Thursday, February 8, 2018

What is the New Blitzkrieg?

What is the new blitzkrieg? This question is meant as an analogy. In other words, what is the new tactic or new kinds of tactics that take advantage of all the new tools and systems available for warfare? In the simplest sense there is a functionality for what to do with all the different kinds of new tools. What can we do with mobile inter-connectivity? What can we do with computing? What can we do with automation? What can we do with AI? What can we do with precision? What can we do with...etc.? In a more complicated sense, however, there is a practicality for how to put it all together. How does one use these new things in some sort of coherent manner?

To put these questions in a contemporary context, look at the following excerpt from a Real Clear Defense article about how drones could surpass IEDs as a major threat to military operations:

The drone threat is qualitatively different than that posed by manned aircraft. Because these drones are small, low-flying and quiet, they would be difficult to detect and engage with existing air defense systems. The defense is more likely to run out of interceptors before the insurgents run out of drones, particularly if the attacker employs swarming tactics. In addition, the cost-exchange ratio between cheap drones and the current set of expensive air defense systems favors the former.
Fortunately, efforts to develop counters to this emerging threat are picking up steam. Solutions require the integration of several capabilities: detecting and categorizing the drone, tracking the UAV even if it is in hover mode, and neutralizing the target by kinetic or electronic/cyber means. Increasingly, customers are looking for non-destructive ways to defeat drones including by seizing control of them.

We get a sense from this article that a real conundrum has formed--what to do with these new tools of warfare? What to do with new tools was one of the tragic challenges for actors fighting with one another during World War I. In a reference from 1917, "Notes on Recent Operations," we can get a sense for that challenge. This is like an in-stride After Action Review of front-line fighting, of command processes, of tips from the trenches, of difficulties with how to use artillery and machine guns and airplanes and armor and telephones. It is a fascinating look, from different sides of the fight, at how they dealt with the very same questions: What to do with the new tools and how to put them all together. The interwar years were an opportunity for countries to come up with new ways of warfare-with new applications of technologies-with new tactics. Maybe we are in an interwar period to do the same. The question, then, is will security institutions take advantage of the moment to capitalize on intellectual rigor on balance with capitalizing on a rigor to invest in materiel?  Here are some excerpts that share a similarly confoundedness as to the trial that new materiel brought to the battlefield:

On the Somme, as well as at Verdun, our infantry complained of suffering heavy losses from our own artillery. It is absolutely necessary that this be remedied by auxiliary observers and by artillery liaison officers placed in the first line. Barrage fire must not be lifted and thrown forward on a hasty and ill-considered request of the infantry. It must be remembered that, even with a well-regulated barrage, some projectiles may fall in our own ranks.[1]

Our chief problem, then, is how to push each advance farther than we have been able* to do in the past, while retaining the power to beat off counterattacks with equal or greater certainty than before, with less loss to ourselves and with greater loss to the enemy. The thorough knowledge of the enemy's principles and methods, gained by experience and by a study of the documents captured, furnish the data necessary for the solution of these problems, provided we remember that no solution can be satisfactory which fails to take into full account the physical and moral powers of our own men or makes greater demands on them than they can meet.[2] (p. 51)

There may be a glaring warning that national security institutions need to look closely at how they think about the warfighting concepts of such things as offense and defense--i.e. tactics. Not just the particular ways a military team turns around the corner of a building or how a platoon might provide covering fire for another platoon. That could be a misplaced stream of thought in discussions of tactics. Maybe conversations need to look more closely at how to wage an offense and how to wage a defense and how to combine them to win. The way one imagines the conduct of offensive operations and the way the one imagines conducting defenses might need some re-imagining as we enter a new age of swarm potential, as the article excerpt indicates.

To fixate on the devices in the swarm will be to miss the broader reason why the swarm is happening and what is means for how an enemy is maneuvering and what that enemy is trying to do. That is tactics. I recommend brushing off our knowledge of some fundamentals. In other words, how do we wage an offense and how do we wage a defense. These are not just tactical level matters. They are matters of tactics and operations and strategy.Which must make one wonder, what is the new tactic or operation or strategy that will pull together new tools of warfare? What will be the new blitzkrieg?

[1] "Notes on recent operations July, 1917." Ike Skelton Combined Arms Research Library Digital Library. July 1917. (accessed February 8, 2018), p. 9.

[2] "Notes on recent operations July, 1917." Ike Skelton Combined Arms Research Library Digital Library. July 1917. (accessed February 8, 2018), p. 51.