Monthly Archives: June 2015

Human Element

Taking a slight break this week from current events after reading this weeks’ Economist article Who’s Afraid of America?.  It was interesting reading since the article which is written from an accountant point of view, which is somewhat foreign to me.  How else do you describe something where the main point appears to be that technology is what wins wars, not people.  To which I would respond, innovations mean absolutely nothing without trained and motivated personnel to use them.

The technological trap is easy to understand, especially when the person analyzing potential for conflict is comfortable with numbers.  Unfortunately for the number crunchers the history is replete with examples of technologically inferior force defeating a technologically superior one.  One only has to look at the German victories in 1939 and 1941 against opponents who have not only outnumbered them but also had better equipment.  The German armored force had no equivalent of Soviet T-34 or KV-1 tanks and yet they routed the Soviet armored formations equipped with them.  From the recent US history the example of South Vietnam should stand out.  No amount of advanced US weaponry could make the South Vietnamese fight for the South Vietnamese regime.

The same holds true today.  The reason the US power is per-eminent is not because of its technological prowess, though that helps, but rather because of the people who operate that equipment.  Prior to invasion of Iraq in 2003, a simple number cruncher would assume during such invasion the US Air Force would lose a number of aircraft to the hundreds if Iraqi fighter jets.  The actual result however showed an Iraqi Air Force that was afraid to fly.  Why?  Because of the human element.   The Iraqis were scared and no matter the technology available to them through their fighter jets they did not want to put themselves in combat against the vastly better trained US forces.  Only robots could be programmed to takeoff and fight in that kind of situation.

Ironically the article from the Economist argues specifically for that.  As if a robot could ever be equal to a human.  An artificial intelligence might be, but that point is moot, as I argued before why would a thinking AI fight for us?  Which leaves us with robots.  Arguing for a stealthy robot is a true numbers game.  One paper it looks fantastic.  Take out the pilot and program a stealthy airplane to go fly a mission.

Let’s say for the sake of the argument that this actually happens and the stealthy robot takes off on a mission.  Stealth by its nature allows the robot to deny the enemy the first step of the OODA loop, observe.   If it works that’s great.  But what happens if the enemy is able to detect and engage the future stealth aircraft as the Bosnians did the F-117 stealth fighter in 1999.  Now it comes down to the rest of the loop.  As I previously argued, if a robot is forced into combat against human opponent, it will lose.  Ingenuity and creativity, is why conflict will forever remain a human endeavor.  There is simply no series of programs that can operate be as ingenious as a human being, unless you count AI as mentioned previously.

Even if we assume that at some time in the future the Chinese or similar near-peer adversary is able to develop a similar level of technological parity, US training and motivation is what will win the day.  In a hypothetical engagement between 100 evenly matched US and Chinese fighters the score is not going to be 50-50, but rather 100-0.  Just because the number on the paper look evenly matched does not make it so in real life.

The true military crisis facing the US military is the ability to grow and retain well trained, motivated, critical thinking personnel.  Without them, no amount of stealth can overcome such deficiencies.  The US should replace aging equipment, but it should do so with the human element in mind.  The much maligned F-35, once the kinks are worked out, could one day ensure the continued US dominance in the world.  Guaranteeing the 100-0 score in any future hypothetical conflict and it will do so specifically because of the human in the cockpit.  We can only hope the Chinese will put all of their eggs into robotic basket.  While technology does have a role in a conflict, its job is to allow the human to complete the OODA loop faster than the adversary.  On its own, no technology however advanced could out think a human in the dynamic and chaotic environment of war.


Iraq – Strategy, what Strategy?

While it has been a few weeks since Ramadi fell to the forces of ISIL, the conclusion is clear.  In its current form the government of Iraq has nothing to offer to the Sunni population.  While at the same time the US trained Iraqi army is a failure.  Both failures allow ISIL to continue conquering territory utilizing a lot less resources than what is available to the Iraqi government.   While at the same time the Shiite militias and Kurds remain the only ones capable of stopping or reversing advances of ISIL.  Our current strategy with regards to Iraq is clearly not working.  And it is not surprising as it was always based on unrealistic assumptions.

The fall of Ramadi highlighted the lack of Iraqi’s army will to fight.  The lack of will to fight should not have come as a surprise.  Our assumptions that all Iraqis need, is some training and equipment were and are completely false.  That’s what we said in 2006 too.  No amount of tactical support can fix the main problem.  The Iraqis have no will to fight because their government is a corrupt entity and most Shia Iraqi soldiers don’t want to die protecting Sunni lands.  That somehow 2000 anti-tank weapons destined for Iraq will change anything is a pipe dream.  They will just probably end up in ISIL hands when the Iraqi army abandons them as they did with US supplied Humvees.  In case someone does not know, the Iraqi army has tanks which can easily stop an armored Humvee or an APC suicide bomber, if used.  The fact that the Iraqi army can’t figure out how to use them at this time does not bode well for their future.

The Shiite militias can push back the ISIL fighters, but highly unlikely they would actually be able to conquer the Sunni heartland.  Even if they try, there is no way the Saudis and other Sunni countries would allow Shiites to dominate those parts of Iraq.  The Sunnis welcomed ISIL because it offers them once again a path to domination in Iraq.  What we need to understated is that Iraq as a country is gone.  The Sunnis and Kurds see no reason to participate in the government where they are permanently outnumbered.  What our strategy should be is to isolate ISIL.  Our strategy should slowly adjust to provide only diplomatic support to those fighting ISIL.  Militarily, the Iraqis have to sink or swim on their own.  Their failures can no longer mean that we will come to their rescue every time they don’t feel like fighting for their own country.

We should instead encourage the break up of both Iraq and Syria, to stabilize the region.  The example of the former Yugoslavia is clear.  Once the break up was complete and the ethnic and religious divide established, the conflicts subsided.  Similar outcome is possible in Iraq and Syria.  The problem of ISIL will be dealt by the Shiites living nearby.  As a last resort, the US can conduct targeted strikes to destroy government infrastructure in the ISIL controlled areas.  While not a perfect solution, it is better than pouring money and resources into supporting non-existent Iraqi state and allowing those same resources to fall into ISIL hands.  To those who fear the rise of Iran, the same limitations apply.  While it can control an area populated by Shittes, it is extremely unlikely they could control the Sunni areas.  Especially since the Sunnis will no doubt be supported by the Saudi Arabia and other Sunni gulf states.

The current strategy of supporting the government of Iraq in the hopes that they could recover the Sunni territory is not working.  It was never going to work and the fall of Ramadi again highlighted the failure of this strategy.  Our resources should not be wasted on any more such failures.  The government of Iraq is responsible for the control of their territory.  If they cannot do so despite superior resources, we should not be jumping in to hold their hand.  The Iraqis have to find their own will to fight.  If they can’t then they need to be ready to accept the consequences.  ISIL can be contained by the Shias around them.  US airpower could be applied for effect, but should be the force of last resort.  ISIL first and foremost the threat to those around them and as such those countries should be the ones responding to it.