the future of war
homeexperts' analysesinterviewschronologydiscussion

analyses: task force hawk: The goal of near-term Army transformation is focused on avoiding what happened with Task Force Hawk. This was the Army's futile attempt in the spring of 1999 to get  Apache helicopters--the Army's most fearsome attack weapon--into Albania so they could be used in NATO's war against Serbia's ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with
ralph peters  |  lawrence korb  |  general eric k. shinseki  |  andrew f. krepinevich  |  major general james dubik
Ralph Peters

A former Army Lt. Colonel and author of several books on the military, he initially was a skeptic of General Shinseki's efforts to change the Army. He is the author of Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph?.

read his full interview >

Task Force Hawk has certainly been bisected and dissected endlessly. But the basic lesson is the army could not get even helicopters to the conflict zone in time. There were some factors that usually aren't discussed. The Italians didn't want us coming through Italian territory and basing out of there. There were problems on the ground with the French in Pristina, in Albania. But all that said, we found that the army's attack helicopters, the premiere weapons system, couldn't get there, couldn't be sustained, and couldn't protect itself and, oh, by the way, the aviators weren't properly trained for that kind of fight. It was a sad day for the army.
Lawrence Korb

He is vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, 1981-1985.

read his full interview >

What were some of the lessons of Task Force Hawk?

During the war in Kosovo in the spring of 1999, the army made a futile attempt to get its Apache helicopters into Albania, so they could be used in Kosovo. That's a metaphor for what happened to the military, in general in the army, particularly in the 1990s. The Apache is a very sophisticated aircraft. But you have built up such logistics for it, that by the time you got it there, it was no longer capable of doing or no longer needed to do what it, should have done. And you ended up with not having the appropriate weapons to stop the real problem of people being run out and killed in Kosovo, because it took so long to get it there.

That's a metaphor for how heavy the army is; if you can't get it to where you want to, it's no good. And I'm sure if this was a war with the Koreans or we had to fight with the Soviet Union on the plains of Europe, this would have been a heck of a situation, and you'd want to be that heavy. But you didn't really need to be that heavy in Kosovo.
General Eric K. Shinseki

Appointed Army chief of staff in June 1999, he is calling for an Army transformation that will better prepare it to fight the new 21st century wars. As part of this effort, he wants to put a brigade combat team anywhere in the world in 96 hours, a division in 120 hours and five divisions in 30 days.

read his full interview >

Just as I've cautioned us not to study the wrong lessons out of Desert Storm, we need to be sure that we take the right lessons out of Task Force Hawk. And there are some very good lessons in terms of how we prepare aviation units and how we have looked after their equipment. There are those who have described this as not a good moment for the army, but I think most of that has played out in the media, and not in the professional discussions.

What you had was a commander in chief in Europe who decided that he needed this capability in-country. The flow of equipment and personnel to meet the mission Task Force Hawk was more than just a number of helicopters. It ended up being a very significant heavy force of about 5,000 people to include tanks, artillery pieces, and engineering equipment. The flow into the airfield there in Tirana, in Albania, was complicated because it was also the center of a large humanitarian effort to care for refugees that were crossing the Albanian border. They had to balance both missions. You had a real world life-saving mission, and a real world military requirement. And of the capability in that airfield, eighty percent was given to taking care of the Albanian refugees, and twenty percent was given to the arrival of Task Force Hawk.

With the arrival of heavy equipment to that part of Albania, there were no roads that we could drive on, and the early-arriving units literally had to build an installation in which to then deploy those helicopters. Everything was under mud. It wasn't unusual to see soldiers up to their thighs and hips wading around setting up that station. So the early-arriving engineers brought in rock to lay a foundation to bring in the heavier equipment, tanks, artillery pieces, and infantry vehicles, in order to give that mission some capability. That was very much tied to on a time line that the regional commander in chief wanted. His time line was satisfied. And the fact that twenty percent of the flow into that airfield was allocated to Task Force Hawk suggested that he was comfortable that that was an appropriate time line.

He will also tell you it was not until Task Force Hawk arrived that the Albanian government felt comfortable about moving to the border themselves. And when that happened, you had a collision between ground forces in Albania and the lineup of Serbia forces at Kosovo. When that happened, we began to have tactical targets that the air force and our other weapons systems could now identify and begin targeting. Up until this point, most of our targeting was against bridges and buildings. They were important targets, strategic targets, but they're not tactical. In the business of war fighting, it's destroying those targets that bring about the effect that we're looking for.
Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr.

He is executive director of the non-profit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and also served as a member of the National Defense Panel. The Panel was set up in 1997 by the Secretary of Defense to re-evaluate changing military needs in the new post-Cold War environment..

read his full interview >

The army learned several lessons from Task Force Hawk. Perhaps the first one was the political lesson. More and more people in Congress, even people in the Pentagon, began to ask if the army strategically relevant--can the army get to one of these unpredictable trouble spots in a hurry? To a certain extent, there's a political as well as a strategic need for the army to address the Task Force Hawk problem. But again, that is only a small part of the overall ability of the army to project power. In the future, what the army is going to confront is not just the need to move quickly to a distant trouble spot, but the ability to do it in the absence of access to large forward fixed bases. And the reason for this is that, increasingly, adversaries are going to take advantage of this military revolution to acquire technology that enables them to stare at these large fixed forward bases, say, from space. And with the combination of the proliferation of ballistic and Cruise missiles, they're going to target these bases.

One recalls the old western movies where the wagon train is trapped by the Indians. The cavalry is riding to the rescue. The quickest route is through the canyon, and of course the Indian scout says, "Don't go through the canyon. They know that's the quickest route. That's where you'll be ambushed." And of course the young lieutenant always takes his troop in, and gets ambushed. And sooner or later, John Wayne has to rescue them all.

In a sense, these fixed forward bases are the canyons of the twenty-first century. As long as we continue to project power that way, the enemy knows we has to pass through that choke point. The army must transform itself to be able to operate independent of these forward bases, to project power into a threatened region without having to funnel forces through them. Or else these kinds of bases could become the Omaha Beaches and the Anzios of the twenty-first century for the U.S. Army.
Major Gen. James Dubik

He is Deputy Commander General for Transformation at Ft Lewis, Washington and is overseeing the creation of the Army's interim brigades. Dubik is a former infantryman, paratrooper and West Point instructor.

read his full interview >

How much did the [army] transformation draw from the lessons learned with Task Force Hawk in Kosovo?

Task Force Hawk was one of the influences. If you look at the variety of operations that we conducted since the end of the Cold War--Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo--each one has some very similar characteristics. One, they're underdeveloped infrastructures. Two, there was a variety of threats. Three, those threats are both conventional combat and asymmetrical. And four, they're very hard to get to due to the long logistics line.

So what we want to do, as an army, is look at those as examples of future conflicts. We don't want to prepare better for the last war. We want to be ready for the next kind of war. And what the next war needs is a force that can go into anywhere very quickly, doesn't need a big logistics tail, doesn't need a main airport. They can plunk themselves down and be combat ready upon arrival. That's what this brigade does, and that's what the future objective force will do as well.

Also examine the Readings and Links section of this site for more analysis on Task Force Hawk.


home ·  experts' analyses ·  interviews ·  army chronology ·  quiz ·  discussion
gore & bush's military agenda ·  readings ·  synopsis
credits ·  tapes & transcripts ·  pbs online ·  frontline

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation


SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS