Monday, November 23, 2015

Reconsidering Force Protection Paralysis

It is common to say that casualties are the weak point in our use of military force. However good our military is, we can't take many casualties before we call it a day and go home. Is that really true?

Given that we suffered about  4,500 casualties in Iraq and 2,400 in Afghanistan over many years, can it really be said that casualties drove us from either country?

Consider that Iran is having problems when they've lost 55 in Syria:

Around 55 Iranian military personnel have been killed in Syria's civil war, Israeli intelligence believes, and a think-tank close to Israel's spy services said the toll is undermining support among Iranians for Iran's actions in Syria.

And recall that Iran lost at least 200,000 dead (and perhaps triple that) in their nearly eight-year-long war with Iraq from 1980-1988.

Yet 55 dead is causing Iranians to question their government?

And consider Russia which has attacked Ukraine and has intervened in Syria. They lost--what?--30 million people in World War II? Surely they can fight 24/7 and not notice, right? Apparently not:

The Russian deployment of troops (about 4,000 so far) to Syria is not likely to ever include a lot of military personnel and Russian leaders are aware that they do not have a lot of popular support at home for Russians fighting and dying in Syria.

For all that Iran and Russia are not democracies, their leaders appear to have more limits on intervention than we have to cope with.

Of course, Russia and Iran were invaded in 1941 and 1980, respectively. That will change the calculations considerably. And the ability of oppressive governments to suppress any dissent is surely superior for quite some time.

Yet as a democracy, we're supposed to be more vulnerable to the effects of casualties than a country like Russia or Iran. Yet we've fought for years in Iraq and Afghanistan (and still do in much smaller numbers than their peak periods), suffering thousands of casualties.

Another difference may be that our people approved of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through our elected representatives. Even when public opinion turned against the wars, in the background there was still knowledge that the wars are legitimate expressions of our popular will. That legitimacy gave the government the space to keep fighting as long as the government's will to fight and win was not shaken.

I guess I'm just not so sure that the conventional wisdom that democracies are less able to wage tough wars is true.

Which would mean that focusing on achieving victory rather than fixating on force protection at the expense of the mission when we put our troops in harm's way is the way to go.

UPDATE: Not that force protection isn't important. It is valuable both to keep our military effective to achieve the mission, and because we value the lives of our troops rather than think of them as cannon fodder.

I don't know why our armored vehicles don't have active protection. Yes, our heavy armor has been effective against insurgents and irregulars the last decade and a half. But against conventional foes or better equipped irregulars, our heavy armor will be vulnerable to top-attack munitions that avoid our tanks' frontal armor.

And it works:

Israel has recently made available a lightweight (200 kg/440 pound) version of its Trophy APS (Active Protection System) called Trophy LV. This is intended for MRAPs (heavily armored trucks), IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) and other heavy vehicles that are lighter than tanks. The regular Trophy weighs about a ton and is one of several APS models on the market but it is also the one with the most impressive combat record.

By 2012 Israel was convinced sufficiently to equip all the Merkava tanks in an armor brigade with the Trophy APS. In 2010 the first battalion of Merkavas was so equipped. Then in 2011 Trophy defeated incoming missiles and rockets in combat for the first time.

And technology allows us to insulate vulnerable soldiers from enemies more than in the past:

India recently announced the deployment of Indian designed and manufactured remotely controlled machine-guns. These weapons, with an assist from by day and night sensors, are used to deal with Islamic terrorists sneaking in from Pakistan in northwestern India (along the Kashmir border). Israel, which has become a major supplier of weapons and military equipment to India, was not mentioned. That is odd as Israel deployed such a system along the Gaza border in 2005. These Sentry-Tech pillbox towers were developed in 2004. They are unmanned armored towers that are about 4.6 meters (15 feet) tall and two meters (six feet) in diameter. At the top of the tower is an armored shelter that conceals a remotely controlled machine-gun. This technology is similar to the remotely controlled machine-gun systems used for many armored vehicles. The tower also contains vidcams, and other sensors.

Which has to be terribly frustrating to a would-be jihadi. They get all hyped up on speed and faith to kill Infidels, and all they get to do is die at the hands of one of our "robots."

Remember, force protection is good if it helps us achieve the mission. It is bad if it prevents us from achieving the mission--and becomes the mission itself.

NOTE: I corrected the Iran casualty count from the Iran-Iraq War. I originally had written the Iraqi minimum level of 100,000.