Small Wars Journal

“Clausewitz, Center of Gravity, and the Confusion of a Generation of Planners”: A Response

Fri, 10/23/2015 - 2:44pm

“Clausewitz, Center of Gravity, and the Confusion of a Generation of Planners”: A Response

Andrew Attar

In his Small Wars Journal article entitled “Clausewitz, Center of Gravity, and the Confusion of a Generation of Planners,” Col Robert Dixon continues a general theme popular among many military theorists which advocates for immediate change to longstanding principles of military doctrine and science.  The changes within military doctrine and science advocated by Col Dixon and others range from the possibly useful application of updated systems theories to the adoption of highly abstract methodologies of post-structuralism and speculative physics. The prudent thinker should understand the need for careful analysis and evaluation prior to the dismissing of any existing doctrine and the adoption of new approaches.  This demand of prudence should be the very minimum required in this discussion.  (A demand that is unfortunately overlooked.  And, in fact, the perversion of the demand is seemingly made: that the existing doctrine must prove its continued usefulness, or be abolished and promptly replaced.  At play is the frenzied logic of the revolutionary, rather than the cool logic of the reformer.)  Beyond that demand of prudence, however, there exists a more ominous concern, namely the role (and risk) of post-modernism within our military.   

September 11, 2001, and the aftermath of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, introduced post-modernism as a competing (and I'd argue now dominating) paradigm within American society, and especially foreign and military policy. Western Europe began its slow death spiral with post-modernism after the Second World War. Post-modernism completed its stranglehold on Western European institutions and thought in the late 1960s and 1970s, under the influence of the likes of Michel Foucault. 

However, perhaps as the Enlightenment's Eldest Daughter, America, rejecting post-modernism, carried the banner of the Enlightenment far longer: defeating Nazism, Imperial Japan, containing and defeating Soviet Communism, landing and returning men from the Moon, leading a multi-generational period of peace and global prosperity, etc. Now, at the hands of some backward semi-literate tribes, we are apparently prepared to call our operating paradigm into question, and quickly race to join Western Europe's death spiral with post-modernism.

Newtonianism is far from perfect. But, it had a profound impact on not only war (as Col Dixon alludes), but the entire Enlightenment, and thereby Western Europe and especially our country, founded deliberately as a grand Enlightenment project. In his criticism of the concept of “center of gravity,” Col Dixon states the following with regard to the influence of Newton, “Clausewitz used Newtonian physics to describe the focal point for warfare.”  And, Col Dixon concludes with, “Just as the language of science has evolved from the mechanistic, Newtonian roots of the 19th century, it is far past time for the military language and concepts to enter the age of quantum physics and systems theory. As science begins to describe the world in ways that reveal and rationalize its complexity, so should military doctrine.”

Newtonianism was used by the fathers of the Enlightenment as the lens through which not just the mechanics of physics were interpreted but pretty much everything: economics (free markets), politics (separate but equal branches of government competing not only among themselves but among a free press and people), and of course, war. Adam Smith, James Madison, and Carl von Clausewitz all were applying a version of Newtonianism when they developed their respective theories.

The application of the Newtonian model within these other fields of human society is not perfect. But its saving graces are twofold: the Newtonian association with empiricism and rationalism: that we can fix ourselves based on observation and evaluation over time; and, the orientation to order: brining function out of seeming dysfunction.

The new models proposed under post-modernism are highly speculative within even the field of physics. Physicists will admit that many of these areas of speculation (chiefly within the extremes of the observable universe [at the cosmic and sub-atomic levels]) are not open to the scientific method of empirical observation, testing, evaluation, falsification, etc. They will remain speculative until better speculations are developed. Furthermore, these theories are not oriented to order; in fact to a one, they are oriented to disorder and even chaos.  Are these the models that we want to tie our military or foreign policies to? Rashly abandoning models tried and tested over centuries and replacing them with models that are not only nearly (if not entirely) impossible to test and evaluate, but also are oriented toward disorder, is madness.  On the grand scale, post-modernism as a civilizational paradigm invariably leads to some flavor of Nihilism: replacing the Enlightenment eschatology of a mankind on a journey toward greater liberty, understanding, order and harmony, with…. what?

The end-state of post-modernism within foreign and military policy is a weakened military. It's a logical conclusion. If we break the hold of the Newtonian worldview (and we may already be well past that point [e.g., the world now apparently is "unknown and unknowable" -- a phrase as contrary to the Enlightenment as probably possible]) and determine that Newtonian mechanics (force) is no longer the central governing principle of the universe, what need we of a military? This has been the logical conclusion within Western Europe. The military exists to apply force. If the Newtonian Laws of Motion no longer have central application in human events, what need we of a large capacity for generating and applying force?

About the Author(s)

Lieutenant Colonel Andy Attar is an U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery officer, on active duty for 19 years.



Mon, 10/26/2015 - 1:15am

In reply to by Bill M.

Your 100% right it supports Strategy. That is why it is at the back of the handbook as an example to see how it can be done. Go to chapter 4 " Strategy Development". It's actually best if you start at the first chapter but you can skip to 4 and read about Strategy and then the others when you have time.

Bill M.

Sun, 10/25/2015 - 9:40pm

In reply to by slapout9


The link you provided isn't Warden's book (which I did read), it is compilation of more than one theorist. However, I need you help after reading over the leadership and population rings. I provided the summary quotes for each below, and the summary pretty much captures the essence of the preceding chapter.

Page 73. "35. SUMMARY.
Attacks on population targets must be carefully examined for potential public perception problems as well as such factors as time lags for attacks to show effect,resources required, cost effectiveness, etc. In many cases, the results of this part of the analysis can be used to rule out targets or decide which elements of X’s systems not to attack."

Page 77. "54. SUMMARY.
From the above analysis, identify key leadership targets and determine the feasibility and effectiveness of attacking them."

Looks like, smells like, feels like targeting to me. Targeting isn't strategy, it supports strategy. Tell me what I'm missing, give a me a page number a brief quote to get me on track. Thanks.


Sun, 10/25/2015 - 2:26pm

Good Morning All. Here is your Sunday sermon on proper Warden Strategy (not just targeting) and COG analysis!

I found this Air Camapign Planning Document for 5 rings analysis some years ago. It was only a word document at the time. Thanks to "jm99 aka Mike" at the "small wars professionals" for making it a PDF file. Pay special attention to the leadership ring and the population ring. This is how you attack leadership, not just shooting a few people as is often attributed to Warden, which was and is total nonsense. Also the population ring...things you put on the no strike list for Air power or things that a ground force may have to supply after Air Power wins the War(smiley face).

Good talk about chnaging Objectives and of course COG analysis.
Here is the Link. Enjoy!…


Sun, 10/25/2015 - 10:49am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill / & All,

Thanks for the great replies.

I did limit the scope of my opinion piece to a criticism of post-modernism.

Newton, Galileo, and the Enlightenment in general were revolutionary in their influence on Western Civilization. Post-modernism is very close to completing its own revolution. Post-modernism is not an evolutionary development. It is a revolution just as much as the Newtonian over three centuries ago. The predecessor to Newtonianism as the paradigm through which we understood the universe was Aristotle. Aristotelian teleology explained the universe -- both the physical, as well as human events and relations. Newtonianism was a revolutionary change.

One can debate the merits of Newtonianism, but like I said in the article it has two saving graces: fundamental commitment to empiricism and an orientation toward order. So despite the post-modern critics, the old model (brought to full fruition in the military domain of human relations by CvC) can change, grow, and adapt. But it must do so through science. Through empiricism. Testing, evaluation, and an openness to falsification.

Post-modern approaches mush be forced to submit to the same testing and evaluation and openness to falsification. But they won't. Post-modernists will tell you that these very methods (empiricism) are biased toward an outcome unfavorable to post-modernism.

As military officers, this should be enough to summarily dismiss post-modernism. They are anti-science. They will use imagery powerfully to their advantage -- and talk about the beauty of systems like bees pollinating in a field. But when you press them on both designing experimentation to prove their theory as well as provide the means for allowing peer reviewed falsification, they dodge, obscure, question your credentials, or whatever else it takes to avoid scrutiny.

My intent was to provide the greater context to this discussion and at least make everyone a little more aware of what we are buying into as a military.

Post-structuralism is bandied about by many of these same people. I'm old enough to remember when senior officers routinely taught young officers the importance of words: "Words mean things." Words are powerful, in the sense that their proper usage can lead to victory or defeat. Closely related is the Commander's Intent: a key component of successful military operations. Post-structuralism tears apart the meanings of words and the notion of intent like a dog with a cheap rag doll.

I think we can already detect the negative impact of post-structuralism within the Army. The days of laser-like clarity of language seems to have given way to commanders' obsessed with visual image over the written or spoken word. And when the word is used it is glossed over with frenzies of adjectives and adverbs. As one example, I believe there is great value in most of the Army Operating Concept, however some of it's foundational main elements are clearly infected with post-modernism. I addressed in the article this concept of a world which is "unknown and unknowable." The most ardent Enlightenment philosophers would not have accused the dimmest monks of so-called Dark Ages of every claiming the world is "unknown and unknowable." This statement alone goes against not just the Enlightenment but 3,000 years of western intellectual history going back to the Greeks.

The AOC money chart is also an affront to reason. The chart which has the AirLand Battle picture on one side and the AOC picture on the other. The Airland Battle is black and white. The AOC picture is vibrant color. The Airland battle is linear and orderly. The AOC picture is 3D and dynamic. This one chart should raise concerns. Are we selling something here? Or are we appealing to science, empiricism and reason?

I raise probably too many issues, but my intent is to say that the problem is larger than the issues. Ultimately we can reasonably protect ourselves by always insisting on testing, evaluation and continued falsification. Anyone who resists empiricism is selling something.

Bill M.

Sat, 10/24/2015 - 10:31pm

I have mixed feelings about the argument presented in this short piece. Since this article is apparently intended to challenge COL Dixon's I thought it would provide some evidence that the center of gravity concept (as our doctrine describes it) is still a necessary evil. It failed to do so. In fact, it didn't challenge any of COL Dixon's assertions on a point by point basis.

What this article did do is challenge post modernism, but again without providing specifics on why those promoting post modernism views into doctrine are wrong. Instead, it only argues that they haven't proved the existing doctrine to be flawed. Those opposing this view would probably argue we had deterministic theories in Vietnam (body counts as one metric) and deterministic theories in WWII related to industrial output that both failed.

Taking it back to the original issue, the center of gravity, I provide a short quote from a War on the Rocks article.

"First, countries, or indeed any political entities, or their armed forces, do not have COGs. As a metaphor, it encourages a search for some vital core that holds the enemy system together. If this core can be identified and successfully attacked, it is supposed that the enemy system will unravel. This assumes an interconnected and interdependent system, incapable of adaption and regeneration. Yet once some key element is removed, social organizations do not necessarily collapse."

There are clearly issues with our so called systems approach to strategy and targeting. We do seek a knock out blow, and for a knock out blow to exist we must assume systems are not adaptive. In fact, in Warden's case, and he isn't alone, he creates systems that don't exist in reality. He and others assign properties to them that make them predictable, and from there they identify nodes that if attacked will allegedly create a system collapse. Once that fails, as it always does, we return the basics. The underlying truth that war is a contest between two or more independent wills that are capable of adapting each other and the overall evolving ecology of the war environment. That truth alone indicates war is not predictable, and the associated theories are not deterministic.

CvC never claimed the outcome of war was predictable or linear as those who attempt to apply physic's models to war would. He repeatedly stated war was nonlinear and largely unpredictable. He captured it best with his analogy of war to a game cards where it is a combination of probability and chance. We make educated assumptions about what will happen, but we better be ready if that assumption proves not to be true. In short, every strategy is based on hope to some degree.

The systemic design thinkers' critique of our current doctrinal approaches may be correct, but to date they have offered little of practical value to replace it. Perhaps this is just a transition phase and eventually a modern CvC will emerge that can translate systemic design into a comprehensible way of thinking that can be translated into the planning processes. Until then, the discussion may be valuable, but I agree with the author that it is premature to toss out our existing doctrine.

Furthermore, we should accept that our conflict over the past 14 years will not reflect the full spectrum of conflict we will face in the future. We still have significant shortfalls in our approach to irregular warfare, but that isn't our only shortfall. Our current doctrine and policy, in my opinion fails to provide the lexicon and concepts needed to effectively counter Russia aggression and China's assertive territorial claims. It isn't just illiterate tribes that have neutralized the effectiveness of our current doctrine. We should be afraid of not changing much more than we are of change.

Move Forward

Sun, 10/25/2015 - 10:33am

In reply to by Warlock

Good comments Warlock and Bill M, however, let me to attempt counterpoints.

WWI had yet to demonstrate the full extent of the armored mobility that WWII would bring and that the Germans demonstrated first. The Israelis had indeed seized terrain all the way up to the Suez and the entirety of the Golan Heights. Airpower could not have done that on its own.

I understand many of your points and those of Bill M but no, we deceive ourselves to think that airpower alone, short of nukes, can decisively end wars and stabilize situations where underlying problems remain. Speaking of air attacks on Serbia/Kosovo in 1999, COL Pietrucha says this:

<blockquote>The plan was a Linebacker-style air offensive that entailed a heavy weight of effort from Day One. It was rejected in favor of Conplan 10601, a Rolling Thunder-style campaign of incremental pressure. The same problems that bedeviled incrementalism in Vietnam arose—it was impossible to adequately determine which effects from an incremental campaign would bear fruit. The first phase of the “air campaign” was not in fact an air campaign. It was a plan to service 51 air defense targets and another 40 disposable military targets such as barracks, headquarters and airfields. Planning for airpower employment had devolved to the point where the target set was limited to targets that were not so destructive that NATO members could not agree to strike them.

NATO airpower exhausted the target list in 72 hours. Day four opened with NATO aircraft hitting targets with no significant military value for no appreciable effect. USAF aircrews at Aviano AB recognized the transition from a bad plan to no plan at all, and were widely disappointed that they were bombing “suspected truck parks in the jungle”—a deliberate historical reference to Vietnam. While the target list was expanded soon after, NATO never got back on stride with a coherent air campaign plan and resorted to casual airpower vandalism on a grand scale, hitting bridges, fuel storage, tunnels, airfields, factories and the sole oil refinery. By week six aircrews were hunting for “tanks under trees” in Kosovo and restriking previously approved targets, a process referred to as “turning bricks into rubble.” In the end we arrived at a dubious victory through a means we did not then understand. Devoid of a coherent strategy, Allied Force was a grand experiment in using precision airpower as a blunt instrument to force concessions from an enemy who could not effectively resist. Ironically, Douhet had been validated by the lack of an air campaign plan.</blockquote>

Starbaby, assuming that is COL Pietrucha's flying name, may not be making the case that airpower cannot win it all (regardless of airpower strategy), but his example above disputes the sole example where airpower has been relatively successful in a short period of time in ending conflict permanently. Vietnam Linebacker brought the North to the peace table but those were only words with fielded forces still intact. Serbia illustrates that the enemy's fielded forces remained intact to include many air defenses. Even that ended-conflict was facilitated by threats of ground force use and new borders. Had Milosevic not capitulated (and it was not necessary) the war could have continued. WWII against Japan would have continued were it not for the nukes, but now all near peers have them rendering their tactical use implausible or mad due to MAD.

Fires and air attacks alone do not seize terrain or stabilize the aftermath. Fires and airpower are more effective when combined with Joint ground maneuver. The absence thereof in Libya and now Inherent Resolve except in isolated instances is why those conflicts continue. The continued divide between Shiites/Alawites, Kurds, Sunnis, and others is why airpower alone would never end the Levant conflict.

The hybrid of airpower and ground maneuver is vertical lift. If we had FOBs in Kurd territory, we could raid ISIL with regularity like the recent raids with few tragic casualties. Air assaults, attack helicopters, long range GMLRS fires, and M777 artillery raids slung load by Chinooks would be effective in supporting infantry equipped with ATGMS like Javelin and coalition RPGs. F-35s could assist raids with little risk from Russian aircraft or Syrian air defenses. You can bet that MSG Wheeler, the first Iraq fatality since 2011, would embrace such an approach.

In the Pacific, Joint vertical lift and the Marine F-35B could help overcome the A2/AD challenge and deter an attack of Taiwan. However, only armor aided by airpower can fully deter the Russians in Europe. Armored and attack helicopter force rotational deterrence and in the event of Baltic and Poland conflicts some period of NATO occupation and stability operations is tantamount to seizing and holding terrain. Until we remember those lessons of history and exploit that potential for the future, unsatisfactory war outcomes will continue.

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 10/25/2015 - 10:55am

In reply to by Bill M.

There is no problem with the COG theory suggested by Clausewitz, the problem rests in our doctrinal treatment and application of the same. Likewise with our application of Clausewitz to internal, revolutionary illegal politics.

Bill M.

Sat, 10/24/2015 - 9:50pm

In reply to by Warlock


An excellent reply, and while I'm retired Army I don't buy into MF's argument that you always need ground forces to compel an enemy to accept our will. It is always situational dependent. There are certainly times that may be the case, but that shouldn't be our default answer. I think the quote is, all models are wrong, but they are still useful. Ideally we should use multiple models, bring in others to challenge our ideas, to avoid the pitfalls of linear thinking using one model that drives you a specific answer. This is my concern with the center of gravity, I have seen it misused too many times. U.S. military doctrine generally uses the COG to dumb down strategy to a targeting exercise (attacking vulnerabilities). In some types of war, this approach gradually separates the military objective from the political objective. CvC notes that most wars change over time and as they change the political objects change, yet I have seen the military blindly cling to COGs identified in a hasty mission analysis. Our doctrine tells us to reframe when the situation changes, but I think we are often to slow to do this, and we cling to our initial analysis long after it has been demonstrated to be flawed.


Sat, 10/24/2015 - 7:59pm

In reply to by Move Forward

It would help immensely to place those quotes in context...the whole portion of the article you plucked those snippets from describes the limitations of strategic bombing theory as it emerged from WWII, and later as it evolved through Warden's five rings model. A few comments in counterpoint:
In deference to LTC Attar’s and other nation’s air defenses, Army artillery, and Navies, this statement ["With airpower a nation could kill people and break things without having to fight through opposing ground forces."] no longer is true. Greater precision and range has evolved in indirect fire to include ground-to-ground and sea-to-ground missiles that replicate airpower and can attack airfields....</blockquote>
As you say, missile forces are essentially another form of airpower. You could also argue it's a form of very long-range-artillery, and I'll buy it, but the point is that exchanging missile salvos -- whether at each other's airfields, missile bases, or cities -- is not fighting through opposing ground forces. It's the medium, not the branch of service.

This all obscures the point that there are many historical examples where wars have been won without decisively defeating, let alone destroying, the enemy's ground forces. WWI was concluded with the German Army still dug into French and Belgian territory, and while the growing weight of U.S. forces was telling, no one was forecasting a galloping ground offensive to Berlin in 1918. WWII ended with the bulk of the Japanese Army still fighting in China, and a number of large island garrisons isolated in Pacific. The Arab-Israeli wars of the '60s and '70s ended with none of the belligerents decisively defeated. One can argue about "lasting" peace, but the end of a war, and the quality and length of the peace that follows are political results facilitated by military action and economic means, not the other way around. Successful Allied naval interdiction, coupled with increasing diplomatic isolation and internal political turmoil drove the Kaiser's Germany to sue for peace as much or more than the ebb and flow along the Western Front. U.S. naval interdiction and a demonstrated ability to lay waste to the Japanese home islands from the air convinced Japan to capitulate as much or more than the threat of a U.S. invasion or Russia entering the war on the mainland. Diplomatic coercion, U.S., aid, to Egypt, and the Islamic revolution in Iran (and resulting shifts in regional relationships) secured a "lasting peace" around Israel -- or at least changed the nature of the conflict. Wars end for all sorts of reasons.

<blockquote>Don’t forget that Marines and Soldiers had to secure islands to get airpower closer to Japan. </blockquote>
Yes...but Starbaby's point here was that the Pacific campaigns -- both Nimitz's island-hopping drive and MacArthur's drive up through the Philippines -- were largely about moving aircraft -- whether island-based or carrier-based -- and submarines within range of the Japanese home islands. From that point of view, especially in the Southwest Pacific (which had more islands to choose from), one patch of dirt was as good as another. That meant the giant rock-paper-scissors game in the Pacific bypassed heavily fortified Japanese bases like Rabaul and Truk in favor of more lightly held, or even unoccupied locations that could support runways and anchorages just as well. For the Allies, airpower enabled naval movement of men and supplies to build and sustain new airfields/anchorages, which moved the air umbrella forward to enable naval movement...and also denied the Japanese the ability to do the same.

Last...Warden's model is just that: a model. I learned a long time ago that all models suck...some just suck less than others. As Starbaby points out, there are limitations to Warden, particularly in its simplicity. The rings/shells are complex systems in their own right, and while Warden acknowledges this in some of his later writing, he still tends to ignore it. But as a model for looking at the application of airpower (as a whole, whether airplane or missile, and regardless of who operates them), which uniquely among forces maneuvers tactically on a theater or continental scale, it's not a bad place to start thinking about how those unique aspects might be applied in support of a strategy.

Move Forward

Sat, 10/24/2015 - 9:11am

As mentioned yesterday, here are some quotes from COL Pietrucha's latest article series:

<blockquote>The answer was obvious. With airpower a nation could kill people and break things without having to fight through opposing ground forces.</blockquote>

In deference to LTC Attar’s and other nation’s air defenses, Army artillery, and Navies, this statement no longer is true. Greater precision and range has evolved in indirect fire to include ground-to-ground and sea-to-ground missiles that replicate airpower and can attack airfields (which COL Warden cites as the optimal way to destroy aircraft vs. air-to-air) at lower cost than aircraft, and that don’t need to beat F-22s/F-35s or J-20s/T-50s to reach targets. They also reach targets much more rapidly and are cheaper than many missile defenses. Ground and sea forces protect and embed air defenses which require aircraft to “fight through opposing forces” which today is successful, or not, due to a mix of stealth, stand-off, sensors, communications, software, and EW.

COL Pietrucha also makes this observation about our air attacks on the Japan mainland:

<blockquote>From the standpoint of an interdiction campaign, the eventual bombing of the home islands was enabled because of the steady march of Navy, Marine and Army Air Forces aviation capabilities across the theater, combined with the devastation of maritime transport by the Pacific Fleet’s submarines.</blockquote>

Don’t forget that Marines and Soldiers had to secure islands to get airpower closer to Japan. Today’s version of island-and-ship-hopping could include current and future multi-service vertical lift aircraft and F-35Bs that don’t require the longer, more obvious and targetable airfields required by other jet aircraft. Army and Navy air and missile defenses also can protect this island-hopping.

<blockquote>Strategic bombing took a break during Korea (interdiction absorbed the majority of air to ground efforts) because the real strategic targets were in China and the Soviet Union, both off limits.</blockquote>

Yet we argue today that we want to penetrate deep into Russia and China with nearly invisible manned and unmanned aircraft and that is not risky in terms of nuclear escalation???

<blockquote>Similarly, in Vietnam, years of airpower employment in Rolling Thunder were wasted because the strategy was constrained and the targets did not matter—if we could not execute a strategy against industry and transportation in North Vietnam, no amount of targets south of the DMZ would change the strategic balance. When the gloves came off in Linebacker II, eleven days of bombing shattered North Vietnamese transportation, industry and supply depots, reinforcing the maritime cutoff achieved by the Navy’s mining of North Vietnamese ports seven months earlier. <i>A peace agreement followed less than a month later.</i></blockquote>

Italics added to final sentence to illustrate that it was not a lasting peace and that the enemy’s “fielded forces” and external adaptation support from Russian and Chinese sanctuary via land and air routes were still an option. Pakistan and the Haqqanis have sanctuary to support insurgent attacks and Iran had/has sanctuary to support Iraq and Assad.

In talking about COL Warden’s theory of the Five Rings, COL Pietrucha says this about leadership and C2 attacks of Ring 1:

<blockquote>Warden also tied an air campaign strategy to the idea of “strategic paralysis” and parallel attacks against a limited target set. “States have a small number of vital targets at the strategic level-in the neighborhood of a few hundred with an average of perhaps 10 aimpoints per vital target.”</blockquote>

That implies maybe only one thousand sorties or missiles with smart submunitions ala Second Artillery Corps. However, in the next paragraph, midway down, he continues talking about attack the first ring of enemy leadership and C2:

<blockquote>Airpower enabled a theoretical simultaneous attack against all of these targets, thus delivering the holy grail of airpower theorists—the decisive strike which disables the enemy’s ability to fight. The model was a valuable way of looking at a target country. As a campaign plan it was flawed from the outset. Warden was openly contemptuous of the effects of fog and friction, believing that those elements were relegated to history. He also vastly overestimated the ability of any force to effectively predict the effects of its actions. <i>The article vastly underestimated the number of “vital targets” in a modern industrial state.</i> Most important, the article became mistakenly associated with Desert Storm in the minds of airmen everywhere. And it moved airpower theory into a target-centric philosophy from which it has not recovered.</blockquote>

My emphasis added in the italics sentence above. Warden spoke in error of only limited numbers of strategic C2 targets we would need to attack to win. What about the other four rings? Contrast Warden’s belief that strategic C2 targets <i>we would attack</i> with lots of aircraft sorties and cruise missiles numbering “a few hundred with an average of perhaps 10 aimpoints per vital target” to actual reality on the ground and <i>adversary requirements to target us.</i>

In the Pacific, allied force strategic C2 targets alone that Second Artillery Corps would need to attack exist in multiple locations of Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Philippines, and targets exist largely out of range (except nukes) in Australia, Guam, Alaska, Hawaii, stateside, and well outside the first island chain on ships and in C2/sensor aircraft. Unlike China and Russia, we also have hundreds of aerial refuelers able to support flights of tactical and C2/sensor aircraft from afar to the <strong>point of aggression</strong>. In Europe, vital strategic C2 targets that Russia would need to attack exist in multiple NATO state militaries, in the U.S., and at bases and airfields and other points of U.S. entry in multiple European countries to include those well to the west outside most conventional missile range.

This is a daunting air attack challenge for adversaries who lack our number of allies and potential basing options and lack our stealth fighter and aerial refueling advantages. It assumes in error for postulated capabilities like the DF-21D and their more centralized control of aircraft, missiles, and air defenses a flawless kill chain with invulnerable sensors and communications. Not likely.

In addition, the other four “rings” of targets for the Second Artillery Corps or Russians to target in <i>our</i> broad coalition have yet to even be considered. Likewise, the A2/AD argument rarely mentions the daunting challenge of crossing 100 miles of Taiwan Straits after a surprise missile attack with few missiles remaining for the rest of the war.

Move Forward

Fri, 10/23/2015 - 9:35pm

Because LTC Attar is an ADA officer, he deals with the Newtonian world more than most and numbers and science matter. However, he and other Army branches are not alone in that respect. The USAF and Navy are the same with big sky/sea little bullet battles between airplanes/ships and relatively limited ability to influence humans on land other than kill them or make them refugees ala Assad/Putin. The Five Rings theory also believes we can inconvenience adversaries by targeting their systems and infrastructure. However, that may not make much difference to poor people in Afghanistan, the Levant, and North Korea that don't have much to begin with but do have lots of resistance, military-aged males/females, and willingness to keep fighting or to flee and become a different kind of problem long after we give up.

I think the article linked below by COL Mike Pietrucha is fascinating. He has written here in the past, writes frequently for "War on the Rocks," and has this piece at USNI. I think he is possibly the USAF's finest writer today. This is at least a two-part series and I'm interested to see where he is going with his argument as it seems related to this whole CvC, vs. Design and Systems Theory, EBO, and Jomini argument that Dave Maxwell also brings up. Don't agree with COL Pietrucha much of the time but man he makes good arguments.…

Hopefully, I'll grab some quotes from his article this weekend and post them for additional comment by any interested. I think they relate to the whole A2/AD and Five Rings argument and clear up myths like the brilliance of the 78-day air campaign in Serbia/Kosovo. The quantity and quality of strategic targeting of WWII and the countless tons of air munitions and indirect fire in that and other conflicts also make the 1400 Second Artillery Corps missiles look like a pittance. Yet those missiles are driving an offset strategy panic driven by an exaggerated A2/AD argument. Simultaneously, we are not paying nearly enough attention to targeting the point of aggression (the enemy's fielded forces) be it Taiwan or the Baltics vs. targeting deep which is dangerous and unlikely in the world of MAD. Ground forces still matter at the point of aggression and until ground is controlled and stabilized the conflict is not over.

The second bottom line is that nations are not human bodies like COL Warden argued in his "Five Rings" 1995 paper. They are lots of human bodies with different backgrounds, cultures, languages, agendas, and motivations that only ground forces ultimately can influence/defeat/stabilize with help from smart Machiavellian diplomatic decisions. Just because the U.S. is a melting pot and Europeans learned to coexist and form an EU and NATO in Europe, that does not mean other former colonial and less wealthy and educated nations can get along when forced to live together under one group's rule. "Divide and rule" worked because the colonial minorities in charge depended on European outsiders to keep them in power. When we handed the Shiites sole rule because they were the majority and won elections, what incentive did they have to accommodate the Sunnis and Kurds?

Dave Maxwell

Fri, 10/23/2015 - 3:50pm

In reply to by slapout9

I would suggest reading the late Michael Handel's book "Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought" to see the comparison among Clausewitz, Sun Tzu and Jomini. You will find more similarities than you think between Clausewitz and Sun Tzu.

We should also remember that it is Jomini that gives us principles of war and instructs us on what to think and how to conduct war while Clausewitz and Sun Tzu teach us how to think about war for ourselves. I think that is what most people miss when they talk about Clausewitz. Because the American military is more Jominian with our desire for a checklist to follow when conducting war we do not properly comprehend the messages that Clausewitz is transmitting in On War (then again students of war and conflict have to read more than the sound bites from Clausewitz)


Fri, 10/23/2015 - 3:10pm

As I wrote on the other article,we need a General theory of warfare (very kinetic and CvC oriented) and we need a Special theory of warfare(more eco-system of violence and deception based) like we used to have.

That is avery strong part of Systems thinking, there is always some type opposite involved. Sun Tzu Ying-Yang stuff! Mr. Tzu is the counter balancing loop we need to the CvC theory.