- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003


How War Will Be Fought In The 21st Century

Bruce Berkowitz

Free Press

The remarkable victory of U.S. troops in Iraq in recent months is the culmination of a vision shared by many military and civilian thinkers in the defense community over the course of the past decade. The orchestra of this victory had many players, some now dead, but the conductor is undoubtedly Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Without his sometimes ruthless drive, the victory in Iraq might have well looked like a 20th-century conflict rather than the 21st-century war.

In “The New Face of War,” Bruce Berkowitz examines the roots of this new revolution in military affairs and the histories of its primary authors. Although written before the recent conflict, the book is an excellent primer on the origins of this evolving new method of waging war.

The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) derives its name from Andrew Marshall, the iconoclastic head of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment. He has probably held the same job in government longer than anyone in Washington. Little known outside of defense-planning circles, Mr. Marshall is a living legend in that exclusive community.

The RMA takes its name from work primarily done by Russian military thinkers in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, but the original Russian concepts have been given a uniquely American spin by Mr. Marshall and his close circle of acolytes. Mr. Marshall is highly regarded by Mr. Rumsfeld and was called upon to provide early advice regarding his intended strategy as head of America’s largest bureaucracy.

In Mr. Marshall’s view, a RMA has three elements. The first is technological change. The second is a corresponding change in tactics and operational art to maximize the impact of technological improvements and breakthroughs. The final element is organizational change designed to maximize the first two. Since the first Gulf War, Mr. Marshall commissioned a number of studies to examine past RMAs.

These studies were conducted by some of the finest theoretical minds in the country, including Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins, Stephen Peter Rosen of Harvard, and Williamson Murray, who is now with the Pentagon’s Joint Advanced Warfighting Program (JAWP). Some of these studies concentrated on successful RMAs such as the development of the so- called blitzkrieg by the Germans and the development of carrier aviation by the Navy in the years between the world wars. Other efforts examined failed RMAs, such as the French methodical doctrine of the 1930s and Great Britain’s failure to maximize its early lead in aircraft-carrier technology.

Other leaders in the development of this new war of making war are also discussed in this short but excellent book. John Boyd, a star fighter-pilot and crack military man, emerges as the father of a tactical and operational philosophy called maneuver warfare that stresses destroying any enemy’s mental and physical cohesion rather than killing him by firepower attrition alone. Some casual observers of the war were probably puzzled when many field leaders referred to being inside the Iraqi “O-O-D-A loop.” This refers to Mr. Boyd’s assertion that we will almost always win if we can make decisions and act on them more quickly than the opponent.

Not neglected in this volume are civilian and defense innovators who have come up with military applications to the information-technology revolution. Also discussed are the concepts of network-centric warfare and the asymmetrical swarming tactics that we have seen used successfully by some of our new enemies against the U.S.S. Cole and less effectively against our forces in Iraq.

Mr. Berkowitz is a close student of the field of military transformation with stints at Rand and Brookings Institution under his belt. He is also a talented storyteller. His book makes a good read of material that might otherwise be dry to the uninitiated. It is perhaps unfortunate that the book was not published until after the war, as it would have given the author an opportunity to synthesize his views in light of recent experience.

Like most RMAs in the past, this one went to war before it was completely mature. The workhorses of this war were the heavy M1A1 Abrams tank and the Bradley fighting vehicle which must be replaced with more quickly deployable systems if Mr. Rumsfeld’s full vision is to be achieved. Tactics and organizations are in the midst of change and many of the operational techniques used in the latest conflicts are so new they have yet to be codified into joint and service doctrine. Consequently, a postwar debate will certainly rage over the war’s lessons. This book is an excellent start for someone who wants to understand that coming debate.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps colonel. He lectures at the graduate level at George Washington University.

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