TCS Daily

'Bombing to Win'

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - March 24, 2003 12:00 AM

Back in graduate school, my classmates and I were assigned to review the galleys for the book Bombing To Win: Air Power And Coercion In War. The book was written by Professor Robert Pape, who now teaches in the same university where I was once a student.

Pape's argument is that the strategic bombing of civilian populations does not work as a form of military coercion, unless such bombing involves the use of nuclear weapons. Instead, he states that bombing campaigns only have a coercive effect when they involve the targeting of military sites and installations, along with troop encampments.

Consequently, Pape urges the use of "denial" tactics (attacking military targets) instead of "punishment" tactics (attacking civilians and civilian-dominated areas). Contrary to the beliefs of many military analysts, Pape believes that there is nothing to be gained from civilian bombardment. He does not buy the theory that such bombardment will inflame a civilian population against its own government and cause the population to lose its morale and fighting spirit. On the contrary, Pape believes that civilian bombing will only cause the population to rally around its national leadership as civilian losses mount due to enemy bombing.

In addition, Pape addresses the use of "decapitation" bombing-bombing that targets the senior leadership of an enemy country in order to deprive that country of command and control capabilities, as well as decision-making capabilities in wartime. He argues that like "punishment," decapitation is an unsuccessful strategy.

New Weapons...

The current war has promised-and now delivers-some of the much-heralded campaign of "shock and awe"; an air campaign that is designed to swiftly destroy key Iraqi military and strategic installations, as well as pulverizing Iraqi front lines. Much of the campaign has focused on hitting Baghdad, with its many presidential palaces and military outposts. The power demonstrated by the air campaign has been most impressive, as was the air campaign that was employed in the first Persian Gulf War. But this is a different kind of air campaign altogether.

First of all, while "smart bombs" made up only 10% of the munitions dropped on Iraq in 1991, they will make up approximately 80% of the munitions being used in the current campaign. Additionally, the technology of smart bombs is significantly enhanced as well. Previous versions of smart bombs were either TV/IR-guided bombs (which have cameras mounted on to their noses, and which relay radio signals to a human controller to steer the bomb after it is dropped), or laser-guided bombs (which use laser-seekers to focus on a target that was previously "painted" with a high-intensity laser beam that allows the laser-seeker to pick it up). While these munitions significantly enhanced the ability of bombers to make pinpoint strikes against their targets, they had a drawback. Any cloud cover or obstacles that prevented the bomb sensor from maintaining visual contact with the target would cause the bomb to veer off course.

The current generation of smart bombs is able to solve the problems that plagued their predecessors. Joint Direct Attack Munitions ("JDAMS") feature an inertial guidance system and a GPS homing device that permits the bomb to figure out its position by receiving GPS satellite signals, while the inertial guidance system monitors the bomb's movements. This feature allows the JDAM to be able to strike its targets with precision in circumstances that would frustrate a TV/IR-guided or a laser-guided bomb, as satellite signals are not interrupted by immoderate atmospheric conditions.

...New Tactics

The precision of the new generation of smart weapons allows for new and unique tactics to be available to the military in the current air campaign, as well as in future conflicts. Despite the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime has deeply embedded military targets in a civilian environment-most notably in Baghdad-the United States will be able to strike at those targets while largely sparing civilians. This is not to say that there will not be civilian casualties. Even the most technologically advanced bombs may occasionally suffer from technical flaws that could bring about tragic results. However, those casualties can be kept to an absolute minimum thanks to the advances in current smart weapon technology.

The effect all of this has on Robert Pape's thesis about civilian bombing is that to the extent that the bombing of civilian targets really is as strategically counterproductive as Pape argues it to be, such a counterproductive strategy can be avoided. The "shock and awe" campaign is able to minimize civilian casualties and maximize the destruction of key Iraqi military installations, thanks to the developments in smart technology. At the same time, such bombing can have a potential effect on the civilian population-a positive effect. The campaign puts the lie to claims by the Iraqi regime that the United States and coalition forces are out to kill as many Iraqi civilians as possible, and can show that contrary to the Iraqi regime's propaganda, the United States has taken measures to ensure, to the greatest degree humanly possible, that the lives of innocent Iraqis will be spared.

As for Pape's critique of the decapitation strategy, that might be highly misplaced in light of the initial attack on the evening of March 19th-an attack that appears to have at least injured Saddam Hussein, and may have killed many senior members of the Iraqi leadership, including one or both of Saddam's sons. News reports continue to indicate that the Iraqi high command is unable to communicate with Iraqi military forces. As a result, those forces lack general direction and are slower to react to unfolding events in the theater of operations than American and British forces are.

"Shock and awe" is more than the effect of watching television pictures of things blowing up. The newfound precision of American air power is a key element of "shock and awe," and will allow the U.S. military to more effectively bomb, and to conduct decapitation campaigns against enemy leadership in future conflicts. This represents a revolution in the implementation of American power-one that will continue to influence war strategy and tactics.

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