Lessons learned from new-era warfare
'A textbook case for the war colleges for the future'
By Jennifer Pangyanszki
(CNN) -- The war in Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime has been widely praised by military analysts, who say it could offer a blueprint for future operations.
From the first day of the war, the so-called "decapitation strike," aimed at Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his regime members, foreshadowed a campaign that would rely on intelligence information, precision-guided munitions and more special forces than in past conflicts.
Coupled with dramatic improvements in military technology since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, this approach to warfare resulted in a rapid advance by U.S. and coalition forces into the heart of Iraq, with little resistance from Iraqi troops.
"It's a textbook case for the war colleges for the future," said retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, a CNN military analyst, who was involved in planning for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Shepperd said the war in Iraq was effective because the U.S.-led coalition was "able to bring the combined arms force, combine it with intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance ... and get firepower on targets and hit those targets, day or night, any kind of weather," he said.
"No one else has ever been able to do that before."
The campaign "advanced 350 miles in desert terrain, through built-up areas and resulted in a very, very innovative takedown of a huge city," said retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO supreme allied commander who is a CNN military analyst.
At the heart of the U.S.-coalition strategy in Iraq was the use of initial overwhelming force against a weaker enemy, as exemplified with the so-called "shock and awe" campaign that targeted Baghdad in the first week of the war.
"You must have overwhelming force at the point of contact," Shepperd said. "That can be numbers of troops, superior knowledge, intelligence or firepower."
Shepperd said war planning requires a balance of speed and agility, air power and special forces -- and a need for heavy firepower. In this war, the use of precision weapons dramatically increased from past conflicts.
In the 1991 Gulf War, just about 9 percent of coalition bombs dropped were precision-guided, or "smart" weapons, according to the U.S. Air Force.
This time, the number of precision-guided bombs climbed to more than 16,000, to account for nearly 70 percent of the bombs dropped by the coalition, according to U.S. defense officials.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said careful planning prevented large-scale "collateral damage" -- civilian deaths -- and major environmental disaster, while leaving the country's infrastructure largely intact, unlike what happened in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.
"What's happened is amazing for the speed with which it was executed, but also for all the things that did not happen, all the bad things that could have happened, because of that speed," Rumsfeld said Thursday at the Pentagon.
Air dominance from all the services was another big advantage for the coalition, Shepperd said, as it was in the 1991 war. The Iraqi air force, devastated by the Gulf War, had only 80 to 100 operational combat aircraft, according to Periscope. A U.N. embargo limiting military equipment made the aircraft difficult to maintain. Iraqis did not launch a single sortie against coalition forces.
In this war, air power also played a bigger role in intelligence gathering. Military surveillance aircraft scoured the battlefield -- from the lowest-flying aircraft such as the Army's Hunter and the Marines' Pioneer, to the Predator, to the higher-flying Global Hawk and U-2 -- and on up to the information-gathering satellites.
Improved listening capabilities provided another "quantum advance" Shepperd said.
"No one else can bring this overwhelming advantage," Shepperd said. "We can see and know where the enemy is and they cannot see and know where we are. They are fighting blind."
Greater precision weapons enabled the coalition to quickly strike leadership locations, military formations and mobile communications sites, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of America's war on Iraq, said at the onset of the campaign.
On the ground, the battle was also very different from the previous conflict against Iraq.
This war didn't start with a long air campaign, as was the case in 1991. It started on the ground with seizures of airfields in the west of Iraq -- to prevent their use as launch pads for Scud missiles -- and of oil fields, to prevent them from being ignited.
Focus on special forces
Much of the drive into Iraq was led by swiftly moving, smaller, lighter forces, combined with Special Operations troops backed up by heavy artillery and tanks.
As troops moved toward Baghdad, they encountered stiffer-than-expected resistance in some cities, such as Nasiriya. A rapid advance into Iraq slowed as troops neared the perimeter of Baghdad and confronted Saddam's Special Republican Guard.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Dan Christman, another CNN military analyst, noted that just one heavy armored division, the Army's 3rd Infantry, moved into the Iraqi capital.
"To see the advance of this division all the way -- 500 kilometers [about 311 miles] -- to Baghdad in seven, eight days, it was breathtaking," he said.
Christman predicts that future warfare will see a "major growth in Special Ops formations," including Army Rangers, the Navy SEALs and the Delta Force. "It's a very, very important combat multiplier in this very different world order that we're now confronting."
Expansion of Special Operations and joint forces has been a part of a transformation of the military under way in the Department of Defense. It was the strategy in missions such as the rescue of POW Pvt. Jessica Lynch, involving Special Operations and CIA intelligence working together.
Rumsfeld outlined a new "joint national training capability" in his department's 2004 budget request, seeking $1.8 billion over the next six years.
He said this budget, the first to fully reflect the new defense strategies and policies, calls for the most significant changes in the strategy and structure of armed forces in at least a generation.
Already, at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, cadets are undergoing joint training, said Lt. Col. Edward Levy, the chief of military science instruction.
"They know they'll most likely be part of a joint task force, and they get formal 'joint professional military education' during their 47 months here," Levy said, adding they are working with Marine, Air Force, Navy officers at the Army school. A British officer at West Point helps cadets understand coalition warfare, he said.
The strategy was right on, Shepperd said, but there are some lessons to be learned.
"Now there will be deep studies of all sorts of things," he said. "There will be a close examination of every weapon system and how it worked and where it failed, what hit the target and what didn't and how we can improve accuracy."
He predicted ongoing efforts to minimize civilian deaths with development of 250-pound smart bombs, instead of the current 2,000 pound weight, so targets can be hit without damage to the surrounding area. Training efforts will likely continue to focus on night fighting and identification of friendly forces, to avoid "friendly fire" incidents, when troops fire upon their own units or their allies.
Lessons from the 1991 Gulf War are folded into the core curriculum at West Point, but it will take time before this war is translated into the classroom, Levy said.