By Ryan Pearce
February 24, 2010

In many circles in the defense community, the Stryker Interim Fighting Vehicle is considered the most enduring legacy of a concept introduced by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Transformational Warfare was initially hailed as an ingenious plan to reduce casualties on the battlefield by making the soldier at all levels, smarter. The idea, oversimplified as a man with a computer attached to his gun would be more capable than the two men without computers soon became bastardized. In many areas, the man was removed from the picture all together, and it became a computer with a gun could do the same job as four men. From this, Stryker was born. Designed to do job that 100 years ago would’ve been done by a horse, Stryker became a glorified mini-van outfitted with more computers than Bill Gate’s home, Stryker was pressed in to service on the streets of Iraq’s 21st century battlefield as a sort of desert-vomit colored silver bullet to the solution of transporting infantry to and from. Stryker failed.

Stryker failed because of its reliance on technology. The horse, which performed its job on the battlefield relatively unchanged, for thousands of years flourished because of simplicity of use. There was no flawed conception that a horse could use stealth or supercomputers to perform a miraculous feat. The mounted cavalry — or at least the horses they rode — knew their limits. Stryker crews falsely pushed their limits, and in result, many vehicles were lost to hostile fire from the ubiquitous RPG or Rocket Propelled Grenade.

It was a solution first seen more than 70 years ago in Europe in the form of Slat Armor — essentially a metal cage that would shred the rocket and dissipate the blast away from the vehicle — hastily fabricated by concerned soldiers and mechanics in the field that turned the page. Regardless of Stryker’s failure, good has come from the Transformational Doctrine. A major buzz has grown around the term “Autonomous” or “Unmanned”, notably the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Consider the passage below, from Smallwood’s Strike Eagle, Flying the F-15E in the Gulf War:

      “The Colors were so vivid, it surrealistic…a 
      pitch black velvet night, with triple-A going off, 
      bombs going off, and then a MiG hit the 
      ground and sprayed red flames across the 
      horizon. After that, a ruby red column of 
      flames shot up and it looked like hell had 
      opened up.” 
                              —Capt. David Castillo, USAF

This passage describes a mission flown by F-15E crews in the first Gulf War. They describe the horror that these men felt and saw as they began to attack their assigned targets. Even surrounded by a black ninja of a fighter, capable of reaching speeds of more than two-and-a-half times the speed of sound, and altitudes of more than 60,000 feet, these men felt intense fear. Many were combat pilots in Vietnam, and had flown missions such as this before. Yet, even with their training and experience, this fear was in some cases debilitating. It’s for this reason, that there exists the push towards smarter and more advanced weapon systems across a broad spectrum and in specific towards unmanned aircraft; conceivably, a plane that can fly and fight without putting a man at risk. This is a disturbing notion, however. It can be argued that by taking the man out of the loop and or augmenting his influence, the tactical gains will seemingly arrive at such a point whereas the more technologically advanced the weapon system—the more likely it will be thought of as “The Silver Bullet” to all problems. This being said, with the advent of Unmanned Vehicles and other similarly advanced technologies; the decreased risk associated with war will increase the use of open conflict as political tool. At current, there are a number of armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles beginning to enter the prototype stage, or already in service. Of these is the ubiquitous RQ-1A Predator.

The Predator started life as a reconnaissance aircraft for the Air Force. Yet, as with most things, some “guy” with a greater intelligence than myself said “Hey, this thing is cool. Now let’s make it blow stuff up.” And although that is a exaggerated scenario; with that, the RQ-1 was armed with two Hellfire missiles, and ushered the world into to the era of the Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle or UCAV on November 14th of 2001, when a CIA operated Predator attacked a suspected grouping of Al Qaeda and Taliban officials as they tried to escape Kabul, Afghanistan in a convoy of SUVs. This mission was considered a success. While the RQ-1A could only carry two 100 pound Hellfire missiles, it’s big brother, the MQ-9A Reaper, can carry up to 3,000 pounds of high explosives, including 500lb Joint Directed Attack Munitions. With this type of platform, a world of new possibilities is opened.

Consider, in World War Two, bombing operations could take nearly nine-thousand bombs to destroy a building the size of a standard office building. In this regard, there could be as many as nine-hundred B-24 Liberators dispatched to perform such a mission. As can be imagined, this caused extreme levels of collateral damage, such as that found in Dresden—home to a small, but important portion of Germany’s military infrastructure. When the allies targeted Dresden, they allocated over 1,300 bombers.

In total, 7.8 million pounds of ordinance descended on the city below. The operation, which lasted more than 15 hours, killed an  estimated 40,000 civilians with little overall impact to Germany’s military infrastructure. This is in stark contrast to operations in the first Gulf War, during the beginning of the Smart Bomb Era. On one mission flown by Strike Eagles, four aircraft—each carrying four of the older generation GBU-12 Paveway II 500lb Laser Guided Bombs, destroyed 18 hangars—and with them, 18 Iraqi fighters, all while avoiding an ancient temple—which was no more than 2000 yards (1 Nautical Mile) away.

With a guided bomb, there’s a Circular Error Probability or CEP of 24 feet. That means the bomb is accurate to within 24 feet of the target, or slightly larger than a full size SUV. A World War II era dumb bomb was accurate to within one mile. So, this same mission, using the figures for World War II’s bombers would’ve taken more than 2,700 bombers and 13.5 million pounds of explosive, and put everything within 16 square miles at risk. Now, Northrop-Grumman is in the midst of developing an even smarter UCAV capable of performing feats such as this, singlehandedly. The X-47B Pegasus is less than half the size of the Strike Eagle, and orders of magnitude stealthier. Capable of flying unmanned and undetected up 1,500 miles behind enemy lines, the X-47B will give the Navy the ability to extend its inland reach by more than double that of the current F/A-18F Super Hornet. But, because of the seemingly flawed conception of a future politician, who may mistakenly see a UCAV/JDAM strike as a golden bullet solution to all problems, the JDAM will become the modern equivalent to the revolver of the Wild West. Missions that formerly were the domain of special forces raids will be replaced with unmanned fighters carrying the ubiquitous 500lb JDAM. And while for the purposes of this essay, the relation between precision weapons and UCAVs is specified for effect, similar advances in weapon systems across the board, such as Stryker show this is not a shift of an isolated paradigm.

It is my view that armed conflict will only increase as weapons become smarter and more capable. With this seeming impenetrable shield of ones and zeros, there exists dangerous aspect to the increased use of technology in war. Morally, it’s allowable to engage an equally armed opponent — expected even. However, when faced with an equal or even better equipped opponent, human nature tends to back away from direct engagement and seek yet other avenues toward conflict resolution. This is what makes politics so effective. Yet, the tech-savvy nation who faces no similarly-capable opponent is just as likely to follow human nature. And in that regard, they’re likely to resort to force first. The prologue for this is already visible, as the number of “Quasi Conflicts” or “Operations Other Than War” since the end of Vietnam, a war which marked the first use of precision guided bombs, and other advanced technologies to overcome a less technologically advanced foe, increases steadily with every decade. Indeed, in the last twenty years, the United States has made more than 17 armed interventions outside of formal war, including but not limited to Grenada, Panama, Kosovo, Northern Watch, Southern Watch, and Desert Fox.  This number of interventions is far greater than at any other point in modern history — a number that is expected to increase. As Robert E. Lee once said, “It is well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it.” The unfortunate side effect of the movement of transformational warfare in general is that by taking the man out of the fight and replacing him with a computer, War will seem more and more like a video game, and those participating will become ever more desensitized to the horrors of war.

This desensitization will lead down a path where there will be a disconnect between Combat and Killing. No longer will there be the realization that human beings just like you or I could possibly die. Instead, it will be an image on a screen disappearing. And without this fear there will no longer exist a reason to avoid war. 

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