War Outcome Will Shape Future Investments
by Lawrence P. Farrell, Jr.
As we watch events unfold in Iraq, it would be fair to predict that the outcome
and lessons of this conflict will influence the Defense Department’s investments
for at least the next 15 years.
The post-war hot-wash will not only affect acquisition spending decisions but
also tactics, training and doctrine—not to mention the overall thinking
of military planners and policy makers about how the lessons from this conflict
can help us do better next time.
Operation Iraqi Freedom, as Gen. Tommy Franks said, is unlike any other campaign
the United States has ever fought. But this war, like every other war, reaffirms
some basic principles. The battles our troops have been engaged in have proved
once again that training pays off in big ways and that there is no substitute
for well-executed combined-arms coordination. It is no secret that wars are
won by those who can maintain the element of surprise and can bring their firepower
to bear most effectively. In other words, success in war requires a balanced
mix of firepower, information and mobility.
What does this mean in terms of future investment decisions for national defense?
The developments seen so far in this war reaffirm one of the key tenets of
the military “transformation” effort that has been underway for
several years. The integration of firepower (through combined arms), maneuver
and information (also known as network-centric warfare) is critical to the success
of “effect-based operations,” where the intent is to minimize civilian
All the services are moving toward network-centric warfare. Their long-term
investment plans reflect that. The Army, for instance, is heading in that direction
with its Future Combat System, which places the soldier at the center of networked
fires and information.
Some critics have charged that our ground forces in Iraq were not heavy or
large enough. That criticism appeared to overlook the effectiveness of our combined
arms formations. The more important questions are: how capable is the whole
combined arms team, how effectively are the fires coordinated and how fast can
the information be passed around. One of the success stories of this campaign
is the rapid movement of the 3rd Infantry Division to positions south of Baghdad,
effectively fixing Iraqi ground formations. From that point on, joint fires
(artillery, fighters, bombers and attack helicopters) weakened those “fixed
forces” before they were ultimately destroyed. The success of this combined
arms effort was enabled by superior intelligence, superior mobility and fires,
and superior integration—all tied together by a robust command and control
This notion of “linking the battlefield” will continue to underpin
future investments in defense research, development and acquisition. In the
Iraq conflict, which presented a complex battle-space, effective network-centricity
was achieved, with mobile command-and-control centers and sensors that gave
commanders access to real-time data from unmanned aerial vehicles, from the
Joint STARS and the AWACS radar aircraft, from strategic overhead assets and
from ground intelligence. Notably, leadership targets were struck in real time.
In one instance, time from “go” to bombs-on-target was four hours.
In another instance, it was less than 15 minutes.
As good as overall performance has been, additional capabilities are needed
for battlefield situational awareness and tracking smaller units at the tactical
level. The ability to track individual Marine rifle companies, for example,
could help improve our force-protection capabilities. Having tactical sensors
that can see inside buildings and behind walls would provide a significant edge
in urban combat, preventing unpleasant surprises such as those experienced by
U.S. Marines and soldiers in the battles for the Iraqi cities of Nasiriyah and
These preliminary observations tell us that our capabilities can still be improved
in a number of areas. These are just a few that come to mind.
- Technologies to prevent friendly fire. Fratricide happens in every war, to
be sure. It’s noteworthy to recall that Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson
was killed by his own troops. But friendly fire should not be accepted as inevitable.
Technologies that “de-conflict” the battlefield certainly can be
improved so we can positively identify friend and foe.
- Cruise-missile defense. A Chinese cruise missile that Iraq launched into Kuwait
last month was missed by the U.S. Patriot air-defense radar. Those low-flying
missiles pose a significant threat. They are available in the open market and
quickly are proliferating. The Missile Defense Agency and the Army Space and
Missile Defense Command have been working on technologies to defeat cruise missiles.
We have not yet solved this problem.
- Mine Countermeasures. After two U.S. ships were severely damaged by sea mines
in Operation Desert Storm 12 years ago, the Navy said it would focus on the
problem and develop technologies to better detect and neutralize these silent
killers. Investments in mine warfare have been up and down in recent years,
and we still have deficiencies. In the current conflict, ships that were bringing
humanitarian relief supplies to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr were held up for
several days, for fear that the Iraqis had spread mines in the surrounding waters.
In this case, a relatively unsophisticated opponent was able to delay operations.
- Reducing the Logistics Footprint. More than two-thirds of the tonnage we bring
to combat is fuel and water. When our forces were marching toward Baghdad, it
was clear that getting enough trucks and securing those supply lines would be
a challenge. The best way to solve this problem would be to reduce the battlefield
demand for fuel and water. Technology can help do that. The Army has been funding
development of hybrid vehicles and fuel cells that could drastically cut the
fuel consumption of tanks and trucks. There is also research work underway to
create technologies that can convert fuel exhaust into fresh water. It’s
a legitimate technology effort that could pay off in the future.
- Improving Net-Centricity. The services are working hard on this and will place
renewed emphasis on existing programs. The Air Force is seeking to place weapons
in the network by equipping bombs and missiles with data links, so they can
“plug and play.” The Army will continue to refine the direction
of its Future Combat System. The Navy also will fine-tune efforts to add precision
and responsiveness to its weapons. The Marines will move along with their programs
to enhance precision, mobility and firepower, as it integrates its forces into
all aspects of the joint combined arms team.
Discussions about what we will learn from this conflict are not likely to end
any time soon. It is important for us in the defense community to engage in
this debate and focus our thinking so that we can benefit those soldiers, marines,
sailors and airmen who will be fighting the next war.
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