Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New strategy

The replacement of the U.S. commander in Afghanistan is a clear signal of a new strategy by the Obama administration. It is clear that an aggressive, attrition based strategy is being changed to one of a ‘lighter footprint’. This reminds me of a few things:

President Carter wanted to have a lighter, more rapid deployment force in our military. This concept was defeated badly by political means. Today, this is being implemented not just in the forces being deployed, but in the manner that they will be acting. This worries me.

Throughout history, the movement/armor balance has been the key to winning wars. Armor is important to a point, to protect the soldiers from injury. However, armor is heavy. It can slow and prevent rapid movement. The ability to move rapidly can be a decisive advantage in many situations. The trick is to know what the balance is.

The armored knight on horseback was helpless when he had been knocked off of his horse. However, against infantry, knights were decisive for centuries. The longbow can along and could injure knights and horses from long ranges. The invention of the pike and firearms ended the armored Calvary’s dominance of the battlefield.

"Speed is armor" was the principal that drove the design of battlecruisers in the first part of the 20th century. Battleship sized guns were placed on ships with the armor of a cruiser. This made the ship lighter and faster. This saying was proven false when the HMS Hood was blown out of the water by the newer battleship Bismarck, which was just as fast.

The German Tiger tank was a formidable opponent on the battlefield. What many people don’t know was that it was slow and broke down often. And a broken down Tiger needed another to tow it away. This made for an inviting target. Most Tiger tanks were lost to mechanical failure, rather than enemy action. It was basically a defensive weapon.

The point here is that balance is the key. Is a ‘lighter footprint’ the key to winning the war in Afghanistan?

I have not believed that we were going to win the war in Afghanistan in the first place. The terrain is the world’s worst for a military like the U.S. I believe that we need to fight in other places as well as Afghanistan just so that we can keep the attrition up and the pressure on our enemies. Slowing down the fighting by withdrawal from Iraq and having a ‘lighter footprint’ in Afghanistan means that we will need an additional front to keep the heat on our enemies. Otherwise, I believe our enemy will have resources to deploy in other parts of the world where we are more vulnerable. I doubt that our commander-in-chief is thinking along these lines.


  1. Your example of HMS Hood is misplaced. She was built with the same level of protection as contemporary battleships.