Bombing campaigns - what do you bomb?
December 17, 2002 7:41 PM   Subscribe

"Hitting Home: Coercive Theory, Air Power and Authoritarian Targets" will answer your questions on how aerial bombardment fits into the range of options between coercive diplomacy and total war, questions such as: -- What should be targeted for bombing? -- Exactly how much do you need to destroy to achieve your government's political objectives?
posted by sheauga (5 comments total)
Oh, man... a pdf<? And it sounded so interesting.
posted by y2karl at 7:59 PM on December 17, 2002

Sorry, y2karl - it takes work to figure out a bombing campaign that's better than what happened in Vietnam.
posted by sheauga at 8:04 PM on December 17, 2002

The article surprisingly overlooks the extent to which coercive air power is a special case of what are now classed as effects-based operations. Not so much a new concept as theory applied to the modern requirements of limited war, the idea of EBO is to determine the minimum force required to produce a given effect in the enemy. The classic case is noted in the article: aerial bombardment of German railroads to interdict logistical reinforcement in the Normandy theater, which was found to have virtually halted the German war economy. By itself, continued bombardment of strategically importnat railway yards, junctions, bridges and the like might have brought the war to a conclusion sooner, without requiring the complete ground-force invasion of Germany, costly to both sides, and especially to the civilian population.

I don't know if anyone's phrased it quite this way before, but EBO might be to air power what advanced game theory has had on tank and, more generally, ground warfare. The classic breakthrough half a century ago was third-generation, maneuver warfare, expressed in strategies such as the German Blitzkrieg -- developed as a way for a weaker, but more disciplined, force to counter a stronger one; for a time, it worked against both France and Russia, but it also worked for the Allies. It worked brilliantly for Israel in the 1967 and 1973 wars. Today concepts such as Boyd's OODA Loop have advanced maneuver warfare, at least on paper, to the point where it's sometimes called "third and a half generation" warfare. Always, the idea is doing more with less, fighting smarter and not harder. Eventually, this merges into fourth generation warfare.

It is hard to know how well a great deal of this paper theorizing truly applies in the real world. The militaries that are most involved in this type of applied warfare science, such as the US, have too few opportunities (fortunately) to really test them on a broad scale, such as desert tank battle against a determined foe.

There's a document archive I'd love to get my hands on, though -- the military theorists working for Saddam Hussein. Not the gas, not the WWI-replay of the Iran-Iraq war, but the strategists working to outfox the US and UN, and the counter-coup strategists, rumored to have closely studied every coup in the world. I wonder if they're using game theory; I wonder if they're using any theory at all, or just seat-of-the-pants approaches. We know that being on the other side of a Western-style coercive campaign can lead to innovation, such as the Serbians' alleged insight that they could "see" stealth aircraft indirectly by tracking cell-signal interference [dissenting view]. I'd be fascinated to read the game theory from the other side.
posted by dhartung at 10:02 PM on December 17, 2002

Holy shit, I think I'm understanding why the push to attack Iraq. It's G4W. The idea is to take away their will / reason for fighting. The reason has been identified as fanatical devotion to Muslim faith.. fanatical enough that anybody succeeding in the world while 'sinning' in the eyes of Allah must be destroyed.

The solution is to exert cultural influence on the middle eastern region. To show them that it is OK to take out a mortgage without pissing off Allah. It's OK to let your women speak. Generally, to create a successful arab society, akin to Turkey, in which people are free. It's like giving them the America they've always wanted to move to, but marketing it close to home and they're own people. Kind of like building a Six Flags in Hoboken, NJ or something.

Iraq is picked, among other reasons, because it's a progressive people, anxious for change, and already somewhat secular. It's a hell of a lot easier than getting Saudi Arabia to change overnight. I'd almost go so far as to call it brilliant.
posted by askheaves at 12:58 AM on December 18, 2002

there's also economic warfare, or how to degrade a country's (or non-state actor's) economic ability to wage war, e.g. thru sanctions or trying to cause hyperinflation and stuff.

like the economic calculation war planners had to make in WWII for instance involved deciding whether buying iberian tungsten and dumping it in the sea (to keep away from the germans, thus denying them high-quality steel) was better than say, building another bomber. it's really hard cuz you have to weigh what the benefit is of the whole german army having slightly more crappy bullets vs the ability to take out a few more military installations or something. not exactly game theory tho! more like linear programming :D
posted by kliuless at 7:16 AM on December 18, 2002

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