Small Wars Journal

Here's How The US Should Adapt To The New Age Of Asymmetric Warfare

Here's How The US Should Adapt To The New Age Of Asymmetric Warfare by Anthony Cordesman, Business Insider

It doesn’t seem all that long since the United States was considering how advancements in military technology would allow it to use advances in long-range precision weapons, intelligence sensors, and command and control capabilities to dominate conventional wars.

The Gulf War in 1991, the fighting over Kosovo, the initial invasion of Afghanistan, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple a Saddam Hussein all seemed to prove that superior technology and tactics had led to a “Revolution in Military Affairs” that would dominate modern warfare.

No one can deny the importance of such changes today. Precision strike capability combined with superior intelligence and command and control capabilities have changed the face of conventional warfare. At the same time, the Afghan War, the Iraq War, the fighting in Gaza, the fighting in Yemen, the fighting in Ukraine, and the other conflicts following the political upheavals in the Middle East have all involved a different kind of revolution…

Read on.


Move Forward

Sun, 08/17/2014 - 7:47pm

<blockquote>Technology has not triumphed over the human dimension of warfare, and the United States must be prepared to engage in long, complex political and ideological struggles fought on local terms and under local conditions in a steadily more complex mix of state and nonstate actors.</blockquote>This is the first sentence of the article's second to last paragraph. It is an important sentence but largely unrelated to the rest of the paragraph. As an important stand alone it should tell us not to make proclamations that boots on the ground are unnecessary. The human dimension requires ground force human interaction even when dealing with a mix of state and nonstate actors.

But the quoted sentence also tells us not to be afraid of long conflicts or believe we can fix them faster with air and seapower alone. Ponder how many of our nation's police forces have huge air and water components to keep the peace. Few. Imagine how Chicago's high violence rate would subside if the Chicago PD or its mayor just decided its too tough and taking too long so let's evacuate the city of all police officers and train elsewhere for future Chicago crime. Finally, look at current events in a suburb of St. Louis and speculate an attempt to quell violence or restore peace by bombing protesters rather than interacting on the ground as a highway patrol Captain has demonstrated.

But elsewhere Cordesman misses the point about how ground, air, and sea can interact and prove effective against state and nonstate actors. The current argument over UCLASS naval unmanned aircraft requirements pits the ability of a lower cost, largely ISR system with limited lethal capability against a more high tech solution that others advocate that is capable of penetrating Chinese and other contested airspace. In too many cases, special interests pick only the most dangerous contingencies to drive requirements. If nearly all state and nonstate actors can be addressed with a lower cost remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) with lower operating costs, less speed, and less stealth, isn't that preferable to the exquisite solution of penetrating stealth already addressed by long range strike-bomber and a host of manned stealth aircraft?

Given that launches from the sea might be required for persistent coverage of dangerous territory such as East Ukraine or parts of Syria, do we really need a $80 million UCLASS RPA with all manner of secrets flying overhead for months on end? Do we need an RPA with a $5,000 cost per flight hour for the low end system or $20K per hour for the full stealth platform? Won't that exquisite RPA end up in the hands of our adversaries should a mishap or shootdown occur over terrain we do not control? No matter how stealthy the RPA, enemy fighters still can spot it visually and shoot it down with guns.

<blockquote>The United States needs to focus on just how different the conditions are that shape irregular or asymmetric wars in given areas of U.S. strategic interest. It is pointless to try to shape strategies and doctrine to broadly fit many different cases when so many different variables exist in the conflicts, even in a single region. The United States needs to adapt to the limits and opportunities of each case and not expect the case to adapt to its limits.</blockquote>
Above is the rest of Cordesman's second to last paragraph. Notice how little it relates to technology yet we can make it relate because the M part of PMESII-PT includes military technology unique to each conflict. Some adversaries have only old SA-7s that probably won't function anymore while others have newer Buk radar air defenses and even more advanced systems. Different air attack technology works in open Libya and retaking a dam in Kurdish territory. That same air attack system does not work in close proximity to civilians in cities or in complex terrain such as Serbia. This remainder of the paragraph is related to the first sentence insofar as every conflict is different and requires different technologies and operational approaches. Every potential adversary's motivation and PMESII-PT operational variables are unique (sorry Madhu, look it up just as we would have to if trying to comment on medical issues we did not understand). Madhu is correct to note how pointless it is to look to historical insurgencies and figures like Galula as COIN models. Others point out that expecting Columbia or the Philippines to serve as models for fixing the Middle East is unrealistic.

<blockquote>Finally, the United States needs to learn how to make choices between risky and uncertain options, rather than leap in or stand and wait. It must be prepared to actually engage in terms of local realities and the real-world capabilities of its allies and local partners, rather than its own desires. Things do not get better in irregular warfare by allowing an enemy to exploit the situation while waiting for hope to triumph over experience. They do not get better when the United States rushes in to attack a perceived enemy without honestly assessing the threat posed by the limits to its potential allies and current security partners, or ignores the fact that trying to impose its own values and warfighting methods can be a form of blindness where the United States is as much a threat to itself as the enemy.</blockquote>

OK, perhaps we deserved the first sentence when we leapt into Iraq in 2003 prematurely. However, it was a coalition effort and the risks we thought required addressing were supported by lots of bad intelligence...but we did not know that at the time. We did know that an air-only solution was not working with the no-fly zone. We did know the risks if Hussein did have expanded WMD capabilities just as we know them should Iran develop the same. Unlike Iran, Hussein had already demonstrated willingness to strike Israel with long range rockets and had used WMD against his own people. It was not an unreasonable fear that Iraq could be a major threat with better WMD just as Iran is a threat with more advanced missiles and its own WMD development.

And methinks Cordesman is forgetting the impact of rockets launched from Gaza this time and Lebanon a few years back. Perhaps he downplays the significance of the longer range and greater accuracy that technology is bringing to nonstate and state actors. A2/AD and GRAMM capabilities are improving and ISIS/ISIL/IS certainly could buy/build its fair share just as Hezbollah and Hamas have. Human factors and information operations and propaganda are important for nonstate actors but the driving factor that restricts allied responses to rocket/missile asymmetric threats is that they often are launched embedded from urban areas. The nuclear or chemical weapon launched from Iran, Lebanon, the Islamic State, or Pakistan by a sponsored or unsponsored element should not automatically limit us or Israel to a response in kind that kills millions of innocents who had nothing to do with the WMD attack.

Radioactive fallout and persistent chemicals may travel with the wind to unintended areas. Allies and innocents subsequently may be affected. Thus technology in the hands of both state and nonstate actors is entwined with the argument that ground forces and long term deterrents including ground forces remain essential to weed out the bad actors without hurting the local population or escalating to friendly coalition responses that include only lots of big bombs and missiles of a conventional or unconventional nature.

I noted when cutting and pasting the passages from his article that this link accompanied it meaning there may be more from Cordesman there.…