The Renaissance of Ground Forces

Posted in NATO | 19-Jun-03 | Author: Dieter Farwick

The time for Ground Forces seemed to have gone. The wars in the nineties fought by US-led coalitions were preliminary wars of the Air Force. Minimizing own casualties – an important political constraints for strategic planners - the combined air forces attacked Iraq and later FYR prior to any ground attack and destroyed as many enemy installations and forces as possible. But the collateral damages were more numerous and heavier than expected. The effect on enemy’s Ground Forces was often disappointing. Own Ground Forces were brought in lately.

The price for that kind of war was in many ways very high. The precise weapons of the Air Force are very expensive. Thousands of sorties had to be flown – causing collateral damage to civilian installations, too – energy supply infrastructure as well as roads and bridges, which cost a lot of resources to be rebuilt after the war in the framework of post-conflict-operations and nation-building.

A big portion of the defence budget went to the Air Force in order to refill the depots.
Lessons learned from these wars changed the strategic pattern of Gulf War 2003 totally.
Some important factors led to the change. The aims and objectives of Gulf War 2003 were to change the regime and neutralise weapons of mass destruction and not to destroy the country and not to cause a high number of civilian casualties. Post-conflict – operations with nation-building and reconstitution of the country as soon as possible were obviously integral part of the strategic plan.
The US-leadership took a higher risk than outsiders had expected. The Ground Forces played a dominant role from the very beginning. Even having lost Turkey to build up a two-pronged attack from the South and the North the Ground Forces rapidly gained ground. The advancing forces neglected pockets of resistance and pushed hard towards Baghdad accepting open flanks with risks for lines of communication and supply. Obviously, the regular Iraqi Ground Forces were caught by surprise by that kind of a courageous and dynamic ground attack.
Especially the US Ground forces were a perfect mix of weapons. They executed perfectly the combined arms combat in the greater framework of Joint Warfare based on “Network centric warfare.” Jets, helicopters, tanks and well-equipped soldier on the ground were orchestrated in a way to exploit own strength and minimise own weaknesses. Tanks – which had already labelled as “Dinos” - offered a high degree of troop-protection, day and night combat effectiveness and had a high moral impact on the enemy. Not to forget, modern armoured vehicles offer a protection against chemical and biological weapons.

Without a doubt, that fact would get even more weight, if the enemy’s Ground Forces had a higher quality than the regular Iraqi forces. It was proved, that Ground Forces are the best tool to conquer and occupy a country with a low level of damage and casualties. Even Baghdad did not become a second Stalingrad as some so-called experts had expected.

It is far too early to offer a complete picture of lessons learned from Gulf War 2003.
But one lesson is obvious: modern Ground Forces are well suited to dominate in that kind of war - as in Iraq - where damages should be limited in order to facilitate a relatively quick reconstitution and stabilisation in the country and the neighbouring region. Ground Forces should get a bigger slice of the budget-cake to enable them to play their role in modern Joint Warfare even better with fewer casualties through “friendly fire”.