Modern Western attitudes towards indirect fires

The recent wars with major involvement of Western ground forces were forceful occupations.

What's important in occupations? 
"Plan A": Keep the will of civilians to resist broken.
If "Plan B" fails, enact "Plan B": Break their will again.
If "Plan C" fails, enact "Plan C": Muddle through in face of resistance and strive for a not totally embarrassing exit.

So basically you have to keep the masses in check.

The British were especially low on resources in their occupations during the Inter-War Years and kept the masses in check in part by terrorising them with aircraft. Euphemistically this was known as "policing". This approach was as unacceptable in the naughties as was daddy's Hama massacre approach to Assad when the uprising in Syria began.

The face of occupation had to be the troops on the ground. They had to at least feign presence by showing themselves - on the ground.

We might conclude that such a war of occupation would cause a major shift towards less indirect fires, with them being largely useless for showing strength. You can terrorise with their firepower, but not make people feel you could actually exercise control in minor affairs (unless they think that you're really, really cruel).

This shift didn't happen. Sure, there were calls for more infantry (rarely accompanied by calls for less artillery or tanks - bureaucracies prefer growth over any other change).
Fights in Afghanistan which weren't intentionally started by the occupation forces all-too-often followed a simple recipe:
Observe what happens, feel outnumbered, stick to the radio like a 14 y.o. girl to her smartphone, call in support (mortars, artillery, helicopters, bombers or other ground troops. The armed opposition was easily able to fix the occupation troops this way, but it lacked combined arms strength and was thus unable to destroy the fixed troops with its own mortar fires et cetera.

Fires from other than the ground manoeuvre element's individual weapons were of great importance to "us", and "they" lacked them almost entirely.

Now if this "Western" behaviour happened in a conflict which by its very nature should have lead to a shift away from indirect fires - then how would modern combat against a capable combined arms opponent (often called "peer enemy" or similar) look like?

The active service officers and the not actively serving people who have their attention aren't stupid, of course. They know that an army with self-propelled guns is more likely to shoot back with the same than a tribal mercenary warband. 

The problem is that a generation of junior officers has been ingrained with a certain style of warfare. Standard operating procedures and intuitive reflexes are deeply ingrained in their brains. They may (and will) fight against this bias, but it's the nature of biases that they still affect the average action.

The knowledge about the current idea of conventional warfare has to wrestle with the intuition gained in occupation warfare, and that's a quite unequal contest. Intuition wins too often.

So what can be done about this? Training, training, training. Also, don't feed more raw lieutenants into the Afghan indoctrination campaign. The perceptions and intuitions from Afghanistan create a bias. Training should have an opposite bias in order to counteract this, or the outcome will still be biased in a predictable way.
Old school officers who were imprinted in the very late Cold War era should determine what shall be trained and how.


P.S. The emphasis on passive protection (body armour, armoured vehicles) over mobility and the importance of showing presence over elusiveness justify similar concerns and conclusions. Many patterns from occupation wars degrade Western forces' suitability for their noble actual mission; deterrence and defence.

edit: I used "indirect fires" here as representative for non-organic support fires in general (heavy mortars, howitzers, rockets, helicopters, bombs, air/ground missiles strafing runs, gunships); a sloppiness on my part. The normal definition for indirect fires only includes non-line of sight ground/ground fires, of course.


  1. I honestly don't think theres much that can be done to prevent the afghanistan experience from stupefying the US armys intelligentsia: They will take all the hackneyed false lessons they can from that pointless escapade, and make new doctrine which will fail spectacularly against a competent enemy.

    Hopefully, the yankees will get their noses bloodied in a minor border incident (or something of that nature), which will be enough of a jolt to wake them out of their slumber. I don't hold much hope of that, however. Their decline is all but inevitable, and europe as a whole will become more influential in its absence. Guys like you could make a big impact giving private lessons to army officers. Call it 'svens critical thinking skills', or something like that :)

    1. Different schools of thought will compete, and the one which gains the high ground by convincing enough people that its expectations are more accurate will win.

      So far there's a great desire to go back to combined arms and garrison/barracks culture with families. The question is whether stupid interventions will keep dragging stupid interventions into the spot light and whether the combined arms folks make a conscious effort to weed out misleading experiences.

      I don't think that bloggers have a substantial influence on this; pundits with access to newspaper op-eds might easily have more influence, and they tend to be interventionists.

    2. Kesler
      EUrope dies before your eyes.
      Look at share of world GDP over the last 70 years.
      The US is constant, the third wold grows, EUrope dies.

      Unfortunately, the British Army is leading the way in losing this battle of the ideas.
      At every stage we protect the infantry which are already woefully unsupported.

    3. Come on. It's fine if poor countries grow in wealth. That's not an indication of "EUrope dies". In fact, technological progress is merely slowing from approx. 2% p.a. to approx 1.5% p.a. by now - but this happens globally. We just feel it much because 'we' already exploited other inputs for per capita wealth better than poor countries and depend on technological progress for growth.

    4. Europe as a share of world GDP is collapsing.

      "Their decline is all but inevitable, and europe as a whole will become more influential in its absence."
      That just is not going to happen.

      "We just feel it much because 'we' already exploited other inputs for per capita wealth better than poor countries and depend on technological progress for growth."
      And if that were the case, why isnt the US decreasing as well? Cant relative population shift account for ALL that?

    5. Seriously, look at their industrial production indices. Their consumption would crash by a about a fourth or so if they balanced their trade and maintained their real capital stock per capita. They're effectively still in an unsustainable consumption bubble given their modest manufacturing output per capita.
      They've got more population growth than the EU (EU 0.2% and US 0.9% p.a. according to CIA World Factbook), but aren't particularly happy with the structure of this growth.

      I think both EU and US are going to lose relative power and relative size, but it's fully up to them to set domestic environments for good and quite safe lives of their citizens. That's easily possible and what matters.

      Comments have strayed far off-topic already, let's cut off this thread.

  2. "I think both EU and US are going to lose relative power and relative size, but it's fully up to them to set domestic environments for good and quite safe lives of their citizens. That's easily possible and what matters."

    "Europe is not dieing. But it is becoming smaller.
    European manufacturing and its energy industries are getting smaller.
    Those are I suppose the fundamentals of Europe's power and influence.

    I mentioned energy because as internal production of primary energy decreases it leads to high dependency on foreign suppliers and large financial payments towards the same partners ( plus enormous investments in the internal sources to keep the rate of decline from becoming catastrophic catastrophic).

    I haven't mentioned population because in our case decreasing numbers might not be a bad thing. Of course getting a smaller and older population does not make Europe stronger.

    Seems to me that Europe is returning to the historic norms, becoming an overpopulated poor peninsula of the Eurasian landmass.
    Of course Europeans might try to go out with blazing guns and reverse the trend, but technological gradients are not enough to allow a successful armed robbery like the one our ancestors managed to pull. I suppose.

    US seems to be in a better position.
    Sven mentioned one factor, their ability to sustain a large commercial deficit. How why is a different debate.

    A second one making a big difference is the very large primary energy North America produces compared to Europe. We have to import an enormous amount and the payments are now crushing European economies.
    Maybe proportions might change but this difference is not going to be changed significantly.

    Plus North America has the ability to export very large quantities of food after covering internal needs. Europe can't do either.

    In conclusion US has a larger ability to "set domestic environments for good and quite safe lives of their citizens".
    And this before another bubble similar to the one from South Europe blows up. The large credit and real estate bubble from Scandinavia and UK. After it blows it will become pretty clear how bad our position really is.

    PS. GDP numbers after the financial crisis have become increasingly misleading and useless. Increased financialization covers for the large scale changes taking place in " real economy ".
    PPS. Sorry for going so far of topic. The military aspects from the article are above my head, but I wanted to add my view to the opinions written by other commentators. If the thread is not closed.


  3. I write only in order to draw your attention towards the large differences between US and Europe in the energy sector. Add the new energy prices to the numbers from the article and the picture becomes quite gloomy for us.