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11:00 PM, Jan 9, 2005
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THE DAILY STANDARD welcomes letters to the editor. Letters will be edited for length and clarity and must include the writer's name, city, and state.


DONNELLY RAISES an interesting issue regarding defense transformation in Rumsfeld's War, but then lets it fall without examining it seriously: What are the premises on which defense transformation as understood by the US military is based, and how relevant is it to war in the 21st century?

I've written at great length, mainly for internal government consumption, on some of what I see as the logical and strategic fallacies of the so-called "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA). From my perspective, the most serious of these can be characterized as follows:

First, it is an attempt to reduce war to an engineering problem through the use of information technology to eliminate uncertainty. That one does not know where the enemy is, or what the enemy intends is the source of that uncertainty, and the fact that the enemy is an intelligent and dynamic adversary allows him to exploit that uncertainty to undermine one's plans and objectives. Under RMA theory, now generally called "Network Centric Warfare" (NCW), myriad streams of information are brought together through digital networks to present the commander with a God's eye view of the battlefield: in theory he knows were all of his forces are, and all of the enemy's forces, their status and what they are doing or intending to do. He can then allocate precision strike systems to attack the enemy before he can mass or close to attack friendly forces. However, this reliance on distributed sensor networks creates the seeds of its own undoing, for the enemy can not only attack the networks directly ("cyber-attack"), but can also resort to various deception measures to create a false picture upon which the commander would act. More simple still, he can flood the network with so much spurious data (noise) that the battle command system never manages to catch up; under the torrent of inaccessible information, the enemy can move at will. More insidious still, it creates a "scope dope" mentality in which "reality" is what appears on the situational display screen, not what is actually happening on the battlefield.

Second, the RMA is still rooted in the 20th century paradigm of armored-mechanized warfare between sophisticated nation-states. Its origins can be found in the deadlock of the NATO Central Front in the 1980s, when the US was looking for ways of destroying Soviet second echelon forces, and the USSR was exploring ways of breaking through NATO's front lines. The convergence of several technologies--remote sensors, high speed computers and networks, and long-range, precision-guided weapons--allowed in theory for the creation of what the USSR called "reconnaissance strike complexes" that would have the potential to break up or destroy conventional formations of tanks and armored vehicles from hundreds of miles away. This in turn would force the dispersion of forces into small packets, attempting to dominate spaces by fire rather than by physical occupation. In a situation where one has reconnaissance strike complexes and the other does not, any attempt by the enemy to concentrate his forces results in their destruction, while one can concentrate freely against the enemy's weakest points. We saw something very much like this during Operation Iraqi Freedom, where the US actually deployed primitive reconnaissance-strike complexes.

Faced with this situation, the enemy has only two choices (other than surrender): to develop his own reconnaissance-strike capability, or to respond asymmetrically. If both sides have reconnaissance-strike capability, then both sides disperse, and war becomes a matter of trying to find and destroy each other's reconnaissance strike systems, after which one side or the other has an insurmountable advantage. However, in reality no country other than the US has the economic wherewithal to develop such a capability.

Thus, the US has become effectively invincible in conventional warfare: regardless of the adversary, the result would have been much the same as Iraq (though a few armies might have given us a run for our money). Anyone wishing to oppose the United States militarily must therefore resort to asymmetrical warfare.