up a new, democratic Iraq. Franks thought this effort "would take time-perhaps years."

The apparent success of Operation Iraqi Freedom led Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld to talk about a 1030-30 day plan for future conflicts. Major forces would be deployed to a distant theater in 10 days, defeat the enemy within 30 days and then be ready for redeployment to a new campaign somewhere else within another 30 days. This is a much more ambitious goal than the previous standard of being able to deploy a corps-sized force of up to five divisions in 30 days. Indeed, the idea of such large corpssized deployments had fallen into disfavor. There would be no more efforts like those of Korea, Vietnam or the Gulf. As Gen. Franks stated in his memoirs, "The days of half-million-strong mobilizations were over." Speed of maneuver, highly accurate firepower and attacks from many directions, all empowered by new technology, would substitute for mass based on numbers. Thus there was no need to rebuild the Army, which had been reduced from 18 divisions to 10 between the Gulf and Iraq wars. Reservists could be called up if needed during the brief spikes of combat activity anticipated.

As Williamson Murray and MacGregor Knox noted in their survey The Dynamics of Military Revolution 1300-2050, the Gulf War "revived the very worst feature of U.S. defense culture: the recurring delusion that war can be understood and controlled in the mechanized top-down fashion. …

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