America’s ‘Asymmetric’ Warfare

March 14th, 2004 - by admin

by Jonathan Marcus / BBC (London) –

The US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is not an easy man to pin down. He prefers what his staff see as more efficient “round-table” sessions with journalists rather than “one-on-one” interviews.

Mr Rumsfeld is a man who is noted for giving answers of such convoluted syntax that a book of poems has even been published in his honour. But at the NATO defence ministers meeting in Colorado Springs last October, he did give a serious answer to a serious question.

When asked whether the whole experience in Iraq suggested that the US Army is badly over-stretched, there was no way he would agree. The generals had not asked for more troops, he said, the problem was not manpower.

Well, just a few months later the Pentagon announced a “temporary” increase in the size of the US Army. Some 30,000 additional soldiers are to be added to its strength.

But as the noted defence analyst and commentator Tony Cordesman told me, numbers are not everything. “The idea that more is better,” he said, “is not easy to contradict, but it is not clear that it has solved the problems of asymmetric warfare”.

Asymmetric Warfare Isn’t Just a Numbers Game
Asymmetric warfare is the buzz phrase of the moment, and the terror attacks of 9/11 were in one sense a form of it. So too is the underground guerrilla campaign being waged against US and other foreign forces in Iraq.

The idea is that the United States is now so strong that nobody in their right mind would take on a US armored division — the Iraq war was graphic proof of that.

But the problem for the Pentagon is that as the world’s dominant superpower the US has to maintain a whole range of forces and capabilities. It must be able to fight counter-insurgency operations at one end of the scale but maintain its edge in high-intensity combat at the other.

Resources are finite, so the key thing is to make the military more deployable and ensure that the military’s structure is flexible enough to put together different force packages for different operations.

New Capabilities
A new armoured vehicle called Stryker will eventually equip six new brigades and is very much a symbol of this process. The idea is to create a new mobile force with sufficient punch to look after themselves on the battlefield. The new unit has its own intelligence gathering capabilities, underlining once again that the harnessing of information is the key to military transformation.

Stryker is just an interim solution to the problems of firepower and mobility. It is a controversial program, and many doubt that the vehicle provides adequate protection. The first unit is now in Iraq, and will provide a real life test of the new brigade’s potential.

Meanwhile the US army is not just being expanded but totally reorganized into a new modular structure. In future, brigades will be able to be combined together in a far more flexible pattern to tailor specific forces to specific missions.

New US Plane Can Drop Bombs Anywhere on Earth
If mobility and firepower characterize the new US army, then another aspect of US military dominance is global reach. And nothing better exemplifies this than the B-2 Spirit bomber at the Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri. With air-to-air refueling, B-2’s can fly from Whiteman non-stop to virtually anywhere in the world, drop their bombs, and return home.

The B-2 was first used in combat during the air war over Kosovo. In March 1999 two aircraft from Whiteman attacked Serbian targets in a marathon 31-hour mission.

Equipment and technology are all very well, but another thing that needs to be examined is the strategic rationale for the way in which it will all be used. In June 2002 President George Bush seemed to announce a new doctrine of pre-emptive military action.

The idea was that the combination of the terrorist threat, weapons of mass destruction and failed states was so great that the US would need to strike as soon as a threat was identified.

For some, the Iraq war represented the first application of this doctrine, though others would ague that this was seen by the White House as simply unfinished business. The war in Iraq has highlighted one fundamental issue relating to pre-emptive war. It is the need for reliable intelligence that accurately presents the gravity of the threat.

The other parts in the series are:

First World Order
Globalisation and US power are inextricably linked, argues Jonathan Marcus

Accidental Empire
Did the Spanish-American war of 1898 trigger US global expansion?

New Age of Warfare
What are the issues confronting the US army in an age of the pre-emptive strike?

Storm Brewing
The growing global anger over aggressive US trade policies

Dream Exports
Hollywood is as crucial a weapon in the US arsenal as hardware

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