Strategy and tactics

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Definitions

Strategy and tactics concern decisions on how wars are actually fought. Strategy refers to "big picture" issues. It is the art and science of developing and employing military units in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve theater, national, and/or multinational objectives. Tactics refers to the mechanics of how battles are fought in the immediate sense, specifically the employment of units in relation to each other and/or to the enemy in order to use their full potential.

U.S. Military Strategy

U.S. military strategy is partially expressed in the way its military forces are structured. The current U.S. force structure was largely a response to the Cold War between the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact and other communist countries on one side, and the United States and its allies on the other, in the period from the end of World War II in 1945 to the demise of the Soviet Union.

During the Cold War, the United States developed a large arsenal of nuclear weapons, the largest Navy in the world, and an Army largely designed to fend off communist invasions into Western Europe and South Korea. Under the Clinton Administration, the Cold War arsenal was cut dramatically, with the number of active duty soldiers cut by about one-third from Reagan era peaks, producing a "peace dividend", and the beginnings of rethinking the makeup of the U.S. military from the Cold War model were begun, but not completed.

The handful of engagements the U.S. has been involved in since the fall of the Cold War and in its waning days, drive current military strategy.

The Vietnam War, which was the first war that the United States had decisively lost, changed the views of Americans on military strategy profoundly. At least since this time, the U.S. Army has developed a profound wariness of guerilla warfare, counterinsurgency actions and peace keeping, fearing another quagmire. Instead, the military went into denial and focused on fighting big, set piece battles against its superpower foe, the Soviet Union. The Army's reluctance to prepare for and fight unconventional wars and similar missions was strengthened by debacles in Lebanon, where a suicide bomber killed hundreds of U.S. troops on a peace keeping mission, and in Somalia, where U.S. troops were again killed in a peace keeping mission with a purpose that seemed to have little to do with U.S. interests. Rather than adapt U.S. forces to Vietnam type missions, the U.S. military decided that the only way to win such conflicts was to not to get involved in the first place. The Vietnam War also exposed dramatically the political perils of establishing The Draft for a fairly low intensity conflict, particularly when, as in Vietnam (and most notably, the Civil War a century earlier) there were many ways for potential draftees to avoid service. The Selective Service system that was put into place when the draft was discontinued has attempted to close many of the loopholes, such as college deferments and National Guard service which had kept would be draftees out of Vietnam.

The Gulf War I stunned military planners because overwhelming use of air power resulted in the U.S. evicting Iraq from Kuwait and imposing a no-fly zone with far fewer casualties than military planners had predicted. It also pointed out a deep flaw in U.S. military capabilities since it took months to get U.S. forces into position via sea lift, which could have been devastating had Iraq not stood idle while the U.S. gathered its forces. One of the main reasons for this slowness to deploy is that the U.S. main battle tank (the M1 Abrahms), which was designed to face a Soviet invasion in Western Europe from pre-placed allied bases, cannot effectively be air lifted in any large numbers. The largest U.S. transport plane, which cannot land at small airports, can carry only one of them at a time.

The U.S. intervention in Kosovo followed from the Gulf War I playbook of massive airpower, but taught U.S. military planners new lessons. The M1 Abrahms tank again proved to be a problem because European rail bridges were not structurally sound enough to support the heavy tanks, limiting the ability of the U.S. to deploy them in a timely fashion to Kosovo, and because their long range capabilities were useless in the tight mountainous terrain of that region. Another deployment difficulty arose when the Army's Apache attack helicopters took nearly a month to get to the Kosovo front, despite the fact that these aircraft can travel hundreds of miles an hour by air. A third major lesson of Kosovo was that undue emphasis on "force protection" by flying bombing runs at very high altitudes can lead to significant civilian casualties since pilots cannot identify their targets accurately. A fourth major lesson first brought to light widely in this conflict was the long term health effects of depleted uranium rounds which the military used to penetrate enemy armor. These rounds led to serious radiation-related diseases in Kosovo long after the conflict was over.

The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also provided military lessons.

The U.S. is also considering placing weapons in Earth Orbit.

Related Links

Additional Information

William Corson, The Betrayal.

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