Recently I received a review from James Jago that included this line:
"I'm no military expert, though I would dispute that you are either..."
Being a military buff I couldn't just let that go unanswered. No, James, I'm not a military expert. I never claimed to be. As I said once in answer to another review: "I'm not a real Admiral. I just play one on the Internet." For the record, I have never been in the military. I'm just a wanna-be writer that really likes reading and writing about warfare. Most of what I know about it comes from media sources available to the general public. I will never be called upon by some network news organization to be a "military analyst". I will never chair some symposium on the future of warfare. I happily concede your point.
That said, I'm absolutely certain I can outstrategize YOU with half my brain tied behind my back (Just to make it "fair").
I don't expect anybody reading this to take my word for it, so I offer evidence. What follows is a recent email exchange between me and James Jago. His part is used with permission. It had the subject line "Some thoughts on the Imperialist." It goes like this:
"I've given the above esay a little thought over my summer holiday, and
I've reached the following conclusion.
If the United States attempted to implement this proposal, it would fail
at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives.
I will concede that you might well be able to subvert the whole of the
American continent, but what about the rest of the world? How are you
going to accomplish it without forward bases of any kind?
Let's take Great Britain as an example, if only because I happen to live
there. The second we got any hint of a US takeover bid, every US airbase
in the country would be either overrun by our troops or levelled by
airstrikes and artillery. It isn't humanly possible to retain a base
completely encircled in unfriendly territory without more forces than the
USA maintains in Britain.
So, a carier battle group is sent to commence your trademark laser light
show. It encounters attack submarines the equal of anything in the US
Navy, guided missiles and repeated air attacks from pretty much all of
Europe- we might not be popular acros the Channel, but if they think
they're next they'll throw everything they've got at you.
Your strike aircraft will come up against modern, sophisticated air
defence systems and interceptor aircraft; the first time in quite a while
that this has happened, if I'm any judge. Hell, your military buys the
Rapier SAM from us, and it's our standard air defence missile system.
If your ground troops succeed in landing on British soil they will come
up against up to about fifty thousand well trained and equiped infantry,
tanks which are widely regarded as better than the Abrahms, and maybe
even strategic weapons. And of course, if you somehow gain the upper hand
I imagine that the last thing our government will do is order any intact
nuclear ballistic missile bases and submarines to blow the East Coast to
And that's just one country. It'll be the same in France, Germany and
just about everywhere else, or maybe even worse.
Wow. Thought-provoking, huh? What was my response? "OH, NO!!! I'VE THREATENED TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD, BUT THE UNITED KINGDOM WILL FIGHT ME TO THE BITTER END!! I'M DOOOOOOMED!!!"
Not quite. It was actually this:
"I'm thoroughly dismayed, James. I'm well aware that you and your friends
on the left seem to think I'm not too bright, but I'm still surprised
that you seem to be fixated on the idea that I know nothing about
warfare, I didn't think of the potential risks before I wrote the essay
and that it's never occurred to me in my life to pick up a copy of
'Jane's Fighting Ships' once in a while.
Yes, you have modern submarines. Yes, you have great submarine
commanders. Here's the thing: the most modern things about your subs--the
Pressurized Water Reactors, the Harpoon anti-ship missiles, the Tomahawk
missiles--were designed by us, which means we know how they all work. Our
commanders have also been to your Undersea Warfare schools, so we know
how you'll use them. Intelligence and technology on both sides offset, so
it comes down to attrition. Do the arithmetic. You have sixteen subs
TOTAL, and only twelve are built specifically to sink other subs and
ships. The US Navy operates 25 Los Angeles-class attack subs in the
Atlantic alone. Your next generation attack sub isn't due off the ways
till 2006. We already operate three, the Seawolf-class, and by the time
Astute launches we'll be operating a squadron of SSGNs, converted boomers
with the capacity to carry Special Forces, over a hundred Tomahawks and
lots of Mark48s and Harpoons. Just one of these guys could toast every
submarine home port and tender you own and blockade your coast, leaving
your submariners no choice but to stay at sea and fight or run to France.
I think they'll fight. That's fine by me. We'll just have two thirds of
SUBLANT in the Atlantic waiting for them. BTW, none of this takes into
account all the long-range aircraft we have aboard our carriers and
stationed on the Eastern Seaboard designed to hunt down and kill enemy
subs before our ships ever have to worry about them. And frankly, there's
a LOT of damage the US Navy can do to the UK that doesn't involve sitting
in the Irish or North Seas and letting themselves get picked off by
Tigerfish or Spearfish torpedoes, and your Navy simply doesn't have
enough resources to counter every potential threat.
Yes, there are risks in forward basing. That's why we operate 12 ships
capable of carrying air wings bigger than some peoples' Air Forces in the
first place. It's also why we keep six thousand Marines, along with their
armor and air support, at sea at all times. It's also why we train those
Marines to evacuate and relieve Americans stationed in hostile territory
when it hits the fan. It's why we preposition forces on small islands we
either own outright or can easily defend. It's why we have a merchant
marine. It's why we have Naval Engineers that can build ports and air
bases wherever we please. We learned all this stuff in World War Two.
Where have YOU been? And your notion that 'It isn't humanly possible to
retain a base completely encircled in unfriendly territory without more
forces than the USA maintains in Britain' is wrong. Your own country's
history proves it. Have you ever seen the movie 'Zulu'? It's based on the
account of a short company of British Regulars stationed in Natal
Province in the late Nineteenth Century. Those men held off an attack by
four THOUSAND Zulu warriors. And it wasn't just because the Brits had
guns. Those same Zulus had already dusted a much bigger British force
earlier. In warfare the advantage is ALWAYS with the defender, and a
smart commander can hold out against anything, especially if he knows
support is on the way. And your contention assumes that a)No one would
supply the extra force necessary in advance of hostilities, or b)We would
WANT to defend the bases when it's much easier to let you have them and
evacuate our people before the showdown. Tactically speaking, losing a
forward base in a country WE'RE TAKING OVER ANYWAY is a setback, not a
'[G]uided missiles and repeated air attacks from pretty much all of
Europe' don't frighten me. In some ways their militaries are in worse
shape than yours, so in order for them to use those 'guided missiles'
effectively they'd need to be stationed safely in the English Channel and
the North Sea. I've already explained why you can't guarantee that. As
for their aircraft, the most advanced airplanes deployed by Europe's air
forces are still at least half a generation behind the planes in the US
Air Force and Navy. The most advanced planes you've built are still
mainly in the testing and development stages, and by the time they're
deployed in numbers America will be flying the F-22 Raptor and Joint
Strike Fighter in squadron and wing strength. And let's be honest. "All
of Europe" isn't going to come to the rescue. If they really are afraid
they'll be next, then most nations will husband their resources so that
they can make sure they have enough to defend themselves. Think about it:
What if they throw everything into the defense of Britain and STILL lose?
They'll have enough problems banding together to defend the continent
with intact forces, much less ones attrited in the defense of Britain.
The neutral countries, like Switzerland, most likely WON'T fight until
their own borders are threatened. Some will probably make side deals,
trading some sovereignty for security and a piece of the action. There
are a few that might actively support us, like the former Eastern Bloc
countries, who might figure being part of US Europe would be better than
kissing French ass to be part of the EU. Turkey may just sit back and
Laugh Their Asses Off while all the infidel imperialists throw down on
each other, then make moves on the winners. And the Russians? Hey, you
have to pay your troops before they'll fight hard for you. If they even
deploy before we hit the Norwegian Sea or Eastern Germany I'll have a
heart attack and die from the surprise. Germany may end up the UK's best
friend in the battle, but every time Germany has tried to be more than
the landlocked regional power it is it's been knocked back to the drawing
board. I can't see them wanting to have their "Reset" button hit again by
going up against the United States. Look for them to deal.
And then there's France. Noble France, Great France, La Belle
France...which hasn't mounted a single successful military campaign since
the start of the 20th Century. It couldn't stop Germany without
Anglo-American help in World War One. It was Germany's butt-monkey till
America came along in WWII. France and Britain combined couldn't take
back one canal without American approval and using Israel as a scapegoat.
The Vietminh handed the Gauls their rear ends in Indochina. THIS is who
you're counting on to Save Britannia when the Big Bad Yanks come sailing
in? Face it, James. If it ever comes down to the US vs the UK, it WILL
just be the US vs. the UK. It's not just a matter of whether or not the
mainland countries like you.
So let's game out the US vs. the UK. Compared to our Navy, you don't have
one. The combat power simply is not there. All three of your carriers and
your helicopter amphib combined don't carry as many useful tactical
aircraft as one Nimitz-class carrier usually deploys with (70) or is
capable of deploying with (90-100). Also, in a pinch our helicopter
amphibs can be used to deploy a large wing of tactical
aircraft--Harriers, like yours--to do anti-ship and anti-air duties. I
already described how the undersea battle could go, and if we thought
you'd ever use your sublaunched nukes we'd go after the boomers FIRST.
We've been practicing to do it since the Cold War. New enemy, same
mission. Let's say we sweeten the pot by beefing up the bases we left in
Iceland. (They've got no military at all. How could they stop us?)
Station an extra Navy wing there, along with an Air Force composite wing,
some Orions and some Sentries, deploy a carrier with a wing and a half
aboard with two replenishment ships and escorted by a pair of Ticonderoga
cruisers, a pair of Arleigh Burke destroyers, a pair of Perry frigates
and four Spruance destroyers mounting about eighty Tomahawk TASMs each in
their vertical launchers and we could establish an Anti-Brit Kill Zone
between the Iceland-UK part of the GIUK Gap. That, mind you, is nowhere
near all of the US Navy's combat power, yet you'd need practically all of
the Royal Navy's combat power to counter it, and you'd be committing
suicide trying to do it on the open sea. You'd have to resort to a
coastal defense and hope that land based air power is enough to help turn
the tide. So let's game the air war. Tactically speaking the only useful
aircraft you have are Harriers, Tornados and Nimrods. These would be
going up against Tomcat-Ds and Hornet-Cs, -Es and -Fs. Both sides would
have AMRAAM and Sidewinder but the 'Cats would have Phoenix, which can
kill well outside the other missiles' range. We'd also have a short term
long-range assist from the Eagles (F-15) and Falcons (F-16) on Iceland.
You'd have the numbers, but that could be offset by our planes working in
concert with the Ticos and Burkes by luring the Brit planes into Standard
Missile kill zones. (See, we managed to build a couple of modern air
defense systems of our own.) And our fighters would only have to hold out
long enough for our attack planes to render your air fields useless. And
your "modern" air defenses? We know you have them and we know how they
work, so, as usual, we'll go after them before we hit the air fields. Or
have you never heard of "Wild Weasel" techniques, or the F-117A
Nighthawk? You live in the country where Fred T. Jane was born. Do a
little more digging and see who really wins this second "Battle of
So, your Navy's stymied (and probably sunk), your air force is neutered
and now we have to face, what, 50,000 grunts and some really cool tanks?
Actually, I think you're selling your army short on that infantry number,
and you didn't even mention the Royal Marines, the Paras or the Special
Air or Boat Services. But I digress. The point here is that we now have
to face a dreaded LAND WAR! Lawsy Me...What is we gonna DO??!! Well, if
we already own the sea and the air around Britain we can pretty much do
whatever we want on the land. We can use a couple of Marine MEUs (SOC) to
secure an air base and a port and start bringing in heavier forces
through them, like assets of the Special Operations Command, some Armored
Cavalry Regiments and Mechanized Infantry Units and, oh yeah, some A-10s,
AH-1Zs and AH-64s to knock out all those "superior" tanks of yours.
Look, Junior, the bottom line here is that your example is flawed. No,
even if everybody in the United States voted 'Yes' on the World Takedown
Referendum tomorrow we would not have enough manpower to overthrow the
entire planet in one fell swoop. That does not automatically translate
into 'We can't take Great Britain.' If the UK were the ONLY target we
could make it the 51st State any time we pleased. Remember: Hawaii was a
Kingdom once, too. And Japan was an Empire."
So there it is. Feel free to pick the scenarios apart, scrutinize them, nitpick the daylights out of them, then you decide which of us has a better strategic grasp of the situation.
Armchair Generalship is not hard. You just have to know three things:
1) Everyone has a goal.
2) There are always obstacles in the way.
3) To achieve the goal, the obstacles must be removed.
Keep these principles in mind and apply them to the battlefield before your enemy does and you can win any battle. You do not have to be a "military expert" to know that. It's the essence of warfare. It's the essence of LIFE.