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Document Published Aerospace Power Journal - Spring 2000
|There is no security on this earth. Only opportunity.|
--Gen Douglas MacArthur
Col Gordon W. Arbogast, USA, Retired*
In March of 1945 the unit I was with killed 100,000 Japanese in one night. And we didn't break their will. . . . Bombing has distinct limitations. . . . I don't think that the current generation . . . fully understands.
--Robert S. McNamara
*Gordon W. Arbogast (USMA; MS, Georgia Tech; PhD, Clemson University) is a full professor at Jacksonville University. He served over 27 years in the Army, commanding various units through battalion level in Korea, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Germany, and the United States.
THE RECENT WAR in Yugoslavia provided a new data point in military history. By reflecting upon this engagement, we may derive lessons learned, as well as validate traditional strategies and tactics. I believe that I can add objectivity to such an exercise since (1) my Army background gives me a perspective from a service not heavily engaged in the actual fighting and (2) my son Scott flew over 150 combat hours, engaging surface-to-air missile batteries over Kosovo as an F-16CJ pilot in the 23d Fighter Squadron based in Aviano, Italy.
As soon as the latest war against Yugoslavia began on 24 March 1999, a number of eminent Americans began to criticize sharply the decision of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) not to consider sending a ground element into Kosovo. Conventional wisdom asserted that an air war would not be sufficient to achieve NATO's objectives in Yugoslavia. According to a long-standing axiom of war, one cannot defeat an enemy by airpower alone. In Army terms, a victor must send in ground troops to break the enemy's will to resist and to occupy terra firma. Indeed, William Odom, a retired Army general, advocated a massive, high-speed armored attack from Hungary and a sweep by ground forces down the Danubian plain to Belgrade. He proposed a concurrent push from the south, forcing the Serbs to fight on two fronts.1 Other retired military officers agreed, arguing that the allies could establish peace only with a strong ground force and considerable loss of life. They advocated concentrating a superior force for a Clausewitzian "set-piece" battle at a decisive time and place. This line of thinking maintained that the center of gravity was the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade and that only a powerful ground force could topple it. Estimates of a ground force to defeat the Serbian army rose to two hundred thousand men with high casualties expected. Within the Central Intelligence Agency, there were also memos showing that aerial bombing would not work.2
In the face of criticism, the Clinton administration and NATO stood firm. In 1995 airpower had succeeded in bringing Milosevic to the negotiating table in Dayton, Ohio, and it had played a major role in destroying Saddam Hussein's divisions in Kuwait and southern Iraq prior to the ground offensive in Operation Desert Storm. Rejecting the doctrine advocated by Gen Colin Powell of committing troops only if one could fight a war with superior ground and air forces, NATO chose an escalating air campaign. Criticism rose sharply when Milosevic initiated savage ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and when allied bombing damaged Belgrade--especially the Chinese embassy there. Skeptics predicted that NATO would fracture, but the alliance and the US administration remained resolute, asking for patience to allow the air campaign time to take effect.
Early on, one saw little indication that this strategy was succeeding. Frustration was apparent on the part of Air Force officers, who viewed themselves merely as administrators carrying out the directives of Washington and Gen Wesley Clark, the NATO commander. Officers of all grades became disconcerted over the restrictions and failure to hit key target groups, particularly the national electrical grid and the Yugoslav leadership. In early May, Lt Gen Michael Short, the NATO air commander, hinted at such disagreement with the targeting strategy and the relative restraint of the early days of the bombing.3 He stated that the main targets initially had been Yugoslav antiaircraft defense systems and military targets, none of them especially close to Belgrade. Perhaps not coincidentally, the air strategy then quietly but effectively changed. Additional airpower deployed to the region, and the number of air sorties escalated rapidly. By late May, General Short became more sanguine in his assessment, affirming that the air campaign was having a major impact, especially within Kosovo.4 Nonetheless, naysayers still refused to accept the notion that airpower alone could win.
Suddenly, in early June Milosevic and his government had had enough of the bombing--and it was over. Milosevic agreed to accept peace terms and to evacuate his army from Kosovo. Critics who had advocated sending in a ground element were stunned by this development. On the day the Yugoslavian parliament accepted the Kosovo peace plan, a senior US senator attended a change-of-command ceremony for the 23d Fighter Squadron in Aviano. He remarked that the people who charged that the allies could not win the war without a significant ground operation would have to eat some serious crow.5
Even so, some critics still tried to "spin" the situation. In their view, airpower had played a major role, but most of the damage inflicted on Yugoslav forces in Kosovo came from ground forces--namely the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), who helped draw Yugoslav troops into the sights of alliance pilots. In reality, however, the KLA played a relatively insignificant role throughout the entire campaign.
Early in the conflict, signs emerged that airpower alone might work. Milosevic's proposal for a unilateral cease-fire to mark the Orthodox Christian Easter indicated the effect that the air strikes were having on the Serbs. In late April, NATO estimated that the air armada had destroyed all of Serbia's oil-refining capacity and half of its ammunition production. The rapid loss of infrastructure throughout Yugoslavia became readily apparent within the first month.
When General Short stated in late May that airpower alone would either destroy Serbian-led government forces or chase them out of Kosovo, many experts dismissed his views as naïve and self-serving. In fact, Yugoslav options for their 40,000-man force in Kosovo were grim. Air strikes had virtually eliminated Serbian air, as well as the capability to refine and provision fuel and to transport munitions--as confirmed in May, when air strikes on Yugoslav fuel depots caused no secondary explosions. In addition, attempts to concentrate forces invited immediate attention from the air. Fragmentation of artillery and tanks into haylofts and barns marginalized a modern fighting force into noneffectiveness.
Ultimately, the Serbs could allow the allies to ravage their military piecemeal in Kosovo and bomb their country, or they could comply with NATO demands. The option of active guerrilla tactics in Kosovo was never viable because Albanians represented well over 85 percent of the population in Kosovo and because Milosevic had lost popular appeal. What was once a formidable regional power had now become a relatively minor state headed by an internationally convicted war criminal.
Potential conflicts of the future will be viewed through the prism of Kosovo. Now that we have established a precedent, airpower probably will become the force of choice, even within the borders of a sovereign state.
The reasons for the success of this air campaign have much to do with superior technology that can now take a heavy toll on military forces seeking to defend fixed terrain. Dropping "smart" munitions from high altitudes with pinpoint accuracy is a cheaper option than waging a prolonged and costly war. Traditionalists may argue that Kosovo was a special case; however, this war will probably cause all the services to increase their emphasis on mobile, high-tech weaponry.
Such technological advancements may give the impression that one can conduct an air war with a minimal number of friendly casualties. But General Short has warned against this expectation, pointing out that future air wars will not be risk free.
Another interesting implication concerns the increasing importance of information warfare. In Kosovo, the focus of airpower targeting changed markedly. Unlike past campaigns that attacked a nation's industrial sinews and complexes, this campaign focused ultimately on commercial television studios and transmitters; public utilities; the homes of Yugoslav leaders; political-party headquarters; and elements of the economic, communications, and transportation infrastructure. In this war, the allies not only stalled the enemy economy with smart weapons, but also disrupted elements of the Yugoslav communications system with the first use of Internet "cyber bombs." Although information about these "cyber war" efforts is not likely to be made public soon, they will undoubtedly receive more emphasis in the future.
A variety of air and space weapons played a prominent role in the conflict and, no doubt, will increase in importance. The highly accurate, reliable, and essentially undetectable B-2 bomber operated from the United States, carrying 16 individually targetable precision-guided munitions. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and drones performed valuable functions in light of the operational imperative to avoid loss of allied life. Throughout Operation Allied Force, Predator UAVs carried out surveillance and battle damage assessment; they also displayed their newly acquired capability to designate targets below heavy cloud cover. The allies employed the Harpy, another UAV, specifically in the suppression of enemy air defenses. Keyhole and Lacrosse satellites formed the backbone of an imaging satellite system that swept over the region with electro-optical cameras, beaming important real-time photos to intelligence-processing centers. The combination of such satellites with U-2; joint surveillance, target attack radar system; airborne warning and control system; and Rivet Joint aircraft provided a robust intelligence-gathering network whose importance will only increase.
The final implication seems clear. If the United States wishes to engage certain enemies, it may no longer need aircraft carriers or bases close to a country's borders. It has the ability to destroy with impunity the physical assets of selected potential enemies on earth with minimal losses.
Airpower was a clear winner in Kosovo. NATO got nearly every term it had stipulated in the Rambouillet Accords and flew almost 10,000 bombing runs, losing only two allied planes and no airmen--a phenomenal achievement. The ability to hit any target anywhere will have a sobering effect on future tyrants. The willingness to use that capability in confronting Milosevic sends a powerful signal to others that ethnic violence, even within one's own borders, is something the world may not tolerate.
Not only technology, but also the haunting images of the Vietnam War drove the selection of an air war strategy for Allied Force. US policy makers seem convinced that Americans will not accept large numbers of casualties. The desire to have sanitized, loss-free wars becomes even more important when allies are factored into the mix.
On the negative side, NATO strategy proved deficient by abandoning two key principles of war: surprise and flexibility. By taking any prospect of a ground element off the table, NATO surrendered the initiative in the short term with disastrous effect. With the uncertainties removed, the Milosevic regime realized that it could act quickly to expel the Albanians from Kosovo with little fear of direct intervention. Airpower ultimately arrested this fiasco, but we should not forget this lesson learned.
Additionally, the initial targeting strategy was flawed, and the target list too small. Allied forces could have targeted air defenses throughout the entire theater of operations, as well as Serbian forces within Kosovo, earlier and more effectively. The allies also needed to shoulder more of the burden of suppressing and attacking enemy air defenses. Furthermore, the allies needed better-defined rules of engagement and more robust initial air attacks. Attending to these matters probably could have shortened the war and lessened the Albanians' suffering and hardship.
Because technology is the key to future success, the F-22 is sorely needed in the US arsenal. Its development should not be adversely affected by the perception from Kosovo that current fighters can do the job for years. Furthermore, because of maintenance difficulties with aging aircraft, potential adversaries of the United States will be encouraged if the F-22 program is delayed or terminated.
Overall, the United States gained clout in the world community by again demonstrating its ability to lead military coalitions. We should commend US airmen, who flew the large majority of NATO missions, for an almost flawless performance. The air war assumed historic significance by producing the first military victory without a complementary ground force and without a single loss of life to enemy fire. Military planners should continue to analyze this conflict closely, along with projected improvements in technology, to derive its full significance for future wars.
1. Warren Bass, Ground Rules, The New Republic, 17 May 1999, 19.
2. Eric Alterman, Awful Options, Open Eyes, The Nation 268, no. 18 (17 May 1999): 10.
3. Craig R. Whitney, Crisis in the Balkans: The Commander, New York Times, 18 June 1999, A22.
4. Ben Fenton, We Can Bomb the Serbs out of Kosovo in Weeks, Daily Telegraph, 25 May 1999, 1.
5. Gordon W. Arbogast, Give Air Power Its Due, Florida Times-Union, 27 June 1999, H2.
Maj Ellwood "Skip" Hinman IV, USAF *
*Maj Ellwood P. "Skip" Hinman IV is currently attending Air Command and Staff College (ACSC), Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He is an F-117 pilot and participated in Operation Allied Force in that capacity.
THROUGHOUT US MILITARY history, generals and politicians have battled over how best to prosecute war. The debacle in Vietnam represented how views could differ and how dire the consequences could be when disagreements remain unresolved. The United States learned from its defeat in Vietnam. Military strategists and civilian policy makers agreed that political involvement at the tactical level of war, gradual escalation, and the lack of clearly defined objectives contributed to failure in Southeast Asia. If any good came out of the US failure in Southeast Asia, it was a general agreement among civilian and military leaders that no future US military operation should resemble the flawed US intervention in Vietnam. This convergence of thought eventually led to the Weinberger Doctrine, which applied six major tests bearing on the decision to use US combat forces abroad, and culminated with the skilled manner by which politicians and generals ran the Gulf War. Since that war, however, military and civilian thinking has once again diverged. The widening gap between how different leaders plan to prosecute war constitutes the most important challenge facing the US Air Force today.
The recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) air campaign in Yugoslavia demonstrated how this divergence in thought has brought the US style of warfare full circle and has unwittingly ushered in the uninvited ghost of Vietnam. Three particularly nasty emanations of the Vietnam War reared their ugly heads during Operation Allied Force: (1) political immersion at the tactical level of war, (2) the lack of clearly defined goals, and (3) the limited, incremental escalation of conflict. While Vietnam forced US policy makers to learn hard lessons by losing a war, the apparent victory in Serbia has unfortunately given new life to many of the same policies that failed in Southeast Asia. It is likely we won the air war over Serbia in spite of ourselves. While many military members have spoken out against the politics of the Allied Force air campaign, other nonmilitary opinions are that such policies are a political reality and are likely a vision of future air campaigns. Victory in the Kosovo conflict, therefore, may have polarized the two sides even further.
Political involvement at the tactical level of war during Operation Allied Force capsulized this ongoing debate. Even Clausewitz, who viewed war as an extension of policy by other means, recognized the inherent limits of political involvement: "Policy, of course, will not extend its influence to operational details."1 In fact, during the Gulf War, generals and their operational commanders were allowed to run the air campaign with only general guidance from civilian policy makers. And yet, during the air war over Serbia, air planners were required to seek the approval of 19 NATO countries before a single target could make its way onto the air tasking order. Countless missions were cancelled at the hands of a single nation's veto only to be rescheduled and cancelled again on another day. Fixation on the unfortunate reality of collateral damage led to directives from the highest levels of government forbidding the use of particular types of weapons. While military commanders expected to run the air campaign at the tactical and operational levels, they found themselves relegated to the duty of advisors, as their civilian leaders directed operations at all levels of the war.
This overinvolvement at the tactical level of war led to an even more unfortunate underinvolvement at the strategic level by civilian policy makers in charge of the NATO air campaign. Instead of providing military planners with clearly defined political goals by which to build a target list, political leaders seemed to focus on individual targets as if the targets themselves comprised the overarching strategy. Consequently, the air war over Serbia has been described by many as a target list in search of an objective. A year of intense planning yielded 40 different iterations, all based on the assumption that President Slobodan Milosevic would back down after a few days of light bombing. Simply stated, there was neither a coherent political strategy nor clearly defined military objectives for Operation Allied Force. There was no glue to hold the campaign together; and yet, the Weinberger Doctrine requires that the United States commit forces "only with clear political and military objectives."2 National Military Strategy of the United States of America dictates that "military missions must be clearly stated, with achievable military objectives that support national political aims."3 This stark difference between the manner in which Air Force leaders expected to prosecute the air war and the way in which civilian leaders ran the operation underlines the widening gap between the two schools of thought.
Perhaps the clearest vestige of Vietnam-era policy that proved to be most divergent from contemporary airpower theory, though, was the limited, incremental manner in which NATO's political leaders chose to run Operation Allied Force. Airpower theory is replete with calls for overwhelming, decisive force. National Military Strategy of the United States of America, in fact, espouses the use of "decisive force . . . to overwhelm all armed resistance in order to establish new military conditions and achieve political objectives."4 Due to the political constraints of Operation Allied Force, however, the fundamental airpower precepts of parallel attack, effects-based targeting, and inside-out warfare--so effective during Operation Desert Storm--were never applied to the air war in Serbia. The gradual escalation in the number of aircraft in-theater, the number of daily sorties flown, and the number and types of targets attacked during Allied Force eliminated any hope for synergy and shock effect.5 While the Air Force planners had hoped for Instant Thunder, they got Rolling Thunder instead.
Despite the gross divergence between airpower theory and the political constraints regarding targeting, objectives, and incremental warfare, Operation Allied Force appears to have been a success. What is unfortunate, however, is that victory often brings more euphoria than it does reflection. Today we have stumbled upon victory with the same failed policies. As a result, in the aftermath of the war with Yugoslavia, the divergent trend continues. Air Force generals complain that the air campaign was mismanaged, while their civilian leaders appear convinced that politically correct warfare can lead to victory in future campaigns, as it did in Operation Allied Force. If the two sides are unable to bridge the gap, the fruits of a past victory may very well lay the seeds for a disastrous future defeat.
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
1. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), 606.
2. Colin L. Powell with Joseph E. Persico, My American Journey (New York: Random House, 1995), 303.
3. Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Military Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1997), 12.
4. Ibid., 20.
5. J. A. Kitfield, "Another Look at the Air War That Was," Air Force Magazine 82, no. 10 (October 1999): 40.
|In war, situations are the products of mutually exclusive and incompatible wills.|
Brig Gen Samuel Griffith II
*Grover E. "Gene" Myers is a senior defense analyst with Science Applications International Corporation and a senior fellow with the Air Force Associationsponsored Eaker Institute for Aerospace Concepts. A retired Air Force officer with over three thousand flying hours in rescue helicopters and B-52s, he served as a politico-military affairs officer in the United States and Europe. He has numerous publications on the subjects of aerospace doctrine and strategy as well as strategic policy and is currently a member of the team conducting the official US Air Force postcampaign study of the air war over Serbia.
RECENT ACTIONS AGAINST Iraq and Yugoslavia represent modern attempts to avoid traditional large-scale attrition war. In the past, the relative isolation of the United States, the distances involved, and the lack of true global-range systems and precision weapons required mobilizing and moving large joint-service force structures in response to enemy actions.
Now advanced aerospace systems--reconnaissance and surveillance, strike, and mobility--make the situation dramatically different. Reaction times are cut from weeks to hours, and one or two weapon systems can target and successfully attack what used to take hundreds of sorties. We can even react over great distances before a mobilizing adversary can prepare himself.
Such actions, however, require military preparedness and political will to achieve national objectives quickly and decisively. Past reluctance to do so has cost more than a concentrated initial assault. Awesome power, even when applied precisely, must still be applied in strong doses, or the cure will be long in coming. That is a clear lesson of this most recent conflict but a difficult lesson to relay to the public at large, which expects either World War IIstyle carnage or new "miracle weapons" to end suffering altogether. Both perspectives work against exercising the kind of campaign that can achieve the greatest results. Gen John Jumper, commander of US Air Forces in Europe, stated on 16 August 1999 at the Eaker Institute for Aerospace Concepts that
it is the politics of the moment that is going to dictate what we are able to do. If the politics of the moment . . . means gradualism, then we are going to have to find a way to deal with a phased air campaign, with graduated escalation. . . . Efficiency may be sacrificed. It is not the way we [military commanders] want it.1
Critics list many flaws in the recent Balkans air campaign and question whether aerospace power achieved as much over Serbia and Kosovo as some enthusiasts claim. The air war over Serbia was clearly not perfect. Early efforts were constrained; command arrangements were confusing and confining; and intelligence and targeting were cumbersome, inefficient, and generally not linked with desired effects. From a military perspective, political requirements had too much influence, creating problems as political leaders dictated targets and strategy (a condition General Jumper suggests military leaders may have to get used to). Yet, objectives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were achieved--Serb forces left Kosovo, and NATO moved in. Military power never operates in isolation, and international politics strongly influenced the outcome. Had it not been for the air campaign, Slobodan Milosevic would have had little incentive to heed such political pressure. Milosevic's withdrawal came from his inability to stop the bombing or divide the NATO alliance as he had hoped.
During the extensive media coverage, which praised and criticized the air war campaign, a set of perceptions arose coloring public opinion of the campaign's success or failure. This occurred despite the revelation, outlined above, that war is now fundamentally different than it was just a few years ago, with different strategies, participants, technologies, results, and--most important--different political considerations necessitated by mass communications and the need to manage long-term alliance relations.
Despite the use of thousands of weapons from thousands of sorties, the campaign did very little to Serb ground forces. It seems that NATO did overestimate its successes in the tactical (vice strategic) portion of the campaign against fielded Serb forces in Kosovo. Dispersed and hidden ground-force targets were very difficult to find, and Serb deception and camouflage techniques were better than expected. But success in warfare is not, or should not be, about statistics--numbers of casualties or equipment destroyed. We should have learned that lesson pretty well in Vietnam. Rather, it should be about achieving objectives and making the other guy do your will. It means finding the right targets and achieving effects to make political leaders, not soldiers, say they've had enough. In that we were successful. Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, states that
war is an instrument of national policy. Victory in war is not measured by casualties inflicted, battles won or lost, or territory occupied, but by whether or not political objectives were achieved. More than any other factor, political objectives (one's own and those of the enemy) shape the scope and intensity of war. (Emphasis in original)2
We must also remember that there was another phase of the air war--the strategic phase against petroleum, communications, and electricity in Serbia itself--that was credited far more than the effort against the ground forces with final success.
Loss of Russian support and the eventual threat of a NATO ground assault rather than the air campaign forced Milosevic to give in. There is little doubt that airpower did not singularly achieve the conflict's political objectives. It was, however, the only active military component; and without the air campaign and the attendant NATO solidarity to accomplish it, nothing would have been achieved at all. Loss of Russian support would have meant little to Milosevic if there had been no air campaign, no threat of further military action, and no visible NATO determination to continue its campaign. We must remember that war is about politics--there will always be political elements that will contribute to the end state. Political and military objectives should be complementary, not contradictory.
The use of airpower exacerbated ethnic cleansing rather than stopped it. The agony of the Kosovars was vivid, leading some pundits to blame the air campaign for accelerating the genocide. Clearly the timetable accelerated when Yugoslav leaders began to sense they had little time to eliminate non-Serbian Kosovars. But mounting evidence of Serbian atrocities in both Bosnia and Kosovo and the speed of Serbian action in Kosovo demonstrated that Milosevic had ethnic cleansing and genocide on the agenda. Without NATO action it would likely have been a more methodical and thorough job with fewer refugees escaping to neighboring nations. The refugee problem was bad, but it appears certain to have happened anyway. It did in Bosnia.
Gen Michael Ryan, US Air Force chief of staff, has stated that airpower could not stop the door-to-door . . . thuggery and ethnic cleansing that [were] going on, directly. The only way you were going to be able to do that [was by] taking it to the heart of the matter--in this case, to Belgrade.3
General Ryan reminds us that in this conflict, without a massed ground-force face-off, airpower had a difficult time finding various dispersed Serb forces who were causing trouble in one house or village at a time. It was the theater airmen's opinion that airpower could have been better used against strategic targets--petroleum production, electricity, and communications--than in trying to find dispersed Serb ground forces. These strategic targets were the ones that had the most effect on the Milosevic regime. The only problem was that strategic action to achieve specific effects on the Milosevic regime came late in the conflict. Stopping the ethnic cleansing directly would have required a massive commitment of NATO ground forces, something NATO was unwilling to do for fear of casualties, and something that very well may not have been necessary anyway.
In a Summer 1999 Strategic Review article, Lt Gen Thad Wolfe and I concluded there are times that we must act but that we must act responsibly:
It would have done no one a service, not even the Kosovars, to sacrifice NATO soldiers when there were other options. The price of failure or even success with the expenditure of too many lives and too much treasure could be the collapse of NATO and unwillingness to aid a turbulent world's next targets of genocide--be they Kosovars, Bosnians, or Kurds.4
1. Operation Allied Force: Strategy, Execution, Implications: An Eaker Colloquy on Aerospace Strategy, Requirements, and Forces (Washington, D.C.: The Eaker Institute for Aerospace Concepts, 16 August 1999).
2. Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, September 1997, 6.
3. Quoted in John A. Tirpak, Lessons Learned and Re-Learned, Air Force Magazine 82, no. 8 (August 1999): 24.
4. Grover E. Myers and Lt Gen Thad Wolfe, USAF, Retired, The Price of Greatness: Air Power in the Balkans, Strategic Review 27, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 16.
Capt Christian "Chewy" Watt, USAF*
*Captain Watt is a tactical aviation and simulator instructor for the 50th Education Squadron at the United States Air Force Academy. He is also an adjunct instructor with the Russian Language Department and performs escort duties as a Russian translator.
There you are, patrolling no-fly-zone "X" again. Finally, after years of biding your time broadcasting weightless United Nations warnings to violators, you get the call from the airborne warning and control system aircraft: "Rocket 11, the mission director requests that you visually identify a fast-moving bogey north of your position, 40 miles southbound." You acquire the bogey--low, fast, and definitely making a run toward good-guy territory. You think to yourself, "Yeah, baby, 'bout time I got some." You approach the bogey with utter confidence--for years Intelligence has briefed you on every detail about the capability of country X's pilots. You almost feel pity for him. As you converge on the bogey, you confirm that it is in fact an enemy plane: "Bandit, Bandit!" This could very well be your first kill, but before you can request permission to fire, the bandit does something you've never seen before--"Sweet move!" Now you're anchored, committed to fighting this guy, but still you've got confidence. There's no way this clown can beat you. As you start turning with the bandit, he just doesn't make the mistakes you would expect from a country-X pilot who supposedly has limited flying time and combat experience, poor training, and no concept of basic aerial combat. "Whoa! Didn't expect that!" You wonder where in the world your wingman is. You cringe, beginning to see the inevitable. This guy is now neutral with you and quickly gaining ground! Before your wingman can get in and take a shot, you see it--a puff of smoke off the bandit's wing. You look at him sideways and wonder, "How can he be shooting me from there?" You watch in amazement as the missile guides, but by now you are defenseless. You pray that your aircraft will survive the impact, that your wingman will wax this guy, that you will be able to limp home, that you won't be the next face on Cable News Network! As you ride down in the straps, you go through the steps they taught you in survival training: canopy, visor, mask, seat kit. But all the while you think, "Who was that poorly trained, no-aerial-combat-understandin' pilot who just shot me down?"
FOR THOSE OF you who believe that we kings of the information age will always know the enemy and that we'll always be one step ahead with our machines and personnel, this article won't do much for you, other than provide some interesting tidbits and stories. For those of you, like me, who believe in David and Goliath and surprises--for those of you who believe that mercenaries exist; that "special advisors" aid potentially hostile nations; that there are some things even we Americans, the forerunners of the information age, might not know, this article should serve as a warning.
My focus is on the fighter pilot of the former Soviet Union (FSU), whom we try to better understand by examining the Ukrainian fighter pilot. Although the Ukraine is a peaceful nation that has made great strides toward democracy and potential acceptance into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, understanding that country's combat aviators should provide insight into other threats we might face in the future. The world would have to become a very ugly place for the United States and the Ukraine to find themselves on opposite sides of the battlefield, but if you believe in the existence of mercenaries and "advisors," as I do, then you believe in the possibility of "Ukrainian-like" pilots flying bandit jets. Finally, by understanding the Ukrainian fighter pilot and his challenges and lifestyle, you might better understand a wide variety of other FSU fighter pilots. As Sun Tzu wrote, "Know thy enemy and know thyself."
A critical reader might reasonably ask where the author gets his information: what gives this person the right to draw these conclusions? Usually, the reader can check out the citations and closely examine whether the evidence supports the conclusions. But you won't find citations or references to other works here. Support for my conclusions is based almost solely on my own experiences. Therefore, you must know a little about them to have a prayer of believing anything I say.
My experience with FSU countries dates back to 1985, when I took Russian as a college elective. After four years of school and going through the Reserve Officer Training Program, I was ready to graduate with my math degree and start flight school. Instead, I extended my college work for a fifth year--three months of which I lived with a Russian family in Khabarovsk, a city in the Soviet Far East near Vladivostok--and earned an additional degree in Russian. In 1990, two weeks after returning from the Soviet Union, I started flight school and was assigned to the F-15E, which I have flown operationally for the last seven years. My Russian language skills lay dormant until a couple of years ago, when my base, Seymour Johnson, North Carolina, decided to reestablish ties with the Ukraine by picking a sister base, Mirgorod, about 80 miles southeast of Kiev, whose pilots currently fly Su-27s. The exchanges that followed commemorated the Operation Frantic missions of World War II, during which the 4th Fighter Group (now the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson) conducted deep bomber-escort missions out of England against the Nazi threat in Germany. The missions were so long that the planes had to land in the Ukraine to refuel before returning to England, thus reinforcing our relationship as allies of the Soviets until the end of the war and the creation of the Iron Curtain.
In the summer of 1997, we led a four-ship of F-15Es and one KC-135 to Mirgorod, where we stayed for just a few days filled with official functions, exchange flights, an air show, and encounters with several soldiers and citizens and their families. The trip was a huge success, and we invited the Ukrainians to the United States on a reciprocal visit. Shortly thereafter, I was chosen mission commander for the trip, during which we flew an Su-27 and an Il-76 across the Atlantic to Seymour Johnson. I was "crewed" with a Ukrainian pilot, and we became the first people to fly the Russian-built fighter across the Atlantic. Trip preparation included a quick language-refresher course at the Defense Language Institute as well as a Pentagon-sponsored "immersion" course in Sankt Peterburg, Russia, where I lived with a Russian widow who, as an army doctor, survived the Nazi siege of Saint Petersburg. We handled as many of the details as possible prior to the trip, and a couple of weeks prior to our departure from the Ukraine, I was sent over to finalize trip preparations and receive my training in the Su-27. This adventure, during which I gained much more insight into the life of the Ukrainian military, forms the basis for my conclusions in this article. The 21 days I spent crewed with Lt Col Ivan Chernyenko--in and out of his country, in and out of the Ukrainians' home life, coupled with my experiences dating back to 1985--gave me a framework to compare the new FSU to the old USSR. It also gave me a foundation to compare the lifestyles of their people over time and to draw conclusions about what the future might bring.
So what are their lives like? From what challenges and experiences of Ukrainian pilots can we draw conclusions to help us understand FSU pilots and the potential threat they pose, either directly or indirectly? Three general categories provide some insight into these matters: economics, mentality, and ability.
Whether we like it or not, economics--money--is a huge factor when we make decisions, even those involving our views on right and wrong. Let's talk about a few money issues facing Ukrainian pilots: paychecks, bribery, and general living conditions.
Paychecks. When I was in the Ukraine in June 1997, the pilots told me that the economic state of their country, particularly as it affected the military, was so bad that they had not been paid since January. They weren't on strike or "outsourced"; the government simply had no money to pay them. I asked them if they would receive back pay once the government obtained funds, but they simply weren't sure. In fact, at the end of our trip in 1997, they received their pay for the month of April but were uncertain of the status of the remaining five months of delinquent pay. You might naturally ask, If the pilots aren't being paid for their military service, how are they putting food on the table? Some of their wives work abroad. For example, compensation for nurses in Poland is four times a pilot's domestic pay. Others have significant skills and activities that help them "acquire" things.
Although Americans may think it odd to work for an organization for an extended period without pay, the problem is not unique to the Ukraine. In Saint Petersburg, I met a couple of working professionals--a chemist and a college professor. The chemist had been working for several months without either pay or promise of pay because he had no other marketable skills. He and coworkers like him were just hoping their industry would come alive again; in the meantime, that 50-year-old father went to his mother's home to eat every night. Once a builder of mighty rockets, he now hasn't a clue about what his future holds. The professor held a second job that kept food on the table.
Of interest to us is that, unlike the chemist and the professor, pilots of advanced fighters possess a rare, marketable, and lethal skill. With FSU governments selling off their advanced equipment somewhat indiscriminately, the demand for these skilled pilots has increased. Although you and I scoff at selling our services to some third world tyrant, how long do you think an FSU pilot can hold out while he watches his family suffer?
Bribery. The United States is adamantly opposed to bribery, a fact reflected in both our international and domestic business laws. However, the rest of the world is not completely on board with our principles. Examples abound in any number of articles on business practices in Latin America, Asia, and, in our case, the FSU. The Ukraine has its own problems with bribery. In fact, when we tried to leave the country with the Su-27, Il-76, and 36 personnel on our 1998 Frantic reunion, we had to pay customs officials a sum of money before they would release us and the aircraft. Ever heard of paying duties on exporting your own military hardware and personnel on an exchange? I'll let you do the math.
My point is not to evaluate the merits of bribery but to emphasize the dangerous mind-set it brings to the equation. A bribe makes people change their behavior--makes them do or not do something on the basis of money. In some cases, money becomes so important it can make individuals do something socially unacceptable, even immoral. Couple this practice with the lack of compensation, and the potential for trouble becomes immense. The United States can restrict me from selling my knowledge of fighter aircraft to other nations, but a bribe in the right pocket in a country where the practice is tolerated can open the door.
Living Conditions. Americans are lucky; people in the worst economic situations here still live better than so much of the rest of the world. We take running water and electricity for granted, but people in even the major cities of the FSU go without them for days, weeks, or even longer. Run-down living quarters, decaying base infrastructure, and intermittent utilities are only a few of the problems facing the Ukrainian pilot. The change to a market economy has not been easy on the FSU countries. In 1990 we walked around with pockets full of rubles, yet there was little to buy. Now, the shelves are full, but because the government no longer controls the prices, many honest FSU citizens can't afford to buy. To be blunt, how do you think a colonel in an FSU military can afford a $450 video camera when he makes only one hundred US dollars a month? For a more graphic example, consider the father of the family with whom I lived in 1990. Although he made only about three hundred rubles a month as the chief oral surgeon in a large Russian town, he paid cash for a 10,000-ruble vehicle--almost three years' salary. How?
People are willing to "donate" a lot to avoid a two-year wait for dental care. When I was in Saint Petersburg in 1998, it became clear to me that honest citizens had their hands full just trying to survive, while those who skirted the law could acquire some of the things that you and I take for granted. Economics in the FSU is a long way from becoming stable. Consequently, people in these situations learn that they must "cheat" to survive and that using their skills for their own government does not provide their families an adequate lifestyle.
A few key factors help to shed some light on how FSU pilots might think differently than we do.
Russia/Ukraine Relationship. Some people say that the Ukraine considers Russia a threat. For instance, one of my Russian professors in college boldly suggested that if the Soviet Union ever attacked Europe, half of the Eastern Bloc armies would turn on the USSR at the earliest opportunity. The reality for Ukrainian pilots, which probably holds true for the other FSU countries, is that for the past 50 years they have been intimately tied to Russia, even using the Russian language as their international language for military purposes. Some Ukrainian pilots have Russian wives, and some Russian pilots have Ukrainian wives. Russians were still flying with the units during our 1997 visit, trying to decide whether they would remain in the Ukraine or take their Ukrainian wives and families back to Russia.
Sharing this common bond and history does not mean that conflict between the Russians and Ukrainians does not exist. During my weeklong visit in 1997, several Russian and Ukrainian pilots in the unit approached me with comments such as, "Hey, I'm not a Ukrainian; you can trust me" or "Hey, watch out for that guy; he's a Russian." But citizens of the FSU countries have become accustomed to working for people they don't like--whose policies and actions they might even oppose. A couple of generations may pass before the FSU nations and their citizens become truly independent thinkers.
Postmilitary Life. With only very rare exceptions, American fighter crews know that their time in the military is just their first career. They prepare for their next career and plan their lives for the long haul. But life expectancy for FSU males is in the late fifties versus the early to midseventies for American males. When Ukrainian pilots retire, for the most part, they retire completely. With the collapse of the economy, as noted above, pension checks are far from guaranteed. What will happen to these pilots who have but one true skill--flying fighters to defend the homeland? The implication is disconcerting. They have to eat--airlines won't hire them, but a wealthy foreign militant could probably give them something to consider.
Hope. Although members of the younger generation in the FSU countries, with their cell phones and computers, appear to have embraced democracy and accepted the future, the older ones seem less optimistic. My impression of the older crowd, especially the soldiers, is that they feel time has passed them by. Most of their skills, once geared to abolish Western aggressors, are now obsolete, and they find themselves without employment. Indeed, some citizens hold them and their profession, once considered a vital component of their society's survival, responsible for the hardships they now face. Additionally, the poor economy can hardly absorb a large number of unskilled, middle-aged workers. One higher-level Ukrainian officer expressed complete hopelessness, stating that his "society is completely disintegrating." He wants his child to learn English so he can "have a chance to escape the terrible decay occurring all around him."
Reverence for Fellow Soldiers. We were all somewhat prepared for the amount of alcohol consumption, which was extreme, that would take place during the course of the exchanges. We were pleasantly surprised and impressed, however, with some of the Ukrainians' traditions. For example, when they toast, the third toast is always silent, in memory of their fallen comrades. Everyone takes a glass, stares at it, pauses to remember, drinks, and gently sets the glass down. During our prisoner-of-war/missing-in-action ceremonies, we have our own traditions to remember those who have fallen, but the Ukrainians do it every time they drink--daily at official functions, after hours, lunch, camping, and so forth. When you look into their eyes and listen to them, it isn't just formality or procedure--they mean it. Other than during an official function or holiday, when did you last pause to remember the 19 dead from the Khobar Towers bombing, the marines at Beirut, the people lost in all the wars and conflicts in our history? I'm proud to say that the 336th Fighter Squadron "World-Famous Rocketeers" recognized the value of this tradition and now practice it in their own way.
When examining the aggregate ability of a fighter-pilot corps, Americans pay attention to such indicators as flying hours, training, and experience. Additionally, confidence tends to be a common trait (or flaw, some might say) of superior fighter pilots.
Training and Experience. "Country X's pilots are extremely inexperienced; they fly only a few hours a month, and the training is quite basic." Have you heard that before? Let's examine the situation a little closer, using the Ukraine as country X. The first statement is somewhat true--most of the younger Ukrainian pilots are extremely inexperienced. Starving for hours, they lack the operational training and real-world combat experiences on which analysts make their assumptions. Yet, what about the significant cadre of experienced senior flyers--the majors and colonels who are still around? They've been flying jets their entire careers (they are not distracted by attending professional military education schools and earning graduate degrees, as are American fighter pilots) and have no second career to worry about. They carry years of experience flying MiG-21s, -23s, -29s, and now Su-27s. They've even got combat experience--from Afghanistan at the very least. How many hours a year do these warriors really need to be proficient enough to be a threat? Have you ever heard of Col Nikolai Koval of the Ukrainian air force? His Su-27 demonstration won the "Best Solo Jet Demonstration" honors at the 1996 Royal International Air Tattoo. Do you think there might be a few others who could do it when it counted--in combat?
The second part of the statement--flying just a few hours a month with rudimentary training--holds true on both counts. However, don't make the mistake of rigidly equating flying hours to flying ability. True, a few hours a month would be grossly insufficient for the average F-15E pilot, whose sortie length hovers around the 1.5-hour mark. But in many cases, US pilots have a good bit of dead time when they fly. For instance, a pilot at Seymour Johnson takes off and drones for 20 minutes to a training area during most of the air-to-air training missions. He then flies the mission and drones home for another 20 minutes. Although he might log a 1.3- to a 1.4-hour sortie, he spends less than half an hour on the meat of the mission--aerial combat. This scenario happens because the United States has so much air traffic and because the military can't operate just anywhere.
Now, compare this situation to that of the Ukrainian pilot. He takes off with a half load of fuel because it is expensive and his air force can't afford to waste a drop. However, he doesn't have the airspace problems we have--either because of less air traffic or the fact that military aviation takes precedence over civil aviation in those FSU countries that evolved with a focus on war. He takes off, flies to a training area within a few minutes of the base--if not directly overhead--accomplishes the training, and lands. His sortie might last for only 2530 minutes, but he spends that time almost solely on the meat of the mission. So getting only a few hours a month might not be outstanding, but it's not nearly as bad as standard analysis would have you believe.
The statement about rudimentary training missions also needs some context. Ukrainians do not participate in Red Flags, multiship missions, or highly coordinated training sorties such as an intense Strike Eagle mission in which our pilots escort B-1s to a target area, shoot down some bandits along the way, take out an SA-6 site with AGM-130s, reset to protect the EA-6Bs and A-10s, whack a few more bad guys, and then go home to the traffic pattern, where it really gets dangerous. These missions are necessary for Americans, who make a practice of dominating an enemy on his own soil. But what about the Ukrainians, whose mission is almost strictly air defense? They might do one or two air-to-ground missions a year, but they don't carry the ordnance we do or concentrate in those areas. They spend their time doing one thing--getting to the merge where it's one-on-one. The point is that they don't have to split their time, partition their assets, or mess with configuration changes and the like. They do their thing, killing enemy aircraft, which makes a basic training mission good enough--as you will see if you find yourself in the position of Rocket 11, whose sobering tale began this article.
Confidence. Ten years ago, the Ukrainians at Mirgorod had a mission: sit alert and race to the Iron Curtain to blow the Yanks out of the sky before they invaded the homeland. Older Ukrainian pilots told me they had complete confidence that they could stop us in our tracks. What about now? Now that they've seen our planes in action through their own intelligence, Cable News Network, and our exchanges? Still, they have confidence. A pilot from the Mirgorod crew--the "political officer" (actually, he has a more politically correct title now), who asked most of the tough questions--made it clear to me that he could hold his own in a one-on-one fight with a Western pilot. The younger crowd did not venture into those conversations, straying away from any aggressive comparisons of aircraft, but the older ones seemed to share the confidence professed by their political officer.
Let's put all of these elements together to profile the Ukrainian fighter pilots. Economically, they are struggling with inconsistent pay, a society scarred by the corrupt practice of bribery, and poor living conditions, even by FSU standards. Mentally, members of the older crowd lack hope, have few prospects for a future outside the military, have grown accustomed to accommodating people with whom they do not agree (Russians), and have a deep respect for fallen comrades as they continue to protect a society whose progression into the new millennium has left them behind. In terms of ability, they are the best of their corps. Masters of their machines and missions, they possess such knowledge and experience that a minimum amount of consistent flying could bring them up to our standards. Accordingly, they don't require much incentive to leave and create the potential for a "surprise."
The purpose of this article was not to propose that the "Red" threat is bigger than ever or that FSU pilots might become so frustrated with the unstable progression to democracy and market economy that they would revert to old ways. It does, however, give credence to what is happening to all of the hardware and personnel that once comprised these countries' extensive military arsenal. Although the chances of a massed Red threat marching successfully against the United States are slim, I am concerned that on an individual basis--one-on-one in the aerial-combat phone booth--you'd have your hands full. Given the economic outlook, ability, and mentality of the FSU pilots, the potential for a close encounter exists. Our pilots should be prepared for the worst every time they press to the merge against an adversary, even if they think they know that adversary's capabilities.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
|Nothing will disorganize an army more or ruin it more completely than pillage.|
Dr. Daniel R. Mortensen*
|It is no longer necessary for the airman to claim that he can win wars alone. His arm has reached an acknowledged importance and a recognized value and size so that there is no longer need for hyperbole in describing its vital role. The simple facts now coming from the world's battlefields speak . . . loudly of the power of air forces.|
--Gen Henry H. "Hap" Arnold
*Daniel R. Mortensen is chief of the Research Division, Airpower Research Institute, College of Aerospace Doctrine Reseach and Education, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He is the editor of Airpower and Ground Armies: Essays on the Evolution of Anglo-American Air Doctrine, 19401943 (Air University Press, 1998).
STATED NEARLY 60 years ago by General Arnold, commanding general of the Army Air Forces, this sharp proclamation of early World War II airpower continues to be articulated by current air advocates who believe that airpower has the capability to win battles. Not to be outdone, on the other side of the aisle, ground-force proponents have long argued that mass and maneuver by ground forces are required for clear, decisive battlefield operations. It has often been an uphill battle by the airmen, not the least because the ground forces have centuries of history to back their claim. Airmen have less than a century.
Arguments over these service-related dictums heated up again in the aftermath of the Gulf War of 1991. Many leading airmen believed that airpower had been decisive in winning the war, and air proponents in the Pentagon argued for a reevaluation of service roles and missions in the congressionally mandated discussions that followed the war. The main issue and sticking point was that the ground proponents continued to argue the military usefulness of massed armored formations, even in light of effective stealth and precision airpower in the Gulf War. Army thinkers were not ready to accept Colonel John Warden's suggestion that "precision and stealth put us into a different era."1 The debates enlivened again in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict, but now the air argument clearly had a new and dynamic credibility.
In recent months, the political leadership has more fully embraced the prospect that airpower can substitute for ground-force operations. The minimizing of battlefield casualties is the underlying catalyst, and attrition-heavy massed ground warfare is under attack. Since he took office, Gen Eric Shinseki, the new Army chief of staff, has begun to reorganize some Army heavy divisions into lighter, more deployable units. These forces will better fit small-scale contingencies that depend more on precision air firepower than massive firepower from traditional heavy tanks and artillery.
Other very significant reform ideas for the Army come from an active warrior/scholar, Maj Gen Robert H. Scales Jr.; these are particularly noteworthy in his monograph America's Army in Transition: Preparing for War in the Precision Age, recently published by the US Army War College.2 This slick 29-page paper offers an intelligent discussion of both post-cold-war ideas for a changing Army and post-Kosovo recognition of airpower with its potential war-winning capability. It represents a clear change in the Army's attitude about the employment of air forces in a large-scale battle. Further, it comes from an Army advocate whom air advocates had long identified as an icon of a stubborn Army's unwillingness to accept the potential decisiveness of airpower in modern war.
General Scales first came to my attention in the immediate postGulf War period as the "principal author" of Certain Victory, a book that treated both the backdrop of the Gulf War as well as the great operational successes of the hundred-hour ground battle.3 Although his purpose in that book was not to discuss the hundred-day air war that preceded the ground battle, all sorts of air advocates noticed that Scales shunned any mention of how air had clearly underwritten the success of the ground war. In the conclusion of the introductory chapter, Scales stipulates that the Gulf War represented an evolution rather than a revolution, quoting Maj Gen Barry McCaffrey's reply to the Senate Armed Services Committee: "This war didn't take 100 hours to win, it took 15 years," a reference to the effort of many young soldiers who spent 15 years reforging the Army institution that had been broken in Vietnam.4 But referring to a war lasting a hundred hours in one of the first official publications to come out after the Gulf War hit a lot of airmen the wrong way.
Employing Kierkegaard's concept that while "life must be lived forward," it has to be "understood backwards," Scales concludes that "Desert Storm confirmed that the nature of war has not changed . . . that the core of joint warfare is ultimately decisive land combat."5 The backdrop that made Scales an icon of Army stubbornness was the ongoing struggle over roles and missions in the Pentagon. All services were looking at further downsizing after the cold war, increasing missions, and struggling to buy expensive new weapons systems. Many airmen felt that Scales disingenuously treated the potential of airpower, even if it was his job to advocate ground-force modernization. Many claimed that he tried to wash out any attempt by the Air Force to claim greater military importance by way of the Gulf War. He was as responsible as anyone in the harsh and even nasty service posturing, but both sides argued unreasonably. In my view, the heated debate defeated efforts to develop a plan to properly modify all services in the downsizing efforts to develop a plan to properly modify all services in the downsizing of the post-cold-war era.
An accomplished historian with a PhD in military history from prestigious Duke University, Scales showed that, notwithstanding Certain Victory, he could deal with airpower in Firepower in Limited War.6 Although his intention was still to describe Army ground operations--specifically, firepower in support of ground operations--he paid close attention to the planning and operations of the air war that shapes the ground battle. As might be expected, his interest in airpower corresponds to the dictum that to minimize casualties, ground commanders will employ all the firepower at their disposal--and airpower has always been a source of firepower. All service proponents agree with that in principle but disagree over application. His treatment of air support in North Africa in World War II and during the Battle of Khafji in the Gulf War illustrates that, in spite of his history background, this study misused historical knowledge and is more advocacy than evenhanded historical analysis.7 He was, then, still dedicated to the proposition that only ground wars can be decisive, and the Gulf War had not invalidated that concept.
I am still impressed that an active-duty general, now commandant of the US Army War College, has time to publish and is willing to open himself up to the criticism that would naturally follow. Thus, when a new piece by him appeared, America's Army in Transition, I wanted to see if the Kosovo air war had changed his thinking. After all, the Kosovo conflict was not just airpower intensive but airpower exclusive. The title of the monograph suggested that Scales was now speaking to a new military condition, and I wondered how he would deal with airpower.
America's Army in Transitionis a repackaging of two articles about changed conditions facing the Army: "Adaptive Enemies: Achieving Victory by Avoiding Defeat" and "From Korea to Kosovo: How America's Army Has Learned to Fight Limited War in the Precision Age."8 I was pleasantly surprised to see that General Scales articulates some intelligent thoughts about airpower and even something affirmative.
Actually, a close reading will show a sea change between the two articles, even though General Scales claims they were both written in the aftermath of Kosovo. "Adaptive Enemies" represents his earlier, postGulf War persona wherein he serves as an advocate of the Army and pointedly ignores or denigrates the Air Force. "From Korea to Kosovo," however, seems to say, "Oh! Maybe airpower cannot be ignored in modern warfare." This change shows what I tell my Air Force advocate friends: Kosovo gave the Air Force assurance not gained after the Gulf War--that the Air Force's revolutionary ideas for modern warfare have merit to a large audience. And we don't need to run up the score by attacking any and all Army advocates who express different viewpoints about the future of airpower.
In "Adaptive Enemies," on the one hand, General Scales offers an intellectual thought piece on how groups or nations will change their tactics against America in light of our new military strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, if we keep in mind the history of the general's writing, we can readily see that the work is loaded, gratuitously so, as was Certain Victory, with an almost complete ignorance of airpower. He is an open advocate of Army ground forces and does not inject an honest depiction of what modern air can accomplish. It would have too great an effect on the scrambling in the Pentagon over service appropriations. Not once does he acknowledge the precision strike capability and associated doctrine of the Air Force.
Still, Scales does point out a real, tangible problem that the United States will face in future wars/conflicts: smaller nations and groups are not as likely to engage the United States and its allies in frontal attack but will counter our precision with dispersion, deception, and patience. He argues that these tactics represent a real counter to the superior technology upon which we depend--and he has a point. (Likewise, in "From Korea to Kosovo," he wisely advises that the United States fight limited war with limited means, not trying to quash little enemies with massive attacks, and he offers a maneuver-warfare plan with which to fight future conflicts.)
Scales appears to have great admiration for the Serbs, who turned to "patience, tenacity, guile, and ability" to counter the precision weapons of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coalition. He describes them as "a compelling demonstration of a thinking, creative, and adaptive opponent who can foil the best prepared plans."9 It seems as though he was reluctant to note that their plan did not work and that NATO persevered.
General Scales uses "firepower" as the important medium to explain tenacity versus precision, and he sees the medium as a "preoccupation." I guess he might argue that we should not use firepower, and he points to some selected historic battles to illustrate how lesser forces adapted to superior firepower. For example, the Japanese, in the latter part of World War II (1944 on), learned how to hide and move quickly. This caused us great pain, but maybe it caused them even greater pain because many of them died of wounds or hunger after isolating themselves from our firepower on bypassed islands. The North Koreans learned the same lesson after the great rollback in 1951. The United States, Soviet Union, and Israel relearned the lesson in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, respectively. But does Scales want these more powerful nations to forgo technology? He claims, contrary to the evidence, that the inferior Iraqis adapted well to allied firepower: "The best trained Iraqi units endured several weeks of allied air bombardment with unbroken will and their combat capability essentially intact."10 This concept is crucial to the Army understanding of the Gulf--that the "left hook" beat the Iraqis into submission and that air firepower was less important. He then explains how the US Army's VII Corps destroyed the Republican Guard divisions. (This too is precision firepower, but he doesn't play that card here.)
He finds the war in Kosovo only a continuation of the same theme. But he stresses, again, the importance of ground armies ("appearance of an infant ground presence in Kosovo in the form of the Kosovo Liberation Army") in making the air war successful.11 Scales concludes with a few paragraphs on how the information age, as a form of advanced technology, will not be decisive in future wars. He may be right that information has a neutral effect--that everyone has capabilities. General Scales also may be right when he concludes that we must face a challenge to our preoccupation with precision strike, arguing in favor of balancing that capability with an Army role of precision maneuver: "Our future arsenal of military capabilities must include a 21st Century sword with two equally compelling edges: precision maneuver as well as precision firepower. Without these two applied in balance and harmony, future conflicts might well devolve into massive wars of attrition."12
But he fails to appreciate the air view--that perhaps armies are not always the targets and that they don't have to be destroyed. Scales suggests that attrition warfare is ground oriented. Not once does he give credit to a John Wardenlike air doctrine. He stresses the enemy's patience but fails to recognize that troop patience will not work if the nation's heart and head are struck hard with precision weapons. The material here really is a throwback to nineteenth-century maneuver warfare.
The second article, "From Korea to Kosovo," written after digesting the lessons of Kosovo, represents a significant and important change of view. Its theme, that Kosovo "marks nothing more than another data point, albeit a dramatic one, along a clearly defined continuum of transformation by the United States," is intellectually honest and correct. It also continues the discussion about limited warfare from "Adaptive Enemies."13
But now Scales deals openly with the importance of airpower and the problem with massed tank warfare: "Fear of destruction in detail by precision strikes, principally from above, had already made linear, echeloned, massed armored formations an anachronism." Then he further exposes his transformation with the thought that "modern weapons technology has also raised the expectation that precision weapons can now substitute explosive killing power for manpower on the ground." Later on, he openly gives credit to the effect of airpower in the Gulf War: "The Gulf War in particular taught the value of protracted preliminary aerial bombardment to wear down and demoralize the Iraqis sufficiently to make the land campaign as casualty free as possible."14
General Scales emphasizes the position of the enemy ground force, whereas current Air Force thinking suggests the enemy army is not the principal target. This is, of course, good debate material. At least Scales gives airpower credit that a preemptive strike would frustrate enemy deployment and that airpower can easily target and destroy a moving enemy ground force. He is also correct in noting that it is difficult to win a war by air alone.
What he asks is that we have a good balance between air and ground forces, a sensible idea that is both current and joint. He also notes that the Army is more interested in precision strike, providing examples from his earlier work, Firepower in Limited War: "Control of the air will provide the single greatest airpower advantage to American forces in the future."15
His conclusion reverts to ideas in the "Adaptive Enemies" article--that we have trouble with limited war and that technologies have changed battlefield dynamics, particularly in terms of the relationship between firepower and maneuver. Nonetheless, Kosovo appears to have changed his mind. Kosovo should truly strengthen Air Force confidence with ideas about airpower in modern war. General Scales in a reasoned discussion gives a lesson on how it works. Even though Scales is primarily interested in ground combat, he is ahead of the bow wave in describing a real future for limited, smaller task forces that will employ firepower from the air.
I find it gratifying, at least so far, that the heavy-handedness evident in service debate after the Gulf War seems muted by comparison in the aftermath of Kosovo. I think there is great purpose in interservice discussion and argument, and I recommend that all airmen read "From Korea to Kosovo." Scales offers some very intelligent, persuasive discussion that the war in Kosovo changed things irrevocably about the employment of airpower in warfare at the beginning of this new century.
Hopefully, neither side will resort to the hyperbole of earlier postwar commentaries. Perhaps Arnold's views have found fertile ground--that the air arm has acknowledged importance, a recognized value in a vital role. Confident in their role, air advocates will not feel the need to run up the score in their criticism of ground-force concepts. Besides, air and ground will play on the same team next time.
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
1. Cable News Network, 7 January 2000.
2. Robert H. Scales Jr., America's Army in Transition: Preparing for War in the Precision Age (Carlisle Barracks, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 1999).
3. Robert H. Scales Jr., Certain Victory (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Staff, US Army, 1993).
4. Ibid., 3536.
5. Ibid., 388.
6. Robert H. Scales Jr., Firepower in Limited War, rev. ed. (Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1995).
7. Ibid., 1115, 25759.
8. Maj Gen Robert H. Scales Jr., "Adaptive Enemies: Achieving Victory by Avoiding Defeat," Joint Force Quarterly 23 (Fall 1999) (forthcoming); and idem, "From Korea to Kosovo: How America's Army Has Learned to Fight Limited War in the Precision Age," Armed Forces Journal International, December 1999, 3641.
9. Scales, America's Army in Transition, 5.
10. Scales, Adaptive Enemies, 9.
11. Ibid., 10. Of course, a number of airmen have also stressed that the reason air strikes did not have the desired effect on the Serb army was that there were no friendly troops to encourage enemy-force massing.
12. Ibid., 14.
13. Scales, From Korea to Kosovo, 1728.
15. Scales, Firepower in Limited War, 290.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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