The Face of Modern War
Americans are a fortunate people, especially when it comes to war. Our collective psyche has been only lightly touched by war. In all its major wars the United States has lost relatively small numbers of men killed and wounded in comparison with other nations, to say nothing of being able to avoid the death and suffering of civilians and the mass destruction of property that invariably accompanies a war fought in one's own country. Except for the Civil War, in those few instances where we have gone to war we have fought on foreign soil. A consequence of this fortunate historical experience is that we are largely unaware of the human costs of war, counted in blood, mangled bodies, and the minds of soldiers driven insane by terror.
The disparity of experience with war between the United States and other nations is great indeed. In the six-week battle for the city of Berlin in 1945, the Soviet Army lost more casualties than America lost in all its foreign warscombined. The Israelis, in eighteen days of combat in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, had twice as many casualties in proportion to their population as the United States did in ten years of war in Vietnam. The Iran-Iraq war has claimed more dead in five years than all the dead lost by the United States in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam combined. More men were lost in six hours in the first Battle of the Somme in 1916 by British forces than were lost to hostile fire in Vietnam. We have been a very fortunate people indeed.
This lack of a genuine bloody experience with war has produced in the American psyche a dangerously naive view of combat and its human costs. It is a naivete nurtured by a powerful communications establishment--television and movies--which increasingly serves as the single informational anchor in the lives of the most geographically mobile people on earth. The images seen on television comprise more and more of the informational ken of the American people. What few sources of counterinformation are available are increasingly ignored or overwhelmed by the sheer number of hours most Americans spend in front of the television set or at the movies. More and more of what is seen on the electronic screen is accepted as reality. The electronic village is here.
The result is an unfortunate and colossal ignorance of the true horror of battle coupled with a historical faith in technology, especially military weaponry, which works to make war seem remote, bloodless, impersonal, and highly technical. Watching scenes of American carrier aircraft shooting Libyan ships out of the water at ranges in excess of forty miles with highly sophisticated electronic missiles, Americans can, perhaps, be forgiven their ignorance. Television and movies provide a view of war that has become the only experience of war for the majority of Americans.
While only the truly insane would regard a nuclear war as tolerable, most Americans share the belief that a conventional war is acceptable. The view that conventional war is a fitting military response to provocation is rooted in ourlimited experience of even conventional conflicts. After all, World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam were, at least for us, quite tolerable in terms of the human costs simply because those costs were so much lower than those of any other military participant. Further, our conventional wars were wars in which the individual soldier seemed able to control his own destiny; wars in which training and native wit could outfox the firepower and military professionalism of our adversaries; wars in which the citizen soldier was largely able to cope; wars in which heroism and courage were still believed possible and counted for something.
But the realities of today's wars are vastly different. Modern conventional weapons developed since the end of World War II are so lethal and destructive that, in the words of a U.S. Army manual, "conventional war has unconventional effects." As the famous British military analyst John Keegan has noted, there are any number of conventional weapons in use today whose destructive power is equal to or greater than that of nuclear weapons. The F-4 Phantom fighter plane, for example, can deliver destructive power greater than that afforded by a low-yield nuclear cruise missile.1 Modern artillery, when fired in mass, is more destructive than nuclear artillery rounds, and even the destructive power of the neutron bomb can be readily exceeded by a squadron of aircraft dropping conventional Fuel Air Munitions. The conventional chemical warfare capabilities of any number of military establishments, including those of the underdeveloped nations, can exterminate civilian and military populations much larger than those of Hiroshima or Dresden in only slightly more time than it took to destroy them with bombs. The horrible fact is that conventional war today is as far removed in its intensity, scope, and lethality from World War II as World War II was removed from the Battle of Waterloo.
Most Americans remain ignorant of the realities of modern conventional war and paradoxically see it as a real alternative to nuclear war. Equally troubling is their genuine national fascination with machines and technology of all kinds, especiallythe technology of war. In no other country is the belief more deeply seated that victory belongs to the side with the best and most sophisticated military gadgetry. Our romance with machines, rooted strongly in our own industrial and military history, has led us to fail to appreciate the human dimension and costs of war. It has also led us to ignore the question whether normally sane men can retain their sanity while engaged in battle. This is a question of singular relevance in view of the fact that in every war since World War I more American soldiers have become psychiatric casualties than were killed by enemy shells and bullets. Never having experienced the terror of battle to any great degree, we have never as a people truly gazed into the face of modern war as other countries have.
Goodbye, World War II
World War II was the last time Americans had any serious experience with war. It seems logical to examine today's military capabilities in relation to those of that war. Some may believe that the wars in Korea and Vietnam were equally terrible. Perhaps. But as we shall see later, by any standard of military action they were not. Even the losses were marginal by historical standards. It is sobering to remember in this regard that during the Korean War two and a half times as many Americans were killed by gunshot wounds within the United States as on the battlefield. During the Vietnam War the figure was six times as many. Indeed, there was considerable truth to the joke among Vietnam soldiers that one was safer in Saigon than in New York! Whatever else the wars in Korea and Vietnam were, they were not serious wars. Indeed, we lost both of them with no apparent damage to the international power of the country. If World War II is used as the standard, it becomes possible to measure just how far we have come in the development of battlefield weapons for the future. The distance is alarmingly great.
There is an old military adage that when it comes tocombat, "quantity has a quality all its own." In a major conventional war in Central Europe, the numbers of men and equipment that would be involved suggests that conventional war has changed qualitatively over the years.2 If it is assumed that one side or the other gains some degree of surprise, thus reducing mobilization time to a minimum, on the first day of battle 1.7 million men on both sides would engage each other in combat. After two days, when the ready reserves of the major combatants would have been committed, the number of men involved in the fighting would grow to 2.8 million. If the fighting lasted ten full days, the number of combatants would jump to almost 6 million. In thirty days, after both sides had ample time to commit their substantial reserves, the number of men trying desperately to kill one another would increase to more than 15 million soldiers at one time. History has never recorded so many men locked in combat in so short a time. Given that both sides understand that once war breaks out the side that puts the most men in the field will have a decided advantage, it is difficult to see how the quantitative escalation in manpower can be stopped once it begins.
Modern armies have more machines of destruction at their disposal than any other armies in history. There are, for example, 13,500 main battle tanks in the NATO inventory compared to 42,600 for the Warsaw Pact countries; 560 NATO attack helicopters to 960 for the Warsaw Pact; 32,000 antitank guided missile launchers for the Warsaw Pact compared to 12,300 for the NATO forces; 33,000 NATO armed armored personnel carriers to 75,000 for the Warsaw Pact; 35,000 Warsaw Pact artillery pieces to 11,000 for the NATO forces; and 6,550 high-performance strike aircraft on the side of the Warsaw Pact compared to 3,100 similar aircraft in NATO. Whatever else conventional war in Central Europe would bring, it would result in the largest concentration of war machines ever committed to a single battle.
On the first day of fighting, both sides will be able to engage almost 20,000 modern main battle tanks, and afterthirty days, the number of tanks on both sides would increase to 56,000. Attempting to counter these armored battle cruisers will be antitank missile crews who will be able to fire 530,000 antitank guided missiles at one another. In the skies fighter aircraft will be as numerous as gnats. On the opening day of battle, each side could commit more than 4,000 strike aircraft, a figure which would double in less than a week as air reserves are committed.
All this manpower and machinery would be used within a battle zone less than seven hundred miles long and forty miles deep. Modern armies calculate that they need about 1,400 soldiers per mile of battlefront, actually fewer than the 1,700 maximum of World War II. However, it must be kept in mind that in a modern conventional war a greater percentage of a unit's manpower will actually be engaged in the killing than ever before. Moreover, the ability of today's soldier to deliver and sustain firepower has grown exponentially since 1945. For example, a Soviet motorized rifle division can deliver ten times the firepower at three times the rate of a similar World War II division. The same is true of NATO divisions. Compared to World War II, more men will be putting out far more firepower for longer periods over much greater distances and producing greater lethality.
This concentration of sheer military power is frightening enough, but it must be remembered that modern war is a war of speed, mobility, penetration, encirclement, and envelopment. The initial clash of armies will be followed within a few days by a flexing of the front line in which one side or the other will have to give way. Once units begin to give ground, they will be pressed back against units deployed in the rear. In a phenomenon not unlike that of ancient Greek phalanxes crashing together, the battlefield will begin to shrink as the size of the battle zone becomes compressed. When this happens, the number of targets in the battle zone will increase, creating a "target-rich environment," and the intensity of the battle will become even more ferocious.
It is equally important to realize that a large-scale modernconventional war will be fought in a radically different manner. World War II was a linear war in which combat occurred along a generally well-defined front line with usually safe rear areas. In the past, areas twenty miles behind the line were almost totally secure as long as the balance of airpower remained relatively intact. The enemy was clearly to the front at all times. Moreover, World War II was a tactical war in which most of the fighting was done by units of division size or less (approximately 10,000 men). The conventional war of the future presents a far different set of circumstances.
In modern conventional war, linear tactics will be replaced by "swirling tactics." The combat reach of modern armies is so long and the mobility of combat vehicles so great that armies must now plan to fight three battles at once. Both U.S. and Soviet combat doctrine requires that units be able to fight the "direct" battle--that is, to engage units directly to their front. But it also requires that they be able simultaneously to fight the "deep" battle, to reach out and strike deeply behind the enemy's lines with large combat forces in order to disrupt his timetables, supplies, and reinforcements. Of course, one side's deep battle is the other side's "rear" battle. Each army will have to deal with sizable enemy forces engaged in attacking its rear. Such forces will be inserted into rear areas by paradrop or helicopter or will break through the front lines and head for specific targets in the rear areas. Some idea of the ferocity of these "rear" battles can be gained from the fact that the units attacking the enemy's rear will be of division size or larger. Simultaneously, modern attack aircraft and helicopters will roam hundreds of miles behind enemy lines wreaking havoc with their large-caliber multi-barreled guns and guided rockets.
Accordingly, the entire battlefield will be highly unstable. It will be a war, not of fixed lines, but of swirling combat in which units will be expected to fight isolated from parent units. Units will be trapped, decimated, bypassed, isolated, and often expected to stand and fight until they can nolonger do so. In short, it will not be a war of offense and defense as in World War II. It will be a war of meeting engagements in which all units will be expected to carry on a continuous offensive.
Modern conventional war will not be a tactical war in which most of the fighting is done by relatively small units of division size or less. Instead, it will be an operational-level war in which the scope of command and control will move back from the line divisions to the corps and theater commands. Corps will engage and fight battles as brigades did in World War II. Larger units will be committed at once for objectives of greater scope. More resources will be thrown at any one time into any given engagement. The shift from the tactical to the operational level of war will mean far more intense and destructive battles raging for longer periods of time over greater areas.
Under these conditions the zone of destruction--the area in which soldiers will be involved in combat and have a good chance of being killed or wounded--will increase. During World War I the zone of destruction extended five miles from the front at the maximum. By World War II it had increased to ten miles. In modern conventional war, the zone of destruction will extend to the depth of the entire front, about forty miles, and even beyond. During World War II, for example, a division commander had to worry about the forces deployed about ten to fifteen miles to his front. Today, he is responsible for locating and killing forces forty miles to his front and his "area of tactical interest" extends to almost sixty miles. Moreover, he has at his command weapons systems that can reach sixty miles to his front to engage and destroy enemy forces. Of course, so does his opponent.
Yet another element which distinguishes modern conventional war from World War II is the amount of fighting that will occur at night. In World War II, the soldier's ability to fight at night was severely limited by his ability to see. Mechanical means for locating the enemy were almost nonexistentexcept for primitive radars which could locate large formations of aircraft. The World War II soldier generally had no better means of fighting at night than did the soldiers of ancient Rome. As a consequence, most military action, as it had for centuries before, came to a halt at nightfall. To be sure, there were nighttime probes and reconnaissance patrols, but what little fighting there was was confined to very small units, and the darkness itself reduced the effectiveness of weaponry. All that has changed.
Today military forces are equipped with a wide range of electronic, laser, infrared, and optical devices that can turn the nighttime battlefield into day. Modern tank sights can easily locate a target in complete darkness at 3,500 yards, and the target is seen as easily as during daylight. Even when the target cannot be seen with optical enhancing devices, its silhouette can be discerned by infrared and laser sights. Modern weaponry, especially antitank missiles, can home in with deadly accuracy on the heat emitted by a vehicle's engine. One optical device, the Starlight scope, the size of a small telescope, can even discern the difference between a male and a female at over a thousand yards by the distinct differences in the heat given off by the pelvic areas of the two sexes. Furthermore, such night sighting devices are not confined to the heavy machines of war like the armored personnel carrier or the tank. In addition, every infantryman will be equipped with night-vision goggles.
The increased ability of military forces to see at night makes it possible, indeed mandatory, for large combat units to conduct military operations around the clock. Once engaged it will be increasingly difficult for units of any size to disengage, as the attacking forces will be able to continually locate them. The normal respite that soldiers throughout history had come to expect with the fall of night will come no more. War will be fought with almost the same intensity around the clock.
If the size, scope, and intensity of future conventional war has grown enormously, the reason, of course, is the weaponsthat are at the command of all truly modern armies. There are now weapons in the arsenal of the ordinary combat division that would turn even the most hardened of World War II commanders green with envy.
It is important to understand that the destructiveness of modern war and the tremendous stress it places upon the mind of the soldier do not depend upon having a war in which millions of men and machines are brought into battle. Indeed, the most likely types of conventional wars of the future will be small "brushfire wars" in which comparatively small numbers of combatants participate. However, the stress on the soldier will be the same, since the relative intensity of a division-size battle will be the same as in a corps-size battle. The changes in the nature of warfare have made almost any conventional war among modern military forces horribly intense. The weapons have become more destructive and out of proportion to the ability of the soldier to withstand them.
Historically, artillery has always inflicted the most casualties on fighting troops. Almost 60 percent of total casualties in warfare since the invention of gunpowder have been caused by artillery. In World War II, more than half of all combat casualties were caused by this fighting arm. And the capacity of artillery to destroy has grown frighteningly since 1945. The artillery firepower of a maneuver battalion has doubled in lethality since World War II and the "casualty effect" has increased by 400 percent! The range of artillery guns, on average, has increased by 60 percent since 1945 and the "lethality coverage area," the zone in which death can be expected to occur, has increased by 350 percent.
The explosive power of artillery rounds has increased almost seven times. In World War II most artillery rounds had thicker casings and delivered some variant of TNT. Today, with the revolution in chemical and plastic explosives,the casings are thinner, so that a shell of the same caliber can deliver many times the explosive power on the target. A single round fired by the M-110A2 self-propelled artillery cannon is approximately equal in explosive power to that of the MK-81 250-pound bomb. On impact, a single artillery round will produce a crater twenty-five feet in diameter and ten feet deep, displacing over five thousand cubic feet of earth. Such a round can penetrate up to three feet of concrete or five inches of steel and send shrapnel out to a radius of three hundred feet. Almost all soldiers within a two-hundred-foot radius of an exploding round would be killed by shrapnel or concussion. Newer artillery munitions, such as the Beehive round, are lethal at even greater distances. Developed during Vietnam to deal with mass enemy attacks, the Beehive round is filled with 5,000 fléchettes, slender nail-like steel needles three inches long capable of pinning their targets to trees! If the Beehive round is set off above the heads of advancing troops, its lethality is even greater.
Modern artillery pieces are lighter, stronger, and far more mobile than they were in World War II, resulting in a revolution in mobile firepower. Today, a combat unit can take its artillery along with it as it advances. Moreover, an artillery unit can set up, bring its guns to bear, fire on a target, and move on in minutes to a new location, making it much more difficult for the enemy to destroy it by counterfire or air attack. Further, the rates of fire per gun have increased greatly, as the gun tubes are now made of stronger metal alloys. Projected rates of fire for modern artillery pieces approach five hundred rounds per day over a four-hour period, almost three times the World War II rate. The guns last longer, retain their sighting on target better, and don't overheat as badly. Less maintenance means more combat effectiveness.
The magnitude of artillery fire which modern armies can bring to bear staggers the imagination. If all artillery guns--from 81mm mortars to tank guns--are counted, the averagecombat division can mount almost five hundred guns firing at once. In World War I the number of guns per thousand men in a division was six; during World War II it climbed to about twelve. Today the number of guns per thousand men in a division exceeds thirty. To put this firepower in perspective, the Soviet Army is equipped to mass three hundred artillery pieces per single mile of combat frontage! The magnitude of artillery fire is further increased by the use of different types of fuses which increase its effectiveness. Thus, the variable-time or VT fuse can be used to cause shells to burst over the heads of troops, greatly magnifying their killing capacity. Proximity fuses allow a shell to sense when it is near its target and explode close to it, causing great damage without having to hit the target directly. Artillerymen can implant submunitions with delay fuses which will explode on either a random or a timed basis, thus denying large areas of the battlefield to the enemy.
The range of artillery projectiles has increased enormously. Both the M-107 and the M-110 are capable of hurling 175mm shells and 203mm shells twenty-three miles and twenty-two miles, respectively. With rocket-assisted shells, these ranges exceed twenty-five miles. These self-propelled artillery pieces can move under their own power at speeds of thirty-five miles an hour with a range of two hundred and twenty miles. The ability of mobile artillery to keep a retreating enemy easily within range far exceeds World War II capabilities.
Artillery shells are also far more accurate, and thus far more deadly, than in World War II. This has been made possible by linking sophisticated electronic sensors with computers. Hardly any artillery is fired by manual calculations anymore. Information is fed into the guns from electronic sensors, sometimes dropped miles away by aircraft, and computers instantly do multiple range and deviation calculations. Rounds rarely miss their targets anymore. The rapidity of fire has increased as well. In World War II itwould take an average gun crew about six minutes to zero in on its target. Today an artillery battery can perform the same task in less than fifteen seconds, greatly reducing the chances that even a moving target will escape destruction. At the same time, of course, the means for delivering counterbattery fire on enemy artillery pieces have improved greatly. During World War II counterbattery fire was, at best, an uncertain thing. All artillery could do was fire in the direction of the roar or muzzle flashes of enemy guns and hope to saturate the area around the target sufficiently to knock out the gun. Today electronic devices can compute the position of artillery fire almost instantly and command guns to return fire on the battery. The days when artillery was placed safely behind the lines are over.
While there have been great improvements in the accuracy of artillery weapons, the unguided artillery round used to saturate specific areas has truly come into its own. The Russians first introduced the idea of mass rocket artillery fired in salvo. Their Katusha rocket launchers in World War II were ideal weapons for saturating large areas of the front while at the same time generating high rates of psychiatric casualties. Salvos of artillery rockets are highly effective for achieving surprise, delivering chemical weapons and counterbattery fire. Today a single Soviet battalion of eighteen BM-21 rocket launchers can fire 720 rounds almost seventeen miles in thirty seconds. Such a volley will put thirty-five tons of rockets on target and devastate an area 2,000 yards by 500 yards. Not to be outdone, the Americans have developed the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). With this system a single three-man crew can launch twelve rockets in less than thirty seconds. After each rocket is launched in ripple fire, the on-board computer will recalculate the trajectory for the next rocket. A salvo of twelve rockets contains 8,000 M-77 antipersonnel weapons which can be dispersed in midair above the target and saturate an area the size of six football fields in less than a minute. In another configuration, each rocket can dispense twenty-eight antitankmines. A third configuration allows each rocket to release almost ten SADARMs (Search And Destroy Armor Mines). Each of these SADARMs is a homing warhead which can locate a tank, guide itself to the target, and destroy it. By the time the MLRS rockets have hit their targets, the crew has driven the launcher to a new position where it can reload and fire again.
The destructive power of artillery cannot be underestimated. Today a division artillery complement can fire concentrations of artillery at three levels of intensity. If it fires at its lowest level (harassment), it is expected that 10 percent of the soldiers in the target area will be killed. At the second level of intensity (neutralization), it can kill 30 percent of the soldiers in the area of impact. If it fires at its most intense (destruction), the killing rate rises to 60 percent.
Among the most bizarre, yet effective, artillery munitions is the Copperhead artillery round, which can be fired from the M-109 155mm artillery piece. Once fired, it follows its normal ballistic trajectory until it begins to descend in the general area of the target. At this point the round will home in on its target by laser illumination. The Copperhead has the ability to hit a moving tank nineteen miles away. In tests, the round actually found its way into the open hatch of a moving tank!
Lastly, artillery serves in air defense. During World War II division air defense artillery could expect to control the airspace above its position for about a mile in any direction. Today it can control thirty-six times that space. In 1945 a typical American division carried sixty-four air defense weapons. Today a division has one hundred and thirteen, and Soviet divisions mount about 10 percent more. Almost all modern air defense guns have automatic guidance systems, radar, and optical sights. Some radar-controlled guns can fire sixty rounds in a single one-second burst. The M-163 Vulcan air defense gun, mounted on a self-propelled chassis, is a six-barreled 20mm cannon capable of firing 3,000 rounds a minute. It is equipped with an automatic telescope,a gyro-leading computing gunsight, and search radar. The radar has a range search time of one second and can detect a target at almost two miles with 100 percent accuracy!
Advances in technology since World War II have been so great that there is no comparison between artillery of that era and that found on the modern battlefield. As in the past, artillery can be expected to cause the lion's share of battlefield casualties. It will surely generate the largest number of psychiatric casualties as rates and accuracy of firepower increase. The Russians, who suffered terribly from enemy artillery in the two world wars, are even greater proponents of artillery than are armies of the West. While Americans refer to artillery as "the king of battle," the Russians, who have been its greatest victims all the way back to Napoleonic times, have dubbed it "the hammer of god." It has revolutionized the battlefield.
Tanks and Armored Fighting Vehicles
Of great importance on the modern battlefield is the presence of large numbers of tanks and other armored vehicles which complement the role of artillery in killing as many soldiers as possible. Modern tanks offer an unprecedented combination of firepower, shock action, and mobility. They can be expected to kill and be killed in numbers heretofore unknown.
The modern U.S. battle tank is about one-third heavier than its World War II counterpart, but its engines are twice as powerful. Accordingly, its horsepower-to-weight ratio is less and its ground pressure is also less. This means that its range and speed are much greater than that of World War II tanks. Today's tank can cruise at speeds approaching forty miles an hour for more than three hundred miles, a range three times that of World War II tanks. With the development of stabilized turrets and highly sophisticated gunsights, the modern tank can shoot on the run with a greater probability of hitting its target than a World War IItank firing from a standing position. The accuracy of bigger guns has also improved tremendously. In World War II a tank firing at a target fifteen hundred yards away had to fire thirteen rounds to achieve a 50 percent probability of hitting its target. Today, a modern tank will hit its target at that range with a single shot 98 percent of the time. Moreover, a World War II tank gun could penetrate only 4.8 inches of armor plate at fifteen hundred yards. Today a tank gun can easily penetrate 9.5 inches of armor plate at six thousand yards.
The size of tank guns has increased by at least one-third and the muzzle velocity of tank rounds has doubled. The use of laser range finders has increased the range of target sighting by over thirty times. For example, the Hughes thermogunsight mounted on the M-1 tank is capable of finding targets at two thousand yards, producing a clear target image in complete darkness or through smoke, fog, or rain. The probabilities of hitting a target have increased tenfold since World War II.
The improvement in the killing power of tank gun ammunition is amazing. New propellants and explosive compounds have made tank rounds many times more destructive than those available in World War II. Moreover, improvements in the understanding of ballistics has led to new types of tank ammunition undreamed of in 1945. The APDS (Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot) is one such round. Weighing forty-one pounds, it leaves the gun muzzle at 5,467 feet per second--over a mile a second--a force more than sufficient for its tungsten core to penetrate 9.5 inches of armor at six thousand yards. After the round burns through the outer armor of an enemy tank in mere milliseconds, the tungsten core fragments, sending over a hundred shrapnel particles weighing at least an ounce and six hundred fragments weighing less than an ounce into the interior compartment of the tank. These fragments ricochet against the tank's interior crew compartment at speeds of 3,000 feet persecond, sufficient to pierce the bodies of the crew scores of times before spending their velocity.
Another example of the killing capacity of today's tank ammunition is the HEP-T (High Explosive Plastic Tracer) round, which works on a different ballistic principle. The HEP-T weighs fifty-two pounds and has a muzzle velocity of 4,200 feet per second carrying a warhead filled with plastic explosive. When the warhead strikes the target it spreads out in a blob of plastic the size of a dinner plate and is detonated by a fuse. The explosion does not penetrate the armor, but leaves a large dent as the explosive force is channeled inward toward the crew compartment. The shock of the explosion is so great that chunks of metal (spall) are blasted away from the interior walls of the tank's crew compartment, sending the fragments into the crew's bodies at speeds greater than the speed of sound. There are no tanks in the world which can ensure the survivability of their crews when hit with an APDS or HEP-T round. Everyone always dies.
The greater killing power of tanks has increased the need for the infantry to improve its own mobility. In the offensive, infantry has to be mounted in armored vehicles to keep up with the rapid advance of the tanks. The result is the armored personnel carrier (APC). Today, one of every two U.S. infantrymen rides into battle in an APC. The number of armored personnel carriers in the Soviet Army is thirty-seven times as great as it was in World War II. War on wheels has arrived.
To be sure squeezing ten infantrymen into a single APC has its disadvantages. A single antitank round into an APC will kill at least 70 percent of its occupants and wound the remaining 30 percent. Placing so many infantrymen into one target area has increased the probability of multiple kills for tank and missile gunners. On the other hand, the APC has increased the killing power of the infantry many times over since World War II. A single M-113A APC carries thirteencombat troops and mounts a fifty-caliber machine gun with two thousand rounds of ammunition on the vehicle's cupola. It can also mount two M-60 machine guns, each capable of firing a thousand rounds a minute. Its ability to carry ammunition is far greater than a World War II truck. With a complete load, it can carry 3,570 rounds of fifty-caliber ammunition, 8,400 rounds of M-60 ammunition, 5,050 rounds of rifle ammunition, 144 40mm grenades, four Claymore mines, ten antitank missiles and their launchers. It is a piece of battlefield machinery that simply did not exist in World War II.
The infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) has added yet another dimension to the killing power of the infantry. The American M-3 Bradley is a lightly armored tracked vehicle resembling a large APC. It can carry nine infantrymen into battle. But its real killing power lies in its weaponry. The M-3 mounts either a 25mm chain gun or the 37mm Bushmaster automatic cannon. The Bushmaster can fire either armor-piercing or high-explosive ammunition at a rate of almost a thousand rounds a minute. It carries a 7.2mm machine gun and a dual TOW antitank missile launcher with seven missiles. Its turret stabilization system allows it to fire on the move, and it has a fully computerized fire control system with a full complement of imaging sights.
Infantry fighting vehicles can be employed in many ways. By far the most common is to use an APC as a missile-firing antitank platform or as a missile- or gun-firing air defense platform. The advent of the APC and its variants has revolutionized warfare since it places in the hands of the infantry a mobility and firepower, including the ability to kill tanks and aircraft, that was nonexistent in World War II. The problem, of course, is that the other side has similar weaponry with the same capabilities. Once again technology has increased the intensity and lethality of war.
Helicopters and Strike Aircraft
Nowhere has the impact of military technology been felt more than in the introduction of two major airborne weapons systems, the strike aircraft and the armed helicopter. In World War II, the P-47 ground-support airplane could fly a hundred miles to its target, stay over it for less than thirty minutes, and deliver only machine-gun fire and two 250-pound bombs. Today, the A-10 Warthog, specifically designed as a close-support and tank-killing aircraft, can fly two hundred and fifty miles to its target, loiter over the area for two hours, and carry over 16,000 pounds of bombs, more than the bomb load of a World War II B-29 Superfortress. In addition, the A-10 carries a 30mm seven-barreled rotating gun cluster in its nose capable of firing armor-piercing and high-explosive shells each the size of a milk bottle. The gun can fire 4,200 rounds per minute. A two-second burst fires 135 rounds into a target. The high-explosive round, thanks to the wonders of modern chemistry, produces an explosive force six times that of a 20mm shell. Its armor-piercing round with its warhead of depleted uranium metal produces fourteen times the kinetic energy impact of a 20mm shell and can penetrate all known thicknesses of tank armor plate. A two-second burst is sufficient to kill a tank several times over.
Another awesome ground-support aircraft is the C-130H Spectre. Originally designed to locate and kill forces hiding in dense jungle, the Spectre truly fulfills the promise of its motto, "death from above." The Spectre is equipped with four 20mm Vulcan cannons with six barrels, each cannon capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute. It also carries four 7.62mm multi-barreled miniguns which can fire at 10,000 rounds per minute and a 40mm Bofors cannon capable of 2,000 rounds per minute. As if to add more death to injury, the Spectre also mounts a 105mm automatic howitzer! The Spectre's purpose is to deliver death from above quickly and silently. Accordingly, all its guns are linked to automaticelectronic and infrared detection devices. Its on-board electronics enable it to "see" an enemy hidden in multiple layers of jungle canopy and automatically direct its guns on the target, so that a single pass is often fatal to the enemy below. With all its guns firing at once, the Spectre is capable of reducing all the buildings in a city block to rubble in less than one minute. Captured Vietcong troops who had experienced an attack by the Spectre testify that it is an experience they are never likely to forget.
Close air support is, of course, only one role for modern strike aircraft. They are also expected to be able to engage enemy aircraft and destroy them and to interdict enemy forces massing hundreds of miles behind the front. A new generation of air-to-air missiles has revolutionized aerial combat. The AIM-9 Sidewinder, for example, can seek and destroy enemy aircraft up to ten miles away. Its kill-per-engagement record is 92 percent. The A-54 Phoenix missile can be launched from up to a hundred miles from its target. During the last ten miles of its flight, it is automatically guided by its own homing radar. Its kill-to-engagement record is 90 percent. In short, it is now possible for aircraft to kill each other from distances well beyond the range of sight. Moreover, unlike earlier heat-seeking missiles, modern missiles need not be fired from behind the target. They may approach it with equal lethality from any direction, including head-on.
While missiles have an aura of high tech it is important not to forget the "ordinary" bomb. However, compared to the TNT bombs of World War II, today's bombs are anything but ordinary. A cluster of modern conventional bombs can produce the same explosive effect as low-yield nuclear weapons. Since the war in Vietnam--where we dropped thirty-six tons of bombs for every square mile of both North and South Vietnam--the improvements in the effectiveness of aircraft-delivered bombs has been amazing. Bombs have become more compact and slender, allowing more explosive to be carried. Of course, the explosives themselves are manytimes as powerful as the TNT filler of the good old days. They have also become far more accurate due to a number of devices ranging from tail retarding devices to optical and laser guidance systems.
Bombs are also more versatile. They can be used to carry rather ordinary chemical munitions like white phosphorus, which can only be stopped from burning entirely through the body by putting the affected limb underwater while a surgeon picks out the pieces of phosphorus. They can also deliver a full range of chemical munitions like mustard and nerve gas. They are cheap and effective. A simple cluster bomb, no larger than an old-fashioned 250-pound bomb, can carry within its casing hundreds of smaller bomblets. Where before there had been a single explosion, there are now hundreds of smaller explosions, vastly increasing the number of shrapnel shards that can slice through a soldier's flesh. A single cluster bomb has the same effect as 600 well-aimed World War II 81mm mortar rounds impacting at once! Few soldiers can be expected to survive such an attack. If the shrapnel doesn't get them, the concussion will.
The Fuel Air Munition (FAM) bombs offer a new wrinkle. These bombs carry an explosive liquid--propane, butane, propylene oxide, etc.--which is released in a dense cloud over a battlefield. The cloud is highly combustible. When detonated by a delayed fuse carried in the bomb's base, the explosion produces five times the force of an equivalent amount of TNT. Thus a 250-pound FAM has the explosive equivalent of a 1,200-pound bomb. Three 100-pound FAMs produce a combustible cloud fifty-six feet across by nine feet thick. Upon detonation, the cloud produces an explosive combustive effect greater than that of a low-yield nuclear weapon. Another bomb, the Daisy Cutter of Vietnam lineage, creates a blast overpressure of 1,000 pounds per square inch, a force equivalent to a man being hit with a baseball bat over every square inch of his body. In Vietnam, Daisy Cutters killed earthworms one hundred yards from the center of the crater.
Battlefield helicopters have revolutionized the mobility of combat forces. Compared to World War II, the mobility of antitank forces mounted on helicopters has increased almost twenty times while the ability to move troop units about the battlefield has increased more than one hundred times. More than any other invention the helicopter is responsible for the new dimensions of war--the deep and rear battles. Within minutes troops with their full complement of weaponry can now be ferried deep into the enemy's rear. They can also be inserted in the path of advancing enemy forces miles to the front of the line. No such capacity existed for World War II commanders. Besides the obvious ability of helicopters to ferry troops and carry cargo--a medium-lift helicopter can carry twice the cargo of a World War II "deuce and a half" truck at five times the speed--the most important role of the helicopter is in troop and tank attack.
Attack helicopters can fly close to the ground and surprise tanks and troops. The helicopter provides a much more stable, thus more accurate, missile and gun platform than other aircraft, can approach within much closer ranges, bring a greater variety of weapons to bear, and do so for much longer periods of time than a fixed-wing strike aircraft. Helicopters such as the A-1 Cobra are equipped with the M-28 chin turret which can carry two 7.62mm miniguns or two 40mm grenade launchers which fire 450 grenades per minute over a range of 2,000 yards. Each grenade has a lethal radius of ten yards. The Cobra can also be fitted with two M-200 stanchion rocket pods each holding nineteen 2.75-inch rockets. In one configuration, the Cobra can carry fifty-four rockets. The 2.75-inch Tiny Tim rocket has an explosive force equal to that of an 81mm mortar shell. Those rockets equipped with white phosphorus heads equal the explosive force of the 4.2-inch (107mm) mortar shell. The killing power of these systems is enhanced greatly by their linkage to a full array of electronic sighting and computerized aiming devices which hold the guns on target no matter what maneuvering position the helicopter itself is in.
In the antitank role helicopters are indeed awesome weapons. A single Cobra can carry eight TOW antitank missiles, generally regarded as the best antitank missiles in the world. The TOW's killing range is 4,687 yards. Its shaped explosive charge warhead is capable of piercing any known thickness of tank armor, leaving holes two feet in diameter in a tank's hull. A TOW's optical sight is so good that at a thousand yards a tank fills the sight screen. Once fired, the missile is guided to its target at a speed of 368 miles an hour.
The AH-64 Apache helicopter is even more deadly as a tank killer. It can carry sixteen TOW missiles or sixteen of the new Hellfire missiles. The Hellfire is a third-generation missile and incorporates a true "fire and forget" homing device. The helicopter aims the missile, fires it, and can then take evasive action with no need to remain on station for three or four seconds to guide the missile to its target. The Apache also mounts nineteen 2.75-inch rockets and a Hughes 30mm chain gun in its nose. It too is equipped with the full complement of computers and electronic gunsights. Pilots are equipped with a new helmet "killer sight." As the pilot turns his head and eyes to look at a target, the guns automatically follow his head and eye movements. Thus, to see the target is to hit it and, in general, to hit the target is to kill it.
The helicopter, more than any other weapon, is responsible for the "swirling tactics" that will characterize modern war. The ability of a commander to strike far to his front or deep in his enemy's rear means, of course, that he must be able to counter similar tactics on the part of his enemy. Thus, there are no more safe areas. Tanks may now be struck hundreds of miles from the fighting zone as they are loaded onto railway cars for the journey to the front. Staff headquarters hundreds of miles from the front may be hit. Hospitals, once safely in the rear, along with port areas, airfields, communications stations, road junctions, and other strategically important areas, are now equally vulnerable. So important has the helicopter become that the Soviets haveconfigured their helicopters with weapons designed to shoot down Allied helicopters on tank-killing missions. The next war may well witness the birth of helicopter-to-helicopter aerial combat.
The one factor which may influence the modern battlefield most dramatically of all, and one for which there are no meaningful ways to determine its impact, is the use of chemical weapons. These may turn out to be the most deadly means for killing and incapacitating troops in the next war. In the words of one U.S. Army report, "if their use is not inhibited, they could swing the balance in a conventional war."
The first large-scale use of chemical weapons occurred in World War I on April 22, 1915, at Ypres, Belgium, when the German Army released the contents of five thousand canisters of chlorine gas. The victims, two French elite divisions, were taken by surprise, broke, and ran, opening a five-mile gap in the Allied line. After Ypres, chemical munitions were used more and more frequently by all sides. The last year of the war, 1918, saw more chemical weapons used than in the preceding three years. Approximately 1.3 million gas casualties were inflicted in World War I, about 92,000 of which were fatal. No less than 35 percent of all gas casualties, most of them fatalities, were inflicted against Russian troops, a fact which no doubt accounts for the present Soviet interest in producing and defending against chemical weapons. Those who believe that such weapons are too horrible to be used again ought to remember that the American plan for the invasion of Japan in World War II called for the large-scale use of chemical weapons against civilians to reduce Allied ground casualties. Moreover, the Japanese used chemical weapons frequently against Chinese soldiers and civilians in their attack on China before World War II. Since World War II, chemical weapons have been used inVietnam, Cambodia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In the minds of most military commanders, chemical weapons are just one more weapon of war whose use is expected and planned for.
Today the Soviet Army is fully configured to fight with chemical weapons. Special units, with no fewer than 100,000 troops, are designed to attack with and defend against chemical weapons. The Soviets have sixteen different chemical delivery systems, ranging from aircraft bombs and artillery shells to chemical grenades and land mines. In addition, most of their battlefield vehicles are designed to operate in a chemical environment--unlike U.S. vehicles--and their soldiers are issued protective suits. What makes the Soviet chemical threat so likely to be used is that American chemical capabilities, offensive and defensive, are almost nonexistent. Moreover, chemical weapons are much more effective when used on the offensive, and seizing and maintaining the offensive is the key element in Soviet combat doctrine. The range of chemical weapons staggers the imagination. Such weapons range from simple gas compounds, like mustard gas, to blood and nerve agents for which no real defense exists.
While the use of chemical agents may well kill hundreds of thousands of soldiers--to say nothing of the helpless civilians trapped in or near the fighting who have no means of protecting themselves--the major impact of chemical attacks is likely to be psychiatric. And a soldier who is out of action because of psychiatric breakdown is just as useless as a soldier who has been shot. The psychiatric impact of chemical weapons is hard for the average civilian to comprehend. For example, a British Army study conducted in 1921 found that of the 600,000 Allied gas casualties in World War I, no fewer than 400,000 were psychiatric in origin or self-inflicted. Frightened soldiers would use a small stick to pick up some residue of mustard gas and apply it on their skin. Once the blisters appeared, they would report to the battalion aid station and get out of the fighting for a shortwhile. In another study done in 1927 the American Army found that two of every three men who reported to an aid station complaining of gas symptoms had not even been exposed to a gas attack! Most were suffering the symptoms of chemical exposure but their cause was psychosomatic.
In a modern war soldiers on all sides forced to don chemical protection suits would almost certainly suffer a very high rate of psychiatric collapse within a few hours. Modern chemical suits simply don't work very well. On average, the suit must be changed every ten hours to ensure that chemical residues do not penetrate it. They are made of a rubberized material and are very hot. At 65 degrees, a soldier cannot function in a suit for more than three hours. His combat efficiency is reduced by at least 50 percent and as much as 80 percent. One U.S. estimate is that simply putting on the suit reduces the combat effectiveness of troops by 50 percent. Worse, the soldier's head is encased in a mask which makes it very difficult to see when the lenses become fogged. His ability to hear and communicate declines by over 80 percent and he is subject to rapid heat exhaustion. Nor can he take off the suit to gain relief. Once a chemical alert is sounded, there are few reliable ways to determine what chemicals have been used or how long they will pose a danger. Some agents last six months or longer. Others, such as blood and nerve agents, are colorless, odorless, and tasteless and only a few can be detected by electronic sensors. In many cases the only sure way to determine if the area is safe is to coax a soldier out of his suit and see if he dies!
The soldier is therefore trapped inside his chemical suit psychologically and physically isolated from his comrades. All he can be aware of is the throb of his own pulse, his rapid breathing, and the smell of his own sweat. To make matters worse, many of the initial signs of chemical poisoning--rapid heartbeat, sweating, shortness of breath, etc.--are exactly those associated with the normal physiologicalstress reactions of battle. Isolated from his comrades, the soldier in a chemical suit is forced to deal with his physical symptoms alone. Who can blame him if he misinterprets his symptoms as chemically induced and suffers psychiatric collapse? If he believes he has been exposed, the soldier is likely to inject himself with atropine, a chemical which, at best, is a poor antidote against chemical attack. The problem is that once he injects himself, the atropine reaction visits a terrible set of symptoms upon his body. Common effects of atropine injection are dehydration, incoherency, and mental disorientation, all severe enough to render the soldier useless. The mere suspicion that a unit may have been subjected to a chemical attack is enough in most cases to generate a very high rate of psychiatric casualties. In World War I, for example, chemical weapons produced four times as many nonfatal battle casualties as were produced by regular explosive weapons and most of these were psychiatric.
The ability of fear to debilitate soldiers under chemical conditions cannot be overestimated. In 1985, a battalion of the French Foreign Legion was undergoing a mock chemical attack at its base in Corsica. This unit had been through this exercise many times before. Usually, a single aircraft would pass low over the troops and drop water vapor, simulating a gas attack. This time, however, the instructors replaced the water vapor with a harmless red powder that the troops had never seen. Once the aircraft released the powder, the seasoned troops of the Legion were shaken to the core. The whole battalion, apparently believing that some horrible mistake had been made and that real chemical compounds had been used, simply came apart. Scores of soldiers writhed on the ground manifesting all the symptoms of a genuine chemical attack. Some almost died from their psychologically generated symptoms. The rest either panicked and ran or froze on the spot expecting to die. While there are no reliable means for predicting the number of physical or psychological casualties that will result from an actual attack, there iswidespread agreement that the results will be catastrophic. It is fully expected that the World War I psychiatric casualty rates will be greatly exceeded.
The Poor Bloody Infantry
Since the sixteenth century the infantry has suffered the greatest number of casualties in any war. Dubbed the "queen of battle" by military commanders, to those who served in it, it has always been "the poor bloody infantry." While modern weaponry has increased the infantry's ability to kill by several thousand times since the sixteenth century, it is surely true that human beings have remained essentially the same for at least the last two hundred thousand years. Certainly we have evolved no mechanisms, biological or psychological, which have made us any more able to withstand the killing and maiming effects of weaponry; nor is there any evidence that we are any more able to withstand the psychological impact that the horror of war has always had upon soldiers. The weaponry has changed dramatically; the soldiers have remained the same.
The individual infantryman now has at his disposal weapons of much greater destruction than did his predecessors. A single infantryman now possesses the means to shoot down aircraft or kill tanks. But the truth is that the exponential increase in firepower and lethality of other weapons has simply not been matched by either the firepower of the infantry's weapons or, more importantly, the ability to escape the lethal effects of other weapons. What this all adds up to is that the infantry soldier is more vulnerable than ever. Infantrymen will die in windrows in a modern war much as they have in wars past.
All of which raises the question of casualties. Modern conventional war has become so destructive that neither side has been able to come up with realistic casualty figures as to how many dead, wounded, and psychiatrically broken men would result from even a single day's battle, let alonea long war. U.S. military commanders freely admit that their estimates of 920 men per day per division--about a 6 percent loss rate a day--are probably incorrect since they are based upon computer models which are rooted largely in assumptions drawn from World War II experience.
The one example of two modern conventional armies at war occurred in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Both sides suffered losses of 50 percent in men and equipment in less than two weeks of fighting. But the 1973 war is not instructive for accurately calculating casualties in a modern conventional conflict. For one thing, the size of the forces was nowhere near what it would be in a battle in Central Europe and, equally important, there have been numerous improvements and new weapons since then. A 50 percent loss rate in two weeks can only be regarded as the most optimistic case for predicting casualties in a future conventional war. Even assuming this "best case" scenario, the number of men killed and wounded in a Central European battle would approximate two million on both sides if the battle lasted only two weeks.
At least the dead will be dead, but what about the wounded? The simple fact of the matter is that neither side has sufficient medical resources to deal with the massive numbers of wounded soldiers that would result from a conventional war. For example, the U.S. military has only about half the number of doctors it had in service during the Vietnam War to deal with wounded casualties that will occur at four to five times the rate in much shorter periods of time. There are only 149 anesthesiologists available for wartime requirements and only 420 surgeons. Fewer than 2,000 beds would be available to treat the wounded in Europe, which means that we would have to evacuate our wounded directly to the United States for treatment. Such a prospect, which is official military doctrine, assumes that the aircraft and the airfields from which such evacuations would be staged will be available, a doubtfully valid assumption given the nature of modern war. In every test done on evacuation capability,the United States has found that it simply does not have the aircraft and crews to evacuate large numbers of casualties. Moreover, given the time it takes to evacuate casualties over such long distances, it is expected that 20 percent of the wounded will die needlessly as a result of delayed treatment over the long trip. It seems a foregone conclusion that only the lightly wounded will survive. The rest will die.
Then there are those who will be driven mad by the fighting. In a modern war the chances of becoming a psychiatric casualty are more than twice as great as being killed by enemy fire. And even this prediction is drawn from historical experience and cannot be made with accuracy. A few years ago the U.S. Army attempted to measure just how intense the modern battlefield would be compared to World War II. They found that in World War II, heavy combat produced an exposure to enemy "combat pulses"--ground attacks, artillery shelling, aircraft bombing, etc.--at a rate of two to four a day. Today, the enemy as well as Western forces are expected to deliver twelve to fourteen combat pulses a day! Thus, modern conventional war is likely to be anywhere from four to seven times as intense as World War II combat.
The impact of this level of battle intensity upon the ability of the soldier to retain his sanity is tremendous. If one were to extrapolate the increases in firepower and lethality of today back to World War II, the number of psychiatric casualties suffered only by the American ground forces in that war would jump from 241,960 to 967,840 at a minimum. But firepower and lethality are not the only factors which increase the probabilities and rates at which soldiers will become debilitated by psychiatric stress. Other factors, paradoxically, are even more important.
Psychiatric stress casualties increase greatly when the soldier feels isolated. Clearly, the need to fight in chemical suits or from within armored personnel carriers where one shot can kill all the men on board will increase psychological isolation. Increased physical fatigue strongly affects psychiatriccasualty rates. Since the soldier will have to fight longer and harder, often cut off from his supply lines, psychiatric debilitation rates can be expected to rise even further. The need to fight at night will generate even higher rates, as will the need for an almost constant stream of replacements, which will weaken the social cohesion of the combat group, and which is the first line of defense against psychiatric breakdown. Finally, the huge increases in indirect fire upon the troops will generate extremely high rates of psychiatric casualties.
Both the intensity and the nature of modern conventional war are likely to generate rates of psychiatric casualties never before seen in warfare. Again using a World War II model with constant manpower rates, if the factors associated with modern war were operative at that time, the number of psychiatric casualties would have reached one million, an increase of almost five times the actual World War II rate! It is highly probable that the rate of psychiatric casualties in a modern conventional war will account for almost 50 percent of the total manpower loss on both sides. It is, at best, highly questionable whether any army could long sustain such rates and survive.
What this brief sketch of modern conventional war should make obvious is that war is no longer a rational means to gain political ends. War has become an activity that has surpassed the ability of human beings to endure it. An army sent off to war, even if victorious, will return a bedraggled, maimed mob of madmen. Whatever proportionality between means and ends that may have once existed on the field of battle no longer exists. Even the victors must pass through a slaughterhouse on the way to victory.
War is no longer tolerable to the human mind. We have reached a point where almost everyone exposed to combat will, within a comparatively short time, be killed, wounded,or driven mad. Indeed, the greatest threat to the modern soldier is neither death nor being wounded. It is the threat of being psychiatrically debilitated from mental breakdown. In such circumstances, one can only wonder what meaning such human qualities as courage, endurance, and heroism still have. On a battlefield when large numbers of men are slaughtered for no greater reason than that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, one can only wonder of what worth military expertise and training are. When so many are killed and maimed so quickly, of what value is the notion of personal sacrifice?
What is clear is that most civilians have no idea what they are in for once called to the colors of their country to do battle. Certainly their experiences will far surpass anything they could have remotely imagined. Many of them will be driven mad and some will never recover from it. Yet, with all the emphasis on the technology of war, its cost in terms of dollars, and the frequency with which it penetrates our consciousness, for most people the thought of being driven mad by combat never enters their minds. How strange this is since madness in war has been one of the few constants that have accompanied soldiers from earliest times. And there is every evidence that it will be an even more prevalent companion of those who take the field of battle the next time.