27 March 2010

Reading the Tea Leaves

As many of you know, I'm writing a paper about the Lebanon-Hezbollah war for an upcoming CENSA essay compilation. One of the greatest issues I've been running in to is the lack of good analysis of the war--typical of history written in the immediate aftermath of any event. My frustration can be summed up in a quote from the book "The Past as Prologue":
[The War] was short but intense, leaving the world shocked and enthralled by its drama. A large number of foreign military observers and journalists witnessed its conduct. Their findings were widely publicized in popular books and official studies. Pundits immediately acknowledged that the war offered important insights into the nature of future conflict at a time of seemingly revolutionary technological change and social upheaval, as well as a novel strategic geography...

...It is hard to identify any lesson of the war that was not appreciated or documented at the time. Inevitably, many of these lessons were contradictory, peculiar to the theatre, and more or less appropriate to different military cultures. Moreover, observers viewed those lessons through the distorting lenses of political intrigue, social attitude, military orthodoxy, and wishful thinking. The result was what historians at the beginning of the twenty-first century see now as having been clear auguries of the future of warfare generally went unheeded. The military organizations of the time often proved lethally wide of the mark. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the war was how human folly can arrive at lessons that in the end prove to be self-destructive and delusional to a gargantuan degree.

Nevertheless, Major Irvin Oliver, an instructor at West Point, gets much of it right in a recent article at Small Wars Journal. Let's observe.

As the United States fights wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and continues its counterterrorism efforts, the US Army is in the midst of transformation. This transformation is affecting nearly all aspects of the institution, to include organization, doctrine, and training.

Good introduction, although it kind of begs the question: isn't the Army always transforming? I think we need to move beyond the term "transform"--which implies that an institution morphs from one defined form into another. I'd quote Webster's, but I'm certain this is what we all think about when we hear the word "transform":

I think "evolution" is a more appropriate term when applied to armies. Transformation happens once, evolution happens all the time. (Well, unless you're the Kansas State Board of Education)

Nevertheless, the introduction to the theme of "hybrid war" is solid, noting that Hezbollah--which fought protracted battles against the IDF--is not too dissimilar from large irregular movements such as the Taliban or the Mahdi Army, both of which have assembled in groups of several hundred. I applaud Major Oliver for not falling into the trap of many hybrid war authors by claiming that the Hezbollah model is radically new.

Major Oliver spends a great deal of time discussing many of the tactical aspects of Hezbollah's campaign. One issue of particular concern is Hezbollah's use of UAVs for reconnaissance and, potentially, strike purposes. (Hezbollah presumably received their UAVs from Iran--who has recently operated UAVs over Iraq.) These vehicles--small, slow, and possessing a small radar and infra-red cross-section--presented a difficult target for the IAF. This should provide a wake-up call to military planners, who have largely operated under the assumption that they would always have air superiority. Not to mention, it should also demonstrate that our greatest air-based threats are not necessarily the PAK-FA or the Su-37.

I could go on and on about Hezbollah and the IDF on a beautiful Saturday, but I won't. I'll simply implore you to go read Major Oliver's article. Like now.


Andy Kravetz said...

Well, sure, you could make a UAV out of a RC plane and a digital camera. :) But great article. As someone who spent time in Israel, I appreciate it. The bigger picture is, I think, how the Hezbollah managed to take out so many Merkvah tanks. It was, before 2006, deemed the unstoppable machine. Not so much and the IDF's image has taken a beating. That said, I wouldn't want to piss them off. :)

Starbuck said...

I'm currently in the middle of writing a big paper about Hezbollah and the IDF, but here's kind of the down-and-dirty when it comes to the IDF's tank action. Some notable drawbacks of the IDF tank corps include:

1.) Minimal collective training (that is, training in groups) in the 5 years prior to the Lebanon War.

2.) Minimal gunnery training in those same 5 years.

3.) Extensive Hezbollah defensive preparations and arms caches, dug since the Israeli withdrawal in 2000.

4.) Terrain which greatly favors infantry, not armored forces.

5.) The IDF used an avenue of approach which was very obvious to Hezbollah. Hezbollah fighters dug in along that route, and fired anti-tank missiles from buildings and villages, negating the advantage of the Merkava tanks.

6.) I need to check, but I think Hezbollah got their hands on some of the best anti-tank missiles in the business (Koronet, I think they're called), most likely from Iran.