Slogan or Strategy?

Slogan or Strategy?

Gradations of shock and awe have ranged from the very discrete to the massive. The examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrate the latter, with the understanding that the reference to nuclear weapons could inadvertently suggest that the concept depended on them. That was untrue. However, the effect was to transform a society bent on suicidal resistance to benign and total passivity, the most visible example of how shock and awe could work. To some, the deaths of scores of thousands of Japanese in the bombings implied maximum uses of force. However, when balanced against estimates of a million allied casualties and many millions of Japanese had an invasion been required, the use of nuclear weapons was not without justification. The questions were whether and how those effects might be achieved using minimal amounts of force and coercive tactics.

To achieve these effects, we developed four basic characteristics to shock and awe. First was what we called "perfect knowledge", meaning comprehensive understanding of the environment, the enemy, ourselves and other relevant items beyond orders of battle and what passes for "intelligence" on the adversary, including culture. Knowledge could never be perfect. However, as Sun Tzu observed, understanding the enemy is the commander's first objective.

Second was to assure control of the environment. The environment meant everything from the airspace, the land and, where needed, the subsurface. Using the environment to our advantage, we would deny the enemy any use of that environment. The enemy would "see" whatever we wanted, and we would have the ability to cut off and limit all crucial intelligence and information available to the adversary--a capability built around knowledge of how to achieve these aims and the technology to achieve them, rather than a reliance on masses of forces.

Third was rapidity--meaning the ability to move faster than the enemy across all dimensions of land, sea, air and space, including the ether. It also meant being able to think, anticipate and react faster than the enemy, as well as having the physical capability for rapid movement.

Fourth was brilliance in execution--which we believed should be the focus of training and education. Brilliance was the standard for operational prowess.

The engine that we saw putting these characteristics to use was "effects-based" planning and operations: focusing on the outcomes to be achieved by using all of the tools in the military kit with maximum effectiveness and minimum effort. That also meant taking an adversary or target and slicing down to the absolutely key components, which, if destroyed or rendered inoperable, would negate its capability.

Take, for example, targeting an enemy power plant. In earlier wars, a bombing raid would attack the entire facility, destroying as much as possible to neutralize the target. Using effects-based thinking, that power plant would be analyzed to find the critical components such as transmission lines, transformers or other vulnerabilities that if severed or destroyed would make the entire plant inoperable. Given the revolutionary advances in accuracy, precision and lethality, a handful of weapons could impose effects that would have required hundreds or thousands of weapons in the past. And here the transformation of warfare from a time when any number of sorties was needed to destroy a single target to the reality today that a single sortie can engage and destroy a number of targets has provided an order-of-magnitude advantage in carrying out a campaign of shock and awe. The implication was that effects-based planning could be applied to toppling a regime, the goal that eluded and frustrated Chuck Horner.

Operation Iraqi Freedom--Test Case?

George W. Bush entered office promising, among other things, to transform the military for the 21st century. After a rocky start, and impelled by the attacks of September 11, "transformation" took on clearer form. A process rather than an end state, transformation sought to make military power more lethal, agile, precise and flexible. While the shape and composition of the forces have not changed dramatically, the capability and versatility have been greatly enhanced. The successful military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq were used as proof of the power of transformation.

Despite the initial hype, and for all the transformational efforts, Operation Iraqi Freedom was not an example of shock and awe. Instead, shock and awe were used as a slogan, not a strategy. To be sure, effects-based operations were fundamental to planning and execution. However, the campaign was conventionally based on using the overpowering advantages of American military power in a race to Baghdad to overthrow the regime. That relatively fewer forces were needed for the combat phase camouflaged the demands of what followed. Ironically, more forces are needed for these so-called postwar stability operations than for actually fighting the war.

The Bush Administration's military objectives for the campaign were to seize Baghdad, protect the oil wells and neutralize the Iraqi army en route, along with any weapons of mass destruction encountered. But no serious thought was given to influencing, affecting and controlling Iraqi will and perception to achieve postwar aims, such as producing a secure, democratic and stable successor state to Saddam's despotic rule. Since the administration failed to plan its postwar strategy around that central component of shock and awe, it cannot be said to have deployed the concept.

Indeed, little thought was given to the new government, who would form it, how the major religious, tribal and ethnic groups would be motivated to support it, and whether Iraqi will and perception could be directed toward that end. That absence of planning highlights the difference between the concept of shock and awe and the basis for the thinking that went into Operation Iraqi Freedom. The presumption was that a quick military victory would form the conditions for a successful postwar government. Properly applied, shock and awe could potentially have corrected such misperceptions by obligating the administration to identify its longer-term goals, such as establishing a working postwar government, and carefully plan a strategy for obtaining from the Iraqi population the broad support for (or at least acquiescence to) such objectives.

Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrated only two of the four characteristics of shock and awe: rapidity and brilliance in execution. Knowledge of the enemy was deficient. And our control of the environment really only extended to the Iraqi military. Knowledge of the enemy was so imperfect that it contributed greatly to the failure to understand the nature of the post-hostility operations, or Phase IV, as they were called.

Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam's priority was dealing with internal insurgencies, and he therefore kept bridges open in order to deploy his forces to put down internal rebellion. Importantly, the Saddam fedayeen, a paramilitary force loyal only to Saddam, had been deployed to the south to guard against rebellion and insurgency. On each of these crucial points we were ignorant.

America's ignorance of the existence and intent of the Saddam fedayeen was a critical blind spot, demonstrating the importance of the intelligence-gathering aspect of shock and awe. Superior U.S. military prowess across multiple categories, including state-of-the-art surveillance technology, did not compensate for that blind spot. Hence, the administration did not understand that bypassing the fedayeen on the race to Baghdad would have highly negative long-term consequences. During Desert Storm, General Fred Franks, commander of VII Corps (and no relation to General Tommy Franks), observed that he had virtually no knowledge of what lay beyond the next sand berm, and what he knew, he knew only because he had deployed reconnaissance units. The same lack of intelligence, despite the plethora of high-tech sensors, plagued Iraqi Freedom.

By definition, the shock and awe construct would have forced the administration's focus towards the challenges native to Iraq and taken it far beyond tactical military planning. If properly applied, the concept could have mitigated some of the intractable conditions U.S. forces are now facing. Shock and awe would have emphasized the outcome of establishing a stable Iraq and focused on influencing, affecting and controlling will and perception to that end. From that endpoint, military operations would have been designed to achieve that result.

In particular, the concept could have led to a better understanding of Saddam's strategy and the role of the fedayeen and thereby compelled U.S. forces to deal with them early on rather than merely racing to Baghdad. Such an approach would have required more ground forces, a factor that might also have brought attendant advantages. Whether conditions in Iraq would be measurably different today had shock and awe, as originally envisaged, been applied is impossible to know. What remains clear, though, is that the strategy that was displayed in Operation Iraqi Freedom was not shock and awe.

The Future of Shock and Awe

Although shock and awe have mistakenly been associated with the campaign in Iraq, some of the omissions and deficiencies in the planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom appear to validate shock and awe as frames for strategy.

During the original construction of the concept, there was a consensus that variants of the concept could also be broadly applied to a range of geostrategic challenges. Focusing on how to affect, influence and control will and perception would enrich U.S. policy today in dealing with states at crucial crossroads, such as China, India, Iran and North Korea. The critical question is less whether but how will and perception can be affected in ways that advance our interests. So, too, effects-based planning, expanded beyond military use, can be applied to these challenges. Ideally, a robust series of war games and seminars would test where, how and why the foundations of shock and awe could be applied and, equally important, where they could not. An effects-based approach would entail comprehensive scenario projections and prevent administrations from responding reflexively to complex problems.

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