Some Radical Changes In Warfare Just Took Place

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by jumpinjarhead, Sep 8, 2009.

Welcome to the Army Rumour Service, ARRSE

The UK's largest and busiest UNofficial military website.

The heart of the site is the forum area, including:

  1. Some Radical Changes In Warfare Just Took Place
    by James Dunnigan
    September 7, 2009

    One of the more amazing, and underreported, aspects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the dramatically lower casualties compared to Vietnam, and previous 20th century wars. The casualty rate (adjusting for the number of troops involved) in Iraq was a third of what it was in Vietnam. It's even lower in Afghanistan.

    There are also differences in the types of casualties. For example, in Vietnam, bullets caused 38 percent of the deaths. In Iraq, it was only 19 percent and 27 percent in Afghanistan. The Iraqis are notoriously bad shots, even though the urban battle space in Iraq was very similar to Vietnam. There is more of a tradition of marksmanship in Afghanistan, despite (or probably because of) the frequently longer distances involved. The superior body armor has made life much harder for enemy marksmen, as chest shots are now frequently useless.

    In Vietnam, 15.7 percent of U.S. combat deaths were caused by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), while in Iraq it is 63 percent. In Afghanistan it's 48.4 percent. Unable to inflict many casualties in battle, much less survive it, Iraqis and Afghans both fell back on improvised bombs. This is a much less effective weapon, a losers weapon, because it kills more civilians than enemy troops and played a major role in turning the locals against the Iraqi terrorists and Afghan Taliban.

    Aircraft related deaths were 14.6 percent of the combat fatalities in Vietnam, while it was only 2.6 percent in Iraq and five percent in Afghanistan. The current helicopters were built with Vietnam experience in mind, and are more resistant to damage and safer to crash land in. Ground vehicle related deaths were two percent in Vietnam, but 5.8 percent in Iraq, and 5.3 percent in Afghanistan. Most of the ground vehicle deaths were non-combat related. That's because from World War II to the present, the U.S. armed forces put huge numbers of trucks and other vehicles on roads, often poorly maintained (or shot up) roads, at all hours, in all weather and with drivers fighting fatigue. There being a war on, the vehicles often proceeded at unsafe speeds.

    There were 47,359 (81.4 percent) combat deaths in Vietnam, and 10,797 (18.6 percent) from non combat causes. In Iraq it is 80 percent and 20 percent. In Afghanistan it is 68.7 percent and 31.3 percent.

    What made the experience so different today, versus past wars? It was a combination things. The most important difference is that the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting smarter. While the Vietnam era troops were representative of the general population, the post Vietnam (and especially post 1970s) era army is all-volunteer and highly selective. The troops are smarter, healthier and better educated than the general population. During the last three decades, new attitudes have developed throughout the army (which always got most of the draftees). The army, so to speak, has become more like the marines (which was always all-volunteer, and more innovative as a result). This ability to quickly analyze and adapt gets recognized by military historians, and other armies, but not by the media. It also saves lives in combat.

    This innovation has led to better training, tactics and leadership. Smarter troops means smarter and more capable leaders, from the sergeants leading fire terms (five men) to the generals running the whole show. Smarter troops leads to tactics constantly adapting to changes on the battlefield. The better tactics, and smarter fighting, has been the biggest reason for the lower casualty rate.

    Then there's the body armor. Improvements over the past decade, in terms of design and bullet resistance, account for about 20 percent of the decline in casualties. There's a down side to this, as the body armor is heavier and cumbersome. This reduces a soldiers mobility, and increases casualties a bit (and saves some enemy lives as well.)

    Medical care has gotten much better, quicker and faster. Not only are procedures more effective, but badly wounded soldiers get to the operating table more quickly. Medics now have capabilities that, during Vietnam, only surgeons had. All this is one reason why the ratio of wounded to killed was 6 in Vietnam, compared to 7.3 for Iraq.

    Better weapons and equipment. GPS guided weapons have made the biggest difference. There are now GPS guided bombs, shells and rockets. This enables troops to hit a target with the first shot, and be closer to the explosion (the better to move right in and take care of armed enemy survivors). Another benefit is much fewer civilian casualties. In both Iraq and Vietnam, the enemy frequently used civilians as human shields. And then there was night vision gear. This first appeared during Vietnam, but in four decades, the stuff has gotten better, lighter and cheaper. Every soldier has night vision now, as do most combat vehicles. There are better radios, better uniforms, even better field rations.

    The Internet enabled the troops get in touch with each other. This made a big difference. Not just for the grunts, but also for the NCOs and officers. Each community had different problems and solutions. With the Internet, they could easily discuss the problems, and quickly share the solutions. The troops did this by themselves, and it was up to the military to play catch up. Life saving tips are passed around with unprecedented speed. This made a major difference in combat, where better tactics and techniques save lives.

    Computers and video games. The draft ended about the same time that personal computers and video games began to show up. So there have been three decades of troops who grew up with both. It was the troops who led the effort to computerize many military activities, and video games evolved into highly realistic training simulators. The automation eliminated a lot of drudge work, while the simulators got troops up to speed before they hit the combat zone. Computers also made possible doing things with information, especially about the enemy, that was not possible before. A lot of troops understand operations research and statistical analysis, and they use it to good effect. There are a lot of geeks with guns out there.

    UAVs and Trackers. For 90 years, the troops on the ground depended on someone in an airplane or helicopter to help them sort out who was where. In the last decade, the guy in the air has been replaced by robots. UAVs, especially the under-ten-pound ones every infantry company has, now give the ground commander his own recon aircraft. He controls it, and it works only for him. Combat commanders now have a top-down view of his troops, and the enemy. This has made a huge difference, creating some fundamental changes in the way captains and colonels command their troops. For higher commanders, the GPS transponders carried by most combat vehicles, provides a tracking system that shows a real-time picture, on a laptop screen, of where all your troops are. This takes a lot of uncertainty out of command.

    Living conditions. Some civilians think air-conditioned sleeping quarters for combat troops, and lots of other goodies in base camps, is indulgent. It is anything but. Getting a good night's sleep can be a life-saver for a combat soldiers, and AC makes that possible. Showers, Internet links to home and good chow do wonders for morale, especially for guys getting shot at every day. Good morale means a more alert, and capable, soldier. The combat units often go weeks, or months, without these amenities, but the knowledge that these goodies are there, and eventually to be enjoyed, takes some of the sting out of all the combat stress. The rate of combat fatigue in Iraq has been much lower than in Vietnam, or any previous war.

    The Iraqi enemy is not as effective as the Vietnamese were. The Taliban are more effective than the Iraqis, but not by much. All this is partly this is due to cultural factors, partly because in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese were sending trained soldiers south. The North Vietnamese also had commandos ("sappers"), who, while small in number, caused a lot of anxiety among U.S. troops. The irregular (Viet Cong) troops in South Vietnam, where largely gone after 1968 (as a result of the failed Tet Offensive), but even these fighters tended to be more deadly than the average Iraqi gunman or Afghan warrior. The Iraqi troops have had a dismal reputation for a long time, but they can still be deadly. Just not as deadly as their Vietnamese counterparts. The lower fighting capability of the Iraqis saved lots of American lives, but got far more Iraqis (including civilians) killed. The Afghans have a more fearsome reputation, but in practice they are no match for professional infantry. And conventional wisdom to the contrary, they have been beaten many times in the past. They are blessed, after a fashion, to live in the place that is not worth conquering. So whoever defeats them, soon leaves.

    The military (especially the army, which has collected, since Vietnam, massive amounts of information on how each soldier died) has detailed records of soldier and marine casualties. The army, in particular, collects and analyzes this data, and then passes on to the troops new tactics and techniques derived from this analysis. The army restricts access to the data, as it can provide the enemy with useful information on how effective they are. Some basic data is made public, but the details will be a locked up for decade or more.
  2. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Well researched piece, though I dispute the "just took place" in his headline.

    It is worth noting that the infantry weapons of the average platoon are not much different from what those employed by the Wehrmacht - the most innovative army of its time - at the end of WWII; GPMGs and/or LMGs, assault rifles and disposable antitank/antibunker rocket launchers. Likewise, AFVs: They have bigger guns and stronger armour today, but are essentially the same animal.

    What HAS changed is systemization, communications, observation and target acquisition systems. Munitions can now be delivered at night, over greater distances, with better observation and greater accuracy, and Command and Control is greatly enabled by this.

    There is much fear of terrorists getting hold of a WOMD, but I wonder if a devilishly clever Abdul somewhere in a university in Karachi or a bunker lab in the Hindu Kush is not prepating an E-bomb that would KO all electronics within a given radius?

    A weapon like THAT would invalidate ALL communications, transport and air support used by Western troops today - we'd be back in the WWI horse, donkey and field telephone era.
  3. Brings to mind the exercising we did in the Cold War against EMP weapons that would effectively shut down most of our C3.
  4. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Interested to hear it. How easy/diff is it to create such a device, and how much backup do western armies have against the possibility of their electronics being blown?

    In short, if terrorists want to level the playing field, they need to KO our electronics. Then it is (simplifying a bit here) just rifleman vs rifleman, as all our transport, air, target acquisition (and therefore artillery) is negated.
  5. Wall St and/or the City would be better targets.
  6. The weapon of the future is the computer,you can screw the west without casualtys
  7. I was in China a couple of months back visiting one of the state arms manufacturers. They seemed quite proud of their air deliverable bombs, based on (I think) carbon fibre. They had 2 types, one for low level delivery - 500 ft and one for high level. Don't think it was EMP type but seemed to f%$k up most things electric. Not sure how hard it would be to make one at home.
  8. Too true. How many reports recently have there been about the Chinese and Russians trying to hack their way into secure military and government systems? Systems testing to see how far they can get and how much more work they need to do to achieve complete penetration?

    And when once there, the world would be their oyster, so to speak.
  9. 'Not sure how hard it would be to make one at home.'

    You wouldn't need to - there are those around that would sell anything to anyone if the price was right, and I'm not just talking about indivduals either.
  10. If you had a pulse weapon, and your country was being occupied, you would use it first in your country. Financial centers etc would be next
  11. These were used during the Bosnian campaigns against Serb infrastructure IIRC. The idea was to disrupt without destroying. Sure there was a fcuking massive clear up to bring electrical substations etc back on line, but it essentially meant that civillian installations were denied to the enemy war effort.

    EMP weapons are simple to construct. Traditional explosives wrapped up with coils of wire will produce the effect locally. Unfortunately, it isn't just a matter of scale to make it more effective. Nuclear weapons in the upper atmosphere would be needed to affect a wide area. Don't forget most military equipment is EMP hardened and could also be quickly isolated.
  12. An area that is highly classified. IIRC Tomahawk has an option. The link below gives a basic explanation

    Edited once to add - not Tomahawk - ALCM.
  13. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Wall St and/or the City would be better targets.

    For terrorists? Yes. (And IIRC, it was tried on 9.11....)

    For Russia and China? No way - they are both plugged into and rely upon international commody, equity and fixed income markets. Zapping trading centers like London or New York would be shooting themselves in the sack, economically.
  14. meridian

    meridian LE Good Egg (charities)

    The real problem we are going to face is the proliferation of advanced guidance systems.

    We enjoy GPS, laser, semi active guidance, IR homing and other means pf precision delivery now, our enemies don't

    How long will that last
  15. Ord_Sgt

    Ord_Sgt RIP

    That was certainly the case with the last generation of equipment. I'm assuming core kit today has the same protection, although all the off the shelf laptops and so on would be vulnerable.