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The Future of Warfighting and Leadership and Command
Analysis by Author Dale Brown, [IMAGE]2003

ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED AT MILITARY.COM, May 6, 2003

[MEGAFORTRESS.COM image] Although there is still fighting in the Iraqi theater, the tide has definitely turned in our direction: the heavy ground fighting in Iraq appears to be concluded; some forces such as the B-2A Spirit stealth bombers and the USS Kitty Hawk are on their way home; we are looking towards restoring order and securing our hard-won fighting positions; and we are casting a suspicious eye towards neighboring countries to see what threats may emerge.

Let's use this opportunity to take a look towards the future of American warfighting through the prism of the first thirty days of combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom:

1) The dominant fighting force in this conflict wasn't the ground forces, and it wasn't even the air forces-it was "Information Warfare," which I predict will receive the lion's share of attention and funding in the years ahead.

Information Warfare encompasses many different disciplines: jamming, interference, pirate broadcasting, psychological operations, propaganda, eavesdropping, intercepts, surveillance, hacking, communications, security, encryption, code-breaking. But it is far more than the sum of its parts. It is complete access and control of the entire spectrum of information, from radio and television broadcasts, to computer networks, to cellular phone channels, to everything the civilians on the ground in enemy territory and the enemy leadership reads, hears, and thinks. It is "control" taken to a whole new level: not only does our national political and military leadership have information at their fingertips, but they can get the information directly to the soldiers, sailors, and airmen in the field-the "shooters"-quickly, accurately, and effectively.

The war in Afghanistan was the first conflict in which fully loaded heavy bombers launched from bases thousands of miles away-and had no preplanned targets. The target information was going to be passed to them just minutes before bombs-away. Special ops guys on the ground used laser rangefinders and sometimes plain-old map-reading to get target coordinates up to the bombers to program into satellite-guided JDAMs. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, special ops guys still did most of the target-spotting for the bombers and tactical air fighters over the battlefield, but this time close-air support aircraft like the AV-8 Harrier, AH-64 Apache, F-16 Fighting Falcon, A-10 Thunderbolt II, and even unmanned Predator and Global Hawk reconnaissance aircraft also passed targeting information.

Bottom line: we're starting to see what the "information warriors" call "network-centric warfare"-every combat unit, from the two-man sniper team on the ground to the four hundred thousand-pound B-52H Stratofortress bomber in the sky, shares and acts on the same spectrum of information, almost in real-time. An M1A2 Abrams tank gunner that locks up an enemy tank in his thermal sights instantly reports that contact to not only his squadron and company commander, but to the air combat controller in an A-10 Warthog up above-who is controlling a stack of attack aircraft, from carrier-based F/A-18 Hornets to Apache attack helicopters to B-1B Lancer heavy bombers-as well as to his task force commander twenty miles away, to the forward theater commander five hundred miles away, and even all the way to the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon.

This does not mean that all those persons or commands will have a role when that Abrams engages the enemy tank-but for the first time, almost everyone of the battlefield will have access to that information. Vast amounts of information is added to the "big picture" continuously throughout the campaign, and almost all the warfighters involved in the conflict now have access to it. If the Abrams commander is low on ammo and needs help, other warfighters know precisely where the enemy is and can respond quickly and effectively.

2) Despite the ground forces taking center stage in this conflict, air power-heavy bombers and tactical fighter-bombers--was instrumental in the success of this campaign to date. Although the ground forces moved an astonishing distance in a very short period of time, it was apparent that they moved easier and safer once the battlefield was "softened up" for them first.

This is not a case of service bigotry. The ability to control the skies and deliver precise, sustained, and effective bombardment from the air has been the key to victory in every conflict since World War Two. Air sovereignty also means increased and more effective aerial reconnaissance, resupply, medical evacuation, and humanitarian aid as well as better destructive capability.

Could our three Coalition divisions have taken on and defeated five Iraqi divisions near Baghdad, plus numerous paramilitary and irregular forces along the way? Definitely. The question is: why take them on those enemy forces head-to-head when they could be reduced, scattered, confused, decimated, or even destroyed from afar and above by effective application of aerial firepower?

3) "Asymmetric warfare" works both ways. Ever since the Vietnam War, when the mighty United States military was supposedly routed, demoralized, and hamstrung by Viet Cong guerrillas, it has long been held that the strongest and most technologically advanced army can be defeated by determined paramilitary, irregular, and suicidal fighters, nipping at the big cat's flanks until it cries out in agony and runs away.

We saw it during the conflict in Somalia, where unorganized militias and gangs killed nineteen American soldiers in the streets of Mogadishu during a combined air-ground assault on a gang leader's compound; and we saw it even in Operation Iraqi Freedom, where entire companies of Coalition fighters were pinned down for hours and sometimes days by small bands of feyadeen Saddam and al-Quds fighters; columns of troops harassed by "technicals" fighting from pickup trucks and vans; and where several soldiers were killed by suicide bombers or by enemy soldiers acting as civilians or while approaching our forces with white surrender flags raised.

That's their version of "asymmetric warfare." Our version: use our technological superiority to attack not just the heart of the enemy command structure, but the heart of the political and military leadership itself. For the first time, the opening shots of an American conflict were a strike at a command bunker where Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, his military district commanders, and several members of his government were reportedly meeting. Another attack came when a tip was received that Iraqi commanders, again possibly with Saddam Hussein in attendance, were meeting in a restaurant in Baghdad.

In both cases, intelligence was received by electronic monitoring of enemy communications, including digital cellular and encrypted radio channels; and targeting information was relayed to strike aircraft within minutes.

4) We will see the role of special operations forces expanded and strengthened in the coming years. We heard much about "special ops"-Army Green Berets, Special Forces, and Delta Force; Navy SEALS; and Air Force forward air controllers, gunships, and deep-strike aircrews--but saw very little of them, and that is certainly the way we want to keep it. The rumors were that special ops forces were inside Iraq for weeks, perhaps months, before the start of hostilities, zeroing in on dispersed Iraqi forces, mapping and targeting strategic airfields, searching for weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, and keeping an eye on oil wells and terminals in case the Iraqi army started trying to destroy them.

There is certainly nothing like the sheer power of a sixty-ton Abrams main battle tank or a B-52 Stratofortress bomber-but while the Air Force's strategic forces budget has been cut by seventy-five percent in the last ten years, the special operations forces' budget has increased by twenty percent. While long-range and precision-guided attack weapon systems will always command the lion's share of the Air Force's budget, the value and return on investment in new technology and training for "sneak and peek" forces will continue to grow. And we will continue to see glimpses-just glimpses--of their activities, such as the unusual photo of a Special Forces team riding horses across the deserts of Afghanistan with local fighters.

More later about the high-tech innovations being developed right now for the battlefield of the near-future…

~ ~ ~

We have heard the commander-in-chief, President George W. Bush, time and again proclaim that he does not direct any military forces; he does not order a change in tactics or objectives when it appears things have stalled; he does not listen in during battle staff meetings or even receive a detailed briefing of the progress of the conflict; he says he doesn't watch the war coverage on TV. It may seem strange, even shocking, that the President admits all these things. Heck, most of us are glued to our TV sets most of the day and night, soaking up every last bit of information we can about the war-even the Pentagon and the theater commanders admit that they get a lot of progress reports and breaking news by watching TV. Could it be true that the President of the United States isn't doing the same?

It is a simple but extremely important factor in the success of any military conflict: the civilian leadership provides political leadership and objectives, and the military carries out the operation. Those are two related yet completely different set of responsibilities. When this relationship blurs or breaks down, the operation is in jeopardy.

Our military forces are directed by elected and appointed civilians. It is the civilian leadership's responsibility to make laws and policy; to use diplomacy as much as possible to settle differences; to keep the American people informed and aware of the nature of the brewing conflict; and to distill the political conflicts down to the point where military leaders can formulate a plan of action that can accomplish the political objectives, solve the political crisis, and safeguard the nation.

Once the political objective is spelled out, the military's responsibility is to formulate a plan of action that achieves the political objective. Although there is a clear and unambiguous chain of command between civilian and military leadership, both sides must be completely honest and up-front with the other: clearly spell out the objective, and clearly spell out what it will take to achieve it. Neither side can equivocate.

The President must say exactly what it is he wishes to accomplish. Does he want to bring down a government? Destroy an army? Capture and occupy air bases, ports, and oil wells? Threaten an entire region of the world? Does he say he wants "regime change," but in reality he wants the dictator's lifeless body nailed up on a wall-or does he really want the dictator to just go quietly into exile somewhere? It makes a difference to a general preparing a military plan of action. Everything has to be clear, honest, and forthright.

Most importantly, he must assure his generals and admirals that he will commit the resources, money, and personal and political capital necessary to accomplishing the objectives. He must be prepared to rally the troops and the Congress, comfort the families of the fallen, and reassure the American people each and every day that he is acting in their best interest to protect the nation by committing the armed forces to battle.

The generals and admirals must say exactly what they think it will take and what it will cost to achieve the President's goal. If it will take six divisions, don't say four; if it will take eight aircraft carrier battle groups, don't say five; if it will take three months, or six months, or six years, tell him your best guess, based not on political observations but on years of military experience, education, and training. Don't hype it; don't sugar-coat it. Bring him your experts and analysts, but have the strength to take responsibility for your own opinions and responses.

More importantly, if they think the goal can't be achieved, they need to tell the leadership. If they don't think they can lead troops into battle because they don't think the cost in human lives is worth the objective, they must say so.

The President of the United States as commander-in-chief of the armed forces will decide whether or not we will fight. And then, once he has given the order to fight, he should do the most important step… step back, and let the generals and admirals execute the plan.

Don't interfere, coach, or be a "Monday morning quarterback." Don't pick targets or change the objective mid-way because some poll numbers, protesters, pundits, or TV personalities makes him second-guess himself or his generals. The President is the commander-in-chief, but he is not the commander. The officers and soldiers in the field are obligated by law and tradition to obey the orders of the commander-in-chief, but rarely do politicians in Washington have a clear idea of the nature and flow of the battlefield.

The generals' responsibility is to be sure their officers execute the plan and lead their men with all the skill, bravery, and audacity in their hearts. They can't let their officers shy away from battle. They can't let the men be slowed by heavy fighting, blood, carnage, destruction, setbacks, or death. They must ensure that every man and woman understands the objective and their role in achieving the overall victory.

Then, when the generals announce that the objectives have been achieved-or NOT achieved--then it is the commander-in-chief's duty to bring his troops home.

To this ex-airman, it means a lot of the President of the United States to say he is not watching the war coverage on TV or conversing hourly with the Pentagon or with generals in the field. During Operation Desert Storm, I was happy to see the President out golfing or boating with his wife and family while soldiers were fighting and dying in the Middle East-because it meant that the men and women in charge of the fighting, the military officers and enlisted leadership, were doing their jobs. The last thing I wanted to see is a picture of the President bent over a chart spread out on his desk, making circles and arrows on it representing where he thought this tank battalion or that bomber squadron should attack from, while generals looked over his shoulder like kids watching a clown twisting balloons into animal shapes.

In today's electronic battlespace, the President himself can pick up a telephone and talk to almost any fighting man or woman he wishes. It is very important that he NOT do so.

More later about the relationship between the military and the citizens in today's society.

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