Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Knives in Gun Fights Not a Good Idea

Military doctrine is like a really big playbook governing the actions of tens of thousands on the battlefield. It is most valuable in scrimmage, however, as the big game is played only a few times in a player’s lifetime. Scrimmage differs from war in that both sides in war aren’t always playing the same game or by the same rules or the same playing field. It’s important not to bring a knife to a gun fight.

Weaponology, a new termed from a new TV series on the Military Channel on cable, is what technology works regardless of doctrine, and often why a doctrine or technology worked or not. It tells why the knife didn’t work in a gun fight.

The fate of nations and victory in battle often hinges on whether doctrine used the right technology, as in taking the bigger gun to the gun fight. Since doctrine dominates in peacetime, it is difficult to give up knife fighting. The bayonet is a stubborn survival of thousands of years of pike warfare as is the trefoil on the end of a company’s guidon and remained the number one killer in soldier’s minds until they accepted that barbed wire, machine guns, shell fragments all fed by rail rendered the bayonet a weapon of last resort.

Not all Weaponology changes are that obvious. Horse cavalry retained much of it’s usefulness throughout the Russian Revolution, the Polish wars, and the Spanish Civil War. It took a generation of automobile production to get the tinker-maker synergy to produce large numbers of reliable tanks. Timing is important.

As the Weaponology development curve is dramatically faster, by WW2, the life cycle of a successful weapon became shorter. Biplanes in 1939 were supplanted by jet fighters in six years. Designing the right weapon in the absence of a real battlefield is dicey, and given the historic value of the uniformity and consistency of the military play book, the wrong guess can be fatal. Such was the case of German and Japanese ships and planes.

The Japanese had the biggest, fastest, and longest range submarines not the least of which included super-subs that carried aircraft. They were the ideal commerce raider, but used almost exclusively in conjunction with the main fleet in hopes of fighting another Tsushima as was the dominant doctrine for the Combined Fleet throughout the war despite the dramatic success of the German and American campaigns in commerce interdiction. Or of the successful actions of the Confederate Navy which forced US ship owners to reflag half the ships under the US flag to flags of convenience, something that persists today.

From http://www.combinedfleet.com/ss.htm

Because of the vastness of the Pacific, Japan built many boats of extreme range and size, many of which were capable of cruises exceeding 20,000 miles and lasting more than 100 days. In fact, Japan built what were by far the largest submarines in the world, indeed, the only submarines over 5,000 tons submerged displacement, or submarines over 400 feet in length until the advent of nuclear power. These same boats were credited with a range of 37,500 miles at 14 knots, a figure never matched by any other diesel-electric submarine. These large boats could each carry three floatplane bombers, the only submarines in history so capable. Japan built 41 submarines that could carry one or more aircraft, while the vast submarine fleets of the United States, Britain, and Germany included not one submarine so capable.

During the Second World War, there were 56 submarines larger than 3,000 tons in the entire world, and 52 of these were Japanese. Japan built 65 submarines with ranges exceeding 20,000 miles at ten knots, while the Allies had no submarine capable of this feat. By 1945, Japan had built all 39 of the world's diesel-electric submarines with more than 10,000 horsepower, and all 57 of the world's diesel-electric submarines capable of 23+ knots surface speed.

The Japanese navy also built submarines with the fastest underwater speeds of any nation's combat submarines. They employed 78 midget submarines capable of 18.5 to 19 knots submerged, and built 110 others capable of 16 knots. As the war was ending they completed four medium-sized submarines capable of 19 knots submerged. This exceeds the 17.5-knot performance of the famed German Type XXI coming into service at the same time. As early as 1938, Japan completed the experimental Submarine Number 71, capable of more than 21 knots submerged.

Japanese submarines employed the best torpedoes available during the Second World War. The Type 95 torpedo used pure oxygen to burn kerosene, instead of the compressed air and alcohol used in other nation's torpedoes. This gave them about three times the range of their Allied counterparts, and also reduced their wake, making them harder to notice and avoid. The Type 95 also had by far the largest warhead of any submarine torpedo, initially 893 pounds (405 kg), increased to 1210 pounds (550 kg) late in the war. All Japanese torpedoes made during the war used Japanese Type 97 explosive, a mixture of 60% TNT and 40%

hexanitrodiphenylamine. Most importantly, the Type 95 used a simple contact exploder, and was therefore far more reliable than its American counterpart, the Mark 14, until the latter was improved in late-1943. Japan also developed and used an electric torpedo, the Type 92. This weapon had modest performance compared to the Type 95, but emitted no exhaust and, therefore, left no wake to reveal its presence. Similar electric torpedoes were used by several nations.

Imagine if Yamamoto had loosed these tigers on the US lines of supply across the vast space of water between the West Coast and Hawaii and from Hawaii to Australia. Even worse, imagine if Doenitz had these subs to wage war in the North and South Atlantics and the Indian Ocean as well. The supply lines from the US would have been shredded. The Canal would have fallen as well as the Soviet Union leaving the Eurasian continent in Axis hands.

German Luftwaffe doctrine dismissed four engine bombers in favor of fast medium bombers which left Germany unable to effectively conduct a strategic bombing offensive. If the Battle of Britain had been fought against four engine bombers, the end would have come swift as the short range medium bombers and their escorts couldn’t carry enough tonnage to do to Britain what Britain and the US did in return.

In both cases, the wrong doctrine led our enemies down the wrong paths leading to their destruction. Both of our enemies had the technological ability to create the right weapons, but the Rear Echelon Multi-Facilitators insisted on taking knives to gun fights.

American military doctrine shares two dark sides, one that sticks in the mud, and the other that is convinced that there is no mud. Unlike sticking to obsolete doctrine, the US likes to invent the battlefield that fits the kind of warfare they want to fight. This is called capabilities based fighting now in vogue after threat based fighting has been deemed passé by the porcelain eunuchs pandering in the Pentagon.

Like the German decision to stick to medium bombers, the decision to go to four engine bombers had as much to do with budget battles with the Navy as the B-17 was sold as the anti-dote to battleships. That’s what Billy Mitchell’s demo was all about. In fact, the USAAF prevailed in sending B-17s to the Philippines instead of a squadron of cruisers as a deterrent to the Imperial Fleet. All the B-17s were destroyed on the ground. And they never did sink a battleship on the move.

As one watches the Military, History, and Science channels, one is struck by the prevalence of personality and happenstance on the development of Weaponology. Penicillin and Teflon were developed by lab accident. Dynamite was developed by Alfred Nobel in hopes that increased lethality would deter war. Likewise, a priest developed the first “bullet proof” vest which was converted to Teflon by a pizza delivery man who had survived a shootout with some thugs.

Not every thing that works in the way it was intended to. The M113 personnel carrier and the UH-1 helicopter both started out as battlefield ambulances for the US Army Medical Corps. At night in Vietnam I used to enjoy seeing a stream of fire from the sky as Spooky aka Puff the Magic Dragon, moan in the night. A thirties era passenger plan with a reborn Gatling gun.

On the spot ingenuity counts. The hedge rows of Normandy were plowed through with a device affixed to the front of a tank by a Sergeant with a welding torch and parts of Rommel’s beach obstacles.

Doctrine development must be able to adapt to concepts and developments from all directions, from command on high to grunts on the front, and wonks in industry and on campus like Barnes Wallis of Dambuster fame, and Kelly Johnson of Lockheed’s Skunk Works.

Failure of the Germans and Japanese to change their doctrine to leverage their technology in accordance to the demands of the war, cost them a serious regime change. What we do not need is doctrine developed without regard to whether knives or guns are in the hands of the bad guys, and instead focused on the illusion of a fantasy in order to feed the career needs of the fighting force. As in Transformation.

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