The author is former director general military operations and currently director, Delhi Policy Group. He has first-hand knowledge of Iraq and its military system
The war in its formal shape is over in Iraq. In simple terms, the power elites of Iraq deserted their military forces. The outward shape of an army, Republican Guards, Special Republican Guards and the Saddam Fedayeen, was used to keep up the bluster of a force that would defend against the coalition invasion. It is the leadership that failed in Iraq. Iraq’s envoy to the United Nations put it rather nicely. He was asked if he would defect to the West and he answered, “Defect from whom' It is the leadership which has defected from Iraq.” That was one jeopardy the Iraqi military faced. The second jeopardy was the unprecedented technological power of the coalition war machine. The double pincer of a leadership which cared for itself more than for its military and country, and the unequal battle against vastly more powerful forces, proved too much for the Iraqi military.
This Iraq war sets the stage for wars of 21st century. The shift from manpower as the ballast of wars, to firepower delivered with hitherto impossible accuracy, is the first major development of war in this century. Wars were fought in 18th century with thousands of soldiers packed in a square mile. Better firepower forced commanders to disperse soldiers over larger frontages. World War I witnessed an endless front from northern Europe to the south of France. The number of troops needed to hold the front were smaller. To attack such a front covered with machine guns required thousands and thousands of troops and a similar number of guns.
World War II saw mobility restored to war with tanks and aircraft. Consequently that war extended to whole of Europe, Russia, and north Africa apart from east Asia. In the last thirty years, fewer and fewer troops could hold larger frontages with the help of more varied firepower and observation devices. Defence had become stronger than offence. The need for numbers for attack, whether in infantry or tanks, remained high if victory had to be ensured. Arab-Israeli wars, India-Pakistan wars, Vietnam and Korea all needed numbers to obtain results.
The difference in the first and second Iraq wars is stunningly visible. The main focus of American military technology in the intervening years was on reducing the gap between the sensor of a target and the shooter. That meant both early location and identification of targets and the ability to destroy it had to be improved. This required great strides to be made in battlefield observation and field-to-command communications.
There was no point in traditional infantry patrols moving at night to locate enemy positions. Troops in this war knew before they contacted the enemy, where he was and the way he was deployed in positions. Air, satellite and shot range unarmed aerial vehicles obtained this data without the attacking troops losing time and suffering casualties. The United States of America’s forces operated a variety of sensors and UAVs. The smallest of them was lightweight, and could be taken in a back pack. The Dragon Eye, weighing just two kilograms, had a wing span of 1.1 metres. Every small unit was led by global positioning system guided instruments that were unaffected by weather.
To ensure that coalition forces worked like a seamless web, the battle zone from Kuwait to Kurd-held northern Iraq was turned into a networked area. Information and response from any location and level was made known to forward troops in real time. If, for example, airborne infra red picked up a minefield or gun position, it was on the front line troops’ hand-held computers immediately. The time gap between information of Saddam and his sons in a restaurant and the strike on them was ten to twelve minutes.
In addition to speed of response, the accuracy of firepower delivered on target was of incredible standards. In the first Iraq war, 90 per cent of munitions dropped from the air were dumb. In other words they dropped like stones and were affected by winds, visibility and pilot skills. In the current war, 90 per cent of air delivered munitions were accurately guided to targets by laser beams and preprogramming. The effect of such accurate fire destroys the will of defenders who have no escape from annihilation.
The claims of coalition commanders that they had broken up the Republican Guards were based on damage assessment made possible by actual counts and pictures taken by UAVs and satellite photos. Above all, the coordination between ground forces and air support crafts and helicopters was in real time. No coalition element was left without air cover and support even for a minute. The bold entry into Baghdad by tanks would have turned into a burning cauldron but for complete and effective air cover available instantly.
Another difference in the two wars of 1991 and 2003 was the build-up of operational momentum from the first hours of war. Unlike in 1991, there was no long drawn air campaign to soften the targets. The attack started with ground and air offensives going on simultaneously. This “Rolling Start” to war enabled speed and surprise to be gained and offered no time to the Iraqi high command to respond. There is no doubt that an uncertain and ill equipped Iraqi high command, without strategic guidance from Saddam Hussein, floundered and imploded in the face of technology with which it was unacquainted.
Personal valour and courage has been the hallmark of most first rate armies, including the Indian army. One has only to read the citations of India’s gallantry award winners to know that extraordinary valour forms the bedrock of operational success. Unfortunately, modern technology is no respecter of personal courage. In fact, technology of the kind seen in this war frees the soldier to conduct operations, instead of being part of nameless numbers being thrown into battle, with nothing more than courage to sustain them. This was a war where each individual coalition soldier was radio linked, each could operate in darkness with night vision devices, and they were all part of a seamlessly digitized war zone.
This also means the modern military leadership’s main task is of preparing the force for a new kind of war. It will be a war in which mere exhortations to national pride or regimental honour will not suffice. The modern military leader will need to obtain for his force the latest in technology. He will have to tell his political masters that wars cannot be won on shoestring budgets, or, with scandal- ridden imports of military technology.
Political leadership will need to realize that rhetoric and bluster do not win wars. Wars need armies to be equipped and trained for the new kind of technology. Political leaderships will have to find ways and means to equip their army accordingly. The penalty for seeking war without the right army will be much worse than political leaders seeing their statues being pulled down.