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Principles of War for the Battlefield of the Future

Barry R. Schneider

The United States would have fought its wars of the past half century far differently had Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Kim Il Sung, Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chi Minh, Manuel Noriega, and Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons at the time.

A world of nuclear-armed states will require the United States and its allies to revise force structures, strategy and doctrine, intelligence capabilities, command and control procedures, and logistics for major regional conflict scenarios. A proliferated world of potential adversaries equipped with weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them will require the US military to implement a "revolution in military affairs," one that may require significant departures from current US strategy, operational policies, and military capabilities. 1

Clearly, US force planning and conflict preparation have not yet taken into account a "Saddam Hussein with nukes" to use Les Aspin's phrase when he announced the US Defense Counterproliferation Initiative. The Bottom Up Review, conducted by the Clinton Administration under then-Secretary of Defense Aspin, did not assume the United States would confront an adversary armed with weapons of mass destruction in either of the two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts (MRCs) that US forces are supposed to be able to fight and win. Yet, it is clear that radical and hostile states such as Iraq and Iran are probably just a few short years away from having a nuclear weapons capability and North Korea may already possess one. All three are presently credited with biological and chemical weapons capabilities.

Implications for Military Strategy

So how do you fight a NBC-armed sponsor of terrorism and intervention (NASTI) on the battlefield, if war breaks out? Do the old principles of war work in this kind of conflict? And just what are those principles which have guided US and allied forces in past wars? In the United States, even young ROTC students are taught the elements of war, summed up by the acronym MOSSCOMES:

  • M-Mass
  • O-Offensive
  • S-Surprise
  • S-Security
  • C-Command Unity
  • O-Objective
  • M-Maneuver
  • E-Economy of Force
  • S-Simplicity

Seven of these principles were extracted from the works of British major general J. F. C. Fuller, who provided them for the instruction of the British Army in World War I.2 They were then republished in a 1921 US Army training regulation and have been passed on in Air Force, Army, and Joint doctrine and professional military education publications since.3

Some of General Fuller's ideas may be applied without modification to future war against hostile radical adversaries armed with weapons of mass destruction. Other principles of war have to be modified to reflect changes in technology or situation. For example, WMD in enemy hands suggests that future commanders modify the way they apply the war- fighting principles of mass, maneuver, command unity, and taking the offensive initiative in combat. New technology provides new stealthy means of achieving surprise, and end-of-war residual enemy WMD capability may very well alter allied approaches to security and war termination ends and means.

Further, there are some additional principles of war that Fuller did not address that deserve attention in an era marked by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These include the advantages to be gained by simultaneity and depth of attack, effective force-projection logistics, information dominance, and precision targeting.

What is new and what is constant in this brave new proliferated world? Let us look first at the principle of "mass" in warfare.

The Principle of Mass in Warfare

The principle of mass suggests the wisdom of concentrating superior combat power at the decisive place and time in military operations in order to achieve decisive results.4 This massing of resources directed at key enemy vulnerabilities helps one's own forces to retain the initiative and makes it possible, together with the proper application of other principles of war, for outnumbered forces to achieve break- throughs and decisive war, campaign, and battle results.

For example, Mao Tse-tung in his guerrilla war strategy emphasized the importance of achieving local superiority in battle even though one's own forces were greatly outnumbered overall in the conflict across all major theaters. His tactics when engaging the enemy called for ten against one, even if outnumbered ten to one at the strategic level. In Mao's strategy, proper choice of the time, place, and ratio of engaged forces could shift victory from the hands of larger-but-more diffused enemy forces, to those of less numerous-but-more highly concentrated forces that achieved greater mass at the points of contact.5

When J. F. C. Fuller wrote his treatise on the principles of war in World War I, mass was strongly correlated with numbers of ground troops concentrated in a given location against enemy ground forces in close proximity. Today, such massed units would be vulnerable to a different type of mass derived from weapons of mass destruction and precision guided munitions delivered by missiles, aircraft, or superguns. 6 This gives a new meaning to "local superiority."

Ideally, US forces can catch regional opponents in a paradigm shift, where the adversaries may adhere to the older notions of mass--that is massing of their armies. US forces can substitute the application of massed firepower for massed troops. In such a competition, massed allied firepower could put to flight or destroy massed enemy units.

The increased lethality of conventional weapons has led to progressively greater dispersion of forces in the field with each passing era. For example, the density of troops deployed in the battle zone has decreased from an average of 4,790 troops per square kilometer in the Napoleonic Wars to just 2.34 troops per square kilometer in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. WMD threats will accelerate a historical trend toward a progressively emptier battlefield.7

As military technology has improved over time, firepower has increased and the size of units directing it and trying to avoid it has decreased.

As one analyst observes:

The logical end point of such developments (advanced conventional arms and WMD) is the replacement of the notion of concentration of mass with one emphasizing concentration of fire. Increasingly, modern armies of the future should achieve breakthroughs and victory without resorting to large masses of troops directed at vulnerable points. Instead, the combination of rapidly firing systems, precision weapons of long range, and advanced command and control systems will allow widely dispersed forces to focus their fire on specific points. 8

Indeed, in combat with an adversary armed with WMD, one corollary to Fuller's dictum on "mass" is that dispersing one's own forces can make enemy WMD less cost-effective. A second corollary is that massed allied firepower needs to be directed first to destroying or degrading enemy WMD at the inception of combat to permit the later massing of one's own general purpose forces for combat in the war-termination phase of the conflict.

Just as in the American Civil War and World War I, when massed offenses were slaughtered by heavily concentrated defensive firepower, the future possession of WMD in enemy hands should discourage the use massing of allied troops until after the opponents WMD are silenced or neutralized.9 If it looks like disabling early strikes cannot neutralize enemy WMD in a projected conflict, perhaps such an adversary should not be engaged in the first place, provided that is an option (i.e., if the war has not yet begun and if one's homeland and forces are not already engaged).

Unfortunately, in some inherently unstable situations, if the adversary were to strike first with weapons of mass destruction, he might achieve victory, at least temporarily, in a regional conflict. If the adversary is vulnerable to an allied preemptive strike, he would have an incentive to use his WMD first. Such a perceived "use or lose" situation is inherently unstable and unpredictable, especially in a crisis or escalating conflict.

Some analysts even suggest that the development of very advanced conventional armaments, combined with new strategy and organization of forces, can be a "revolution in military affairs," making the massing of troops impractical and dangerous. Thus, one of three courses of action may be adopted by the allied commander when faced with a NASTI armed force:

  • Desert Storm II: Proceed as if the threat did not exist, except to rely upon escalation dominance to deter the adversary from escalating to WMD use in the conflict.
  • Dispersed Storm: Adopt many measures to protect the allied force, such as disinformation, extended dispersal of units, downsizing of units, constant mobility, passive defenses, and active defenses while still engaging in traditional forms of warfare, relying also on escalation dominance to preserve intrawar deterrence of enemy WMD use.
  • Remote Engagement: Adopt a mode of "disengaged combat," where allied forces conduct their military operations at a substantial remove from their enemies.10

The first approach is the same approach that the United States and its coalition took with regard to possible Iraqi use of its biological warfare (BW), chemical warfare (CW), and Scud assets in the 1991 Gulf War. In this conflict, despite the vulnerability of allied forces and capitals, the allies used counterforce strikes and active and passive defenses to protect against Iraqi air and Scud attacks and used escalation dominance to deter the possible Iraqi use of available BW and CW assets. This combination might work again in the future if the adversary is similarly outclassed in the air, and where the preponderance of high-tech weapons is held by the allies. Nevertheless, it is a risky strategy that might backfire with huge downside results.

The second approach is where forces similar to those sent to the Gulf War are given far more protection, by much improved air defenses, missile defenses, and passive defenses. The regional CINC would also reduce the number of lucrative theater targets available to the enemy by an extensive dispersal of his own forces and logistical units and by very pronounced use of mobility to increase enemy uncertainty concerning the location of key allied forces.

The third approach is where the main allied force stays outside of enemy range and attempts to pick off his WMD and destroy his massed forces by air, missile, and special forces attacks before sending the bulk of the expeditionary force to engage him in the endgame. In remote engagements, the allied force would attempt to outrange the adversary and degrade his capability before closing and attempting to finish the conflict on allied terms.

In the future, friendly forces may be well advised to avoid, where possible, close massed engagements with heavily armed enemy forces. Instead, they likely should adopt the Dispersed Storm or Remote Engagement postures as a mode of operations out of respect for the possible consequences of an enemy WMD strike, particularly if the adversary develops a capability well beyond that achieved by Iraq in 1991.

There are trade-offs in adopting the Dispersed Storm mode of operations. On the one hand, failure to mass one's own troops can make them more vulnerable to enemy conventional attacks. Moreover, it would be difficult to conduct normal conventional operations in a dispersed mode. On the other hand, one would run less risk of having main force units obliterated by enemy WMD strikes in this mode. The tradeoffs of adopting the Remote Engagement mode of operations, when facing an enemy with WMD, has received less discussion, and deserves to be considered first.

Some would argue that if the United States is faced with such a formidable opponent, the allies probably should first attempt to outrange them, dealing punishment from a distance while staying out of harm's way. In the words of former heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammed Ali, US and allied forces should "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." On the other hand, getting bogged down in massed armor and artillery duels, providing mass targets to enemy advanced weapons, is a route to heavy casualties and possible defeat.

If military forces follow the strategy of disengaged combat, the battle front may be hard to find. Indeed, in such remote engagement warfare, it may not exist. The initial stages of combat might find two heavily armed rival forces, both dispersed, striking at each other from a distance, each attempting to secure an advantage by locating and striking the other's key units and assets, while simultaneously trying to stay out of harm's way from the massive and precise capabilities of the other.

If remote engagement were adopted as a strategy, then only after sufficient damage has been inflicted on the adversary via disengaged combat, would an attempt be made to close and force a capitulation. If the adversary's weapons of mass destruction have been eliminated with high confidence, this war-termination phase of conflict might resemble more traditional forms of combat. The opening scenarios of remote combat would require great standoff capabilities, the spreading and hiding of forces, intensive intelligence, attrition of enemy advanced capabilities, effective active and passive defensive measures, and extensive coordination of fire from many diverse points to the highest priority targets on the other side.

In such conflicts, each of the armed services would need to be tightly coordinated with the others. Regional CINCs would need complete connectivity to theater forces under their command while likely having to operate from highly mobile and hard-to-target command posts.

This suggests the need for superior generalship, superior targeting and battle damage assessment intelligence, combined with superior high-tech weapons. "Using the accuracy of advanced sensors and precision weapons, US forces may be able to jockey just out of the range of enemy artillery, tanks, and battlefield missiles, picking them off in turn."11

This kind of remote engagement conflict would require changes in US strategy, doctrine, training, and organization. Regional CINCs, in charge of fighting major regional conflicts, would have to be schooled in a different kind of war fighting from that pursued in the 1991 Gulf War, the 1964-74 Vietnam War, the 1950-53 Korean War, or World War II. Preliminary extensive war gaming, in-the-field exercises, and operational planning for the new type of warfare would be mandatory for later success in the region of combat.

An enemy with WMD or very advanced conventional capabilities obviously poses severe dangers to choke points, ports of entry, regional air bases, and naval convoys. For example, aircraft carriers and their surrounding task forces might be very vulnerable to an adversary armed with nuclear or biological weapons. These floating airfields, capable of carrying up to 100 aircraft and holding a military population of 5,000 to 6,000, represent highly lucrative targets and may be inappropriate in the future for confronting such a very heavily armed regional foe capable of obliterating or sinking them.

The US Navy in future combat against a "Saddam Hussein with nukes" may be forced to operate from more numerous, smaller, less expensive and more dispersed platforms, emphasizing ballistic and cruise missiles rather than naval aircraft as theater strike weapons. These might be augmented by longer-range, air-refueled, naval fighter-bombers launched from carriers outside the range of enemy aircraft or missiles that carried the threat of WMD bombardment and obliteration. How far the US Navy needs to go in these directions will be determined partly by how successful it is in developing fleet defenses against ballistic and cruise missiles.

The US Army, likewise, may be forced to move away from strong reliance on heavy tanks and armored personnel carriers that fight close to enemy forces. Rather, Army units may be required to hit and locate the enemy at much greater ranges, at least in the earlier phases of battle, rather than close and attempt to destroy the NASTI enemy with heavy mechanized forces before his WMD capabilities have been neutralized. As one defense analyst observes, "such armored forces are designed to fight a war that US commanders should attempt to avoid, not bring about."12

US Air Force officials have become convinced that massed bomber attacks are less productive than a few stealthy bombers firing or dropping precision munitions at targets from a stand-off mode. A few low-observable aircraft are now able to penetrate enemy defenses with very few losses and inflict, via increased accuracy, greater damage than whole air armadas previously could inflict using less accurate bombs and missiles.

As one Air Force analyst notes, with the revolution in accuracy, "it no longer took hundreds of bombers dropping thousands of bombs or even tens of bombers dropping scores of bombs to destroy a single target. Now, one aircraft often delivering only one weapon, could destroy one target."13

A third element of "mass" to be considered in combat with very heavily armed opponents is the need for whole-unit reinforcements. Armies, divisions, naval task forces, or air bases brought under NBC missile attack may suffer such wholesale losses in such short time periods that they may entirely cease to function as cohesive military units. In such horrific circumstances, front-line units may need to be replaced by entire units of similar capability and numbers, perhaps under new commanders due to the massive and traumatic nature of the losses suffered from WMD bombardment. Nuclear detonations, lethal nerve gas attacks, or clouds of deadly biological agents could annihilate entire defense sectors and open large gaps in friendly forces that could be filled only with fresh units that retained their cohesion and command, control, and communications linkages.

Thus, when confronting a NASTI, or even a hostile state possessing very advanced conventional arms, it appears wise to rethink the advisability of massing one's own troops. Consider, for example, how different the outcomes of warfare might have been in the past half century if US forces and those of the Allies had to consider German nuclear strikes against the Normandy beachhead, Italian biological weapons at Anzio, or Japanese nerve gas blanketing US invasion forces at Iwo Jima.

Faced with WMD bombardment, would the allies have been able to hold the Pusan beachhead or successfully mount the Inchon invasion during the Korean War? Indeed, would the US nuclear threat communicated to Beijing via the Indian govern- ment have been credible if the People's Republic of China also had possessed nuclear warheads and long-range aircraft in 1953? In the 1990-91 Gulf War, how would things have been different if Iraq had possessed even a few nuclear weapons and had been prepared to use them prior to the allied ground offensive while coalition troops were massing in Saudi Arabia?

The Principle of Maneuver in Warfare

Perhaps far greater emphasis will have to be placed on maneuver, the second "M" in J.F.C. Fuller's principles of war, rather than on the first "M," mass. Inherent in maneuver is the idea that mobility enhances both offensive and defensive capabilities as well as one's ability to achieve a viable deterrent and escalation superiority in both peace and war.

Coupled with the need for maneuver is the concept of dispersion. Armies in modern times are increasingly mobile and dispersed due to increases in battlefield lethality and other technical changes. Moving and spreading out gives the adversary less probability of targeting success and less of a target to hit. Prudence would advise spreading friendly forces even more in the future to expose fewer of them to any single WMD attack.

On the other hand, this need to disperse forces can greatly hinder conventional combat capability. An army dispersed will have less capability for achieving local superiority and breakthroughs against its opponents armed forces and less opportunity for battle and war termination until the main weapons of the enemy are silenced.

The need to simultaneously guard against vulnerability to WMD attack and to conduct a conventional campaign will impose contradictory pressures on regional CINCs planning future campaigns. Such dual concerns might prevent quick, decisive engagements in the future that are based on the 1991 Gulf War model. Instead, future armies may be forced to fight more at the low-intensity warfare level or to engage in prolonged conventional wars of attrition while avoiding presenting the enemy with the opportunity for a knockout blow delivered by their WMD.

Victorious armies facing NASTIs may be more preoccupied with active defense, passive defenses, mobility, dispersion, and concealment than with conventional offensive actions that could get them annihilated. Indeed, the lethality of the future battle area may be so great that a new vision of defensive deploy- ment is required while simultaneously adding new urgency to the locating, targeting, and destroying of enemy launchers and storage compounds for enemy weapons of mass destruction and the adversary's very advanced conventional weapons.

The Principle of Offensive Initiative in Warfare

One of the principles of war found in US military doctrine is the necessity to "seize, retain, and exploit the initiative" in combat.14 Maintaining the offensive initiative in warfare is important to victory, and also helps avoid defeat. An enemy on his heels is seldom an enemy at your throat. There is still some truth to the old adage that the best defense is a good offense. A good offense that keeps the adversary busy defending his own forces and homeland robs him of some of the potential to carry the fight to yours.

Unfortunately, offensive operations under attack by enemy WMD, or the threat of such an attack, can be difficult to execute. US Army operations during its Combined Arms in a Nuclear/Chemical Environment (CANE) exercises have shown that enemy WMD very much hindered "Blue" forces' offensive success. As one report summarized, "during offensive operations, it was noted that:

  • attacks and engagements lasted longer;
  • fewer enemy forces were killed;
  • friendly forces suffered more casualties;
  • friendly forces fired fewer rounds at the enemy;
  • fratricide increased;
  • terrain was used less effectively for cover and concealment." 15

Unfortunately, as two Army analysts point out, "the introduction of NBC weapons on the battlefield by an opponent gives him the initiative."16 Such actions, or even the threat of WMD strikes, place allied forces somewhat on the defensive and give the initiative to the opponent, since allied commanders and units are forced to take fewer risks in exposing themselves to such lethality.

Enemy use of WMD can create residual radioactive, chemical, or biological contamination of the battle area, hindering allied ability to act for hours, days, or even weeks after their use. Protective clothing, exhaustive decontamination procedures, extensive vaccination programs, administration of antidotes, and the caution borne of fear in an anthrax, highly toxic chemical, or radioactive environment can easily degrade the offensive performance and mind-set of allied forces subject to WMD bombardment. Maneuver may also be limited in battle space so contaminated.

US Army war games suggest that enemy WMD can negatively impact allied efforts to maintain the initiative, maneuver through the battlefield, synchronize forces, and project power into certain highly dangerous and contaminated areas.17 Moreover, while conducting offensive operations, allied forces faced with WMD threats will need to operate under a defensive shield to survive and succeed. Thus, in future wars against enemies armed with weapons of mass destruction, in contrast to General Fuller's day, it will be important to supplement offensive strikes to disarm the adversary's WMD with a combination of potent defenses to avoid lethal enemy preemptions or counterstrikes to degrade the threat.

In the classic case, when dealing with a Saddam Hussein with WMD, the US military commander is faced with a dual need. First, he would like to neutralize both the enemy leadership and his WMD potential. This means the prosecution of counter-leader targeting coupled with an all-out bombardment of likely enemy WMD capabilities and production facilities. If this opening phase of the conflict is not totally successful, the allied operations should be prepared to shift dramatically from the offensive to the defensive mode, or take enormous risks that whole sectors of the allied forces might be destroyed if not dispersed into a defensive mode.

Col John Warden, one of the air architects of the allied victory in the 1991 Gulf War, postulates that future war will feature parallel strikes aimed at all the key facets of an adversary's state and force, that, if struck nearly simultaneously, will inflict strategic paralysis and quick defeat on the adversary. Airpower, he argues, is the instrument of choice for such "parallel war."

Such simultaneous, parallel strikes are a fine example of the value of retaining the offensive initiative in warfare, and the paralysis such strikes inflicted on Iraq in 1991 shows their value in keeping an adversary from taking the offensive himself. Simultaneous, parallel, in-depth attacks throughout the battle space is likely to remain as part of US military doctrine into the foreseeable future. For example, the US Army's "Force XXI Operations" study states:

Future American operations will induce massive systemic shock to an enemy. These operations will be meant to force the loss or deny the enemy any opportunity to take the initiative.18

Similarly, US air doctrine emphasizes the use of new technologies such as stealth aircraft, stealthy cruise missiles, and precision guidance to give the advantages of surprise and offensive initiative to their possessor since these weapons are difficult to detect and allow airpower to go where it wishes without major losses in pursuit of strategic or tactical targets.19 Indeed, "aerospace power can quickly concentrate on or above any point on the earth's surface. Aerospace power can exploit the principles of mass and maneuver simultaneously to a far greater extent than surface forces."20

However, unless the initial offensive in such hyperwar and parallel war renders inoperable the enemy's ability to strike back with weapons of mass destruction or with his most capable advanced conventional weaponry, then the conflict may feature a parallel war air blitzkrieg coupled with the pullback and dispersal of allied ground and naval forces to provide less inviting targets to possible massive enemy counterattacks spearheaded by WMD targeted on US and allied power projection forces in the region.

If total allied dominance of weapons of mass destruction is not achieved, the endgame of a conflict will be extremely risky. Will the enemy escalate at the end or will he be deterred from launching NBC fusillades as his regime goes under? Will he use some WMD and threaten more use still in an attempt to achieve a better end-war settlement?

Or should allied forces keep out of range until such enemy WMD can be destroyed or until the enemy leadership is killed or replaced? If this is not possible, what then? It is possible that the better part of valor might be to accept a compromise peace that leaves the adversary regime and his military in place rather than demanding total surrender as required of Nazi Germany or Tojo's Japan in 1945. If this option is rejected, the allied side risks massive casualties, perhaps numbering in the millions, before victory could be achieved against a regional foe so heavily armed.

As in the 1991 Gulf War, the location of the enemy leadership and his weapons of mass destruction may be unknown. There will be a temptation at the inception of any such conflict to target the enemy leader or leaders to create disorganization and a regime change. However, the closer such counter-leader strike attempts come to success without accomplishing the task, the greater the possibility that the enemy regime will counter with desperate measures that might include launching a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons attack, even if they face a clearly superior allied nuclear force that enjoys escalation dominance.

How do you achieve victory or a measure of victory in regional combat with such an enemy, and how do you, at the same time, limit the damage inflicted on allied forces and allies in the region of operations? Further, how do you limit damage to the continental United States and allied countries during such regional conflicts?

Until effective US and allied theater or strategic defenses are developed and deployed in the regions where foes developing or deploying WMD are located, efforts to counter such threats will have to rely upon deterrence of the adversary or on allied conventional offensive capabilities.

While it would be the very rare contingency when the United States or allied states could successfully identify, locate, target, and destroy the force of a hostile radical state on the verge of using WMD against the American homeland, US and allied forces in the region, or allied countries, there may be a few opportunities where allied intelligence can pinpoint such preparations and strike a blow to disarm such an adversary with high confidence.

Nor is it wise to use all the military potential the United States possesses, since the use of US nuclear arms to strike the enemy WMD targets would likely entail too many political, economic, diplomatic, legal, and moral negatives.21

In some cases, this imperative to use conventional weapons only, would make it impossible to disarm an adversary arming itself with WMD since conventional weapons may not be capable of:

  • destroying deeply buried and hardened bunkers containing WMD assets;
  • area targeting of widely dispersed but "soft" mobile enemy WMD assets;
  • burning enemy biological weapons ingredients that were otherwise likely to be spread across the region if impacted by conventional bombing.

For these and a number of other reasons, reliance on conventional offenses alone to end the WMD threat would be unwise, because the penetration of allied defense by even a single enemy nuclear, biological, or chemical warhead might be lethal across a wide area. Theater missile defenses are also needed.

Only the combination of offensive suppression strikes coupled with defensive interception capabilities could provide any possibility of the regional "astrodome" protection needed against such unforgiving weapons, where even a single enemy warhead "leaker" through the defenses could devastate a port, base, airfield, naval convoy, massed army, or population center.

What makes the damage limitation enterprise even thinkable, once war has begun, is that the enemy may possess only a half dozen or so of such weapons at the time of a conflict, few enough so that it is possible for an allied offense-defense combination to neutralize the threat.

The Principle of Unity of Command in Warfare

Another principle of war laid out by Gen J. F. C. Fuller is that of the requirement for unity of command. Maintaining good command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) could become much easier in future MRCs as a result of the ongoing revolution in information technology available to allied commanders. This information revolution will provide more information earlier, and in far greater detail about the opponent's capabilities, locations, and activities than known in previous wars.

Moreover, such a communications revolution will lead to flatter organization structures and to greater force-wide awareness of allied and enemy dispositions in real time. This will enhance the control of central commanders while, at the same time, permitting wider dispersal of friendly forces. The US Army's "Force XXI Operations" report states that

advances in information management and distribution will facilitate the horizontal integration of the battlefield functions and aid commanders in tailoring forces and arranging them on land.... Units, key nodes, and leaders will be more widely dispersed leading to the continuation of the empty battlefield phenomenon. 22

The challenge to effective command, control, and communica- tions in a major regional conflict could be immense. If the adversary has the capability of decapitating the US or allied military commands, of decapitating regional allied govern- ments, of targeting the US National Command Authority, or of "leveling the playing field" by knocking out most allied communications with a high-altitude nuclear explosion emitting a destructive electromagnetic pulse (EMP), it could destroy the unity of command of the allied forces in the region.

If the regional adversary was at a severe disadvantage in NBC weapons, he might still make effective use of his limited capability by atmospheric nuclear bursts of EMP that could play havoc with allied telecommunications, navigation, radar, aircraft, missiles, automated guns, APCs, tanks, trucks, and any microchips or electrical circuits that are not protected against EMP.

The enemy WMD threat might even extend beyond the theater of war to the capitals of allied countries, including even Washington, D.C. It may be possible that the adversary has aircraft or missiles capable of reaching such capitals. Even if this was not technically possible, it is conceivable that nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons could be delivered against such cities by unconventional means via saboteurs smuggling them in the allied countries and detonating them or threatening to do so to achieve favorable diplomatic concessions at the end of the conflict.

Unfortunately, most allied capitals are highly vulnerable to WMD threats. For example, Washington, D.C., has long been a vulnerable target and will remain so in the foreseeable future.23 A clandestine nuclear detonation in the city would likely doom the US president, the vice president, Cabinet members, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and members of Congress who were there at the time. The chaos that such an attack would cause would be difficult to overstate. One of the more difficult questions to answer in the hours after such a NASTI decapitation attack would be "who is in charge here?"

This chaos would be compounded if the headquarters housing the US regional CINC and his staff also were to suffer a similar decapitation strike at the same time. It is possible that the national leadership and the regional military forces of the United States would be plunged into chaos for sometime.

The threat of communication disruption and command disable- ment in conflicts with NASTIs leads to several conclusions regarding the preservation of unity of command in such conflicts:

  • Command unity may have to give way to subcommand dispersal under a preset unified contingency plan;
  • Military units may need to be more autonomous and dependent on prewar planning of operations;
  • Unit commanders will need simpler, less frequent updates from central headquarters;
  • Alternative commanders in mobile and hardened com- mand posts will be needed for all regional and supporting CINCs, with trained backups in reserve several layers deep, ready to assume command if and when the CINCs are targeted, killed, or isolated from their forces;
  • Military forces may have to be guided and organized similarly to distributed computer networks, with greater autonomy, independence of action, and ability to operate independent of central command while still following command guidelines.

Take me to Part II: Battlefield of the Future

Take me to Air Theory for the 21st Century

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