Thursday, October 1, 2015

New Weapons, New Ideas, But The Same Old Game

"One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic." 
Joseph Stalin's observation still holds some truth. Stalin didn't have to worry about members of the press making each death personal. Embedded journalists equipped with high speed cameras, and twenty four hour news networks covering the unloading of casualties have managed to take hundreds of deaths from a war and make them seem the single death that is still a tragedy.

Americans are very sensitive to casualties in a war. It quickly erodes support for a conflict in a distant land, particularly when the goals seem ambiguous. The American Military establishment is keenly aware of this, and has taken expensive technological steps to avoid casualties whenever possible.

Advanced armaments and precision ordinance combined with startling precise satellite imagery produce quick, dramatic victories. American losses are kept to a minimum, and the photo opportunities are abundant. Against an enemy without an enormous defense budget, and years of research the results are startling. It has yet to be tested against a similarly armed opponent, thank goodness.

But, after these early successes comes the muddy, awful difficulties of consolidating military positions, and advancing the goals that led to the conflict initially. Here is where the strains of a protracted engagement begin to take a toll on the American will.

It is very difficult to “find, fix and finish” a guerrilla force that is content to wage a terrorist campaign against a larger, technologically superior opponent. Costs aside the drain on soldiers is terrible and the image of wounded, crippled or dead young men is horrendous.

Enter the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones. Death no longer rides a pale horse, it circles silently overhead. These are the latest attempt to use applied technology to reduce the loss of life. Drones are used to find, fix and destroy individuals, hiding behind the wall of humanity. Watchful, waiting and ready to strike, individual target weapons.

America’s newest weapon circles lazily, for hours, as a controller in Arizona mans the console observing the target area. When the conditions for engagement have been met an attack is initiated. With luck somebody is eliminated. Of course drones provide reconnaissance, and assist in many command and control procedures and decisions, but, as the name implies, their job is to attack. And they are being used extensively in every theater of operation.

So, where does that lead? Pretty much down the same rabbit hole, stuck in a foreign country, with no clear path to victory. Unwelcome, and mostly viewed as invaders, until the expense and slow but steady attrition erodes the American will to continue.

Drones are useful tools, and all political rhetoric aside, this genie will never be put back in the bottle. In fact The Joint Chiefs and General Dynamics areworking diligently to make them more effective, and lethal. But, in the end it is still a weapon that will only serve to delay the inevitable.

America and other powers need to start the “offensive” long before it is time for lethal force. Building stable governments in distant, foreign lands is expensive, difficult, and time consuming but it is the only choice left, the old game is no longer working.