Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Death From Above

Years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq has shown how destructive Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) can be as a large percentage of U.S. casualties have been the result of these roadside bombs.  The pentagon has worked hard to defeat them, but they are inexpensive and effective so they will likely be a staple of future conflicts.  One way to avoid roadside bombs is to stay off the roads as much as possible.  Long convoys of trucks, tanks, artillery and support vehicles make easy targets so by shifting more resources from the ground to the air, combat units can avoid some of the roadside and become an even more lethal fighting machine.  Flying has its own risks of course, but shooting down an Apache or an Osprey with an RPG is much harder than blowing up a HMMV in the street.

The model for this lighter, faster and deadlier Army would be the venerable 101st Airborne (Air Assault) and the Rangers.  Both units were formed, trained and equipped around the idea that speed, surprise and aggressiveness could help make up for their lack of heavy weapons like tanks and heavy artillery.  Airborne and air assault operations are considerably more expensive than more conventional ground-based operations.  The cost and the institutional memory of the difficulties of the airborne drops over Normandy in 1944 have contributed to limited use of these operations.  However, with technological advancements in aircraft, weapons and communications it is time to exploit the force multiplying effect of airborne/air assault.

(In a future post I will discuss issues such as cost, weapons and equipment and organizational changes that need to be addressed for the shift to an airborne/air assault based Army and Marine Corps.)

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