Winning Future Wars: How Weapons that Never Miss Have Eliminated Battlefields, Large Armies, and Conventional Warfare

The world has moved entirely away from orthodox warfare because the Global Positioning System or GPS permits weapons to be guided with complete accuracy to any point on earth. This has ended the possibility of concentrating military forces, because massed troops and weapons become targets that can be destroyed from afar. It has also eliminated traditional battlefields, because soldiers no longer can survive on them. GPS-delivered weapons have forced a profound movement to the other extreme of indirect warfare conducted by small, clandestine forces that avoid the enemy’s main strength and aim at weakly defended targets or targets that are not defended at all. Examples of the new approach are strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11 and bombings in Madrid and London, as well as a host of new tactical practices, including suicide bombers and IEDs or improvised explosive devices detonated by remote control along roadsides as enemy vehicles pass.

Military forces no longer can be concentrated because they can be located by unmanned surveillance aircraft like the long-range Global Hawk and the shorter-range Predator, and can be destroyed by bombs or missiles dropped directly onto the forces by GPS.

Inerrant weapons have obligated all military elements to disperse widely over the landscape. Dispersion has eliminated the Main Line of Resistance or MLR that was the central element of conventional warfare in the twentieth century. If armies were lined up today along an MLR, as was the case in both world wars and in Korea, they could be destroyed by missiles launched from “over the horizon” by computers that connect instantly with all levels of command from the Pentagon down to the smallest team or squad, and that can be directed with absolute accuracy by GPS onto every point along the MLR.

Large armies no longer are possible, and conventional offensives along discernible paths—such as the spectacular drive across France by General George Patton’s U.S. 3rd Army in 1944—can no longer be carried out. If any army today should attempt a movement on the order of Patton’s, its spearheads could be destroyed almost as soon as they formed, and the offensive would collapse almost as soon as it began.

The absence of a defended front line has the added effect that all military elements can move at will in any direction. Military forces no longer have any front or rear, and they can attack any enemy force from any side and can also be attacked from any side. Since military forces can move on the ground and in the air, they have almost total fluidity, and they can strike anywhere within an entire theater of war. We see this today in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents are able to conduct strikes all over the country, while at the same time American and NATO forces can pick and choose wherever they wish to hit the enemy.

This new pattern of warfare will apply not only to conflicts with insurgent forces in weak countries, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, but will also fundamentally alter collisions between major powers, such as the United States and China. Because major powers have nuclear weapons, they cannot challenge each other directly, even with non-nuclear weapons. Any nuclear-armed nation threatened with defeat would strike back with nuclear weapons. This became clear in the Cuban missile crisis with the Soviet Union in 1962. Faced with the threat of missile strikes from Cuba, the U.S. was prepared to go all the way to nuclear war with the Soviet Union. To avoid its own nuclear destruction, the Soviet Union backed down and removed its missiles. Because of this mutually assured destruction (MAD), warfare between nuclear-armed powers can never be more extensive than small-scale blows by surrogates to prevent or neutralize some unwanted action. For example, the U.S. armed Afghan insurgents with modern weapons in order to cripple the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. This will be the pattern of future conflicts between great powers. Surrogate warfare can only be carried out in clandestine, indirect operations by small units. Conventional warfare by large formations is now impossible.

Military elements today must be extremely small, extremely well-trained, extremely well-armed, and extremely mobile. The army must be subdivided into combat teams of only a couple dozen or so soldiers each. But these small units will be incredibly lethal—not only because the weapons they carry will be powerful, but also because they can call in the most devastating missiles, rockets, or bombs to be delivered by air onto any target within seconds or minutes. However small these combat teams will be, they will possess the fire power and thus the effective strength of much larger conventional forces.

Warfare in the future therefore will be waged by these small combat teams operating alone, but in coordination with other teams, all connected within a network of computers, radios, and television cameras that will provide instantaneous communications and quick delivery of bombs and missiles onto any target anywhere within a theater of war.

Military formations must be small because outfits larger than forty or fifty soldiers can be located by unmanned aerial vehicles and can be destroyed from afar by GPS-directed weapons. Even individual cannons and tanks can be spotted by Global Hawks, Predators and other surveillance methods. A force today must be so innocuous and so unobtrusive that it attracts no notice until it actually strikes.

Armies thus no longer can be mass forces. The number of soldiers required in the army of the future will be only a small fraction of the numbers in armies of the past. A small team of thirty or so soldiers will have the strength of a conventional regiment, perhaps more. Though each unit will consist of only a few individuals, they must be far better trained than has been the standard of the past, and overall intelligence must be higher. The army of the future will be a highly skilled, elite force of extremely well-qualified, well-trained and smart persons. The lowest-ranking member of every team will be required to demonstrate skills and competence that are expected only within the ranks of present-day Special Operations forces. Indeed, the model for military formations of the future will be these Special Ops units. They already are formed into small teams, much on the order of the guerrilla forces they are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

These small, extremely mobile units (which the military calls “the tooth”) will require far more flexible and swift logistical and support services (“the tail”) than are provided today. At present logistical systems are focused on delivering supplies to large units, brigades and divisions. In most cases, supplies are stacked up at depots behind these large units, and trucks or aircraft deliver relatively small quantities on a regular schedule to the individual elements, much as a grocery store chain uses trucks and tractor-trailers to move food from warehouses to individual stores. The new form of war, however, will require individual teams to be wholly independent of larger formations. The logistical system must be able to supply food, fuel, ammunition, and back-up weapons (attack helicopters, artillery, missiles, and information from Global Hawks, Predators, and other spy systems) to hundreds of autonomous teams wherever they may be located and however fast they may be moving.

Traditional military formations—the armies, corps, divisions, brigades, regiments, battalions, and companies of the twentieth century—are obsolete. Massed armies are now targets ripe for destruction, not marks of strength. And, because computer networks provide instant global communication, there is no need for the traditional military hierarchy of command. In fact, a command hierarchy has become a barrier to action. Since actions can be carried out much faster and over far greater distances than in the past, command decisions must be made quickly. This eliminates the possibility of maintaining traditional military formations and hierarchies.

At the same time the new order places immense new responsibilities on junior officers. These young officers must make decisions that, in the past, were passed up the line to senior commanders. Today opportunities for strikes are often fleeting and response by commanders must be fast. This means that small-unit commanders—lieutenants and captains—must have the skills to make quick decisions to attack, retreat or maneuver, and they must have the authority to do so. In many cases, junior officers will not have the time to refer a decision up to higher headquarters. Preparation and training of small-unit commanders therefore must be on a level that traditionally has been offered only to mid-level officers at the Command and General Staff School and to senior-level officers at the Army War College.

Because lieutenants and captains will be obliged to make decisions previously expected only of colonels and generals, the scope of military education must be radically transformed. Young officers must get advanced training in tactics, strategy, military theory, military history, and logistics or supply. They must think for themselves, come to reasoned judgments, and be right. This means that junior officers must be far more qualified and far better educated than has been demanded in the past. The number of officers at all levels in the military will decline dramatically, but their level of competence in military leadership must rise accordingly.

Armies must abandon their traditional methods of waging war.   Conventional warfare for nearly four-hundred years has been based on movements of large formations onto battlefields where they confront the enemy in stand-up conflict. This form of warfare is not possible today. Armies no longer can be massed, they no longer can be maneuvered as large units, and they no longer can be concentrated on a battlefield. If such were to happen, the army could be annihilated by missiles and bombs delivered from afar by GPS.

Consequently, the model for warfare in the future will be indirect strikes. That is, blows will be delivered against unsuspecting targets or targets that are ill-defended. Sending in a strike against a well-emplaced, expectant enemy force is an invitation to disaster—because a defending force, however small, can call in immense defensive weapons, provided it knows that the strike is coming. Successful warfare in the future will require that the enemy not know where the blow is coming, or he must be in a position where he cannot defend against it. For example, an enemy may be defending strongly a series of supply depots and cities. But he cannot defend all cities and all depots. Otherwise his strength would be so dissipated, that in effect he would be defending nothing. Since all important places cannot be defended, undefended important places remain vulnerable. To lose them or to suffer great damage to them would gravely affect the enemy’s military position. Warfare must aim at these vulnerable, unsuspecting targets, not focus on alert, well-defended targets.

In other words, an attack should avoid enemy strength and strike at enemy weakness. This indirect approach has been the pattern of irregular or partisan warfare since the Stone Age. The anthropologist Lawrence H. Keeley, in his book War Before Civilization, shows thatsurprise attacks, usually at night, on an unprepared enemy were the most common form of primitive warfare. It was successful because it avoided strength and struck at weakness. Indeed, guerrilla warfare is the most successful form of warfare for precisely this reason.

The conventional or primarily direct methods that have characterized warfare since the Thirty Years War (1618-48) are obsolete because armies—faced with being hit from afar by inerrant weapons—must disappear from view. The main characteristic of guerrilla or partisan warfare in the past was that soldiers were unobtrusive or nearly invisible. They did not emerge into view until they actually struck their targets. This must be the pattern of warfare in the foreseeable future. The new kind of warfare will repeat in a new form the old pattern of hidden, indirect, secretive attacks that were the primary methods of our Stone Age ancestors.

In preparing for the new form of war, we must learn the old pattern thoroughly. We have only scattered evidence of indirect warfare from the Stone Age. We have much stronger evidence from historical times. Alexander the Great suffered his only defeats from partisans in central Asia in 329 b.c. The Roman Quintus Fabius Maximus kept his forces scattered in the hills of southern Italy to defeat Hannibal’s superior Carthaginian cavalry in 217 b.c. The Scots preserved their independence by following the “testament” of Robert the Bruce (1274-1329). He recommended that the Scots abandon direct challenges to the English longbows and fight only among hills and morasses, retire to the woods rather than fortify castles, ravage open country in front of the advancing enemy, and confine their attacks to night surprises and ambushes. The Spaniards gave us the modern name for this form of conflict—guerrilla means “small war” in Spanish—when they successfully challenged Napoleon’s armies from 1808 to 1814.

Modern practices of partisan warfare emerged in the American Civil War when John Singleton Mosby hobbled large parts of the Union army by his strikes in northern Virginia in 1863-65.  The Boers of South Africa, using guerrilla tactics and employing only 15,000 men, throttled a British army of a quarter of a million men, gained a promise of independence, preservation of their Dutch dialect, and control of blacks in1900-02. T.E. Lawrence of Arabia led the Bedouins in a successful guerrilla war against the Turks in 1917-18. Mao Zedong developed highly successful partisan tactics in his war against the Chinese Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek from 1928 to 1949.

The partisans of the past provide us with the methods that we must use today and into the foreseeable future. The weapons of war have vastly changed over the eons, but the principles of indirect warfare remain the same.

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