Sharpening the Sword: The Changing Face of War

All throughout human history, there have been wars. In the present, there are wars. In the future, it is safe to assume more wars are coming. Given human nature, this is not a hard thing for our species to accomplish. However, despite the fact war is constant with history, the types of wars fought change as well.

The wars of the Bronze Age were fought with spears, legions of infantry running at each other, and chariots. The wars of the early twentieth century were fought in tanks, biplanes, and trenches. The wars of the modern world, for the most part, are fought with jets and cutting edge technology.

As technology advances, the types of war fought changes as well. For example, before the offensive use of the submarine, most ships did not carry depth charges. But in World War I, unrestricted submarine warfare brought on the use of the depth charge.

The scope of such operations is also dependant upon the technology. For example, before the invention of the biplane, most nations did not have an air force, despite some rare exceptions that toyed with the use of air power. For example, hot-air balloons were used to on spy troop movements in the American Civil War. Likewise, many nations did not build offensive-minded submarines until the period around World War I.

Armies constantly adapt to the use of new weapons. After the use of atomic bombs on Japan in World War II, the remaining superpowers of the world developed nuclear weapons, since they were the 'cutting edge' weapon of the time.

The 'cutting edge' has also been constant throughout history. The city-states of the Bronze Age eventually developed iron tools, and iron weapons were a predictable application of such technology. The result of better weapons was city-states expanded to become empires, as well as a few proto-nation-states. The way a war was fought in the era was mainly rank-and-file. The tactics of the Iron Age would soon face a threat, however.

Rome was the poster child for Western European Iron Age tactics. They conquered areas through their expertly trained and organized military, which was 'cutting edge' in its day. However, the Roman Empire grew complacent with its tactics, and did not adapt them. The result? Barbarian tribes decided to take action. Using hit-and-run tactics on Roman troops, they eventually fatally crippled the Empire. Hit-and-run tactics were different than rank-and-file, and the Romans did not adapt to their new foes.

The switch between styles of warfare also has more recent applications as well. In the Vietnam War, American troops fought a guerrilla war against the Viet Cong. The Americans did not adapt from the "industrial nation versus industrial nation" model of World War II. The result was Americans more or less dying needlessly.

The Soviets faced a similar situation in Afghanistan. They did not adapt to guerrilla warfare, and the resulting loss of soldiers, money, and hardware cut the lifespan of the nation shorter. While the Soviet Union was collapsing before Afghanistan, the doomed campaign accelerated the collapse of the country by a few years.

Now, think about recent events in Iraq with American soldiers. Earlier, Americans had adapted quite well to fight terrorist guerrillas in Afghanistan. At first, the Iraq campaign seemed like a standard "nation versus nation" operation. After Saddam Hussein's regime fell, however, American military leaders were faced with a guerrilla war.

However, the American military has been slowly changing its model after September 11, 2001. After the terrorist attacks of those days shattered complacent thought in the military, a more mobile, flexible model was developed. To combat a foe that hides in the shadows waiting to attack, the new military must become agile and work with intelligence officials.

The shift from the Cold War arms race to a more flexible, adaptive military is required. Since the future of warfare is can very well be fighting terrorism, American officials should phase out normally 'conventional' machines and replace them with fast, stealthy, and agile equipment.

The UAV program is a perfect example of this. Using small, unmanned drones in place of larger, more expensive recon aircraft saves billions in costs. Some Air Force officials are pushing for the development of automated jet fighters, the next logical step after automated scout planes.

Instead of paying large amounts of taxpayer dollars for maintaining the Army's 9,000 M1 Abrams tanks, why not keep a few hundred around, but phase out some equipment that will probably not be used?

I am not proposing total elimination of conventional forces, but instead a reduction in their numbers. Instead of buying aircraft carriers and tanks, I propose improving military intelligence, as well as cooperation between the soldiers that fight, and the spooks who gather the data.

All this impressive hardware cannot be used correctly without intelligence on how to best deploy it. There is a botched history of what happens when 'spooks run wars,' such as the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. However, having generals skilled in both intelligence and battle tactics is a must.

The current potential military competitor to the United States, China, is moving in this direction. Instead of preparing for a large-scale nuclear war, they are focusing on small, but high tech forces. The other possible competitor, Europe, is also moving in this direction.

Even tiny Japan, who keeps only a small self-defense force, has jumped on this bandwagon. After the poison gas attacks by a doomsday cult in a Tokyo subway, Japanese forces are focusing more on anti-terrorist tactics. Why cling to an old model of warfare when the world is moving in the other direction?

Clinging to the old model of 'nation versus nation' makes about as much sense as giving troopers swords in place of guns. To succeed, we must get it in our heads that one battle tactic is not correct for every operation. Hitler believed the blitzkrieg was the best possible tactic, and this contributed to his downfall. Rather, one must make the battle tactics fit the location.

In the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong did not view the jungle as an obstacle. Rather, they used it as an opportunity for a creative ambush. Unlike a larger force, a smaller, guerrilla force prefers to be encircled, so they can release the full extent of their destructive potential and take down more enemies. After all, a suicide bomber surrounded by enemy soldiers is likely to kill more people than selecting a random spot on the street.

Fighting terrorism often requires incomplete intelligence, because of the darker nature of terrorism. However, terrorists normally leave a good deal of footprints of who they are dealing with. We need to find these 'footprints' with improved intelligence, then call in soldiers to do the 'dirty work.'

Terrorists can often work around conventional arsenals. By focusing too much on conventional tactics and not enough on intelligence, a nation would only be making itself more vulnerable to terror. On 9/11/01, terrorists worked around the United States military and killed thousands of people. Perhaps with more focus on intelligence, this could have been avoided. While former President Clinton let a good deal of skilled intelligence-gathering people go, this is not the fault of a single politician. It is the fault of an inflexible system of quarreling organizations not adapting and working together.

After 9/11, anti-terrorist activities improved dramatically. However, despite all the precautions, they do not amount to much. A fitting analogy would be trying to fix a broken bone with a band-aid. With the feuding FBI, CIA, and NSA, the new Department of Homeland Security is one such 'band-aid.' It has not been successful in getting the American intelligence agencies working together. Also, President Bush gave nearly $400 billion to the Pentagon, for mainly conventional weapons, and a measly $1 billion to the CIA. This is another inadequate 'band-aid' for a huge wound.

With America's national debt increasing, there seems to be one main way to adapt to this new type of warfare: phasing out some conventional weapons, developing more cost-efficient intelligence methods, and blending conventional force and intelligence. If the relatively cheap UAV craft are the tip of the iceberg, why not change? The wars of the future will require a smaller, yet versatile force to be effective. Why not start now? Why not sharpen the sword for the new type of warfare?

If America truly wants to remain a superpower for the next century, it should stop with the pork-barrel 'fixes' and start truly adapting. It would be like sticking to muskets in an age of automatic rifles. The world's most powerful democracy needs to change. The problem is the change requires adapting to fit the new definition of 'power.' While one might argue politicians are skilled with redefining 'words' to suit their purposes, it seems no modern politicians have the spine to redefine this word. So, here is the challenge to you, reader. Get your politicians to change. They were elected to serve you, so get them to do their job.