Thinking about our yesterdays today
Here's an interesting military exercise whose hypothetical setting is Baghdad. Jim Garamone of American Forces Press Service describes exercise Urban Resolve 2015, designed to test solutions for combat in cities. "Dave Ozolek, executive director of the Joint Futures Lab at the command, said the experiment is designed to examine solutions for current and future gaps in warfighting capabilities."
He said the experiment is enabling the command to get inside two concepts. First, how does the U.S. military operate in the new urban environment? "Ten years ago, we saw the (military) operating space as the great plains of Europe and the deserts, and we basically avoided operating in the urban environment," Ozolek said. "That's no longer possible. That's where the fight is, that's where the enemy is, that where the center of gravity for the whole operation is."
This is more than the old military operations in urban terrain that the armed forces practiced for years. "We need a new approach, because the environment is not only terrain, it's infrastructure, it's culture, it's governance, it's rule of law, it's legality, food, water, fire and safety and all of those things that make up a complex environment of a city," he said.
The military must make the urban environment "toxic" to the enemy and achieve success in ways other than trying to hunt them down one at a time and kill them, he said.
The second concept is stabilization operations. How does the military stabilize the situation in a city, transition to local control and rebuild a shattered economy? "How do we bring safety and security to the city without destroying it?" Ozolek asked.
This exercise is interesting because it illustrates just how long it takes for an institution as large and complex as the US military to reorient itself from an old mission to a new one. For purposes of historical comparison it wasn't until the mid-1950s that the US adopted a coherent strategy on the use nuclear weapons — weapons which had been developed ten years earlier. Although the tank saw use in the middle of the Great War, it wasn't until 1927 that the British created the Experimental Mechanized Force, and not until 1940 when mainstream strategists became convinced armor and mechanized warfare was more than a fad. The French Army, which was the victor of the Great War, took entirely the wrong lesson from its experience and built the Maginot Line.
The same type of phenomenon attended the development of air warfare. While it was clear to everyone that the beginning of a revolution in military affairs had taken place during 1914-1918 even the leading theorists often got it wrong. "In his book The Command of the Air (1921), Douhet argued that future military leaders could avoid falling into bloody World War I-style trench stalemates by using aviation to strike past the enemy's forces directly at their vulnerable civilian population. Douhet believed that such strikes would cause these populations to rise up in revolt and overthrow their governments to stop the bombing." Shock and awe anyone?
One tacit assumption to Urban Resolve 2015 is that the fighting will take place in "enemy" cities. However there is the possibility that some of the urban fighting in the coming decades will take place in Western European cities, such as Paris. In that environment the intelligence, culture, governance and legal aspects of the problem may dominate the purely military. Maybe Belfast would be a better laboratory model than Baghdad. At any rate, it's nice to see the US military trying to think about the problem, which is likely to yield a better result than asserting, as some legislative leaders who may soon lead Congress have asserted, that Baghdad can be controlled from Okinawa.