"War Machines of Tomorrow"
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on NOVA—the Gulf War. From precision strikes of smart bombs—to the stealthy terror of the SCUDs. What worked? What didn't? And what do the lessons mean for the soldiers and machines of future wars? Go into the battle zone where cutting edge technology can mean life ... or death. WAR MACHINES OF TOMORROW.
NOVA is funded by Merck.
Merck. Pharmaceutical research. Dedicated to preventing disease and improving health. Merck. Committed to bringing out the best in medicine.
And by Prudential.
Prudential. Insurance. Health care. Real estate and financial services. For more than a century, bringing strength and stability to America's families.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and viewers like you.
LARY LEWMAN: On February 24, 1991, allied forces in the Persian Gulf began an all-out offensive to liberate Kuwait from its Iraqi invaders. The first weeks of the war we called Desert Storm had been a testing ground for the U.S. military's latest technology. Computer-guided Cruise missiles and laser-guided smart bombs hit their targets with stunning precision and lethality. F-117 Stealth bombers, virtually invisible to Iraqi radars, made their battlefield debut a smashing success. Since the disappointment of Vietnam, the U.S. military had been investing in high-tech weapons it believed would win the next big war. The goal was to fight from afar without risking American lives on bloody ground combat. The evening news made the war look like a video game, and we were pressing all the buttons. What the military feared was an extended engagement with battle-hardened Iraqi ground troops. The recent Iran-Iraq war had been a human inferno. Iraqi soldiers had proved themselves to be skilled, and ruthless enough to use chemical weapons against Iran's army, and later, against Kurdish civilians. Now, we were their next opponent.
GEN. CALVIN WALLER: All of the leaders were concerned about what we had seen between Iraq and Iran. We were concerned that they might use weapons of mass destruction. We knew that they had a very formidable force in the Republican Guards, that they were well-trained, well-armed. They had some of the best Russian equipment that was available. So we knew that this was a force that we had to reckon with. There were many, many individuals who thought that we would lose thousands, thousands of American soldiers. So yes, we were initially concerned.
LARY LEWMAN: Concern over battleground casualties kept us in the air, bombing day and night. But would an aerial battering alone drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait? If not, would it weaken his ability to match us on the ground? In the first few weeks, it looked like smart weapons might just win the war on their own. The architect of the allied bombing strategy was Air Force Colonel John Warden.
COL. JOHN WARDEN: Smart weapons simply revolutionized the way you fight wars. And not just a little revolution, not just like moving from bows and arrows to rifles or muskets, but really, really change. Because for the first time in history, you can count on a single thing actually hitting what you're going after, as opposed to having a requirement to shoot thousands of arrows or thousands of bullets or drop megatons of bombs of one sort or another. When you can hit with fair certainty what you are going after, then that means that you can plan to an extent that you have never been able to think about in the past.
LARY LEWMAN: Warden's plan was as innovative as it was simple: use precision weapons to smash Iraq's command and control centers, its communications networks, its power grid, its radars and supply lines. And worry about the army later.
COL. JOHN WARDEN: We saw Baghdad as being the equivalent of the brain of all of Iraq. So the targets that we are primarily after are up here in Iraq proper, as opposed to being down in Kuwait where the Iraqis had several hundred thousand troops. And I guess the good analogy of this is, if you were going up against a gunfighter or somebody with a gun in his hand, you may want to shoot the gun out of his hand if you're real brave. But if you shoot him in the head, you have just solved your problem. You don't need to worry about the gun.
LARY LEWMAN: A key to the Warden strategy was super accuracy. Many of Iraq's military assets were located in civilian areas, so we had to skillfully hit the targets and miss the civilians. Once Iraq's air defenses were smashed, we had the time to aim carefully. Our most accurate bombs were guided to their targets by lasers.
LT. COL. STAN SIEFKE: Laser-guided weapons like we used on the F-117 during Desert Storm require two things. One, they require an illumination source, a laser on board an airplane to illuminate the target. And then they require a seeker on board the bomb that actually sees the reflected energy that comes off the target and then guides on that energy and seeks it out. Some of the videos that you saw during Desert Storm, the pilot was actually putting a spot on a target, or designating that target. And then he would release a weapon, and then once it saw that reflected energy, it would start flying to that particular spot on the target.
LARY LEWMAN: The Iraqi air force, once the third largest in the world, should have been able to disrupt our pilots' ability to hover and aim lasers. But U.S. forces had quickly destroyed their planes in air combat, and as they sat on the ground.
GEN. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF: We have destroyed more than seventy of these hardened shelters, and quite frankly, the Iraqi aircraft are running out of places to hide. As you all well know, eighty-nine of their aircraft—and I should say these are their front-line F-1s, Mirages, and their MIG-23 Fencers—eighty-nine of them have flown in through Iran. The simple fact of the matter is that now, every time an Iraqi airplane takes off the ground, it's running away. As a result, Chuck Horner, my CENTAF commander, has now claimed air supremacy.
LARY LEWMAN: With air supremacy, the U.S. and its allies were able to cripple Iraq's infrastructure. But despite the pounding, Saddam defiantly held his troops in Kuwait. This was worrisome to advocates of high-tech war. A billion dollars worth of munitions were dumped on Iraq, but that brought us no closer to ending the war.
GEN. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF: Let me tell you how we did this.
LARY LEWMAN: The military was successful at manipulating public perceptions of the war. They wanted us to see a clean conflict, almost devoid of casualties.
GEN. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF: And now, I've got to show you a picture of the luckiest man in Iraq on this particular day. Right through the cross hairs, and now, in his rear-view mirror.
LARY LEWMAN: The "luckiest man in Iraq" was very likely killed by this blast. But we were never shown the misses.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: When you looked at the Gulf war on TV, you almost had the impression that we hit everything we aimed at, and that it was, in some respects, an antiseptic war. You didn't really see anyone getting killed on TV, or very few people. In fact, wars are quite messy things. And people were killed. A good number of people were killed. And even though we did far better than we expected in the Gulf war, the fact of the matter remains that the precision-guided munitions did miss a fair amount of the time. And there were times when we actually used these munitions and hit the wrong target. For example, the bunker in Baghdad which was being used as a bomb shelter for Iraqi civilians. So, while we did a lot better than we had in earlier conflicts in terms of being able to hit what we looked at, or hit what we were shooting at, certainly we haven't achieved perfection.
LARY LEWMAN: Smart bombs had several drawbacks. They could not, for example, overcome bad weather. Cloudy skies obscured targets and made precision aiming virtually impossible. The Iraqis quickly learned that smoke could do the same—a key impetus for Saddam's ruthless burning of the Kuwaiti oil fields.
LT. COL. STAN SIEFKE: Well, there are certain downsides to laser-guided systems. Just like you have a hard time seeing in the fog, your optical sensors get cloud-bound, some of our laser-guided systems also have weather limitations. The frequencies at which they operate get absorbed by the rain, get absorbed by smoke. Anything that's in the atmosphere can either reflect that energy or cause it to be absorbed so that the missile or the bomb can't see it anymore. In that case, the bomb goes stupid, and you would not release it. And that was for collateral damages. We didn't want to hit innocent targets.
LARY LEWMAN: Laser-guided weapons also require the pilot to find and hold his position until the bomb hits the target. This is extremely dangerous, especially if the enemy has time to shoot back.
LT. COL. STAN SIEFKE: There's mad bees down on the ground that are trying to throw you out of the sky. So we're working on a new class of generational target-killing capabilities, weapons that will move that pilot further away from the target area, still allow him to make sure that he's got the right target, but then launch that weapon and let it go on its way autonomously to try and find the target and kill it.
LARY LEWMAN: A Cruise missile is an autonomous weapon. It can fly great distances in any weather while its computers guide it to the target. But it is very expensive. Gulf war models cost well over a million dollars each. So the military uses them only for the most important missions. Like the Cruise missile, this bomb can fly in any weather, and can be launched miles from the target. It cannot travel as far as a Cruise, but costs much less, and keeps pilots at safe distances. The challenge will be getting it to strike with pinpoint accuracy.
LT. COL. STAN SIEFKE: Well, one of the new guidance technologies we're working on is a program called EDGE. It basically uses Global Positioning Systems, or the satellites in the sky that tell you where you are nowadays. We're using those GPS satellites to actually navigate a bomb to a target. If we know where the coordinates are of the target, and we know where we are, we can solve the equations to get the bomb from where we are to where the bomb should be.
LARY LEWMAN: When the bomb leaves the plane, it is already programmed to strike a given spot on the earth. But it has to know where it is in order to compute a track to the target. The bomb will find its location by accessing GPS satellites which continually transmit positioning data. This information is slightly inaccurate due to orbital drift. So ground stations correct the information, and data-link the differential to the bomb prior to release. As long as there are satellites in the vicinity, these bombs can be released fifteen to twenty miles from the target and still find their mark. Differential GPS has proven fairly successful in these trials, slightly off bull's-eye, but within specifications. There are no explosives in these large two thousand-pound test bombs. A real munition would have obliterated this building, despite the corner hit. But GPS bombs, like Cruise missiles, are designed for stationary targets. The biggest problem in the Gulf war were moving targets, the mobile missile-launchers that rained SCUDs onto Saudi Arabia and Israel. SCUD missiles travel so fast you have only seconds to destroy them before they reach the ground.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: It can be coming at you at anywhere from, say, five thousand miles an hour to seventeen thousand miles an hour. And basically as President Kennedy once said, you're put in a position of trying to hit a bullet with a bullet. This is a very daunting technological problem.
LARY LEWMAN: The job of hitting the bullet fell to the Patriot missile. Originally designed to attack slower-moving jet aircraft, the Patriots were hurriedly modified to intercept enemy missiles. But SCUDs broke apart as they headed toward the ground, and more often than not, the Patriot hit pieces of the missile, but left the warhead to free-fall and explode. So we mounted an intensive campaign to destroy the SCUD launchers before they could fire their deadly payloads.
GEN. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF: We have knocked out at least four SCUD missiles on SCUD-servicing vehicles, and three more SCUD-servicing vehicles. The other possibility is that we knocked out as many as seven mobile erector launchers in just that one strike. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: The Iraqis had set up dummy launch sites at two airfields called H-2 and H-3. And we bombed the bejesus out of H-2 and H-3, but all we got were the dummies. Where they had the SCUDs that they were firing into Saudi Arabia and into Israel were on transporters that they were hiding in culverts and had camouflaged, and they would run them out at night and they would fire them and then disappear. Of all the SCUDs that were fired, despite our assumption that we had gotten some of the mobile SCUDs on the ground, there is no evidence that we got one SCUD before it was fired.
LARY LEWMAN: The Gulf war never produced a technological solution for defeating mobile launchers. Increasingly frustrated by the failure, Norman Schwarzkopf sent British special forces teams, already in Iraq, SCUD-hunting behind enemy lines. He knew these missions were highly dangerous, but nothing had worked so far. There is no clear evidence that any missiles were destroyed this way, but if they were, Iraq had far too many launchers for this tactic to stop the SCUDs.
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: To this day, the best capability we have is by using special forces to go in and search these things out on the ground. But that's a pretty blunt instrument, and it's also very, very risky for the teams. The real answer is to find the technological fix that's going to find the signature of these mobile missiles, so that you're able to act against them before they're activated.
LARY LEWMAN: At Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, researchers are working to come up with weapons that can seek and destroy mobile launchers. These weapons would need to be brilliant, not just smart.
LT. COL. STAN SIEFKE: Here at the Armament directorate, we're coming up with new weapons that we can say, "Let them go, and they'll search out search patterns on their own, recognize a SCUD or recognize a tank, and actually decide where there's a friendly tank or a foe tank, and kill that tank on recognition.
CAPT. ERIC AUGUSTUS: We're trying to build a bomb that looks for a target that it's going to go after all by itself. And what we're using is an Optical Processor. It's going to be the brains of this bomb that uses simple optics to look for a, say, like a SCUD launcher. Basically, using a video camera to take an image of the model of a SCUD launcher, we make edges out of it, like a tank has a turret, or a barrel, or treads. We key on those type of features and we put those into a mask that's shown up right here. And this is a mask of the SCUD launcher. It doesn't look like a SCUD launcher, but this defines the features of that target.
LT. COL. STAN SIEFKE: I don't know if you've ever seen those Cracker Jacks toys where you pull out a little multi-colored red and white—It looks like a jumbled mess to you, but you put a little red filter over it and you see a word on there. That's, in essence, a filter that your brain works and see things once you kind of get rid of all the noise. And it doesn't do it with computers. It actually does it with—I like to say, smoke and mirrors. It's actually lenses and reflective devices that have filters in them that are optical filters that actually say, "I recognize this energy as a target."
CAPT. ERIC AUGUSTUS: So when the bomb goes out there looking for this target, it's going to be looking for this type of shape, using this mask. And when it finds it, it's going to put a hot spot on a camera. And this hot spot's going to be marked off with a cross hair, and that bomb's going to know to go to that point and hit the target or the SCUD launcher.
LARY LEWMAN: But this technology is years away from combat readiness. In the meantime, we remain as vulnerable to missile attack today as we were during the Gulf war. There are improved radar systems for finding hidden targets. And the competition to develop new anti-missile missiles is producing promising test results. But as we discovered in the Gulf war, these defenders must be perfect.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: The problem is, what do you begin to do when these missiles don't have merely conventional warheads on them, but when you're facing an adversary that might be tempted to use chemical or biological warheads, or even nuclear warheads? Then you can't hope to hit the target thirty or forty percent of the time. You can't just hope to intercept that incoming missile most of the time, because even a single failure, when you're talking about a biological weapon or a nuclear weapon, is basically a failure.
LARY LEWMAN: Saddam did not use his chemical and biological weapons. Perhaps he was deterred by our veiled threat to counter such an attack with nuclear bombs. But he did use another kind of missile we feared even more than the SCUDs. Exocets and Silkworms are guided missiles. Unlike SCUDs, guided missiles can be precisely aimed at specific targets, and pack an enormous amount of killing power.
GEN. CALVIN WALLER: The Iraqis had guided missiles. They had these missiles available to them. And they were of great concern to the Navy in particular, because with the ships anchored off the coast, the Exocet missiles might be launched against them and cause great danger to the ship as well as to the sailors aboard that ship.
LARY LEWMAN: Any large concentration of forces is prey to guided missile attack, especially at sea. But to conduct a military operation in a foreign land, aircraft carriers are needed just offshore, to mount continuous bombing raids. The Navy believes it was lucky to escape the Gulf war without serious missile damage. It does not want to be that vulnerable ever again. A carrier never goes into battle without a cruiser, its constant protector, sailing nearby. Today, the crew of the USS Anzio is undergoing a simulated battle scenario to test their ability to detect enemy threats and launch counter measures.
LT. COMDR. JEFFREY TILBURY: We're in the combat information center of the USS Anzio. We are in the northern Arabian Gulf, in support of the Fifth Fleet operations. What we are specifically looking at is a possible air and surface threat that will be disguised as some kind of a—not necessarily a sneak attack, but one that will come with little warning.
LARY LEWMAN: The Anzio's radars have a range of two hundred nautical miles. If the crew sees a threat coming this far out, they should have enough time to defend themselves and the carrier.
LT. COMDR. JEFFREY TILBURY: If one of those missiles were to get through with the lethality and the amount of high explosives and fuel that remains on board, not to mention just the kinematic energy that's important on a ship, we would almost assuredly take a number of casualties—both equipment and personnel.
LARY LEWMAN: An enemy missile is sighted.
COL. KENNETH ALLARD: What you're dealing with is a new level of destructiveness in these precision-guided weapons, where you've got a missile like the Exocet, that hit the Stark several years before the start of the Gulf war. That commander was criticized for the fact that he had not been able in the few seconds he had available, to put up counter measures. Unfortunately, that is, I think, going to become emblematic of the kinds of engagement scenarios that we will see in the future. When you take a look at not only the accuracy, but the speeds, of some of these weapons, what you are talking about are engagement scenarios in which a combat commander has seconds to make a critical decision.
LARY LEWMAN: In today's training exercise, this one ship defeated two incoming missiles by spotting them on its radars and shooting them down. But what if more missiles, as well as torpedoes and precision bombs, came at these ships simultaneously? In the Gulf war, that scenario would have meant disaster. So the Navy is creating a system it claims can defeat such a coordinated attack. It's called Cooperative Engagement Capability.
REAR ADM. DANIEL MURPHY, JR.: We've taken a very substantial step with cooperative engagement capability, which for the first time, nets, truly nets together all surveillance radars, whether they be in the air in an AWACS-type airplane, whether they be a hundred and fifty miles inland on a mountain-top radar operated by the army, for example, or whether they be at sea in a very sophisticated Aegis cruiser. All of these sensors previously could only be effective to the extent of their own horizon. With Cooperative Engagement feeding each of those systems all the information available to the others, all participating units see precisely the same picture.
LARY LEWMAN: A distant AWACS plane carrying powerful aerial radars sees a missile that's just been launched. With Cooperative Engagement, a Navy ship, an Air Force jet, and an Army ground battery all see the launch simultaneously, something they could not do previously. Now, if the system performs properly, the most efficient defender can engage the missile, not just the group being targeted. There are plans to expand this seeing network by coupling radar images with data from robot planes that circle twenty-four hours a day, taking video pictures of a wide surveillance area, and with information from orbiting satellites that see with pinpoint clarity. This would create a detailed picture of virtually all enemy activity, even the movement of mobile missile launchers, enabling our forces to react appropriately. The goal is to know everything that's happening in a large battle space, including the exact position of our own units.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: Total battle space awareness implies not only knowing most of what is important in terms of enemy activity over a very large area, but also knowing what is going on with your own forces, where the friendly forces are. And this can be critical in mitigating the effects of friendly fire, that is, the tendency we had during the Gulf war for our own forces to engage friendly forces as opposed to the enemy, because they weren't quite able to distinguish friend from foe.
LARY LEWMAN: Two thirds of all allied vehicles damaged or destroyed in the Gulf war were hit by our own munitions, and although the military doesn't have exact numbers, several U.S. soldiers were killed by friendly fire. With thousands of missions, there were, remarkably, no friendly casualties in the air until the war had ended. Two Army Blackhawk helicopters on daily patrol to watch for Iraqi aggression were mistakenly downed by Air Force F-15s. There are systems designed to prevent such mistakes, including electronic codes and verbal passwords. There is even backup, crews in AWACS surveillance planes who help pilots interpret radar blips as friend or foe. But on this day, nothing worked, and twenty-six people died.
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: How did something like that happen? It was a whole series of errors. The fact that the presence of those helicopters wasn't briefed to the pilots when they went up that day, the fact that those in the AWACS were misreading the situation, the fact that the pilots were—in their anxiety and looking at the helicopter—saw what they wanted to see rather than what they did see. But they were all human errors, as opposed to electronic or, or technical errors, which led to a disaster. And not the least of the reasons was the fact that these operations had been going on ceaselessly, day in and day out, week and month after month. And people will start to get a little, a little lax. We've seen this happen before. We saw it happen with the Vincennes shooting down an Airbus in, in 1988.
LARY LEWMAN: Three years before Desert Storm, the U.S. Navy cruiser Vincennes was escorting oil tankers near the coast of Iran. The crew detected what it thought was a hostile Iranian aircraft bearing down on the ship. The "hostile" aircraft turned out to be a commercial airliner carrying two hundred and ninety passengers. All were killed that day. The tragedy helped spur the development of Cooperative Engagement. Though not yet fully operational, the Navy hopes this system will provide the sensing power to better distinguish friend from foe. It will also help crews see far enough to detect enemy missiles with more time to launch countermeasures. And there is one more advantage to a wide-sensing network.
ADM. WILLIAM OWENS: It is our goal that you can see the battlefield much further away, and therefore operate on this strategic chessboard from a distance. Then, you don't go force on force, but you can operate on it with long-range missiles or long-range aircraft, F-117s, and not have to mass forces in a way that would give an enemy a good potshot at you.
LARY LEWMAN: Perhaps, in wars of the future, we will have all the necessary technology to engage an enemy entirely from afar, and not have to resort to direct combat. But that was not the case in the Gulf. Iraqi forces did not leave Kuwait, so a World War II-style ground invasion became the strategy to get them out. Saddam Hussein's troops fled in the wake of a massive allied onslaught. One hundred hours later, the Gulf war was over. The Iraqi soldiers we once feared barely put up a fight. Our plan of targeting systems rather than troops had clearly weakened the entire Iraqi chain of command. By the end of the war, their soldiers were ragged, starving, leaderless, and ready to surrender. Despite the resort to ground war, the swiftness of the result seemed to justify the notion that we could win with big technology, rather than big armies. We clearly didn't need the masses of troops we employed. Several observers even questioned whether we needed a ground war at all.
COL. JOHN WARDEN: Probably for the next couple hundred, three hundred years or so, there's going to be a big debate as to whether there was in fact a requirement for a ground operation, for a ground attack. My personal answer is, from a purely military standpoint, I do not believe that there was. And I think, in a very real sense, without exaggeration, that after the first few minutes of the war, Iraq had no options. It simply didn't matter what Iraq did, because Iraq no longer has the capability to mount a cogent and coherent and effective military riposte to what we had done in the first minutes of the war.
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: What Warden came up with, where you go after the so-called center of gravity, has great merit. And as interesting as this theory was, and as powerful an impact that it had in the war, it still didn't do it. The Iraqis were still on the ground, and it took the ground forces on attack to put them out of business.
GEN. CALVIN WALLER: No air force has ever held ground. Whenever you want to hold the ground, you must have forces that occupy that ground to ensure that no one can come back and take it over again.
GEN. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF: This is sand from the liberated beaches of Kuwait.
LARY LEWMAN: Whether we needed a giant ground assault to defeat the enemy was not even a question in the first flush of victory. But critics of the war pointed to a still-defiant Saddam Hussein and the relatively unscathed Republican Guard, which escaped to Baghdad ahead of the advancing allies, as proof that the great victory was in part, hollow. But Saddam was gone from Kuwait, and in large measure, that was due to America's new war machines, with their precise and destructive power. Since the Gulf war, the U.S. military has continued to invest heavily in high technology aimed at keeping soldiers as far from the battlefield as possible. But we have fought other battles since Desert Storm, and they have been difficult, humiliating, and devoid of protective technologies.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: The lesson that the American military should have learned from the Gulf war is not that it needs to plan to re-fight the Gulf war more effectively. The most likely form of conflict will continue to be the irregular conflict, the ethnic warfare, the internal conflicts that we see in places like Bosnia and Somalia and Haiti. And it's not necessarily the case that a Stealth fighter, which was so effective in the Gulf war, is going to be especially effective when you're talking about situations like Mogadishu.
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: We came off this enormous victory in the Gulf, and then the next thing we know, we're involved in Somalia, which is a nickel-and-dime type of operation, and it failed.
LARY LEWMAN: In 1992, a year after the Gulf war, U.S. troops entered Somalia to restore hope to victims of drought and famine. Relief efforts had been plagued by factional violence that was blocking food from reaching starving people. The military's mission was to make sure supplies reached the needy. There was no intent to stay beyond this original mandate, but then the mission changed.
LT. GEN. TONY ZINNI: I think that the big mistake was moving the humanitarian operation into a nation-building or a political dimension, and really, the operation began to unravel.
LARY LEWMAN: Believing the nation was too unstable to govern itself, the United Nations tried to reduce the political influence of factional leaders, especially the strongest, Mohammed Farah Aidid, a man branded by western observers as a "warlord."
LT. GEN. TONI ZINNI: He has followers who are very attached to him, for all different reasons, for his military prowess, his statesman-like reputation and demeanor. We brush that aside and feel he's a warlord. Is he ruthless? Yes. Does he want total control? Yes. But when we deal with these fifteen faction leaders in a manner which assumes that they are in a warlord category, we lose what they mean to their people.
LARY LEWMAN: Failing to heed the warnings of its own experts, the U.S. military, after a series of confrontations with Aidid's followers, raided one of his strongholds. They arrogantly came in daylight, with noisy helicopters, and without adequate backup if something went wrong. An Army helicopter was quickly shot down, and a dramatic rescue attempt ensued. When the dust had settled, eighteen U.S. soldiers were dead and seventy-seven wounded. The epitome of the disgrace was captured in this image of a dead U.S. Ranger being dragged through the streets.
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: All our high technology was of absolutely no use whatever, because we were not fighting the classical war, such as the Gulf. We were fighting the sort of war that we are probably going to be faced with in the future, more so than anything like the Gulf. One of the difficulties in the type of operation such as Somalia, or going back to '83, to Lebanon, or more recently, to Haiti, is the fact that it's not classical warfare, obviously. But it really doesn't even approach the kind of a guerilla warfare, the insurgency warfare, that we experienced in Vietnam. It's urban warfare, wherein you have the bad guys mixed up with a lot of innocent people. This is a very, very tough problem, because the minute you are indiscriminate or promiscuous in your use of force, then all you're doing is playing into your enemy's hand and making more enemies, because you've killed the innocent.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: I think the United States, by virtue of its power and its leadership role, is going to be inextricably involved in these kinds of conflicts. These are wars that are much more manpower-intensive, and so we'll rely here on smart soldiers as much as on smart munitions, if not more.
LARY LEWMAN: So what the military calls "ground operations" will not go away. In Quantico, Virginia, Marines train for warfare in urban environments.
CAPT. ROBERT JONES: Urban warfare is characterized by high-intensity, close-in fighting. The casualty rates are extremely high because most of the fighting is done from a distance of fifteen, twenty feet. It's close in, and you'll be fighting room from room, building to building. The defender has the advantage. He can use his small numbers to maximize his weapons systems. He can slow us down, tie us up, and inflict greater casualties. This type of fighting is characterized by confusion, and it's inherently confusing. The casualties are horrendous. You cannot bomb an urban environment in submission. You can't shoot missiles at an urban environment, at a town, and then make it surrender. In order to take it, you have to physically occupy it, and then to physically occupy it, you need to kill the enemy and clear him from that environment.
LARY LEWMAN: If this scenario were real, as many as half of these Marines would be killed. In limited ways, high technology can improve their chances, even in difficult urban conflicts. Infrared night vision devices can help them maneuver in unfamiliar terrain, and allow troop movements under the cover of darkness. This can turn night into a strategic advantage. Thousands of feet above the battlefield, J-Stars surveillance planes with new high-powered radars can track enemy movements on the ground and instantly communicate that information to units in the area. And enhanced weaponry for infantry engagements is available to help the ground soldier in any situation—including Bosnia, should direct force become necessary. But close-in combat on any battlefield is inherently risky, and this is especially true in the rugged terrain of Bosnia. The country's poor weather limits aerial strikes. Urban battlegrounds and civilian populations make even precision bombing difficult, and thousands of land mines await any G.I. misstep. Here, if war breaks out again, we will not be at stand-off ranges, but as in Somalia, we will be right in the thick of things. Are we as prepared for Bosnia as we were for the Gulf? And if it comes to war, what would a victory cost? Perhaps nonconventional conflicts require nonconventional soldiers, like the U.S. Navy SEALS, one of America's elite special forces units. In situations where technology alone will not give us an advantage, soldiers need to be smart, strong, and highly skilled. Special forces are taught to perform in demanding, rugged environments, and in situations where physical endurance, stealth, and deadly precision are the most important human assets. They perform their tasks in small, maneuverable units, often under the cover of darkness. But only a small number of our forces are trained to this level. There are fewer than four thousand SEALS, while twenty thousand Americans will be deployed in Bosnia, and an even larger force will be required, should war break out. But how well will these men and women handle such a conflict? And will our latest technologies be able to help them? As today's military planners configure forces for possible action in the Balkans or the Middle East, North Korea or China, or wherever we might become engaged, they do so with shrinking budgets. The question that confronts them is how to balance spending priorities, whether to continue supporting big expenditures for technology, or to devote greater resources to manpower and training to prepare for the Bosnias of the future.
COL. KENNETH ALLARD: I think one of the things that is going to be very, very critical for the future is the striking of a balance between my ability to go and perform a mission right now and today, and my ability to perform one tomorrow. In other words, the number of forces and the kinds of forces that I have on duty today, right now, as well as their readiness and their training. And then I have to balance that off against the shrewd technology investments that I make for the future. And unfortunately, that becomes a very, very touchy proposition when you're dealing with the problems that we have to contend with right now, in terms of the budget.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: Well, the good news is that the American military today faces threats that pale to insignificance compared to what we faced during the cold war. The bad news is that they must plan for the future with ever-shrinking defense budgets in a condition of extraordinary uncertainty, uncertainty in the geopolitical sense. The American military today does not know who might present the next major security challenge, when that challenge might occur, or how that challenge might manifest itself.
LT. GEN. TONY ZINNI: You know, I think the decision as to where you spend your money on defense—because defense is very expensive; the American taxpayer pays a big bill—has to be based on what the strategy is, what the requirement is. We shouldn't just pursue technology for technology's sake, pursue systems for systems' sake. Probably, depending on who you talk to and what uniform that he wears, you'll get a different view as to what's important, because we're prisoners of our experience and our background. But I really think the first thing that has to happen is, you need to sit down and say to yourself, "What is the threat?" After you determine and define the threat, you have to decide what you want to be in this world. Does the United States want to remain a world leader, involved? Does it want to remain present? Do we want to maintain our influence, for example, in NATO? Do we want to look at an emergent Pacific Rim and be involved out there? What is it that we have to protect? Is it our borders? Is it our way of life? Is it our economic well being? Is it the environment? Is it things that threaten our culture, like drugs and those sorts of things? If you look at what you want to be, if you look at what threatens you, if you look at what poses those threats, that will logically lead you to what kind of military you should have.
LARY LEWMAN: The U.S. has weapons and war machines that are the best of their kind. We used them successfully in the Gulf. But that may not be the likely prototype for battlefields of tomorrow. How well we predict future conflicts and prepare strategies to fight them will determine if we will be successful once again.
To respond to this program, or to find out more about NOVA, visit NOVA's website at pbs.org.
To order this show for $19.95 plus shipping and handling, call 1 (800) 949-8670. And to learn more about how science can solve the mysteries of our world, ask about our many other NOVA videos.
NOVA is a production of WGBH Boston.
NOVA is funded by Prudential.
Prudential. Insurance. Health care. Real estate, and financial services. For more than a century, bringing strength and stability to America's families.
And by Merck.
Merck. Pharmaceutical research. Dedicated to the needs of an aging society. Merck. Committed to bringing out the best in medicine.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and viewers like you.
This is PBS.
Next time on NOVA, the Titanic. In 1912, the unthinkable happens when this unsinkable liner sinks. In the aftermath, Titanic sister ship, Britannic, is built stronger, safer. But just four years later, Britannic goes down twice as fast. What went wrong? Now, an ambitious explorer goes high-tech to find the answer. Titanic's Lost Sister.
© | Created September 2006
Support provided by
For new content
visit the redesigned