On Point

Military Synergism Meets Baghdad

by Austin Bay
March 26, 2003 synergism will meet Baghdad.

"Synergism" is Pentagonese for choreographing a military ballet. When Central Command says its operations employ synergism, it means its commanders seek to make best use of each military unit's and each weapon system's capabilities, and to use those capabilities at the most decisive moment. "Best use" of one unit reinforces best use of another, and the total effect is greater than the individual parts. A finger alone is a poke. A clenched fist, where fingers fit together, is deadly.

That's the theory. Reality is tough on theories -- ask the honest "antiwar human shields" who went to Baghdad and discovered the Iraqi people despise Saddam's regime and long for liberation. War is the harshest reality and tends to chew to bits military theories. German strategist Carl von Clausewitz said war is the realm of friction. Friction means the unexpected and the expected will frustrate the best plans. Tire blowouts, tired soldiers and misread maps are friction, as are enemy snipers, enemy divisions and fedayeen fanatics mixing with civilians.

And then there is sand -- the weather as flying friction. The sandstorms blotting Iraq are classic battlefield friction.

That's why plans drawn by smart soldiers are flexible. That's why the smartest soldiers demand "redundancy" -- more units and more weapons and more munitions. Flexibility and redundancy reduce the threat of the unexpected.

Technology does mitigate the sandstorm's effects, though a tanker with sand in his goggles might scowl at the statement. U.S. aircraft can deliver a variety of precision bombs in all weather conditions. Intelligence gathering continues, though the danger of "friendly fire" incidents does increase and most helicopters are grounded.

In an odd way, the sandstorm should be a relief to the tired soldiers in the US 3rd Infantry Division. The 3rd ID's advance from Kuwait has been startling, according to reports covering 240 miles in 40 hours. This bold race was an act of utter audacity, but now 3rd ID soldiers must rest before tackling the Republican Guard. A wall of blowing sand gives them the opportunity.

The 3rd ID's lightning advance positions it to "freeze" the Republican Guard divisions around Baghdad so they can be destroyed by precision munitions. The advance has risks. Bypassing towns means Iraqi fascist militias can conduct "stay behind" attacks. While these have had minimal military effects, the political effects -- which include inciting fear among Iraqi civilians and taking POWs -- have been large.

The 3rd ID, when it engages the Republican Guard, will link "smart boots" with "smart bombs." Smart boots means superbly trained soldiers using "synergistic" techniques. Real-time intelligence provided by sources from cavalry scouts to satellites is supposed to give the smart boots a real combat edge. Combine that with smart bombs, and the 3rd ID can -- theoretically -- fight faster and with fewer troops.

Technology has altered old military math. The United States can now use B-52s as close-support artillery, dropping heavy bombs with great precision. When synergy works, one modern U.S. division has the firepower to rapidly defeat several Republican Guard-type divisions. The 101st Airborne can strike an enemy from every direction. There is no "front line" against the 101st.

The old math, however, hasn't fully disappeared and never will. The British are demonstrating this in Basra, as they aid the popular uprisings against Saddam. In many combat situations, there is no substitute for a large force of highly trained infantry.

But back in Baghdad: Eventually, the U.S. Marines and the 101st Airborne will reinforce the 3rd ID.

Once precision munitions begin to break the Republican Guard, look for offensive thrusts by the 3rd ID's tanks and mechanized infantry to further isolate areas of resistance.

Destruction of the Republican Guard sets the stage for uprisings within Baghdad aided by allied special operations forces. Wargaming analysis indicates this is one likely course of action.

The margin for error provided by another high-tech armored infantry division would virtually eliminate any "what ifs." The 4th Infantry Division was originally slated to attack from Turkey, but ground attack from Turkey was not permitted. That unit has yet to debark in a Persian Gulf port. Should friction foil plans, it will be a long 10 days before the 4th ID can enter the battle.

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