Attrition: Hidden Losses of the Iraq War


April 11, 2007: People and equipment are lost in wars, but so are ideas. A peacetime military spends a lot of time and money trying to figure out what the next war will be, and how to fight it. That leads to developing lots of new ideas. When there's a war going on, there's no mystery any more. You know what the next war is because you're fighting it, and trying to figure out how to fight it more effectively is something the combat troops do every day.

Long range planning, and a lot of other things, become less important during wartime. For example, a computerized wargame, like CASTFOREM, used to evaluate new weapons and tactics at the brigade and battalion level, becomes less important. This is especially the case because CASTFOREM was introduced in 1983, and reflected a Cold War era war, with lots of tanks and mechanized operations. The last time CASTFOREM was updated was in 2000. A replacement, Combat XXI, is stalled because the current war is mostly about terrorism, urban combat against irregulars and small unit raids. Can't finish Combat XXI until there's some agreement on what the next war will look like. There are many other situations like this.

There's also no money. When there's a war, anything not contributing directly to the war effort is in danger of having its budget looted. Supporting the fighting that's underway is more important than trying to figure out what some future war will be like.

A lot of research projects get stalled, then killed, and often forgotten, never to be heard from again. Research on new equipment and weapons is also threatened, if the items in question are not likely to help in the current fight.

Some cut items do get noticed, like maintenance of bases. During a war like this, there will be news stories of poor upkeep of barracks and base amenities like gyms and swimming pools. The military has discretion over money for this stuff, and war needs take precedence over painting the barracks or keeping the gyms open late. This was what the recent ruckus at Walter Reed hospital was about. There weren't cuts to medical care, but to nearby housing used by outpatient troops.

Once the war is over, it will take years for the hidden losses to made good, and some of those losses will be permanent. The barracks will still be there, and obviously in need of maintenance. But lots of interesting ideas will be gone for good, unless someone reinvents them in the future.


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