Friday 12 November 2004

Reflections on Fallujah

Despite the anti-war rhetoric, the dire warnings of a "quagmire" and the predictions of a bloodbath for the US troops, militarily the battle of Fallujah has been a stunning success. and that success has enormous implications for British and EU defence policy.

When they come to study the battle, military strategists will note that the "home team" had the advantages of knowing the ground, had plenty of warning and thus time to prepare the defences and had an apparently unlimited supply of munitions, on top of the inherent advantage of fighting in a congested urban environment which has always favoured the defender.

They will note also that many hundreds of them died, that there were few coalition casualties and that the whole city was secured in less than a week after the troops jumped off.

On the face of it, the military success has to be a testament to the skill, tactics and equipment of the US forces, but what can “European” planners learn from the battle?

The first thing is – as we observed in a previous posting - was the key role of the Main Battle Tank. Working closely with the infantry, they were used to tempt the insurgents into battle, flushing them out in order that other arms could deal with them

Secondly, there was unprecedented employment of aerial surveillance, including the use of hi-tech unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with on-board video cameras, affording continuous observation of the battle area, giving real time intelligence on enemy movements. Integrated with satellite positioning information, the "intel" enabled directors to give immediate, accurate targeting data to a variety of assets, including ground attack aircraft and long-range artillery.

Thirdly, the complexity of the air war was staggering, as was the extraordinary range of air assets employed, ranging from Cobra attack helicopters, with their Hellfire missiles, AC130 gunships, F-18s and even B2s.

No fewer than twenty different types of aircraft were thrown into the fight and so crowded was the sky that they were layered in stacks above the city, directed by ten teams of ground controllers.

Then there was a negative factor. The much-vaunted Stryker Brigade, using the prototype vehicles that provide a model for the FCS/FRES concepts, were not much in evidence. The MBT and Bradley teams were in the front line - so-called "heritage" platforms - not the more modern platforms, casting serious doubts on the utility of light/medium weight armoured vehicles in urban warfare.

Nevertheless, what the success amounts to is that, as even The Times agrees, the Americans have rewritten the rules of urban warfare. But they have done more than that. They have rewritten the whole book on counter-insurgency and projected the "Europeans", with all their pretensions of a "defence identity", so far into the second league that they might just as well be equipped with bows and arrows.

Any idea that the Europeans, militarily or politically, can even begin to act as a counterweight to US power is strictly for the birds. Not even the combined weight of all the forces of all the EU member states, and not even the best of their technology, could they even begin to match the scale of the US achievement.

They are so far behind that, whether we are on our own or with the "Europeans", it makes no difference. Allied to the US, however, we are at least alongside a winning team. If we ratify the Constitution, however, that will firmly lock us out of that alliance and relegate us permanently to the second division.